Medium & Large Format

Hasselblad and the Bronica – Comparing an Icon with a Forgotten Gem – By Dave Palumbo

July 4, 2022

The essence is this: I find myself with two 6×6 SLR systems from the 1970s. One of them was a staple of professional photography for half a century. The other was a rival that eventually faded away. 50 years on, there’s quite a gulf between them in reputation and price and this makes me really curious how they would compare head to head. The goal is not to name a winner or loser. I just want to understand how these two systems differ in use and images. After all, they were both designed for the professional market.  I anticipate them to be pretty similar in image quality, with their differences coming through more vividly in handling.

How I got here

The Bronica S2a was my first 6×6 SLR. I’ve owned it for a few years and find it dependable and capable. It’s been serviced and has an updated BrightScreen and the late model standard lens, the Nikkor H.C. 75mm f2.8. It’s fully mechanical, aesthetically beautiful, and in perfect working condition. But it’s also heavy. A real chonk of a camera. Awkward on a neck strap. So when I saw my local shop selling a very reasonably priced Hasselblad 500c/m, I decided to “trade up.”

It wasn’t that I was so unhappy with the S2a. I’ve just always had a romance for the Hasselblad 500 series. Besides their reputation and besides that they went to the moon, it was the camera that my step-father used for many years. He traded his kits off in the early 2000s when folks were switching to digital and I’ve always regretted that those cameras are gone now, scattered to the winds. So seeing one at a good price when I had some cash to spend, I had to scoop it up. It seemed unnecessary to own two 6×6 systems though, so I reluctantly put my Bronica kit up on Ebay and shipped it to its new home.

Camera: Bronica S2a
Lens: Nikkor H.C. 75mm f2.8 with 8x ND filter
Film: Kodak Ektar
Settings: 4 seconds, f22
The H.C. 75mm was the last of three 75mm lenses that Nikon made for the S series, with the prior two being the P and the P.C. I shot a comparison between the P (cheapest of the group) and the H.C. a few years back and found the P to have lower contrast and slightly different rendering, but overall quality was very similar, which is to say they were both excellent. Two other standard lenses with good reputations are an 80mm f2.4 Zenzanon and an 80mm f2.8 made by Zeiss Jena, though both are very rare and tend to be pricey

Unfortunately, the buyer backed out while the camera was still in transit and the whole thing got pretty hairy. I was ultimately able to get the camera back, but it was an unpleasant enough experience to get me off Ebay for awhile. Feeling rattled, I stored it away until I could decide the best way to resell it.

Meanwhile, I’d been shooting with the 500c/m and really enjoying it. Though not much smaller, the design was very ergonomic and the images looked incredible. I could see why so many name this particular lens and camera combo as a masterpiece.

And so recently, while doing a bit of cleaning, I came across the still-boxed-up Bronica kit. I’ve shot a fair bit with both cameras at this point and I know how they differ in use, but I don’t know how they differ in final images. And I wonder if my experience with the Bronica will be different after getting used to the Hasselblad. I think many might find the comparison slanted, yet these two cameras could have been sold side-by-side through most of the 70s with their pricing much closer than it is today. So I unpacked my old S2a kit and set out for a day of head to head shooting.

Camera: Hasselblad 500c/m
Lens: Zeiss Planar T* 80mm f2.8 C with 10mm extension tube
Film: Ilford Delta 100
Settings: 1/8th of a second, f22

Physical comparisons

Bronica S2a, 1969-1977
Weight (with film back, waist level finder, and 75mm f2.8 lens): 1939g or 4 lbs 4 oz
Full kit weight (with film back, waist level finder, 50mm f2.8, 75mm f2.8, 200mm f4): 2846g or 6 lbs 6 oz

Hasselblad 500c/m, 1970-1994
Weight (with film back, waist level finder, and 80mm f2.8 lens): 1491g or 3 lbs 5 oz
Full kit weight (with film back, waist level finder, 50mm f4, 80mm f2.8, 180mm f4): 3320g or 7 lbs 5 oz

In this configuration, the Hasselblad (left) is longer but the Bronica (right) has more bulk. Size isn’t radically different, but the Hasselblad feels more svelte in the hand

In Use

While the Bronica with 75mm lens is 33% heavier, the lenses are much lighter and somewhat smaller. This is because the focusing helicoid is in the body and the lenses are just the optical block and aperture mechanism. Depending on your kit, the Bronica might actually be lighter than the Hasselblad because of the smaller lenses. Also, because the Bronica body is heavier, it may offer more stability for hand-held shooting. I often shot the S2a hand-held without shake spoiling the photos. That said, the Hasselblad feels better in my hands. The lighter weight of the 500c/m body is more comfortable for a long day out, but I do find myself less inclined to bring additional lenses.

