Bronica GS-1 – 23 years of use

This is a review of the Bronica GS-1 camera, after 23 years of use.

I bought the GS-1 in 1988 and love it now as much I did then. It has been a faithful friend on photo expeditions across Europe and America, capturing everything I could see and more. It has many more years ahead of it.

The choice of a GS-1 was pragmatic. I wanted a 6×7 format as the largest format that could be conveniently be used, with four times the photographic area of a 6×4.5, and a manageable weight. (For a review of individual items, see outfit review.)

The choice

The choice of cameras was between Bronica GS-1, Mamiya RB-67 and RZ-67 and the Pentax 6×7, although options existed – see comparison.

Weight

The total weight of a camera, 3 lenses, 3 backs and other paraphernalia is tolerable within my Billingham bag, provided I use a belt to carry part of the weight. When travelling light, I use just the 65mm and 150mm, a single film back, waist-level finder, hand-held exposure metre and a Gitzo tripod – that’s enough to capture 90% of pictures.

Handling

A camera and lens is comparable to a 35mm camera with a large zoom telephoto. Used with the waist-level the weight is easier than holding the camera at eye-height. Used with the prism viewfinder, the camera fits snugly in the right hand with the right finger on the shutter release, leaving the other free for focussing. There is a speed grip available, but I never felt the need for it.

The applause

Every photograph taken with the Bronica GS-1 is an experience worthy of applause. Press the camera release and everyone hears the sound of the large mirror coming up. The size of mirror is inevitable, and inevitably it takes longer for it to rise. When photographing people the delay is noticeable compared to old 35mm cameras, however it’s less than many of the cheap digital cameras currently available.

Camera shake

For landscape, put the camera on a tripod and use the mirror-up lever – it closes the shutter in the lens and raises the mirror. Then at your own leisure press the shutter, or better, use a cable release. There is the tiniest of clicks and the picture is taken, after which the mirror-up lens must be raised before winding the film. The downside of this procedure is that while the mirror is up, you can’t see through the camera. Usually this doesn’t matter, but if necessary reset the mirror-up lever, set the camera not to advance the film, then crank the winder to recharge the spring of the mirror.

Quality

The quality of the lenses has been a joy – see samples for the 65 mm f4 and 100 mm f3.5 and 150 mm f4 and 2x extender. It delivers far more than digital 35mm cameras with their smaller lenses.

Robustness

Shortly after I bought the initial camera and lens I was photographing on the edge of a windy canyon, with the camera on the top of a tall tripod. The wind lifted it over the side of the road and down to the gravel slope on the other side. The camera had a small scratch, but worked fine. Since then it’s received a lot of battering. The winding crank has bent (under considerable pressure), the mirror-up leaver is shorter than before, and on the film backs the courtesy holder for the film carton end has broken. That’s all.

Copyright Adrian Cowderoy, 2011. All rights reserved.

4 comments to Bronica GS-1 – 23 years of use

  • Kevin

    Dear Adrian, thank you for your review. Few days ago I bought the Bronica GS 1 and would like to buy additional 6×6 film black. However there are backs for 120 and 220 films available but it is quite hard to find 220 film nowadays (at least in Germany). So my question is: Can I use 120 film in a 220 film back?

    Cheers

    Kevin

  • admin

    120 film has a paper back, 220 film is rolled like 35mm. So if you try using 120 film in a 220 back the gap between body and film back will be half the size it should. I never tried using 220 backs, but I suspect 120 film would get stuck or tear. Possibly you could unroll the film in a dark room, remove the paper, then roll it back again. But you might be better to keep hunting for a 6×6 120 back.

  • Hi,
    Even though your original post is several years old I enjoyed it and hope that others reading it won’t shy away from a beautiful and well crafted camera.
    If your not in a hurry and don’t mind the heavy weight of the camera and its lenses, your going to get great results. If you own a dedicated medium format film scanner you’ll enjoy it even more. I own all the lenses except for the 500mm. All produce sharp images from corner to corner. Even though a 24mb or higher DSLR can match it these days there is something to the character of film that is very rewarding. Perhaps because I’m an old fart who remembers what it was like to use a camera that required the user to think. I use mine for B&W, do my own developing, printing or scanning. I still have the option of bringing it into Photoshop and tweaking it.
    When this camera was released I could not afford one, now you can buy the entire system for under $1000.
    This is a film lovers camera.

  • admin

    I have digital too, and love what I can do with it. But when I take landscape it is the discipline of the Bronica GS-1 I retain where concentration is everything. And for some shots, I go back and use the GS-1 instead because it ha something I cannot achieve with digital.

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