Camera - - CLASSICS -

Com­pared to the small group of brands around now, medium for­mat pho­tog­ra­phy was once the happy hunt­ing ground of many – Bron­ica, Fu­ji­film, Lin­hof, Kowa, Mamiya, Norita, Rollei, Has­sel­blad, Po­laroid, Pen­tax, Plaubel, Pen­ta­con, Kiev and Yashica.

The end of the TLR era saw many cam­era mak­ers aban­don roll­film in favour of 35mm, but the ar­rival of Has­sel­blad’s rev­o­lu­tion­ary 6x6cm SLR sparked a re­vival in medium for­mat pho­tog­ra­phy and con­vinced others they could do even bet­ter… among them Zen­z­aburō Yoshino who es­tab­lished Bron­ica in Tokyo in 1956. Ini­tially the com­pany made hand-crafted lux­ury goods – in­clud­ing watches – but Yoshino was a keen cam­era en­thu­si­ast with a pen­chant for the pres­tige Euro­pean brands, and he soon be­gan work­ing on his own de­sign for a mo­du­lar roll­film SLR to com­pete with Has­sel­blad.

Bron­ica’s first 6x6cm SLR, the D (which for stood for “Deluxe”), ap­peared in late 1958 and used a fo­cal plane shut­ter with a speed range of 1-1/1250 sec­ond. It looked very much like the Has­sel­blad in terms of its styling, par­tic­u­larly the chromed edges and stepped body­work, but in­tro­duced a num­ber of key changes on the inside. The first of th­ese was a cloth cur­tain shut­ter rather than the trou­ble­some metal blades of the early FP ’Blads. Bron­ica also in­tro­duced the in­stant re­turn mir­ror to this cat­e­gory of cam­era and an au­to­matic di­aphragm to en­able open aper­ture viewfind­ing... both con­ve­niences which didn’t ar­rive on a Has­sel­blad un­til 1970 and

the 500C/M. Ad­di­tion­ally, the re­flex mir­ror didn’t swing up dur­ing an ex­po­sure, but slid down and for­ward, en­abling the fit­ting of more deeplyre­cessed wide-an­gle lenses and also re­duc­ing the amount of vi­bra­tion. An­other Bron­ica con­ve­nience was that the film magazine was au­to­mat­i­cally de­tached when the dark­slide was in­serted and pushed all the way home... so there was no sep­a­rate lock­ing ar­range­ment.

The lenses – ini­tially supplied by Nikon – fit­ted into a rack-and­pin­ion fo­cus­ing mount on the cam­era body which was ad­justed via a large knob on the side. This same knob was also used to set the shut­ter speed and ad­vance the film (which also re­cocked the shut­ter) so just about ev­ery­thing ex­cept aper­ture con­trol was in the one place. In prac­tice, how­ever, it proved to be very fid­dly.

In 1961 Bron­ica in­tro­duced the model S, which had a restyled body – so it no longer looked ex­actly like a ’Blad – and sep­a­rate shut­ter speed se­lec­tor was in­tro­duced. The top shut­ter speed was re­duced to a more re­li­able 1/1000 sec­ond. Ad­di­tion­ally, the film ad­vance knob gained a fold-out han­dle, but was still also used to fo­cus the lens. This changed with the S2 which ar­rived in 1965 and had a he­li­coid-type fo­cus­ing mount which could also be fully de­tached from the cam­era. New film magazines could ac­cept both 120 and 220 length film and in­serts were avail­able for the 6x4.5cm for­mat. The S2A was in­tro­duced in 1971 and had a sig­nif­i­cantly beefed-up film trans­port to elim­i­nate the gear fail­ures which plagued the ear­lier mod­els.

In 1972 Bron­ica in­tro­duced the EC, its first model with an elec­tron­i­cally-con­trolled shut­ter, al­beit still a fo­cal plane type. How­ever, with the 6x4.5cm ETR in 1976, Bron­ica switched to leaf-type shut­ters and sub­se­quently did the same with its next gen­er­a­tion of 6x6cm for­mat SLRs when the SQ-se­ries was in­tro­duced in 1980. With its 6x4.5cm SLR Bron­ica was again keen to be bet­ter than the com­pe­ti­tion so, un­like the Mamiya M645 (which, in­ci­den­tally, had a fo­cal plane shut­ter), the ETR had in­ter­change­able film magazines (al­though there was sub­se­quently cheaper ETRC and ETR-C mod­els with fixed backs). The ETR line evolved into the ETRS (1979) which in­cor­po­rated mostly mi­nor im­prove­ments and was fur­ther mod­i­fied in 1982 with no change of model name, and the ETR-Si (1989) which had TTL flash me­ter­ing, mir­ror lockup, a bulb timer and a re­vised film magazine de­sign with a lock­ing dark­slide. Pro­duc­tion fin­ished in De­cem­ber 2004.

The SQ line pro­gressed through the SQ-A (1982) with mir­ror lock-up and com­pat­i­bil­ity with an AE finder, the SQ-Am (1982) with a built-in au­towinder, and the SQ-Ai (1990) with TTL flash me­ter­ing, a re­vised film magazine de­sign and con­nec­tions for an ac­ces­sory au­towinder. A stripped-down – and hence quite a bit cheaper – SQ-B model was in­tro­duced in 1996, but all SQ model pro­duc­tion ended in De­cem­ber 2003.

There were two other Bron­ica cam­era lines – the GS-1 6x7cm SLR which was in­tro­duced in 1993 and the 645RF 6x4.5 rangefinder body

“bron­ica com­Par­a­tivelY Was a small and fairlY sPe­cialised cam­era maker Which ended uP With a big fol­loW­ing among Pho­tog­ra­Phers, both am­a­teurs and Pro­fes­sion­als.”

with in­ter­change­able lenses which ap­peared in 2000. The GS-1 failed to make any im­pact on the mar­ket as the Mamiya RB67 and RZ67 ruled the 6x7cm for­mat, and the 645RF sim­i­larly strug­gled against the Mamiya 6 and 7 which of­fered the ben­e­fits of the larger for­mats.

The 645RF was the only new cam­era to ap­pear after Bron­ica was ac­quired by lens maker Tam­ron in 1998. Tam­ron closed down the SLR lines, de­ter­min­ing it was too costly to get in­volved in dig­i­tal cap­ture at any level – pri­mar­ily be­cause Bron­ica had done vir­tu­ally no prepa­ra­tion for it – and then pro­duc­tion of the 6x4.5cm RF cam­era ended in Septem­ber 2005. This was also the end of the line for Bron­ica, a com­par­a­tively small and fairly spe­cialised cam­era maker which ended up with a big fol­low­ing among pho­tog­ra­phers, both am­a­teurs and pro­fes­sion­als.

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