My search for a 645 medium format camera ended with the Bronica ETRSi, mainly because of all the lovely photos taken with Zenzanon lenses that I saw on Instagram, but also because of its price. Now I am the happy owner of this camera and have already used it a lot. Time to start a field report!
This is work in progress.
Zenza Bronica ETRSi is an electronic medium format camera from (probably?) the end of the 80s and the beginning of the 90s. It is made in Japan and part of the ETR series of 645 medium format cameras from Zenza Bronica. They are plentiful and have a lot of lenses and accessories available. There are many reviews of this camera on the internet, so I will not do a full review but will mainly focus on my own experience of using this camera in various situations.
ETRSi is a medium format modular SLR (similar to Hasselblad) camera in the 645 format. This format has been used by photographers such as Sebastião Salgado. The aspect ratio is quite similar to 35mm, but a bit wider. ETRSi is modular, meaning you can change its lens and film back and viewfinder. It has both waist-level viewfinder and viewfinders with light meters in them. The AE-II viewfinder that I own turns the camera into an aperture-priority automatic camera. ETRSi is an electronic camera that will not work without a battery.
- Initially, I was not used to the 645 format. But gradually, I started to think of it as an aesthetically pleasant format. And now I love it. It is a bit wider than 35mm. And of course, it is medium format so there is a lot of detail in each negative. You get 15 photos from a 120 roll, rather than the 12 that you get with a 6×6 camera like Hasselblad.
- I also like the aesthetics of the Zenzanon lenses, which was the main reason I invested in this system. Photos taken by Pentax, Mamiya and other 645 competitors all looked too clinically clean and digital-like to me.
- The camera with a lens is quite portable, a bit smaller than a Hasselblad. It is a real step-up from 35mm quality-wise, while not compromising much on the size.
Automatic exposure with the AE-II viewfinder is excellent. Too bad that the viewfinder adds bulk to the setup.
- The ergonomics of the camera are not top-notch. I compare it to the Hasselblad V with its smooth edges and its balanced roundness. ETRSi is awkward to use and quite ugly to look at (though this is definitely very subjective!).
- If you come from the 6×6 world of Hasselblad or Rolleiflex, where portrait and landscape orientations don’t mean anything, welcome to a world of even more awkwardness! Forget taking portrait photos without the AE or AE-II viewfinders. Even with my AE-II mounted, taking pictures in portrait mode is not easy. And forget taking portrait photos on a tripod.
- The camera has a lot of plastic. Especially in the film backs. Every time I load a film, I am afraid to break them.
- With the grip and the AE-II viewfinder attached, ETRSi becomes a quite bulky camera.
- It does not have a hot/cold shoe! Which means it does not have any place to attach a bubble level. The camera does not even have a flat surface to place a detached bubble level on!
- A couple of times, I managed to press the shutter button with the dark slide on the film back. This, of course, means that I got black frames. Probably something wrong with my film back, though.
I will probably find some more…
Compared to other medium format cameras, these Bronicas are quite economical cameras for the quality you get. I have paid less than 100 Euro for each lens I own, and maybe 150 Euro for the camera body with a film back. A 645 Fuji point-and-shoot easily costs 6-700 Euros these days and has only one lens! So the Bronica is a bargain if you consider that it is a system consisting of some really excellent glass! If you can forgive some of its ergonomic flaws, you will get some amazing pictures in the lovely 645 format. It is a good investment. A lot of these cameras are sold on eBay in mint or near mint conditions and will probably do so in the foreseen future. I don’t regret investing in the ETR system. And it is the medium format camera I use most, after my Hasselblads.