To buy or not to buy...Bronica SQ-A

Discussion in 'Medium Format' started by greglyon, Apr 28, 2005.

  1. A friend of mine is looking to get rid of her Bronica system and I'm
    interested, but I have no idea what it's worth, or even if I should
    jump into MF now. I have several questions for you fine

    The Bronica system includes 2 SQ-A bodies, a 50, 80, 150mm
    lens. 'several' backs, lens shades for all and lots of 'goodies' so
    she says. She claims it's all in excellent condition. She also
    mentions a bellows but I have yet to hear back if it's a bellows
    unit or a bellows lens shade...

    Q1: What is this worth

    I looked on KEH and got a range of 1300-3300 depending on the
    condition and just how many extras there actually are...does that
    take into account the depressed MF market now?

    I'm a long time 35mm user, now DSLR user. I use a Nikon D100 and
    D70, would use D2x if budget allowed. I am primarily a
    nature/wildlife photographer, though I've been a baby photog too
    with the arrival of my first son. Photography has always been a
    hobby that I'd like to turn into a profession. (I'm taking a
    serious look at it again as I'm out of work right now). I expect
    that medium format would be a nice compliment for landscapes! I am
    a bit worried about switching back to film, though.

    Q2: Given my background, do you think that MF, particularly this
    setup is right for me?

    Q3: What would you add to this setup to make a good Landscape kit
    with a bit of closeup capability. (I assume that for 'life size'
    macro my 35mm stuff makes more sense,right?)

    I assume I'd want an even wider lens, and some extension tubes for
    my style of work...I already have a quite sturdy tripod/head (Gitzo
    410 and Arca Swiss should be enough, right?). What about meter?
    does the SQ-A even meter? Other ideas?

    Q3: any other questions I should ask first?

    I know it's a lot to ask, what do you think?
  2. 1. I have found that KEH is very competetive on a per item basis with eBay, sometimes cheaper, so yes, I think that their prices do reflect the depression in MF values. However, I almost always find that a large package of items will be quite a bit cheaper on eBay (when they exist) than piecing them out on KEH, so keep that in mind.

    2. I am a film person, so I am biased, but I think that you're going to love using the MF for landscape, and the Bronica is a nice setup.

    3. You can probably get an extension ring that will give you decent closeup. For real macro, you will want to get a dedicated macro lens for much more money. I don't know about the relative quality of 35mm Macro vs MF macro. The 50mm that comes with the rig is about 28mm in 35mm terms, so it might be good enough. I use a 45mm with a 645 setup and it is wide enough for my landscape needs. Your tripod and head should be perfect for this camera. Metering will be via a metered prism, if the kit has one or you buy one. Handheld metering is very popular with this kind of camera.

    3A. Sounds like you have asked lots of good questions and I can't think of more right now. Have fun!
  3. There are other more qualified people who will answer your questions about how right this is for you, but here are a couple of pointers:

    Metering is through a prism. So it depends on what prism(s) you get in your kit. Unmetered WLFs are a good option because they reduce size, weight and improve hand-hold-ability. You could use a separate handheld meter naturally.

    If you get accessories like extension tubes as part of the kit, buy it. You might be surprised later to find that you can pay as much for an extension tube as for a body itself! In contrast to 35mm equipment, accessories seem to command high prices (relative to normal kit equipment).
  4. Q1: I have been buying used Bronica equipment since the bottom dropped out on it a few months back when they announced the discontinuance. I can tell you this with no hesitation: assuming that the lenses are Zenzanon-S and not "PS" lenses(since the bodies are SQ-A's and not "Ai's"), she wouldn't get more than $1000-1200 for the setup on eBay, and even less from KEH in trade. They don't even buy some of the Bronica stuff anymore. I recently saw a similar system but with all the latest Bronica models(ie. SQ-Ai's, all PS lenses, and SQ-i backs, etc.) go for $1200 and this one included a 40mm PS! That is an insanely LOW price for what was there.

