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A friend asked me if I knew anybody that might want to buy her camera, after a short conversation, I got very interested indeed! What she has to offer is the highly collectable and rare Fox Talbot 150th Anniversary camera kit by Zenza Bronica.
Many years ago I used to shoot with a Bronica SQAm (6×6) where I learned to love the square format and appreciated the quality that medium format offers. This article gives a short history of Bronica and provides details of this Special Edition Bronica ETR Si (6×4.5) that I have the pleasure to play with before it is sold.
Zenza Bronica cameras first appeared in 1958 when its founder, Zenzaburo Yoshino developed a camera of his own design. The name ‘Bronica’ may have originated from ‘Brownie Camera’. But because Yoshino had invested nearly all company resources into production of the camera body, he sourced the lenses from Nikon, an established Japanese optics and camera manufacturer. With its superb, precision-ground Nikkor lenses, the first Bronica became an instant success.
Zenza Bronica medium format cameras employ a modular design: the major components of the camera — lens, body, film back, and viewfinder — are separate and interchangeable. Bronica cameras were used by wedding and portrait photographers for many years and their relative affordability also made them popular with amateur photographers.
Bronica later manufactured their own lenses but in July 1995 Tamron, another lens manufacturer, acquired Zenza Bronica Ltd. Bronica’s last model; the RF645 was discontinued by Tamron in October 2005. Clearly this was as a result of failure to predict and invest in the new digital technology, something that seemed to be against the fundamental Bronica philosophy of simplicity; the original cameras didn’t even require a battery as all the mechanisms were mechanical.
The William Fox Talbot 150th Anniversary Special Edition ETR Si was launched in 1990, this particular kit is the 18th out of a total production run of just 150. It includes a standard black polycarbonate ETR Si body with gold commemorative plate below the shutter speed dial. All equipment, including three lenses, came in a Billingham hand-made hard canvas and leather equipment case.
I’ve seen this camera for sale a few times on Amazon and eBay, but never with the full three lens kit and the Billingham case. This is the complete Edition, and, to my mind, should be in a museum.
The items are marked with a security pen which only shows up in ultra-violet light. Note that the serial numbers of the body and lenses end in the digits ‘018’ denoting that they are from the 18th kit from 150; but also note that the items are additionally engraved ’18/150′ ensuring that these items are truly collectable and original. If you’re wondering what the equivalent 35mm focal lengths are, they are 31mm, 47mm and 93mm; supporting a reasonable wide-angle, standard lens and nice portrait lens.
The Bronica and other medium format cameras take 120 roll film which is still readily available; in colour, black & white and even infra-red. B&W is easily developed at home without a wet darkroom, flat-bed scanners can be used to get the ultra high-resolution image into the digital work-flow.
With only 15 images on a roll with the 645 ETR Si (or 12 with 6×6 SQAm), making a photograph will be very contemplative, your style will change, time will slooww doowwnn, you will enjoy thinking about the scene and how you want to render the image in post. The kit comes with a waist-level viewfinder where the image is swapped left-right but not inverted (it doesn’t take long for you to adapt to this for composing an image). It also comes with the eye-level AEII viewfinder which includes both a prism (similar to SLR’s) so that the image is the right way round, and a light-meter for exposure control.
You will find the 12:9 aspect ratio somewhat – spacious, as it will allow your images to ‘breathe’ more than the usual 6×4 format. With other 6×6 medium format cameras such as the SQAm, shooting with the square format will feel very weird at first, no landscape/portrait decision to be made, which is nice, no more awkward wrist bending, cramp inducing positions. I have got to love the square format after many years using a 6×6 camera and I still crop many digital images shot with 6×4 to square.
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