The funny thing is, the Bronica SQ-Ai is the camera where I first developed a love/hate relationship with Bronica cameras, especially the black plastic ones. I got mine, back after the SQ-Am body kicked it (I do not ever want to see another SQ-Am). I figured the SQ-Ai would fill the need in my kit for an interchangeable lens, SLR for medium format 6×6. And for a while it did, but then a few things cropped up, mostly because of configuration, and design flaws that made me dump the camera. While not a bad camera, you need to be careful about which model and which configuration you get. Thanks to Mike Bitaxi for letting me borrow a former camera back for review.
Make: Zenza Bronica
Type: Single Lens Reflex
Format: Multiformat, Back Dependent
Lens: Interchangeable, Bronica SQ Mount
Year of Manufacture: 1990
Don’t get me wrong the SQ-Ai is a functional, modern camera that does produce results and of the three ‘Black Plastic Bronicas’ the SQ-Ai remains the favourite. While not a Hasselblad killer, for those who are more budget minded the SQ-Ai is a good option. For the size and weight, the camera can be easily carried for a day with a good strap and not overly strain you. The body is mostly plastic and is a sleek black; everything is electronic which gives you an edge, as the shutter speed is on the body while the aperture is on the lens. It also gives you some long exposure without getting into bulb mode and manually timing it. And while Bronica could have easily used a proprietary shutter release, they stuck to a traditional mechanical setup. And the lenses aren’t bad either, while no Carl Zeiss they can hold their own against something from Mamiya. And the fact the SQ-Ai is a system camera if one part breaks, you can individually get parts a lot easier than a Hasselblad where you’re more likely to have to buy a kit before just a body as I was able to do when I ditched the SQ-Am.
Now two items made me stop liking the Bronica, the first is going to sound silly, but it’s the battery holder. I was not sure if it was my body or if it’s a design flaw as a whole but the door that holds the batteries in is terrible. It wouldn’t stay closed, and often I would lose power because contact had been lost, or the door would open, and the batteries and holder would spill on the ground because the compartment is on the bottom of the camera. Now I would prevent this by using a tripod foot or tape, but still an imperfect fit. And finally, there’s the general issue of using the camera. If you have the eye-level finder, you’ll want to have a speed grip on the camera, without a grip using a waist-level finder. But don’t switch the two around or your camera will be difficult to use especially an eye-level handheld. And sadly in my case, I had an eye-level finder for the SQ-Am (which has a built-in motor drive with a grip), and the waist-level finders are hard to find, and if you do, they carry a hefty price tag.
Of all the black body Bronicas, the one I would recommend the most would be the SQ-Ai, it’s not a bad camera, there are some flaws, but they can be overcome if you know what you’re looking for when you invest in the system. As for cost, they aren’t too bad if you get a complete set right off the bat and setup how you like it. Though I do recommend not getting a motor drive, and having both an eye-level and waist-level finder and the grip. It’s not better than a Hasselblad, but your wallet will be a little happier in the long run.
All Photos Taken in St. Mary’s Pioneer Cemetery, Oakville, Ontario, Canada
Bronica SQ-Ai – Zenzanon-PS 65mm 1:4 – Bergger Pancro 400 @ ASA-400
Blazinal (1+25) 8:00 @ 20C