    Recent model Bronica is hard to sell for a decent price these days, hence my purchasing fury of late!!! Earlier models such as the SQ-A are being GIVEN away at this point. It is no longer WORTH it to sell Bronica equipment since you get nothing for it. If I were you, I wouldn't pay more than $1100, max. If she DOES have a macro bellows, you would probably want to get that since it gets you way, WAY closer than 1:1 withoug breaking a sweat. Bear in mind that that's past 1:1 on a 6x6 neg. It really produces some amazing results.

    Email me if you want to talk more about the used Bronica market right now.

    Jeff out.
  5. Q1: Not knowing exactly what's in the kit, it hard to say for sure, but I got a SQ-Ai kit with 50,80, and 150, two SQ-i 120 backs, and a AE prism for $1400 on eBay about 18 months ago. Prices have fallen even further than this, so I'd tend to believe its in the lower range of your estimates. If the kit has S lenses rather than PS lenses, it'd be even less -- probably no more than $1k or so.

    Q2: Only you can answer this, but there are a couple things to think about:

    Do you like square pictures? If not, you might want to consider either a 645, which will be smaller and lighter for working in the field, or a 6x7, which will give you a bigger negative. I personally like the square format, even for landscapes, but a lot of landscape photogs prefer a retangular format.

    How are you going to process and print your work? If you shoot B&W, you can get darkroom equipment for a song these days. You can make a home color darkroom, too, but its much more complicated. Most people will either send their negs/slides to a good lab for custom printing or will scan and process the image digitally for output on a lightjet or inkjet.

    If you're used to doing your own digital processing, you'll probably not be satisfied with the unmanipulated proofs from your local 1-hour lab. Needless to say, pro lab custom printing isn't cheap. A MF scanner will probably cost more than you pay for the camera, but it's a one-time expense. I wouldn't bother with the flatbeds that scan film -- I doubt the quality will exceed your DSLR by enough of a margin to justify the effort and expense of MF.

    Are you quick with manual focus? I love my Bronica for landscapes, which gladly sit still while I focus. It's a lot more frustrating with subjects that don't cooperate, like babies and pets.

    Q3: You can get extension tubes and bellows for the SQ series, though the tubes are stupidly expensive even used (my Kenko tube for my EOS was like $25, the 18mm Bronica tube was $150 from KEH). Remember that 1:1 on a 6x6 means a 2.25" object will fill the frame, not a 1" object like on your DSLR. For really small objects (bugs, etc) you'll need the bellows or a stack of tubes to do 2:1 or greater magnification. Otherwise, you're probably better off just using the 35mm-based gear.

    I'd also recommend playing with the lenses you're getting before buying something wider. I love wideangles on 35mm, but find I use them less with the Bronica. I think it's because on 35mm wideangles have a wide angle of view only the long direction because of the rectangular format. On 6x6, a 50mm has about a 28mm-equivalent angle of view in both the horizontal and vertical directions, so it subjectively feels wider than it is. They do have a 40mm rectilinear lens for the SQ, but its fairly pricey even secondhand.

    Q4: definitely make sure you know whether you're getting S or PS lenses. While the S lenses are good, the PS are better and are worth a lot more. Find out if the previous owner has had it CLA'd recently and see how heavily it's been used. The Bronicas are reliable, but I've found mine to be a lot more fussy than my Canon. One of the lenses needed a new mainspring, the lubricants in the body were dried up, which caused a failure in the field once, and one of the backs needed an overhaul to fix some framespacing issues. Nothing major, but the sort of little things that can crop with used gear, especially gear that was used fairly heavily by a pro. Whichever system you end up buying, I'd budget an extra $200-300 to have the whole kit completely CLA'd as soon as you get it, so it doesn't surprise you while on a job.

  6. If you've become accustomed to the convenience of digital, you might be put off by the limits (12 shots per roll) and slowness of MF. Keep that in mind. I would see if you could test it for a weekend. That's the best indicator you can get.
  7. Two years ago I bought an SQ-A, 50mm, 80mm, & 150mm for about $1500.
    The prices have fallen drastically since then. You can buy a body for about $100.

