Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Bronica ETRS

I am a bit of a tight-wad. I very rarely pay as much as £20 for a camera. While this makes for a fairly cheap hobby, it does preclude me from buying many models. For many years, I have been looking wistfully at medium format SLRs - such as Hasselblads, Mamiyas and Bronicas. Unfortunately, you just cannot buy these for under £20. 

I have recently retired and this excellent arrangement has bought with it a modest lump sum which has been burning a hole in my bank account. So, one Bronica ETRS has been purchased - at 10x my self-imposed limit (actual cost was £189). This has proved to be a confusing camera to buy. These medium format SLRs are very modular and, looking at Ebay, it is usual to sell each module separately. My problem was that, never having handled one of these before, I was not clear as to exactly which modules were essential and which were optional. I got around this by going to a shop (ffordes in Inverness) and buying a complete system from them with a reassurance that I was buying a complete camera. probably cost me a bit more this way but I also got a six month guarantee as well as peace of mind.

My camera is a basic set-up. It consists of four modules: a body, a lens, a film back and a viewfinder. The only module that is essential is the body - there are no choices here as far as I can ascertain. The lens I have is a 75 mm lens which is 'normal' for the 6 x 4.5 negative format of these cameras. There are other focal length lenses available ranging from 40 mm (equivalent to 25 mm on a 35 mm camera) to  250 mm (equivalent to 150 mm on a 35 mm camera). There are four options for the film back - 120, 220, Polaroid and 70 mm. Only the 120 back is usable as neither the 220, Polaroid or 70 mm film is made anymore.

There are several options for the viewfinder of which the most common are the waist-level finder and the prism finder. I have the prism finder which is essentially what all 35 mm SLRs have. I may avail myself of a waist-level finder in due course. 

There are many other options options available, none of which is essential. The only module I need that was not supplied is a neck strap. A lot of people do not use straps - even on very expensive cameras - but dropping things is far too easy not to use a strap. I have fitted a cheap and cheerful Chinese strap.


I am going to describe each of the four modules in turn and then describe the complete camera.

First, the body. With the other modules detached, the body does not look like very much. It does, however, contain all the electronic controls.

It is a cube - it measures 90 x 70 x 85 mm (OK, not exactly a cube, but near enough) and weighs xxxg. 

The top face is dominated by the focussing screen. This is plastic and measures 55 mm by 42 mm - the 6 x 4.5 in the camera name is the nominal negative size but the actual size is a bit smaller. This gives an aspect ratio of 1:1.3 - 35 mm cameras are 1:1.5 as are most digital cameras and full frame 120 cameras. This means that I shall have some adjusting to do when composing pictures and printing them. I usually print on A standard paper which has an aspect ratio of 1:1.4 - I shall have to either crop the picture or trim the paper.

The focussing screen is removable - several options are available - but this one has a plain field with a split-image centre surrounded by a circle of micro-prisms.

In front of the focussing screen is a row of ten electrical contacts. These are there to allow for the use of a metering viewfinder - by default, no metering is provided meaning I need to use a hand-held light meter which is my default method of working regardless.

Also on the top are the displays for shutter speed and frame counter both in windows on the sides and also a release button for the viewfinder.

The left-hand face of the body has the shutter speed selector. This is a knob and ranges from eight seconds to 1/500 seconds. Whole seconds are displayed in red, fractions in white.. This might seem a b it meagre by modern standards but is more than adequate with careful selection of film speed.

On the top corner of the left-hand face is a battery check button Pressing this lights a red LED in the corner of the focussing screen. half-way down the right-hand edge is a strap lug. below this is a button to release the film back. last item on this side of the body is a cable release socket threaded for a standard release cable. 

The right-hand face of the body is dominated by the film advance. This is a large crank handle that you turn one complete revolution to advance the film one frame, lower the mirror and cock the leaf shutter in the lens. Above this is a small lever. This turns through 90 degrees to allow for multiple exposures on one frame of film. Behind the film advance crank is the second strap lug.

The bottom face of the body has the battery compartment which takes a single 6v battery. In front of this is the 1/4 inch UNC tripod boss.

The rear face of the body cube has fitting s for the film back and an exposed cog for the film advance. In the centre is a large hole which is blanked off by a hinged plate - more of this later.

The front face of the body cube is mostly the lens mount. This is huge by 35 mm and digital standards. It has four lugs and is specific to the ETR range of cameras. Inside the mount are six electrical contacts which are a part of the automatic exposure system. Also inside the mount is the reflex lens.

Below the mount are two chrome buttons. On the right (when holding the camera) is the shutter release button. This ass a knurled collar around it which can be turned to lock the shutter release. Turned fully anti-clockwise, it frees both the release button and the cable release. Turned 45 degrees clockwise, it locks the release button but still allows the cable release to fire the shutter. Turned 90 degrees clockwise, both the release button and the cable release are locked.

