Bronica ETR Question

Discussion in 'Medium Format' started by mikheilrokva, Dec 2, 2017.

  1. Hello all

    I've been an amateur and semi-pro for several years of 35 mm and DSLR shooting, but now I have a strange "itch" get my hands on medium format and it has to be SLR of 6x4.5 format. Now, from whatever small research I've done I can see that Bronica ETR system is the cheapest one AND it can be bought piece by piece (which is good, considering my ridiculous salary). This leads me to my question:

    I know that there are several 6x4.5 Bronica cameras (ETR, ETRC, ETRS, ETRSi) and most probably I will be aiming for the cheapest and oldest ETR, but what bothers me is this - does any ETR 120/220 film back and viewfinder fit any ETR body, or is there a specific film back and viewfinder for different bodies? Also, what are the actual risks/consequences of using 120 film in 220 back (since 120 backs are not so often met online) and is there a way to overcome those?

    Any advice is much appreciated.

    P.S. I'm not hellbent on getting Bronica, if there's anything worth mentioning financial- or mechanical-wise, I'm more than willing to rethink my decision.

  2. Garret

    Garret amateur wannabe

    I'm an amateur wannabe . . .so consider the source of the response.

    Everything I've ever read about Bronica indicates that they're bullet-proof and very nice systems. When I was looking for a modest medium format system I ended up buying Bronica's ETR competitor, Mamiya 1000s. There are many differences between these two cameras but the differences that sold me were the cost and the max shutter speed (1/1000 on the Mamiya, 1/500 on the Bronica). When you're fighting with the sun or experimenting with double exposure, you'll want the max shutter speed.

    As for the 120/220 film backs.... They most certainly are interchangeable. But, you'll have a hard time finding 220 film in much variety anymore. And, if you do find it you likely won't be able to get it processed. There's are several bad things that can happen if you run 120 in a 220 cartridge.. . .something to do with springs in the advance mechanism. That, and some cameras have a frame counter window smack in the middle of the back of the camera which is ok for 120 which has a paper backing with numbers but is NOT ok for 220 which doesn't have paper backing, i.e. you end up with a light leak through that little window. There's a reason 220 backs are cheaper and so available. Largely to do with film availability I think. My advice is don't bother with 220.

    All that said, you'd be hard put to find a cheaper way to get into a medium format with interchangeable lenses. Again, I like the Mamiya 645 1000S for its 1/1000 shutter. Just a thought. . . .have you considered the Fuji 690 series? They're affectionately called "Texas Leica's" because of their resemblance to a very large and heavy Leica. If I was just getting into medium format I might try one of those first to get my feet wet. They're a fixed lens 90mm (35mm is the 35mm equivalent of 90 at 6x9).
  3. I suggest you download the manuals from Butkus and see how they interact. Also, there is a Bronica Yahoo group that probably has lots of users of these cameras.
  4. I'll second the Mamiya metal-bodied 645s as economical and reliable. However I'd warn against any later plastic-bodied Mamiya 645 - Super, Pro or ProTL. IME they're totally unreliable. I speak as someone that's had two Supers and a ProTL body go terminally wrong on several occasions.
  5. SCL


    I owned a Bronica ETRSi and ETRS around 2000 before settling on a TLR instead of a SLR. The ETRSi IMHO, being a newer body, had more appeal, and I sold the ETRS to a student of mine after using both for a couple of months. The viewfinders are interchangeable as are the screens and lenses. If you're using 120 film, get a 120 back. Don't necessarily go for the cheapest...usually they are the oldest and most in need of a cla. I'd also encourage you to get the best viewfinder you can afford for features like diopter adjustment and metering. The Bronica lenses are generally very good but you need to make sure the ones you get are in top shape.
  6. As said, backs are interchangeable across the entire ETR series(except the ETRC, which doesn't have interchangeable backs). I bought a kit a while a back that had an ETR and ETRS body along with 4 backs, and there really was no differentiation between which backs "belonged" with each camera.