    Borrow it and shoot with it. You'll either love or hate the square.
  8. You're in exactly the same place I was back before I bought my Bronica SQ gear. Here's what I think.

    KEH is very good pricing; lots of stuff on ebay goes for more, and you can beat KEH but only if you're patient and willing to let things go by a lot. The worst problem you may have with the backs is replacing light seals, but you can buy a seal kit for $10 on ebay and spend a joyous evening and get five or six backs done. I was fortunate, none of the backs I got had leaks.

    I was also a 35mm and D100 user. The best thing about the Bronica, my opinion, is that it feels "familiar" in hand to Nikon users. I've heard it from more than one person, and found it was true for me. The one thing that you DO have to think about is square format - not every image you visualize, particularly with the camera formats you're used to, works at all in MF square. I had a Yashicamat TLR to learn this with, and now that I've got the Bronica I feel more comfortable. Anyhow, there is a learning curve.

    Wide: I have the 50, 80, 110 f4, and the 150, so we can talk. The 40mm is the widest, and they're pricey. The 50mm is equivalent to working with, it feels like, about 30mm in 35mm format. More than enough, given a square format - meaning if you use a really wide angle with a square format you run a significant risk of huge amounts of dead space.

    For closeup: none of the lenses will go as close as you want them to. Even with extension tubes, they won't. If you go here, you can see a table of lenses with tubes and what the magnification is:

    Having been there and done that, you'll need to get the bellows if you want really closeup images, which are ungodly expensive, to get the magnifications you want, and then you're talking about a really heavy and slow kit. The 110 f4 macro does NOT go to 1:1, even on extension tubes, but it's one of the best lenses in general, I use it almost as a normal lens. There is a 110 f4.5 macro which does go to 1:1 - but I've seen exactly one of them show up on ebay, and have never seen one pass through KEH.

    Here are some macro images shot with the SQ-A and SQ-Ai bodies, the 110 macro, either by itself or on bellows, some with flash, some natural light. (the first picture is post-processed for the dreamy filmy look for a specific application...the base image is nervously sharp.)

    The images aren't here, but you CAN go to better than 1:1 if you have the bellows. But 35mm (more than D100) is better to use and easier.

    You can put closeup lenses (Hoya makes a very well multicoated set, as does B&W) on the 80 or the 150, works very well, less loss of sharpness than you might think.

    There are metered finders; I have the one for the SQ-Ai, which in theory lets you go automagic exposure. But since MF forces you to slow down a bit, it's not really terribly useful, my opinion. I do use the metering, but I use it as a manual metering. Mostly I use an incident meter.

    I think the S versus PS lens difference is a tempest in a teacup. My 150 and 110 are PS; the 50 and 80 are S. I shoot mostly Kodak Ektachrome VS and Ultra 400, and I can't tell the difference even when I know which lens was used. If you read heavily through the bronica archives, you'll find it much debated, and generally people concede that the difference isn't that large. I find more difference between two Nikkors than between the PS and S lenses.

    Your tripod should be fine, unless you get bellows. Then, the setup is elephantine, and I've got a view camera tripod that I have to use.

    Hope this helps.
  9. Firstly Bronica equipment is very good. I had an SQA outfit with 4 lenses for 15 years and was very happy with it. Second, medium format and 35mm are not substitute systems - different "horses for different courses". Likewise 35mm format digital is no match for MF film. Digital MF is a very different issue and unless there are substantial reasons of work flow, business client requirements there are no real benefits from digital media in MF.

    Only you can decide if MF is for you - type and style of use. An MF kit is not a "replacement" for 35mm.

    If you want to get into MF, first decide what system is for you - for example does Bronica have the range of lenses suited to what you shoot? Would a Mamiya system or even a Hasselblad system fit your needs better. Then do a "lens plan" - what is the ideal set of lenses you would use and best fit your needs - normal, wide, long and medium tele. I'm not suggesting you buy all now - but, have a PLAN.

    A tip - never just blindly buy "opportunistically" - with a plan well in advance, you are well placed to grab good opportunities. This has worked so well for me - I've never wasted money "recycling gear".

