Yes, the Mamiya 645, Pentax 645, and other medium format cameras are reasonably priced, but I wanted to spend even less.
My Bronica ETRSi came with two lenses, 50 mm and 75 mm, a 120 film back, and a prism viewfinder. The entire package cost me around $300, plus the import fees. I chose this camera mainly because it shoots 645 format, which gives fifteen images per roll, versus the meagre twelve or six on other formats.
This Bronica is an electronic medium format film camera. It has an electronic shutter that sets variable speeds, from eight seconds up to (but excluding) 1/500th of a second, along with an electronically-controlled Bulb. The 1/500 is triggered mechanically; there is also a manual Bulb mode that can be set-off via the camera’s lens toggle.
The ETRSi has the most plastic components out of the entire Bronica ETR medium format leaf shutter SLR series. It has a mirror lockup for long exposures and a multi-exposure switch with an indicator on the focus screen. These features are there so that you don’t unintentionally mess up your frames.
On the left of the camera body, it has a battery check button with light indication on the bottom-left of the focus screen — the shutter button doubles as a power switch. There are dedicated, clearly-marked buttons for releasing the prism and the lens. Everything about this camera seems to be well-thought-out, designed to be quickly and comfortably triggered with ample accident prevention mechanisms.
A caveat: this system can drain the battery quickly if the electronic bulb mode is used for a prolonged period of time.
My camera came with the 135 frame-lines on the focus screen for 135 back. I found them quite useful while levelling my compositions. I later bought a Rick Oleson custom focus screen that was a brighter remake of the original.
No built-in meter means that you’ll need either a metered prism, handheld light meter or the mobile light meter app. I ended up getting myself a decent deal on two Sekonic L308 meters for $25 and an AE Finder II for $50, which I prefer to the handheld ones as it’s more convenient in use. Using the AE Finder II made me question its measurements a few times, but the test photos I took on 35mm film came out fine.
A month later, I was able to pick up a waist-level viewfinder in decent condition for about $20. And I got the 150mm f/3.5 for $30. In total, I spent about $426, plus the import fees for what I’d like to call a complete Bronica ETRSi medium format system.
This camera has a substantially different feel than most 35mm shooters. With it, I pay more attention to each shot, as it produces a larger image on a more expensive film. Compared to most 35mm, this is a bulky, heavy camera; holding is a bit weird at first. The shutter button on the right corner is also strange. Shutter speed selector is a knob on the left, unlike the controls I am used to. Though the lens has a familiar aperture selection ring.
Shooting on 35mm with sprockets couldn’t be any easier with 35 mm to 120 adapters. Really simple to install and get working. I found that this method produces a lot of film waste at the beginning of the roll. For these kinds of images, I recommend getting a 220 back. With the 220, you can capture about thirty frames, while the 120 provides just fifteen.
You will also need to have a dark bag or a dark room to open the 35mm film back and wind the film back into the canister. Scanning the negatives is also different than doing so with a holder or on a dedicated scanner. Easier if you have a clear piece of glass or plastic to place on top.
Handling and portability.
The camera handles perfectly well without a speed grip. A decent strap is all you need. Despite the total of four pounds/two kilos in weight, the system is easy to disassemble and fit into a backpack. I used it on a nature hike with my first roll of Ektar 100, shooting waterfalls and animals. Unfortunately, due to human error, I loaded the film backwards.
I’ve since tried a variety of films on my mini-expeditions, loaded correctly, most of which ended up being from the Kodak’s Portra series.
After about a year of owning my Bronica ETRSi 645, I can confidently say that it is a great camera. It’s portable enough to be taken anywhere, and the results are sharp enough to go head-to-head with any other 645 system on the market. I particularly like using PE lenses on the camera, which give esepcially sharp images.
The camera isn’t particularly expensive, either. You can build your own Bronica kit for less than $400. In fact, this is probably the cheapest 645 camera on the market with a fantastic value at the end of it.