Bronica S2 medium format camera

Bronica started designing and producing medium format cameras when it was founded 1958 by Zenzabur Yoshino in Tokyo, Japan. They continued to produce high quality cameras until 2005 when the last model, the RF645 was discontinued and ended their 47 year run.

I stumbled onto the Bronica S2 system in 1995 while wandering around a local swap meet, and instantly fell in love with the system. Even though the swap meet died off a few years later, I continued to use it as my go to camera for the next several years shooting hundred of rolls of film around the Pacific Northwest. The S2 has several lens options, a removable back and an interchangeable finder which make it extremely versatile and far less expensive than the Hasselblad 500 C/M. Over the next few years I gathered as many lenses, backs and accessories as I could find (and afford) which included a newer S2A body, 50mm, 75mm, 135mm lenses and multiple backs.

Introduction to the S2

Introduced in 1965, the Bronica S2 was the next model from the S line and was marketed for professionals and serious amateurs. There weren’t too many other companies at the time making camera systems like this. Hasselblad, the Soviet made Kiev 88, and Kowa Six and the Mamiya M645, but many were introduced in the late 60s or 70s. The versatility and affordability of the system made it popular and Bronica continued to grow as a company for many years based on the early successes cameras like the Z, S, S2 and S2A.

Bronica S2 waist level finder magnifier
Bronica S2 finder

There are many similarities to the Hasselblad V System. The S2 comes as a kit with a 75mm Nikkor lens (or later on with an 80mm Zenzanon), waist level finder and removable 120/220 film backs. Like every other waist level finder camera out there the magnifier can make or break the entire camera, and the finder pretty bright (but lacking contrast) and the magnifier works great. If you desire a brighter screen though, you’re out of luck for a Bronica or Beattie direct replacement, but with a little custom fitting a screen from a Kiev 88 or Pentax 67 will do the trick.

If you try and go this route be careful not to replace anything upside down or in the wrong order or you will have focus issues. The S2 I have needs new foam under the focusing screen as it is off by quite a bit, unfortunately I didn’t notice until I was doing portraits at F/2.8 and the subject was just out of focus enough to ruin the shots. All of them. So be warned.

Wide array of lenses

The wide array of lenses available for the S2 is one of the things I love about this system. The widest lens available is the 40mm Nippon Kogaku Nikkor and the longest is the 1200mm Nippon Kogaku Nikkor. Most of the lenses have a wide open aperture of f/3.5 but a few like the 75mm, 80mm, and 100mm open up to f/2.8. The longest of the lenses stopped all the way down to f/64. For most of the S2 life span the available lens were all made by Nikon and bore the Nippon Kogako Nikkor designation with a model letter such as O, P, Q and others. The Nikon lenses are precisely what you would expect from Nikon; sharp and accurate. Later on Bronica began to make their own lenses and there are several Zenzanon lenses available for the S line too.

Lens detail

Lenses for the S2/S2A feature a helical focus ring attached to the lens and is removable on most of the lenses. For the most part this focus ring is interchangeable to any of the lenses, so while it’s technically not necessary to have one for every lens, it does make it more convenient to swap out lenses. If you want to be able to use distance focusing then you need to make sure the focus ring matches the lens it’s attached to. They are grouped 2 or 3 per ring though, so for example the 75, 80 and 100 are on one ring.

To remove the lens from the focus ring you extend the lens barrel all the way out as far as it will go revealing the lens latch. Push down on the knurled end of the latch and then twist the lens out counterclockwise. You will notice there are alignment dots for putting the two pieces back together. The focus ring also has a focal distance scale on it for distance focusing. There is quite a bit of movement in the focusing system too, about 3/4 turn moving the lens forward nearly 25mm.

