When I came back to film photography in early 2018, very soon I wanted to try medium format film. Not being sure if I would like it with its lesser number of photos per roll compared to a 35mm film, I went with the cheap but nice Yashica MAT LM. I instantly fell in love with the format but I soon discovered the limitations of the twin lens reflex Yashica and I did not like the square format. I am used to the rectangular shape of a 35mm frame and I like it that way.
After doing some research on different medium format cameras, I hesitated between two formats, 6×4.5 and 6×7. I read the specs sheet of some 6×7 cameras and it became clear the weight of those big cameras was going to be an issue. After deciding on the 6×4.5 format, two things were a MUST have on my camera: a waist-level viewfinder and the interchangeable film back. I love shooting with a waist-level finder and I hate it so much when your camera is loaded with a black and white film, and suddenly I see something that would be better in color. I experienced this frustration a few times with my Yashica and did not want to go that road again with my next medium format camera.
Price was also important. I was also looking for something affordable. Not making a living out of my photography, I tend to look for the best quality/price ratio. What is good for me is not necessarily the most expensive one. I did not want to pay the collector’s premium you see attached to some cameras. After reading and watching some reviews on the Internet, I made my choice to get a Bronica ETR.
The Bronica ETR was the first model produced by the company for this line. They would later release a model ETRC, ETR-C, ETRS, ETRSi all with different features. The ETR was released in 1976 and produced until 1980. It is a 645 (6×4.5cm) format, in-lens shutter reflex camera. Lenses, film backs, finders and the focusing screen are all interchangeable.
In short, everything I was looking for.
An overview of the Bronica ETR
It came with the standard kit Zenzanon MC 75mm f/2.8 lens (with Seiko central leaf shutter) and a Waist-Level Finder (WLF). If you apply the crop factor (0.62) to the 75mm lens, it gives you a 35mm film camera equivalent focal length of 47mm. This set-up weighs 2.9lbs (1346 grams), not the lightest camera if you compare to a 35mm SLR, but lighter than some 6×6 or 6×7 medium format cameras. The Bronica ETR is made of metal and weight is the price to pay for its solidity sometimes.
The ETR uses electronically controlled shutters with a speed range from 8 seconds to 1/500s. To operate the shutter, the camera needs a battery, luckily those are easily available today and are affordable. The original model is a 544 battery, a modern replacement and easy to find is a 6v 4SR44 or 4LR44. If the battery dies, the shutter automatically will be released only at 1/500 second whatever the setting on the shutter speed dial.
In order to test the battery, there is a test button on the side of the camera, you press the button and a green light will tell you if the battery still has enough power. If you do not check your battery from time to time, you can underexpose a full roll of film before discovering it during development.
The maximum shutter speed of 1/500s can also be a limit on a sunny day if you want to shoot at a wide-open aperture, but if you plan ahead, you can load your camera with «slower» ISO film in those situations.
Because it is a relatively small medium format camera and the weight is manageable, it can be used for street photography. Not really what I bought it for but I kept this argument in mind when I chose my new medium format camera over other similar cameras. I would not see myself shooting street photography with a larger and heavier 6×7 camera.
The Bronica ETR has some safety features to prevent scrapping some films. You cannot fire the shutter with the dark slide in the film back. Also, you cannot take the film back off the camera without the dark slide inserted in the back.
Since you need to cock the shutter to lower the mirror and compose your shot, the risk of accidentally firing a shot is there. There are two ways to prevent that. First, you can reinsert your dark slide after each shot and take it out before the next shot. The second option, which is the most convenient one, you can lock the shutter release button by turning the ring around that button.
At the time the camera was released, only the following lenses were available for it:
- Zenzanon 40mm f/4
- Zenzanon 50mm f/2.8
- Zenzanon 75mm f/2.8 (kit lens)
- Zenzanon 150 mm f/4
- Zenzanon 250 mm f/5.6
In the years after, more lenses were produced by Bronica and third parties. The nice thing is all the lenses produced for the ETR line are compatible with the later and priors ETR models. They are also readily available today. Lenses are cheap if you compare to other medium format cameras but more expensive than a regular 35mm film camera.
Photography with the Bronica ETR
Shooting with the Bronica is super nice. I was already familiar with the Yashica Mat twin-lens reflex camera so the waist-level finder and the reverse image of the viewfinder were not something I had to get used to when I started using the Bronica. As much as I was not using the Yashica Mat because of the square format, I am using the Bronica ETR because of its rectangular format. Not everyone will agree with that but and the end of the day, it is a matter of personal choice and you must pick the format you enjoy the most, otherwise, your camera will stay on a shelf.
