Zenza Bronica ETRSi

My first encounter with a Zenza Bronica was many years ago, before the digital era, while attending to a friend’s wedding where the official photographer snapped in with a big black cube topped by a striking prism and grip on its right: a Zenza Bronica SQ. Accustomed as I was to the 35mm SLR, that big thing seemed to me bulky and uncomfortable and, for a good decade, it was not part of my thoughts. Only after many years I started to shoot with a Agfa Isolette first and a Lubitel 166B then, so I began to think about being the owner of a Zenza Bronica ETRSi.

Getting into medium format photography is not as easy as it might seem: the issues to be addressed are many and range from the size of the frame to the modularity of the system, the choice of the type of camera (SLR or rangefinder), fixed or interchangeable lens up to the choice of the type of shutter (central or focal plane). In short, the considerations to be made are many and far from obvious. Then get to make a conscious choice is not easy and the risk of regret is high: the differences from the 35 mm world are deep.


The Zenza Bronica ETRSi was marketed from October 1989 until December 2004 and it is the third version of the medium format SLR Bronica built around the 6×4,5 cm picture format . The “granny” of this camera was the ETR introduced in January 1976 and followed in January 1979 by the ETRS. The ETR is a breakthrough in the production of cameras by the Japanese manufacturer because of the introduction of a new format (remember that all of the Zenza Bronica until then had been only produced in 6×6 format) and the transition to the focal plane shutter. This happened while maintaining a rich modular system of accessories that has been able to be appreciated over time and still now it is.

The value of the ETR project is underlined by its longevity: 28 years lifespan where traditional photography underwent a series of significant changes, such as increasingly sophisticated exposure metering systems as well as autofocus until it flows into digital revolution, which also marks the end though perhaps premature of many great film camera systems. Yet, ironically, wanting to spend ourselves out of a lot of Euro Zenza Bronica ETRS or a SQ can be upgraded with the application of a digital back.


Zenza Bronica ETRSi front
Front view of the camera

While looking at it for the first time the ETRSi seems familiar, a little because it looks like some Swedish great camera system, a little because, at least those much aged among us have seen a few of them in the hands of wedding photographers.
One thing is certain: it looks like a Hasselblad but the similarity stops at the concept and layout of the system; starting from a central body, a “cube” which can be attached to a wide range of accessories ranging from the backs to the lenses, manual or electric winders and so on. But this concept, or system, of modular camera has also been “copied” (if that term is permissible) by Mamiya, Contax, Pentax and Rollei, just to quote the most famed brands.
Many weeding photographers chose Zenza Bronica systems as they were cheaper than the original Swedish 6×6, with which they shared many similarities and granted a quality suitable to the job at a fraction of the costs.
Yet the differences from the Hasselblad are no details! One for all: the shutter and its management system. While in the Hasselblad 500 series is completely mechanical, then in ETRSi, as in other Zenza Bronica, it is an electromechanical unit completely dependent on the batteries except for a fixed mechanichal speed.
Picking up a ETRSi for the first time, especially if you are used to the 35mm SLR or digital ones, you should feel a bit puzzled: how to appeal the camera is at least unusual and also the various buttons, dials, sticks and leave the questions on their functions; the only command clearly identifiable on the body due to the presence of the scale of values ​​is the shutter speed dial, located on the left side, while most of the rest are anonymous, so much so that without the manual or the help of a friend who already knows the camera could be almost not easy to find the shutter button. Things seem better with lenses: at least the focus ring and aperture dial are easily identifiable, the rest is as good as already said for the body.
The front end, in addition to the large bayonet shows on the bottom right the shutter button surrounded by a ring having three position lock function and a power switch of the camera; in the lower left button is located to unlock the film, while in the upper right is the standard flash sync socket, marked by a small X on the filler door engraved optics.

Zenza Bronica ETRSi sx
Il lato sinistro della ETRSi

On the left side there is the dial setting and very close to the shutter button to check the state of charge of the battery; down proceeding from the front to the back we find the threaded socket for cable release (classical mechanical action), the multipole socket for connecting TTL flash using the dedicated cable, and the release button on the back.
On the right side, there is the crank forward and arming shutter, and around the two knobs anonymous: the upper allows you to set multiple exposures, while the other is responsible for the manual lifting of the mirror. [ 3×1002]

The upper part of the machine body presents the attack for various viewfinders, with much of the release button and the electrical contacts for the connection of those camera exposure. In the end on the bottom of the body is placed the battery compartment door, the threaded socket for a tripod and a sled, provided with some contacts, useful to be able to attach a handle to the machine to “L”, which allows a better grip and a more rapid advancement of the film or of the winder.

