Classic Collectible of the month: The Bronica SQ-A1

A reliable workhorse on the shortlist of many wedding pro shooters

Bronicas in general, and the 2-1/4x2-1/4-format Bronica SQ-AI in particular, have proven to be reliable workhorse cameras that can stand up to the rigors of professional use, as many a wedding photographer can attest. They are also far less expensive than the Swedish Hasselblads that inspired them, particularly the lenses, which include many impressive performers in the line that will give even the Zeiss Hasselblad optics a run for the money. And their electronically controlled inter-lens leaf shutters and fully integrated electronic interfaces have become industry standards.

The SQ-AI features a mirror lockup for long exposures, and the leaf-shutter design allows full flash sync to 1/500 sec. You can easily number the truly great and 2-1/4 SLR systems on the fingers of one hand, and the Bronica SQ-AI would have to be on this exclusive list.

Go with the system

The Bronica SQ-AI is not merely a camera, but an system of photography, and if you want the whole enchilada in pristine condition, now is the time to buy it. Prices for clean Bronica stuff are currently at an all-time low, and with the recent discontinuance of the entire Bronica line, they are unlikely to get any more plentiful. As for repairs, they should be readily available for decades to come since Bronicas were produced for many years.

An armada of accessories

In addition to lenses ranging from 40-500mm (including Zenzanon PS lenses that compare favorably to their Schneider and Zeiss counterparts) the SQ-AI accepts practically any accessory you can think of. There are TTL flash modules for the Metz 386, Quantim "Q" Flash and Sunpak systems. Auto exposure metering can be added with the AE Prism Finder S, and you can get TTL manual metering with either the ME Prism Finder S or the MF prism finder S.

Other accessories include 6x6, 6x4.5, and 35mm backs with easy-loading inserts, a Polaroid back, and, my personal favorite, the Speed Grip S, which makes manual film advance easier with its top-mounted wind lever, and endows the camera with much better handling in the field. There's even a 0.7 fps SQ-I motor drive--not the fastest around, but still useful when shooting sequences.

A classic, but collectible?

The Bronica SQ-AI is undoubtedly an attractive, classic, high-performance 2-1/4 SLR as well as a superb and reliable picture taker. But while the camera itself is a user-collectible of the first rank, the "classic collectible" designation really applies to the entire system rather than the camera per se. That's because a reasonably complete SQ-AI system in excellent cosmetic condition is likely to increase in value compared to its current level??y definition of a collectible classic.

Yes, it has more plastic body components than a Hasselblad 500C/M, which help to reduce weight and cost, but its lenses are metal and the camera is definitely built to last. That's why I picked the beautiful Bronica SQ-AI outfit pictured above as the Classic Collectible of the Month.

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