Ladies and gentlemen of The Internet, I present, for your viewing pleasure, The Biggest Camera Ever* Blimey.
*terms and conditions apply.
I’ve wanted one of these for ages, and after several months of working too hard and playing too little, I’ve been out and bought one. And it’s totally got nothing to do with a friend of mine buying a posh Leica and me getting rangefinder envy.
So, the Fuji, or Fujica GW690 to use it’s Sunday name. It’s a medium format fixed lens rangefinder camera that shoots ridiculous 6×9 format images on 120 rollfilm. It has a coupled rangefinder so you focus by aligning two overlaid images in the viewfinder – the mechanism inside couples the rotation of the lens focus ring to a moving mirror mechanism that is all calibrated together, so aligning the images means the lens is in focus without you actually seeing through the lens itself. The advantages are many to this approach, no need for a reflex mirror housing or pentaprism on top (as on the Pentax 67) and a simple leaf shutter can be used within the lens as you don’t need to look through it between shots.
The result of all this is a camera that requires no batteries and has only 5 controls. Aperture, shutter, focus, release, wind-on (and a catch for opening the back). It doesn’t have a meter, but then none of my medium format cameras do, so that’s not an issue.
You get 8 shots to a roll. Now that doesn’t sound like much, but when you consider the shear acreage of film you’re getting in each shot it’s not so bad. I’ve written before about how I think constraints are a good thing in photography for focussing your effort and making you think more, and so 8 shots per roll is an interesting number. With most rolls I shoot there are usually a duff frame or two, and from the remainder I end up printing or uploading around 6 to 8 of the best examples from the roll, so 8 shots isn’t limiting me, it’s just making me try really hard to get 6 to 8 good images each time.
On the first roll I got 4 I like, 3 that are a bit mediocre and one that is totally underexposed. So I’m on the right track!
The 4 good ones are shown below.
I like the challenge of a very limited number of shots. Each has to become an image in it’s own right if one is to tell a story or capture the essence of a place in only a handful of shots. No room for trying a few and picking the best in post-production.
A story in 8 shots. I might have just invented a new Saturday afternoon project there…
And finally to the lens, it is a lovely sharp 90mm f3.5 that gives a field of view around that of a 35 to 40mm lens on a regular 35mm format camera. The aperture and shutter speed rings are on the lens itself (as the aperture and leaf shutter diaphragms are right there within the lens elements) so it’s nice and easy to set everything, with the added advantage of being able to turn both rings together without changing the exposure i.e. if you meter and set 125th @ f8 then turning both dials left or right gives you 250th @ F5.6 or 60th @ f11, all the same overall exposure. It’s a trick is first saw on a Hasselblad lens.
The 6×9 image ratio is the same basic 3:2 ratio as a 35mm film frames, what this camera gives you over 35mm is the potential to capture much finer detail in your images from the larger negative size, and much greater control over depth of field to do cool stuff with.
My camera is one of the original GW690 series made sometime between 1978 and 1985. There were follow-on II and III versions, but very little actually changed between. For a 30ish year old camera it feels very well made and my example has obviously been well looked after. It has a frame counter on the base that indicates about 1500 shots have been taken with it, about 190 rolls of 120 film – about 4 per year over it’s life. I’ve shot three films through it already, so it’s definitely getting more of a workout that it is used to.
So there it is, the Fuji GW690. It’s a very lovable camera with lots of character that has proved to be a great conversation starter. And it says Professional on it, and everything.
I’m going to have a lot of fun with this one.