Bronica SQ-B Camera / Zenzanon PS 40mm lens
Medium & Large Format

Bronica SQ-B – Panoramic Shooting with a Medium Format Camera – By Noel Roque

July 12, 2020

For quite some time I have been enjoying the Mamiya 6 with its trio of 50/75/150mm lenses, alongside the Fujifilm TX-1 (aka Hasselblad Xpan) panoramic camera. I had recently returned to film photography after shooting digital since 2010.

I do mostly landscapes, scenery, travel and street photography. I enjoy shooting the 6×6 square and 1×2.7 panoramic aspects ratios interchangeably and the challenge of finding compositions that work for both. The compact size of these cameras and lenses helps when traveling, allowing for a smaller and lighter pack of gear.

“Pirate’s Tower” in Laguna Beach, California / Mamiya 6 Camera / Mamiya 50mm lens / Ilford Delta ASA100 120 film / Epson V750 Pro scanner

“Pirate’s Tower” in Laguna Beach, California / Fujifilm TX-1  (aka Hasselblad XPan)  camera / Hasselblad 45mm lens / Ilford HP5 Plus 400 135 film / Nikon Coolscan V-ED (LS-50) scanner

Lately however, I’ve been finding my rangefinder cameras lacking and limiting in some landscape shooting scenarios, particularly when I need to use filters and a polarizer. I do have the circular polarizer designed for the Mamiya 6, but none for the Fuji TX1. It’s not that easy to use a circular polarizer or even graduated neutral density filters on filter holders with rangefinder cameras because you are composing with an optical finder and not seeing the effects of the filters through the lens.

One very good alternative that combines both 6×6 and panoramic formats is my Bronica SQ-B medium format camera with its wide Zenzanon PS 40mm lens. And what gives the Bronica the ability to shoot panoramas is the rare SQ 135W film back. Now that I’ve recently acquired one, it’s time to put it through its paces…

After a long lock-down hiatus, Descanso Gardens (in Montrose, California) finally re-opened and what better time to go try out the 135W panoramic film back! This film back enables the Bronica SQ series medium format film cameras to shoot 24mm x 54mm panoramic photos using 135mm film. The 1×2.4 aspect ratio comes close to the 1×2.7 (24mm x 65mm) pano of my Fuji TX1 (aka XPan). And shooting with the Bronica allows much easier use of a circular polarizer (used on all the color images here) because you are looking “through the lens” via a reflex mirror and into a waist level or prism finder, so you are actually seeing the effect of the filter! I excitedly loaded the 135W film back with a roll of Kodak Gold 200 for testing. The film back is a marvel of engineering, but careful attention has to be given in loading film. Once safely loaded however, the film advanced smoothly and I was ready to shoot!

I’m happy to report the 135W film back is fully functional and working as it should! For this outing, I shot the Bronica SQ-B alongside the Mamiya 6. The Mamiya will only shoot 6×6. The Bronica compliments it in two ways; with its wider Zenzanon 40mm lens, and multiple 6×6 film backs, including this 135W pano back, for the option to change film stocks and shoot panoramic images. While not as compact and “hipster cool” as my TX1 (Xpan), The Bronica SQ-B compliments the Mamiya 6 in many ways and offers more flexibility. It’s also fun to shoot! I have finally found a good landscape camera alternative to the Xpan!

These photos were with shot with Kodak Gold 200 135mm film / scanned in a Nikon Coolscan V-ED (LS-50) with Vuescan software / processed in Lightroom and Photoshop using Negative Lab Pro plug-in. Happy viewing!

