As a black-and-white negative film shooter, I like everything about 645. My philosophy has always been that the smaller the negative is, the easier the camera is to handle in the field; the larger the negative is, the easier (or perhaps I should just say the more rewarding) it is to make the print in the darkroom. As a shooter of only medium-level skills but a darkroom whiz, I’ve always chosen to go with 35mm – it gives me the advantage where I most need it, and I enjoy (and am up to) the challenge of struggling with the small negatives in the darkroom. The 645 format tilts the balance a bit more towards fine printmaking, without much cost in the field. It’s a nice compromise. It’s also practical – sixteen 645 negs fit on to a single proof sheet, yet are generally large enough to “read” as contacts. I even like the aspect ratio (shape) of the neg. I like the fact that the 645 negative is still small, allowing the use of shorter lenses with better d.o.f. (for roughly the same angle of view on 6×7 as the RF645’s 65mm normal lens, a lens of 80mm focal length is needed).
Like the Fuji, the Bronica’s viewfinder is “turned on end” relative to what 35mm shooters are accustomed to. Its native orientation is vertical. I really liked the old GS645S’svertical format orientation back when I used that camera. Even when I shoot with 6x6cm square format, I tend to crop to a vertical 645-sized frame much of the time. The RF645 is reasonably small and it’s certainly well-balanced. It’s not heavy. (The RF645 is 810g and the normal lens 300g). The Bronica has a sizeable handgrip that felt good to me, one that leaves the hand in a comfortable position relative to virtually all the meaningful controls. I was immediately impressed with both the feature-pack and the control layout. Bronica endowed the camera with just about every feature I want in a camera, from aperture-preferred AE to exposure compensation, but they didn’t load down the cameras with fanciness and fripperies that I’d rather not pay for any laser beams or whirring micro motors or miniature fireworks displays in the finder. The controls on the camera back are particularly nice – everything you need within easy reach of the thumb (AE lock and a nifty, handy lever for exposure compensation), with locks only where you need them (on the ISO setting, for instance).