In the top corner is a PC socket for flash. No accessory shoe is provided as standard so any flash gun must be fitted to the tripod boss - or you can buy the accessory grip which has a hot shoe on it.

On the left is the lens release button. This needs to be turned and then depressed. While depressed, the lens can be turned clockwise for removal.

in order to have a functioning camera, three things need to be fitted to the camera body: viewfinder, film back and lens. Other options are available but these three are essential.

I am going to start with the viewfinder as this is the simplest. There are choices here - none is provided as standard - and I have the prism finder. This is the same as the viewfinder on a 35 mm SLR film camera or on a DSLR digital camera. It means I can see the image the right way up and the right way around.

A second option is a waist-level finder. this allows the camera to be used without lifting it to your eyes - usually on a tripod. With this finder the image is the right way up but back to front. This needs getting used to but I have no trouble adjusting to other cameras with waist-level finders.

The third option is that of a metering finder. this is essentially a prism finder with a built-in light meter to give TTL (Through The Lens) light readings. I am happy with my hand-held meter.

The film back has four versions. I have the 120 back - it takes 120 size film, believe it or not.  Also available are 220 backs, Polaroid backs and 70 mm backs but film is not available for any of these.

The film back holds the film (obviously) and can be removed from the camera with film in it. To do this, you have to insert a thin steel dark slide into a slot in the side of the film back. The film back can be opened tom allow for the inserting or removal of film. Inside the film back is a cradle for holding the film in place and advancing it. This needs to be removed to load film, but exposed film can be removed with the cradle in situ.

The cradle has two holders for the film spools, a cog to engage with the camera body for advancing the film and an external knob for manually advancing the film while loading. A nice touch is the presence on the rear door of the film back of a holder for the end of the film carton as an aide memoir.

The lens is quite a heavy lens. mine is a 75 mm lens. As well as containing the actual glass - five elements in four  groups - there is the diaphragm (f/2.8 to f/22) and the leaf shutter. If you have several lenses, each will have its own shutter. These are leaf shutters made by Seiko rather than the focal plane shutters most 'serious' cameras have.

In use.

In use, this camera is an anachronism. The shutter system is that used by Zeiss Ikon in their Contaflex cameras in the 1950s. There are actually two shutters in use. Between exposures, the leaf shutter is open, allowing the user to view the image through the lens. To prevent the film being fogged, there is a secondary shutter in the camera body behind the mirror - the hinged plate mentioned earlier. This secondary shutter is crude - it cannot be used for timed exposures. 

When you fire the shutter there is a complex sequence of events.:
1) the leaf shutter closes
2) the mirror lifts out of the way
3) the secondary shutter lifts out of the way
4) the leaf shutter opens for a timed exposure
5) the leaf shutter closes again.

When you advance the film, most of the opposite happens:
6) the secondary shutter closes
7) the mirror comes back down
8) the leaf shutter opens for viewing.

All this makes for quite a resounding clunk - compared to my 120 Ikoflex which only has the leaf shutter to move and is nearly silent and vibration free.

Test film.

This is encouraging. The shutter works fine, there are no light leaks, aperture and shutter speed are at least in the right ball park, film advance is correctly spaced. What is not evident on these small scans is the image quality - it is superb.

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Praktica IV

This is an early SLR from the Democratic Republic of Germany. The early Praktica IV were made in 1959 by KW and then, in 1960, by VEB Pentacon. Production ceased in 1964. There were a number of variations on the model and the camera I have is the second series of the first model - the first ones made by Pentacon. This is exactly the same as the KW cameras except for the name plate on the front of the pentaprism hump.

Praktica IV (C) John Margetts
lens: n/a
focal length:  n/a
apertures: n/a
focus range: n/a
lens fitting: M42 screw mount - automatic aperture variant
shutter: horizontal cloth focal plane
speeds: 1/2 to 1/500 second
flash: 2 off PC connectors
film size: 35 mm

This camera is quite hefty - it weighs 718 g with no lens attached - which is roughly half as much again as most of my SLRs but in line with my other German SLRs: Contax F, Contaflex, Bessamatic.

It measures 150 mm by 100 mm tall and 50 mm thick with no lens attached (no lens came with this camera but as it has a M42 lens mount I have plenty of lenses to fit). While the camera does feel quite heavy, it fits well in my hands.

This is an entirely manual camera so controls are minimal and no battery is required. On the far right of the top plate is the film advance knob. This requires exactly one rotation clockwise to advance the film one frame and to cock the shutter. The centre contains the frame counter which needs to be manually set to zero - it counts upwards. As always, I ignore frame counters and continue to shoot until the film runs out - this means I usually get 26 shots from a 24 exposure cassette.

