medium format

Lincoln in Shanghai GP3

Lincoln Cathedral. Street view. Bronica SQ-A. Zenzanon 80mm f/2.8. Developed in Rodinal. Scanned on Epson V500.

The above photo was taken on a recent short visit to Lincoln.  I took it in the Bronica on Shanghai GP3 film.  This film had become my favourite of the slower (ISO 80-100) medium format b/w films.  Not only do I like how it looks, but it was incredibly cheap – the cheapest fresh medium format film on the market.  It was marketed direct from China on Ebay.  It priced with delivery for around £2.10 per film.  Then a month or two ago, it suddenly disappeared.  One vendor has recently started offering it again, but they are UK based, with a higher price (including delivery cost) – I don’t know yet, if the stock is fresh, or old.

If Shanghai GP3 really has gone, then it’ll be a hit to us tight fisted medium format b/w enthusiasts.  A great shame.

Fingers crossed that it reappears.

Cameras and equipment, Uncategorized, Zenza Bronica SQ-A

Zenza Bronica SQ-A Camera

The SQ-A camera was built by Zenza Bronica in Japan between 1982 and 1989.  As part of the Bronica SQ series, it could use 120, 220, or Polaroid film with full six by six cm square exposures.  The Bronica ETR series on the other hand, were masked to produce smaller six by four cm exposures. – rectangular, smaller, but allowing more exposures per film roll.

I’ve owned a Zenza Bronica SQ-A camera for a little over two months, and fancied writing an early appraisal (not too sure if I have the experience to call it a user review).  The Bronica SQ-A is both a medium format film SLR camera, and a modular system camera.  The former, as it indeed is a single lens reflex, with a reflex mirror that  moves out of the way – either lockup preset, or automatically before the shutter opens. The mirror does not return to viewing position, until the film is cranked on.  The camera has a leaf shutter, located in the lens.  It is a modular system camera, with interchangeable lenses, focusing screens, prism or waist level finders, film backs, and an optional grip.

My Bronica SQ-A camera. Taken with a Sony A200 DSLR.

My Bronica SQ-A came fitted with a Zenzanon 80mm f/2.8 PS lens, standard focusing screen, waist level viewer (with magnifier), no grip, and with a 120 film back including dark slide.  I purchased it on Ebay for £180.  The largest sum that I have ever paid for a camera, but it was a good price for a private purchase.  Buy it now prices for a similar system on Ebay, range from GBP £200 to £500, so I’d say I got a good buy.  These system cameras were popular tools used by professional studios and wedding photographers during the 1980s and 1990s, so plenty come along for sale, although some may have been well used.  They are sometimes nicknamed “the poor man’s Hasselblad”.  However a used ‘Blad of similar spec and vintage is likely to cost you between £750 and £1,750.  Performance of a Hasselblad is considered to be superior to a Bronica, but “not necessarily THAT superior for all types of photography.  That is what attracted me to the Bronica SQA.  Value for money.  Having recently entered medium format film photography using a £3 Lomo Lubitel 166B TLR camera, I desired something better, but couldn’t justify the cost of buying a Hasselblad.

The Bronica SQ-A, with a 120 film back, exposes a 6cm by 6cm square image onto each film frame.  That’s about four times the area of a 35mm film, or full frame digital sensor.  These are pretty large exposures, enabling great detail, and either enlarging or cropping capacity.  A square format negates landscape v portrait camera handling.  It challenges the photographer with new compositions.  On a roll of 120 film, I get 12 negatives.  The film is manually cranked on, but as long as the film is correctly loaded, the winder takes you automatically to the next frame – and the exposure counter is displayed on the film back.  No light leaking red windows on this system camera.  As previously stated, the film crank also (unless set not to on the lockup selector) resets the reflex mirror for viewing.

Recent capture of a Human Statue street performer at Cambridge. Using the Bronica SQ-A loaded with Foma Fomapan Classic 100 film. Developed at home in ID11.

 The film back can be removed part way through using a film, by inserting the supplied “dark slide”, and pressing release tabs.  A professional photographer in the past would carry a number of film backs – ready loaded with film, or maybe a choice of films and formats.  Film backs were manufactured for 120, 220, and Polaroid.  220 film format is no longer widely available.  It is similar ro 120, only with paper backing only at leader and foot at the film – allowing more film to be rolled, with more exposures than 120.  Polaroids were often used by studios whilst testing a photoshoot.  I have also seen mention of a 135 (35mm) film back, but I do not know if this was ever officially available for the SQ-A.  Still, you can see why modular system cameras were developed, and became so popular with studios and wedding photographers.

The lens is also detachable, and a number were marketed under the Zenzanon brand in S then PS lines.  With the shutter built into the lens, the dark slide first needs to be inserted to protect the film.  A wonder of the SQ-A are all of the electronic and well designed mechanical interlocks running throughout the camera. designed to protect the user from removing the wrong module in the wrong order.  This apparently often confuses new users.  For example, with no film present, the lockup selector switch must be set correctly, in order to flip the mirror from the shutter release.  Additionally, because the camera uses leaf shutters in the lens, and the mirror does not return until the film winder is cranked on, new users expect to hear the slow speed of the mirror flipping on a long exposure, as on 35mm SLR cameras.  As the mirror does not return, they can’t hear a slow exposure, or a fast exposure.  As the mirror is very clunky when it moves away, it is also recommended to use mirror lockup on slower speeds, to avoid recoil.

Mirror lockup either one exposure or continuous, is available via a toggle switch.  As is a multiple exposure function that allows for more than one exposure without cranking on film.

The lens supplied with my Bronica system was the kit Zenzanon PS 80 mm f/2.8.  On 120 medium format, this gives a similar “standard” focal length to a 35mm film camera fitted with a 50 mm prime, or alternatively to a DSLR APS-C sensor fitted with around a 35 mm prime.  The Zenzanon PS line of prime lenses were manufactured in a range of focal lengths, from 35 mm to 500 mm.  Some prefer the later PS line (built from 1986 to 1989) to the earlier S line (built from 1980 to 1986).  Mine was very clean, and mechanically sound.  The Zenzanon 150 mm prime lens is preferred for close up portrait work, to the 80 mm.  It’s on my wish list.  My lens also has a depth of field preview switch – allowing the user to preview through the stopped down aperture.

Tallawah guitarist at a local gig. Taken with Bronica SQ-A and Ilford HP5 Plus film. Home developed in ID11.

A variety of focusing screens and finders modules can be used on the Bronica body.  Mine is I believe fitted with the standard kit focusing screen, and with the most common choice for the 6 x 6 SQ-A, a waist level finder.  The focusing hood has a well made feel to it, and releases very well.  A magnifier for fine focusing can be popped up.  It’s worth noting that the reflex finder image  has not passed through a prism.  It is the correct way up for the user, but back to front.  If expecting someone to cross the path of the lens from the left – they’ll appear instead from the right in the viewer.  The whole feel of the waist level viewer is that of good construct and design.  Alternative finders for the Bronica include a prism viewfinder.  This, especially when combined with a grip, can make handling the camera something more like a 35mm SLR – although with rather more weight and size!  The camera can be held up at eye level, and viewed through a prism.  The AE prism finder has a light meter built in.  More on that later.  However, Bronica users seem to prefer using prism finders on the ETR series, which reflex waist level images upside down (or so I’m told, please tell me if I’m wrong), and waist level finders on the SQ series.

The SQ-A with a waist level finder is a fully manual exposure camera.  However, with an AE prism finder, it is capable of Automatic (Aperture priority – the AE finder sets the shutter speed) exposure.  I’m happy with my waist level finder, but I’m using my SQ-A without any light metering (I had an unreliable portable light meter that totally died), setting exposure by judgement and the Sunny F16 rule.  Sacrilege!  I could carry a DSLR around and use it as a light meter, but too cumbersome!

Owen. Bronica SQ-A. Zenzanon PS 80mm f/2.8 lens. Ilford HP5 Plus film, developed in ID11.

Power is supplied by your cranking the handle, and electrically from a 6V silver oxide battery.  A battery tester is built into the body.  Shutter speed is set on the body, by a well built dial, from 8 secs to 1/500 sec.  Aperture on my PS 80mm lens ranges from f2.8 to f22.  A film speed dial sits on the back of the body.  By default, it’s just a reminder.  However, if used with an AE prism finder, it does adjust automatic exposure.

