David Hume | Jul 10, 2018 | 6
Camera review: Fuji GA645i – “The Portrait Machine” by Anil Mistry
In this piece, I will be reviewing the Fuji GA645i 6×4.5 medium format camera. It’s my personal story on how I came to acquire one, and my thoughts on the camera – think of it as a passionate creative review.
I won’t be getting super technical, as that’s not me. But there will be pictures, so stick around. Here’s what I’ll be covering:
Firstly, a bit about me – I really like cameras – over the past three years I’ve built up a little collection of shooters – from classic SLRs and rangefinders to cheap-but-fun point and shoots. I love them as much for their looks as I do their abilities.
I’m not a film snob – I shoot digital too, and love both formats for what they bring to the medium of photography. I am always on the lookout, however, for those film cameras that seem to bring form and function together in unique ways. Those strange and beautiful mutations in the evolutionary tree of film photography… Here’s what I cover in this article:
Table of contents
Form, function and Fuji
As cameras moved from being purely functional items to mass consumer products, the manufacturers started to develop their own aesthetics – a creative journey that I enjoy following. A good example is Olympus: if you follow their cameras from the trip 35 to the XA to the AF-1 to the Mju, you can see a steady refinement in product function – each getting smaller, sharper and more automated than the last – but overlaid with the Olympus product design aesthetic of the era in which each was made.
The Trip 35 couldn’t look more 60’s, whilst the XA could’ve been a prop in Ridley Scott’s Alien…Olympus seemed to have a very clear focus (no pun intended) behind the functional development of their product range, and their form factors always ensured that they maintained a stylistic relevance in every decade.
Now when I look at Fuji’s cameras, they seem to come from another place – a mad, crazy, experimental, no-holds-barred place where they just tried stuff out, attempting to forge little niche markets where they could, and seeing what was possible for the hell of it. This must have been quite confusing for consumers at the time, but from a modern day perspective, looking back on their creations, I can’t help but marvel at what they came up with – cult cameras at every attempt.
They remind me of a Walkman-era Sony. Having fun and innovating for the sake of it, creating product niches where they never existed before. Fujifilm cameras always excite me because some of them are just NUTS. – check out the K28 construction industry camera to see what I mean.
The search for automation
The Fuji GA645i is a great example of this “Fujiness“. I came across it last year as the result of a little rambling journey of discovery. I like manual cameras, but I love a bit of automation during use- my main shooters are the Leica M7 and the Nikon FM3a, both are cameras with aperture priority, which I like working with when shooting street portraits.
After trying out fully automatic compact point and shoots (Yashica T5, Olympus MJU II, etc) I wanted an AF point and shoot camera that felt a bit more hefty in the hand like an SLR – something that was simple to use and, compact and quiet but always gave beautiful results- and with a good viewfinder – which these P&S’s always lacked. This search led me to the Konica Hexar AF – a camera which I think is just ace, to use the correct technical term.
Not long after this, I decided to plunge into the world of medium format. With street portraits in mind, I wanted something that could be used like an SLR, and again with aperture priority. The Mamiya 645 Pro tl was the result of my search. Now I enjoy using this camera, but it’s not the best medium format for street portraits. It’s heavy, noisy and rather imposing. People can get scared by a massive camera and I realized that I needed something that gave me the quality of medium format, but with the compact form and automation of a point and shoot.
In short, I wanted a medium format Konica Hexar AF.
This singular thought helped to focus my search, and after much advice from a whole range of camera forums (and boy do they love giving advice) I ended up with the Fuji GA645i- a camera that I simply love to bits.
The Fujifilm GA645i was made by Fuji in 1997, as the successor to the GA645. The difference between the two, as far as I’m aware, is that the “I” has an additional shutter release button on the face, and it may be a little quieter/ faster to focus than the original – according to the internet.
- The GA645i has a 60mm f/4 lens with a minimum focal distance of 70cm. (FYI, there’s also a version with a zoom lens- the GA645zi: 55-90mm).
- The shutter is electronically controlled with speeds from 2 secs to 1/700 sec.
- The camera has Programmed auto, Aperture priority and Manual modes.
- It has a self timer with 10-sec delay.
- The camera can print a whole variety of shot info on the edges of the negatives – analogue EXIF data if you will.
- the camera itself is approximately 16 cm long, 11cm tall and 6cm deep.
- There is a pop up flash in the centre, and also a hotshoe for external flash.
- Both strap lugs are on one side, which makes sense for a camera that’s a bit bigger than an SLR.
The camera is incredibly simple to load – the roll goes in the back, you pull it across to feed into the empty roll, and when you turn the top dial, it automatically takes up the slack and sets you up for the first shot. This is a big bonus, and compared to faffing about with multiple backs and dark slides etc, this makes it easy to shoot with medium format.16 shots per roll, by the way.
You can set the film speed by clicking to the ISO selector on the rear dial and turning the top dial to choose your setting. This is dead simple. As a male, I’m a firm believer in ignoring manuals and expecting things to just work the first time I try them, dammit. And this one does. So top marks Fuji for making a very intuitive, almost childlike medium format camera- you saw me coming.
The GA645i’s finder is in portrait format, something that I just love. Holding my Mamiya 645 on its side to shoot portraits added another dimension of wobble, but with the Fuji I just point- and shoot. When I focus on a subject, the framelines move in and out to show the area that my frame will cover, and a digital display shows the aperture setting, shutter speed and subject distance- in that order- along the bottom of the display. By half pressing the shutter button I can lock my focus and then reframe, fully depressing the button to take a shot.
