5 Frames With a Bronica SQ-A – By Jon Broughton
With my finger poised over the ‘buy it now button’ and the endorphins of a soon to be satiated GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) attack pulsing through my body, I heard the fatal words of my 12 year old son: “MUM! Dad’s buying another camera. This time it’s £1,600!”
With the helpful assistance of my wife’s calm reasoning, I managed to reassess my need for a Hasselblad, and closed down my computer with a sigh.
This story had started about 18 months earlier, or to be more precise, about 35 years earlier. I started out in the mid 80’s shooting viewfinder cameras, and saved up my pocket money for a Praktica MTL3 which served me well for years. However I got caught up in the digital revolution and after some poorly developed negatives spoiled my photos from a trip to the Grand Canyon in around 2002, I switched to the dark side.
Back to early 2021 and my enthusiasm for photography had been waning for years, until I spoke to a Ukrainian friend who was shooting film. My first reaction was to ask why you would want to make life more difficult for yourself, but I dwelt on it for a while and looked back at old images. It struck me that digital is great for reproducing what you see, but film might be better for creating something new to look at, and that was, perhaps the missing spark.
My old Praktica didn’t look too healthy when I dug it out, and I fancied something new (old) anyway, and after some research, I thought it would be fun to try 120. My first purchase was a Rolleicord III, and I quickly grew to love the 6×6 format and the large negatives.
Fast forward to autumn 2022, and that Hasselblad that was not to be. By that time I had become a full blown GAS sufferer and had acquired a number of 35mm cameras, but only one other 120 format camera (a Zeiss Ikon Nettar). Then, a small endowment policy matured and I persuaded my wife that we should each buy ourselves something we really wanted. My initial thought was that I really needed a 120 camera with interchangeable lenses, and as I was treating myself, nothing other than the Hasselblad would do. Then fate (or more accurately my son) intervened.
As a cheaper alternative I turned to Bronica for inspiration. Still besotted by the beautiful curves of the Hasselblad I was slightly put off by the boxy shape of some of the Bronicas, but after much thought made a purchase of an ec-tl. This was a lovely camera and had a stunning lens, but it weighed a ton, and turned out to have a fault. After speaking to the fantastic Kriton of Aperture (who many of you will know can fix any camera that can be fixed), it had to go back to the shop, and I had to think again. “Go for a Hasselblad” was Kriton’s advice (and I did mention this to my wife, to absolutely no avail).
At last I arrived at the SQ-A. Although boxy, it met many of my criteria. 6×6 format, a fantastically bright screen, not too heavy or large, and most importantly, more justifiable on price than a Hasselblad. When the camera arrived I was pleasantly surprised that I actually really like the look of it, and after running a few films through it I became very comfortable with it. It has now become my favourite 120 format camera, and possibly my favourite of all my cameras. Of course, I’ve never actually used anything other than the standard 80 mm lens it came with. As is so often the way, the initial justification kicking off the GAS attack was somewhat illusory (let’s not be vulgar and call it an excuse).
The snowy weather we had in south east England in December was preceded by a heavy hoar frost on a sunny Sunday morning. For once, work and family demands eased up at just the right time and I had an hour or two to visit a small local patch of woodland that I’ve photographed over and again (and which I had grown rather bored of). I’ve shot the same views and the same trees in many different light and weather conditions, with many different films and many different cameras, but never have they looked as spectacular as in these shots (all Fuji Pro 400H). I have two backs allowing me to switch mid-film to another film, and allowing for 24 exposures without reloading, which is generally enough for most of my excursions (but not when there’s a hoar frost to capture on a sunny day).
I love shooting the Bronica SQ-A, and I’m far from convinced that I could get better results from a Hasselblad at twice the price. Turns out my wife is wiser than I am after all.
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