Medium Format Photography

Its rumoured that a Bronica Medium format camera from the 1960s, was used on the Apollo mission – it can be also converted into a digital camera – not that I can see why you would want to do this. I love the classic analogue look film creates.

I’ve been shooting with 35mm point-and-shoot film cameras for most of my life. I remember as a boy sitting with my dad in his loft, watching him develop his rolls of 35mm film. So I have a long affiliation to film. However, when I had the opportunity to acquire a Bronica, a Medium format camera, which I found in a local Charity shop, I jumped at the chance – for me Medium format is the next obvious step. After all, the image quality of Medium format cameras is a major advantage; whether they are film or digital!

When I had the opportunity to acquire a Bronica, a Medium format camera, which I found in a local Charity shop, I jumped at the chance

As you may know, the 120 film size has traditionally been used in Medium format photography. It’s much larger than the 35mm film format I grew up with. It is the foundation of modern digital photography today. Similarly, the sensors in Medium format cameras are much larger than the 35mm full-frame standard. One of the other advantages is most older vintage lenses can be made to work on new digital cameras, as a full-frame sensor is roughly the same size as a single frame of 35mm film.

Medium format cameras aren’t just known for their image quality; they’re also known for being ‘system cameras.’ This means instead of a single camera body, they are modular, made up of different pieces. This is what enables the conversion of old obsolete Medium format film cameras to digital. As different lenses, viewfinders and digital-backs can be fixed to most Medium format systems – depending on your preferences. I prefer the waist level prism viewfinder. To me, it adds a more classic and authentic field of view.

While there are certain specialist digital Medium format cameras, such as the Fujifilm GFX 50R, Medium format film cameras can easily be converted into digital cameras. This is done by simply replacing the 120 film magazine on the back with a ‘digital back’; all thanks to their modular construction. This is simply a digital sensor that fits into the space where the film holder used to be.

Its rumoured that a Bronica Medium format camera was used on the Apollo mission – it can be also converted into a digital camera – not that I can see why you would want to do this. I love the classic analogue look film creates.

While there are certain specialist digital Medium format cameras, such as the Fujifilm GFX 50R, Medium format film cameras can easily be converted into digital cameras.

Some camera manufacturers like Fujifilm, have added more megapixels also, as much as 100MP in some of their models. Fujifilm have even used larger sensors, creating an even greater image resolution. The 51MP GFX50S for example is approximately 1.7x bigger than a full-frame sensor they originally made. You get much bigger and better quality photographs using a Medium or Large format camera, compared to 35mm film.

Images taken using a Medium format camera differ slightly from those captured with a full-frame or a crop sensor camera. Most photographers agree the images look so much better, yet I’m sure the average person just viewing say your holiday snaps would notice little or no difference.

Medium format cameras do have the disadvantage of being big, heavy and sometimes fragile. They also get lots of attention, most times I’m using it someone will approach me, and ask questions about it. One disadvantage, is they do have a much slower burst rate, and less advanced focusing technology. This I understand could be restrictive in some circumstances.

Medium format cameras do have the disadvantage of being big, heavy and sometimes fragile

Medium format cameras are mostly used in advertising, portraits and fashion photography. But I use them more for Landscapes, as the slower style of shooting and depth of field, works better for my style, than say faster Street photography. A Medium format camera is used to shoot the bulk of magazine covers today. When working in a studio, image quality is obviously so crucial. A Medium format camera’s image quality, such as its sharpness and depth of field is a massive benefit.

I must stop waffling and dribbling over my passion for Medium format camera. I’ll post some images and write more about my experiences with my Bronica Medium format camera soon.

Any questions, drop me a line!

This article was written by © Christopher G – Narrating Images

Zenza Bronica Cameras

The Shinkodo Works built its first handmade Bronica prototype in June 1956

If you follow me on one of my social media sites, you’ll know how excited I was when I discovered an old Bronica Medium format camera in a local charity shop.

Zenza Bronica was based in Tokyo, Japan, and was a maker of vintage Medium-format film cameras and photographic equipment. In the Medium-format camera market, their single-lens reflex (SLR) cameras competed with the likes of Pentax, Hasselblad, Mamiya and others.