Size comparison of wide angle and portrait lenses. Left to right: Zeiss Distagon T* 50mm f4 CF FLE, Zenzanon MC 50mm f2.8, Zeiss Sonnar T* 180mm f4 CF, Nikkor P.C. 200mm f4

Similarities, broadly

Both cameras shoot 6×6 images on 120 roll film. Both cameras are single lens reflex style. Both cameras are modular, with changeable film backs, lenses, and viewfinders. Both cameras are 100% mechanical. Both cameras lock the shutter when the darkslide is inserted and lock the film back in place when the slide is removed.

The modular Hasselblad 500c/m

The modular Bronica S2a

Bronica S2a features

The most noteworthy difference, from a practical point of view, is that the S2a is a focal plane shutter. This allows for a faster top speed of 1/1000th of a second vs the 500c/m’s 1/500 leaf shutter, though may also increase shutter vibration. The Bronica also has instant mirror return, unlike the Hasselblad which blacks out the finder until re-cocked. The other major difference is the body-mounted focusing helicoid. Focusing is just the same as any other lens, but the lenses are significantly smaller and lighter. There’s a quirk to this design though, and it’s that all lenses have the same amount of max extension. This means that shorter focal lengths can focus very close, but longer lenses have a poor minimum focal distance. Some very long lenses require a telephoto helicoid. Both my wide and normal S2a lenses focus several inches closer than their Zeiss counterparts. The helicoid is also threaded on the inside to accept an unusual m57 x1 sized mate.  With some creatively applied adapters, this can be used to mount foreign lenses.  For a time I was shooting a 150mm Rodagon enlarger lens with good results.  Because of the shared helicoid, the distance scales for multiple focal lengths are all printed together which makes them difficult to read. All lenses have standard front threading for filters. That doesn’t seem like a special feature, but the Hasselblad used a proprietary bayonet which requires either dedicated filters or an adapter.

Note the massively more readable focusing scale on the Zeiss lens (bottom) compared against the tiny print and compressed space of the Bronica scale (top). The Bronica scale features readings for 50mm, 75mm, 135mm, and 200mm at the same time, making it all the more difficult to read

Other minor notes: Activating the magnifier on the waist level finder is done with a simple tap on the front of the hood. This is my favorite design of any WLF I’ve used as you don’t have to reach inside or look for a tiny release button. It’s so intuitive and simple. Also, if you twist the shutter release you can lock it. This seems redundant as the darkslide also locks the shutter, but I prefer to keep my darkslide out if I’m not bringing multiple backs and so a secondary shutter lock is useful. The film backs also allow either 120 or 220 rolls if 220 ever returns.

Hasselblad 500c/m features

If shooting with flash, the leaf shutter design allows sync up to the full 1/500 speed. The Bronica flash sync tops out at a sluggish 1/40th of a second. Also, the 500c/m has a mirror lock-up feature which, combined with the leaf shutters, a cable release, and a sturdy tripod, allows for completely vibration free firing at any speed. The lack of a mirror lock-up on the Bronica is one of my biggest issues with it as it makes certain speeds iffy with longer lenses even when tripod mounted. The 500c/m is also more modular, allowing quick easy changing of the focusing screen and winding knob. Possibly the best selling point for the Hasselblad though is that Zeiss continued making lenses decades after Nikon and Bronica had discontinued the S line. This means newer designs with more sophisticated optics and better coatings with (potentially) less miles on them. All eras of leness also have an EV indicator to help maintain consistent exposures when you change settings. I know some folks ignore it or find it annoying, but it so happens that I learned to meter by EV so I find it pretty wonderful. I mentioned that the lenses use a proprietary filter type which I dislike, but there is a benefit: adding or removing caps and filters is very fast and secure.

There’s also a feature that I like on the older C series lenses, which is the moving depth of field indicators. When you adjust the aperture, two red lines expand to show the depth of field change. It’s probably over complicated and doesn’t tell you anything a painted scale can’t, but I really enjoy it.

