There is something special about any camera when you know that it represents the pinnacle of a given manufacturer’s efforts. The GS-1 is the last SLR ever made by Zenza Bronica. It is was released in 1982, shoots a 6×7 frame (or smaller depending on the film back) and there were never any upgrades to this model. It’s the biggest of the three lens shutter Bronicas (ETR, SQ, GS-1) The lenses were so good that after this PG Zenzanon line was released Bronica decided to upgrade all of their lenses for the other two cameras as well, using the same technology. The GS-1 is superior in terms of design, quality of the lenses and smoothness of function. Even though it is a 6×7 the body is relatively compact and light since they used more plastic than the other models. But there is nothing flimsy about this body at all. It’s as solid of a chunk of camera as you could ever want. There is a full line of accessories, including a rotating view finder that makes portrait orientation much easier. It was also the only 6×7 camera to offer ttl flash with the dedicated flash gun. Lenses are fairly easy to find, although the 80/3.5 is rather rare.
This camera is most likely to get compared with the Mamiya RB and RZ lines because they are similar in design; i.e. modular SLR with a native 6×7 format. There aren’t too many other cameras like that. They also employ lens shutters. But the focusing mechanism is quite different. While the Mamiya 6×7 cameras use bellows and focus like a large format field camera, the GS-1 has the more conventional focus ring on the lens. And while all three systems control aperture from a ring on the lens, the GS-1 is the only one that controls shutter speed from the camera body and not the lens. The huge advantage of the Mamiya cameras is the signature feature, the rotating film back. Unfortunately, the GS-1 (like almost every other camera in the world) requires you to rotate the entire camera to change orientation. The GS-1 is like the RZ and unlike the RB in that it is electronic, thus requiring a battery. While the Mamiya cameras are primarily designed for studio work, the GS-1 is probably more versatile. It is small and light enough to go on the road and be hand held. It is great for weddings, on and off the tripod. The GS-1 is a well designed, and well executed tool that can meet the needs of a wide variety of photographers.
The more I use this camera the happier I am. When it comes to handheld 6×7 SLR, it’s a clear winner! Here are some of the results.