dante stella stories photographs technical guestbook

"We can keep from a child all knowledge of earlier myths, but we cannot take from him the need for mythology"

— Carl Jung

Mythology of the Fuji G690BL GL690 GM670

Could anything have engineering more primitive than the Burgess Meredith-looking owl in Clash of the Titans (1981)?

July 6, 2010.  There are some things floating around on the internet that tend to inflame people's imaginations and inflate asking prices for the G series cameras and their lenses (G690, G690BL, GL690, GM670)  We'll address each of these categorically.  Maybe you can save some money.  Maybe this will make your G-lust worse.

1.   "I need a 6x7 or 6x9 camera."  Yes, you probably need one like you need a hole in your head.  Most people should think twice (or more):

  • At least up to an 8x10 enlargement, you won't see any difference between a 6x7 or 6x9 camera and a 6x4.5.
  • A 6x7 or 6x9 enlarger is about double the size of a 35mm/6x6 dual model.
  • There are only 8 to 10 shots per roll of film.  If you buy film at B&H and develop/print at A&I, that means your pictures cost $2.00+ apiece.  That's a bit of money to drop per frame when it isn't 4x5.
  • Even if you develop your own film, it's still $6 for the film and chemicals, which makes for 75  cents a frame - before any prints.
  • Not only is the bulk of the camera double that of, say, a GA645, you're also carrying twice as much film for a given number of scenes.
  • The 6x9 format (like 35mm) is not a great fit for the sizes of photo paper sold in the United States. If you need a full frame but also need something to overlap with a mat, you get a 6x9" image on 8x10 paper.  To get a picture 8" wide (horizontal frame) requires 11x14 paper which costs about a dollar a sheet. To do the same thing with 6x7 only takes an 8x10 sheet.

If all of that doesn't scare you off, then you could do worse than the Fuji 6x9s and 6x7s.  The lenses are better than the rickety old folders that some people push as "economy" substitutes.  When you are generating negatives that require either money or work, you might as well start with a good camera.

2.   "G-series cameras are built better than GS and GSW series cameras."  Not true.  The expensive stuff is all in the lenses.  The G series camera bodies show every indication of having been built as cheaply as possible, with as little die-cast tooling as possible.  If you take one apart, you can see some impressive features - like a cemented-prism beamsplitter arrangement in the viewfinder and ball-bearing race in the cocking mechanism.  But you can also see:

  • a rangefinder adjustment mechanism that is worthy of a Canonet - no linearity adjustment at all, infinity provided by an eccentric screw, and a simple Koni-Omega-style pivot for vertical alignment.
  • a top cover that uses just two die-cast parts - the wind lever and the modular rangefinder/viewfinder assembly.  The rest is soldered brass, with ample evidence of hand-fitting with something that looks like a Dremel.  The production engineering here tells us, among other things, that there was not a huge expectation in terms of sales.
  • a lack of a hard point for mounting an accessory shoe.  Note that the shoe screws into the brass top, which is reinforced only with a riveted-in steel plate.
  • a black paint finish that wasted not one yen on priming or black metal oxide finishing. Black paint was considered a working man's finish in the 1950s and 1960s, and it wears poorly.  On these cameras, the paint comes off by your simply looking at it.
  • an accessory shoe, tripod socket, and film plane that are not necessarily level to each other.  Whether this is a function of age or abuse (the newest G series cameras are 30 years old, and most have lived hard lives), you really need to control for this with wideangle lenses.  Luckily, the chassis is die-cast, which means that the lens and the RF mechanism will always be square with the film plane.

All of this is understandable given that the real purpose of a G series camera was to sell superb Fujinon lenses and to move as much Fuji film behind them as possible. And this was in the context of tourist group photography, which is not a perfectionist pursuit.

3.  "The GL690 and GM670 are better cameras."  This one came right from Fuji's marketing department.  Everything about the G690 and G690BL is the same - except that (1) the viewfinder is now a screw-in type; (2) the red darkslide indicator and framelines are now missing from the slightly-higher mag finder; (3) someone put this ginormous "G" on the lens mount; and (4) it's grown a nasty looking front shutter release.  Wait, we forgot the Pentax-style strap lugs that not only resist pivoting but also make it a lot harder to find a functional strap. To their credit, those lugs do help save wear and tear on the black paint finish.  Score: good for eyeglass wearers but probably more a design driven by economy in production.  By the way, under the square eyepiece of the G690BL is a viewfinder assembly with a big round window.  Looks like someone planned for a round eyepiece, couldn't get licensing from Nikon, and then had to wait until the GL/GM to implement it.

4.  "The 50mm f/5.6 is particularly rare, good, and desirable."  Rare, yes.  Good?  No, great.  Desirable is really a function of what you are doing.  If your intent is to take 6x9 negatives, scan them, and magnify them up to 100%, then the ability to focus a 50mm lens on a 6x9 frame is desirable, and so is the lens.  If you are printing conventionally (or can restrain your pixel-peeping tendencies to 25%), you are better served with a smaller Brooks Veriwide 100.

