Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Zenza Bronica S2a

There isn't a lot (or maybe anything) worth saying about this camera that hasn't already been said. You can Google-up it's history, versions, lenses, accessories, user manuals, etc. So why does the internet need one more article about the Zenza Bronica S2a? Well, there are a couple of reasons. Firstly, I (as do most people who blog or write for any media) like to hear myself talk (or type as the case may be). Seriously, I look at my stats and realize that only a handful of people worldwide will every stop and read this. So I write for my own amusement. Secondly, when I am researching something like which medium format camera to buy, I search and read voraciously and I really appreciate people sharing their thoughts and experiences regarding the item I am looking at. Pictures of the item are nice, but I want to hear about how you love the glass or how you hate the WLF. These are the things that drive my decisions... people's passions about the item in question.

With that in mind, I will tell my story...

I got my tax refund. I wonder how many camera purchase stories start that way. I'll be a LOT! I have a Yashica Mat 124 G that I really loved, but it fell off of a shelf onto a concrete floor and now leaks. I try to plug the leaks with gaffer's tape, but between the aesthetic of a taped up camera and having to constantly check to make sure the leaks are still plugged, I just don't use it much anymore. Shame really. I could have bought another 124G, but I started thinking about the SLR family of medium format cameras. A Hassleblad was well out of my budget, so I started looking at the 'upright' types like the Pentax 67 and the Pentacon Six. One of the appeals of this type of camera is that it has a familiar feel for 35mm SLR shooters. You hold it up to your eye and actuate the shutter with your right forefinger. So I looked at those for a while, considering what kinds of lenses I could afford for each and stay on budget. I am not wealthy by American standards, so my camera budget is modest. While looking around studying these two and the Kiev offerings, I came across a review that I had read before, but not really considered, and had actually forgotten. Even if you are not interested in this camera, the review and photos are worth reading. Zenza Bronica MADNESS! over on moominstuff. There is also a very good thread over on Filmwasters. These two reads are largely what sent me down the WLF/Hassy Clone path. I found the looks of the S2a to be very charming. The chrome accents were straight out of a 1950's cafe or soda fountain.


The descriptions of the sound of the shutter on this camera are a bit hyperbolic, but based in fact. It is loud, like a Japanese shinai coming down on your bogu men. It will turn heads, so if stealth and discretion is the name of your photographic game, save up and get the Hassleblad, or something else with a leaf shutter. I like it, personally. the great "THA-WHACK" of the shutter lets people around you know that you are shooting vintage. About 1 in 2 dozen or so people will comment positively and maybe half of the time they want to talk more about it. I like talking about old cameras, especially with young people (I'm 47, so sort of in the middle presently). They often have a curiosity, but also often don't quite "get it". I was at the Japanese Garden in Los Angeles recently and a mom and her ~ 12 yr old daughter wanted to look at the big camera around my neck. I gave them a brief tour of the features and took the film back off to show them the size of the negative. The girl's eyes lit up when I wound it and fired the shutter. Big smiles all around. Love that.


The camera itself is a bit of an engineering marvel. The idea behind it was to improve upon the Hassleblad. In some ways they succeeded. Partnering with Nikon to make the lenses and do the QC on the cameras was a stroke of genius. The camera itself will surprise you with some of the features. The fact that the focusing helicoid is separate from the lens and the body is very cool and kept the price of the lenses down. The body "knows" whether the shutter is cocked and also knows whether the film is wound. That means you can wind the film and cock the shutter, then change the back to one that hasn't been wound and the camera won't fire until you wind the film. Awesome! Inversely, if you have not wound the film or cocked the shutter and then switch to a back on which the film has been wound, you can turn the crank to cock the shutter without winding the film and losing a frame. Spectacular! The shutter won't fire with the dark slide in and the back won't come off without the dark slide in. The dark slide won't come out of the back when it is not mounted on the camera. Like I said, a marvel.


I would recommend a good strap for this camera. It is not light by any stretch of the imagination and a thin leather one will make you want to swing it around and pitch it like those olympic hammer thrower guys. I highly recommend the Op-Tech Pro line. They make them with the correct attachments for the Bronica lugs. There are two versions so make some careful measurements and order the right one.

I should say in conclusion, that I really like this camera. The weight helps me to hold it steady when using the WLF (waist level finder). The ergonomics are good for my hand size and the size and sound help me meet other people who are interested in old cameras. On the down side, the view finder could use some help. It is not very easy to focus with, even with the nifty pop up magnifier. There are brighter fresnel lenses that will fit, so I may get one of those and see if it helps. There is also a well-known problem with degradation of the foam under the ground glass. This is easily fixed, so it is only worth mentioning for those who want to buy a 50 year old camera in perfect working order and never have it serviced. Over all, the benefits outweigh the liabilities by a mile. I am going to really enjoy shooting with this camera for a long time. Let me know if you have experiences good or bad. I like to talk to others about old cameras. ;)

Sound Stage portra-s2a-023