So, after a long time, you are finally ready for a larger format. Almost ‘large format’. To be exact: ½ size of the 4×5 large format. Or you are already shooting LF but need a camera that is faster to set up. Anyway, you are ready for the ultimate experience in photography. Welcome!
Here we go. This is ‘The Brick’ or ‘The Texas Leica’. The Fuji GW 690 III Professional with the famous EBC Fujinon 3.5/90mm
image © 1999-2011 by jens g.r. benthien
And the second Brick. The Fuji GSW 690 III Professional with the famous EBC Fujinon 5.6/65mm
image © 1999-2011 by jens g.r. benthien
Each of them comes with a weight of around 1.400 grams or 3.08 pounds net weight, plus tripod adapter, strap, cap, film. They are solid. Rock solid! When people say they can slam nails into a wall with a Nikon F4s, these cameras are good to hammer bolts into iron.
Fun aside, the Fujis will never let you down. Nowhere. They don’t feature any electronic gadget, not even a light meter. They are pure, lean cameras, made to follow your command anywhere, anytime.
Someone in a forum once said: You pay for the lens, Fuji throws in the film holder for free. Almost true, but the lenses are really breathtaking. If you know ZEISS lenses on a Hasselblad, translate the same quality and sharpness to the 6×9 format. The EBC Fujinon lenses delivers perfect sharpness, perfect color rendition, perfect contrast, they are flare and distortion free. All these advantages are achieved with a very precise 5 blade aperture, which – in my opinion – is amazing.
The GW 690 III with the EBC Fujinon 3.5/90mm is equivalent to a 40 mm lens on a 35 mm system, the GSW 690 III with the EBC Fujinon 5.6/65mm is equivalent to a 28 mm lens on a 35 mm system. That’s it. You can’t change the lenses, just the cameras. The advantage: always razor sharp images as long as you focus correctly. There is no problem with a bayonet or the flange distance – the fixed mounts don’t allow any movements.
If you want to see the very rare GSW 680 III, please visit the web site of Daniel Herlent. Scroll down the page a bit.
The camera bodies are made of steel and brass, covered with a plastic ‘leather’ and rubber coating (for the grip). They are definitely not made of plastic as some people say. Nonsense. They feature the same built quality as their predecessors, the GW 690 II and the GSW 690 II. Or the GW 670 II or the GW 680 II.
As opposed to a Hasselblad or Mamiya RZ the Fujis are rangefinder cameras, that means you focus through the viewfinder, aligning a bright patch over the main image. The smooth moving focus ring gives you the precision you need for even the finest alignment. The viewfinder is bright and clear.
Winding the film requires 2 strokes: the first to advance the film, the second to cock the shutter for the next exposure. The frame counter is made for 16 (220 film), 8 (120 film) and 4 exposures (sold only in Japan, and my guess is that only Fuji made this sort of film). Turning the pressure plate adjusts the film-flange distance for either 120 or 220 film, the latter being thinner.
The GW 690 III from top · image courtesy of Babar de Saint Cyr
Flash sync is up to 1/500 seconds, either via the hot shoe or a separate socket. The aperture and exposure rings are in the front part of the lens barrel, covered by the lens shade when it is in the retracted position. When you pull the lens shade out, you have access to a very nice system: once you’ve set your aperture and exposure, you can move both rings with one finger to change the aperture – the exposure ring follows automatically, keeping your EV at the same value. Or vice versa. Just apply enough pressure to move both rings and make sure they lock in into exposure settings, not the aperture settings, because there are no intermediate values for the shutter. Though many users complain the aperture ring features ‘only’ half stop locks, I know this is more than sufficient, even for slide film, if you use a precise hand held light meter.
My GW 690 III and me in the Axarquía national park in Andalucía. Now you know why I call these cameras ‘bricks’
My apologies for the weird looking sunglasses, but the reflections in my sunglasses are from a huge white limestone rock behind the photographer.
To use these cameras you need an external light meter like the Gossen Profi Six or the Sekonic L-608 or one of the newer models. Your best choice will be an incident light meter or a meter with incident and reflective metering because of the precision they deliver. Sure, shooting this way is considerably slower than firing a full frame DSLR with 8 frames per second. But it is faster than working with a 4×5 or even 5×7 LF camera. However, there are some drawbacks with the Fujis: using a filter – other than a screw in type – can be a pain. If you want to use Lee filters, you’d better look for an alternative if you use the Lee system very often. A polarizer filter is a lot easier to use, if you happen to have a Heliopan filter with the numbers on the front ring.
Though you definitely can shoot without a tripod, I recommend to use your tripod, because in my opinion it would be a waste of the large film format and the sharp lenses if you spoil the result with unnecessary movements. OK, the Fujis come with two shutter release buttons: one at the front and one on top, which accepts a standard wire/cable release. Both buttons can be locked with one switch. The advantage of the front shutter button: you won’t move the camera as opposed to pressing a button on top of the camera.
DOF table for the EBC Fujinon 3.5/90mm (click to enlarge)
DOF table for the EBC Fujinon 5.6/65mm (click to enlarge)
When you load a film, just make sure that you press your thumb on the feeding spool to hold the film tight. Advance the take up spool a bit, then use the lever until the mark on the film reaches the mark in the camera, close the back and do a few strokes to advance the film until the counter displays the number ‘1’. It’s really simple as that.
