Zenza Bronica S2: Worth to buy for beginning medium format photography?

Discussion in 'Medium Format' started by delfotribulato, Nov 29, 2004.

  1. Re the Bronica S2 system: I agree with the previous advice that the price is too high, and at this point in its history the S2 is most definitely NOT what it used to be ( a great entry-level 6x6 SLR)- it now firmly sits in the category of collector's shelf queen. A revolutionary and interesting system in its heyday, a bargain for MF film shooters til about ten years ago, but its earned its retirement on the display shelf: leave it there in peace.

    I'd always wanted to own one, because it was the very first MF camera I ever saw or handled. When I was a kid, my best friends sister dated a real estate photographer who used one: like many other pros in the '70s, he chose it primarily for the immensely less expensive wide angle 40mm and 50mm lenses compared to other systems. Ten years ago eBay was flooded with decent S2 gear for sparrow-feed prices, and I finally picked up a complete S2A system. I had a lot of fun with it, especially scaring people with that earth-shattering shutter noise (there is no louder camera on the planet: none). But for actual day-to-day use in the "post-modern-film" era, it pales in comparison to the later Bronica ETR or SQA or the Hasselblad they copied or a Mamiya RB67. Even my Mamiya TLR system gets way more use. The S2 and S2A are too loud, too heavy, too clumsy, and the goofball Nikkor lenses too hard to handle unless you just keep the standard lens glued to the body. The Nikkors are mostly great performers, but the innovative cost-saving "heads-only, no mount or helicoid because that stays with the body" design is an ergonomic nightmare when changing lenses. Worth the trouble back when the cost of each Hassy lens could buy you a premium year-old used car, but not in today's much more diverse and affordable market.

    Bronica S2 users also inevitably run up against the Achilles Heel of its otherwise very clever design: the woefully misconceived focusing screen hardware. It relies on a system of foam strips and tiny springs to orient it accurately, these always drift within a couple years (which earned the system an undeserved rep for crappy lenses, something Nikon was none too happy about). So the focusing accuracy is pretty much terrible with 90% of the S2 bodies you'll find today: restoring it is not as easy as some of the youTube tutorials makes it look, and alternative screens that fit properly have long ago vanished from availability. Coupled with the excruciatingly complex mirror/viewscreen blind mechanics that almost no camera tech under the age of 80 can repair, the system just isn't practical anymore as anything but a curio or collectible.

    As far as wanting to shoot medium format "discreetly", in some ways that isn't really possible today. For one thing, virtually every medium format camera looks like a wildly-dated antique now: this alone attracts unwanted attention and curiosity. Some photographers turn this to advantage, engaging people in conversation and making a collaborative photo. But unnoticed grab shots of people behaving un-posed can be a challenge. For another, many MF cameras are as big and noisy as a motorized modern DSLR. This can be less obvious on a busy noisy urban street, but if someone is alert they will easily catch you out.

    The most discreet MF cameras are the fixed-lens compact TLRs like Rollei and Yashica, followed by the folders. The folders are more obvious, because you hold them up to your face, but they're silent and fast (with practice you can grab a shot with no one catching you). The small TLRs are also silent, and many people don't register them as cameras when you aim with their waist-level finders. BUT: they look positively baroque to anyone under 50, and attract attention on that score (especially the blinged-out Rolleiflex, which everyone under 30 is indoctrinated to worship in Hipster 101). The Yashicamat TLRs are mostly black and much less "look at ME", but prices have shot up to a ludicrous average of $400 (the 124G was a near-dispoable camera that Yashica couldn't give away for $99 new up thru the 1980s, and it still sold used for peanuts until 2008, when desperate hipsters hit on them as a Rollei alternative (if you want a TLR bad enough, $350 for a mint Yashica is still way less than the $1500 asked for similar Rolleis).