Camera: Hasselblad 500c/m
Lens: Zeiss Planar T* 80mm f2.8 C with 10mm extension tube
Film: Fuji 400H
Settings: 1/60th of a second, f2.8

Sounds and haptics of the Bronica S2a

If the tactile feel of a camera is important to you, the Bronica is solid and serious. The shutter sounds hefty, smooth, and rich. The pop-up finder and magnifier are a joy to use. The film back detaches by pushing the dark slide in and the action of this is very nice. Clicking it back onto the body is even better. Lenses attach and release with sturdy clicks. Focus is smooth. Turning the shutter speed selector feels… ok. Same with the lens apertures. Speeds and apertures are all in full stop clicks. The only haptic that I dislike is the advance knob. It takes a few cranks and gives some resistance when it’s hoisting those huge shutter curtains. Then it seems to stop and needs a bit of extra force to complete the action with a “did I just break it?” sounding CACK. I’ve been assured this is just how it sounds to cock the shutter on this camera.

Sounds and haptics of the Hasselblad 500c/m

One universal truth of the iconic cameras is that they feel and sound amazing. The 500c/m is no exception. Just about every possible action is very satisfying. When things unlock and lock, such as the film cartridge, lens, film back, or swapping knobs or finders, everything fits into place with a soft, confident click. The firing action is a loud but luxurious “clop-clop.” Winding will reset the mirror, cock the shutter, and advance the film all in exactly one full turn with a “zizizi-clip” that’s probably my favorite of all the actions on the camera. It might be my favorite camera sound, period. I use the crank style knob, which makes the wind one smooth action. Shutter and aperture are on the lens and they move with soft clicks. There are full stops for speed and half stops for aperture. Focus is smooth on the later CM lenses, just a touch stiff on the earlier C series, though this might just be the samples I’ve handled. If I had one word for the tactile experience of the 500c/m, it would be “precision.”

Reliability and known issues with the S2a

In short, the S2a feels indestructible. The Bronica S2a supposedly fixed some gear issues with earlier models to make a highly reliable camera even more reliable. Mine, which I bought as “mint,” did arrive with something slightly off in the shutter timing. I sent it for a full overhaul to Frank Marshman (aka Camera Wiz) who is a specialist in the Bronica lines. It seemed this wasn’t a common issue and he assured me after repair that “it should be good for another 40 years now.”

The only known problem with S2a’s that I’m aware of is related to the mirror foam. After decades, like so many other cameras, some of the foam used has begun to break down. The foam in question here is seated under the mirror and causes the mirror to sag just enough to affect the focus. Fixing means replacing the foam, which is a bit tricky if you don’t have ample patience and nimble fingers. I did mine prior to discovering that it needed a full service anyhow and I remember it being more trying than expected. While you’re at it, I recommend replacing the focusing screen with something brighter as the original is dim.

Camera: Bronica S2a
Lens: Nikkor H.C. 75mm f2.8
Film: Ilford Pan F+
Settings: 1/125th of a second, f8

Reliability and known issues with the 500c/m

The Hasselblad is a very particular machine, and demands that the user do certain things in certain ways. For example, the shutter must be cocked if you want to remove or mount a lens. Don’t try to remove the film back while the mirror lock-up is engaged. If you are using an extension tube, make sure to attach the tube to the body, then the lens, and remove in reverse order (lens, then tube). If you do anything that the Hasselblad does not like, it will let you know by locking up on you. Generally speaking, if something offers resistance, stop and check if you’re doing it wrong. Never force anything. Each lens contains a shutter mechanism, which means each lens might function differently in, say, cold weather. I’ve heard so many stories about “the Hasselblad unjamming tool” and recommended service every 1-3 years that suggest this machine is a bit more temperamental.  That said, I haven’t encountered any serious problems.

While out shooting for this article, I did find my shutter inexplicably locked mid-roll. I tried to calmly trace the problem and finally found that the lens hadn’t been fully clicked into place. Unfortunately I forgot to recheck focus after correcting it and the shot was ruined. No big deal, but an example of how particular this system is about things being just as they should be.

Camera: Hasselblad 500c/m
Lens: Zeiss Sonnar T* 180mm f4 CF
Film: Kodak Ektar
Settings: 1/60th of a second, f11

The only common issue I know of is light leaks in the film backs, which is another case of inevitable material decay. This one is a simple DIY task with new seal kits on ebay for under $20. My only note here is that the kit I bought only replaced the mylar and foam, but didn’t address a thin light baffle opposite the foam. It took me awhile to understand why I was still getting occasional leaks until I discovered this and replaced it with new foam.

