Monday, January 22, 2018

Bronica SQ-a

GEAR CAN BE THE DOWNFALL OF A PROFESSIONAL PHOTOGRAPHER. Acquiring and upgrading it will siphon off the profits of anyone with a less than thriving business. Luckily, I invested in most of the gear I really needed early in the '90s, and used it hard pretty much until my business finally collapsed and the digital revolution made much of it obsolete - whichever came first. This post is the first of a trio devoted to the stalwarts of my camera gear during that decade.

Last week I featured three posts shot in my Parkdale studio during the heyday of my career as a portraitist. Looking them over, I realized that they were all shot with one camera - the Zenza Bronica SQ-a, a modular medium format camera system that I bought used when I realized that, as content as I might have been with my Rolleiflex TLRs, I needed something that had a) interchangeable film backs for quick reloading without switching cameras and b) a Polaroid back for testing exposures and (probably even more important) showing for client approval.

Savoy Cabbage, Parkdale, Oct. 1995

The Bronica was known as the "poor man's Hasselblad" and as a favorite of wedding photographers, and the one I acquired had seen some hard use. It worked beautifully, though, and while renting extra lenses could occasionally be a problem, I came to rely on it as I began experimenting with cross processing and refining my lighting.

I doubt if I would have felt as confident with my still life work without the Bronica's Polaroid back, or the prism I bought to make it function like a true SLR. The bellows style lens hood might have looked like overkill, but it had the great advantage of a slot for stacking filters, and I slowly built up a collection to help correct for colour shifts in cross-processing. Most of all, fully accessorized with bellows and prism, it looked like a serious piece of gear, which went a long way with with impressing dubious clients.

Jane Bunnett, Parkdale, 1996
Melissa Burns, Parkdale, 1996

It lived most of its life on a tripod, locked off and plugged into my Profoto strobe kit and a shutter release cable. I would never have considered the cost of the optional motor drive, as the quick wind grip was all I needed to advance film quickly when a shoot picked up speed. It was the machine at the heart of my studio system.

While I occasionally rented lenses - mostly the 50mm/3.5 in Vistek's rental inventory - I rarely needed more than the 80m/2.8 that came with the package I originally bought. It was no Zeiss Planar, but it was still an underrated chunk of glass, and I never had any complaint with the results, either when shooting album covers for clients like my friend Jane Bunnett (the shot above is an outtake from the session we did for her Cuban Piano Masters CD) or when I finally perfected my high key lighting with my pal Melissa as my model.

I probably haven't run a roll of film through my Bronica since the turn of the millennium. The case it's lived in since then is a time capsule now, complete with unexposed film, batteries and a box of Polaroid pack film. It was the epitome of a really useful piece of gear, but I doubt if I'll ever use it again, since there's almost nothing it does that my new Fuji XT-2 can't do as well. I'm a sentimental idiot, though, who has a hard time parting with gear that's served me well, so it will probably sit in its case, fondly remembered but unused, for the forseeable future.


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