Saturday, July 16, 2016

The Fuji GW690

Guest post from The Darkroomist!

The Fuji GW690 is a one trick pony, but it’s one helluva good trick. 

For starters the GW690 is a 6x9 camera with a wide-ish 90mm lens. It’s probably close to a 35mm lens on a 35mm camera. It’s wide and you can tell, but it’s not so wide that the perspective becomes a dominant part of the image. It’s  a subtle wide-ness. Being a fixed lens camera you’re stuck with the 90mm, however if you want a “super wide” angle alternative the Fuji GSW690 with a 65mm lens is a great option.

The GW690 is a rangefinder which has it’s pluses and minuses. The biggest minus is that you do not look through the taking lens. This can lead to a range of problems including leaving the lens cap on (just throw it away) or contrast filters, soft focus filters, you name it. Plus if you like things like gradient filters, vignettes, or montagers, this won’t be your best bet. While the camera does its best to compensate for parallax error, it’s still a good idea to pad the frame a little.

The biggest plus is sharpness. The GW690 being a rangefinder doesn’t need to utilize a lens that retro-focuses like SLR cameras do. This translates to increases in sharpness. In fact I’d say this is hands down the sharpest setup I own. It’s truly impressive. The Fuji 90mm/3.5 is ridiculously sharp and in the 6x9 format, it’s just stunning. More on that in a bit.  Lets dive into the camera for a minute next.

As stated previously the camera is a rangefinder. To focus it there is a spot in the center of the viewfinder that contains a composite image and is yellow tinged. To focus, you line up the two images and when they are perfectly atop one another you’re focused.  It takes a little to get used to but it has the benefit of having a bright viewfinder that’s capable even in low light conditions.

Another famous rangefinder camera is the Lieca. The Fuji GW690 has been affectionately nicknamed the “Texas Leica.”

For what it is, basically a just-short-of-large-format camera, the GW690 is easy to use and light. It’s also not as big an encumbrance as you might think. It’s not small for sure, but if you’re hiking, or urbexing, or doing anything that might require a conservative kit, this would be a candidate for a small kit with a  big punch.

Personally I feel the camera’s best use is for scenic images. Being a wide angle makes it limited for traditional portraiture. If you want to put a person in a scenic image, great! It’d do that well, but you’d never reach for this camera to do a head-and-shoulders shot. It’s just not the right tool for that job.

With the 90mm prime (non-zooming) lens you’re going to use the old shoe leather zoom.  This camera works best with subjects you can walk around and get close to. Buildings, waterfalls, mountains, interiors, trains, etc. Fairly big, fairly stationary stuff. This would not be a great camera for sports (well it might work for something like the Tour de France but not baseball), wildlife, or macro photography.  I’m on the fence as to whether or not this would make a good street camera. It’s not exactly discrete and 8 shots per 120 would be a bit limiting, but the wide angle and quiet shutter would make the “F8 and be there” a cinch.

This is a fully mechanical camera. There is no built in light meter and no batteries needed. There’s an accessory cold shoe on top of the camera. Flash sync is via a PC socket on the side of the lens. Being a leaf shutter the camera syncs at all shutter speeds.

One of my favorite things to do with this camera is pile on the sharpness.  If you have a good thing, you might as well run with it, right? I love putting Fuji Neopan Acros in this camera. It’s a tight, T grain film that has good latitude and the least reciprocity failure you’ll find anywhere. Soup that up with Xtol and your jaw will drop. We’re talking 16x20s with details for days.

That right there is a magic formula. Fuji GW690, Acros, developed in Xtol and printed 16x20. It is impressive. Just keep in mind that 6x9 is more rectangular and 16x20 (8x10) is squarer. Honestly when I print 8x10’s with this combination I have a hard time grain focusing because I can’s see the grain!

One quibble I have with Fuji’s cameras are the straps. The OEM strap is pretty wimpy. Granted it’s reasonably light but you might not want to walk around all day with this around your neck with the stock neck strap. It’s thin and not padded or stretchy at all. It’s you’re basic nylon woven strap in an unexciting, institutional shade of gray.  Now here’s the kicker, I looked into buying a Fuji 617 (6x17) camera that starts at roughly $2k. It has the same strap! C’mon Fuji! If someone is dropping “benjis” on a camera, throw in a spiffy strap.

Alas, my GW690 has been on the shelf for a little bit now. While I have shot some of my proudest pieces with it, it’s developed a film spacing issue. It’s almost always overlaps frame 6 & 7, With 6x9 you only get 8 shots so losing 25% of a 120 roll is just hard to swallow. Lately I’ve been caught in the fix or buy again dilemma. It’s almost a draw with GW690 being reasonably affordable with some units selling for less than $300. quoted me $250 for a CLA and film spacing fix.

I’ll probably buy it again, it’s just that good. There’s also a II and III version. They’re all basically the same camera with incremental improvements.  Also this camera can use 120 or 220 film. As a primarily black and white photographer I tend to use 120 film as Kodak TXP 320 was the last b&w 220 and has been discontinued for a few years now. (much to my chagrin)

About the Author:
Darkroomist is a self taught, Michigan based, photographer that’s been shooting film since 2003. Genres typically include urbex/modern ruins, pinup, and landscapes. He’s a multiformat photographer ranging from half-frame 35mm to 4x5. Like the name implies, most of his work is black and white which is processed and printed a darkroom. More of his work can be seen at his blog

1 comment:

s.c said...

Lately I was starting again on 120 film after a years of digital working from around 2000. I still had a Rolleicord and added an Yashica Mat and an MPP Autocord from England. I was looking for a 6x9 and I think that you review pulled me over. As an architecture lover I think that I need an wide angle version but we will see. Thanks for blogging your story.