The Zenza Bronica C is one of the sexiest cameras ever made. Unfortunately it suffers from mechanical failures and erratic shutter speed timing. The Bronica EC-II might be less attractive than the Bronica C, but it is a tremendously better shooter. The shutter speeds on this EC-II are essentially perfect. The deviation is so low and the consistency is so high, it is hard to imagine that this cameras came from the factory with any better timing than it has now.
The ergonomics of the EC-II are also much better than that of the C/S/S2/S2A models. The film wind and shutter speed dials are both on the right side of the camera. It can be held in the left hand with the index finger on the shutter button – Hasselblad style – and the controls can be easily manipulated with the right hand. And, importantly, the shutter speed is immediately visible while looking down at the camera. This configuration also makes it easier to attach a hand grip on the left side.
Not only is the Zenza Bronica EC more ergonomic than previous Bronica models, it has honestly better features than contemporary Hasselblads. The mirror on the Bronica is instant return; it sits in the viewing position and only flips out of the way when a photo is being taken. The Bronica lenses are externally shorter; they protrude into the camera body, which is why the mirror is split with the main part flipping up and the small part folding down. This enables lens designs like the amazing Zenzanon 100mm f/2.8. Shutter speeds on the EC-II range from 1/1000 to 4 seconds. Also, the film backs can switch between 120 and 220, use the dark slide to release the back, and have a built-in dark slide holder.
Despite the good ergonomics and great features, the Bronica EC-II is likely to disappoint. These cameras do not suffer from the mechanical failures which plague the proceeding models, they fail in worse ways. At the advanced age which all EC-IIs are at this point, the electronics and plastics in them have begun to fail.
There are very few pieces of technology which don’t require some level of maintenance to keep them running well. Cars need to have their oil changed after thousands of miles of driving, or after a certain amount of time has elapsed. Similarly, cameras need to be serviced after a lot of use, but they also need serviced after a certain amount of time has passed. Mechanical cameras just need to have the lubricants replaced; electronic cameras are not as straight forward to service. The forty-year-old electronics on this Bronica, and probably many others of this vintage, are in need of service which is no longer available.
When this particular camera was purchased it was nonfunctional, but with a little time and exercise it magically started working. As usual, the magic was an illusion. It stopped working just as spontaneously as it had started. Again it was coerced to work, and again it failed. After a few cycles of working and not working, it started to seem as if the camera had a limited range of temperatures in which it would work. This EC-II does not work when it is either too cold or too hot. Perhaps this is due to some electrical components which are barely able to function, and it readily stops functioning when the environment changes slightly. Regardless of the reason, its lack of reliability meant that the Bronica would sit on the shelf, replaced by a Hasselblad 503cx.
Another serious problem with these cameras is that backstops for the main mirror break. When the main mirror is down in the viewing position it rests on a couple small pieces of plastic which protrude into the camera body. These backstops are made of a plastic which becomes brittle over time. The brittle plastic eventually succumbs to the slapping of the mirror. First, tiny bits of black plastic chip off and float around inside the camera. Eventually they get statically attracted to the viewing screen. Ultimately the mirror no longer rests in the correct position and critical focusing is thrown off. It is possible to rebuild the backstops, but getting precise mirror positioning is unlikely without to-spec replacement parts.
In addition to suffering from functional issues, the EC-II is heavy, really heavy. Some would describe it as a brick, but a more appropriate description would be a cinder block. With just the basic viewfinder, 75mm ƒ/2.8 lens, and a roll of film loaded, the camera weighs 4 pounds 11½ ounces (2,141 grams). The laptop I’m writing this post on only weighs 3 pounds. But, it’s not just the EC, all of the vintage Bronicas are absolute beasts to carry. Hanging them on a neck strap is quickly uncomfortable, and hand carrying them is a workout for the forearms. The only real way to carry and EC-II for any length of time is to sling it over one shoulder.
The lack of reliability is truly unfortunate. When it works, the Bronica EC-II is an amazing camera that could compete with newer medium format SLRs. But, most people do not want to go through the effort of hauling this heavy beast around only to end up taking smartphone shots when the shutter refuses trip. Most people don’t want to be disappointed when they get their photos back and find that they have missed focus on critical shots due to camera failures. The only people who would be willing to put up with these cameras are the same sort of people who drive historical vehicles; they know that they can really on bring them out for short trips around town in nice weather.
I still own this camera, and it still sees regular use. But, I have to check its mood before loading film. And, I only take it out for shooting near home. I know that I cannot rely on it to work, so I always bring a second camera along with the EC-II. Someday I will find and replace the electronic component that is intermittently failing. Someday I will fix the main mirror backstop with more precision. Someday this camera will be just as reliable as the Hasselblad I have. Someday, this will be a truly amazing camera again.
Why do you expect less from a 2¼ slr than you from your 35?
Would you build a 35mm system around a 17-year old camera?
Or would you expect automatic conveniences and technologically advanced design, as well as practical system capabilities?
Most 2¼ slr systems haven’t kept up with the needs and demands of today’s photographers. And the pros have just had to learn to live with it.
Now – Bronica EC offers you an alternative. A 2¼ square slr system designed for today’s pros.
Bronica EC has an electronically controlled shutter, so your shutter speeds are repeatably accurate, year after year.
Bronica EX offers an Electro-Controlled Meter/Finder for shutter-coupled thru-the-lens exposure control.
Bronica EC has an instant-return mirror – a feature you expect in any 35mm slr but, surprisingly, not found in some other 2¼ slr’s.
Bronica EC provides the unsurpassed optical quality of Nikkor and Zenzanon lenses, from 40mm wide angle to 1200mm super telephoto. And you can rely on the EC shutter’s uniform, electronic accuracy with all of them, so you don’t have to worry about exposure variations when switching lenses.
Before you sink a lot of money into a 2¼ slr system that was designed 17 years ago, try the modern one. The Bronica EC. Also, check out the famous Bronica S2A. Rugged, reliable and versatile, it accepts the same great lenses as the EC. At your dealer, or write for more details.
Bronica EC. The end of the double standard.
The view finder on the Bronica EC-II is nice and bright. The focusing screen on this one is a fresnel style with microprisms in the center circle. It is hard to miss focus using this.