Bronica S2/S2A

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Mamulcahy

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I am considering purchase of a S2/S2A. I’m looking for advice on purchase and use. This will be in addition to the Yashica 124G I have now.

thanks for your input.
 

moto-uno

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If you type in Bronica s2 in the search box ( upper right corner of page) you have about 10 pages of conversations concerning that camera . Peter
 

campy51

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I would go with the S2A or consider the EC or EC-TL but if your budget can go higher I would get the SQ-A. I've had all three and still have the EC-TL. The EC-TL and SQ-A are much easier to focus than my Hasselblad. The SQ-A with the side grip is a wonderful combination.
 

PFGS

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I've owned, used and enjoyed both models, along with the Bronica C - I also came to these after starting medium format on a Yashica TLR. I think they are great cameras capable of giving you excellent results, the lenses likewise - I've used the 50, 75, 100 and 200mm Nikkors. I also found the Bronicas easier to focus than my Hasselblad 500C/M. Did you have any specific questions? So long as you get one in proper working order and you are ok with the size and weight (they are a lot like carrying around a football made of out of a Cadillac) the only major issue with these is that last I knew, absolutely no one offers major repair services.
 

Alan Gales

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I've always heard that the S2 had problems with softer brass gears in them for advancing the film and the later S2A's had stronger steel gears. Some say that some of the earlier cameras had their gears upgraded but you would have to take the camera apart to see. Someone else on this forum claimed that it was all rubbish and they all had steel gears. I don't know. The S2A's do go for more money. If you buy the S2 and are worried about it then use the knob to advance the film without unfolding the handle so there is less stress.

The EC's came later. They have dual mirrors which are on what looks like fishing line. They are supposed to be hard to get back adjusted if they ever go out of adjustment. I've never had a problem with them and have never heard of anyone having a problem with them going out of adjustment. I did have an EC arrive with a badly scratched mirror to the point of broken glass shavings. This was due to the camera jostled in shipping and the end of the 75mm lens coming in contact with the mirror. If you have an EC shipped ask that they ship it with the lens detached. I've heard that if the electronics go bad in the ECTL then the camera will no longer work. You may prefer the EC without the battery powered light meter. The focussing screens are supported by foam. When the foam deteriorates you can't get proper focus. It's an easy fix using moleskin. There are articles about this on the web.

I've owned the S2A and several EC's. I preferred the EC's myself but that may be just because I was more used to them.

All these cameras are old and trying to get one serviced may be very hard. They are cheap so you could just buy another body if one fails.

I owned the 40mm and 75mm Nikkors and the 150mm Bronica lens. The 40mm Nikkor lens is outstanding if you can find one. They are a bit pricey compared to the other lenses. I sold mine to a collector for $500. It was the sixth one in his collection. The 75mm Nikkor is very sharp and the Bronica 150mm is a great portrait lens. The Nikkor and Bronica lenses are all said to be great except for the 135mm Nikkor is said to be a little soft. Some liked it for portraiture though. There were also Komura budget lenses and a Komura teleconverter. Most of these lenses are dirt cheap today so try anything you want and later sell it if it's not for you. If you do lose any money it will be very little.
 

DonW

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I had an S2A and the gears in the backs where brass. They wore out and there are no replacement parts.

While I loved my S2A I would not buy another one.
 

itsdoable

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... Someone else on this forum claimed that it was all rubbish and they all had steel gears. I don't know....
That could have been me, the main drive gears for all the S series was steel, but the S2a used larger teeth to help take the load at the end of the wind cycle.

s2a_vs_s2_gears-jpg.238971

...as mentioned on this thread: https://www.photrio.com/forum/threads/thoughts-on-the-bronica-s2.172725/#post-2247586

(I repeat this because I'm trying to undo decades of incorrect information!)


...I've heard that if the electronics go bad in the EC-TL then the camera will no longer work. You may prefer the EC without the battery powered light meter. The focusing screens are supported by foam. When the foam deteriorates you can't get proper focus. It's an easy fix using moleskin. There are articles about this on the web....
My EC-TL meter is flaky, but the manual shutter speeds are fine. So it basically acts like a bigger heavier EC. It's a shame, as the meter and AE is really nice to have sometimes.

