I've been shooting quite a lot with my Bronica since I got it last year. I brought it with me to the mountains, to the desert and to the shores of oceans and lakes all across the country (see my American Road Trip series on YouTube).
I sat down and I thought about some tips I would've loved to know about when I started shooting it. Hoping they help someone, here they go in no particular order.
1.- Lock the shutter after every shot
Ok, maybe not after every shot, but at least when you put your camera away in your bag.
This tip isn't about avoiding accidental black shots: the Bronica SQ-Ai won't shoot if the dark slide is inserted, so you don't have to to prevent these accidents.
But as you might know, the Bronica SQ-Ai supports metered prims finders and it will collect information from the lens and film back every time you press the shutter, passing it over to the prism if you are using one.
Meaning: if you have your Bronica in your bag and the shutter gets accidentally depressed, it will be metering the whole time until you run out of batteries.
Just lock your shutter and you won't have this problem.
2.- Don't use bulb, use the T-mode of your lens
Another battery-related tip. This is a tricky one, and I only found out about it after reading the manual.
One of the reasons why I went with the SQ-Ai instead of the SQ-A is that it has bulb mode. But I don't use it, ever. Why not?
Turns out the camera will use the batteries when shooting at any speed to keep the shutter open, including bulb. That might not be a problem when shooting long exposures of just a few seconds, but if you like to take much longer exposures like I do, up to 40 minutes or even 4 hours, then this will kill your batteries in no time.
Instead, use the T-mode of your lens. This is a little switch on the bottom of the lens that allows you to keep the shutter open for as long as you want, until you move the switch back to its normal position. This won't use your batteries!
Downside: you have to touch your lens to move the switch back to "A mode", so don't use this if your exposure is not longer than, say, 30 seconds. Otherwise the shakiness might ruin your shot.
3.- be careful with the mirror lock-up switch
The Bronica SQ-Ai has, as many of (D)SLRs do, a mirror lock-up switch to lock the mirror in position to avoid camera shake when taking a photo with a slow shutter speed. It's a very useful feature that I use every time I take an exposure of 1/60th or slower.
But while useful, you have to be very careful with this switch. It has happened to me somewhere between 5 and 10 times, that I'm putting the camera back in the bag and this switch gets turned accidentally, effectively moving and locking the mirror. You can still take the photo, but you can't see what you are taking...
4.- Get a Waist Level Finder, or a Prism Finder. Have both!
My camera came with a prism finder, but I knew I wanted to get a waist level finder. I loved to compose shots from above using the Rolleiflex, so I could only imagine how great that experience would be with the super bright Bronica's finder.
So after a few weeks, I pulled the trigger on one of them. It took me a while because they are really expensive (got mine for $100) for what they are: just some plastic and metal. But it was so worth it! I use it 90% of the time, if not more.
The waist level finder lets you compose lower shots, and they offer a better experience in general. I love to hold my camera at my chest's height, and it also useful when using a tripod.
But a prism finder is also very useful. Some times you have the camera higher, like when you are trying to avoid a fence or shooting through a window (think of a car or a train).
So both finders have different use cases, and both are very handy to have in your arsenal.
5.- B&W shooter? Use color filters
While I've had color filters since before owning this camera, I never allocated the time to learn how to use them. But after several weeks experimenting with them, I can say I'm in love.
Let me be clear: a color filter won't necessarily make your photos better, but they let you be creative with your photography.
I'll be talking about color filters in more detail soon, but you can check out this other post to see an example: Orange Filter example: Monument Valley, Arizona.
6.- Have always 2 backs loaded with film
I've already talked about this on my "What's in my camera bag?" video, but it's worth repeating it.
I have two film backs, always loaded with film and ready to go, because sometimes it's just not possible to load new film in the field. It might be too cold, or it might be snowing or raining. There are a thousands reasons why you might not be able to do it, and that's why I suggest you to have always a second back to switch if the moment comes when you run out of film.
7.- Use the "depth of field preview" switch
Again, this is a feature that many (D)SLRs have.
The camera usually uses the widest aperture available on the lens to focus, no matter what aperture you have selected so you can be more accurate. Once you press the shutter button, the lens will close down to whatever aperture you have selected.
This means that the depth of field of your photo won't look like what you are seeing through the finder when you are composing your image.
To get a preview of what it will look like, you can press the "Depth of Field Preview" switch on the side of your lens.
For someone like me who came back to film after a few years shooting mirrorless cameras (no need for previewing your depth of field with those cameras), it was a nice surprise to see this feature on the lenses.