Bronica vs. Mamiya vs. Hasselblad for first medium format camera?

Discussion in 'Medium Format' started by aimama, Oct 28, 2020.

  1. I'm looking to buy my first medium format camera and struggling to decide between the options I've found at an online camera shop. While I love to collect cameras, I can't justify the cost as I'm just an amateur though I'm really keen to build up my skills and portfolio, and hopefully take jobs when I have enough confidence in my abilities. Therefore, I am looking to buy one camera that will suit my needs, and last me a good few years.
    • I currently shoot in natural light, mainly street photography, and portraits.
    • I may move into studio portrait photography at some point.
    • I want a camera that is easy to take around, with sharp glass, and reliability.
    • For example, if and when it breaks a few years’ down the line, I want it to have replacement parts easily available, and be able to find people who know how to fix it.
    • I only want SLRs as that's what I'm familiar with and how I like to work.
    These are the cameras I have a choice between from the camera shop - the Mamiya 645s and Hasselblad are around the same price, and the Bronica SQ is a little cheaper, the Bronica ETRSI a lot cheaper.

    My choices are:
    • Bronica SQ-A w/ 80mm F/2.8
    • MAMIYA 645 PRO W/ 80MM F/2.8
    • MAMIYA 645 AFD II W/ 80MM F/2.8
    • HASSELBLAD 500CM BLACK W/ 80MM F/2.8 C
    • BRONICA ETRSI W/ 75MM F/2.8
    • or wait and save up for the Mamiya 7
    The Hasselblad is fully mechanical but I don't like the 6x6 format, and I like the Mamiya 645 but I know can develop issues with focusing due to its mirror - so that feels risky. I really like the Mamiya RZ67 but it's not portable, and I've looked up a few cheaper, Russian options but they are notoriously unreliable. There is also the Mamiya 7, which seems perfect, but expensive.

    I want to buy one camera and invest in that system for a good few years, so I’d rather pay upfront for what will be right for me, rather than buying a cheaper option and then wanting/needing to buy another camera in two years’ time. So I'm unsure whether to get one of the above, or save up for a Mamiya 7.
  2. SCL


    I'll jump in on the Bronica ETRS/ETRSi, having had both for several years. Initially I was impressed with the construction and quality and at the time I owned them, they were mostly ignored, so price made them and a set of lenses quite attractive. IMHO they were somewhat quirky to use, but I put them on a grip, got a good finder with a built-in diopter, and flash system. I also got a zoom which made the system versatile, but a beast. Results were good, but different than what I expected. The cameras were heavy as I was used to 35mm cameras. Eventually a student I was instructing in MF photography bought all my gear and I switched to TLRs. If you can try out a few in advance of a purchase, I encourage you to do so to help you make a choice which you bond with. BTW, repairs on Bronicas are reasonably hard to come by these days as far as I can tell.
  3. The Mamiya 7, although perfect, is not a reflex camera :D
    The Hasselblad, although you dislike the squared format, is the best 645 camera ;)
    Depending on the place you live, repair and parts become harder these days. I use Mamiya and is a real issue. I believe in the US is not that bad. The big Mamiyas are great, but as you say not portable.
    Looking at your list, I'd say the most adjusted to your enquiries is the Hasselblad (format aside).
    A Mamiya 6 could be also a good option (but it is a "true" 6x6). And not free of "issues" as well. And RF.
    Cannot say about Bronicas, but in the film days they were the main competitors to Hasselblad. What about a GS-1? Looks smaller than Mamiyas.
    Sadly you don't like RF cameras, there are some Fuji options that I like a lot, and a quite small Bronica too.
    Last edited: Oct 28, 2020
  4. Thank you both for the comments! I really appreciate your inputs.

