Cameras are always compromises. As photographers we tend to look for the perfect camera. This is great for those who sell cameras, and some of us end up owning more than a few due to the search. The question of what is the perfect camera usually leaves out the question “perfect for what?” No camera will do everything, and the ones that come close become complex, or very large, or very expensive. (Which means they aren’t perfect.)
I bought the Fuji gs645 with a combination of good photographic quality and convenience in mind. I wanted Medium format, but not large and cumbersome. I wanted something that would not be inconvenient to take packed for airline travel but that would afford me potentially larger print sizes than a 35mm SLR. I also didn’t want something that was overly expensive or complex, or needed an obscure or hard to find battery. This camera seemed to fit those goals.
This camera makes images in the smallest of the medium format sizes, but does so with a nice sharp fixed lens. 6x4.5 is still about 2 1⁄2 times the size of a 35mm frame which is 2.4cm x 3.6cm using the same units of measure. The camera is simple with only a couple of extra basic features. Those being a good internal light meter and a self timer.
Another plus is the modern styling. I shoot a few older cameras and really like them. However, they can be real conversation starters and while I enjoy that as well, it’s not always what you want. This camera does not tend to attract much attention unless it’s from other photographers.
For this specific model, there is one very notable visible feature. The cowbar, or lens guard as it might be more properly called. It makes the camera look slightly unusual and robust. On the downside, I have read that the lens mount isn’t all that strong and that’s why the guard is there. I don’t know how true that is as I’ve had no issues so far. The build quality seems good, but it certainly doesn’t have the tank like robustness of an RB67, or a Fuji GW690, both too large for the niche that this camera fills for me.
There are 3 associated models in the GS645 line. Reviewed here is the GS645S. There is also a wide angle version with a 45mm fixed lens, the GS645W, and a folder with a 75mm lens, the GS645. I passed on the folder because I hoped that a non-folder would be a bit heartier and I felt that a wider angle lens than the 75mm would be more useful. I went for the 60mm version which is roughly equivalent to 35-40mm on a 35mm camera. This approximate focal length serves the largest number of shooting situations for me.
Example shots follow. For this test, I used several film types and all worked well. I’ve shot several rolls with it now, using IR film, transparency, color print, and good old black and white. I did have an issue with some rolls not being wound tightly on the take up reel. I found that making sure that the 1st couple of turns are tight when loading the camera will reduce this problem.
Shooting is simple and works like most rangefinders with a small patch center viewfinder to line up a doubled image. The patch on this camera is a bit small and dim but it works. The light meter displays in the viewfinder and uses 3 symbols. 1 stop under (-), 1 stop over (+), and (O) for just right. If 2 lights are lit, exposure is somewhere in between. I found it to be quite accurate. