Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Zenza Bronica MADNESS!

Okay, so there is a fantastic overview of the Zenza Bronica S2A over on Filmwasters, in which I also include a mini review. But that doesn't mean I can't babble on a bit more about the camera and its friends here, because that is what this blog is all about!
Before Bronicas, I was using my Kowa Six and Kowa Super 66. While in Japan, I had the chance to use Skorj's S2A. At first I was a bit dubious as I was used to my Kowa Six and 66, but after using it a couple times, I fell in love with it. When I got home, I sold the 66 and lenses and bought a Zenza Bronica S2.
Then I bought a black S2A, seen here with a Polaroid back...
And then a Zenza Bronica C, just because...
I won't go over all of the features of the S2/S2A as there is plenty of information on the interwebs about the camera, but I will talk a little bit about the differences between the three cameras, which are, at heart, basically the same. The only real difference between the S2 and the S2a, so I've read, is that the S2A has sturdier gears. The S2 often had the misfortune of stripping gears after heavy use, resulting in overlapping photos or a complete inability to crank the film forward. This was fixed with stronger, coated gears in the S2A. There may be other small differences, but that is the main deal. Both cameras feature exchangeable backs so you can use more than one film type with the same camera while shooting. This is the main difference between these two camera and the Model C, which is a "solid" camera without a removable back. As you can see in the above photos, the silver line is missing from the rear of the Model C, where the back would come off. all cameras allow for 120 and 220. Both cameras can be locked in two ways...the shutter button on the front can be twisted to prevent accidental exposure on all cameras. On the S2/S2A, when the dark slide is in place the camera cannot be used. The Model C features a slightly annoying switch on the side, that large black knob on the rear below the numbers. If it is turned to O, you can still crank the knob and cock the shutter, but the film does not advance. So if you aren't paying attention, you may think you are advancing and shoot 12 shots on one frame. I assume this is for double exposures. Here is a nice example of what happens when I didn't realize the knob had gotten turned to lock when I had it on the car seat next to other cameras, and proceeded to shoot many frames.
Whoops! So if you have a Model C, this is something to think about. Aside from this, all three cameras use the same lenses and all are interchangeable. Is there a reason to own a Model C or an S2A? Not really, unless you are wanting to use the different backs, or a Polaroid back. The shots are approximately 6x6 regardless, but the corners of the shots are different. The S2A features a swooping shape in the corners...
While the Model C has a square edge...
The Model C is a bit more rare than the S2/S2A, but not so rare that they don't appear pretty regularly on eBay. So the choice is yours...I obviously chose both! There is also a Z (sometimes known as D), the first Zenza Bronica, which uses the same lenses, but it is rare and expensive. I've only seen one for sale in Japan, for around $1600.
So, let's talk a bit about the lens choices. A quick list of all the known lens sizes available (taken from this excellent book by Tony Hilton):

Nikkor/Nikon: 30mm, 40mm, 50mm, 75mm, 85mm, 105mm, 135mm, 180mm, 200mm, 250mm, 300mm, 350mm, 400mm, 500mm, 600mm, 800mm, 1000mm, 1200mm
Zenzanon: 40mm, 50mm, 75mm, 80mm, 100mm, 150mm, 200mm, 300mm
Komura: 45mm, 50mm, 100mm, 150mm, 200mm, 300mm, 400mm, 500mm
Carl Zeiss Jena: 80mm

For more detailed information about the lenses, grab a copy of the book. Well worth it if you are interested in Bronicas. I will just talk about the lenses I have (mostly wide), and compare them. I have the base Nikkor 75mm, Nikkor 40mm, Komura 45mm, and Komura 50mm, as well as a prototype Carl Zeiss Jena 80mm that needs some reconditioning.
A Bronica lens is a bit different in that the focus mechanism is not part of the lens.
The lenses vary in size and quality. Komura lenses seems to be much larger than other makes.

