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Camera review: Zenza Bronica ETRSi – by Denys TrofimchukCamera review: Zenza Bronica ETRSi – by Denys Trofimchuk

Camera review: Zenza Bronica ETRSi – by Denys Trofimchuk

Today I’m going to be talking a little about my Bronica ETRSi kit, a camera I came to after my first proper step into film photography with a Bronica ETRC (I discount my Holga for obvious reasons, although I had some fun with it).

Through the magic of eBay I got my Bronica ETRC for a bit more than $100. The ETRC was one of the first models from Zenza Bronica’s ETR series, and the C version did not have interchangeable backs. So, after playing a bit with it I understood that I needed more versatility and I sold it to buy the medium format kit  I am reviewing today: the  Bronica ETRSi.

 

 

 

My Bronica ETRSi kit

The Bronica ETRSi was one of the last iterations of the ETR series, featuring all the goodies like flash sync at all speeds (max shutter speed is 1/500 second), multiple exposures and mirror lock up. It shoots up to 15 6×4.5cm frames on a roll of 120 film in landscape format

Thanks to KEH I got the body, 220 film back, AE prism with metered finder and aperture priority, 75mm f/2.8 lens and a grip for around $250. Later I added a Polaroid back and 150mm f/4 lens.

Bronica ETRSi - Front

Bronica ETRSi – Front

My go to kit is the 75mm lens with grip and prism finder, because apparently the waist level finder is hard to come by nowadays. Size-wise it as just a tad bigger then a pro DSLR, and pretty much the same weight and handling. I use the prism finder with meter in Aperture Priority mode most of the time.

When looking into the finder, you can preview your shutter speed, and there is a red lamp that tells you if the dark slide is not removed. Speeds from 1/30 and slower are in yellow, the rest are green.

The prism finder itself has couple of settings: on the right side there is an Aperture Priority mode, Manual mode (which gives you a preview of a suggested shutter speed, but you have to select it yourself), and an Off setting.

You can click on any of the thumbnail images blow to open them in full screen.

 

On the left side is an ISO/ASA setting ring and exposure compensation dial, which goes up 1 or 2 stops. One thing to remember, if you are not using the camera, turn the knob to the red mark (Off), otherwise you will end up with a drained battery, rendering the camera useless.

The grip works very well with the prism finder, turning Bronica into a SLR in terms of usage. You wind a film with a double stroke lever( same as Leica M3 DS) and also you can mount a remote trigger or a flash on the hot shoe. I personally use it with Pocket Wizards, but there is also a PC cord on the body, as a second option.

The Bronica ETRSi has a multiple exposure mode and a mirror lock up. Both knobs are situated on the right side of the body, which can be a bit confusing at first. The multiple exposure knob has a red dot under it when turned on. I have never used mirror lock up, so can’t say much about it.

As I mentioned before, waist level finders are surprisingly rare for Bronicas nowadays, and so are the 120 backs…I am shooting with 220 back. If you are a purist it might not be a solution for you. The reason is because  220 film has a paper backing only at the beginning and the end of the roll, so with that in mind, 120 film sometimes might come out scratched a bit and you end up with 14 ½ frames instead of 15.

Also, if you shoot a lot wide open, there might be some slight shifts in focusing. Personally, those issues do not bother me much, so I’ve learned to live with them. I got a hold of couple of rolls of 220 Portra 160NC, and it works like a charm (although the developing and scanning is hella expensive!)

The 75mm 2.8 lens (I have an older, PE version apparently) also works like a charm. It is a close equivalent to 47mm on the 135 format  –  just what the doctor ordered for the portrait shoots. The other advantage of this lens, in comparison to the 150mm for example, is an ability to close focus almost to one foot (30cm), which for me is amazing! The 150mm f/4, on the other hand, has a lovely bokeh, but focuses only to 4 feet or so.

The last part of my kit is the Polaroid back. Before I got a Polaroid Land Camera, it was used A LOT and I probably spent more money on FP100C than any other film, but now it is just lying around. The thing with the Polaroid back though –  and I really don’t know if the issue is with my specific camera or Bronicas in general –  is that to do the exposure, you have to switch to multiple exposure mode on the body, otherwise it won’t work. So there is that.