Speaking of childlike, this is something else that I love about the camera – it’s made of light but tough plastic, feels chunky and easy to hold, and there’s something inherently toy-like about it that I love.
Unlike most medium format cameras that force you to respect them and take your time and muck around with endless dials and switches and partake in a quasi-religious ceremony to set up a shot, the GA645i begs you to pick it up and just get shooting. In fact, it’s easy to forget that you’re shooting with medium format, and you can – and will – burn through a roll of film very quickly because it’s fun to use.
The noise that this camera makes when focusing has received a lot of attention, but I’m not bothered by it at all. Yes, it makes a bit of a mechanical sound when the lens moves in and out to find its focus – so what? I think it sounds pretty cool and robotic, and compared to the super loud shutter sound and auto wind racket of my Mamiya 645, it’s a lot more relaxed. It’s really not a big deal, and that’s the price you pay to get a 1997 medium format point and shoot to do the focusing for you.
The perfect carry
If I take my Mamiya 645 out for the day I usually have to pack some Ibuprofen for the inevitable moment later in the day when my back starts to play up. This Fuji weighs around 800g (no film or batteries), and it’s so easy to shove in a bag or have around your neck all day without any problem. This again makes it into a rare thing- a medium format autofocus camera that you can carry with you every day. Not pocket sized, but small enough not to get in the way.
This camera has a “SUPER – EBC FUJINON 1:4 f=60mm lens” according to the writing on the front of it. F/4 may not sound very fast, but remember that this is a medium format camera, and once you see the results that it’s capable of you won’t mind because it is super sharp, and renders beautiful images.
The 60mm lens equates to roughly a 35mm lens on a 35mm camera, so very useful for street, portraits and landscapes. When I shoot portraits, the image quality I get from this camera is just staggering – crisp and full of detail but not overly clinical. It’s great taking shots with the flash too, and this is something I really enjoy, as it fills in a treat without looking too harsh. It’s not powerful enough to really light up a very dark scene, but the hot shoe is there if you want to add more light.
The autofocus is fast, but not super fast by modern day standards so you need a bit of a steady hand. I’d rate it as similar in speed to my Konica Hexar AF. Fast moving objects may be a challenge with this camera, but I don’t think it’s designed for that kind of photography anyway. If you want to nail a superb portrait or a magnificent landscape, you’ll be fine.
You can also manually focus with the camera, by setting the distance using the top dial. So rest easy, luddites.
So far, my favourite film to use with it has been Kodak Portra 400, closely followed by Fuji Acros 100 – both result in wonderful shots. I’ve even started to take a bit of an interest in landscapes, as they come out so well on this portrait format camera.
Speaking of image quality…
I told you this wouldn’t be a super-technical review…
- This camera is just FUN to use- a word that’s not usually attached to shooting in the monastic world of medium format- don’t get me wrong, I love a bit of Zen- I have a Yashica 635, a Weston Master light meter and loads of Fomapan 400 that I love taking out for some S-L-O-W photography when the mood hits me, but when I just want to go out and play in an unencumbered way, the Fuji GA645i is the one. Light, easy to use, with constantly good results.
- This camera was made 20 years ago, which is relatively new in point and shoot terms, so if you find one in good condition it should last a while.
- The GA645i is a great conversation piece- when I shoot subjects on the street with it, they are always fascinated by its familiar yet strange looks, and it’s an entertaining object to shoot with- it adds to the theatre of street portraits, putting a smile on the face of my subjects and providing a great conversation point – which is always useful when you’re asking random strangers if you can take their picture.
- It’s also quick to use- the clue is in the name- point… and shoot. Done. Picture taken, on to the next shot.
- It’s easy to take out. This is really important- there’s nothing sadder than a wonderful camera that isn’t used as the result of some quirk in its design that stops it from being an everyday shooter. This camera begs to be used because of its great design and its great results. Childlike in its simplicity, but professional in its results.
- It just looks really cool. I guarantee that this will become a cult camera, and it’s currently available for around the same price as a Konica Hexar AF
So there you have it. My rambling views on the Fuji GA645i. Do check it out online, and I hope that in the process you’ll discover Fujifilm’s other gems- they really did make some delightfully different cameras and I want them all but for now, the GA645i will do the job, and then some.
~ Anil Mistry
|Camera type||Single Lens Reflex|
|Film format||120/220 film (15 or 30 exposures)|
|Image format||6x4.5cm (portrait orientation)|
|Viewfinder||Illuminated frames with 90% field of view, bright viewfinder with automatic parallax correction.|
Af confirmation, aperture, exposure, shutter speed, flash, distance and shutter actuation display.
|Lenses||Fujinon Super-EBC f=60mm 1:4, 6 components, 7 elements.|
(35mm equivalent focal length on 35mm film)
|Focus||Hybrid active and passive AF with manual override and focus lockm|
|Shutter||Electronic focal plane|
B,2 seconds to 1/700
Max 1/400 sec available between f/4 and f/9.
|Additional functions||Auto loading with auto ISO setting for "Easyload" film.|
+/- 2 EV exposure compensation (1/2 stop increments)
10 second self timer
|Metering||TTL with center-wieghted SPD photocell. |
Supports EV 3-19 and operates in all camera modes.
|Weight||815g (no batteries or film)|
0mm x 0mm x 0mm
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