The Bronica is somehow heavier than the Yashica Mat but we are not comparing apples with apples. Even at that weight, I can still shoot handheld but if I need to use a 1/60 second or slower shutter speed, I will start using my tripod.
I bought the Bronica ETR to shoot landscape photography and using a tripod for landscape photography is part of the experience. I really did not like the square format of the Yashica for landscape but the 6×4.5 format of the Bronica is a gem, I totally love it. The framing is more natural and closer to the rectangular shape of the framing of my Nikon D750.
Nothing is perfect, my main drawback for this camera is if you want to shoot in portrait orientation with a waist level finder, you need some practice. The first time you try it, you’ll swear. This is not specific to the Bronica ETR only but all 6×4.5 medium format cameras with a waist level finder.
For those who do not know, on a camera without a prism viewfinder (the bulky “head” of an SLR), all waist-level finder cameras show you a reversed image: left is right and vice versa. One way to solve this problem is by using a prism viewfinder but they do not come cheap. I do not have a prism finder, neither am I planning to purchase one.
Another drawback with this camera, there is no mirror lock-up. The slapping of the mirror surprised me the first shots I took with the camera. It produces a quite unique sound but it also induces vibration in the camera.
One last detail, on the camera there is no slot where you can put your dark slide when taking photos. The slide ends up in my bag or one of my pockets, it’s a recipe to either lose or bend the dark slide. Some have done it before me and I won’t be surprised if one day I do it, too.
Price and availability
A quick look on a popular Internet auction website lists many Bronicas from the ETR line but many of those are located in Japan. If you want to purchase your camera this way you will have to take into account the cost of shipping, taxes and duty. If you are in a hurry, you can find one right now on the Internet but slightly overpriced in my book.
If you are not in a hurry, take your time, look and you can find one at a good price within a few weeks. I waited 5 weeks to get one at a good price from eBay. I paid $300 (CDN) with the 75mm kit lens in January 2019 – no CLA (clean, lubricate, adjustment). It is working perfectly. I just revisited the prices on eBay (July 2019) and prices look to be on the rise for the Bronica ETR.
One thing that I did not know when I bought mine, in 2019 a camera with waist level view finder is like a magnet. Each time I go downtown with this camera, I have at least one person that comes and talks to me about my camera and film in general.
I think shooting medium format camera in 2019 is a more organic experience than a DLSR. You really need to love the tactile experience of holding a camera that size in your hands with all manual controls.
With the Bronica what adds to this experience is the noise the mirror slapping makes when taking a photo. Not only you’ll hear the clunk made by the mirror but you will also feel it in the camera. I think it does add to the experience of shooting medium format camera.
No camera is perfect, they are made of compromise, the Bronica ETR is a perfect example, for some it’s a camera that they would not even consider buying, me I am perfectly happy with it in the world of medium format film.
- An affordable medium format camera
- 15 photos per roll of 120 format film
- Very well built and solid camera
- Very good choice of fixed focal length lenses
- Interchangeable backs
- Electronically controlled shutter (speed is more precise)
- Negatives are smaller than 6×6 or 6×7, you lose some details
- Shooting in portrait orientation is tricky with the waist level viewfinder
- You are buying a close to 40 year-old camera
- Choice of zoom lenses is limited compared to 35mm cameras
- Weight: some medium format cameras are lighter
- Needs a battery to operate the shutter
- Nothing tells you automatically when the battery is dead
Happy shooting everyone,
Bronica ETR technical specifications
|Camera name||Bronica ETR|
|Camera type||Single Lens Reflex|
|Format||6x4.5 - 120/220 rollfilm (15/30 exposures)|
|Shutter||Seiko electronically controlled leaf shutter (in-lens)|
8s - 1/500s
Fixed at 1/500s w/o battery
|Lenses||Ranging from 40mm wide-angle to 250mm (at release)|
|Accessories||Waist Level Viewfinder|
|Flash||X-Sync PC connection|
|Power||6v 4SR44 / 4LR44|
|Weight||943g (body only)|
1346g (with 75mm kit lens)
|Dimensions (appx)||110x106x157mm (WxHxD) with kit lens and waist-level finder|
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