User Review – Bronica GS-1

The least talked about model in a criminally underrated brand….

  “Buying my first medium format camera, any recommendations?”

“I want a medium format camera, but I don’t know which one, help!”

“Going medium format, but I’m clueless, where do I start?”

Over the last 15 years or so that the professional market has moved to digital, medium format film camera prices have dropped dramatically, and photographers have been able to buy gear at fractions of what they cost new.  Film loving photographers were eager to take advantage of these bargains, but they might have been confused by the various format options and cameras that were available, so naturally, photo internet forums provided a place for them to ask these questions. Experienced photographers chimed in, with cameras that they had personal experience with, and one name almost always is left out these conversations totally (that is until one or two lone voices chirp up and say “Bronica”), then conversations for some reason turn into complaints about accessories and availability of parts.  System reliability issues or how some wedding pros may have trashed their cameras during the 80’s.  Or the photographer who started their career with Bronica equipment, just to “trade up” to a Mamiya or Hasselblad system as soon as they were able to.  Usually those photographers are talking about the SQ 6×6 or the ETR 6×4.5 systems.

I’m going to talk about the Bronica camera that rarely is talked about – The GS-1

Bronica GS-1 system map
Scanned system overview map from Butkus.org – this guy has saved my butt many times with manuals from older film cameras, please take time to donate to his website!

The GS-1 was introduced by Bronica in 1982 and designed to be a compact and lightweight 6×7 SLR, to go up against the industry standard 6×7 SLR system – the Mamiya RB / RZ67.  Bronica only released 9 lenses in this system; 50, 65, 80, 100, 110 Macro, 150, 200, 250, and a 500mm supertelephoto.  Shutter speeds are electronically controlled from 16s to 1/500, with flash sync available at all speeds.  Like most medium format SLRs, the GS-1 was made to shoot multiple formats, from 6×4.5 to 6×7, in both 120 and 220 roll film.  A polaroid back was also available for image proofing, but unlike the Mamiya RB / RZ cameras, you get a 6×7 image (instead of their 7×7) on the 3 1/4 x 4 1/4 print:

GS-1 polaroid
(test shot of my wife, hopefully she won’t mind me posting this here!)

The GS system has two teleconverters (a 1.4x and 2x) and two extension tubes (18mm and 36mm) available.  The 110mm Macro gives you a 1:4 image without extension tubes. Adding the 36mm tube allowed you to reach 1:1 magnification.  The tubes are also useful because of the relatively long MFD (Minimum Focusing Distance) of the lenses (as compared to other camera systems).  There are 4 finders available (Waist Level, Standard prism, metered prism, and a special 90 degree Rotary prism that allowed you to shoot the camera vertically on a tripod, with the addition of the Rotating tripod adapter).

Let me explain a little further about the rotating pieces.  Many photographers point to the Mamiya RZ system’s advantage over the Bronica is that the film back of the Mamiya rotates from landscape to portrait, so you don’t have to turn the camera 90 degrees to shoot in portrait format.  Because the GS-1 was designed to be as small as possible, it’s film back does not rotate, so to shoot portrait, you have to turn the camera 90 degrees.  Which is perfectly fine if you are shooting the camera handheld with a speedgrip, but what about in the studio on a tripod?  Bronica’s solution to that was to create two accessories, the Rotating Prism AE (for auto exposure – the prism provides spot metering and allows you to shoot in Apeture priority) G and the Rotating Tripod Adapter G:

Bronica GS-1 from Return ToFilm on Vimeo.

(While a creative solution to address this issue, be warned that these rotating accessories can be somewhat difficult to find (sometimes you can luck out and buy them as part of a lot of GS-1 equipment).  Otherwise expect to pay around $100 for the Tripod Adapter and $200 for the Rotating prism.

What about the lenses?  The GS-1 lenses were held up to be gold standard for Bronica, so much so after they created the coatings and formula for the GS-1’s PG series of lenses, they went back through their other camera lines (the 6×6 SQ and the 6×4.5 ETR) and re-released lenses for those cameras with the same formula.  Which is why you have S and PS series lenses for the SQ series and MC and PE lenses for the ETR series.