    I'm more partial to 6x6 and use my SQ-A a lot more. I seem to recall that you need SQ-Ai backs to get some of the SQ-Ai-specific AE features but don't quote me on that.

    In any case, the ETR series cameras were workhorse cameras for wedding photographers through the 80s and 90s. They may not have the finesse of Hasselblads, but are fundamentally solid cameras. Unlike Hasselblads, the electronic Seiko shutters virtually never go out of time.

    You honestly can't go wrong with them(or with the 6x6 SQs). The lenses might not have the microcrontrast and glow that some folks claim exists(and was poetically about) on German glass, but Zenanon glass is still pretty darn good. I would suggest looking for the later P-S lenses and not Zenanon-S lenses, as the coatings are a bit better. Either series will serve you well, though.

    Also, just bear in mind that many of these cameras have a LOT of mileage on them. There's not a lot to go wrong, but if something does you're usually better off just sourcing a new body than trying to fix your old one. Fortunately, that's not an expensive proposition.

    The one weakness is the light seals in the backs, but they can be refoamed easily enough.

    Bronicas were made with a lot of "idiot proof" interlocks, so if the camera won't do something there's a decent chance it's because of one of these. If the shutter won't fire, make sure you haven't left the darkslide in. If the back won't come off, make sure the darkslide is in it. If the lens won't come off, make sure you've advanced the film.
    andyfalsetta likes this.
  7. Thank you all for your input!

    First things first, I'm aware of Mamiya 645 and Pentax 645, but I am yet to encounter them with an affordable price tag. If I find any, I will surely go for those because there are lots of Mamiyas and Pentaxes in my country, but I've encountered only two Bronicas.

    Wouldn't go for Fuji 690 as it will half my frames per roll, I was looking 645 specifically because of the frame count, weight, size etc. are not so relevant to me.

    I won't take a 220 back since indeed 220 film is hard to find anywhere here and I should be a fool to load 120 in 220 after what you've told me.

    I'll try to find something suitable!

  8. I have 220 backs for all of my MF systems and still use them, but I have a very specific purpose for them.

    Tri-X is and remains one of my favorite B&W films. In sheet film, TX400 isn't available. Instead, the only thing available is Tri-X Professional(TXP) 320. This is actually a somewhat different behaving film than TX400 with a longer "toe" in the tone curve.

    As of now, TXP is only available in sheet film, but before the last great purge in 2012 it was available in 220 rolls also. I have a small stash of late production 220 TXP that I use when I want to maintain continuity in emulsions between medium and large format. Plus, Kodak large format films are fairly expensive relative to others, and learning my way around it on $10/roll film is a lot nicer than $2/sheet.

    If you want to go to the trouble, there's some Fuji 220 print film that's still available in date(I think it's NPS 160) but it was discontinued in March so it's not a reliable long-term source.

    In a pinch, you can also load 120 in a 220 back. You won't hurt anything by doing it, but don't put something important on the last frame since the spacing sometimes gets messed up. Also, watch your frame counter since the camera won't stop when you reach the end of the roll(and you'll have to dry fire it a bunch to get the backing paper fully off the supply spool). The Bronica backs actually use the same pressure plate assembly between the two(in fact, the FP Bronicas that came before the ETR/SQ/GS series only required flipping a lever to change how the frame counter operates instead of having separate 120 and 220 backs).

    One last thing-unlike with Hasselblads where the back and insert are factory matched, you can swap Bronica inserts around without much concern. The back is really just a shell that holds the insert in place, keeps the light off of it, and holds the darkslide. All the "brains" including the frame counter and advance mechanism are in the insert. You can convert backs from 120 to 220 by changing inserts. The problem is that inserts cost nearly as much as complete backs.
    mikheilrokva likes this.
  9. So no matter what I do, I won't get away with less than 180$ + shipping fees. Looks like I'll have to wait a little.
  10. What are you getting for that $180?

    Around here, from what I've seen, that's the typical going rate for a working ETRS+75mm+120 back+WLF or prism.

    If you're getting more for that, great! If you're getting less, you really are missing something fundamental that you need to use the camera.
  11. No no. I'm planning to get ETRS body with 120 back, standard 75 mm lens and normal viewfinder, one with a prism, I mean.