I have not had my Hasselblad serviced yet. Due to their popularity, it should be much easier to find a qualified Hasselblad tech and I believe Hasselblad still offers service on their old models.

Head to Head

I was mostly curious about handling in the field, so I packed both cameras plus a wide lens, a normal lens, and long lens for each into a very full backpack. All shots were tripod mounted using a cable release, trying to match focus as close as possible. Each camera was loaded with a roll of Ilford Delta 100 and the film was developed with HC-110 B all in one tank to keep development consistent. The images were all DSLR scanned with identical settings. The only digital processing was inverting and setting the black point.

While I’ve detailed all the ways in which these two systems differ, the shooting experience was enjoyable for both. In general, the Hasselblad does feel more elegant, if a bit more delicate, than the clever but brutish  S2a. These are cameras I mostly shoot on a tripod, so the only major distinction was the lack of mirror lock-up on the Bronica. There’s just so much going on between the mirror and focal plane shutter movements, it causes the camera jiggle when it fires just enough to creates blur with some slow shutter speeds on longer lenses despite the use of a tripod and cable release. If I were shooting handheld, the bulk of the Bronica might have actually made it the more stable of the two, though I’d have been even more concerned about slow speeds. It doesn’t happen often, but I did lose one shot in this roll to vibrations.  It happened to be the same shot that the Hasselblad briefly jammed on which caused me to miss focus.  So probably that location was just cursed.

left: Zeiss Planar T* 80mm f2.8 shot at f2.8, 1/60th of a second, 1.3 meters from subject
right: Nikkor H.C. 75mm f2.8 shot at f2.8, 1/60th of a second, 1.3 meters from subject
Focus was tricky to match on this one. I seem to have focused ever so slightly closer in the left hand image

left: Zeiss Planar T* 80mm f2.8 with circular polarizing filter. Shot at f11, 1/15th of a second, 10 meters from subject
right: Nikkor H.C. 75mm f2.8 with circular polarizing filter. Shot at f11, 1/15th of a second, 10 meters from subject

left: Zeiss Distagon T* 50mm f4 shot at f11, 1/15th of a second, 1 meter from subject
right: Zenzanon MC 50mm f2.8 shot at f11, 1/15th of a second, 1 meter from subject

left: Zeiss Sonnar T* 180mm f4 shot at f4, 1/500th of a second, 15 meters from subject
right: Nikkor P.C. 200mm f4 shot at f4, 1/500th of a second, 15 meters from subject

Detail crop from the Zeiss 180mm (left) and Nikkor 200mm (right)

However important the user experience is, the images are what matters in the end. My guess was that final images would be very very close. Are they? I go back and forth. Initially they seemed dramatically different, then I looked again the next day and they felt remarkably similar. The most obvious difference at a glance is that the Zeiss lenses have stronger contrast, which is likely due to more sophisticated coatings*. My S2a lenses are all coated, but they have a more rounded rendering with increased flare and reduced contrast. This isn’t good or bad, just a particular look which might be suited to certain types of subjects. The Zeiss lenses also resolved finer details, though this is on close inspection and I wouldn’t complain with any of the Nikkor or Zenzanon images. I assumed, if there was a difference in quality, it would be most noticeable wide open. All lenses performed equally well wide open though, and the differences in character were just as apparent when stopped down to f11.

*my Zeiss lenses are all from the mid-90s, about 20 years after the S2a lenses were likely made.

The Question of Value

One subject which I haven’t really covered is price. As these were both discontinued decades ago, prices are going to fluctuate and so I can only look to general trends. There’s no surprise that Hasselblads, given their reputation and popularity, are more expensive and also easier to find. At the moment, it looks like a basic Hasselblad kit of body, lens, finder, and back is going to cost 4x-5x what an equivalent S2a kit would run. Just buying an Acute Matte D focusing screen for the 500c/m will cost more than an entire S2a.  Lens prices vary more, but the difference is still significant. Because the S2a lenses are so stripped down, there’s also far more that can go wrong in a Zeiss lens which would make me more cautious about who I’m buying from. All that said, the Zeiss Planar T* 80mm f2.8 of any era is easily one of the most impressive lenses I’ve ever used and might warrant owning a Hasselblad all on its own. Then again, that Nikkor isn’t half bad and a whole lot more affordable.

