Bronica ETRSi and 135W – First Whole Roll Experiences

By Roger

I have recently been experimenting with film again and, using a normal 35mm camera, and decided that I wanted to try something with panoramic format. There is an obvious choice, but there was no way I was going to spend a small fortune on an Xpan. I was tempted by a Holga pinhole and a Sprocket Rocket, but eventually decided I wanted something more conventional. Eventually I settled on a Bronica ETRSi, and a 135W film back. Though the decision no doubt reflects novelty value that will wear off, I decided that this might lead to better panoramas than I could get with normal 35mm, unless I resorted to multiple shots and stitching, as I would with digital.

The first thing I decided was that, although I have the 35mm viewing screen, the lines showing where the 35mm negatives would be in the 645 viewfinder were not visible enough. The solution was to take an overexposed 6×6 negative and cut it to size to the viewing screen, with a cutout roughly the right size for the 35 panoramas. One day I will cut another one, more accurately but it seems to work, even if I have to jog it back into the right position whenever the camera has been moved (it is a millimetre or so too short in one direction). The best place to put it is under the viewing screen, though I have not yet worked out whether the thickness of the film is enough to interfere with the focusing. I loaded  the camera with APX100 film and waited for a suitable opportunity. My only two lenses are the 75 mm standard lens that came with the camera body, and a 40mm lens, bought fairly cheaply, that I thought was likely to be the one I would use most of the time.

To prove I am not cheating, I start with a rough contact sheet though some of  the negs are curling up as I couldn’t use a film holder on my Epson scanner. Lesson: I need an A4 sheet of glass for this.  The negatives actually look much better than the contact sheet, which I have not processed at all and is much too flat. The film was commercially processed, so I have no idea about the developer used. It was scanned on an Epson flatbed scanner. Unfortunately, the Epson scan software insisted on treating the film as though it was conventional 35mm negatives, so I had to select the negatives manually. Basic adjustments to the levels (both tones and horizons) were applied in PhotoLab. I am sure that some of them need further work, but the aim is to show how they look straight off. I aimed for some reasonable blacks, and the tones looked OK on a calibrated monitor, though on an uncalibrated one they are now looking too dark.

The first two shots were taken when I had 10 minutes free to make a short stop at a viewpoint by a recently widened bridge, which I hoped would suit the format. This was useful because, though I could handhold it, making use of a railing, I quickly realised that keeping the camera still and level needs a tripod and spirit level. At least, it does for me.

The second shot also tells me that the 40mm lens flares when the sun is very close to the frame, so I need to be careful. But so far it seems no worse than other lenses I use regularly.

The weather has been awful recently, but Sunday afternoon was forecast to have sunny intervals, which seemed promising. Unfortunately, when the time came it was a very grey day. I took the camera with a lightweight travel tripod into Worcester, deciding that a suitable test would be along the river and the Diglis canal basin. Having arrived by train, I walked straight down to the river, which was very high, though fortunately not high enough to flood the paths.

Then past the cathedral to the canal basin that was my goal, focusing on the canal boats.

Not much to say other than, to my mind, they give the atmosphere of the basin on a dull cloudy day and that the panoramic format works. Most were with the 40mm, though for a few I used the 75mm to get closer.

Then back to the river and along to a lock.

I had to try to take the bridge in the next photo because, as a modern footbridge it is dramatic and contrasts with everything else. But I clearly need practice at taking it, as I clearly haven’t found a suitable angle from which to show how dramatic it is (unlike a similarly structured bridge in Rotterdam that I have taken several times). Too much vegetation blocking the view here.

Back to the lock, with a signpost telling people to go right to the lock and not left towards the weir.

Normally a weir would be visible, but the water was so high it was submerged and the barrier stopping boats from falling down it was swept to the side of the river, along with dead trees and branches. I think I probably focused on the dead branches in the foreground, but there is not enough interest in the tree for this to work. I should have focused further back or used a smaller f-stop, but it was beginning to get dark and that would have meant a very long exposure – too long to be worth risking with my light-weight tripod.

And then the biggest disaster of the roll, included only because I recall one of the rules is to include the whole roll. Probably I simply forgot to focus and it was focused too close after the previous shot. Maybe I moved the camera a bit too, as it will have been a longish exposure, certainly 1/15, and probably 1/8 to 1/2: too slow for the tripod.

Three of the Cathedral with the last one, of someone feeding swans perhaps my favourite of the day.

I like the panoramic format here, though it could have been done with a normal landscape format by cropping the area on the left, but I think there is scope for improving the editing to make the lighten the pedestrians  so as to make them a more integral part of the picture.

Finally one, resting not on a tripod but on a stone balustrade on the bridge in the first shot, which is my excuse for not getting it level. With panoramic formats, if you make a significant error with the level, it becomes impossible to correct the horizon in the computer without changing the format of the image very significantly. Another disaster shot.

For the final one, the balustrade proved more level. Better composition than the last, but by this time the light was getting so poor that the scene is very dull and my exposures were half a second or a whole second at f4 or thereabouts.

No brilliant shots here, but they show the camera was working, and have given me an idea on how the panoramic format will work. Given the terrible light, I am quite pleased with the way they turned out. I’ve a lot to learn, notably about keeping the camera level. A heavier tripod would have helped too, but would I have been willing to carry it? Probably not. A better day would have meant much better, more contrastier images with more interesting lighting, but I feel that some of these made the afternoon worthwhile. And there are one or two that are worth working on further. But if I carry on using film like this, I must start developing my own again, as otherwise it will get a bit expensive.

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Comments

Roger on Bronica ETRSi and 135W – First Whole Roll Experiences

Comment posted: 26/01/2024

Thanks again for all the reactions. Yes, the 135W is expensive, and I was lucky to find one that was going for less than many on eBay, specially as a matching focusing screen was included. Again luckily, the seller turned out to be good and it was in good condition. But compared with an Xpan, the 135W is very cheap indeed! As I said, I would very much have liked an Xpan, but the price meant I never seriously considered one.
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Eric on Bronica ETRSi and 135W – First Whole Roll Experiences

Comment posted: 25/01/2024

Great article, wide angle solution, and images. Thank you for sharing.
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Alexander Seidler on Bronica ETRSi and 135W – First Whole Roll Experiences

Comment posted: 24/01/2024

You did some good shots in an atmospheric light !
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Gene Wilson on Bronica ETRSi and 135W – First Whole Roll Experiences

Comment posted: 23/01/2024

Nice. I've had my ETR for almost a decade and keep looking at 135W backs but have never bought one because of the price. Now I'm thinking again.
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Ibraar Hussain on Bronica ETRSi and 135W – First Whole Roll Experiences

Comment posted: 23/01/2024

NB. Just checked the prices of the 135 film back expensive !!
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Ibraar Hussain on Bronica ETRSi and 135W – First Whole Roll Experiences

Comment posted: 23/01/2024

Thanks for this I used to have the Fuji version of the Xpan II which I wrote about here. It wasn’t something I’d regularly shoot with and thus understandably the rocketing price of those cameras isn’t worth it for me. I had no idea what you did could be done fairly easily !! Very pleasing results as well with the dark moody photography Love it
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