I began my venture into medium format when I got an old Zeiss Ikonta folder. It was a view finder camera with no way of knowing if you actually hit focus. I shot one roll of film with that camera (actually the first film I developed myself) before selling it and then I bought another Zeiss.
This time an Ikoflex. It had an issue with the shutter. It stuck on certain shutter speeds. So I decided to try to clean it myself. It went quite well, except for the minor detail that I ended up with an oily shutter which I didn’t really notice until I tried shooting in cold weather. The shutter stuck again because of the cold oil and all the shots ended up with a lot of camera shake.
By that time, I had decided that even though I could clean the shutter again and get rid of the last traces of oil, I really didn’t like the Camera all that much. The fastest shutter speed was no more than 1/300 sec. and to me that is way too slow for a sunny day with an HP5+ loaded. Other than that, I found the viewfinder too dim for my eyes. So again, I got rid of it and got myself a new twin lens reflex – a Yashica-Mat from 1957. The one with the old and legendary Lumaxar 80mm lens. Awesome camera. Awesome lens. Nice and bright viewfinder and a max. shutter speed of 1/500. If you can find one – buy it! Shot a few rolls though it and had a blast.
So now I though it was time to find a camera with interchangable lenses. I sold the Yashica and found a banged up Zenza Bronica S2a on Ebay. The Japanese 6×6 SLR Hasselblad 1000F knock off with awesome Nikkor lenses available. It has a focal plane shutter with a max speed of 1/1000 – woohoo – even better for bright days and large apertures! The camera has some issues with the focusing screen. On this particular model, it is mounted in a silly way where the light seal also works as a spacer to ensure the correct distance to the mirror in order to have precise focusing. On old cameras, this light seal deteriorates and leaves the focusing screen in the wrong place.
I went to it – replacing the light seal and installing a new, brighter focusing screen with a split prism. I read online that a focusing screen from the Ukranian Kiev cameras would be possible to mount in a Bronica S2a. It was – sort of. The dimensions were not exactly the same but it fit. The thickness of the Kiev screen was not the same as the original Bronica screen, so that required an adjustment of the light seal once again. I tried getting precise focus but was not able to nail it. Nonetheless, I shot a few rolls with it. It went alright but my lack of experience shooting all manual and using an external meter, was really becoming a problem using this large and heavy camera. I managed to get a few good shots through though.
I went on a search for a medium format SLR with automatic exposure. I found the Zenza Bronica ETRS. I got rid of the old S2a and got myself an ETRS. Yet another SLR with interchangable lenses. This time a 6×4.5 with leaf shutters built into the lenses. Max speed is 1/500. The automatic exposure prism that is mounted on my camera works perfectly. It gives nice and well balanced exposures every time. The camera is equipped with the optional speed grip which adds a flash hotshoe (NICE) and a film winding lever (double nice). This camera with these accessories mounted is a dream to shoot. It’s easy to manual focus and again, the automatic exposure just nails it. Loving this camera is easy.
I started missing other types of medium format. After all, 6×4.5 is the smallest of the 120 film formats. I got my hands on a Mamiya RB67 and brought it to a single shoot. It did not match my shooting style at all. Way too bulky and slow to use, so I returned it again.
I found myself yet again missing a larger format so I picked up an old Soviet Russian 6×9 rangefinder folder – the Moscow 5. Quite a quirky camera to use – but fun. The rangefinder sucks if you have glasses like me, but it’s extremely fun to shoot. Yet again a fully manual camera. By now, my experience had increased quite a lot and shooting all manual with a meter is no longer a problem. Rather a relief from the stress of fast paced shooting like with a DSLR. I love the Moscow 5 and am not about to part with it.
Shooting a TLR became appealing to me again. Easy focusing and simple exposure control. So – yet again – I bought a Zeiss Ikoflex. This time a different model – the IIa – with a 1/500 sec shutter. The finder seems a bit brighter too (or did I just get new glasses?). I love shooting it – really. I have had so much fun shooting it, I think this one is a keeper!
The final chapter of my medium format adventure is this. I traded in my Bronica ETRS kit for a Ukranian Kiev 60 kit. The Kiev 60 is a 6×6 SLR in the same design as your standard Canon/Nikon/Olympus/etc. film SLR, rather than the modular Hasselblad like design of the Bronicas. The Kiev is just massively bulkier and could potentially cause serious blunt force trauma, if one is not careful. Why I did this – I wanted a 6×6 with interchangable lenses and I was tired of the little too easy shooting that the ETRS offeres.
At the time of writing, I am still waiting for GLS to drop off my new Kiev at my door step.
Till then – keep calm and shoot film!