The question of value is a personal one. I do not believe that the 500c/m is five times superior to the S2a in handling OR image quality. I actually find each one has its merits and both create excellent images of different character. I don’t know if the Hasselblad line is over-priced, but the Bronica certainly seems under-appreciated and a bargain by comparison.

left: Hasselblad 500c/m with A12 back, WLF, and Zeiss Planar T* 80mm f2.8. This lens was released in the 90s with the 501C and shares it’s name with the C lenses of the 60s and 70s, but it is optically the same as the later 80mm CF. Sometimes naming conventions get messy.
Right: Bronica S2a with WLF and Nikkor H.C. 75mm f2.8

If you’d like to read more about the S2a, I recommend this excellent dedicated review by Mark Herse here on 35mmc

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29 Comments

  • Reply
    Kodachromeguy
    July 4, 2022 at 2:37 pm

    I love the frame of the railroad tank cars and the snow. Nice job! This is the type of topic I look for.

  • Reply
    CP93
    July 4, 2022 at 3:58 pm

    Interesting article, and a good comparison. I would like to see it done with the 500 vs SQ-Ai, as closer in lens and mechanics, but obviously you use what you have.

    When I was shopping for a 6×6 in the 90s, I rented both a 500 CM and an SQ-Ai. To my eye, the Zenza lenses had better contrast and color rendition, so that’s what I bought — still have it, too, though lugging it around is harder on my old back these days.

    Your mileage, as they say, may vary.

    • Reply
      Dave Palumbo
      July 4, 2022 at 5:02 pm

      Absolutely true, we use what we have. It would be an interesting comparison with far more similarity in lenses (90s leaf shutter design). I think the bodies would be radically different in tech though, as the 500cm is mechanically driven and essentially unchanged from the original C design of the 1950s, while the SQ-Ai is a fully electronic 90s body. Even the S2 is arguably more “advanced” in features than the 500c/m, so 20 years of further development would no doubt make an even more sophisticated camera. It gets to the question: how much does the body matter, or is it all about the lens? I do have some limited experience with the 6×7 Bronica GS-1 and it sure is an excellent performer.

      It’s amazing to me that Hasselblad left their V series body largely unchanged over so many years with just moderate tweaks now and then, especially during a time that saw so much change in tech overall

      • Reply
        Kodachromeguy
        July 5, 2022 at 5:58 am

        Recall, Hasselblad did make the FC2000 series and then the 200 series of bodies. These had electronically controlled focal plane shutters. Nice cameras when new! Sadly, I have read that many no longer work and few if any techs. can repair them. It’s a real pity.

    • Reply
      Paul Ozzello
      July 4, 2022 at 6:26 pm

      I went through the same experience as you in 1995- I tested the sq and gs1 but the image quality of the Hasselblad was far superior 🤷‍♂️

  • Reply
    Kurt Ingham
    July 4, 2022 at 4:13 pm

    Nice read. For pro use in the day the Hassy was seen as sturdier. But most important was that the leaf shutters could synch. with our studio strobes at much higher speeds – as you mentioned. The other thing was maybe not entirely relevant today- but my accountant said therewould be no problem depreciating the Hassys as a business expense, but the tax man might quibble about Bronicas!

    • Reply
      Dave Palumbo
      July 4, 2022 at 5:10 pm

      that’s interesting that certain brands would be more questioned as write-offs. I guess it’s easy to forget that institutions are still run by people and they’re going to be influenced by brand recognition just like anyone else

  • Reply
    Vlad Serebryany
    July 4, 2022 at 4:53 pm

    Thanks Dave for the wonderful article! I truly enjoyed Sounds and Haptics part. Wish some musically gifted photographer would write the musical piece comprised exclusively of sounds of the different cameras 😉

  • Reply
    Matthew Bigwood
    July 4, 2022 at 6:29 pm

    Great review. I’ve never used the Bronica, but in the early 90s a friend lent me a Hasselbld 501 with three lenses for a couple of weeks and I noticed how much more contrast the lenses produced compared to my fairly elderly Rolleiflex SL66 I was using at the time.

