Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Bronica S2 Medium Format

The Bronica S2 arrived this week and I set about giving it a good clean, getting it ready to use over the weekend.

As you can see from the image at right, it's a very handsome looking piece of kit - although it did require a good deal of 'TLC' on my part to get it looking like that.

My first shock was when I removed the lens to clean it... what a mess! The metal casing around the lens itself was beginning to corrode, quite badly in places, and my heart sank when I first removed it and surveyed the damage. I don't think it had been used for a very long time. Makes me wonder what the internals of the camera itself are like - but I'm trying not to think about that :-(

Some Isopropyl Alcohol on a soft cloth rubbed over the corrosive spots seems to have done the trick on the lens housing itself - and the rear glass element has just the faintest hint of a fungus on the very edges, so I'm hoping that I've caught it early enough so as to arrest its development? But really, for the price, I can't (won't) get too concerned about it.

Apart form a few small areas where the leatherette was starting to pull away from the body, the rest of the camera is in pretty good nick - and everything seemed to be functioning as it should. A few dabs of a strong epoxy glue on the leatherette worked remarkably well, and the body itself was looking great.

Next I tackled the big issue that many have with these S2's - the viewfinder. In most cameras of this era (1960s), the material used to make the camera light tight (usually foam) has now all but disintegrated - leaving a very sticky mess behind. Underneath the glass viewfinder on the S2 is where the trouble lies, but fortunately it's a simple fix.

The viewfinder hood pops off easily, and the dark metal frame keeping the ground glass secure is only attached by two small screws. Remove these (carefully) and the black frame slips off (by moving it slightly forward and up). I replaced the foam with some thick black velvet, cleaned up the remaining gunk around the edges of the ground glass, carefully removed and blew dust off of the fresnel screen (do not touch this with your fingers), put everything back into place, and screwed the frame back down. Viola - cleaned viewfinder.

From reading on the internet, the other problem that the Bronica S2 has with its finder is when focusing to infinity. It seems that viewfinder calibration wasn't Bronica's strongpoint on the S2/S2A, with some even reporting that this problem was apparent with models shipped direct from the factory?

Others had suggested that replacing the foam would 'fix' this issue (although that can't be true back when they were new?), so I tested the camera out after I had replaced the foam. Setting the lens to f2.8, and then moving the focus out to infinity, the subject in the distance should 'snap' into focus. Well, mine didn't actually 'snap' into focus, but it seemed sharp-ish!? I figured for the landscape work I was going to start with, the focus would be 'good enough' for f16 to f22, so left it at that (for the meantime).

The above image was one of the first I shot on my Bronica S2, using Kodak Extacolor 160 color negative film - and at f11 it seems plenty sharp enough (albeit with quite a bit of sharpening applied in Photoshop after scanning the negative on my Epson V700 Photo scanner).

I got up at 5.00am to get the early morning light out at Lake Brunner - although there was a lot of mist around which precluded me from getting any really stunning sunrise images. Traveling around I came across Carew Falls at a little settlement called Mitchells, about twenty minutes drive from Moana. I'd never heard of Carew Falls before (despite living most of my life on the West Coast), so I was very excited to come across a magnificent waterfall after an easy twenty minute walk.

With only the 'standard' 75mm Nikkor lens on the Bronica, I couldn't really fit all of the scene in with the 6x6 format (the jury is still out on what I think about the format), so I went instead for a closer detail crop. Despite not normally shooting this way (my natural inclination is to go 'wide' and fit everything in), I still think this image works well, and is one of my favorites from the roll I shot that morning.

I had a great morning shooting with the Bronica - slowing down, using a tripod and light meter. It felt like real photography again :-)

I finished up the roll (of 12 shots) back in Greymouth at Coal Park - about 6 hours after venturing out that morning! I was exhausted, tired and hungry... but also exhilarated and excited about my first foray back into medium format.

My local Kodak Express developed the film for me, and I scanned the negatives on my V700 (I'll talk more on scanning in another post).

All-in-all a very positive experience... except for my niggling doubts over the camera's focusing issues. I never really shook the nagging sense that things just weren't quite in focus enough looking through the finder - even though I new at f16 this wasn't going to be an issue on film. Further reading over this issue on the internet bought to light another possible fix - which I tried out immediately. Turns out that as well as the black frame around the viewfinder, Bronica also placed two metals shims underneath (top and bottom) to help with the focus-to-infinity. Over time, these need to be adjusted - and in some instances removed completely, to allow for proper focusing. I chose the later option and removed them completely, re-assembled the viewfinder and 'bang' beautifully sharp focus at infinity! Simple as that. I'm now a very happy camper.   :-)

1 comment:

  1. Reading your post was like reliving my life over the past two weeks with the exception that I haven't shot a roll of film yet. I also bought an S2 as a foray back to film, and this is my first medium format camera ever. My camera seems to be in a tad better overall condition but the viewfinder/focus problems are identical, the original foam left goo all over everything in the area, which i solved exactly the same way you did with one exception... even with my shims removed I am still not able to achieve accurate focus in the viewfinder. I haven't really tested infinity focusing but at short range where I can measure the distance accurately to the subject, I can see that it does not match what the distance scale says on the lens, which means if I use the viewfinder to focus, the image will be out of focus at the film plane. I hope to come up with a creative way to fix the problem because I'm not sure if there is any other way to fix it.

    Thanks for the wonderful post, I really enjoyed reading it and it has given me inspiration to keep moving forward so I can load it up with film and get out there.

    Best, Rick

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Wayne