    OR I could go for a good metal Mamiya 645, if I use MF camera, it will only serve recreational purposes so leaf vs cloth shutter, synch speeds and such differences don't matter much.

    Alternately I could go to flea market and buy Soviet Kiev 88 or Salyut which are Hasselblad copies, or Kiev 6, but they are mostly faulty and I don't want 6x6 anyway.
  12. I was in your shoes back in about 2009, when medium format prices were at or close to their nadir. I wound up buying -- at auction -- an ETRSi with prism finder, a 120 and 220 back, and 75mm lens for the ridiculously low price of $129. The camera is in almost perfect condition. One of the backs was worn out, so I bought a couple more. 220 backs are common on eBay, 120s aren't and go for more money when you do find them. I prefer the latest backs because they have a better latch mechanism and a locking dark slide. One accessory you'll probably want to get right away is a speed grip. They are common on eBay and usually sell in the $40-50 range. The speed grip has a hot shoe and a double stroke lever for film wind. It is very ergonomic and will help convert your ETR into a much more useable package, especially if you have the prism finder or one of the metered finders.

    I have slowly added to my system. I now have 150mm and 40mm lenses. I'd like to get a long telephoto but they're expensive still. I have, I believe it's called, the AE Prism II -- it has a meter and will convert the ETRSi to Aperture-Priority AE when set to the right setting. The AE III is the best, but they still go for pretty good money when you find one. I also got an SCA300 adapter for Metz TTL flash -- I use a 45CT-4 -- so I can shoot TTL flash with my ETRSi. This is a feature that I think is only available on this latest model -- the ETRSi, that is.

    I think the ETR series is the best 645 system out there. And the reason why is because it is truly the only 645 system. Pentax and Mamiya use inserts instead of interchangeable backs, so that right there limits your capabilities. Well, I'm not sure, maybe one of the more recent Mamiyas now has separate interchangeable backs, but for a long time they didn't.

    Finally, I gotta show off some pics I took with my rig. ETRSi with 75mm lens, Kodak Portra 160, shot at box speed. Scanned on an Epson 4990 flatbed scanner at 2400ppi.

    Can you spot the bell in the above photo?
    Last edited: Dec 9, 2017
  13. Thanks for your response!

    Well I've got my case of buying something at a "ridiculously low price", it's Olympus OM-4 with plenty of accessories and I doubt I'll be lucky once more, but I'll just keep searching. To be honest, all I need for now is a properly working camera, I don't plan to invest too much into it, the grip makes the whole thing kinda bigger and clumsier (reason why I turned down Pentax 645) and I really hope I will be satisfied with a single kit lens... But you never know. I'm a bit of a hoarder too.

    P.S. I should definitely check my eyesight since I see no bell.
  14. Hehe. It's dangling from the bottom of the bike. Tiny.

    If you're looking for a single lens medium format camera, then why not get a folder or a TLR? The best folders are the Super Ikontas, I think. There are others that are less common that are also excellent, like the Bessamatics (? right term?) and the Agfa Isolette (the III is the best). I prefer the late ones with the Synchro-Compur shutter and coated lens. My favorite is the Super Ikonta B with Synchro-Compur shutter. Fuji also made a nice 645 folder in a few different flavors.

