For the last few months I've been thinking of getting a 645 camera with a built in meter. I've thoroughly enjoyed shooting with my Hasselblad 500c/m over the last six months, but I'm hoping to start shooting more street photography and I feel that a 645 with a built in meter system would be more beneficial as it would save me a lot of time using a dedicated hand held meter and would get an additional few photos on a roll.
So, I set about looking at the different available 645 cameras. I managed to whittle the list down to four different cameras: the Mamiya 645, Bronice ETRS, Contax 645 and Fuji GA645. The Contax was cut off the list pretty quickly because it's simply too expensive for what I am looking for, and the Fuji has a lot of well documented and infamous electrical gremlins which demote the camera to a desk ornament, so that too was crossed from the list.
This now left me with the Mamiya 645 and Bronice ETRS. I already have two Mamiyas (my beloved C220 and an RB67), so I know that they are very capable and well built. However, I don't own a Bronica and it's always an itch I've always wanted to scratch, so the decision was made for me.
After about a week of searching various websites I found a great deal on eBay which came with a 75mm f/2.8 EII lens, AEII metered prism and speed grip E, all for the price that online stores were offering a kit with 75mm f/2.8 MC lens, waist level finder and no grip! Luckily I was the only person that placed a bid so I grabbed a bargain.
Time is well known to go slower when you're waiting for something, as every child on Christmas eve well knows, but nothing is slower than the few hours waiting to finish work after a camera has been delivered! I rushed home after work to try out the camera and check that it worked as advertised.
I loaded a roll of FP4 into the film back and attached it to the camera, removed the dark slide and went into the garden to get some test shots. I've been told a number of times on the Talk Photography forum that the Broncia SQ-A and ETRS systems were easy to focus as their focus screens are nice and bright, and have useful split finders.
I wasn't really prepared for how easy the camera was to use compared to my Hasselblad; with the Hassie I tend to find that I use the WLF and pop up magnifier to try and focus on a subject, but end up only going back and forth trying to find the sharpest focus, and the result is that I miss the focus on a great deal more photos than I would care to admit! Putting the prism finder up to my eye and focusing on the side window of the garden shed really did blow me away. The split image focus screen has a large ring of micro prisms surrounding it, and they make life incredibly easy. The split image allows you to focus on anything within a second or two with ease, and the micro prisms are fantastic as they allow parts of the image to pop into focus in an instant, making it totally clear to the user that they have properly obtained focus.
Now that I had composed (well, sort of composed. It's a series of test shots so I didn't spend much time on composition) and focused on my subject, I lightly pressed the shutter on the speed grip. The viewfinder fired into life with a series of orange lights at the bottom that illuminate the nearest shutter speed for the selected aperture. The interesting thing about the ETRS and AEII prism is that it has "stageless steps" (the actual words in the manual) for the shutter speed, meaning that the prism will set the EXACT shutter speed that is required, whether it is 1/500 of a second, or 1/499 of a second.
After I had consumed the rest of the roll on generic test shots in the garden, I set about developing the roll in the bathroom in HC-110 dilution B. the Massive Dev Chart gave a time of 7-9 minutes, so I went for 8 minutes. After that I hung the film to dry, and then scanned it on the computer.
The results were fantastic, for a start every photo was in focus exactly where I wanted it, even the ones which were shot wide open at f/2.8 a few feet from the subject. This might not sound like a big deal, but after my previous problems on the Hassie, I was over the moon. The images from the ETRS were also very sharp, and the exposures from the AEII prism were very good, the film was nice and dense with a good range of highlights and shadows, which told me the metering was pretty accurate.
Interestingly, this was also the first time that I developed FP4 in HC-110 (B) and I was pretty happy with the outcome. I really love medium to high levels of contrast in my black and white photos, which is just what I got from FP4 in HC-110 (B). There is perhaps a little more grain than I'd like, but it's nowhere near as pronounced as FP4 in Rodinal, which was my standard combination before I discovered the magic of Delta 100.
In the future I see the ETRS as my "walkabout" camera, for when I'm out in a city taking photos, or when I travel to other destinations on holiday. The camera is much quicker to use, I can probably compose, focus, meter and shoot an image on the ETRS in the time that it takes me to just meter a shot on the Hasselblad, let alone compose and focus. This isn't a big deal for landscapes etc, but for city photos on hoiday, that extra minute or so per photo really does add up, and means I should miss far fewer opportunities.
Really pleased with the cameara, and am looking forward to putting it properly through it's paces over the coming weeks and months