I was recently tempted to get into medium format more seriously and began around looking for the camera that would allow me to do so. I already had a Voigtlander Bessa 1 and a Lubitel 2, but the respective formats (6×9 for the Voigtlander and 6×6 for the Lubitel) only gave me a maximum of 8 or 12 shots per roll. Given my student status, I was looking for more shots/roll to get my money’s worth. This is why I started looking for a 6×4.5 medium format camera.

As I love the Waist Level Finder on my Lubitel, I immediately searched for either a Mamiya 645 or a Bronica 645 and when I saw a Bronica ETRSi camera on sale for only €60 online, my GAS levels tingled so much that I HAD to buy it right away! So here is a review of my first experience shooting this camera.

A Brief History of the Bronica ETRSi

For those of you who do not know Bronica or Zenza Bronica was a Japanese brand of professional medium format cameras. Their last camera – the RF645 rangefinder – was discontinued in 2005 and the brand was shortly shuttered by its owner Tamron shortly after.

The Bronica ETRSi is the last model of the Bronica ETR series which shoot 6×4.5cm pictures on 120/220 film. Fun fact about Bronica at the time: they had tried to partner up with Carl Zeiss and, what was later known as, Topcon for the optics before opting to produce their own optics.

This series was the first to have a leaf shutter system, it also has an electronic shutter ranging from 8s to 1/500s (there is also a 1/500s mechanical setting).

The ETRSi, which came out in 1989 and has the most features of the line, as it is the most modern edition: in these “new features,” we have the following: Mirror Lock-Up, TTL flash metering with OTF flash exposure and bulb mode.

For more information on the ETR models, check out Camera Wiki.

Unboxing the Bronica ETRSi

First of all, when I received the camera, I was surprised by its weight. At a whopping 1.5kg, the ETRSi is a sturdy camera! Of course, it had its wear and tear, but the camera was in excellent condition. As I always do when I get a new camera, I tested all the different aspects of the: aperture, shutter speed, mirror lock-up and multiple-exposure.

In trying to do so I discovered something particular: the film winder crank will continuously turn as long as there is no film loaded inside the camera. So, do not be surprised if it happens to you! After searching on the internet, I discovered the ETRSi can only be cranked when a film is loaded. However, for testing purposes, you can activate the multiple exposure switch, the winder will block, and you will be able to test the shutter properly.

Something neat about this camera is that the Bronica ETR series was very developed so you can find multiple viewfinders (Waist Level, integrated Light meter…) and multiple backs (120, 220, Polaroid…) on eBay.

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Mine was shipped with the basic prism viewfinder and one 120 back. Of course, the prism can be removed to reveal a waist ever viewfinder. However, if you do not have the correct viewfinder you will have to use your hands to block the light and see clearly inside.

Another cool aspect is that Bronica is that there are many securities/fail-safes. For example, you cannot remove the lens if the mirror is not pulled back, you cannot remove the back without a dark slide correctly inserted, and as I already mentioned the crank will not stop without film correctly inserted.

The main event: shooting the beast!

This camera’s mirror is lowered when you crank the film lever to cock the shutter. When you release the shutter, it lifts up, without coming down until you crank once more. It may seem like nothing to you but I am used to cranking my film just right before shooting a shot, I could not do that with this camera. Indeed, if the shutter is not cranked and the mirror not pulled down then you cannot aim.

However, the Shutter lock is very conveniently placed, so you just need to get used to locking your shutter button after each shot if, like me, you are a bit clumsy and risk accidentally shooting an exposure.

Speaking of the shutter button, compared to the Mamiya 645, the Bronica ETRSi only has one shutter button located in front of the camera. I have to be honest when shooting street photography, you need to get used to holding the beast to shoot properly. In addition, I noticed a significant amount of movement when the mirror is released compared to what I am used to with my other cameras.

All this being said it takes a while to get used to shooting this beast of a camera. For those who have a bit more budget, a grip does exist making shooting the camera easier, and for the ones who don’t, you can always use the mirror lockup switch to reduce movement.

I have not yet tried to do multiple exposures, but the switch is right there beside the crank and it’s easy to change modes. Hopefully, on my next rolls, I will be more inspired, multiexposure-wise.

My first rolls

The first roll of film I put through the camera was a Kodak Portra 400 where I shot street photography in the streets of Dublin. I have since shot many more and here are a few of my favourites using Portra 400, ILFORD Delta 3200 Professional, Fuji Pro 400H, Fuji NEOPAN 100 ACROS, Rollei Infrared 400 and ILFORD HP5 PLUS!

Some examples for you below!

Final thoughts

I have really HAD A BLAST shooting this camera. Whether it be with the prism or without, it is just a fun camera to shoot. All the settings are easily accessible and that noise it makes when the mirror comes up is just amazing!

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Many people told me that it was more of an indoor camera because of its bulkiness, however I love using it for my usual street and landscape photography. I find it very ergonomic. Indeed for some of my night photography, I managed to shoot at 1/60s second without a shutter release cable or tripod.

Altogether, I’ve shot this camera in many different situations, with and without a tripod, with or without a filter, for street, night, landscape and portrait photography, using infrared, black and white and color negative films and it has never disappointed me.

The next step will be shooting slide film with it, I doubt it will be much different but I am eager to try it out!

This camera is already the best 60€ I’ve spent in 2019! 😉

~ Maxime

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