The Fuji GSW690ii is not a camera you need, but it sure is fun to have. That being said, a lot is going for the camera and if you’re like me, and are a wide-angle junky who loves to shoot big and wide than a GSW690 is certainly a camera that will make you very happy. There’s a reason they have the nickname Texas Leica because everything’s bigger in Texas, and what’s better than a superb rangefinder, a magnificent rangefinder that shoots 6×9 and a wide angle lens that covers everything. Special thanks to James Lee for loaning out this beauty!
Format: Medium Format, 120/220, 6×9
Lens: Fixed, EBC Fujinon-W f=65mm 1:5.6
Year of Manufacture: 1985
There are several points about the camera that stand out as being the number one reason this camera is awesome. But honestly, given the size of the camera, I’m amazed at how light the beast is and how easily it fits in hand. You could easily spend a whole day shooting with the camera and not have it weigh on your neck at all. And along the same lines how easy is to operate, I didn’t even have to read the manual, and I had it mostly figured out. Not to mention on a cold winter’s day, the camera works great when your hands are in gloves. Another factor that helps the camera out on a cold day is the fact it’s mechanical, no batteries at all in this camera. The viewfinder is big and bright, with clear framing lines to help with image composition. And finally, the optics are superb. I’ve shot Fujinon optics on my 4×5 almost since I started working with Large Format and have never complained about it. And while the lens is only rated to f/5.6 at wide open, trust me, this isn’t a problem as even wide open and given the 65mm focal length everything in the frame will be in focus.
There are of course a few small items that do detract from this fantastic camera. The first being the rangefinder patch, given the size of the viewfinder the patch itself is rather small for the size and can easily be lost in low light or complex scenes, but it does have good contrast. Secondly, there’s the film loading, while easy given the camera’s size and style, and the film loads quickly, it is, however, the alignment of the starting line of the film that is hard to determine. I mean, if you’ve read the manual you can get it right, but in the camera itself, there’s no indication on where to put that line. Now if you mis-load the film you can still operate the camera, and shoot all eight frames on your 120 rolls, you do however lose that first frame. And finally, there are the exposure controls. While I can see the wisdom in making the controls for aperture and shutter different, the aperture control have two nice handles making it rather easy to adjust, the shutter control is recessed into the lens barrel and can be troublesome to operate.
Now, the camera doesn’t do anything automatically, so you will need to either use the Sunny-16 rule or carry around a meter, and if you’re shooting landscapes, a tripod might help also. I really should have used a tripod the two days I was out so I could see what the camera could do beyond f/5.6 (and I should take it out for one more spin). But the camera also handles wonderfully hand-held! Fuji did release three versions of the GSW690 cameras each of them would make an excellent choice, although some out there will say the original and the ii version are your best choices.
All Photos Taken in Oakville, Ontario
Fuji GSW690II – EBC Fujinon-W f=65mm 1:5.6 – Ilford HP5+ @ ASA-400
Kodak TMax Dev (1+4) 6:30 @ 20C