Monday, November 13, 2017

The Bronica SQ-B - A Perfect Square!

I have owned and used many different cameras over the years, but there was one brand that I had absolutely no experience with, that being Bronica.  Known for their various medium-format cameras, Bronica was a brand that I knew little about. I had heard people say both good and bad things about the cameras, but generally the consensus was that the build was not as good as a Hasselblad.  Last year, in a segment on the Film Photography Project Podcast, we had a discussion about cameras, and I said that there are times that I would like to shoot with a particular camera for a while, but not necessarily own it.  One of the cameras that fit that bill was the Bronica SQ series, which are medium-format SLR cameras with removable backs, square 6x6 image format, and look much like the archetypical Hasselblad.  I didn’t have any interest in the 6x4.5 Bronicas, as I once owned a Mamiya 645E, and that format doesn’t hold as much interest to me.  

A few weeks after the episode aired, Mike Raso contacted me and told me that one of our listeners wanted to contact me and loan me a Bronica SQ series camera to use for a while.  It turns out that David Lyon, one of our FPP followers in Utah has a Bronica SQ-B that had belonged to his sister, and he thought it would be great if I could put it to use for a while.  Dave and I started corresponding, and back in March I received a lovely Bronica SQ-B in the mail with a waist-level view finder, 120 back, and the normal 80mm 2.8 lens.  

The Bronica SQ-B is an all-manual 6x6 SLR with shutter speeds from 8 sec. to 1/500 sec, with flash sync at all speeds.  There is no B mode with the standard 80mm lens. The shutter is an electronically controlled Seiko between - lens leaf shutter, meaning that it requires a single 4LR44 6 volt battery to operate.  There is no metering, so a handheld meter needs to be used.  Multiple exposures are possible, as is mirror-lockup shooting.

The film back is interchangeable, with backs for 120, 220, and 35mm.  The lens is a Zenzanon -PS/B 80mm f/2.8 standard lens, which focuses from 80 cm to infinity.   The film is advanced via the crank on the right side.  Shutter speeds are controlled by a knob on the left side with a readout that is viewed from above.  The waist level finder (WLF) is bright and a pop-up magnifier is used for critical focusing.  The shutter release button is on the lower right side of the front, and is easy to use.  There is a separate screw-in port for a cable release on the L side of the body.  There are several iterations of SQ models, and the SQ-B appeared in 1996, so it's a relatively recent model.  The B designation may just mean "Basic" as that is what the camera really is - basic. The SQ-Ai is the top model with auto-exposure and TTL flash capability.

Use of the camera.
My previous experience with 6x6 SLRs was with a Kiev 66, Kowa 6, and Hasselblad 500C.  In all ways, I find the Bronica SQ-B to be a better camera in terms of ease of use, control layout, and ergonomics.  For those days when gloves are needed, the controls are easy to use.  If you have ever tried to use a Hasselblad with gloves on, you’ll appreciate the Bronica.  The dark slide is easy to remove and insert, and the winding crank needs one turn to advance the the film.  Not having a meter was not a problem. I used a Pentax Spotmeter or a Sekonic Twin-mate hand-held meter or sunny-16 while shooting.  That would have been the case had I used the Hasselblad.   The camera balanced nicely in my hands and the WLF worked great.  I found that a Pentax 67 close-up lens on the 80mm lens was really wonderful for close-up portraits.   I carried the Bronica in a shoulder bag with a Nikon SLR and found that the Bronica was not overly heavy in that regard, and it certainly hung fine around my neck with a Tamrac strap.   Some people don’t like WLFs, but for 6x6, I think it’s great.  Of course the image is reversed L-R, but that’s usually only a problem with photographing moving objects.  It’s the same as using a TLR in that regard.  There are prism finders available for the SQ series, but I like the simplicity and unobtrusive nature of the WLF.

Summary of my experience
I don’t know why the Bronica series of cameras have been maligned by some. Perhaps it is just Hasselblad snobbery.  I am a pretty experienced photographer, and have used and handled a LOT of cameras.  I found the controls and layout superior to the 500c I once owned, and my user experience was excellent.  I downloaded a SQ-B manual before attempting to use the camera, and that’s critical for anyone unfamiliar with a new camera.  The controls are simple to use and there are no distractions when using this camera.  The question is — “Should I buy one?”  My answer is a resounding “YES!”    I liked the results that I got from the Bronica, and I have posted a few of my favorites below.    I thank David Lyon for allowing me to use the camera for most of this year.  I find that FPP listeners are great people with a common bond of film photography.   Now, another camera that I would like to try out for a bit is a Horizon!


Dave Lyon said...


Thank-you for the chance to develop a friendship though the joys of a camera. I personally use the Bronica ETRSi with a waist level finder, primarily for urban and rural landscapes.

I now look forward to exploring the world of 6x6 with my late sister, Susi's camera, for work more suited to the 6x6 format.

I consider myself lucky to have found the FPP in its infancy (show 3) and consider Michael and the Gang my family. When the comment was made about shooting with the SQ, I knew it was the right thing, and right person, to share my inheritance. Thank-you again for the inspiration to try the 6x6 format


James said...

Hey Mark:

I, too, love my Bronica SQ-Ai, and it was a surprise to me as well. I've always loved shooting with my TLRs and, I don't know why, but I think I expected the Bronica experience to be similar (maybe because of the WLF). Of course it wasn't, but I really enjoyed it. I started with the 80mm Zenzanon, and just recently picked up the 150mm and the wide 40mm. I guess you could say I'm hooked. BTW, I appreciate your contribution to the FPP podcast. You guyz make a great team!