David Hume | Jul 10, 2018 | 6
Camera review: the Zenza Bronica ETRS – Workhorse, or Hippopotamus…? – by Neil Piper
From what I’ve read the Bronica ETRS I get the impression that it is considered the “lesser wanted” of the Bronica family. I really don’t know why. A ready to go setup can be has easily now for sub £200, probably nearer the £150 mark if you shop around. I know I picked mine up for £175 with two lenses, a metered prism and the speed grip. That’s cheap for entry into the quality end of the medium format market – sorry Holga/Diana users…they don’t count…today at least…!
Fully loaded up this camera is a monster compared to the rest of the cameras in my regular rotation. My full setup weighs 1.9kgs – body, winder, finder and a 50mm lens. Without the lens it comes in at slightly under 1.5kg. That’s quite a lot I think for a camera setup. For comparison, a Hasselblad 500CM, without a lens weighs 601 grams according to Ken Rockwell.
The ETRS was introduced by Zenza Bronica in early 1979 I believe as the replacement to the ETR. It as standard takes 120 roll film and creates a 6×4.5cm image, allowing you to get 15 shots per roll. That’s landscape format, not portrait.
The Bronica ETRS is essentially the same as the earlier ETR but Bronica added electrical contacts to the viewfinder to use the AE-II and AE-III metered finders, and they also added a two-position shutter release lock.
I’ve never personally used an ETR model, so I cannot vouch for any other differences that there may be. There were supposedly two versions of ETRS released during its time, the early version is of metal construction and the later is known as the “plastic” version. I’ve never used the later version, I assume its new nickname comes from its build.
According to Camerapedia you can tell the difference by the location of the lens release – the later version locates the release on the left-hand side of the camera. Mine is on the front, so I’m assuming mine is an early version. It’s certainly heavy enough that I’m pretty sure it’s all metal…!
The shutter is an electronically controlled Seiko leaf shutter in the lens, with a choice of 8, 4, 2 and 1 seconds, and 1/2, 1/4, 1/8th, 1/15th, 1/30th, 1/60th, 1/125th, 1/250th and 1/500th of a second. If the little 6-volt battery inside (A PX28A, or 4LR44) goes dead, it will also mechanically shoot at a standard 1/500th.
You’ve also got a ‘bulb mode’ (ish) by using the A/T lever on the lens (T for Timed, A is for Auto I assume) and a standard cable release socket for your long exposures. There’s also flash sync but I don’t use it and have no idea how it works so sorry, you’ll have to head elsewhere if you want to know more about that. I’m sure Mike Butkus has a manual if you need one.
Modular medium format
The ETRS is of a ‘modular’ setup, which if you’ve never used one basically means that just about every component can be removed and swapped out if you wanted to. For example –
Mine came with the AE-II metered prism finder but there are at least three other types available, an unmetered prism finder, a regular waist lever finder and an “Action Prism” finder. I have no real idea about that one though…
As standard, the camera comes with a hand crank on the right-hand side of the body for advancing the film. Mine has the manual speed grip which replaces the crank but you can also (if you can find one) get a motor winder as well. These speed grips change the feel and aesthetic of the camera to be more like a giant SLR camera, and for me at least when making that transition to medium format it made it much easier.
You really can treat the camera in the same way you would use your traditional SLR. The handle allows you to hold it in the same way, and the thumb use film advance will be familiar to any SLR owners as well. This advance also resets the mirror.
…and the film backs..! Oh what a joy it is to use a camera that has interchangeable film backs.
Again, if you’ve never experienced this let me tell you about it. So as the camera is modular, one of the parts that comes off is the entire box that holds the film. This ‘film back’ as they are known simply clips onto the camera, but between the back and the camera body is what is called a dark slide.
This dark slide, when clipped into its little guides allows you to remove the film back at any point throughout the roll. Yeah, that’s cool. So I have two 120 film backs for my ETRS, one generally has colour neg film in, the other black and white. Handy, hey…?
They are clearly marked on the sides, Bronica were smart enough to give you that little bit of help, and the 120 backs at least have that handy little clip to tuck in part of your film box so you can keep track of the film stock inside. Very handy if you’ve got a few film backs that are all the same format but all have different films in.
Oh, and the backs from the old ETR are interchangeable with the backs for the ETRS. At least the ones I’ve had experience with have been… But 120 format film isn’t where it stops. If you can find them – and eBay to be fair does seem to have a supply of most – you can also equip yourself with film backs that accept 220 roll film, 35mm film and Polaroid pack film. Hell, I’ve never seen one, but apparently, they made a back that takes 70mm film, giving you a whopping 90 shots before you need to swap it out!
The ETRS in use
So how does it feel to shoot…? Well how do you imagine? It’s a freakin’ tank, and that’s a great thing for me to be totally honest.
Looking at its construction, feeling its weight, I’d frankly be disappointed if it handled any other way. You attach the lens with a satisfying click as the release switch engages. The mount is smooth, you can feel that it’s been machined to fit. The film advance is smooth and easy to move. You can physically feel the roll of film being pulled through the mechanism inside the back.
Every removable part when connected feels solid and secure. It’s silky smooth to use, yet solid and robust – I’m pretty sure if I dropped this camera the floor would come off worse.
You can hand hold it, of course you can. As I mentioned earlier the grip makes it feel like a giant SLR, but I generally feel more comfortable using this on a tripod. Oh, and yes, it has a standard 1/4 inch tripod socket. It even has strap lugs for diehard handheld shooters.
The strap’s rather wussy though, its pretty thin, so I tend not to use it.
So now I realise that I haven’t given any examples of photographs I’ve made with the ETRS. I wasn’t going to if I’m perfectly honest, as this review was intended to be more about the use of the camera, and I have found that results (like many cameras) vary greatly dependant on what glass you have attached to the front and what film you have out the back.
But…I’ve changed my mind on that so below are a few examples across a variety of film stocks. They are all shot with the 50mm f/2.8 lens.
Oh and just one more thing about the weight before I sign off, stripped back to just the body, unusable without the film back, lens and crank, it weighs a shade over 0.5kg. That’s only 100g more than an Olympus Trip 35.
Thanks for reading!
~ Neil Piper
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