New medium format camera – Bronica ETRsi

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about which medium format camera to buy myself for a Christmas present. At the time I had narrowed my choice down to a few models and was deciding which I should settle on. Well, after a lot of deliberation, internet research, pouring over specs and countless online searches for second-hand cameras, I finally made a decision and a couple of days ago I bought a Bronica ETRsi 645 format camera.

Bronica ETRsi Images

As I was deciding which camera to get one of my initial ‘requirements’ disappeared from the list. It became apparent that I didn’t need film backs which would take 220 film because it turns out that 220 film, although twice the length of 120 film, is about 3 times the cost. That actually didn’t really influence the choice because it wasn’t a decisive factor in any of the models’ favour, but it was still a useful fact to find out.

To be honest, after I’d done my research, any of the cameras I had on my shortlist would almost certainly have given great results and been a good choice, so in the end it mostly came down to a question of cost.

Although I could find examples of what appeared to be good cameras on ebay I was a bit reluctant to spend a couple of hundred pounds on a second-hand camera from that site. My experience of buying fairly cheap cameras for my vintage collection from ebay has taught me that most people who sell on that platform don’t know too much about the things they sell. Also of course there is no proper guarantee (I know it’s possible to return a blatantly faulty unit but that doesn’t always work because sometimes ebay sellers just disappear and anyway I don’t want to get into a long argument about ‘working’ v ‘faulty’). Because of that, I was mostly looking at the camera stores to see what they had to offer.

It was a few days ago that I found an example of a Bronica ETRsi on the London Camera Exchange web site for what I considered to be the amazing price of £150 for the complete kit of the body, 120 film back, 75mm PE f/2.8 lens and waist level finder. Although that was a very good price for what looked to be a really good quality unit, I found the same shop also had a speed grip, AE-II finder and 40mm f/4.0 wide angle lens for only another £155 so I could get the whole kit for £305.

That seemed to be a really good price to me because I had seen just the camera in other shops for quite a lot more than that. A short phone call to their Nottingham branch resulted in me purchasing the unit and it was being packaged up and sent to me.

I received the package yesterday and spent most of last evening getting acquainted with my new camera. These are the things I’ve initially become aware of:

  • Although the Bronica ETRsi is heavy and big it’s not as heavy and big as I thought it would be. I could imagine using it for a few hours at a time without too much effort.
  • During my initial assessment of the camera a couple of weeks ago I thought that the metered prism finder only gave a reading which needs to be transferred to the camera body. Although that is the case when in manual mode, when switched to Auto mode the camera does work in Aperture Priority mode.
  • Having assembled and tried out the camera (without film so far) I think perhaps I’ll use the waist level finder more than the prism finder. There just seems to be something particularly special about seeing images composed in the huge WLF.
  • The critical focus magnifier on the WLF seems much more useful than the one fitted to my Lubitel 166 and looks like I might use it quite frequently.
  • This is not a simple camera to use. There are quite a few steps that you need to go through each time to make sure you get a shot. I’m going to make myself a checklist to ensure I get it right.
  • Loading film is a rather more involved procedure than with any of the other 120 cameras I have.
  • The aperture ring on the 75mm lens seems quite stiff to turn. Also the depth of field preview button is easy to press as the aperture is being adjusted and since the handbook states that could result in damage that’s a bit worrying

Although LCE gave the camera the once over, they have given me a month to check it out properly and included a film in the package for me to do that. My plan is therefore to shoot that roll carefully, noting the settings for each shot, trying to exercise all the camera’s functions and try out each lens. Once I’ve done that I’ll post the results.

15 Replies to “New medium format camera – Bronica ETRsi”

  1. You won’t be disappointed. I have an ETRSi and ETRS and love them. I have the waist level finder but never use it as I have 2 standard prisms, an AEII with non functioning meter (a gift) and an AEIII that rides on the ETRSi. I like that the prism finders make it easier to switch from landscape to portrait orientation. Try to buy all PE glass for it as that’s the latest version. Some argue they’re optically superior ( I can’t tell the diff) but for me the best part of PE glass is they give you half stops. Yes I would love something like a Mamiya 645 pro with some faster speeds, but you can’t beat the value for such an excellent camera and here in Canada they are plentiful. Enjoy it and burn some film!

    1. Thanks for the confirmation Paul – I have a roll of HP5 in at the moment as I can develop that myself and I’m checking the camera out but I also have 5 rolls of Portra 160 just waiting 🙂

  2. Congratulations – must be very exciting. Looking forward to seeing some shots, but I hope you don’t loose interest in those inexpensive teeny weeny 35mm cameras.

    1. No chance of that John – I’ve got an Ensign Selfix 20 and a Soligor TM which are sitting on the desk at the moment waiting and I still have a large watch list on eBay 🙂

  3. well, enjoy my favorite camera for every day (best compromise between weight, quality – image & finder)! One thing to look out for: if you use the latest version of magazine/film insert combination (double button lock), be sure to close the little doors which pop out on the side to switch spools BEFORE you put the insert in the magazine. There are little PLASTIC disks around – for lack of another proper word – non native speaker – the knobs which go into the holes in the spool, which are then secured by closing the magazine back around the insert. If you pop these doors in AFTER closing the magazine, the plastic disks will break and you get light leaks. In fact I bought several magazine/insert combinations with this defect online and have thus exchanged the newer inserts for older full metal ones. The difference is the type of film-spool: the newer ones have a try similar to most 35mm cameras. Only flaw for an otherwise excellent system. I found the older MC lenses (again full metal) to be a bit pro to flare in comparison to the later PE lenses. I love the combination of (in my case unmetered) prism with speed grip, the camera then handles like any pro 135mm camera (weight is like my Nikon F2 Photomic with MD-2 and MB-1). R.

  4. I came across your article a year and 1/2 later and enjoyed it. I hope your still enjoying your camera as much as you did when you wrote this. I’ve used Bronica 6×6 cameras professionally for over 30 years, no regrets. Maybe one, I only recently tried the 645 ETRS Bronica, I wish I tried one 20 years earlier when film was still the best method of producing an image. This little gem handles wonderfully and is so much lighter than it’s bigger brothers. In the time of 36mp full frame DSLR’s, this 645 when used with a film like Ektar 100 came hold it’s own. Anyone can point a DSLR and fire away, using medium format film turns you back into an artist, forces you to take your time, and make every frame count.
    I feel there is something to be said about that, enough for me to return to film.
    Keep enjoying your camera and I hope your system has grown.

    1. Thanks for the comment Rick – yes I’m still enjoying the ETRsi and I’m currently looking out for a 150mm portrait lens so I can take some nice colour slides of my children.

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