Foam under the mirror is more important to check & replace, as it throws off the mirror alignment when it deteriorates. Both Screen and Mirror foam are easy to replace (by design, as foam did not have good longevity in the '50s).


I had an S2A and the gears in the backs where brass. They wore out and there are no replacement parts...
I've never had the gears wear out in the backs, just old resinified grease. I don't recall seeing any brass gears there, but it's possible as the loads in the film backs are much lower. I've had Hasselblad Film Back gears wear out / break, but spare parts for those were available - not so for the S2 as Don indicated.
 

Pentode

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I had an S2a outfit sometime in the 1990s for a few years. I ended up accumulating about a half-dozen backs (one 645 and the rest 6x6), a prism finder and four or five lenses. I had a bit of a love/hate relationship with that camera.

On the negative side I found it to be very heavy, fairly bulky and very loud. I found winding to require a fair amount of effort - it always felt like I was going to break it (it never broke). As I mostly shoot in the street and mostly handheld, it really just wasn't the right camera for me, which is why I eventually sold it off but that's not really the camera's fault. I found it to be much better suited to a studio photographer than to a hacker like me. I also had a fair amount of mechanical trouble with one of my film backs but I'm pretty sure that was a result of mistreatment by a previous owner and had nothing to do with how it was made.

On the positive side, the build quality was pretty impressive, the viewing screen was really good and the lenses, both Nikkor and Zenzanon, were excellent. And, while I know this isn't really a valid measure of a camera, I thought it looked fantastic. Let's face it; it's a classy looking camera! If it had fit my shooting style better, if I were a portrait or fashion photographer, I never would have let it go.
 

reddesert

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I don't know if any other camera systems have accreted the thinly sourced myth and lore that the Bronica S/S2/EC has. I mean, there's a lot of lore about Nikons, Hasselblads, Leicas and so on, but those systems generally have fairly detailed fan webpages that mostly sort out the actual facts from the "facts."

Pacific Rim Camera has collected and scanned a bunch of old Bronica manuals and brochures that are very informative; see https://www.pacificrimcamera.com/rl/rlBronicash.htm One really useful resource is the "Bronica Product Guide" at https://www.pacificrimcamera.com/rl/02219/02219.pdf This is a document for dealers written by EPOI, the US importer, that goes into detail about the differences identifying the generations of bodies, backs, darkslides, and so on. Some people have copied this information into webpages and introduced errors. (It doesn't talk about the steel/brass gear thing. I don't think the reality will ever catch up to the lore now.)

The S2 and EC have different vulnerabilities to foam. The S2 has, AFAICT, foam that presses the focusing screen against a bracket, and foam that presses the mirror up against a bracket. When the foam deteriorates it causes focus errors. There are lots of webpages about fixing this.

The EC doesn't seem to rely on foam to set the focusing screen position (although there is foam around the screen that can go bad, I think it's just a light seal). The EC does have a mirror bumper that can deteriorate, affecting the mirror position. It's under the mirror and you can see it when the mirror is locked up. I found it harder to find information on this. One place that has some pictures is on a French forum at http://35mm-compact.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=13&t=53005&p=813010
 

Alan Gales

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That could have been me, the main drive gears for all the S series was steel, but the S2a used larger teeth to help take the load at the end of the wind cycle.

s2a_vs_s2_gears-jpg.238971

...as mentioned on this thread: https://www.photrio.com/forum/threads/thoughts-on-the-bronica-s2.172725/#post-2247586

(I repeat this because I'm trying to undo decades of incorrect information!)



My EC-TL meter is flaky, but the manual shutter speeds are fine. So it basically acts like a bigger heavier EC. It's a shame, as the meter and AE is really nice to have sometimes.

Foam under the mirror is more important to check & replace, as it throws off the mirror alignment when it deteriorates. Both Screen and Mirror foam are easy to replace (by design, as foam did not have good longevity in the '50s).



I've never had the gears wear out in the backs, just old resinified grease. I don't recall seeing any brass gears there, but it's possible as the loads in the film backs are much lower. I've had Hasselblad Film Back gears wear out / break, but spare parts for those were available - not so for the S2 as Don indicated.


Thank you for showing this.

You are right. There is a lot of misinformation on the web. There was a lot of misinformation before the web too. I remember camera sales people in pro shops telling me things that I later found out not to be true.
 