Around 1972 when Bronica was getting the Bronica EC ready for release Nikon decided to not make any more lenses for Bronica. Bronica didn’t have the capacity to produce enough lenses to support the release so they contracted with Zeiss to produce the 80mm f/2.8 Zenzanon/Carl Zeiss Jena lens. Fortunately this lens also fits the S2, although I haven’t seen too many of them floating around.

Some newer lenses designed for the Bronica EC may also fit the S2/S2A, but as I don’t have any of those lenses I can’t be sure, but there are a few other lenses out there for the S system. Komura has made several lenses as well as the Zenzanon/Zeiss lens. One thing to note about the Komura lenses is that there are two focus rings or mounts, and the 3 longest lenses require the number 2 mount, which is longer and has a tripod mount base on it. The Komura specifications sheet has a lot of information about most of Komuras lenses.

Function and operation

S2 with the grip/handle

The S2s cloth curtain shutter is capable of speeds of 1 second to 1/1000s with a bulb and X setting (1/40s) for using a flash. The flash connects to standard PC terminal on the side and mounts on the left side shutter speed dial. I’ve never had a situation that required me needing a shutter speed faster than 1/1000s while using the S2. Actually, I just about always use the bulb setting as I prefer long exposures and many of the places I go are often dark enough that I uses the slower speeds without a ND filter already.

There are accessory grips that make it easy to attach a flash. You can use modern flashes with the S2 just fine as long as the flash has decent manual adjustments. I once shot a wedding with this setup; just S2 and the 100mm lens, 3 backs and a big ol’ Sunpak 383 Super.

Bronica S2 shutter speed adjustment knob
Shutter speed controls

Using the camera is an exercise in practice and repetition. Fire the shutter, advance the film and cock the shutter, and fire it again. It’s more complicated than using a 35mm camera, but not much. But here you need a light meter unless you’re good at guessing what exposure you’ll need. The aperture is set via the ring on the lens and the shutter speed is set via the dial on the left side of the camera. You have speeds ranging from 1 second to 1/1000s and bulb. The shutter speeds are color coded as well with white, green, yellow and red and reference the type of flash that those shutter speeds are compatible with. Another nice feature is that there are two cable release ports; one on the shutter button, and another on the bottom of the camera below the depth of field preview button.

Early on I got in the habit of not cocking the shutter after each exposure so I would accidentally trip the shutter when moving around. You can also lock the shutter button by turning it clockwise and the red dot is visible to the side. There’s no specific order to selecting the shutter speed, it can be done before or after the shutter is cocked, and you can even do double exposures if you want. To make a double exposure remove the back after the first exposure, crank the winding knob to cock the shutter then replace the back and fire the shutter again. Pretty easy.

The depth of field preview button is on the lower left front of the camera body and the lens release is on the upper right front. To remove the lens depress the release button and rotate the focus ring clockwise. To put the lens back on, align the two red dots (one on the camera, one on the lens) at the top of the mounting ring and rotate counterclockwise until it clicks.

Film and film backs

The film backs use the same design as Hasselblad, Mamiya and other medium format cameras. There is the film back housing, then a cassette or insert that you actually wrap the film around to load the film. To remove the film back on the S2 (and S2A) you insert the dark slide then press the dark slide in to release the latches and the back comes free. So don’t loose your dark slide.

Bronica S2 film tab and back latch detail
Film indicator frame and latch

To open the S2 back flip up the film indicator frame on the top, then slide the latch to the right, or to the red O. The take-up reel goes on the top and the film roll goes on the bottom. Wrap the film around the back and into the take-up reel with the writing on the inside so the film will be on the outside of the cassette when advanced. Now roll the film up and advance it by hand until the arrow on the film roll is aligned with the red arrow on the side of the cassette, replace the cassette into the back and close it up, making sure to move the latch to the left or to the white C. Now you can use the winding knob on the side of the S2 to advance the film to the #1 position and your ready to shoot.

