The mighty Fujica Panorama G617 Professional was the camera that made me return to shooting on film. After I’d sold my film gear and gone all digital, I had thought that if I ever found a panoramic camera in a second-hand shop, that it might tempt me back to film – I was right.
I work in motion picture visual effects and in that capacity often get sent off on shoots around the world. During 2012’s Skyfall, we spent a lot of time in Turkey, and while we were in Istanbul I found a whole shopping arcade full of second-hand camera stores. In the window of one was a Fuji G617.
I thought about it for a couple of days, and then took the plunge.
It is a big camera. Well it’s a very wide camera. It has to be in order to take those lovely 6x17cm format panoramas. The Fuji G617 is entirely manual, has no means of metering or helping you know what focal distance you should set the lens to. The first two things you will need to buy if you don’t already have them are a light meter, and a Leica Disto or equivalent laser tape measure/rangefinder. The camera takes 120 or 220 film, and you get 4 (or 8) shots per roll. It is almost as basic a camera as you can get.
Did I mention it’s big?
You can handhold the Fuji G617, and I have a bit but in truth you’re better off putting the camera on a tripod. The lens is essentially from a large format camera — EBC Fujinon SW 105mm f/8 — with helical focusing, so it’s not particularly fast and your shutter speeds tend to be on the slow side unless there is very bright sunlight, or you like very fast film.
In 6×17 format the lens is wide (a fixed 105mm with an equivalent focal length on 35mm film of around 26mm). The focus ring lets you focus as close as 3m, so it’s not ideal for portraiture.
Film loading is pretty straight forward and handling is as simple as it gets. The viewfinder allows you to see the spirit level mounted on the roll cage over the lens. This is very handy as non-level horizons on an image this wide are brutally unforgiving.
Once you’ve framed up and taken the lens cap off, it’s time to pull out your distance finder — a disto, rangefinder or even another camera — and measure your focal distance, set that on the lens and put it away.
Next take a light meter reading, set the aperture and shutter speed on the lens, put your meter away, cock the shutter and — using a cable release ideally — take the picture. As there’s no mechanism to prevent accidental double exposures, it’s a good idea to wind on immediately after taking an exposure, so you always know that you have unexposed film ready to go.
It’s a camera that rewards a consistent working method when using it, and punishes you if you stray, (“Did I wind the film on after that last exposure?…”). When you fire the shutter the camera makes a slightly unsettling “Sproiiing” sound as the various parts of the shutter triggering mechanism inside the body vibrate. It’s not a flimsy camera, but it doesn’t feel super robust either. It’s very like the GW690 and similar Fujis in that regard.
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The camera should come with a centre grad ND filter to even out the heavy vignetting that the lens naturally produces. You need to account for that in your metering. My camera didn’t come with the filter, and it took me three years to track one down at huge expense, on eBay. So if you are considering this camera, I really urge you to make sure you get one with the filter included.
On the plus side, because the camera is so basic and cumbersome to use, it forces you to slow down and be more considered in your photography. It is a perfect antidote to rapid point and shoot photography. If you’re into action or nature photography this is probably the worst camera you could get. If you want to take huge landscapes on the other hand, it’s hard to beat.
As there are no batteries the camera just works, if you remembered film, you can shoot. The quality of the pictures is very good. The fixed lens is up to Fuji’s usual excellent optical standards, and because the negs are large, you can make big prints where the detail holds up. One other bonus of this camera is that it almost commands respect. People will get out of your way when you’re lining up a photograph with this monster.
On the down side, if you don’t like the lens, there’s nothing you can do because it’s fixed. The lack of focus and metering assistance means you have to bring a meter and a means of measuring distance if you want accurate focusing. In short, your already bulging camera bag will get even more crowded. As I said, whilst you could shoot handheld, it’s tricky, so this camera is really only suited to sitting on a tripod, so you have to bring that along too.
