Saturday, February 25, 2017

The Magic Square... The Bronica SQ-B

There is something about shooting in square format - whether it's 35mm or medium format.  While one can crop an image to be square, it's the composition in camera that makes the difference.  For one, you don't have to worry about an image being in portrait or landscape mode -- it's all the same. I think the first camera that I owned that shot square format may have been an Ansco folder. Then, I acquired a Rolleiflex for $75 back in 2002.  There are a lot of fun little square-format cameras out there, too. Some use 127 film. Getting used to the advantages as well as limitations of a TLR was quite educational and opened up a new way of seeing for me.  In 2004 I bought a Mamiya 645E that was new at Adray Camera in Ann Arbor, and while I owned it for 6 years, I never was comfortable with it -- the boxy body was cumbersome for vertical shots. I also owned a Kiev 60 for a while, and that SLR was quirky, as the frame spacing wasn't predictable.  However, i did take some decent images with it. I bought a nice  Kowa Six, and that lovely camera was nice, but a bit fiddly. Later, I acquired a Hasselblad 500C, back when they were selling used for really cheap, and people were ditching their film cameras for the latest DSLR.  I sold the Mamiya 645, of course. I enjoyed using the 'blad and had a number of lenses for it, and for some reason, sold it all after I acquired a like-new Mamiya C330 Pro with 80mm and 135mm lenses in March 2014.  The Mamiya is a bit of a beast, but I do enjoy shooting with it, as it close-focuses, which is something the Rolleiflex could not do without a special diopter , etc.   Having full control of my exposure and focus is important, but then, a camera like the Great Wall SLR from China is pretty much the opposite -- I owned one for a few years, and while I got some images from it that were somewhere between a Holga and an Argoflex, I found that it sat on the shelf a lot, so I sold it for a bit more than what I paid for it. While I sometimes regret selling my Rollei, the Yashica A that I have had for quite a while takes satisfactory images, and I paid $30 for it. The Mamiya C330 is a great system camera, and I use it regularly. How many TLRs does one need? (Don't answer that!).
At this point, you are wondering "When is this guy going to get to the topic in the title?" I'm getting to that. Really.  What this all leads up to is over time, I realized that I sometimes have a camera crush, and what I really want is to be able to use a certain camera for a bit, not necessarily own it.  I have had a sort of revolving door when it comes to square-format cameras. Last fall, I realized that the one camera system that I had NOT tried was a Bronica SQ (I have no interest in shooting any more 6x4.5).  I didn't really want to go and buy one, only to find that it wasn't for me, or it was okay but quirky.  I mentioned that I would just like to borrow one for a while on the Film Photography Podcast, and certainly never thought that anyone would take me seriously.  After all, the FPP gives cameras away, right?

A few months ago, I received an email from an FPP listener, and he offered to loan me a Bronica SQ-B.  It had belonged to his sister, and he needed to have some work done on it, and after that he would send it to me to use for a while.  It arrived on February 18, and after unboxing it and checking it over, I looked online and found a manual. I had a 6V battery for it, and after getting used to the controls and layout, I loaded a long-expired roll of film and shot it at various settings, just to acquaint myself to the camera.  I tossed the exposed roll in the garbage, and loaded a roll of Verichrome Pan which I shot last weekend, along with a roll of Tri-X.  Those were developed the next night, and I am quite pleased with the results.
First of all, the SQ uses an electronic shutter, so unlike the Hasselblad 500C that I once owned, you need a battery for the camera to work (so does my Pentax 6x7).  There is no metering with the SQ-B, just like the 'blad 500C. The SQ-B that I now have is fitted with a waist-level finder, which I do like, and of course, one can add a prism finder, just as with the 'blad.  The controls on the SQ-B remind me of the Mamiya 645E, which is fine.  I wasn't a fan of setting the shutter speed on the lens with the 'blad.  The SQ-B goes from 8 seconds to 1/500, and no B or T.  That works fine for me.  It fits easily into my canvas messenger bag with a compartment insert.   The film loading is familiar, and the use of the dark slide is also familiar, though sometimes results in a  "doh!" moment when I forget to remove it.   Using the camera with an external meter or just using sunny-16 (or the Black Cat Exposure Guide) is fine.  If I were shooting something complex, I might use my Pentax Spotmeter.  In any case, this is a fun camera to use, and I look forward to doing a lot of photography with it over the next few months.  Thank you for the loaner, David Lyon!

A few images from my Sunday afternoon outing last week. All shot in Ann Arbor, MI.

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