Now, I’m normally a one lens type of guy, that is I buy a camera and usually I’m happy with only one lens, but I actually have four lenses for my GS-1!  The normal 100mm f3.5 which one of the two fastest lenses in the system (the other being the rare 80 3.5, which was the last lens that Bronica released before the line was killed off by Tamron in 2004.)  The Macro 110mm, then I have both wide angles, the 65mm and the 50mm.  I’d like to get a telephoto lens (or two) to round out my system, then I’ll have a range of lenses to handle a wide range of shooting situations.  Fortunately, because Bronica is so underrated, lenses won’t cost you an arm and a leg!  The most expensive commonly found lens on the used market is the 50mm which can run you at the highest $300, the 65mm is usually a $100 or so less.  The teles can be had for around $200 or so, with the 150mm usually the cheapest, I’ve seen some of those go as cheaply as $70!!  Medium format 6×7 lenses for under a $100??!?!  The only lenses that get expensive are the normal wide 80mm, and the ultra rare 500mm beast!

ultra rare 500mm
Found this on eBay for a Buy it now price of $2400

Interesting tidbit:  The GS-1 also, is the only 6×7 camera that has the capability of shooting TTL flash!  Using the Speed grip (which is equipped with a hot shoe) and the dedicated Bronica Speed Light G

Speedlight G
I couldn’t imagine shooting with this setup, looks pretty bulky, but TTL flash….

So what happened with the GS-1 you might ask?  Why don’t we hear about or see more photographers using them?  I’m not sure, I did a search for old photography magazines to see if there were any advertisements or marketing on the GS-1.

Here’s what I found:

Bronica GS advert July 1984
Here’s a black and white ad from a Singapore newspaper in July of 1984

 

Concrete 6x7
Seems like Bronica is making a statement about the other 6×7 player in town here – ad from an American Photo mag 1992

 

The Bronica Edge
The Bronica Edge – Seems like the GS-1 was good enough for Playboy photographer David Mercy. The ad also points out an important fact: Bronica was the only company to offer a medium format SLR in each of the major formats (6×4.5, 6×6, and 6×7)…

 

Free Bronnys!
Damn, a free extra body giveaway! Too bad I had just started my freshman year in college at this time, and I know I didn’t have the money lying around to sink into a medium format system!

 

Bronny American Photo 1991
Holy crap, look at this offer, buy a GS-1 system and for $250 more you got a 65 or 150mm lens!!!! (ad from American Photo 1991)

Seriously people?? How many other camera manufacturers during this time were offering a FREE EXTRA BODY when you bought a system setup (Body, prism, lens and film back)?  Or if you bought a system setup, selling an extra lens for a major discount ($1300 lens for $250)???  Despite the above examples of advertising, this system was so under the radar, that now on the used market, finding some lenses & accessories can be quite a quest.(I spent months searching a combination of eBay, KEH, B&H, and Adorama looking for the 50mm before I lucked out and found an almost mint one on eBay).  Unless you’re in Japan, the Japanese have tons of gear that seemed to never have seen any time out in the field – practically almost mint!

But seriously, after looking at those offers, I still wonder why we don’t see as much GS equipment in the second hand market.  I guess it was difficult for the GS-1 to shine under the shadow of Mamiya.  Although, I will put any of my Bronica PG lenses up against any Mamiya RZ lens (and a comparison of these two workhorse systems will be coming in a future Return to Film feature!)

Okay, how about some photos:

Tonya-1-e1301543234559
Fuji 400H + 100mm – Back when I thought that I wanted to shoot models… Dev & Scan by Richard Photo Lab
Butterflies
Portra 160 + 110 Macro, I can’t remember if I used the G-18 extension tube on this shot
Jhurt2-e1293609423112
Portra 160 NC (I miss NC…) + 100mm. Richard Photo Lab Dev & Scan

Lately, I’ve gotten interested in shooting at night, inspired by Patrick Joust of Baltimore, so I’ve been dragging the GS-1 through the streets of Dallas photographing interesting scenes.  I hope to do a book of the images once I feel I have enough to complete an overall statement.  The GS-1 is actually a pleasure to use at night, once you learn the dance you have to do with locking the mirror up.

Here are the steps that will get you a full 10 shots on a roll, because if you follow the directions in the GS-1 manual, you lose a shot after each time you wind.

