My first roll of 120 film with a Bronica SQ-A

As I wrote in my last blog post, I recently bought a Bronica SQ-A – a 6×6 medium format film camera.

What is it?

The Zenza Bronica SQ-A is a modular SLR camera from Japan that was first released in 1982. It uses 120 film and produces negatives that are around 6cm by 6cm in size (they’re actually a bit smaller than this, but 6 by 6 has a better ring to it).

The camera uses a leaf shutter which is located within lenses rather than the camera body, boasts interchangeable film backs in 120, 220, Polaroid and apparently a very rare 135 back that allows users to shoot panoramas on 35mm film. You’ll get 12 frames on a roll of 120 film.

There are more than 20 lenses available for the system (which has a different mount to the 645 Bronicas) from 35mm all the way up to 500mm. Crop factor on a 6×6 system is 0.55, meaning the 80mm 2.8 lens that came with my camera is the equivalent of a 45mm lens on a 35mm camera.

What’s it like to use?

One of the things to watch out for with this type of modular camera seems to be accidentally breaking things by doing the wrong thing. On notoriously unreliable Kiev 6×6 cameras, for example, you can supposedly break the camera by changing the shutter speed with the shutter uncocked, which would be easily done if you didn’t know better (I have heard this is a myth, but I have no proof either way).

Bronica tried to cut down on the possibility of this happening through building-in an electronic failsafe which stops you firing the shutter if something isn’t correctly set up. However, this does mean when you first start using the Bronica, you’ll spend a lot of time thinking you’re ready to take a shot before realising the camera is stopping you for some reason.

The camera feels pretty sturdy – it’s not the biggest medium format camera you’ll ever see, or the smallest, but it seems to be made well. The only weakness with these I’ve heard of is in the film backs, but mine seems fine so far.

Once you’ve put it on a tripod, it’s no less conspicuous than a DSLR, so if you’re used to shooting something like the Canon 5D series, then you’ll feel right at home.

Images

I was going to do this as a ‘5 frames’ post, but as this is my first ever roll of medium format film, I’ll take you through every shot I took. The eBay seller I bought this from was nice enough to include a roll of Fuji Pro 400H for free, so I loaded this up and took a few test shots.


Bronica-1

This roll was really just to check that everything worked as it should – I’ve been burned before by a failing shutter on an eBay purchase, but I’m relieved to say that everything looks great to me. This shot was just a frame I took out of an upstairs window of our house to test for infinity focus.


bronica2

A portrait of my wife, who will probably tell me off for posting this, but it’s all in the name of transparency. This is exactly how I imagined medium format to look – lovely soft tones and nice detail.


bronica3

Another attempt at the same portrait. I’ve also never used a cable shutter release before, and I had it set incorrectly, meaning I took two frames when I only meant to take one. Mistake number 1 of MF photography (and many more to come, I would imagine).


bronica4

Feeling confident now, I went for a moving subject. Not too bad – I like the colour tones in this, although our patio doors need a clean.


bronica5

I completely missed focus here. I think the waist level finder might take a bit of an adjustment, but that’s okay. It took me a little while to be able to focus quickly on SLRs, so I imagine this will be the same.


bronica6

Probably the worst of the roll. I missed focus badly. Clearly that wasn’t my night.


bronica7

This is Cow Tower in Norwich. It was part of the city’s medieval defences and now just stand there looking empty. I’m pretty happy with this. I think if I were to take it again, I would stop down quite a bit to get everything in focus, but the branches I’ve got sharp look great at full size.


bronica8

Not sure what happened here. Either my tripod is wobbly or the mirror slapping up has caused this camera shake. I’ll have to try using the mirror lock-up for every shot with slower shutter speed.


bronica9

I take it back – this is the worst shot of the roll. I had high hopes for it, too – I waited and waited until someone walked into the frame from down the hall and managed to either kick the tripod or jump up and down next to it to ruin the shot.


bronica10

This is the cat that lives in Norwich Cathedral. I had the camera on a padded knee thingy for this, which I guess is why it’s blurry. Tripod tripod tripod!


bronica11

I don’t mind this aside from the dutch angle. It was the only way I could get any of the tower in, but I wouldn’t do this again. Sharpness and tones are nice though.


bronica12

And finally, here we are. Again, next time I’ll stop down a bit more to get as much as possible in focus.

The main thing I’ve learned is that I’m not sure I’m ready for low light photography, as I’m doing something wrong when using slower shutter speeds. I think the next roll, which will be Portra 400, will have to be either portraits or some beach landscape shots. I need more practice with the cable shutter release, too!

2 comments

  1. Hi Dan – Some nice shots there; particularly the cloisters one at the end. Had you thought about putting some black and white film through the camera. I think the last shot would look great in B&W.
    Regards

    Michael

    1. Hi Michael, thanks for the comment. I’ve picked up a couple of rolls of black and white 120, but I’m really struggling to get out and shoot at the moment with so many restrictions everywhere. I’ll definitely post about it when I get around to shooting it though!

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