5.  "The 65mm f/5.6 is particularly rare and desirable."  Rare, yes.  Desirable depends on your perpective.  Because a 65 f/5.6 can easily cost as much as a GSW690, consider that:

  • Although the optics are comparable, you get a multicoated lens with the GSW cameras.
  • A GSW camera (any of them) is smaller and lighter than a G series camera with any lens on it.
  • The GSW cameras have integrated viewfinder/rangefinders that automatically parallax- and field-correct.  The G series cameras obviously need an accessory finder.
  • The GSW690III has a built-in bubble level, an improved vernier rangefinder, a hot shoe, better ergonomics, better shutter reparability, and easier loading/unloading.
  • Having a second body (actually, a whole camera) cuts down on fumbling with lens changing and film reloading.

At the end of the day, you may be better off just buying some GSW series camera instead of any 65mm lens for your G series.  For very light use, consider the (relatively inexpensive) 65mm f/8, which with its heavily recessed front element is more flare-resistant (and still very satisfying).  But if you need faster than f/5.6 and space (camera bag) is your premium, getting the  65/5.6 lens (and not a whole new camera) is a better choice.

6.   "The electronics in the 100mm f/3.5 AE lens are simple and robust."  Not true. The 100/3.5 AE is a lens that often shows up with glowing descriptions like "works perfecty" and "dead on."  It is extraordinarily unlikely that any such lens is hitting exactly 1/500 second, because no Seiko shutter does and because... ... doing a CLA on this lens requires a tremendous amount of manual labor, which involves removing all of the hand-routed wires from the... ...poorly engineered, proprietary electronics.  The 100/3.5 AE uses many shutter parts in common with later Bronica lenses, but it does not use the well-designed, mass-producible control circuits that Bronica does.  Getting through all of that gets you to... ...a shutter mechanism that only a Bronica tech could love, replete with all  of the electromagnets and other exotic parts that do not inhabit a Seiko mechanical shutter. Three out of four AE lenses I have owned have required reworks, some due to conditions that aren't that obvious.  Buyer beware on these conditions (and be very aware):

  • Examples with slow battery drains (not fun when the lens requires expensive PX28s or four S76s).  These will empty the battery over a day or two.
  • Examples that do not hit the top speed (within tolerances) for leaf shutters.  The remedy for this is an extensive teardown of the lens.  "Within tolerances" means about 1/350 of a second for 1/500.
  • Examples where the 1/500 sec setting is way off (as in several seconds) because a zener diode has failed.  This, too, requires digging around in the bowels of the lens.
  • Examples where the indicated shutter speed varies from the measured/indicated speed.  Checking the metered speed against a handheld lightmeter is about as far as most Ebay sellers get (if at all).
My longstanding experience with this lens tells me that it is a novelty more than it is some huge improvement over the 100/3.5 standard lens:
  • The much-ballyhooed multicoating is only going to make a difference where you have a strong light source in the scene - the same situation that tends to throw the light meter.  I've never seen a practical difference between the two lenses.
  • There is no exposure lock (since there is nothing but a mechanical coupling between lens and body), meaning that you have to account for off-center subjects differently.  This makes the 100/3.5AE a lens that is best for "average" scenes with an average contrast range.
  • There is no real-time exposure readout while you are looking through the viewfinder.  When these lenses work, the low-light exposures are generally pretty good - but heaven help you if you are caught by surprise with 1/4 second exposure.
  • Batteries tend to go fast, especially because there is no "off" switch, and it is easy for a camera bag to depress the exposure check and battery check buttons.  This is a separate issue from the battery drain problem mentioned above.
  • There is no ready exposure compensation, save the ISO dial.

And don't buy the line that this is the rarest G series lens.  The 50mm is rarer, by a whole order of magnitude.  I like the 100/3.5AE for a lot of things, but in real life, I find that it's easier to use a handheld meter.

7.  "The 180mm T.S. Fujinon is worth $1,499" (c.f. Ebay asking prices, with one lens in particular that has languished at that price for 6 months).  This lens is good (if it's $600 or under), but you need to consider that with a 5+ foot minimum focus, it is not a portrait lens.  It is also a lot bigger and heavier than the 100mm f/3.5.  It was not a popular lens when it was being produced, nor did it make "the cut" when Fuji came out with the next generation of cameras (GSW/GW), which essentially kept the 28mm and 45mm focal length equivalents that were most popular with the G series.  The real use for this 75mm-equivalent lens is for landscapes and situations where you cannot just walk up to the subject.

8.  The chrome lenses are completely interchangeable with all bodies.   Yes and no.  The chrome lenses you see from time to time are designed for the original G690.  That camera lacked both a darkslide interlocking mechanism and a secondary locking mechanism. Chrome G690 lenses are designed to lock onto the camera by turning the locking ring, which cams into the lens mount.  These lenses are dependent on friction, so turn that ring as hard as you can.  Black lenses have a notch in the lens-side bayonet ring that engages a pin on the camera body.  So the secondary lock engages first (the click) and turning the ring more, the primary (friction) lock engages (you actually turn a lot longer than on the chrome lenses before it cams in).  You could mill a chrome bayonet to duplicate this functionality (and no doubt, some lenses have been modified thus).  Don't lose any sleep over this, but don't be surprised when that chrome lens does not click (or you manage to change lenses without closing the darkslide). I don't want to seem overly harsh on these cameras, but there definitely seems to be a group that steadfastly refuses to believe that Fuji ever progressed past this point.  If you find yourself fixated on a 50mm or 180mm lens, go for a G series, but if your primary goal is in the 65mm-100mm range, the newer cameras are the way to go.