    While you have an opportunity to buy a friend's kit now, first do an objective appraisal of your needs. If Bronica suits your needs then decide if her system is a good start. Do the lenses fit your plan?

    If the answer is still yes, then get her gear and have a close look at it. Go take photos one day with it: do I like the way it functions; do I like holding it; do all controls work well; what downside have I seen; to I like the lenses angles of view; did my shots come out well; etc....?

    If yes, then research comparative prices - age and condition.

    Remember when buying privately you should pay about 25% less than retail - KEH prices include a warranty, but your friend does not. Tell her how you calculated the price so she is comfortable with it.

    Finally, others may have told you condition items to look for and there are many web sites that offer that info. IMHO Bronica gear is reliable and good quality. The lenses are very good. It is a veryu good brand to begin with at least, if not live with long term. Lots of accessories around and will be for many years despite the fact the company no longer manufactures MF.
  10. I find the debate over PS versus S interesting. I have an etrsi with PE glass but have used MC glass or older generation.

    If you spend a lot of time looking at slides under high magnification the difference is significant in my opinion especially at the wider focal lengths. Improved coatings equal sharper pictures.

    The PS lenses cost more for a reason. If pros didnt think they were any better then I doubt anyone would have bought them in the first place.

    It depends on your workflow and how big you print but if you are fussy about your optics I would suggest you stick with PS lenses wich are also more likely to have lower shutter time and poduce sharper photographs. If you shoot weddings and use mid speed print ignore my rant.
  11. Wow, thanks for all the good feedback!
    Simon, it's good advice and you're making me think more seriously about what I want vs what she's offering! Ed, so, did you sell your Nikon gear once you got the Bronica?

    To answer various questions and to think aloud:

    First off: I am sure that my workflow will be either 1) shoot B&W, develop myself, scan; or 2) Shoot color, have developed, scan. I have no desire to go back to the wet darkroom! I know that may offend :) some but I found it a tedious place to spend my time. For some reason the computer 'darkroom' suits me much better. That means having scans done, or selling my 35mm scanner and moving to a MF one. I suppose I could use a flatbed and have the best done professionally, but I sure like the convenience of having the scanner at my desk....more expenses, more expenses.

    Second, Format...I've never shot 'square' before. I did a bit of 4x5 in school, I always thought it was a better format than 35mm. I imagine my ideal format might be 6x7, but with the square format it shouldn't be too hard to crop a bit here or there to get the resulting framing I want, right?

    Third, working speed: I envision that the medium format system would generally be the 'backup' to my 35mm. I frequently work near the car, the wildlife refuges in my area prohibit long hikes I would use the 35mm system mostly and bring out the MF when I thought a scene warranted it. I am allowing that I may fall in love with the square format. I've always been more of a deliberate shooter, more likely to be in manual for landscapes. In fact, before switching to the digital setup most of my landscapes were shot with an FM2. I guess what I'm saying is that I don't see the 'slower' process of medium format to be a downside.

    It sounds like the consensus is that this is about $1000 worth of gear given the depressed prices. I am pretty sure she's had it a long time, does that mean these are S lenses and not PS?

    Also, I don't believe she's been actively using the system for the past 3-5 years...does that increase the likelihood of CLA in my near future?

    And finally, as Simon points out, Is this the system that will work for me? Here is the part that only I can answer, but I'll throw it out here anyway...for landscapes would I be happier to bite the bullet and go to a 4x5 field camera instead? Pros: bigger film size and camera movements, Cons: even more expensive (per image especially) and bulky setup...

    So many choices!
  12. I didn't get rid of the Nikon gear, in fact am waiting for my D2x. The systems are NOT interchangeable. If I am thinking about an image, I see it either square or rectangular, and if rectangular, I see it film or digital, and if film, 35mm or 4x5. I do very, very little 4x5 other than pinhole, as it doesn't fit my shooting style or vision very well.