You can find my website here, and on instagram here

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  • Reply
    Terry B
    July 12, 2020 at 12:47 pm

    Noel, thanks for posting these images confirming that despite covid lockdowns there is still a summer out there, but infortunately for many, passing us by! Still, nice to dream.
    I did once consider the 135W back for my long-unused now ETRS-i, thinking it could entice me back to film photography. but given their rarity, and price, it wasn’t a really viable option. If I wanted the panoramic ratio I could crop the neg anyway, although I wouldn’t have the advantage of double (I’m guessing 24 per cassette) or so the number of exposures using 135 film would permit over the normal 12 on 120.
    But you didn’t mention cost comparisons. A Bronica body and, say the 40mm lens, plus the 135W back, and you’d be quids in (more bang for your buck, as you might say) over an Xpan or TX1, and you’d still have immediate access to MF whenever you wished. And, as you pointed out, total control over the use of filters, and with reflex viewing shooting exactly what you see in the v/f.
    Thanks for posting your experience.

    • Reply
      Noel Roque
      July 12, 2020 at 3:51 pm

      Terry B, thank you for your thoughts and comment. Yes, I have been missing the open road since the lockdown, but I have enjoyed shooting wherever I can and be content with that, for now. I got the SQ-B, 40mm lens and the SQ135W film back (separately, all on eBay) for $1,230USD. Think about how much an XPan/TX-1 cost nowadays just for the body, and more so with the 45mm lens included! The mechanical SQ-B/40mm lens/ 135W back, is also a kind of insurance for my XPan as it’s motorized winder is known to eventually die over time and repairs are costly if at all possible with most parts rare and out of production. Now the Zenzanon PS 40mm lens, I got as an alternative to the Hasselblad SWC/38 lens. When paired with the SQ-B, the 40mm field of view is not that much different and while it is no Distagon, the Zenzanon is no slouch either and I’m very happy with it, both for 6×6 and 135 pano. Together it makes for a very flexible piece of kit. Cheers!

  • Reply
    July 12, 2020 at 1:57 pm

    I am admiring your outstanding images both here and especially on your website!

    • Reply
      Noel Roque
      July 12, 2020 at 3:57 pm

      Thank you Ken, for your appreciation and comment. I feel privileged to enjoy photography at this time in my life (semi-retired). Helps keep the sanity… especially with today’s “new normal”! LOL

  • Reply
    Jim Kuo
    July 12, 2020 at 9:11 pm

    Noel, nice overview of your Bronica SQ-B panoramic setup. From your sample images, it appears the SQ-B stands-up in image quality to it’s digital contemporaries.

    • Reply
      Noel Roque
      July 12, 2020 at 9:34 pm

      Hi Jim! Glad to hear from you. And yes, it definitely stands up, and more importantly have that beautiful film aesthetic too! I scan each pano on my Nikon Coolscan V-ED (LS-50) @ 24mm x 54mm x 4000 dpi. The resulting file is over 200 MB and I have printed 3 ft wide no problem. 5 ft wide is quite doable with minimal loss at normal viewing distance.

  • Reply
    July 12, 2020 at 9:18 pm

    Just buy for £20 the adapter to fit a 35mm film into a Bronica or anynmedium format camera, save about a thousand ponds and spend it on film instead . Boom.

    • Reply
      Noel Roque
      July 12, 2020 at 9:39 pm

      Ahahaha pls pardon the old man’s ignorance… I’m sure you’re very happy with your adapter, stacks of film and thousands of quids saved. Heck, I’d be laughing my way to the bank! LOL Thank you for the wise words and taking the time to comment. Boom!

    • Reply
      July 15, 2020 at 10:52 pm

      The 135W only costs $400, it shoots landscape natively, and you can rewind the film. Using adapters you have to turn the camera sideways to shoot landscape and you have to unload it in the dark at the end of the roll. Not ideal.

  • Reply
    July 15, 2020 at 10:51 pm

    The 135W only costs $400 not, it shoots landscape natively, and you can rewind the film. Using adapters you have to turn the camera sideways to shoot landscape and you have to unload it in the dark at the end of the roll. Not ideal.

