Failure to adapt to the digital era costs Zenza Bronica dearly
Read the press release: Tamron Announces The Discontinuation Of Bronica SLR Cameras
Dpnow sadly marks the news of the ending of the era of Bronica medium format cameras this week with the news that Tamron, who own Bronica, have discontinued the Bronica range, blaming the rise in digital photography.
Zenza Bronica was founded in 1959 by Zenzaburo Yoshino. The 'Bronica' brand, it is speculated, was formed from the words 'Brownie Camera'. Mr. Yoshino had made his money manufacturing cigarette lighters and ladies' powder compacts but he was also a keen photography enthusiast and had even opened a camera store in Tokyo. Despite having no experience in the camera industry, he invested his own fortune in designing what he hoped might become the 'perfect' camera.
The first Zenza Bronica, a 2¼ square inch format roll film SLR might be regarded as a Japanese copy of a Hasselblad, but it featured a number of desirable improvements, including an automatic mirror return and aperture reset after each exposure. The mirror mechanism was also novel in its action.
Bronicas quickly became best-sellers in their market sector. The Bronica EC-TL made its mark by being the first 2¼ square format SLR to feature through the lens automatic metering coupled to an aperture priority automatic exposure system.
Originally, Bronicas were square format cameras with focal plane shutters, but from 1976 the marque established a strong presence in the more economical 6x4.5cm (645) format camera sector with the ETR, which used interchangeable lenses with integral leaf shutters. Pictured in this article is an example of an ETRSi, first introduced in 1989 and, until this week, remained a current model.
The unit pictured belongs to my neighbour, Paul Watkins, who uses it regularly for wedding photography. If you look closely you can see there is a gold badge – this signifies that Paul's camera is a Fox Talbot 150th Anniversary special edition.
Commercial pressure has been mounting on the medium format world for a long time. Steady improvements in the technical quality of 35mm SLR system cameras and films persuaded many to abandon heavier and slower medium format cameras, like Bronicas. In 1995, lens manufacturer Tamron, acquired the ailing Bronica camera business.
Alas for Bronica, the digital photography revolution was just around the corner and Bronica cameras did not adapt sufficiently. In the same week that rival Mamiya announced a new 22 megapixel medium format digital camera model, the Bronica brand expired.
The words of Takashi Inoue, president of Tamron USA, inc., quoted in this week's press release sum things up all too efficiently: "Since the advent of digital photography, medium format sales have declined at a rapid pace. Imports today are just a fraction of what they were even two years ago," stated Inoue. "For Bronica, that slip has been faster since our core customer base, portrait and wedding photographers, has adapted well to digital SLR equipment."
For Tamron, the digital era represents new challenges and new opportunities for its interchangeable lens business, but for its Bronica division, time has run out.