dante stella stories photographs technical guestbook
|"Nonsense, Bond-san. That
Leica is for a child. Here, use my Fujica instead!"
In depth: Fuji Fujica G690BL 6x9 Rangefinder Camera
Midsection of 6x9 negative; negative; 50x enlargment
Overview: Remember when you had that GI Joe figure and the guns and walkie-talkies always seemed too big? I call this the Barbie-cam because it is so big I look like a Ken doll by comparison.
Optional accessories shown
Can this Fuji 690 eat this baby M3? This comparison is with normal lenses: the Leica has a 50/1.4 Nikkor and the Fuji has its monster 100/3.5 Fujinon.
Generalities: Rangefinder camera, 1967-1974. This is the second of many Fuji 6x9 (here, 55x85 frame) rangefinder cameras. The G690 was the first one. This camera came in black lacquer and chrome finishes. It was followed by the GL690, which had a front shutter release as well. Fuji also made a G670 6x7 model that took the same lenses (although it was still the same overall size). It was followed by the GM670, which aside from the format essentially similar to the GL690.
Lenses for these cameras are breech-mount bayonet, with coupled RF cams and Seiko #1 shutters. Lenses are as follows. All filter sizes are 72mm. Thank God.
Some of these lenses morphed into lenses for the Fuji GX680 SLR system.
Viewfinder: The viewfinder is a 0.7x combined viewfinder/rangefinder. The central focusing spot is the traditional fuzzy-edged rectangle. Framelines are projected, a la Leica, and the finder shows the 100mm and 150mm frames, each clearly labeled. The finder not only compensates for parallax (like the Leica), but it also shows a shrinking field size as you get closer. There is also a red dot indicator for when the dark slide is closed.
The viewfinder is made of two cemented solid prisms with a gold interference system between them. The RF image is carried Leica style by a large rectangular prism that pokes through the frameline reflector. The setup is quite sophisticated, but the RF spot does not have the hard edges that the Leica finders have.
Rangefinder and limitations: The rangefinder has roughly the same physical base length as the Leica M3 (about 68mm). The lenses for this camera, due to their relatively small relative apertures, do not tax the RF at all. I have found that the camera focuses accurately all the way down to the 1m minimum of the 100mm lens.
Nice design features: 120/220 counter switch is on top (pressure plate reverses); built-in darkslide for changing lenses (looks a lot like a Leica M shutter when closed; interlock to prevent lens removal with darkslide activated; film reminder pocket on back. Tripod socket is at center of gravity between lens and body, in a much better place than on the new Fuji 690s.
Odd design feature: Setting for 2x3 sheet film use (with only 8 shots per 120 roll, I guess you would need brain damage to want a sheetfilm option that is only usable if you carry around a changing bag. Why?! This feature is downplayed on the GL690 and GM670 by virtue of a smaller, darker selector. Also, strange BLP symbol on front (=Breech Lock Professional).
Odd design limitations: None, except maybe the Brobindangian proportions of the camera. Lenses like to be removed while cocked. But unlike Hasselblad, the camera will not jam if you forget to do that. You'll just blow a frame.
Shutter: Shutters are mounted in each lens and cocked via a ball-bearing race that connects to the double-stroke lever film advance. I believe these are Copal #1, with speeds of B, 1 sec - 1/500 sec. Shutters have five-blade apertures (the number of blades matters very little with this format). Unlike the current Fuji 690s, this model has a true "B" setting (no annoying T-switch-the-shutter-speed-to-close-shutter). The shutter is much quieter because it does not have the clackety total-frames counter like on the current 690s.
In Operation: This camera makes you think if only for a second that 6x9 photography is easy. The great thing about this camera is that it feels like a (huge) 35mm camera and has all the controls where you expect them (except the shutter speed control ring on the lens, which is probably more familiar to Olympus users. Loading is via a swing back (eat your heart out, little Leica) and the spool holders lock in the out position for east loading. The double-stroke advance makes it relatively easy to wind. The VF is bright and the RF is accurate. The best thing you can say about any medum-format camera's operational aspects is that it is transparent coming from 35mm, and this the G690BL is. Of course, it can be hard to forget that the camera and normal lens push five pounds! If you ever take one of these on a trip, don't carry it loaded with film, because the security people will really want to see inside a camera of this size.
