The Bronica RF645 – The orphan rangefinder

Posted on by Bellamy


The medium format rangefinder that everyone forgot about
There are some cameras that just rock my world, and the Bronica RF645 is one of them. I don’t know what the allure is, but it is a very handsome camera. It also seems to be a camera that everyone seems to pass by.

When it comes to medium format rangefinders, people seem to immediately jump to the Mamiya 6. But when they are looking for the in field usability of the the 6×4.5 format there are not that many options. But the Fuji GA645 is not your only option when it comes to 645…there is the Bronica! The camera that everyone seems to forget about.
But why do they forget about this awesome camera? Well, the Bronica RF645 was conceived during a turbulent time for camera makers and their products.
First released in 2000 this camera won the EISA and TIPA awards in 2002 for professional cameras. The thing is, during this time everyone in the professional market was starting to take notice of the commercial applications of digital cameras. No longer were they something of a gimmick, they were starting to show promise and the possibility that they might be a viable medium. This was the problem with the RF645, timing. It was released at the wrong time so everyone rushed past it to jump on the digital bandwagon. Had this camera been released in 1995 it would have blown everyone away and we would all remember it. Or had it be released in 2009 we would have thought of it a quirky and cool and it would have a massive price tag for being ‘different’. But it wasn’t, as it was released in 2000 we tend to forget it and instead look to the Mamiya cameras, which were released at exactly the right time.

This camera is beautiful and well designed. So well designed in fact that it won the good design award in Japan for its looks and layout. It has innovative features that set it apart from the field at the time, including a program mode, automatica dark slide and non mechanical leaf shutter lenses. This camera was a leap above the competitors, but it was too late. The camera was only on sale for 5 years before it was discontinued. Which was a terrible shame for us but an even more terrible shame for Bronica, as the brand was dropped after 47 years of business. Tamron had acquired the company some time back and they were in control of the fate of the brand. Another reason people overlook this camera is that they think that they cannot be serviced any longer, which is not true. Tamron have committed to servicing them until 2014.

The camera has a bright vertical viewfinder which has a great internal layout, with all of the camera modes and warnings featured in your view. It was parallax compensated for the 65mm and 100 mm lenses. And lets talk about them. The camera comes as standard with the 65mm f4 lens, but there were a total of 4 lenses released for this camera. The 45mm f4, 65mm f4, 135mm f4.5 and the 100mm f4.5. The 100mm was released later to replace the 135mm lens, as it was not a comfortable fit on the rangefinder and was hard to focus correctly. The lenses for this camera are very capable and have reports of very good results.

This is an immensely capable camera that has some great lenses, and it should not be overlooked. This may look like a simple camera, but it is not at all. Underneath that pretty skin is a sophisticated electronically controlled camera, featuring a program mode, AE lock and motor driven leaf shutter lenses.

So why not Bronica? Well, there is no reason other than they are hard to find. They don’t come up as often as Mamiya’s or Fuji’s, as they were not produced in large enough numbers. But, if you know where to look there are a few around…In fact, I have one for sale right now :)
So if you want one of these, drop me a line and I can make sure you have one of the best kept rangefinder secrets in your hands soon.
Thanks
Japancamerahunter

16 Responses to The Bronica RF645 – The orphan rangefinder

Rfive April 12, 2012 at 8:31 pm

I just purchased the RF645. I’m amazed with the 2 rolls shot, moving around the streets of Brooklyn. Got a crazy deal on it too, less than $400 in minty condition. The seller said that he’d hit me up with some SQA’s later on too, for my students to use.

I’m wondering about having Tamron take a look @ it, but not sure if its necessary. EVERYTHING works perfectly at this point.

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ZDP-189 October 23, 2012 at 11:57 pm

I used to use a Rollei Tessar and briefly owned a Mamiya C330, but never really got into unmetered TLRs. I just can’t work fast enough. I love the possibilities of medium format though.

I currently make do with a (great) Fujifilm GA645. For me, FujiFilm cameras are underrated gems of the medium format world. They are practical cameras as long as they don’t go wrong. If they do, it’s not a big loss. I paid under $200 for mine, versus five times that for a RF645, with a similar lens to the Bronica 65/4, plus autofocus and a pop-up flash, all in a package I can fit in my hip pocket.

Nevertheless, I am looking to upgrade to a rangefinder, preferably something compact, flexible and with good quality interchangeable lenses. The Bronica fits the bill if 645 is your thing. 6×4.5 has a good aspect ratio and still offers good enlargement potential. As far as I know, there is no other option in a non-folding RF/VF camera, except maybe the excellent and very wide lens like the 45mm GS645Wi or the incredibly versatile zooming GA645ZI.

That’s not to say a folding rangefinder is a poor second choice. The GS645 models are great and if you like the old-style folders, they still deliver the goods.

On the other hand, I may decide that square format is my thing again, or find a way to justify a larger format still.

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jake October 24, 2012 at 12:37 am

i’d be keen to get my hands on one of these at some point but i’m in the same camp as ZDP above – i’ve got a GA645w which I use when i want a medium format fix. It’s not a range finder but has a decent wide angle lens and is a joy to use.
i’ve also just preordered the new lomo belair for a bit of a play, so will see if that’s a keeper when it arrives.

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Samuel West Hiser November 22, 2012 at 10:26 pm

Bellamy-

Thanks for this interesting recommendation. Being a teacher with the Holga, I’ve always sought a Holga-type form-factor but with more control.

Thinking about a pair of Fuji’s — the 60 and the 45. For variety of coverage as well as the rare but useful redundancy in a backup situation.

How would you compare these with the Bronica vis my single-most critical feature — shutter lag. If my Yashica T4 is any reference, autofocus will cause a slight delay. Can Fuji autofocus be turned off? And does the Bronica’s shutter release feel springy and mechanically immediate or does it have the feeling even slight electronic intermediation?

Kindly,
-Sam

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bennybee April 23, 2013 at 8:23 pm

Hi all,
I agree that this is an awesome camera. I have one but unfortunetaley I do not use it, nor any other camera I own. Therefor it is for sale. Anyone interested can email me. Asking price is EUR740 with the 65mm/F4 lens, hood, front cap, new batteries & strap. I’ll throw in a 5-er box of fresh Fuji color films. Thanks.

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Julie March 9, 2014 at 6:23 am

I just bought a Bronica 645 (sight unseen). I remember the camera when I was shooting for magazines. Anything I should know about buying batteries for it?

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Janos March 15, 2014 at 1:13 pm

I own one, and I simply love this camera: it took a short while to adjust to MF RF from digital point-and shoot, but it is worth the effort. Since then I own a set of MF cameras, including Rolleicord, Yahica Mat 124g, Hassy 500cm and a Mamiya 7ii, but as a to-go camera the Bronica 645RF beats all of them. Sure, the Hassy can take pics with more bokeh, provided that you have time. Rolleicord is fun to use, but it is unmetered, so is the Hassy. The Mamiya is great, but the Bronice fits twice as much pics in one roll, and the optics is close to that of the Mamiya. For a casual stroll in the town the 16 pics the Bronica fits in a roll is good enough for me, so I do not need to reload, and I can just add a quick coffee stop at the end of the day and get my film developed and scanned. I can encourage anyone to get one, he/she will unlikely be disappointed.

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