Vista del lato destro
Vista del lato destro

The back side is entirely arranged for the connection of the door film backs.
The objective in addition to the focus ring and that of diaphragms on the left has a button to control the depth of field and, in the lower part, a cursor to enable the laying T.
The backs door film are available in various types depending on the type of film that you want to use: In addition to the usual models for the films 120 and 220 are two backs for the films 135, one for the classic 24×36 and one for a panoramic 24×54, is also available a polaroid back that can also be used with the instant film Fuji. The contafogrammi is placed on the back and shows the numbering according to the type of film for which it is prepared.
It should be noted that the body and backs do not have a system in order to set the film speed in use: this data can, and should, be set sights on exposure modes; this “gap” is due to the need to maintain full accessory compatibility with the parent ETR. A lack serious? I do not think and then just put the card of the film, or a little note in the back pocket memo to know which film is loaded. Purely for the record it should be noted that the Zenza Bronica SQ and GS, designed and built on the back door then have a system of film sensitivity setting of the film that transmits this data via electrical contacts to the body, and from there to other related accessories .

The Zenza Bronica ETRSi differs from earlier versions for some improvements and the addition of some new features, the main ones are: the TTL flash system, the addition of the bulb on the shutter speed dial (bulb to electronic control) and the commando mirror mechanism, as well as an improved system of advancement of the film. During the production of the ETRSi Zenza Bronica was acquired by Tamron, acquisition leading to the creation of the optics of the PE series, even though it follows that the focal lengths of the existing models will undergo changes in optical schemes and will see the introduction of intermediate values ​​on the ring aperture.

Il mirino a pozzetto
Il mirino a pozzetto

To be able to shoot with a Zenza Bronica ETRSi need to equip themselves with some optional extras required: a screen of focus, a viewfinder, a film and a back door goal. You should also load a film: no, unless you set multiple exposures, there’s no way to snap it.
The last important element is the battery that is inserted into the bottom of the machine, without the shutter is capable of taking only with the mechanical time of 1/500, which also supplies battery prisms camera exposure. About the battery should be noted that it is preferable to use those silver oxide or alkaline ones, in case of emergency the ETRSi bears even those lithium while all other Zenza Bronica are not able to work with those lithium because of the voltage and the discharge characteristics of the latter.
Keep also in mind that using the viewfinder that returns the image with the left and right sides reversed, to those who can not give up the classical vision corrected by a penta prism council to consider the purchase of a the prism viewfinders.
Another failure in the end less serious than it might seem, is the absence of a built-in light meter can read the ambient light: it is easily remedied with an external or with the rule of 16. Instead there is a circuit metering capable of driving a TTL flash connected via the adapter and the power cord.


Once assembled the various parts and loaded the film in the back you can finally enjoy the taste of pressing the shutter button, but only after you have unlocked via the coaxial crown and after removing the vouchers.
Once you press the shutter button remains dimmed sight: the mirror is not instant return and to get it back in its place you have to advance the film and cock the shutter, then you have to be ready for the next shot. It is worth pointing out that this car, like the sisters SQ and GS, must always load the shutter in order to proceed to the replacement of the optics.
About change optical I point out that the goal must be mounted on the body with some force so that you can clearly hear the “click” confirming that the junction between the optical and body, but if the “click “has a weak sound (ie they were too delicate operation) the machine refuses to take: it is written in the manual but there is one notices until it happens in the middle of an afternoon by photographers.
Despite these apparent difficulties and the presence of different locking mechanisms against accidental clicks (great for preventing wastage of the film) the Zenza Bronica ETRSi proves to be a versatile and suitable for most photographers. In fact there is a long time to become familiar and once memorized the sequence of operations to be carried out very few differences are noted with respect to any 35mm SLR camera or digital; differences that ultimately are subjective and vary greatly in relation to the customization of the machine itself.
On the front of the machine customizing the Zenza Bronica ETRSi thanks to a wide range of accessories adapts to the needs and preferences of the majority of photographers with accessories ranging from side grips, the sights and the backs, not forgetting the good targets.
How does the Zenza Bronica ETRSi? I can not complain, but … I am fully satisfied. Given that this is not a fast car where you just point and shoot every single shot but that should be evaluated and thought, that the same must-weighted exposure calculation, you need to perform well-defined procedures, once taken hand it is hard to go back and do not regret different systems or more noble.
My ETRSi over time I make it custom tailored to my needs: the basic configuration (body, viewfinder, 75mm lens and 120 back) I added a back 120 and one 220, a 200mm lens and a winder.
In the end that’s the beauty of modular machines: you can change the accessories, not just the objectives, in accordance with your taste or according to specific shooting needs.
The quality of the negatives or slides that you will get with this machine and with its goals leaves no doubts or regrets, indeed would immediately want to load another roll and resume shooting.

Although the ETRSi is a machine well designed and well crafted some damage there. Despite the professionalism of the car goes criticized the lack of information on the various buttons and levers and maybe even the lack of an accessory shoe on which to graft a flash without having to resort to those in the bracket or the handles. The most serious defect, found on some specimens, is a fragility “structural” attack of the viewfinder that is prone to breakage, which however do not affect the operation and are easily repairable with a little ‘of cyano-acrylic. [3×1002 ]

Backs film
exposure modes Scopes
Wiring connection with the SCA 300 system flash


Model: SLR medium format 6×4, 5 cm., Single-lens with manual exposure or aperture priority automatic metering in conjunction with the viewfinder. Modular system based on the interchangeability of lenses, backs, viewfinders, etc.. Manual Focus.