  1. Focus and compose your shot and set your exposure
  2. trip the mirror lock up switch (on the bottom of the camera on the left side of the lens)
  3. take the shot
  4. move the MLU switch back to its normal position (I also re insert the darkslide at this point – not necessary, but I just like to do it anyways…)
  5. trip the multiple exposure switch, to set the camera for a multiple exposure
  6. wind the crank, this will lower the mirror
  7. set the multiple exposure switch back to normal
  8. wind the crank again, this will advance the film to the next frame
  9. get setup for your next shot!

astronaut chevy 45 flag

All above photos shot on Portra 160 + 100mm

 

Here’s some shots with the 65mm, also on Portra 160:

Longhorn Tacos chevy jesus-Edit

I haven’t gotten a chance to take the 50mm for a spin, so no shots from it yet, but I suspect the image quality will be a lot like these other three lenses!  The only lens that I’ve heard some less than glowing things about is the 250mm, and that was in the sharpness category, but I don’t have one of those (and I’m not really interested in anything longer than the 200mm), and I would take any opinions (even mine!) with a grain of salt…

I’ve enjoyed my time so far with the GS-1 (about 7 years and counting), it was my first “real” medium format camera, and I can see using it for as long as it holds up!

Highly Recommended*

*just be aware that it takes some time to build up a kit, unless you buy from someone selling a package deal.

 

Analog as F**k – a Minolta HiMatic AF2 review

The original idea I had for this article was to be about traveling / road tripping with non-photographers.  Spouses, Partners, Family, Friends, basically anyone whose first thought when planning a trip isn’t “what gear do I bring??”  But I decided to make it into an user review about the Minolta HiMatic AF2 as a perfect camera to bring when traveling with non photographer companions.  Besides, not all of us are super neurotic about these things right?

These thoughts don’t sound familiar to anyone out there do they?

-I wonder if there’s space / and or time during the trip to bring the 8×10?

-Not enough room for the 8×10?  Okay, okay, the 4×5 should be no problem right?  It’s not a monorail, it folds up!

-What?  We’re going on some guided tours when we get there?  Well, alright, I guess one of my medium format kits should do the trick?

But maybe even the smallest, lightest medium format camera you own, is a no-go, and you start to look at your 35mm gear…

Not saying that I go through this checklist when I’m going on a non-photo trip (I don’t even own an 8×10….yet), but I did have some decisions to make this past August when a friend proposed a guys’ road trip to Birmingham, Alabama to attend an independent film festival.  Being as I’ve never been to Birmingham, I wanted to have some gear that I would be comfortable with in any situation that I could possibly find myself in, and that I could work quickly with.  I didn’t want to hold up everyone else doing photographer things, just want to be able to grab the shot and move on.

nice in b-ham
it was nice to be in Birmingham

Looking over my stash of 35mm cameras, two jumped out as options:

-A Hexar AF

-And a recently purchased Minolta HiMatic AF2

Why?  Well up to that point I had been using the Hexar to shoot a series of images loosely inspired by Lee Friedlander’s America by Car, just sort of my commute to and from work.  I had been enjoying shooting with Hexar a lot up to that point, so I thought that I would have opportunities to use it on the road.  The HiMatic AF2?  Well, it was an impulse purchase from Hamish Gill of 35mmc.com, and I had only really shot one test roll with it.  I really wasn’t all that comfortable with it yet.  I’m not really sure what I was thinking, taking an untested camera on a road trip!

chicken
a shot from my one test roll with this camera on Expired FP4 – I certainly wasn’t going to chicken out with the camera on this trip!

I grabbed a hand full of Tri-x and FP4 for the Hexar and about 8 rolls of Superia for the AF2 and packed for the trip.

While on the trip, something weird happened; the Hexar never left the hotel room.  I never even took it out of my bag. Oh I meant to shoot some black and white, but I had been using both cameras without staps, and I wasn’t about to carry my backpack everywhere (I wanted to travel as light as possible), so I just carried the AF2 everywhere in my hand. After all it’s an extremely light camera (since it’s mostly plastic)

23531373123_a8f263a0ee_z
My HiMatic AF2 with a Lance Camera Strap – if you love the corded strap look, but don’t want to pay the price of some of the other ones out on the market, give these guys a look…