Alan Gales

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The EC doesn't seem to rely on foam to set the focusing screen position (although there is foam around the screen that can go bad, I think it's just a light seal). The EC does have a mirror bumper that can deteriorate, affecting the mirror position. It's under the mirror and you can see it when the mirror is locked up. I found it harder to find information on this. One place that has some pictures is on a French forum at http://35mm-compact.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=13&t=53005&p=813010

I no longer own my EC's but tried to find a clear picture on the web but couldn't. From what I remember on my EC's, the focussing screen fit inside of a metal ground glass frame that would flip up to change them. On the edges of the frame there was a type of foam that held the focussing screen up against the frame. When the foam deteriorated the focussing screen would fall out of place.

It's an easy fix by replacing the foam with moleskin which will keep the focussing screen up in place against the metal ground glass frame.
 

WilliamH

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That could have been me, the main drive gears for all the S series was steel, but the S2a used larger teeth to help take the load at the end of the wind cycle.

s2a_vs_s2_gears-jpg.238971

...as mentioned on this thread: https://www.photrio.com/forum/threads/thoughts-on-the-bronica-s2.172725/#post-2247586

(I repeat this because I'm trying to undo decades of incorrect information!)



My EC-TL meter is flaky, but the manual shutter speeds are fine. So it basically acts like a bigger heavier EC. It's a shame, as the meter and AE is really nice to have sometimes.

Foam under the mirror is more important to check & replace, as it throws off the mirror alignment when it deteriorates. Both Screen and Mirror foam are easy to replace (by design, as foam did not have good longevity in the '50s).



I've never had the gears wear out in the backs, just old resinified grease. I don't recall seeing any brass gears there, but it's possible as the loads in the film backs are much lower. I've had Hasselblad Film Back gears wear out / break, but spare parts for those were available - not so for the S2 as Don indicated.
The Bronica S has brass gears. The steel gears for the S2 and S2a were the improvements
 

choiliefan

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Sales literature from the time indicates the gears in the S2A are "nitrided" for extended service life.
 

moto-uno

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^^ Can you show us where this info concerning brass gears comes from ? Pics would be nice too as this is your first post here :smile: . Peter
 

jeffreyg

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I had an S2A with the 75mm and 150mm originally purchased new for about 20 years. It worked very well and the Nikkor and Zenzanon lenses were very sharp. I ended up selling the outfit for about what I payed for it when I switched to Hasselblad. It was rather noisy but I know the S2A had improvements over the S2. If possible, I would take a couple of rolls to check out the performance before purchasing. If not buy from a party that has a return policy.

http://www.jeffreyglasser.com/

http://www.sculptureandphotography.com/
 

itsdoable

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The Bronica S has brass gears. The steel gears for the S2 and S2a were the improvements
I thought my S has steel gears - it's in need of a shutter curtain replacement, so I'll confirm then (may be a while, I have several "projects"...) The Z may have had some brass gears.

Sales literature from the time indicates the gears in the S2A are "nitrided" for extended service life.
Are you sure, the S2 gears look to have a nitride treatment, not the S2a. The progression may have been S=steel, S2=nitride treatment, S2a=larger teeth...
 

choiliefan

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Tony Hilton's Hove Foto Book "Bronica the early history and definitive collector's guide" states "the S2A is substantially different inside. The major difference being that the gears in the gear train were "nitrided" to make them harder wearing, since worn gears had been one of the major criticisms of the S2."
 

mcrokkorx

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The Bronica S2 system was for many years the best bargain in entry-level medium format SLR systems. Today, not so much: like Kowa Six, the S2 system has not aged quite as well as some others. Availability of major repairs is scarce to non-existent in many countries, as the internal mechanics are uniquely complicated by rear flipping mirror and roller blind viewfinder baffle unfamiliar to many repair techs. The EC (and incredibly innovative EC/TL) add buggy electronics and even more complex split mirror to this mix.

The S bodies have some simpler common maintenance issues that are not as easily DIY repaired as many forum threads imply. Issues with decayed focus screen mount and mirror mount foams throwing off focus accuracy have become endemic: the steps to service these seem simple when read on a forum post but aren't when you attempt them on your own camera. The focus screen assembly is finicky and fragile, the screws holding it together often corroded or fused: just getting it open without permanent damage can be a challenge. Once opened, replacing the decayed foam and aligning for correct infinity focus ranges from fairly easy to very hard, depending on how many shims were used in your specific body and whether you want to upgrade from the original focus screen.