Before I recap, let me share the most important part of this camera: the photographs it can produce!

 

Sample photos

All of the photos below were taken with my 75mm f/2.8 lens.

 

 

 

Recap

The GOOD:

  • Affordable medium format system
  • Versatile, good lens selection, fairly modern camera (mine is from 1989)
  • Good handling with the grip, landscape 6×4.5 format allows for 15/30 frames, not too cumbersome
  • Aperture priority shooting with the metered prism
  • Great for studio work: sync at all speeds, PC sync/remote trigger supported

 

The BAD:

  • Relies on battery
  • Some parts of the system became prohibitively rare and/or expensive (WLF, 120 backs)
  • ETRSi has lots of plastic parts, previous versions are better build (ETR, ETRS)

All in all I love my Bronica and use it often. Hopefully, I will hunt down the finder and back to make it even more versatile and desirable. Would love to hear your thoughts and experiences.

~ Denys Trofimchuk

 

 

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About The Author

denys trofimchuk

My name is Denys Trofimchuk, I am a Brooklyn, NY based photographer. I am originally from Ukraine, but have been living in United States for the last 7 years. I started shooting film 2 years ago with Holga TLR, because I was in a rut - creatively - and lost my passion. Now about 70% of my work is shot on film, mostly Arista 400- cause shooting it in bulk is cheap! I do portraits, models tests and some personal work, mostly street and documentary. My little camera collection includes Bronica ETRSi, Canonet QL19, Nikkormat FTN and Fujifilm X Pro 1 for the digital work ( this camera made me love digital again and i highly recommend it to those, who lust for digi Leica). I develop and scan my own film, mostly with Adox Adonal and EpsonV 600.

4 Comments

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  1. @DenysTrofimchuk I was out today and had my SQ-A and EOS 630 with me. Coincidence? We’ll never know.

    Reply
    • Joincidence? it is a coincidence with J /”Friends” reference here/
      I’ve just sold my Canon EOS630, but I’ve enjoyed that camera immensely.

      Reply
  2. A couple of comments: the MC lenses are the older lenses with the PE ones being the newer versions. The WLF is fairly widely available, in relative terms obviously as these cameras are some decades out of production, and not too costly. I bought mine on ebay for £40 about a year ago and I’ve seen quite a few since for a similar price. Same with the 120 backs, they are quite freely available at a reasonable price too. The back that is rare, very rare, and also very expensive is the 135W back that takes 3.5×6 frames on 35mm roll film (24 frames on a standard 36 frame roll). Expect to pay £200+ easily for one of these and don’t confuse them with the 135N back which is a lot cheaper and frankly a waste of money unless you’re wedded to 35mm film for some reason. I’d agree with the comments about the speed grip’s usefulness if hand holding the camera but as I mainly shoot landscape or interiors all of my work is on a tripod so my speed grip sits in my cupboard!

    The mirror lock up is either on or off, so you have to remember to manually switch it off (ie return the mirror) otherwise you roll on to the next frame and can’t compose it since the mirror is still up. It’s slightly different on my SQ-A which has the on/off settings and also has a ‘one shot’ MLU function meaning once you’ve exposed the frame and wind the film on the mirror returns and the switch flips back to the off position. Seeing as the etrsi came after the Sq-a I would have thought bronica would have incorporated this, but it seems not. The battery lasts for ever if it’s not required to power the prism; it is however required to operate the shutter. Without the battery the camera has a fixed 1/500 shutter speed.

    Overall though I’d agree with the comments on cost and quality. I find the glass very good and only really bettered by my mamiya Rb67. Clearly I value my back so the rb tends to be for interior work mainly!

    Reply
    • Here in US, WLFs for ETR series are hard to find, and once you do – it’s for about $120-150, which is almost as much, as the camera itself :/
      I forgot about the fixed shutter speed,actually,thanks!

      Reply

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