    Probably an over-statement, but seems like most everyone on this forum scans, so your thought isn't much different. Do some searches in the forum on scanners now, as there's been a lot of great posting recently on the topic. Flatbed will get you 99% or more there. I have only had to have one negative rescanned at a processor, and routinely print 24x24 inches, have gone larger. It's as much a function of the characteristics of the image as the scanner (long story, which is why you want to search.)

    I found that square format was a great mental exercise for me, and a great exercise in seeing. I still have the "waste no pixel or film grain" ethic that comes from starting with 35mm film, and still feel that cropping is a personal failure. All of my shooting got better when I had to think about formats in thinking about the image.

    As to 4x5 - only you can figure it out. I'll share this: I almost never carry two formats of gear anymore, because I have an awful time shifting visioning gears "on the fly." I found that if I had two formats (even digital slr and 35mm) I'd shoot 98% in one of the formats. Giving myself back problems schlepping all that gear for no reason. The only exception is my 4x5 pinhole camera, which I carry no matter which gear I have, since pinhole images seem to leap out at me.
  13. Ed, that makes sense. When I think about it, I don't really even need to take too many lenses on a given shoot...There really is such a thing as bringing too much equipment (perish the thought!)

    I think she will let me use the kit for a while to make up my mind, that seems the best course of action...That should help me figure out if it's the format and selection for me. Having the equipment in hand should also help me come up with a good $ offer.
  14. Well, the punch line of all this is that she wants $3000 for the kit. Time for me to step back, rethink, re-evaluate. It's clear that she's asking more than I want to pay. Probably more than it's currently worth, but I'm not the person to help her think otherwise.

    Of course, now I will just step back and evaluate what I really want to accomplish with the new format, and then probably ask you all a bunch more questions...THANKS so far!
  15. Bronica SQ-A is a good camera, but now Tamron had stopped all of its production. Supply of replacement parts will sure become short in a few years time. It is logic to consider some other brands which cameras are still being produced and promised to supply replacement parts and services to the years to come.

    Afterall, I will be very difficult for you to resell your Bronica gear in the future.
  16. She will find out with even a little research that it's worth far less than half of what she wants for it. As someone else stated, Bronica gear is hard to sell and she has some older equipment.
  17. Yeah, I know, I know...I hesitate to tell her, I just hate to be the bearer of bad news. OTOH, maybe then there'd be room for a sale (to me...).
  18. RE: Supply of replacement parts will sure become short in a few years time.
    That's also true of a whole lot of used equipment other than Bronica. Is anyone still making replacement parts for the Canon FD gear I use? As long as the item you need wasn't rare to begin with, finding parts or complete replacements shouldn't be that hard.
    Of course, if you really want to be sure that you'll always have ready replacement parts and want to shoot 6x6, buy Hasselblad, but be prepared to pay the customary premium prices.
  19. Hi Greg,
    Have you bought your MF system yet? I live in Singapore and there's a
    shop here that stocks Bronica stuff (all new) and he does exports. I
    just bought an SQ-B system from him which includes the body, 80mm PS,
    250mm PS, 18mm extension tube, two close-up diopter filters and a
    sturdy flash bracket, all for under USD 1800.00 . And all this is new
    stuff, not used. Please note that the SQ-B does not have any metering
    capabilities at all, even with a metered prism attached. His stock is
    limited to what he has right now, because as you might already know,
    the Bronicas have been discontinued and there is currently no
    distributor in Singapore. From what I can see, he currently still has
    two or three SQ-B kits in his store.

    The proprietor's name is Mr Wong, the shop is called "Fotografix
    Marketing". You can fax or call him at: (65)62237217 .

    I have been having much pleasure using the SQ-B, and I have no
    regrets buying into this MF system. Both the lenses I got are very
    sharp indeed. I scan my slides or negatives into digitals using a
    canon 9950F flatbed scanner, which is just great for me. I have never
    used a dedicated MF scanner before, so I can't say if it's a lot
    worse. Anyway, I'm just a hobbyist and I do photography only for my
    own personal pleasure and to participate in local competitions. Using
    MF has made me become more deliberate in the way I take pictures and
    that has made me learn to be a better photographer.

Share This Page