Flash: Flash operation is straightforward; like any leaf-shutter camera, the G, GL and GM series synch at all speeds. There is no hot shoe, and all conections are through the lens. Not exactly the best place to have a PC cord, but not that bad, either.
The Vivitar 283 is a great flash for on-camera work, because it is lightweight and powerful. My example with high synch voltage did not blow out the electronics on my AE lens. Not that I would expect it to. The Metz 45 series is good for off-camera flash, but be aware that the bracket is forward of the bottom of the camera. This is bad in terms of having to really screw down the bracket, but good in that you can change film (and lenses) without disconnecting the whole thing.
For a discussion of fill-flash, click here: Fill Flash for Amnesiacs.
Output on film: Since this is a proprietary system, system performance merits a little bit of discussion. The Fujinon lenses are, in a word, stupendous. The 100, when coupled with a film like Tri-X, is a superstar (see picture below) capable of tonality you only dream of with 135 Tri-X. That's to say nothing of the resolving power - and consider that you are only enlarging a little over 2 times to get a 5x7 (compared to 5x for 35mm). If you get close up and wide-open, the 100 becomes a bokeh machine. Back up enough to get a little depth of field and you see tremendous volume. The 180 is a lens I love for portraits precisely because it has that Sonnar feel to it. I have not tried the 65 or 150.
Output on paper: The nice thing about 6x9 with modern lenses (I am not talking about the front-cell Tessars of the Super Ikonta/Moskva/etc days) is that you will never be able to make a print big enough to show up optical defects. The Fuji system goes nicely onto paper and produces grainless, tonally-beautiful pictures. The catch is that you need to use a 6x9cm enlarger - at a minimum. Getting everything out of the lens also means using a glass negative carrier. Dust is not really a problem with glass carriers, and spotting is not an issue because the magnification is very, very low, even at 8x10 (it would be like seeing dust on a 4x6 print from a 35mm neg). I prefer the Durst enlargers, and for this format, the Durst 609. It goes to 11x14, has a mechanically-masking glass carrier that does up to 6.5x9cm (translation: edge printing on negs), and like all Dursts, has a one-piece housing that prevents negative/film-plane alignment problems. I did just upgrade to an AC 800, which is a lot bigger and harder ot use, but can make much bigger enlargements.
Balance/feel: This camera, which is composed of a heavy brass body and heavy alloy lenses balances perfectly with the 100 and 180 lenses. Feel, as you can imagine, is very, very solid. The black lacquer finish is simply beautiful. Who would have thought that just six years later Leica would be making that awful "black chrome?"
Compared to other 6x9 items: After doing some negative comparisons through a loupe, I have come to the conclusion that the 100/3.5 Fujinon blows the doors off the any of the Super Ikonta Cs, and the Soviet clones. It's not hard to imagine why: keeping 6x9 folders in proper alignment is not easy, and most of them had front-cell focusing lenses, which did not help much. In theory, a 100/3.5 Graflex XL Tessar should be close, but the problem in that system (and my Century Graphic, which had it) is that the rollfilm backs have a really hard time keeping 120 film flat. And my Singer-Graflex RH-8 back with the pinch rollers was more of a 6x7 (55x78mm). In terms of the ease of handling, nothing in the 6x9 world matches the Fujis.
Accessories: Fuji made the following accessories for the U.S. market: lens shade for the 100mm lens, neck strap, wrist strap, hard case. That's it. I would suggest getting a wide neoprene strap for this sucker. In Japan, where people take this camera more seriously, you could find:
50/65mm wide angle lens hood
100m lens hood
100mm AE lens hood
150/180mm tele lens hood
Eyecup (shared with ST701)
Diopter lenses (shared with ST701: -4, -2.5, +0.5, +2)
Angle finder (shared with ST701)
Accessory flash shoe (allows flash while you use an accessory viewfinder)
"Q setter" (pyramidal quick release plate)
Auto up(!) (yes, you've seen it for little rangefinders and now...)
Fujicolor Strobe Professional (optional: Strobe Bracket G)
Carrying Bag II
Thanks to Peter Evans for the Japan accessory information. Note that as with many products that an item being in a catalog does not necessarily mean it was ever actually produced.
Bottom Line: If you're man (or woman) enough to haul this thing around, go for it! You're never going to see better pictures.