    I was really swayed by the price of the Bronica ETRSI but the repairs being difficult to source puts me off. I did a little digging into this and found lots of others corroborating this statement. The lure of the Mamiyas is real, but the electronic faults apply across the board. I've started looking back at the Hasselblad - it is such a beautiful camera and system, and seems really reliable. In all the frenzy of my research, I totally forgot that you can buy a 645 back for the Hasselblad - that's suddenly made it a whole lot more appealing than the Mamiya. I'll do some more research, and hopefully try out the cameras hands-on before I buy, but I'm steering towards the 'blad. The one I've found has some cosmetic wear and tear but I can definitely put up with that.
  5. If your goal is to get assignments and sell photos, I would recommend you skip film and invest in a good FF digital camera. Or if you have deep pockets, a MF digital camera. No one assigns film work unless you have an outstanding look and style to your work that cannot be achieved with digital.
    rodeo_joe|1 likes this.
  6. I love the Hasselblad and since they are so plentiful, there are lots of repair solutions. Hasselblad still fixes them, there are a few specialists around too. The downside is they too at some point in their lives need the mirror redone. The pads under the mirror perish and I am willing to bet a lot of the Hassies out there could stand their mirror to be repadded. I suspect a full rebuild by David Odess or Hasselblad would include this. If you are a DIY'er this is all within the realm of a reasonably skilled tech on a C/M IMO because the finder screen is easily removeable unlike the 500C which requires a critical readjustment once its been removed. I've heard of owners who have slipped the mirror out the back of the camera (back plate removed) although I have not tried that myself because I believe there are screws under the screen that need to be removed to get the back plate off.

    Another consideration with the Hasselblad is that each lens has its own shutter mechanism and since they are mechanical, could need attention at some point. If you just plan on having one or two lenses, that's not such a big variable. The Bronica SQ series uses lenses with Seiko shutters that are electronic but virtually bullet proof. The SQA and SQAi with its PS lenses is the best of the lot. Good luck with your ultimate choice.
    Last edited: Oct 28, 2020
  7. My tuppence's worth, in this strange time: I have an Hasselblad, and several ETRS-i bodies with their panoply of lenses. The ETRS-i's beat the hell out of the hasselblad on useability. Both sound like bazookas when firing. The hasselblad tends to jump in my hands, however, when it fires. The ETRS-i lenses are impeccable. So good. As are the zeiss lenses. But you'd be hard to tell the difference between the two in the final product, which is an image. The Mamiya's are a different kettle of fish - if you want to go down that path, do your research. Regards, Arthur (apiarist1)
  8. +1 to that.
    The economics of shooting film commercially just don't add up, and neither does an image quality comparison with a modern full-frame DSLR.

    Not to mention being reliant on processing labs that can wreck your film quite easily IME.

    But if you really must try MF film, I'd strongly suggest you look at older, metal-bodied Mamiya 645s. I have 4 of those bodies (2x 1000s, M and J) and every single one is fully working and has never needed repair - apart from light-seal foam replacement, which is cheap and a DIY job.

    OTOH, I have 3 plastic-bodied 645 Mamiyas (2x Super, 1 ProTL) that have given constant grief and have probably been in repair more than in use! I can't speak for the AF version, but I'd treat it with suspicion.

    The Mamiya 645 manual focus lenses are superb on the whole, with the N series generally a tad better optically. But this might simply be because they're younger and have had less wear.
    Last edited: Nov 5, 2020
  9. I struggled with that question years ago when I decided to jump to Medium Format. At first, I had my mind on a Hassy (500CM ), but when I told the clerk at the used camera store how much money in my pocket I had to play with, he told me that could only pay for the back of the camera. The entire camera would cost me 3 times as much 'sans lens" ! He then pointed out to a Mamiya 645 that was sitting on the shelf that came with an 80mm f2.8 lens and a grip(I still have that grip). Not wanting to walk out the store disappointed, I jumped on it !

    I read reviews on the Bronica, but it was too 'cult-like' and exotic for me, with not enough spare parts on the used market. Unfortunately, that original Mamiya 645 lasted only a couple of years before it broke down. I replaced it with another that also broke down in about a year. Then I finally settled with an all metal 645 1000s in mint condition. This latest addition has lasted me several years and still going strong, but then again, I rarely use it.

    The thing I like about the Mamiya's is the availability of excellent lenses and accessories. Through the years, I have purchased several Mamiya (MF) lenses including a leaf-shutter lens and a tilt-shift lens as well as various accessories. I seriously thought about jumping to the newer models(PRO-TL and AF) but the plastic bodies, bad reviews and further expense on lenses turned me off. Right now I have my eyes set on the Pentax 645-D ( Digital medium format), but have not made any plans to purchase one. Maybe Lady-luck will rain down on me some day ??
  10. You might want to consider a Pentax 67 slr. Plenty of them around and not that expensive. Very rugged and very good quality lenses. I think they are a much better camera for street photography. The Mamiya 6 or 7 are also very nice cameras but as you have discovered they can be quite expensive. Another option would be a twin lens reflex camera. Rolleiflex tlr are really great cameras but expensive. Mamiya tlr have interchangeable lenses. Yashica and Minolta tlr are good quality and not that expensive.
  11. It's borderline masochistic to jump into medium format before researching repair resources in your area. These are mostly old cameras serviced by a shrinking community of mostly senior techs. Choose a system you can easily get serviced rather than one that wins the popularity poll here. Many MF cameras available now led hard pro working lives, unlike amateur gear that only saw occasional use. I've had decent luck buying the newest Mamiya and Bronica bodies I could afford.
    robert_bowring likes this.
  12. +1000.

    Repair issues (and their attendant costs) are the surprise "gotchas" that plague nearly all medium format film gear. Much of it is decades old and has never been serviced, many have known vulnerabilities and failure points, and some once-incredibly-popular, modern systems like Bronica ETR-SQ no longer have mfr support or parts availability because the mfr did not survive the transition to digital imaging.

    Chances are about 50/50 that any random medium format lens, body or back you find today will need an expensive overhaul in the near future. If you're in the lucky 50%, your gear will work great when you buy it and continue to do so until you get bored with it and resell ten years from now. If you're in the unlucky 50%, you'll hit a major snag within weeks or months. Repair costs on an item can easily approach the purchase price, so one should try to budget toward the possibility or set up a rainy-day fund.

    Local techs for much of this stuff have aged out and retired, so shipping out of state for repair is often necessary. Service costs can be much higher than newbies are prepared for: while depreciation and digital have tanked the buy-in price of MF film gear compared to 20 years ago, the price of service has remained the same or increased. A Hasselblad lens that sold new in 1997 for $3000 might be found today for "only" $400, but the 1997 repair cost of $200-$400 still holds.

    Systems with electronic shutters are less likely to need exotic servicing than "more-romantic" all-mechanical systems, esp if the system uses electronic leaf shutters in each lens. Systems with mechanical leaf shutters in each lens multiply your repair exposure by the number of lenses you own. If you don't need leaf shutter lenses for fill flash or digital backs, focal plane shutter camera systems concentrate nearly 100% of the failure risk in the camera body (the simpler lenses are like manual 35mm SLR lenses: glass issues like fungus may develop but the mechanics rarely fail). Electronic medium format is a binary proposition: less likely to need repairs over the long haul, but if they do break down fewer techs can fix them vs mechanical systems.

    For leaf shutters: the Bronica electronic shutter systems are reliable and versatile, but if they break you usually need to replace instead of repair (film backs should be examined carefully and test roll shot immediately after purchase). Mamiya RB67/RZ67 are reliable beasts, but large/heavy: check the back seals and revolving plate seals. Hasselblad is, well, Hasselblad: as premium as it gets, very wide range of body options and lenses. Mechanically complex and expensive to repair: get an ironclad return ploicy and test completely soon after buying to be sure all works well. Kowa is getting harder to find in good condition, and has always been difficult to get repaired.

    In focal plane: the older all-metal electronic Mamiya M645, M645J and M645 1000-S are the best tradeoff of price/reliability. Newer more-plastic, more-automated M645 series has more failure points. Pentax 645 series is as close as you can get to a Canon AE-1 in medium format, but not everyone likes the integral motor drive and (non-detachable) prism finder eye relief. Pentax 67 has some great lenses, nifty "35mm SLR" body style, but watch out for winding issues on older bodies (and gremlins in the final 67II model). Pentacon/Praktisix system has huge array of lenses and body style similar to Pentax 67, but the body engineering is a bit dubious and cranky. The various Kiev systems also have a wide array of lenses and balky body engineering. The elderly Bronica focal plane systems with Nikon optics can be fun to use, but heavy, extremely loud, and very difficult to get repaired.
  13. Repair issues with any classic medium format system are definitely real, and even the most exaggerated reports of repair difficulties contain a grain of truth. OTOH, if you really feel drawn to a particular system, don't let yourself be dissuaded unless the price/repair difficulty ratio is really ridiculous (i.e., you probably don't want to dive head first into the Rolleiflex SL66 system unless you have deep pockets and access to one of the few techs left with parts and expertise).