  • Reply
    Victor
    July 4, 2022 at 9:41 pm

    Never touched hassy, but do have a bronica which I like quite a bit. Seems to be build like tank: I dropped mine once on a wooden floor which left a deep hole in the floor but nothing to camera 😉 one thing to watch in them is the focusing screen: it’s spacing is kept by some foam which disintegrates, so check that if you have problems with focus. I replaced mine with one from rb67 which is much better than original 😉

  • Reply
    AlistairH
    July 4, 2022 at 11:00 pm

    Even with all of the compromises that putting images on-line involves, I see a world of difference between the results from the two cameras – no doubt, all down to the lenses. To my eye, the Zeiss blows the Nikkor out of the water!

    The tonal gradation is way better in all of the Zeiss images – just look at how much more can be seen in the tyre tread with the Zeiss! The statue has lots more tonal nuance with the Zeiss and with the industrial riveted image, there is just a lot of ghosting flare with the Nikkor.

    It is strange – I normally read camera and lens comparisons, and hardly see any difference, while the writer sees a lot. In this case, it is the other way round – the writer does not see much, but to my eye, the Hasselblad/Zeiss combination is vastly better then the Bronica/Nikkor.

    I am going to buy a 6×6 soon, and was unsure between a ‘Blad and a Bronical SQ. Having seen this article, I am definitely going for the Hasselblad!

    Brilliant article – many thanks!

    • Reply
      Dave Palumbo
      July 4, 2022 at 11:37 pm

      Absolutely, glad it helped with your decision! I really did go back and forth and I think, in the end, it came down to how much did I feel I personally would find the differences influence my feelings about the final images. That’s such a personal thing though, and I’m sure some may feel the Zeiss rendering not their taste given the choice, or simply not enough to justify to added cost. When I look back at images I’ve made with the S2a, I don’t find them lacking. The Zeiss lenses truly are spectacular though and will certainly be my primary kit. As you said, there’s also a lot of compromise in viewing digitally. I don’t currently have access to a darkroom, but I suspect the character of each lens to be even more distinct printed.

    • Reply
      Günther
      July 17, 2022 at 10:06 am

      Of course, the author did not use a lens hood. The front lens of the Nikkor is much more convexed than the Zeiss one. You definitely need a lens hood to avoid flare – look at the pictures of the bridge and of the knight on his horse.

  • Reply
    AlistairH
    July 4, 2022 at 11:17 pm

    PS: I could not get my head around the title picture for this article. These cameras cannot be just 7 to 8 cm long!!! I have just realised that the measuring tape must just show INCHES, I have never seen a measurer with only inches before – only cm and inches.

    In my Scottish schooling in the 1960s and 70s we were absolutely banned from using the old-fashioned measures (even saying a foot or inch out loud would get a telling-off from the teacher), and I have never really understood them to this day! I was amazed when I came to England in the ’80s and found that even young people were talking using feet, pounds, stones etc. – a completely alien world to me.

    • Reply
      Dave Palumbo
      July 5, 2022 at 1:44 am

      ha, I blame the USA! Over here, we aren’t taught metric measurements at all as kids. I’ve learned conversions in my head purely as a result of my photo hobby, and even then it takes me a minute with mms and cms. It’s reasonable to not understand feet and inches because I don’t think they make much sense at all. Shame on me for not having a tape with global units on it

  • Reply
    Johan
    July 5, 2022 at 1:28 am

    Insanely sharp images and nice to look at too. Bravo!

  • Reply
    Okiman
    July 5, 2022 at 8:55 am

    Let me comment on a few comments to clear things up a bit. First off, the later SQ cameras are not even remotely made to the high standards of focal plane shuttered Bronicas (C, S, S2, S2a, D, Z and even electronic ones – EC). And more importantly, the lenses on the later SQ cameras are not up to the standards of previous cameras. But, not all lenses are created equal, and Bronicas of this era had lenses from Nikon, Komura and their own (Zenzanon), which were at this time made by different other Japanese manufacturers (Topcon mostly). Within each lens lineup there were perls and duds. Nikon’s 75mm lenses are easily comparable to Zeiss (even P and PC ones) as your images clearly show. But there was sample variation, unfortunately. I tested a lot of them and about 25% were lemons. 50mm Nikon was a dud – terrible lens. 50mm Zenzanon 2.8 is fabulous. It flares a bit, but the contrast and resolution are fantastic. And matted with 100mm 2.8 Zenzanon could outperform Zeiss lenses of the time. Komura were usually seen as entry level. In 200mm, again Zenzanon was king. Nikon was just mediocre. There was a 40mm Nikon which was ok stopped down, but not extraordinary. So, to sum up, The best of Nikon and Zenzanon could match (ot exceed) Zeiss in bokeh, resolution and contrast, but not coatings (flare), the rest were just mediocre.