Format: 42,5 x55 mm on 120 or 220 film.

Mount: Zenza Bronica ETR equipped with electrical contacts for the transmission of data concerning the shutter speed and the central opening of the diaphragm, in addition to the linkages necessary to arm the shutter. It is not compatible with the optics required for the Zenza Bronica SQ series and GS.

Objective Standard: Zenzanon EII 75mm. F2, 8 – Zenzanon PE 75mm. F2, 8.

Profiles Exposure: Manual Exposure Mode, the machine is not equipped with its own metering system. And ‘possible to mount several pentaprism viewfinders with exposure system that also allow you to use the machine with the assistance of a light meter in manual and automatic aperture priority.

Shutter: Central fully electronically controlled consists of five metal plates, shutter speeds are selectable fixed positions between 8 “and 1/500, varying by prayer, and laying B. Each lens also features a switch cursor to activate the laying T. ‘expected time mechanic to be able to function without the help from the stack, the mechanical time is achieved by setting the dial to 1/500 .

Flash: Accessory. Auto Exposure TTL flash system via a cable adapter and SCA. With the universal flash synchronization socket X to the left of the filler port optical and flash mounted on a bracket because the body is lacking in the accessory shoe or through the hot X on the sled systems advancement accessories. Total synchronization of all time thanks to the shutter panel.

Self-timer: Not applicable.

Meter: Not expected, however this is the arrangement of the electrical contacts to assemble the appropriate level pentaprism viewfinder with exposure system. Scopes available model AE AE II and III; the meter is activated by pressing the shutter release button.

Exposure Compensation: Not expected to be the camera body. Possible through a control place crosshairs on the camera exposure.

Viewfinder: Standard cockpit, several pentaprism viewfinders camera exposure that is not. The field of view and the magnification varies depending on the viewfinder mounted on the camera body. The viewfinder is equipped with a magnifying glass for easy focusing. The finders camera exposure report their internal exposure data.

Focus: Manual screen, commonly called glass but is actually made of plastic, frosted; interchangeable and available in various designs, some completely sanded and halls equipped with central microprism and / or splitting split image to image. The exchange transaction Screen focus can be easily done by anyone.

Indicators in the Viewfinder: Information available only in the crosshairs exposure modes and variable depending on the type.

Film Advance: By crank fast forward single action or augmentation, clockwise rotation of 360 °. Ability to handle manual feed through “L” or by applying a motorized winder available in several versions with variable speed and forward mode depending on the model.

Mirror: No returns automatically after the shoot, is lowered only by arming again the shutter and advancing the film. It planned to get up manual mirror, using a special lever on the right side of the body, to prevent vibration introduced by his movement, function, useful for macro shooting.

Frame counter: Additive, present on the back film holder and not on the body, the number of exposures variable according to the spine used, for automatic zero at the end of the film.

Multiple exposures: no restrictions, through dell’apposita drive lever on the right side of the body.

Power supply: Machine body a silver oxide battery 6V PX28 or similar type; or an alkaline battery 6V type No. 537 or A544.

Battery Test: Listed by signaling via LED visible in the viewfinder.

Back: Interchangeable with partially exposed film; performs the function of pota film. Available in various models depending on the type of film used or of the format.

Size: Only body length: 92 mm; height 87 mm; depth of 69 mm.
Weight: 480 gr. (Body only, excluding battery and any other accessory).

PRO (yesterday and today):
Shutter central
Modularity of the system
Quality of the optics
Size altogether reduced

AGAINST (more or less):
Not all commands marked as to their function
Weight not indifferent, but it is solid and well built
Procedure not always intuitive
The absence of a built-in light meter


On Ebay not very hard to find in Italy or abroad. Be careful not to buy it in pieces but as a complete kit since the purchase of the individual pieces is not appropriate.
If you go to dealers that specialize in used at flea markets and availability is not lacking, but a thorough inspection is a must, as always, and I highly recommend a small trial because the state of health depends not only from ‘ appearance.
Quotes Charity averages are ups and downs, on ebay is between € 200 and € 300 while in the flea markets you can also (rarely) get off at € 150. The above price is for a complete body back to 120, viewfinder and 75mm.

It makes sense even today, in the digital age, to make a choice like that? I know I already asked several times and I never had any doubts: yes.
The quality of the photographs, thanks to the generously sized frame, amply repays all toil; the ETRSi is so versatile, wallet permitting, you can also attack a digital back.
Indeed, thanks to digital and the fall in the prices of machines working with the film I raised the whim to take a medium-format modular interchangeable lenses, with lots of accessories. Yet in recent months seems to witness a turnaround since the second-hand prices have started to rise again, that people will be fed up of the digital age? No, I do not think, but maybe amateurs have realized that the film and the sensor can coexist peacefully.

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