I would highly recommend you not leave your camera sit a long time with film in it as the film will take on a warp and the next exposure you shoot may be out of focus. The same thing applies to letting your camera sit with the shutter cocked for long periods, just don’t do it, you’re just inviting problems. The last thing to do after loading film is to put the film box tab in the frame so you know what film is in that back.

Identifying the S2 or an S2A.

Identifying which S2 model you have can be tricky. None of the S2 models say S2 on the body anywhere. The S2A models had “S2A” at the end of the serial number (near the back of the camera body where the film back attaches) but only until 1973. After 1973 the S2A was no longer designated as such specifically. So what gives? It’s actually fairly easy. First, start by looking at the serial number. Does it say S2A at the end? No? Okay, so look at the serial number again, is it after #150037? Yes? Bingo. The last way to check is by the strap lugs and the winding knob. The S2A models no longer have the plate with upturned tabs, or rabbit ears and on the film advance knob has a center pin spanned locking bolt.

Conclusion

One downside is that it’s a heavy system to lug around, especially if you carry a few lenses with you. Fully loaded the S2 weighs in at 4.2 pounds with the 50mm lens and loaded with film. The lens alone weighs as much as the Nikon F3, and each back weighs 1.2 pounds loaded with film. So if you have 3 lenses and 2 backs you are close to 10 pounds of gear not including a tripod or anything else. The only other feature I wish they hadn’t made proprietary is the strap lugs. Hasselblad and Mamiya did the same thing and they are all different, connect differently and are different thicknesses. It would be nice to be able to easily use other straps, or to not have to destroy a good strap to use one that is more comfortable.

While the Bronica S2 has its quirks and some of the early models had a tendency to jam it has been a solid performer for many years. The Nikon and Zenzanon lens are sharp both wide open and stopped down and perform well in both bright light and at night or in low light for long exposures. It’s a solid camera, and you can get them for fairly inexpensive prices right now. It’s a great camera to introduce someone to the world of medium format photography.



View the Bronica S2 gallery for images taken with this camera.

Specifications

General

Bronica S2
Type: Medium format (6×6)
Production: 1959 – 1960s
Film: 120/220
Shutter: curtain shutter
Weight: 3.2 lbs (without lens)
Flash: PC connection – X
Shutter speed: 1 sec – 1/1000, B

Download the S2 manual.

Download the S2A manual.

Accessories

Prism finder
Magnifier hood
Extension bellows
Extension tubes (4 of various length)
– CA, CB, CC & CD Rings (can be stacked)
Various filters for color & B/W photography
Side grip with flash (cold shoe) mount
Trigger Handle with shutter release
TTL finder and light meter

Download Komura lens data.

View Bronica EC/S2A Sales Pamphlet.


Lenses

40mm
Nikkor / Nippon Kogaku
Aperture: f/4 – f/22
Filter size: 90mm
Focus range: 10 inches – infinity
Elements: 10 – 8 groups
Field of view: 90 deg.
Weight: 430 grams

50mm
Nikkor O / Nippon Kogaku
Aperture: f/3.5 – f/22
Filter size: 82mm
Focus range: 1ft – infinity
Elements: 6 – 6 groups
Field of view: 77 deg.
Weight: 450 grams

75mm
Nikkor P / Nippon Kogaku
Aperture: f/2.8 – f/22
Filter size: 67mm
Focus range: 2ft – infinity
Elements 5 – 4 groups
Field of view: 55 deg.
Weight: 230 grams

80mm
Zenzanon
Aperture: f/2.4 – f/22
Filter size: 67mm
Focus range: 2ft – infinity
Elements: 6 – 5 groups
Field of view: 52 deg.
Weight: 300 grams

80mm
Zenzanon / Carl Zeiss Jena
Aperture: f/2.8 – f/22

100mm
Zenzanon
Aperture: f/2.8 – f/22
Filter size: 67mm
Focus range: 3ft – infinity
Elements: 6 – 4 groups
Field of view: 43 deg.
Weight: 360 grams