    There are lots of good TLRs you can pick up for a reasonable price. I have a Yashica Mat 124 (not the G) that I bought at auction for about a hundred bux. It takes excellent photos. The Minolta Autocords are superb, and pretty much any of the Rolleiflexes are top notch. But the latter two brands tend to be rather pricey.
    Last edited: Dec 11, 2017
  15. Well, I can get Soviet folder 'Moskva' for next-to-nothing, It's Zeiss Ikonta copy. But it takes humongous 6x9 images. Too big for me. I suppose I could go with TLR, Rollei and Voigtländer are available every now and then, but I still have doubts about TLR as such. The way I see it, a TLR is some fancy box which belongs on the shelf as a decoration. I know, I know, any camera can be used in that manner
  16. I have a Moskva 5. It isn't small, that's for sure -- and those huge 6x9 negatives! Well, that's why I bought it. I wanted a 6x9 and I didn't have much money to spend. Bought it from a guy in Ukraine off eBay. As for image quality, well, the Moskva's folder mechanism can be a bit dodgy at times. I have to make sure that front standard is locked down. And when I do, the photos are very good. When I don't, then the top right corner of my photos are blurry. All in all, though, I consider it to be a very capable camera. If you're looking for something small in medium format, a 645 folder is the way to go, but they're not all that common, and many can be rather pricey. But when you think about a 6x6, you're gonna usually crop it anyway, so why not use a 6x6? There are some pretty compact 6x6s around. The Agfa Isolette I mentioned above is quite compact. Zeiss made an Ikonta -- not the Super Ikonta, just plain Ikonta -- that is a good deal smaller than the Super Ikonta and it takes great photos. Especially if you can find a late one with the coated lens and Synchro-Compur shutter.

    Now as for TLRs, they take some getting used to. The image you're viewing is not corrected left to right, so that takes some concentration. My first medium format was a TLR, and I can remember the first time I took a picture with it, I was going, "Is that all there is?" That leaf shutter is so quiet, when you push it, there's this tiny little pfft noise it makes. And I'm thinking to myself, surely I couldn't have just taken a picture on a big 6x6 negative and all the camera does is pfft! But ya gotta get over that stuff and realize that a TLR can take just amazing photos if you let it. But then the Super Ikonta folders -- and the Moskvas -- make the same amount of noise -- or lack thereof -- with their leaf shutters.

    Here's a crop of a photo I took with my Yashica Mat 124 on the same outing I was at when I took the above shot with my ETRSi:

  17. My country was a part of "glorious Soviet Union", so Soviet cameras are never hard to find out here. I personally own a handful of luggy and clunky 35 mm contraptions and I hate all of them after switching to Olympus OM system (my hurting knee thanks me for it too as it's a good amount of payload reduction).

    But anyway, I have bought Bronica ETRC from some lady. It's got 120 film insert and a standard 75 mm lens. No viewfinder, but for 70$ it's still something. I'll order a prism as soon as I find out which one fits, I think ETR-S had a couple of different accessories, not compatible with older models.
  18. Here are a couple of pages with some helpful information on the Bronica ETR system:

    Bronica ETR - - The free camera encyclopedia
    Zenza Bronica ETR

    Bronica made an ETRC and an ETR-C. They are not the same camera. Look at the chart at the bottom of the above web page in the first URL. According to that chart, the earlier model -- the ETRC -- if that's what you have, will accept the AE Finder, which means it will also accept the regular prism finder. I had a look just now on US eBay and I see where the prism finders are selling between $20 and $30. The AE Finder was not available, just the AE II and AE III finders, which will work on the ETR-C, but not the ETRC.

    Neither the ETRC not the ETR-C take the interchangeable backs, but inserts only. That's a bit of a drawback, but ultimately not that big of a deal -- especially for the price you paid for yours. $70 is excellent. I also recommend the speed grip, which should fit your ETRC -- you might want to check on this to be sure, but I believe it will. You can usually find them on eBay in the $40-50 range. The speed grip has a hot shoe and a double-stroke film advance. So with the prism and the speed grip, you can use it just like a largish 35mm SLR.
    Last edited: Dec 17, 2017
  19. Well, it's ETRC as far as I know, but can't say for sure until it arrives (not sooner than Christmas). It's coming along with pair of Neopan 100 and I've also checked simple prism finders, I'll have to spend 30$ on it, but I don't mind. And I will surely use external light meter, I usually have nowhere to hurry when using a film camera. As for the grip, I'll consider it if the magic box is going to be too clumsy to use.
  20. It's finally here. One fancy box! Works like a cuckoo clock and it's ETRC, not ETR-C, but I really don't mind, will have to choose film carefully. All the pieces seem to be in place apart from the viewfinder. Not sure about light leaks, but we'll see soon enough.

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