Zenza Bronica S2: A Classic 6×6 Camera

Medium format is one of my favorite types of photography. I recently acquired a Bronica S2A, and thought I’d see how it works. The S2A (1969) is a completely manual, no battery required, camera.

These are interesting cameras in several ways. First, the lens and focusing helicoid are two separate pieces. So, the helicoid, the rotating portion used to focus the lens, may have markings for multiple lenses on its distance scale. The same helicoid could be used with different lenses – and focusing works the same way – but distance markings will be different. It’s possible that your helicoid may not have markings for the lens you’re using. For example, one of my helicoids has markings for 75mm and 100mm lenses. If I mount a 50mm lens on that helicoid, it will mount, and it will still work, but the distance marks won’t be accurate. Another helicoid has markings for 4 different lenses: 50mm, 75mm, 135mm and 200mm.

So, how does this camera perform? I was wondering what quality the photos from a camera this old would be.

Let me say that these are large, relatively noisy cameras – but I don’t think either is as excruciatingly heavy or loud to be unreasonable. I carry an EOS 1DX Mark II with a 300mm f/2.8 lens for my sports photography, and these modern cameras are very heavy. The Zenza Bronica S2 and EC-TL are fairly hefty cameras – and if you add a large lens, that will add weight. However, the things I read about how heavy and noisy these cameras are seem a bit exaggerated. The S2 is loud, but that’s fairly normal for a medium format SLR from the 1960’s. This camera may be a bit noisier than others because Bronica made the mirror automatically return without advancing the film first. With some medium format SLR cameras, the mirror doesn’t return to normal until the film is advanced. I don’t think the S2 is too loud, in fact I think the sound of the shutter is very nice, almost smooth.

Here’s a couple photos, one with my hand so you can tell the size of the camera.

Here’s a few photos I’ve taken with the camera to test the shutter and the focus. I’ve read about issues with S2/S2A cameras where the focus can be off a bit – you can easily tell when the camera won’t focus all the way to infinity. This problem is due to the focusing screen and the mirror either or both being a bit out of alignment due to some foam padding material being worn or deteriorated over time. There are instructions online describing the method to correct this problem. From the images below, I don’t think my camera has this issue – maybe it’s already been fixed.

My self portrait, and the shot of my lovely wife are both shot on Tri-X. The rest are on Ilford FP-4 Plus. I’m actually impressed by the results. The photos of the pots are actually taken with a bellows attachment – which allows some closer focusing, but also allows tilt and shift on the front of the bellows. I believe the intent was for graphic arts photos and artwork where the tilt/shift functions could help straighten parallel lines, or allow focus adjustments that aren’t possible without the tilt/shift. It seems like this was mainly meant for closeup work, since focusing at distant objects causes the bellows to be too compressed to allow much, if any, tilt/shift movement.

The first image above shows the bellows extended (for close shooting) allowing the front to be adjusted (tilt/shift). In the second image, the bellows is set for distance focusing, which doesn’t really allow for any tilt/shift activity.

I’m not sure what the bellows was originally intended for, but it’s my opinion that artists working on advertising, or other images that would be shot at fairly close range in a studio. That sounds like one of the ways that this camera and bellows may have been marketed.

To attach the bellows, you remove the lens, then remove the helicoid, then attach the bellows to the bayonet on the front of the camera, then attach the lens to the end of the bellows. The bellows actually replaces the helicoid and does the focusing – allowing the lens to be extended much farther than would normally be allowed, so close focusing is possible.

Here’s a couple profile shots of the camera, from either side. I think it’s a very beautiful camera, and it generally seems to be very well made.

Notice the dark slide on the first image above. If you’re not familiar with how medium format SLR cameras work, the back (which holds the film) is generally detachable, and has a dark slide like large format film holder’s have. So, if you have multiple backs, you could insert the dark slide, and change backs mid roll. So you could take photos of the same subject with color and black and white film, for example.

So, those are some of my thoughts about the Zenza Bronica S2 medium format camera. I’m actually starting to like medium format over 35mm for the quality of the images I can get with this type of camera. I really like the 6×6 format, and I’ll be posting more about various 6×6 cameras. Let me know what you think about 6×6, and in particular some of Bronica’s 6×6 cameras.