    There is a larger context to the advantages/disadvantages of each system. It is true the Bronica ETR/SQ systems have limited repair and parts options. However, they have a pretty good rep for reliability: the bodies and lenses occasionally glitch if really worn out from ex-pro use, or are totally wrecked as found, but this is something you would discover quickly within your return/refund window. Same with electronic issues: yes, they're not easy (or sometimes impossible) to fix, but catastrophic failure is uncommon and if it strikes you can replace that piece (prism, body, back, lens) for not much more than it would cost to overhaul.

    Generally the bodies/lenses are more durable than average for a leaf shutter system, the one big weak point is the film backs. Worn seals create light leaks that can be time consuming to fix because the seals in some back variations are tricky to replace. Not insurmountable, but not the cakewalk of the single seal in Hasselblad backs). Mechanically the Bronnie backs are similar to other makers' backs: if a tech can service Mamiya RB and Hassy, he should be able to tune up a Bronica back.

    Bronica ETR/SQ were extremely popular in their heyday, the ETR arguably being the most comfortable, versatile, enjoyable way to shoot 645 with an SLR and leaf shutter capability. The sturdy first-gen Mamiya M645 system is not quite as intuitive or ergonomic for fast handling, and trades the leaf shutters for lens versatility and speed options. The Contax 645, Pentax 645, Hasselblad H, and later Mamiya 645 AF updates add integrated motor drive, AE and AF at much higher cost and noise.

    It depends on the specific M645 model. The first-gen metal-body models very seldom develop electronic problems and are completely free of the notorious plastic mirror peg issue of the later plastic-skinned models. The bad rep of the later models was somewhat artificially amplified by early-adopter pros who used them with digital backs: they could be a flaming pile of dog poo in the studio during high pressure commercial shoots. But some of these electronic complaints are digital-specific: if you only shoot film, you won't experience them. Not to say the later M645s aren't more problematic than early models: they are, but many are still in use (enough that a cottage industry sprang up to supply 3D printed replacements for the mirror peg and other parts). The M645 lenses can offer incredible price/performance value vs other brands, esp if you want longer teles in the 300mm range.

    The Hasselblad (like Bronica SQ, Rolleiflex SL66, Kowa 66 etc) is not the best choice if 645 will be your preferred and primary format. These are 6x6 optimized camera body systems that offer 645 backs as a versatility option. That option is valuable and workable to those will also take advantage of the 6x6 capability, and was the only possible 645 SLR choice from 1957 until Mamiya and Bronica debuted 645-optimized systems in the mid-70s. Today, 645 enthusiasts should probably not jump on a 6x6 oriented system like Hasselblad unless they can test drive it first.

    Leaving aside the big heavy auto-everything Contax, Pentax and Mamiya AF 645 systems, the Bronica ETR and original Mamiya M645 are smaller and lighter than a corresponding Hasselblad configured for 645. The ETR and M645 were designed ground up for exclusive 645 format: bodies are smaller, lenses are smaller, viewfinder is sized correctly so doesn't need masking down, prisms are significantly smaller. The ETR jumps ahead in ergonomics due to its compact, electronic, fully-integrated thumb wind film advance and shutter release feature when used with the optional prism and eyelevel side grip. The Mamiya M645 is a little more awkward and clumsy with its larger, less-integrated, non-wind-coupled grip.

    The Hasselblad comes in last: heavier, larger uncoupled grips, larger heavier prisms, meter prisms not integrated with body/lens controls, and larger 6x6 viewfinder must be masked with an insert. Workable, to be sure: generations of wedding pros used this exact setup. But if you don't have a specific need for other features of the legendary Hasselblad system, why make the compromise when the Bronica ETR is a much more ergonomic and smooth daily driver for 645 format? Heck, for the weight you'll carry with a 'blad configured for 645, you could carry the motorized auto-everything Contax or Pentax.

