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!