    • Reply
      Noel Roque
      July 15, 2020 at 11:46 pm

      Thanks for the comment Andrew. I kept quiet from the previous comment about the adapter even if I already knew about the points you have raised. I took my time in getting the 135W back because i did my homework and looked into as many options as I can and, I was hoping for better prices. Since last year, I have not seen prices drop lower than $500 on eBay, it usually hovers around $600, so I’m ok with what i paid. The important thing is to have and enjoy this alongside my Mamiya 6 and XPan. And I am loving it!

      • Reply
        July 17, 2020 at 1:09 pm

        Sounds like a great kit. I had a Bronica SQ-A + Mamiya 6 combo for awhile but sold the 6 eventually. Just something about using a 6×6 WLF with a big and bright groundglass!

        Seeing this post has motivated me to throw my 135W on and finish the roll of Provia that’s been in there for a few months. Happy shooting!

    • Reply
      July 21, 2020 at 4:16 am

      Interesting back! I wish Hasselblad had offered such a back for 135 film. I would grab one in an instant. They made an A16, but that is still for 120 film.

      • Reply
        Noel Roque
        July 22, 2020 at 3:38 am

        Thank you for your comment. Yes, too bad they don’t have a similar back for the Hasselblad. This combo is really a worthwhile alternative to the XPan and even has unique advantages, though bigger and heavier, and still cost much less.

  • Reply
    Paul Elcock
    August 3, 2020 at 2:34 pm

    How about the mamiya RB67 with rotating come back. You can use 35 mm film with £10 adaptors and get an even wider panoramic

    • Reply
      Noel Roque
      August 3, 2020 at 3:54 pm

      Thank you for your comment. Yes, the RB67 is a great option with a wider panoramic. But I already have an XPan with a similar 3:1 aspect ratio and it’s much smaller and compact. I got the Bronica for flexibility and as an alternative when I don’t want to bring the XPan (like shooting landscapes). I’m ok even if the Bronica SQ 135W film back had a slightly less wider view. It’s a little smaller than the RB67. And while the film back is pricey, I’m happy with it too. It’s a marvel of engineering and that kind of build will last for while and is a worthy investment.

  • Reply
    May 9, 2021 at 10:38 pm

    Do you think, that the panoramic impression of the 135W back is the same „panoramic“ quality as the especially therefor developed XPan? I often think that cropping 6×6 is not the same effect…. I was already often thinking in buying the 135W back. And I did not until now, because I always ended up in thinking that it is just a cropped 6×6 negative. And in case I wish a wide impression I can crop hundreds of 6×6 and it is cheaper than buying the 135W.

    • Reply
      Noel Roque
      May 10, 2021 at 1:42 am

      I’m not sure what you mean by “quality”. The panoramic frame size of the 135w is 24×55, not as wide as the XPan 24×65. The Mamiya 7 with its pano adapter is about the same as the XPan frame. Of course you can crop a 6×6 negative to 24×55, but then you are making the pano after the fact and the experience of actually shooting a panorama is not the same. The 135w complete set includes a ground glass with the 24×65 frame so you are really composing in the format. You can also look for this ground glass and buy just that, then you will be able to compose in the pano format on a 6×6 negative. This is a good way to go if you shoot panos occasionally. The prices of these 135w film backs are so much higher than before, I’m not sure I would buy them myself if I didn’t already have mine. The Mamiya with its 43mm lens and pano adapter (IMO) is a great alternative to the XPan and is at least portable compared to other 6×7. But this kit is also prohibitively expensive. I have a Fuji GSW690III which shoots 6×9, and I have cropped down the negative to 3:1 and have been happy with results. It is a large 6×9 (“Texas Leica”), but still portable enough but with a fixed 65mm lens (equivalent to 28mm in full frame). Another good alternative which I also have is the Fuji G617. It shoots 6×17 and is an amazing pano camera. It is less pricey than an XPan and Mamiya 7, but it’s large and will always need a tripod. However, you can do very large prints from the scan, if that is important to you. Choices, choices… good luck on your search!

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