A Love Letter to the Bronica ETRs: A Beautiful Camera

Do you remember your first medium format camera? If you’ve never had a medium format camera that shoots film, I recommend that you get to eBay and go hunting. They’re a magical experience. Anyone who says they don’t ever need to shoot film is clueless. It’s synonymous to a coming-of-age experience that teaches you and helps you evolve into a new person. After all, no one stays in that post-college stage of their life for long. (If they do, people around them tend to end up leaving.) Photographers have to grow. And perhaps more than any other camera I’ve used, the Bronica ETRs taught me precisely this lesson. 

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Dive into our archives, and you’ll see lots of articles about the Bronica ETRs. The review of the camera itself wasn’t conducted by me. But the camera has enjoyed plenty of coverage on our site that includes hacks, art projects, and more. 

I luckily know the story behind the Bronica ETRs I purchased. B&H Photo’s Henry Posner sold it to me when I worked there. I was talking about the idea of getting back into wedding photography for testing cameras, but to also do something different. A couple of my older colleagues (Arda, Henry, Steve, and Zevi mostly) saw some validity to this, so they graciously helped me with research and feedback. Posner used it to shoot weddings a long time ago. So I ran test rolls through it. But instead of using cheap film, I went straight for Kodak Portra. 

I’d used film before with the Leica CL, my mother’s Olympus camera, and some point and shoots. But this time around was different. With the Bronica ETRs, I didn’t have 24 or 36 shots on a roll. Each exposure had to be carefully shot. More than anything, this was a test of my own understanding of light metering, skin tones, shadows, light, etc. When the scans came back from Lomography, I was thrilled. A lot of my colleagues didn’t think the images I shot were done on film. But indeed they were. The young 24-year-old had done it. 

The Bronica ETRs was a special camera to me. Not only did it instill a ton of confidence in my abilities, but it also reassured me that I could work through problems. When there were film jams, I’d carefully feel around and fix the problems. When I slid on ice in Greenpoint once, the camera completely came apart, and I put it back together (while bleeding from the knee in the freezing cold, from what I remember). To this day, I still recycle images that I’ve shot with the Bronica ETRs on our blog.

What makes this camera so special? Well, for starters, Bronica was made by Tamron. So, you already know it has to be pretty good. There’s the big, bright viewfinder that gives you full metering. There’s a double-stroke grip that helps you advance the film easily. It’s big, heavy, mechanical, and always ready to work. No matter what you do to it, it keeps working. It was nuts for me. My Canon 5D Mk II is the one other camera that has survived probably as much abuse over its tenure in my hands. 

Back then, I wasn’t yet legally blind. But I was getting there. Still, I was able to use the beautiful viewfinder to get photos perfectly in focus. This always made me hate DSLRs. Seriously, why were their viewfinders so small? Peering into a DSLR viewfinder always felt like what I’d imagine people do when they go to a peephole show. But looking through a medium format SLR viewfinder was a totally different experience. It was akin to looking through a bright telescope at something. Still to this day, it’s really hard to beat that experience. 

Very few medium format cameras gave me the joy the Bronica ETRs did. But, at some point, I outgrew it. So I sold it to former contributor Alberto Limas. I believe he still has it to this day.

If you’ve never tried one, I recommend check out eBay or Amazon

Chris Gampat

Chris Gampat is the Editor in Chief, Founder, and Publisher of the Phoblographer. He also likes pizza.