    • Reply
      Dave Palumbo
      July 5, 2022 at 1:41 pm

      Appreciated! These lenses aren’t really something I can find locally so I had to rely on recommendations for my shopping. I wish I were able to sample all the different options. Another note on the Zenzanon 50mm is I can’t believe how small it is (and at f2.8 no less)

    • Reply
      Eugen Mezei
      July 11, 2022 at 8:37 pm

      The SQ may feel cheaper than the focal plane shuttered Bronicas, but being simpler they are more reliable.

      • Reply
        Dave Palumbo
        July 17, 2022 at 2:22 pm

        The camera was in full shade with overcast sky in the bridge shot, which generally means a hood doesn’t have any effect in my experience. I was surprised to see the flare in that one. It was also overcast shooting the statue, though the nikkor 200 has a slide out shade which I did use simply out of habit. The zeiss 180 in that comparison was unshaded and does not have a deep recessed front element. I made a point to avoid any situations requiring lens shading as I don’t have a shade for the zeiss lenses.

  • Reply
    Joe
    July 5, 2022 at 9:17 pm

    Great comparison. The motivation for commenting though is to show appreciation for the photos. I love the Maersk container shot.

  • Reply
    jason gold
    July 6, 2022 at 9:50 am

    Nice write up! I think though many should be warned early Bronica are unreliable. Only when Nikon stepped in, did Bronica become a better camera.
    Hasselblad were my dream camera till I was told to use them on shoots ! I couldn’t focus them. My eyesight! I did indeed go medium format for Fashion, Industrial and Advertising. I used Mamiya C- series. Yes the Twin lens.
    Later I traded to Pentax 6×7. It simply was too Big, too Heavy but results spectacular.
    The kit was traded at Samy’s LA for a new Leica M6. In a few weeks I had exposed more frames in Leica than 20 years with Pentax 6×7.

  • Reply
    Eugen Mezei
    July 11, 2022 at 8:27 pm

    A very good comparison, a rare thing here on 35mmc.

    But: “My S2a lenses are all coated, but they have a more rounded rendering with increased flare and reduced contrast. This isn’t good or bad, just a particular look which might be suited to certain types of subjects.”
    Ofcourse it is bad. Why would lens producers invest millions in resarch and engineering of coatins if reduced contrast is as good too?
    The question is, did you use lensshades?
    Resolution (and contrast) are vastly superior with your Zeiss lens. Not that the Nikkors would be bad, but in direct comparison the difference is noticeable.

    • Reply
      Dave Palumbo
      July 11, 2022 at 9:01 pm

      There are new lenses being released (voigtlander comes to mind) with single coated models in addition to the standard multi-coated model because some people prefer that style of render. Likewise with cinematographers spending thousands to rehouse old uncoated optics to fit modern rigs. I’d personally say shooting film rather than many digital options currently available suggests that the latest tech does not always mean “best.” Tastes will vary. But that’s why comparisons are useful, to make up one’s own mind

    • Reply
      Günther
      July 17, 2022 at 10:12 am

      When you look at the Zeiss lens, you will see some kind of a built in lens shade because the Zeiss front element is positioned deeper into the lens barrel than the Nikkor one. Thats all. Get a decent lens shade and enjoy the Bronica. A Bronica S2a costs 500 Dollars at the Bay. You aren’t even allowed to have a look at the BlaBlaBlad for this sum …

      • Reply
        Dave Palumbo
        July 17, 2022 at 2:25 pm

        I do have a shade for the Bronica 50 and 75 lenses. The 200 has a built in shade. They’re useful in some situations

  • Reply
    Tim
    July 21, 2022 at 2:31 am

    The Bronica system is like Rodney Dangerfield….it never gets any respect. Incredible optics and modular construction. Just like the Hasselblad 500 CM I have. I would certainly…CERTAINLY buy a Bronica if I didn’t already have a plethora of cameras already. I am scared of looking at other cameras bc my wife’s said she will kill me if I get any more cameras. Oh well. I am looking at this article in a locked room. Don’t tell her.
    I love this system. Even you see one…absolutelt get it. It will appreciate in the years to come.

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