The G617 also doesn’t feel super robust. I never had a problem with mine, but I did feel the need to baby it in a way I just wouldn’t with a Nikon FM2 or a Leica M.
Printing negatives in the darkroom requires access to an 8×10 enlarger as the negs from the G617 are 17cm (7 inches) wide. No one makes a negative holder for the camera so you’ll need to make something yourself if you plan to print negs in a darkroom.
I liked (past tense, you can see where this is going) my Fujica Panorama G617 Professional and it was a good travel camera provided there was a generous baggage allowance for it and the other gubbins I needed to bring along in order to use it.
This was ultimately its downfall for me.
It was too cumbersome to use as a regular travel camera and in the end, I sold it and replaced it with a Horseman SW612, which has a better lens (in my opinion), takes almost the same size photographs, feels more robust, and is a lot more compact. For me, the Fujica Panorama G617 Professional was a great starting point in medium format panoramic photography, but there are better cameras out there for not that much more money.
Thanks for reading,
Fujica Panorama G617 Professional technical specifications
|Camera name||Fujica Panorama G617 Professional|
|Camera type||6x17 format direct viewfinder|
|Format||120/220 rollfilm, 4 or 8 exposures respectively|
|Viewfinder coverage||94% vertical field of view and 90% horizontal at infinity
100% vertical field of view and 93% horizontal at 3m
No close focus parallax correction
|Shutter||Seiko No.0 interlens shutter
B, 1 sec - 1/500 sec
|Lenses||Fixed EBC Fujinon SW 105mm f/8 (6 elements in 4 groups)
77.3° horizontal field of view equivalent to 25.8mm on 35mm film
80.3° diagonal field of view equivalent to 25.8mm on 35mm film
77mm filter thread
|Notes||4-stroke film advance lever
Automatic film counter reset
Double exposure prevention
Built-in shutter count (1 denotes 10 rolls)
Lens protector bar
Built-in spirit level
Top and front shutter releases
Two accessory shoes
|Flash||X-Sync (all speeds) via PC connection|
|273 x 147 x 201 (WxDxH)|
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The Horseman SW612 is an ergonomical Desaster……
Just read your commentary almost a year later but I have the 617 now and am very excited about owning one rather than borrowing it from Fuji.
I had a Hasselblad X-pan which I used on a baseball trip that took me to all 30 stadiums in 2000 MLB. On 2 occasions in the 1990s, I used the 617 for stadium panoramics. Obviously both have their strong points and some drawbacks, the 617 negative size is inconvenient in 99% of the dark rooms, while the negative of the X-pan is still a 35 mm format. Doing the math the area of the 617 negative ff is roughly 6.5 times that of the X-pan.
About 4 years ago, I unlocked the true beauty of the 617 negative and their amazing potential for enlarging them by scanning them full frame! The almost 3:1ratio of the 617 creates a magnificent wide panoramic, compared to the 1:2.4 X-pan panoramic.
On the other hand, the X-pan was far easier to use in most shooting situations, and far less bulky to carry on my baseball trip where luggage space was a premium as I traveled by Greyhound bus over 12000 miles,and hand-carried a duffel for clothing and a single bag for the X-pan and a SLR for action shots.
After scanning the 30 stadium collection, I donated the negatives to the baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown where they are part of their permanent collection.
I just wonder how you scan the negatives, using a scanner or with a digital camera. I “scan” the huge negatives by using a medium format digital camera, and usually take four shots per negative. That gives me a rather big file = computer trouble.. Great article! /Adam
Love the idea of a panorama camera. But because it requires an 8X10 enlarger (and I have a 4X5 enlarger) I went with the GW690-III.
@andrewrjw Same camera that brought me back to film. I evolved to a GX617 and an XPan
@andrewrjw I’ve heard you can live with only one kidney.
@andrewrjw Nice looker. Sounds fun as well. I’m all up for slowing down. And increasing neg size as well.
@andrewrjw You’re not helping, Em! 😝
@andrewrjw W O W ! I’d love to have it for a while!