105mm
Nikkor / Nippon Kogaku
Aperture: f/3.5 – f/22
Filter size: 67mm
Focus range: 4ft – infinity
Elements: 4 – 3 groups
Field of view: 21 deg.
Weight: 540 grams

135mm
Nikkor Q / Nippon Kogaku
Aperture:
f/3.5 – f/22
Filter size:
67mm
Focus range:
3ft – infinity
Elements
: 4 – 3 groups
Field of view: 33 deg.
Weight: 410 grams

150mm
Zenzanon
Aperture: f/3.5 – f/22
Filter size: 67mm
Focus range: 6ft – infinity
Elements: 5 – 4 groups
Field of view: 30 deg.
Weight: 550 grams

200mm
Nikkor P / Nippon Kogaku
Aperture: f/4 – f/22
Filter size: 67mm
Focus range: 10ft – infinity
Elements: 5 – 5 groups
Field of view: 21 deg.
Weight: 550 grams

300mm
Zenzanon
Aperture: f/5.5 – f/22
Filter size: 82mm
Focus range: 3ft – infinity
Elements: 6 – 5 groups
Field of view: 14 deg.
Weight: 1,900 grams

400mm
Nikkor-P / Nippon Kogaku
Aperture: f/4.5 – f/22
Filter size: 122mm
Focus range: 15ft – infinity
Elements: 4 – 4 groups
Field of view: 11 deg.
Weight: 3,300 grams

600mm
Nikkor-P / Nippon Kogaku
Aperture: f/5.6 – f/22
Filter size: 122mm
Focus range: 33ft – infinity
Elements: 4 – 4 groups
Field of view: 7 deg.
Weight: 3,800 grams

800mm
Nikkor / Nippon Kogaku
Aperture: f/8 – f/64
Filter size: 122mm
Focus range: 62ft – infinity
Elements: 5 – 2 groups
Field of view: 5 deg.
Weight: 4,200 grams

1200mm
Nikkor / Nippon Kogaku
Aperture: f/11 – f/64
Filter size: 122mm
Focus range: 141ft – infinity
Elements: 5 – 2 groups
Field of view: 3 deg.
Weight: 5,000 grams

Komura lenses

45mm
Komura
Aperture: f/4.5 – f/22

50mm
Super-Komura
Aperture: f/3.5 – f/22
Filter size: 77mm
Focus range: 1ft – infinity
Elements: 8
Field of view: 77 deg.
Weight: 595 grams

100mm
Komura
Aperture: f/2.8 – f/22
Filter size: 62mm
Focus range: 3ft – infinity
Elements: 5
Field of view: 44 deg.
Weight: 368 grams

135mm
Komura
Aperture: f/2.3 – f/16
Filter size: 72mm
Focus range: 5ft – infinity
Elements: 5
Field of view: 33 deg.
Weight: 538 grams

150mm
Komura
Aperture: f/3.5 – f/22
Filter size: 67mm
Focus range: 6ft – infinity
Elements: 4
Field of view: 30 deg.
Weight: 538 grams

200mm
Komura
Aperture: f/3.5 – f/22
Filter size: 67mm
Focus range: 12ft – infinity
Elements: 5
Field of view: 21 deg.
Weight: 907 grams

300mm
Komura
Aperture: f/5 – f/32
Filter size: 67mm
Focus range: 16ft – infinity
Elements: 4
Field of view: 15 deg.
Weight: 481 grams
* Requires focus mount #2

400mm
Komura
Aperture: f/6.3 – f/45
Filter size: 67mm
Focus range: 18ft – infinity
Elements: 4
Field of view: 11 deg.
Weight: 566 grams
* Requires focus mount #2

500mm
Komura
Aperture: f/8 – f/45
Filter size: 77mm
Focus range: 26ft – infinity
Elements: 4
Field of view: 9 deg.
Weight: 935 grams
* Requires focus mount #2

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