    Hasselblad is great if you want to shoot multiple formats (6x6 and 645), love the Zeiss lenses, or need some of the exclusive specialized pieces of the system. But bear in mind the "classic romance vibe" of Hasselblad lies in 6x6 format with the folding waist level finder. 645 requires the big heavy prism and usually the big clumsy grip, which kills the whole "buzzy elegance" look and feel hat attracts people to Hasselblad in the first place. Yes, its a professional tool, and "elegance" is not supposed to enter into decisions on practical use, but newbies should be aware the whole mystique kinda collapses once you shift from 6x6 with WLF. Configured for 645 with prisms and grips. it is no more elegant and a lot less fun than the Bronica ETR.

    If you're quite sure you'll never use the 6x6 format, a dedicated 645 system may prove a lot more satisfying in the long run. Try both Hasselblad and ETR before you buy, or be certain you get a reasonable no-questions-asked return/refund policy from the seller.
  14. On rereading this thread and given your criteria, I consider that you'd probably do better with a huge (50+) megapixel 24x36mm.
    • Your ISO capability will be much greater than with film in available darkness
    • a whopping great Megapixel smaller camera will probably work more easily with studio lighting of various kinds
    • no question that even one of the biggest of the 35mm size sensor cameras will be easier to lug, have great choices in lenses, and be more reliable. Most of the ~6x6 SLRs you mention have poor reliability as they age
    • "when it breaks" will come sooner with a necessarily old camera, and service becomes even difficult as the camera ages. (Like Triumph and MG owners when I was a boy-child, you ought to buy two of them so as to have a source of spare parts._
    • If you must have a medium format film camera, many of the very fine rangefinder models will be cheaper and work just as well.

  15. Yes, repair is and will be a major consideration, so stay away from electronics which CANNOT be fixed. But i've noticed (dare I say it?) that Mamiya lenses may actually be sharper than Hasselblad/Zeiss, especially shooting hand held. In the street that may be a consideration. The apparent sharpness might be due to the super smooth Mamiya shutter (M6 & 7) rather than the optics.
  16. Out of your list the only one I have is the ETRSi line. I still have these with many lenses and viewfinders. Why? I just can't let them go. These are awesome cameras, simple to use. Ubiquitous so cheap. I've put together a 3 body, 5 lens, 5 back, 3 view finder and speed handle system for under $300 all in. They work will with studio lighting via pc sync cord. Others may be better, but you can't go wrong with the Bronica ETRSi. They are built to last.
  17. I owned and used the Mamiya 7 and Hasselbad 500C/M. The Mamiya 7 is the most agile for street, if used with 65mm, but the least creative of the two. Hasselblad will work for street, but I suggest Zeiss 65mm instead of 80mm. Hasselblad offers most flexibility and precision with close-up, telephoto and very wide angle. I sold the Mamiya 7. I now wish I had both.
  18. I have the Bronica ETRSI and Hasselblad. The Hasselblad I love but they are very expensive and Hasselblad UK have stopped repairing them. Bronica, especially the 645 over 6x6 systems, are a fraction of the price. So much cheaper in fact, that they almost become disposable. If a lens or body fail, buy another one for under £200. Having used both and now looking at prints around 13"x10" on the wall, it is almost impossible to tell which system was used for each print from a quality point of view, though this may be different if you went really big. If I had to do it all again, I wish I had started with Bronica 6x6. If you don't like that format you could crop and you wouldn't have to turn the camera on its side for "portrait" format.
  19. I had a 645 pro and just did not like it, the auto winder was loud and the feel of the plastic just bad and I could not nail the focus as well as with my Rb67 Pro Sd, sold it, out of the older bodies if you had to pick just one, what one would you go with?
  20. I second the recommendation to check out repair shops.
    My somewhat local repair guy just retired and the shop is now closed :(
    So I have to find a new repair shop.

    I shoulda had him CLA my Nikon F2, last year.

    The comment about electronics is close to spot on.
    Discrete components and standard ICs "could" be replaced, by the tech or outsourced to a good elec shop.
    The issue is with custom ICs and other custom components. If those fail, you are out of luck. Replacement parts have to be scavenged.
    The newer surface mount components will require another level of skill to deal with.

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