The standard Nikkor 75mm:
The Carl Zeiss Jena 80mm prototype (seen on the black S2A above):
The Komura 50mm:
The Komura 45mm:
The Nikkor 40mm:
As you can see, the Nikkor 40mm is much more compact than both the Komura 45mm and 50mm, and "more attractive" to boot. A comparison of the 75mm, 50mm, 45mm and 40mm lenses (I didn't have the 80mm when I did this test):
The odd man out is definitely the Komura 50mm. It provides an overall darker image, and a soft vignette in the corners. Better examples of the 50mm softening:
 It is probably a "cheaper" lens overall, but produces lovely results. It is worth owning exactly because it stands out from the other lenses, and in a good way. Interesting is that the Komura 45mm is sharp and bright throughout with only a small amount of distortion.
The 40mm is certainly wide and the distortion is much greater, giving you more of that "wide angle" feel...
The base 75mm is pretty straightforward with little distortion, as is expected.
The Carl Zeiss Jena is a very sharp lens, but mine needs some servicing as the speed is a bit sticky and I get light bars across the top of many photos. I've emailed a couple places about getting a good CLA done but haven't received responses.
I don't use longer lenses, so I can't offer any information on them! It may seem a bit redundant to have three wide lenses that are so close to each other, but they are really so different that I think it is worth it. The Komura 45mm is probably the rarest of the bunch. My guess is that the 30mm is probably a fisheye lens, because the Kowa 35mm lens is the widest full frame non-fisheye available for 120. I had one for awhile when I had my Kowa 66...super rare and maybe just a bit too wide for me...and the thing was worth so much money and so rare (and huge) that I didn't really feel comfortable lugging it around for general use.
One thing to note about the Bronica viewfinder and the wide lenses is that the lenses are wider than the viewfinder. Meaning that you don't see the entire frame in your viewfinder, which is odd because that is the purpose of an SLR are supposed to see what you are shooting. But I'm learning to adjust because I am frequently getting shots like this, because the corner isn't showing up in the viewfinder as you would expect:
And that's not just a little bit of frame...that's a lot of frame! Just something to think about when using the Bronica.
Also, a quick note on the Polaroid back. I actually liked the Kowa 66 Polaroid back much more than the Bronica Polaroid back. The Kowa would center the frame inside the Polaroid, while the Bronica exposes the frame on the lower part of the Polaroid, over the edge of the print, so you actually lose part of the shot...
I mention this because probably many who are looking for a cheaper alternative to the Hasselblads are looking at the Kowa Six/66 and the Bronica S2A. While the Kowa Six is a neat camera and I used it for maybe four years, I find myself preferring to shoot with the Bronica by a long shot. Overall ergonomics come into play, I think. I just like the feel of the Bronica over the Kowa. Here are the two cameras for shape comparison:
What the Kowa Six loses in body depth, it has to make up for in lens length. Both weigh about the same, and both are great cameras, but I really enjoy using the Bronica and find it generally easier to use. The Komura 50mm really sold me on the camera initially, and now it has become my #1 medium format camera...until I can afford that Hasselblad SWC!
To wrap this up, a super quick tutorial on loading 120 film into the Bronica S2A and C. It's kind of ass-backwards. I suppose it is probably the same method a Hasselblad uses, but I've never used a Hasselblad, so the first time without instructions was a headscratcher for me.

The film holder pops out of the back of the camera...
There is a top and bottom to the holder. The top has the large gear. The empty spool will go on top and the unexposed roll will go on the bottom. The film will be loaded with the tab on the underside of the film.
Pull the film roll tab under the holder...
It wraps around and connects to the empty spool.
This means that the exposed film is facing "outwards" from this side. With most other 120 cameras, you load the film directly into the camera and the exposed side is not visible to you as it is facing inside the camera. When you have the film securely in place, push the holder back into the camera. It should make some kind of soft clicking noise. You will know you don't have it properly seated if the film doesn't advance when you turn the knob. Once in, advance the film until the arrow lines up with the red dot...
Then close the camera and advance the film until the camera stops at exposure 1. Sometimes it may feel like you are going to break the camera if you turn too hard, but there is some resistance as the shutter cocks...completely normal. After that...shoot away! You can find a PDF of the S2 instruction booklet here and the Model C here.
Okay, I guess I've run out of things to talk about. Not sure what my next post will be until then!


  1. I'm going to keep this in mind when I'm more dedicated to buying a nice medium format camera! Thanks for sharing with us.

  2. WOW- I saw one of these in Hard-OFF yesterday and didnt even look at the price.. I was distracted by the T2's and the two versions of the Fuji 645 wides they had..I find your blog inspiring and helpfull, thanks.

    I have been using Graflex-reflex's lately both with 120 and the FP series peel apart stock..if you find one try it out awsome experince..and they seem to sell for 25-30 bucks at yard sales/flea markets and its oh so fun to shot instant on a 70 or 80 year old SLR.. when people ask I just say it has a smart phone and an instant printer in usb though..
    alright..thanks agian

  3. Anonymous7:30 AM

    Thanks for the review. I am avoiding ideas for things to acquire, but I wanted to mention to you that yes, that is basically how a Hasselblad loads as well. And it is quite possible to load the film in backward. I don't use the Hasselblad daily, so every time I load it I have to think "this is where the light will expose the film. The film has to face this way..."

  4. Thank you for sharing of the information.
    Once I had been using S2A with Bellows - my favorite lens was Nikkor-P 75mm ... small and definitely sharp and fast.

    Btw, let me add the link to your blog on my new blog, thank you.

  5. Great post!

    I was recently given a well-cared-for Bronica S2A kit after it sat in my friend's closet for too many years. I plan to buy some fast and slow B&W film today for my first shots with it this evening. It came with some very old film, so I was able to confirm that it operates, though I won't develop those shots.

    The kit includes the Nikkor 70mm f/2.8 and 200mm f/4 lenses as well as a close focus filter for the 200. It has the standard viewfinder shade as well as a look-from-the-back viewfinder. Unfortunately, the mirror in the alternate viewfinder is heavily corroded.

    It came with two backs and two additional film cartridges as well as an original Polaroid back. It still had some Polaroid film, but it had dried out and didn't work.