Zenza Bronica was based in Tokyo, Japan, and was a maker of vintage Medium-format film cameras and photographic equipment. In the Medium-format camera market, their single-lens reflex (SLR) cameras competed with the likes of Pentax, Hasselblad, Mamiya and others.

Originally the Zenza Bronica name had been a popular Japanese luxury goods brand. They specialised in the production of decorated personal accessories, such as metal cigarette lighters and cosmetic compacts and watches. This was way before the introduction of the first of what would become a dynasty of Zenza Bronica cameras in 1959.

For many years, Bronicas were the workhorse photographic film cameras used by professional photographers until overtaken by digital photography. Bronica cameras are still widely used by both professional and advanced amateurs today. The 120 size film is also still being made, owing to its superior image quality, compared to smaller 35mm films.

For many years, Bronicas were the workhorse photographic film cameras used by professional photographers until overtaken by digital photography. Bronica cameras are still widely used by both professional and advanced amateurs today.
Zenza Bronica ETRSi Camera – © Christopher G – Narrating Images.

Zenzabur Yoshino, the company’s founder and source of the Zenza Bronica brand name, was the third son of a Japanese rice trader family. From an early age, Yoshino had enormous respect for the technology used by other world-famous camera manufacturers, such as Leica, Contax and Rollei. Yoshino dreamt of creating a high-precision interchangeable single-lens reflex modular camera system, using his own design. This was partly due to his fascination and increasing frustration with the limitations of the cameras produced at the time.
Yoshino’s dream would require a significant investment, which he self-funded, using his family’s transportation business. His passion for photography started with the opening of a modest camera store in Tokyo’s Kanda area. Yoshino’s camera business, as well as his extensive knowledge of premium foreign equipment, was a major hit with Japanese photography aficionados. They bought and sold luxury Leica and Contax cameras – these were also popular with US Army servicemen stationed in Japan after WWII. This provided the financial foundation for his business.

Yoshino authorised the Shinkodo Works to commence research and development of the Bronica prototype camera on January 17, 1952.

Yoshino authorised the Shinkodo Works to commence research and development of the Bronica prototype camera on January 17, 1952.

The prototype was a ‘Yoshino Flex’, a modular camera. The Shinkodo Works built its first handmade prototype in June 1956, and by the time Yoshino’s eighth prototype camera was perfected in October 1958, the development costs had topped 200 million Yen, a massive sum at the time! The final prototype, known as the Bronica Z film camera and bearing the name ‘ZENZA BRONICA’, debuted at the Philadelphia Camera Show in March 1959. It received incredible reviews by industry press, leaving a long-lasting impression of being the world’s best camera. The Bronica Z modular camera system, later renamed the Zenza Bronica D and successor Bronica’s, were instant successes in the deluxe camera market worldwide. They used large Medium format film and high-quality Nikkor lenses supplied by the then Japan Optical Industries Ltd. The Bronica D was Japan’s first response to the Swedish Hasselblad cameras, outperforming them in key technological areas.

They used large Medium format film and high-quality Nikkor lenses supplied by the then Japan Optical Industries Ltd. The Bronica D was Japan's first response to the Swedish Hasselblad cameras, outperforming them in key technological areas.

Bronica’s design success attracted famous professional photograohers, from the photographic world, including Burt Keppler, who met with Yoshino. Bronica did later develop their own optics and lens modules, including Seiko shutters in later camera designs, and owned the international patent rights.

Bronica was eventually acquired by the lens manufacturer Tamron Ltd. Bronica’s optical lens manufacturing was highlighted in 1998. Tamron released the RF645 rangefinder camera under the Bronica label in May 2000. Between June 2002 and December 2004, Tamron discontinued the brand’s single-lens reflex camera models (ETRSi, SQ-Ai, SQ-B, and GS-1) due to a loss of market share to digital photography and digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) cameras.

Sadly Bronica’s final model, the RF645 rangefinder camera, was withdrawn in September 2005, therefore ending the brand’s existence.

This article was written by © Christopher G – Narrating Images