By the way, I’m told that the correct pronunciation for Bronica is “brownie-ka”.  When George Eastman and his company Kodak introduced the 120 film format in 1901, it was initially intended for their new range of Brownie box cameras.  The Japanese managers at Bronica still knew 120 as “Brownie film”.

So what’s it like to use?  To an amateur enthusiast like myself, awesome!  It’s a heavy lump on the shoulder strap, weighing in at 1.5 kg.  That’s without a prism or finder.  It’s solidly built.  On the shoulder, it hangs down – lens cover facing to the ground.  I used it in the streets of Cambridge last weekend.  Plastic Canon / Nikon DSLRs flashing around everywhere on rapid shoot auto modes.  I move in with the Bronica, release the finder hood and magnifier.  Carefully judge the light and set shutter speed and aperture. Look down into the finder hood, and focus through the magnifier. Then a single thought out CLUNK goes the mirror.  Crank the film on with it’s mighty handle.  It’s super cool.  I’ve never had a camera that feels so carefully engineered, and so well built.

As for results, I don’t feel that I’ve had a chance yet to get my best out of it.  It’s most probably a better portrait camera than street camera.  I really would like to try it out in a studio, or at least in good lighting.  Still, until then, I submit the images here on this post.  Click on any leads you to my Bronica SQ-A Flickr Gallery.  My poor man’s ‘Blad.

Jessop Macro kit, Sony DSLR A200 and Sony DT 50mm F/1.8mm SAM prime lens

Something New from the Car Boot Sale

Jessop macro kit – 2 x tele-converter and three extension tubes with Sony DSLR mount. Taken with the Sony DSLR-A200 and Sony DT 50mm f/1.8 SAM lens.

Well, not as ancient as my usual purchases at the car boot sale.  I bought something for one of my digital cameras at yesterday’s sale!  What are the chances of bumping into something with a modern Sony DSLR mount at a local car boot sale?  Pretty slim I’d say.  I don’t see much modern gear for Canon or Nikon at the local sale, never mind for Sony / Minolta.  My usual purchases are classic film cameras.  But yesterday, I did just that.  A Jessops macro-kit, consisting of a Jessop MC 2x Mx/AF tele-converter, and three Jessop M-Xi extension tubes – 31mm, 21mm, and 13mm.  All with a Sony / Minolta Alpha-mount!

The seller explained that he had bought them for his Canon, not understanding the difference in mount.  He said that he had seen similar sold on Ebay for £60.  Well, I’ve checked them out, and I’d guess Ebay price for the kit might go £40 – £80.  The Tele-converter is still listed new on the Jessop website at £80.  How much did I pay?  I knocked him down to £23 (well, £25 with two movie DVDs in the price) for the whole kit.  A wee bit more than I’d spend on vintage camera equipment, but a nice buy still I feel.

Using them behind the Sony DT 50mm f/1.8 SAM lens?  Focus has to be manual – even with just the tele-converter (although it gives me the option now to use the 50mm prime as a 100mm MF prime when I need it.).  The auto focus just doesn’t find it’s target with the tele-converter behind the nifty fifty, despite claims to be AF.

With the extension tubes added, it turns the 50mm into a macro lens.  I’ve not had time yet, to experiment with different extensions or the tele-converter, nor using them with my 35mm prime lens.  D0F is incredibly shallow at macro with all tubes and tele-converter, making hard to focus anything but a flat surface (see the 20p coin below).  I’ll try for better results when I have better light and more interesting subjects, but for now I achieved the below results.

Test One. The Feather. Jessops 2x tele-converter plus all three extension tubes behind a Sony DT 50mm f/1.8 SAM prime lens

The 20p UK coin. As above, tele-converter, three extension tubes, 50mm prime lens on the A200.

The Pencil tip. As above. 2x tele-converter, three extension tubes, 50mm prime lens.

I’ll play more when I get time.  As I stated above, the tele-converter alone can double the focal lengths of my prime lenses should I need that.  I want to try the kit with my 35mm prime, and to experiment with and without the tele converter and various tubes to see if I can improve that DoF with less magnification.  I also need good light!

I don’t think that macro photography is going to be me, it’s done far better by others with better gear, but it’s worth £23 to play with that option.