Next to the film advance knob is a button to release the film advance mechanism to allow the film to be rewound. This needs to be pressed just once at the start of rewinding, not held down all the time which makes rewinding film much easier than with many cameras. In front of this is a black painted triangle which I assume is there to remind you which way to turn the film advance knob. Next along the top plate is the shutter speed selector. 

This is fairly complicated (as many cameras were from this time) as there are two ranges of shutter speeds painted on the selector - in red from 1/2 to 1/10 and in black from 1/25 to 1/500 seconds. To make it more complicated, the black range are not in numerical order. The order is 1/25, B, 1/500, 1/200, 1/100, 1/50 and 1/40 (which is indicated by a lightening flash rather than 1/40 to indicate the flash synchronisation speed). On the top of the selector dial is a second ring to select between the red and black ranges. Around the selector dial is a ring that must be lifted before turning to align the red dot on it to the required shutter speed. When the shutter is fired, this selector dial rotates, as it also does when advancing the film. The manual says that shutter speeds can be selected either before or after advancing the film.

Nearly central on the top plate is the pentaprism hump which is enormous. The large size means that the viewfinder image is both large and bright - a very good thing!

Left of the pentaprism hump is the rewind knob. As is common, this pulls up to allow for insertion and removal of cassettes. This rewind knob is strange in that the top half of it can swivel to one side to turn the knob into a sort of lever - see the photograph - which makes rewinding the film much easier.

Rewind knob  - camera in use
rewind knob - rewinding

In the centre of the rewind knob is a disc which can be set to either film speed (9 DIN/6 ASA to 30 DIN/800 ASA) OR to film type (artificial light colour, daylight colour, artificial light mono, daylight mono).

The bottom plate is rather strange. On one end is a cream disc with a 1/4" Whitworth tripod boss and at the other end is a second film advance, this time a lever. This is the first camera I have ever seen with two film advances. The lower, lever, advance is not as easy to use as a standard top plate lever advance but it is quite usable if you do not like using a knob. With my test film, I found myself using the lever.

In the centre (almost centre, not quite so) of the front is the M42 lens mount. This is shared by both Japanese Pentax cameras, German Praktica cameras and Soviet Zenit cameras so there are a lot of affordable lenses available - Super-Takumar from Japan, Helios-44 from the former Soviet Union and a variety from Germany, not to mention smaller makers. I currently have a 55 mm f/2 Super-Takumar fitted.

Inside the lens mount is a mix of old-fashioned and (for then) modern. The mirror is a non-return one. Once you have fired the shutter, the viewfinder goes black until you advance the film. Also, the focusing screen is plain ground glass with no micro-prisms or split-image centre. On the other hand, it has an automatic aperture plunger so the photograph can be composed with the aperture wide open and then it will close itself when the shutter release is pressed. This is itself rather strange. Under the mirror is a small rivet with a red top. Sliding this to the left engages the automatic aperture plunger and sliding it to the right disengages the plunger for when the plunger would foul a non-automatic lens.

Just below the top late and immediately to the right is the shutter release button. Contrary to later Praktica cameras, this shutter release button is not angled but presses in at right-angles to the front of the camera. This is not ergonomically ideal which is presumably why later Prakticas had the angled release.

On the other side of the lens mount are two PC connectors for flash. Then upper one is for electronic flash and is marked with an "X" embossed in the leatherette. The lower connector is for flash bulbs and is marked with an "F" embossed in the leatherette. These embossings are barely visible but I don't suppose that matters as a user would soon remember which connector to use for their own flash gun.

Under the lens mount is a sturdy chrome leg which allows the camera to be stably placed on a flat surface in lieu of a tripod for long exposures. There is no delay action available on this camera to allow inclusion of the photographer in group photographs..

To open the camera, the back comers completely off. I always find this an awkward way to load film when out-and-about - what do I do with the back while both hands are busy with the film?

Inside the camera is much as 35 mm cameras always have been. there is a central film gate with guides to keep the film in the correct place. When loading the film, you need to turn the take-up spool until the two slots are facing you. The film goes in the left hand slot and pokes through the right hand slot. When the film is advanced, the take-up spool turns to take up the film with the emulsion on the outside.

At first sight, the back of the back is plain but careful inspection will reveal items embossed in the leatherette. Centrally at the top is the Ernemann Tower - the logo for Pentacon. Lower left is then word "Germany" indicating that this was an official import to the UK. It is just "Germany" with no qualification that it came from East Germany.

On the lower right is a rather indistinct triangle with a "1" in it. This was East Germany's quality mark to show that the item is of the first quality. What I cannot find, on the back or elsewhere, is any serial number.

Test film.

I have had my test film developed and it is not good - not good at all. 

There is a serious problem with one of the shutter curtains sticking giving very partial exposures: see below. The width of the image is variable and it looks to me like the first curtain is sticking part away across and is then met by the second curtain.