Film      Camera Reviews

Introduction


Zenza Bronica made a series of medium-format film cameras, well-liked by studio and wedding photographers.  They are still very popular among film enthusiasts who are looking for a lower-cost camera than the Hasselblad.

Some Bronicas are 6x4.5cm format, but the SQ series is designed for 6x6cm photos.  This is the traditional "square format" that many of us like the best.


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In This Article



Some Specs

Batteries

Battery Door

Digital Backs

Film Advance

Film Backs

Focusing

Lens Compatibility

Lenses

Light Leaks

Shutter

Bronica or Hasselblad?

Bronica SQ-A vs. SQ-Ai, etc.

Conclusion






Some Specs


ISO / ASA Range:  25 to 3200
Film Type:  120 or 220 in 6x6 cm format
Focusing:  Lens Ring
Lens:  Zenzanon-S or Zenzanon-PS
Light Meter:  None (but accepts metered AE viewfinders)
Made In:  Japan
Shutter Speeds:  1/2 to 1/500
Viewfinder:  Waist-Level type;  others available
Years Manufactured:  1982-1991





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Batteries


It takes one 6 volt battery.  A silver-oxide battery, 4SR44, is recommended for this camera.  There are alkaline equivalents (4LR44, PX28L, A544) which seem to work OK.  Battery life on the alkalines will probably not be as good.  Lithium batteries are not recommended.

I never could figure out why, but battery life seems to be inversely proportional to the scarcity and expense of a camera battery.

If you have this camera (or you get one), might as well order a couple of the right batteries for it.  These batteries are just rare enough in brick-and-mortar stores that you could end up on a day-long wild goose chase, and there goes the one sunny day of the whole week.

Some people have fast battery drain with their SQ-A's.  I tested mine and found one possible reason.  Other reasons could be that they're using a metered viewfinder, or something could have gone bad with the electronics.


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Battery Door


It seems simpler than it is.  It always takes me a while to figure it out. 

Probably it was designed so you wouldn't lose the battery door when you're out in the field.


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Close Focus and Macro


The SQ with a standard 80mm lens will focus to 0.8 meters (about 31 inches).  If you need to focus on objects at smaller distances, either consider a Mamiya RB67 or, for the Bronica get a macro lens. 

The Macro Zenzanon-PS 110mm f/4 will focus to 0.66 meters, or about 26".  Together with the 110mm focal length, this gives a significant improvement over the 80mm.  It also has half-stop detents and will stop down to f/32.


See also Lenses.




Digital Backs


There are plates that can adapt a Hasselblad or Phase One digital back to an SQ-A, but the SQ did not have any digital backs made specially for it.  For not much more than the cost of a digital adapter plate-- just the adapter, not the back-- you can buy a full-frame DSLR that's good enough for pretty much anything a person could want, except perhaps fast-action sports.

With the rise of 20 to 50-megapixel DSLR's, I don't know if digital backs make as much sense now.  The real reason to have a Bronica SQ-A is to use it with film.  The reasons to shoot film are many, and as I've written in other articles, it has very little to do with "megapixels" or resolution.  We just want film.


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Film Advance


The film back has its own manual film winder;  the camera has a film advance crank. 




When you load film into the film back, you can either advance it to picture #1 using the manual winder on the film back, or use the crank on the camera. 

Here's something to watch out for.  There's a little lever on the side of the camera, above the film crank.  It can either be set to vertical, or horizontal, and when it's horizontal there's a red dot that's visible on the side of the camera.  (See the photo.)  I did not even think to check this, because when you get a camera, the last thing you probably expect is that someone would leave it set to "multiple exposure" mode. 

After a whole bunch of location photos, when the lighting was perfect, I got home and realized the camera hadn't even taken one picture  Everything else was working, but it was not advancing the film each time. 

The film advance mechanism is reliable;  just don't have that switch set the wrong way. 


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Film Backs


The standard back is for 120 film in 6x6 cm.  220 backs are also common (also 6x6).

There's also the 120J back, which is 6x4.5 cm (645).

With any of these film backs, condition is key.  The backs are complicated enough that used ones can start to have issues (and they can leak).  They can be sent off to Tamron for repairs, if you contact them and get a price quote first.


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Filters


Most of the Zenzanon-S primes take a 67mm filter.  Two exceptions are the 40mm f/4 and the 500mm f/8, which take a 95mm filter. 

The Zenzanon-S Variogon zoom lenses take 93mm filters.

Most of the Zenzanon-PS series also take 67mm filters, except for a couple of them.  The Zenzanon-PS 40mm takes 95mm filter.  Zenzanon-PS 50mm takes 77mm filter because they found that 67mm filters were causing vignetting on the S-series 50mm's.


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Flash


The SQ-A has no TTL flash capability, so any flash used with it has to be in Manual mode.  You'll also need a separate flash bracket, or the Bronica speed grip that can accept a hotshoe flash.  The SQ-A by itself does not have any flash mount.

The Vivitar 3900 sometimes includes a camera-mount bracket when you find it on the used market.  Or try this link for other flash brackets that might work.


