A look at two uniquely different medium format Fujifilm cameras: The Fuji GA645Zi Professional and Fuji GW690III Professional

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From the fully automatic point and shoot Fujifilm GA645Zi to the totally manual Fujifilm GW690III, Fujifilm’s medium format cameras encompass a wide range of types and functions and formats. I purchased both of these cameras based on recommendations from very different sources and as different as they are, I enjoy them both.

I first learned about the GA645Zi from Camera Obscura and I was immediately interested. I was impressed by the compact nature and its full automation. Sometimes you just need autofocus and auto exposure, especially for street photography and festivals. It’s been a great fit and a camera I use for very specific situations. It helps that it is easily transported in standard 35mm camera bags.


The much larger Fuji GW690III Professional came into my life after reading a Japan Camera Hunter article. I wanted a panorama negative that I could print in my 4X5 enlarger. So the typical wide-angle panorama cameras weren’t a good match being 6×12 or larger. Despite the suggestion of JCH (and others) that this is a carry-around-on-the-neck-strap camera, I prefer transporting the GW690III in a camera case (see below), and mostly use it for road trips.

So, that’s how these two cameras came into my life. But, what’s up with these quirky Fujifilm Cameras that seem like they came from different universes?

The Fuji GA645Zi Professional

I use this camera primarily for festivals and general street photography. It is also great for self-portraits if you have a long cable release (which I do). It produces 6×4.5cm images in a portrait orientation on 120 or 220 film, which is ideal for people pictures. I had read a scathing review of this camera here on EMULSIVE and had to wonder what the author was expecting.

I added this camera to my collection precisely because I wanted a medium format point and shoot camera. That’s what it is with no pretensions. An article by Anil Mistry review the GA645i, a slightly different model with no zoom feature, contains some interesting details. He really understands what the camera’s purpose is.

The GA645i (introduced in 1997) was the immediate precursor of the GA645Zi which first appeared in 1998.  The camera has a comfortable ergonomic feel and the shutter release is well placed. The lens retracts into the body when turned off and the image quality at all zoom ranges is excellent.

Additionally, I have some street photography from an immigration rally in Denver and more GA645Zi images posted here, which brings up my primary use for this camera: medium format street photography. The one-touch zoom and autofocus make it ideal for this. Of the two cameras discussed here, my GA645Zi is the only one that I typically carry on a neck strap.


I do carry it to locations in an F-Stop Backpack, usually with a back-up camera option inside, too. The GA645Zi gives me 16 portrait orientation 645 images that are perfect for people shots. Included in the examples below is an in-motion self-portrait taken using a very long cable release. I’ve experienced excellent battery life with the GA645Zi, having covered all-day events with it and never had the battery run out. Some additional sample photos below include interior spaces, generally without using the built-in flash. I was surprised by the results: the GA645Zi also works well in tight spaces.

The Fuji GW690III Professional

I bought my GW690III boxed like new and delivered from Japan in a timely manner. Unlike the GA645Zi, the GW690III is a completely manual camera with no light meter or electronic aids whatsoever. I’ve generally been shooting “Sunny 16” and bracketing +1 because I’ve been too lazy to take out my very functional Pentax Digital Spotmeter. Maybe next time, but my results have been pretty good without it.

The GW690III is a leaf-shutter, fixed-lens rangefinder. It, along with its predecessors, the GL690, GM670 and two prior GW690 versions have been dubbed “Texas Leicas” due to their resemblance to the Leica M series on steroids. The very earl “GL” and “GM” models featured interchangeable lenses but due to their size and weight, these models never directly competed with Leicas. The removal of the lens mount in the design of the GW690-series reduced the weight of the cameras and improved reliability. The first generation Fujica Professional GW690 first appeared in 1978.

Much to the consternation of long exposure lovers, the GW-series has a T-shutter setting rather than a Bulb setting. The difference is that the “T” requires a two-action long exposure — one push to open and a second to close — where “B” requires just one — push to open and release to close. In other words, with the Fuji’s T mode, you must press the shutter button/cable once to open the shutter, time the exposure and press the shutter button/cable a second time to close the shutter.

The lens for the GW690III is known for its high contrast. I had never thought about lenses affecting the contrast. But one can see the difference between my Mamiya 7 and this camera at the Canyon Lake Overlook, Superstition Wilderness, Arizona:

The Mamiya-7 image has a dark sky due to a dark yellow filter. The GW690-III has no filter. The perspectives are also different given the lenses being used: Mamiya 43 mm lens vs. Fuji 90 mm lens. But you can see that the Fuji lens has more contrast.

So what are some common reservations about this camera?

For me, the GW690III is not an easy camera to carry around. I have seen reviews that recommend GW690’s as being the largest medium format camera that is relatively easy to carry. However, that’s not what I bought it for. My Mamiya-7 satisfies that option. I keep mine in the camera case and only shoot it when mounted on a tripod. Being a fully manual camera, you have to consider that this means carrying a meter with you.


Another complaint that you will find is regarding the loud shutter noise. That’s just not something that bothers me.

So the GW690III only goes on short walks, say from the parking lot to an overlook site. I have loaded film ‘in the field’ no problem, but again I’m never far from the car.