The camera is very large/heavy for 6x6 format, and extremely loud when fired: much louder than you'd imagine until you hear it. My S2A made my cacophonous Hasselblad 500cm sound like a demure Leica IIIg. S2 focus screen is not interchangeable, the waist level finder is not fully enclosed so annoying reflections can interfere with viewing, the prism finder is huge, heavy and dim. The film back release mechanism relies on a clever dark slide interlock which can get gummy over time (and you cannot get the back off at all without a dark slide). Perhaps the most unpleasant aspect of using the S2 system is the truly terrible film winding experience: long, very heavy and very uneven (it feels like you're going to break it every time you wind on, esp the final bit where even more force must be applied to cock all the light blinds). Avoid using the folding crank to minimize stress on the winding gears: wind with the knurled knob instead.

The Nikkor lenses were very good and a bargain compared to other medium format lenses when new, but today can be more trouble than they're worth. Their design saves money by having all the common focal lengths share a single focus ring that stays on the body. This results in most lenses having their rear guts sticking out vulnerably, requiring fragile, clumsy cup-shaped rear caps. Some lenses are noticeably more compact than those for other 6x6 SLRs, like the standard 75mm f/2.8 Nikkor or 50mm F/3.5 Nikkor wide angle. But the 50/3.5 also has a wide diameter, single-coated front element thats a flare magnet, and isn't quite as good as the later larger and pricier f/2.8 version. There is no 60mm option and the 40mm Nikkor is scarce/pricey. The 135mm Nikkor is arguably mediocre, the 150mm Bronica Zenzanon is much improved. The 200mm Nikkor requires an accessory closeup lens at portrait distances. The extension tubes are not coupled to the auto-diaphragm in the lenses.

Short answer: the S system is very well built, but today the quirks and servicing issues can be off-putting in a daily driver unless you intend to exploit niche features like being able to adapt almost any lens to the S mount (made possible by the detachable focus helicoid and rear-dropping mirror). The more practical alternative in a similar focal plane shutter SLR with inexpensive lenses would be the first gen Mamiya M645, M645J or M645 1000S. As ruggedly built as the S2, but smaller, lighter, more reliable (and more finder/meter options). Of course you sacrifice the 6x6 square format for 645. If 6x6 is required, stretch your budget toward the newer Bronica SQ 6x6 system: wider lens array, better reliability, much more availability.
 
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cramej

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The Bronica S2 system was for many years the best bargain in entry-level medium format SLR systems. Today, not so much: like Kowa Six, the S2 system has not aged quite as well as some others. Availability of major repairs is scarce to non-existent in many countries, as the internal mechanics are uniquely complicated by rear flipping mirror and roller blind viewfinder baffle unfamiliar to many repair techs. The EC (and incredibly innovative EC/TL) add buggy electronics and even more complex split mirror to this mix.

The S bodies have some simpler common maintenance issues that are not as easily DIY repaired as many forum threads imply. Issues with decayed focus screen mount and mirror mount foams throwing off focus accuracy have become endemic: the steps to service these seem simple when read on a forum post but aren't when you attempt them on your own camera. The focus screen assembly is finicky and fragile, the screws holding it together often corroded or fused: just getting it open without permanent damage can be a challenge. Once opened, replacing the decayed foam and aligning for correct infinity focus ranges from fairly easy to very hard, depending on how many shims were used in your specific body and whether you want to upgrade from the original focus screen.

The camera is very large/heavy for 6x6 format, and extremely loud when fired: much louder than you'd imagine until you hear it. My S2A made my cacophonous Hasselblad 500cm sound like a demure Leica IIIg. S2 focus screen is not interchangeable, the waist level finder is not fully enclosed so annoying reflections can interfere with viewing, the prism finder is huge, heavy and dim. The film back release mechanism relies on a clever dark slide interlock which can get gummy over time (and you cannot get the back off at all without a dark slide). Perhaps the most unpleasant aspect of using the S2 system is the truly terrible film winding experience: long, very heavy and very uneven (it feels like you're going to break it every time you wind on, esp the final bit where even more force must be applied to cock all the light blinds). Avoid using the folding crank to minimize stress on the winding gears: wind with the knurled knob instead.

