For some time now, I have had a curiosity about the Fuji GW690. A medium format rangefinder camera, often dubbed the “Texas Leica” (apparently because it’s the size of Texas) with a 90mm f/3.5 fixed lens which equates to a field of view of approximately 40mm.
Browsing Ffordes one afternoon, I came across a Mk1 Fujica for reasonable money. Having sold some digital gear, I decided to take the plunge and scratch that itch. With large format being so costly, I figured that I would at least try out the largest medium format negative to reach a happy medium.
My first impression upon taking it out of the box was that it’s big! The term “Texas-size” is certainly appropriate. Despite its size though, it’s not particularly a heavy camera. I would go as far as to say that it’s much lighter than a FF DSLR with a lens, and it feels very good in the hand when in use which allows for easy handheld shooting. It’s fully manual, so no light meter here, and it’s built like a tank!
One of the learning curves for those that haven’t used a rangefinder before is focusing. Looking through the optical viewfinder, there is a small bright spot at the centre that shows horizontally displaced double images that snap together once you achieve focus. Having used Leica cameras for a few years, this way of working was very familiar. Just remember to take off the lens cap as you are looking through a viewfinder and not a lens! I’d read of a few people having a bit of a love/hate relationship with the rangefinder patch, which was a bit of a concern, especially as a glasses wearer, however, I found it very easy in use to work with. With rangefinders, I think they are simply your bag or not in regards to focussing.
The GW690 is also a fixed lens system, so you are stuck with the 40mm FOV unless you opt for a latter GSW690 which consists of a wider field of view (28mm equivalent). The 40-50mm way of shooting is perfect for me.
With 6×9 negatives, you are only getting 8 shots per roll, so as far as medium format cameras go, you won’t be getting the best value for money from a roll of film. If you want the best value medium format, then consider perhaps a Fuji, Mamiya, Pentax or Bronica 6×45 option. However, those 6×9 negatives are pretty damn impressive! I love that I’m able to shoot the same ratio as 35mm but from medium format. Given the size difference between the two, there’s just no contest in regards to image quality. To top that off, the lens on this camera is just superb. I was very impressed by the overall rendering, sharpness and the amount of contrast that came from the 90mm f/3.5 lens. It’s EBC coated too, so that makes it less prone to flare.
In 2021, you don’t buy a film camera with the idea that you will get uber sharp or arguably “better” image quality than that from a high-end digital camera, however, I’ve been very impressed by the results of the Fujica. Some will likely ask why do you want to shoot film in the first place, which is a question I’ve answered in an earlier blog.
Overall, I’ve had a great experience shooting with this camera and it’s not a purchase that I’ve come to regret. Whilst 8 shots a roll isn’t a lot, I wouldn’t let this put you off. It certainly makes you become slower and more methodical in your craft. I’m thinking carefully about metering along with my composition to make every shot count. I would say that this feels very geared towards being a landscape photographers camera, mounted to a tripod.
It can’t be denied that the GW690 is a bit of a special camera, and I can see why so many users are big fans of it. Truthfully, I would say that my Hasselblad still hits the mark overall. Using the two together, I really like working with the square format, and I absolutely love the rendering of the Zeiss lens, but this option gives you that familiar sized negative along with ticking that medium format box, making it a good option if coming from the world of 35mm where you are used to a 3×2 ratio.
It’s certainly going to be with me for a little while yet.