    The kit also had a vintage, German light meter, but my friend wanted to keep it. So I'll need to haul around my digital cam to check exposures.

    It also came with a Red 25A filter. I plan to pick up a Yellow 8 and/or Yellow-Orange 16 in the 67mm size as I really like the optically filtered B&W look.

    BTW, when shopping for lenses for the Bronica S2A (or an adapter so I can use these vintage lenses on a Canon EOS), what designation do I look for? Will SQ lenses mount to this camera?

    Regarding adapters, Fotodiox makes adapters for Bronica SQ and Bronica ETR lenses to EOS mounts.

    Given that I have the 70 and 200, I'd love to add something wider that's not too expensive. Any recommendations?

  6. Regarding lenses, sq lenses will not work. You need to look for S, S2, S2A, C, or Z and D. Those are all interchangeable, but specific to those types. The other Bronicas use a different mount.

  7. bella recensione,anch'io possiedo ena s2a e ne sono molto soddisfatto,complimenti

  8. Very informative.
    The S2 Model and S2a are very different from the C model
    The C model has to be the worst camera i ever used.
    A film shredder, pop open the back and eject the film, in mid shoot.
    Shutter speeds all over the map..
    Only when NIKON took over quality control, because the Zenza people used their lenses, did things improve.It got better, not good.
    i am happy it's working for you, but for me it;s the one brand i was overjoyed to return. It was not cheap. Less than Hasselblad. Price same as a Leica M3 with 50mm Summicron and meter. I know! They exchanged that terror for a machine that's still working. Used in PJ.

  9. Anonymous3:13 AM

    I'm an ex pro (and design engineer)but now tend to collect cameras more than I use them. I have two Bronicas: an S2a and an ETRSi, both of which perform well, but the Bronica camera I liked best was the first one, the 'D' model with rack and pinion focussing which alas Bronica replaced in their next model with the much slower and cumbersome helical focussing mount. The camera handled beautifully and I can't remember it being anything like as noisy as the S2a. It also looked less wantonly flashy than the S2 and S2a. Unfortunately my 'D' didn't like cold weather and the mirror then began to stick in the raised position until the camera was shaken: somewhat embarassing if photographing a wedding, but I had an elderly Rolleiflex Automat which temporarily came to the rescue. I replaced the 'D' after unsuccessfully trying to have it repaired, with a Mamiya C33 (the ugly beast)and was pleased to find that the Sekor lenses were every bit as good as the Nikkors. The much more versatile flash synch came as a bonus. That all happened around 1966 and a C330 was added some 12 months later. Both cameras still perform faultlessly and have paid for themselves many times over. My most recent camera purchase is a Kodak Retinette IIB with Schneider 'Reomar' f2.8/45mm lens. It was precisely this camera model which set me off on a long journey in 1959, a journey which I'm still enjoying.
    Best wishes to all, AHT.

  10. Anonymous7:28 PM

    Great article. proud new owner of a S2 and S2a, and was wondering if you have any film recommendations? Cheers!

  11. Anonymous9:11 AM

    nice blog and review:)
    i own a s2a with the nikkor75mm. from time to time i´m looking for "new" parts and lenses.. but they´re quite rare out there in the net..
    any hints where i could find the 75mm lensehood or bellow type 2

    cheers & good light

  12. Thanks for the interesting observations. I recently got given a Bronica EC with Nikon 75mm and 105 mm lenses.
    I'd like a wide-angle, and I see a Komura 45 mm available (which its owner used on an S2). I understand that the S2 and EC have the same lens mount, but I'm not dead sure. Can you tell — will it work on my camera?

  13. Anonymous3:21 AM

    Thanks for this article. Which difference between S2A and S2?

  14. Awesome article. Like you, I'm a fairly new convert to Bronica and already a big fan even though I just have a SQ.

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  17. Hello, nice article on the Bronica. I purchased an S2 from Japan a few months ago. It's a bit reminiscent of a vintage American car, say a '49 Cadillac - heavy with lots of chrome accents. That said, I really liked the camera and lugged it everywhere through two rolls of film. Then about two weeks in, I decided to do some tripod photography in the evening. I'd been shooting in bright light at 1/500, or 1/250th until that fateful evening; but on that occasions, I lowered the shutter speed to something like 1/30th, cocked the shutter, focused, metered, set the aperture and fired. The camera locked up. Mirror down, shutter curtain part way through its cycle. Since then, nothing I do seems to change the status quo - the camera has become a very heavy Art Nouveau esque desk ornament.

    Unfortunately, when the body jammed, I had already purchased a couple nice Nikkor lenses to go with, so there was nothing to do but order another body from Japan. I sure wish, I knew how to "unstick" the first one though. It is a really stunning machine! It just won't work anymore. I contacted a fellow in the United States who repairs these, and I may send it in, but after factoring in the exchange rate and postage there and back, it was almost as cheap to purchase another body from Japan. Still this unfortunate event is rather sticking in my craw, as they say. I would love to know how to free the mechanism and get it firing again.