The Nikkor lenses were very good and a bargain compared to other medium format lenses when new, but today can be more trouble than they're worth. Their design saves money by having all the common focal lengths share a single focus ring that stays on the body. This results in most lenses having their rear guts sticking out vulnerably, requiring fragile, clumsy cup-shaped rear caps. Some lenses are noticeably more compact than those for other 6x6 SLRs, like the standard 75mm f/2.8 Nikkor or 50mm F/3.5 Nikkor wide angle. But the 50/3.5 also has a wide diameter, single-coated front element thats a flare magnet, and isn't quite as good as the later larger and pricier f/2.8 version. There is no 60mm option and the 40mm Nikkor is scarce/pricey. The 135mm Nikkor is arguably mediocre, the 150mm Bronica Zenzanon is much improved. The 200mm Nikkor requires an accessory closeup lens at portrait distances. The extension tubes are not coupled to the auto-diaphragm in the lenses.

Short answer: the S system is very well built, but today the quirks and servicing issues can be off-putting in a daily driver unless you intend to exploit niche features like being able to adapt almost any lens to the S mount (made possible by the detachable focus helicoid and rear-dropping mirror). The more practical alternative in a similar focal plane shutter SLR with inexpensive lenses would be the first gen Mamiya M645, M645J or M645 1000S. As ruggedly built as the S2, but smaller, lighter, more reliable (and more finder/meter options). Of course you sacrifice the 6x6 square format for 645. If 6x6 is required, stretch your budget toward the newer Bronica SQ 6x6 system: wider lens array, better reliability, much more availability.


Wow, you really don't like the S system. Most of what you said isn't really a big deal and/or can be remedied by normal maintenance that should be performed anyway.

  • First, the S system was, and is, by no means an entry-level system.
  • The focus screen foam isn't that difficult and any camera tech could do it.
  • Noise - it's not any louder than my RB67 was. Actually sounds better since it doesn't have the metallic ping of the RB.
  • I haven't noticed any problem with the WL finder. The prism finder is quite small and not especially dim. It has a chunk of glass in it....every prism finder is heavy unless it's not really a prism.
  • If the dark slide interlock is gummy, then get it serviced. Pretty simple. Neglecting equipment causes problems.
  • Film winding should be smooth. My S2A is smooth. It never feels like I'm going to break anything at the end of the cycle. Using the crank is no different than the ratcheting knob unless you're swinging it around your head like a lasso to wind it. I like it better than the wind on my SWC.
  • Nikkor lenses more trouble than they're worth? Hardly. Rear caps are nice - they stay in place. Love the front screw-in caps, too. Nikkor 40mm is common and reasonably priced. Zenzanon 40 is nearly unobtanium. You have completely ignored all of the Zenzanon lenses for the S system as well. No 60mm? So what? You've got 40, 50 and 75.
  • The SQ system is nice, but not nearly as attractive. And as much as I like the look of a 'Blad, it still can't beat the Z,D,C,S,S2,S2A.

Other systems have their own issues but they all seem to be worked around by the users and have survived this long. There's hardly a system out there with flaws so great that they should be avoided.
 

moto-uno

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My GAS is rising again ! Had an S2 years ago , sold it after loosing interest in 6x6 , but they were a pleasure to look at :smile: . Peter
 

cramej

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My GAS is rising again ! Had an S2 years ago , sold it after loosing interest in 6x6 , but they were a pleasure to look at :smile: . Peter

Let me introduce you to Mr. C and Mr. D.

R.dd829bc694b721d7dd4b7b9fb39ea35b

31587_1_a_800x800.jpg
 

mcrokkorx

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Wow, you really don't like the S system.

I don't dislike the Bronica S system at all: it was my first MF system, used for many years even after later acquisitions of Mamiya RB67, Mamiya TLR, Kowa SixMM and finally Hasselblad. My Bronica kit comprised S2, S2A and C bodies, 75mm Nikkor, 80mm Zeiss Jena, 80mm Zenzanon f/2.4, two 50mm f/3.5 Nikkors 135mm Nikkor, both versions of 150mm Zenzanon, 200mm Nikkor, three film magazines, prism finder, metered chimney finder and extension tubes. The cameras are extremely well built, beautiful to look at, have very novel design features and most of the Nikkor or Bronica branded optics were fully competitive with other brands at the time.