Background on the Minolta AF2, released back in 1982, it’s a camera that was caught in that in-between era of autofocus and pre-autofocus compacts.  The era where it didn’t look weird to have a point and shoot consumer camera with relatively new tech like infrared autofocus with a manual film advance lever and rewind knob.  It has (depending on how you look at it) a flexible 38mm 2.8 Minolta lens, that according to the manual has 4 elements in 3 groups (that is if you care about that sort of thing…).  *PERSONAL NOTE** I actually love the focal lengths between 35mm and 40mm, those are walkin’ around lenses for me. Shutter speeds range from an 1/8 of a second to a respectable 1/430, and the lens goes from 2.8 to f17 (that’s an odd number, but that’s what the manual says!)  The only disappointing thing in my opinion about the camera is that the min focusing distance is almost 3 and half feet.  I like to get close with a moderately wide angle lens, it gives an interesting sense of space to a photo, and thankfully most lenses in this range can focus pretty close.  So that this lens can’t is a slight negative in my mind, but that just means that you have to work around the limitations of the camera.

This camera is typical of the early 80’s era of compact cameras where it beeps at you if you try to photograph in certain situations; like if you’re too close (you’ll get a beep-beep-beep) or if you try to take a photograph without flash and the camera thinks you need flash, it will tell you (you’ll get a long beeeeeeeeep), and there’s a helpful sticker on the back just incase you forget what beep means what.

24137706846_eaa325c72d_z
You only have to hear “Beep-Beep-Beep” a couple of times before you know what it is, I could just imagine dads back in the 80s yelling out “I’m not too close!”. Also the Film window with the orange indicator is a nice touch, it tells you when the camera is loaded (since there is no film window)

the camera has very few controls, you get a self timer lever in front, a switch that turns the flash on, and the film speed selector which is around the lens.  The meter eye is right below the lens, so if you love to use filters, you don’t have to worry about exposure compensation since the meter will meter through the filter as well.  I also almost forgot to mention that it takes two AA batteries. Common, found in pretty much any and every place on Earth AA batteries.  No expensive lithium, or hard to find speciality batteries for this camera! Expect about 30-35 rolls before you need to replace them, although I’ve started doing it when the flash recycle times (around 7 sec) start to run a little longer.

Oh, if you do buy one of these, when you take a photo, the shutter lets out a wheeze, not a click, a wheeze.  I’ve heard it referred to as a robot sneeze, that’s probably the best way to describe how it sounds.  Weirdest sounding shutter I’ve ever heard.

The camera was a joy to shoot with during the trip:

b-ham
Overview of the city

A lawn elephant displaying Alabama pride:

a is for elephant
Yes, this was sitting in someone’s lawn. While we had stopped to get our bearings (waiting for the GPS to load), I ran out and took a quick shot. I really like how the flash created highlights in the metal

I know that people talk about the lost art of reading maps and atlases, but the fact that we have interactive maps and GPS on our phones is nothing short of amazing, I could just imagine how turned around we could have gotten on this trip 15 years ago…

navigate
We did a lot of this…
sai photo
a lot of this too…

I didn’t know this before hand, but Birmingham has a strong mining and iron working industry.  One of our stops was a closed iron factory, Sloss Factory:

inside sloss water tower 2

I always like to keep my eyes open for little details like this that someone thought to write:

live for happiness
Good thought for 2016 and beyond…

Birmingham also was ground zero during the Civil Rights era.  I didn’t get a chance to visit the 16th Street Baptist Church, but I did run across this historical marker downtown:

freedom
also, you have to notice there’s not much distortion in this shot, just a little on the bottom left.

 

bham map
The flash really brought out details on this map…
thank you for visiting
No, thank you Birmingham, I will be back!

Because of the photos from this trip, I now have made the HiMatic one of my daily diary cameras (the other being my Olympus Stylus Epic), these are cameras that I keep loaded with film, and I make it a point to photograph constantly around the house.  My wife, my child, the visitors that we have, our dogs, whatever might seem to have a bigger meaning 5, 10, 15 years down the road, I’m making photographs of it.  Sending the film off and getting 4×6 prints (and my negatives!) back.  This is the perfect camera for this…

Oh, and the title of this post?  While we were in Birmingham, one of my friends noticed the HiMatic, and he remarked that it looked ‘Analog as fuck’, to which I replied “Why yes, yes it is…”

 

PS – I’d like to give an extra shout out to Lance Camera Straps, I loved this strap so much, that I bought a second one, so I have one on the HiMatic and the other on my Leica M4P