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Lens Compatibility


The "MC", "E" and "PE" lenses were made for the ETR / ETRS series;  the coupling pins look the same, but the mounting flanges are different.  These lenses will not fit on the SQ-A or any other SQ series. 

You'll need "S" or "PS" series (see Lenses.)


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Lenses


The original Zenzanon-S series included at least eight or nine prime lenses and two zoom lenses, the Zenzanon-S Variogon

The Zenzanon-PS series included even more lenses.

The standard or "normal" lens is the Zenzanon-S 80mm f/2.8.  It has six elements in four groups, allows f/2.8 through f/22, and has a closest focusing distance of 2.6 feet.

This lens makes it easy to focus sharply, using very little mechanical effort. 

The 80 / 2.8 also has a depth-of-field preview button on the side of it.  One drawback of the 80/2.8 is the relatively poor close-focusing distance (0.8 meter).  See also Close Focus and Macro.

The 40mm lens is the ultrawide;  it has a field of view approximately equivalent to a 25mm lens on a 35mm camera, and it has minimal correction for distortion.  The Zenzanon-PS 50mm doesn't have as wide a field of view, but it's a more useful all-around wide angle lens.  It has a "35mm equivalent" view of about 31 or 32mm.

Zenzanon-PS lenses are 100% multi-coated, so they may have less flaring than the S series.  Optics are supposed to sharper, but from everything I can see, the only place you'll notice a difference is with the non-standard focal lengths.  An 80mm Zenzanon-S will likely give just as good photos as an 80mm Zenzanon-PS. 



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Light Leaks


The film backs don't have foam seals that I can see, but parts can get worn and the film backs do sometimes leak.  Some of the used backs for these have had heavy use in professional settings.  If you get stuck with a worn-out film back and for some reason you can't get a replacement, I would just electrical-tape around all the seams where light could get in.  The one place it might not work is the darkslide. 

Certain of the Zenzanon-S lenses had issues with light leaks.  They fixed this with the Zenzanon-PS series.


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Shutter


Each Zenzanon lens has a Seiko #0 leaf shutter, controlled electronically through the coupling pins that connect to the camera's lens mount.  That means if you want to see through the lens to focus it, the shutter has to be opened while you look through the viewfinder.  That also means the camera has to have a separate mechanism to cover the film while you focus the image through the viewfinder. 

Because it's a leaf shutter, flash can sync at all shutter speeds. 

The shutter itself sounds to me like it's quiet;  the mirror sound is all I really notice, but I never really tried to hear if there are two distinct sounds.




Shutter speed dial is on the left side of the camera.  The available speeds are 1/2 through 1/500th sec.;  there's no Bulb mode.

You can safely adjust the speed after the shutter is already cocked, unlike some cameras where that would break something.  The reason you can adjust it whenever you want is that it uses an electromagnet to hold the shutter open for any speeds slower than 1/500th.  So there's still the same amount of spring tension on it, regardless.  Without the electromagnet, the shutter will close in 1/500th of a second.  With the electromagnet, it can stay open as long as 1/2 a second.




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Bronica or Hasselblad?


If it's a question of image quality, then it's really a lens comparison.  And very likely, you will not notice much difference between Zenzanon lenses and Carl Zeiss lenses.  It's one of these things where if you like a certain brand, just get it, but the performance probably won't be that much different, and the Hasselblad costs more.  

By the 1980's, the Japanese lens manufactures could mass-produce lenses as good if not better than what the European lens makers had been making.  And since we're mostly talking about prime lenses, that was relatively easy.  By the late 80's, mass-produced Japanese zoom lenses were up there, too.

The SQ-A is well-made;  it's long been a favorite of working photographers who had to buy their own cameras. 


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Bronica SQ-A vs. SQ-Ai, etc.


Bronica SQ:  similar to SQ-A, but has no mirror lock and won't accept an AE viewfinder as far as I know.  Try this link.

Bronica SQ-Ai:  The TTL flash control measures the amount of light bouncing off the film when the shutter is open.  (Olympus pioneered this with the OM series 35mm cameras.)  The SQ-Ai also accepts a motorwind back, if you want one.  These features make it more sought-after.  (Try this link..)

Bronica SQ-Am::  Motorwind film advance only;  the side of the camera has no crank.  SQ-Am also uses AA batteries.  Otherwise the same as SQ-A.  The SQ-Am would be useless if the motorwind fails, but then again these were well-made and could probably last for thousands of rolls of film.  A lot of cameras from the mid-80's onward were motorwind only.  So, people are still buying these if they're priced right and the motorwind works perfectly.


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Conclusion


The SQ-A is one of the top choices in a 6x6 camera.  Actually it's the top choice, other than a Hasselblad.  Mamiya didn't make a 6x6 camera anything like these, unless you want to get a 6x6 back for the larger and heavier RZ67.  The SQ-A is just compact and light enough that you can use it for many situations without a tripod.

Medium format has very high image quality, and with this camera and an 80mm lens you can get sharply-focused pictures with little effort.  The square 6x6 image format is classic.  They're still making 120 film;  in fact they're making more of it now (2018).  And I'm glad there are cameras like this one for it.


    
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