Back in the day, it was nearly half the price of Hasselblad when new, and for some time it was the only 6x6 alternative to Hasselblad. S2 was definitely (and affectionately) considered the "poor man's Hasselblad". The Mamiya RB67 and Kowa Six systems arrived a decade or so after Bronica S: the late '50s thru late '60s were a 6x6 SLR duopoly between Hassy and Bronnie. As years went by, used Bronica S gear became an even greater bargain (second only to Mamiya TLRs) as *the* most inexpensive path into 6x6 reflex photography from the late '70s onward. There is no disparagement intended by the term "entry level" - it is strictly a pricing reference, and more specific to the pre-digital past before all used film camera pricing went wonky.

Eventually, age related issues became irritating enough for me to sell off the system. The focus screen and mirror foams rotted away and were a giant pain to repair on two of my three bodies (my earlier comments that these problems aren't always a snap for random DIY repairers to tackle was based on experience). My C body (really cool, lesser known version of S2 without removable film back) developed spacing issues that no tech would accept for repair. All three bodies developed sluggish aperture stopdown, stubbornly resistant to repair. Two backs went out, a couple of the Nikkors developed overnight fungus gardens, and my fondness for the system was at an end.

My problem wasn't that the system developed issues: it was that I couldn't get them repaired properly and reliably. Service is effectively non-existent for all Bronicas now, esp the older S and EC system. With the newer higher-volume SQ or ETR you can replace a bad body, lens, back or finder fairly easily from the used marketplace, but finding an exact replacement for a really nice but problematic S or EC piece can be very difficult (fans of the Kowa system face the same hurdles when things go wrong). Mamiya and Hasselblad can be ludicrously expensive to service (sluggish aperture stopdown on a 'blad will easily run $450 to repair), but at least professional repairs are still available and tons of replacement bits are floating around if needed.

Bronica S2 system has definite advantages, esp if you can find good copies of the best lenses at a good price, but there are tradeoffs for those advantages. The jerky winding is disconcerting as hell, as are the weird lens heads with their exposed guts (not fun if you're the type who changes lenses often). It is harder and harder to find some of the better lenses: the 40mm and 50mm f/2.8 Nikkors are anything but common in most countries most of the time (unless you're willing to play the Japanese eBay dealer "MINT+++++ with some fungus and scratches" lottery).

On the plus side, prices for the S2/S2A cameras, backs and lenses are currently running counter to the hyper-inflationary trend of most other medium format systems: lower even than when I sold mine off back in 2015. This can make for some screaming deals if you're on a tight budget and want to try the 6x6 SLR format without making a huge investment. Just be aware of the potential mechanical pitfalls when buying into the S2 system, and remember condition is everything. Make sure you get a return window from the seller, and test your new S2, C, or S2A thoroughly for focus accuracy, frame spacing, fit of the film magazine on the body, and fit of the viewfinder to the body.
 
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cramej

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@mcrokkorx That's a disappointing experience, but understandable. I wonder if some techs have refused to work on them because of the perceived complexity or anecdotes about the difficulty of servicing.
 

mcrokkorx

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@mcrokkorx That's a disappointing experience, but understandable. I wonder if some techs have refused to work on them because of the perceived complexity or anecdotes about the difficulty of servicing.

It is a steadily building trend, not limited to Bronica by any means. Specialized Bronica factory trained techs were simply among the first to age out, retire or die off. Other very popular brands/models with loads of examples still in heavy use retain a wider degree of repair support, because a larger number of techs have experience with them and servicing them is a (relatively) profitable business. Some older systems with unusually complex engineering features (Bronica S/EC, Zeiss Contarex, Kowa Six, etc) fell by the wayside in terms of technicians being willing to work on them. Reasons include lack of experience, unavailability of spare parts, or (I've heard this one most often) much more labor intensive and time consuming to repair vs what owners are realistically willing to pay. As these techs get older and older, many prefer to work on brands they can repair blindfolded.

Jimmy Koh was the last active Bronica S specialist on the East Coast (if not the entire USA), he retired ten years ago when it became an unsustainable business. Perhaps he should un-retire: demand for all types of Bronica repair has escalated tremendously in the past couple years!
 
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