    The most reliable, no-fuss, reasonably-priced TLR you can buy right now is a Mamiya C220. Patient hunting can land you one with an 80mm 2.8 or 100mm 3.5 for under $200. But they're larger, clumsier and a bit noisier than a Rolleiflex or Yashica (the trade-off for their interchangeable lenses and built-in close focusing bellows). Alternatives like Minolta Diacord had great lenses, but are rapidly escalating in price and have fatal design flaws like focus levers that snap off and can't be replaced. Even the farcical bargain-basement Chinese Seagull TLR, made of cardboard and and held together with a gluestick, has shot way up in price due to every hipster requiring a TLR around his/her neck as jewelry. If you can handle the slightly larger size and weight, Mamiya C220 is the way to go (in a pinch, its also great for beating muggers unconscious).
    Last edited: May 8, 2018
  2. I guess I hadn't tracked Rollei prices too closely. My first MF camera was a really nice Rollecord Va, and I won it for I think a shade under $100 on an Ebay snipe. I paid about $125 for a Rolleiflex Automat IV not too much later(which needed a service-amazingly enough I got it apart, managed to set the film start mechanism correctly, and it still works perfectly now). I've owned a few others over the years, but bought a cosmetically nice(and working fine) Automat IV after I tripped over it(literally) in the local camera shop for $150 last year.
  3. There are bargain Rolleis to be found. of course, but "bargain" is a relative term and elusive unless you really have more than half a clue of what you're shopping for and exactly what to do if it turns out to be even more problematic than you gambled on. "Cheap" Rolleis often follow the pattern of "cheap" Hasselblads: older than Moses early versions with opaque screens and some combination of dodgy shutters, funky glass and/or frame spacing issues. There can be lots of life left in a half-dead Rollei, and dedicated photographers well-versed in fading Rolleis can work around issues that would stop a newbie cold. Jay Leno can pull to the shoulder and coax his sputtering 1962 Triumph with a toothpick and some chewing gum, but Joe Average would get a migraine (so should think twice before bidding on one of unknown provenance). Receiving a faulty Rollei kinda sucks the joy and anticipation out of owning one: it is advisable to pad one's budget for an overhaul, or look for a Rollei that's had a verifiable recent servicing. A properly-serviced Automat is a better deal than a random, more glamorous model with no documented history. Any camera ever made with a Zeiss or Schneider leaf-shutter lens has the potential to break your heart (and your piggy bank): shop wisely.
  4. Frankly, with such advice, and such prices.... I would not return at that shop. Many ebay shops have a return policy, just keep an eye open for seller reputation, and buying on eBay works well enough.

    I don't have a truckload of experience with MF gear, but my only entry in this field is a nice starter camera: a Yashica D. Cheap, light, silent, discreet, and mine so far is perfectly reliable too. No metering, no thrills camera; optically probably not the best, but it doesn't disappoint either. And I paid less than a fifth of what that shop is trying to make you pay for a camera.
    It is true that prices for TLRs on eBay are relatively high, but with patience you will find this model for less than $100.
  5. Stay away from the S2 for several reasons, It was last produced in 1968 and might have light leaks. The gears were not as strong as the S2A 1969-1976. The lens provided is not coated. Look for a P-C or H-C Nikkor. Lastly, for the price your looking at you can get a Bronica S2A which is a better camera. Brighter viewfinder, newer and probably in better condition, lighter and handles better, higher flash synch. 1/500 vs 1/40. Also a larger variety of lenses that are easier to find.
    Lastly, the newer the Bronica the easier and cheaper it is to service.
  6. LOL...
  7. No dog in this fight, but Detroit Craig's list has a Bronica S-2A for sale. $600, with two additional film inserts, and 75 and 50 mm Nikkor lenses. Nice looking piece of gear. I would give some thought, but I just bought a Hassy 500 C/M.
  8. Although the original camera posted here some 14 years ago, may well have rusted into dust by this time,
    the scuttlebutt around my photo collective was that the Bronica was well-designed, but not robust in actual use.

    Of course, someone who has a Pentacon 6TL and other products of the workers' and peasants' state is in no place to throw stones...:rolleyes:
  9. The thread was resurrected by a new poster with a new but related question. So while the thread has reached puberty, it's still relevant today it seems :)
  10. Some Yashica Ds have the Yashinon 4 element Tessar-type lens that is a good performer. Some have the mediocre 3 element Yashikor. The cameras are surprisingly light and actually handle better than the crank wind TLRs. I learned photography on one in 1964.
  11. Bronica S2A was my first real MF camera. Bought it to use in wedding photography. Performed quite well, no problems. Unfortunately, somebody else wanted it too. Replaced it with a Bronica EC. It also has performed flawlessly for at least 20 years.
    Had to have 6x7 so bought a GS-1 w/ AE prism. Another very good performer, easier for me to handle w/o grip. Also have a Rollei tlr, which I have not gotten along with ergonomically. My advice is to handle as many different types of MF as possible, and buy the one you feel most comfortable with. Price is a personal matter. As I said, the EC has gone a long time with no problems, in spite of its rather bazaar mirror system, You are the one who will have to balance everything out. Best of luck.
  12. Buy an old Rolleicord with a clean lens. You'll be much happier, and take better photographs. I used to shoot a Bronice S2. The camera is HUGE and HEAVY. They have the loudest shutter known to humankind.............. Ka POW! Sounded like a gun shot. Mine had a Nikkor lens that was wonderful, but the whole package was just too big and heavy,
  13. Just in case there's any doubt about the sharpness of the S2's Nikkor lens, here a shot taken handheld using Verichrome Pan exposed at ISO80 with the 75mm Nikkor-P (probably a 1/125 shutter speed):


    I sold my S2 a little over a year ago and kinda miss it; it was fun to use (yes, it was loud and clunky) but I found any claim of camera vibration by the shutter to be overrated. My conclusion was most of the vibration occurred post-exposure.

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