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.
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.
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.
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.
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