Bronica ETRS w/ 40mm f/4 Zenzanon MC

5 Frames with a Bronica ETRS: Small Town Panoramas – By Lee Hiers

My brother-in-law recently gifted me a Bronica ETRS that he had received as a gift from his step-father.  While his step-father had the camera, he had let the grandkids play with it – not like you or I might “play” with a camera, but like kids would play with a ball.  It’s a little rough around the edges!  But the camera is fully functional… a testament to how well these cameras were built.

One of the rough edges was the focusing screen – it was pretty scratched, so once I determined the camera did in fact work, I ordered a new BrightScreen from Rick Oleson.  I also picked up a 40mm lens to go along with the standard 75mm.

Medium format cameras can have a variety of aspect ratios available, and in the case of the ETR series, Bronica offered backs for 645 using 120 or 220 film, standard 24mm x 36mm using 135, and a panoramic back that makes 24mm x 55mm images on 35mm film.

Church and Limo
Pass the Plate

I had never had a lot of interest in 645, but panoramas can be a fun format.  Unfortunately, the Bronica 135-wide backs are quite expensive.  I’ve never had much of a problem with cropping, so I thought “why not shoot on the normal 645 frame, but crop to a panorama for display”?  Yes, I’ll waste some film with the crop, but even at today’s film prices, I would have to shoot a lot of rolls to justify one of the Bronica 135-wide backs.

Parking Lot Sign

I’ve always liked a 2:1 panorama – not as wide as an X-Pan, or even as wide as the Bronica pano format.  But still wide enough to be something a little different from normal.  So, when I corresponded with Rick about the new focusing screen, I had him etch a 2:1 grid on the screen to aid in composing.  So now I can easily compose with my panorama in mind, and when scanning the negative, simply crop to 2:1.  I lose about 15mm of film per 645 image.

Abandoned earth-moving equipment
Cat Cemetery

A side benefit is that I can still compose for 645 if I want to, and now that I have some experience with that format, I’ve discovered that I actually like it as well, contrary to my original thoughts before actually using it.

Used Tire
Used Tires

I live in rural northeast Georgia.  Five days a week I have a commute of about 45 minutes to and from work.  On my commute, I pass through several small towns and these images are from those small towns and the spaces in between.  These photos were made in the past year or so, and already some of the scenes no longer exist, or have changed significantly.  Just a reminder to not wait to photograph something – go ahead and do it.

Concrete cast swans
Two Swans and a Toilet

All images were made with the Bronica ETRS and a 40mm f/4 Zenzanon MC lens on Kodak T-max 100 developed in Rodinal 1+50.  The images containing the sky were shot with a red filter.  This camera/lens/film combo has become one of my favorite ways to make photographs.  Rick Oleson’s custom focusing screens are available at

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4 thoughts on “5 Frames with a Bronica ETRS: Small Town Panoramas – By Lee Hiers”

  1. Beautiful images, Lee! I’ve always been drawn to panoramic photography, particularly 2:1 aspect. And also speaking of 645, I just bought an old 645 Zeiss folding rangefinder. Having only shot one roll so far, I really like this format; making the short leap to 2:1 panos is a great idea.

    I’ve always lived in small-town-heavy America (or adjacent to) and find them fascinating. I think I’m attracted to them in a similar way that some people are drawn to Greek tragedies: so much simple beauty and melancholy history wrapped up together.

    1. Thanks Ben! Those old Zeiss folders are neat cameras – I’ve got one in 6×6. I think you can use the 645 to shoot in-camera diptychs and triptychs…or use for multi-frame panos. Enjoy!

  2. Really love that shot of the trucks Lee. I have half a dozen ETRs, that I bought for next to nothing from various wedding photographers in the early noughties, when everyone was rushing for the doors. They’re solid workhorse cameras with really quite brilliant lenses.

    Thanks for posting – would love to see more of your stuff in future.

    1. Hey, thanks Brent…one more and you’ll have one for every day if the week! Those were crazy times when the bottom fell out of the film camera market.

      I’ll update my profile here later with a link to more photos.

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