FILM FRIDAY: The Fuji GL690, a review.
By Dirk Dom
“Nonsense, Bond-san. That Leica is for a child. Here, use my Fujica instead!”
— Tiger Tanaka
I love medium format. I love film. And I love rangefinders. I have a Mamiya 7 and an Xpan. My good friend Ivo, during a slight attack of G.A.S., had bought himself a Fuji GSW 690 III. It’s a very nice camera with a 65mm lens which shoots a 6×9 negative. The lens is fixed. When I was researching these cameras on the Net, I discovered that an earlier version, the Fuji GL690, had interchangeable lenses. And the shutter, which was rather loud in my friend Ivo’s GSW, was almost silent in this one.
So, it was my turn to get GASsy. On the Ebay.com, I found a few of these GL 690 camera’s in Japan, one, supposed in working condition, for €200. That was no price at all. It had the 100mm f/3.5 lens on it, and I decided to buy it. A few weeks and custom’s taxes later, I had this ‘Texas Leica’ in my possession.
Oh, boy, did it look used. 45 years of hard use. It had been sort of repainted, brassed through, and the selector screw for using the shutter with the lid open was completely worn away. I fixed that by gluing on a stainless steel screw head. When trying it out, big disappointment. In shooting mode, which they obviously hadn’t tried out, the shutter only worked after several tries in a row if it worked at all, and I had to push it extremely hard, making aiming impossible. Send it back?
I decided to operate on it. The rewind lever off, four screws loosened and the top came off, revealing the shutter/transport mechanism. After looking for a while, I discovered that the interlock for the shutter which prevents the shutter being released after the first cocking (you need to transport twice for every shot) didn’t work properly. It was a little cylinder on a weak spring which was supposed to move aside but didn’t. The next three hours I systematically tried to stop this cylinder to move in the way by blocking several things, but everything in that mechanism did two or three things at the same time, so I wasn’t successful.
At last, the bright idea: I used a bit of copper wire to put the cylinder permanently aside and this was a success. Now, the only thing not working was the interlock at the first cocking, allowing the camera to fire then, but that was no problem. And I had done no permanent damage. The rangefinder was totally spot-on, so I could start shooting. But let’s first look at ‘The Beast’, as it’s nicknamed.
Six by nine negative. Oh, my!!!
It weighs about five pounds. That is at the limit of what I can hold to my eye without shaking and it’s pushing it. I had a Mamiya RB, which was at least as heavy. Because it had a waistlevel finder I had no problem using the RB handheld as it’s much more stable. Luckily the Fuji has two release buttons.
The Fuji works like a 35mm rangefinder, with two exceptions: first, it has these two release buttons, one on top and one in front. I don’t understand why other camera’s don’t have a release in front, as I use this one all the time, it’s just much more natural.
A second thing is that the shutter and diaphragm setting are rings on the lens because it’s got a leaf shutter. You can move the two at the same time, keeping exposure constant. Brilliant!
Loading the camera is extremely easy.
Since I obtained the Fuji in midwinter, I didn’t feel like wasting film in the lousy light. Only now, two months later with weather getting brighter, I tried it out. I got to the Forest of Ranst with four films Tmax 400 (32 exposures), exposed at 800 ASA because I love grain, measuring with a Pentax spotmeter, thus being not completely mechanical. Yellow filter. Developed normally in Tmax developer, scanned on an Epson V750 at 2,400 PPI, which can give me a 24 inch (60cm) print at 300DPI. Levels and burning and dodging in Photoshop. 6×9 negative is creamy smooth with subtle changes in tone. Oh, my. Grain, even with the 800 ASA exposure, is almost invisible, except in the skies, which is exactly what I like.
Anyway, here’s some results:
At f/3.5, the 100mm is a true bokeh machine.
1/30 second was pushing it.
What’s the verdict?
The Mamiya 7 is more hand holdable. But, 6×9 instead of 6×7!!! I like this aspect ratio.
This camera also mounts a 50mm lens, equivalent to a 20mm on full frame. (The 100 mm is equivalent to 40mm) It’s a rare and expensive lens, but I long for it. In fact, I don’t need it, because I have the 43mm for the Mamiya 7. I’ll see.
Next thing I’m gonna do is put some Fuji Velvia through it!!!
Hope you enjoyed this,