Summary

How should one use these cameras? What conditions are they best suited for? The GA645Zi is obviously my medium format street photography camera. I’m not usually a fan of the portrait orientation 6×4.5 format, but for some people it’s perfect. The GA645Zi’s full automation makes it ideal for street photography. I set it on ‘A’ for auto, and go. I also did get some fine results with the Daniels and Fisher Tower that suggest I should do more interior studies too.

The GW690III came into my life after reading an article. I just found it fascinating. But I am still figuring out precisely when and where it fits into my photographic life. However, after some experimenting with Pinhole 6×9 cameras, there were times when I wanted a different, more precise image from a negative that size. I do prefer the GW690III to pinholes for road trips when you don’t always have minutes to spend on an exposure.

Ultimately, the camera you choose depends on what you intend to do with it.

~ Kate

Fuji GA645Zi Professional technical specifications

ManufacturerFuji Photo Film Co., Ltd (Japan)
Camera nameFuji GA645zi Professional
Camera type6x4.5cm format autofocus zoom camera
Format6x4.5cm (56x41mm), portrait orientation

120 roll film - 16 exposures
220 roll film - 32 exposures
Manufacture dates1998-2003
ViewfinderIlluminating window bright frame finder with automatic parallax correction

90% coverage at 3m
88% coverage at infinity
0.40-0.58x magnification

Lens cap on warning
ShutterElectronic, programmed autoexposure interlens shutter

B, 2-1/700 sec
Self-timer with 10 second delay
LensSuper EBC Fujinon 55-90mm f/4.5-6.9 lens (equivalent to 34-56mm on full-frame 35mm film)

1m closest focus
52mm filter thread
AutofocusHybrid active and passive autofocus system. 1m to infinity focus range plus manual focusing mode.
MeteringCenter-weighted SPD photocell with programmed auto-exposure, aperture priority and manual modes.

EV 3-19
FlashBuilt-in pop-up flash (GN12) plus hot-shoe
AccessoriesSoft case
Neck strap
Lens hood
Lens cap
Power2x CR123A/DL123A (appx 1600 frames without flash)
OtherFilm reminder slot
PC-Sync socket
Data print (in rebate)
Weight885g (without batteries)
Dimensions
(appx)
161x108.5x74mm (WxHxD)
User manual linkDownload from butkus.org

Fuji GW690III Professional technical specifications

ManufacturerFuji Photo Film Co., Ltd (Japan)
Camera nameFuji GW690III Professional
Camera typeMedium format rangefinder camera
Format6x9cm (56x83mm)

120 half length roll film - 4 exposures
120 roll film - 8 exposures
220 roll film - 16 exposures
Manufacture datesFujica GW690 Professional (1978-1985)
Fuji GW690II Professional (1985-1992)
Fuji GW690III Professional (1992-2003)
ViewfinderDouble image rangefinder patch (parallax corrected)
95% coverage at 1m
92% coverage at infinity
0.75x magnification
Rangefinder59mm base line length (44.3mm effective)
ShutterCopal #0 interlens shutter

T, 1-1/500 sec + release lock
LensEBC Fujinon 90mm f/3.5 lens (5 elements in 5 groups)

f/32 minimum aperture
1m closest focus
Integrated lens hood
67mm filter thread
AccessoriesSoft case
Shoulder strap
FlashX-Sync (hotshoe and sync contact)
OtherShutter actuation count (underside)
Spirit level (top plate)
Weight1,460g
Dimensions
(appx)
201mm x 119mm x 129mm (WxHxD)
User manual linkDownload from butkus.org

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5 thoughts on “A look at two uniquely different medium format Fujifilm cameras: The Fuji GA645Zi Professional and Fuji GW690III Professional”

  1. Great article Kate! Thank you for sharing your experiences with these cameras. I shoot all kinds of film (and digital cameras), and currently setting up 6×12 projects. I whittled my choice for 6×12 to a Cambo Wide 650 with a 6×12 film magazine. Since I digitize my negatives via lightbox and film holders, my films are easier to work with than with an enlarger. It is nice to read positive results regarding the autofocus of the Fuji 645ZI, and I can see that being a great choice for portrait and street work. The GW690III sounds like it might be best for a tripod, at least for me it would. Thank you again for the article.

    Reply
  2. Great article and some fantastic shots. I didn’t feel the Svein Olav Humberset article was scathing, more just a ‘why its not for me’ article. In fact that was the article that made me put it on my shortlist. The reasons he doesn’t like it are the reasons I do. Horses for courses.
    Your article has confirmed that its now top of my gas list.

    Reply
  3. I hope they have improved the mechanical quality of the 645. I had mine repaired twice in its short tenure with me — both times having to do with the film transport. The autofocus delay drove me nuts! I too do street photography and the delay was *way* longer than I could tolerate. (And as for working with 120 or 220 — I only wish that 220 was still available.

    Reply
  4. This article is one I’ve honestly been waiting for, I own the Texas Leica and after only putting five rolls I pretty much know where I want to use it and where it’s not functional; it’s a very methodical camera due to being a very slow camera, I can do portraits with it but I’d rather do landscapes.

    So I now really want to get the ga645 to cover street & portraits side. Thanks for this Kathleen

    Reply
  5. Good reviews! I have a different preference for street point-and-shoot but will leave that for another time. I have wondered about a GW690, loaded with 35mm as a super-panoramic camera – have you ever been tempted to try??

    Reply

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