Fuji delivered a thin translucent piece of plastic with each camera – it functions as a ground glass if you open the back (without a film), for example to calibrate the camera for a nodal adapter or check the lens focus (which actually is not necessary). I’ve never heard about any complaints about the focus of these marvels. Only one complaint about a maladjusted rangefinder patch, which can be corrected in less then 10 minutes from any mechanically savvy technician.
The two sisters next to a Sekonic L-608 · © 1999-2011 by jens g.r. benthien
Forget the camera bags that came with the cameras – they are a joke. Forget the lens caps – get some good stuff, if possible snap-ons or metal screw-in caps to protect the lenses.
Unfortunately the Fujis don’t have a ‘B’ setting on the exposure ring, and the ‘T’ setting doesn’t react to a second trigger of the shutter release button like the real large format lenses. Either use the ‘hat method‘ to cover your lens after a long time exposure, or advance the lever. IMO and experience using the hat method delivers better results :-).
Image curtesy of antiquecameras.com
Both cameras feature a built-in bubble level right above the viewfinder to level the cameras horizontally. Though I wish Fuji would have integrated a two way level, I really appreciate this solution because I’m doing lots of architecture, interiors and industry. However, after several measurements I know that the hot shoes are perfectly leveled on these cameras. So if you need a very precise level for two directions, you should consider this nice electronic level from Seculine:
The advantage of this electronic level: its precision. While a standard bubble level delivers a precision of 35′, this one comes with a precision of 6′ (minutes of arc). Watch the video here:
Though the shutter is absolutely noiseless, each time you push the button you’ll hear a tiny ‘Pfhlong’: it is the frame counter mechanism or actuator in the bottom of the camera. The 3 digits don’t display the number of shots, but number of shots x 10. That means if the counter displays 500, you’ve fired the shutter 5.000 times and it’s time to send the camera to a CLA (Clean, Lubricate, Adjust), where the shutter will be replaced. However, because the shutter is robust, you can extend the maintenance interval to 10.000. Just make sure you’ll get the Fuji Repair Manual for these cameras, so that any savvy camera mechanic will be able to repair or adjust them.
The image quality is awesome. Just imagine: you have a slide of approximately 6 (!) times the size of a 35 mm slide on your light table. Throw in a fine grain slide film like the Fuji Provia 100F, a Fuji Astia, a Velvia, or a Kodak Portra 160 or an Ilford Delta 100. The results will blow your mind. Scanning these negatives or slides with a dedicated film scanner gives you a whopping 130 MegaPixels per image and a file size of around 650 MegaBytes per image @48 bit color depth. This is more than you’ll get with a 4×5 inch LF slide on a flatbed scanner.
The 6×9 Fujis are real marvels in the hands of an experienced photographer. I’ve read many posts in a variety of forums where people regretted that they’ve sold them. Getting one with a low figure on the counter is almost impossible. Be prepared to pay around Euro 1.200 up to 1.500 for a model in excellent shape. If this sounds expensive – well, that’s a relative number, because you’ll be able to pass on these cameras to the next generation.
If I will have the time I’ll post some sample images here the next weeks.
I really would appreciate if you would support me for this and future projects:
ermita dilar · © 1999-2011 by jens g.r. benthien
This is the full size image. See the little plate above the door at the right?
This is a 100% crop.
Camera: Fuji GSW 690 III Professional with EBC Fujinon 5.6/65mm
Film: Fuji Provia 100F, exposed to 100 ASA, tripod, scanned with a Nikon LS 9000 ED @ 4000 ppi and 48 bit color depth.
This means if you print this image at a size of 3,4 meters x 2,27 meters or 11,16 feet x 7,45 feet, you’ll end up with the same resolution as this tiny part of the image. Step back one meter or 3 feet and you won’t see any grain.
Mind boggling? Any questions?
metro station · palma [crop 2:1] · Fuji GSW 690 III
sculpture parque de la mar · palma [3:2] · Fuji GW 690 III
centro comercial alhsur · granada / la zubia [crop 2:1] · Fuji GSW 690 III
café varadero · palma [crop 3:1] · Fuji GW 690 III
bridal fashion shop · palma [3:2] · Fuji GW 690 III
banco gallego · palma [crop 1:1] · Fuji GSW 690 III
plaza de la reina · palma (pano stitched from two slides) · Fuji GW 690 III
embalse de bermejales · andalucía [crop 2:1] · Fuji GSW 690 III
huerta solar sierra nevada · andalucía [crop 3:1] (pano stitched from two slides)
· Fuji GW 690 III
borne at night · palma [crop 2:1] · Fuji GSW 690 III
all images © 1999-2011 by jens g.r. benthien
Don’t miss The Fuji Rangefinder Pages with tons of images made with the Fuji Rangefinders!
If you are interested in super wide angle photography for the 6×9 format, click here for some information about the Plaubel 69W ProShift Superwide.
Oh, and before you’ll say ‘nice images the camera has taken’:
cartoon curtesy of Aaron Johnson
(If you don’t understand this joke, I guess you are not yet ready for [pure] photography)
Watch Martin Schoeller performing professional assignments with his 6×9 Fujis: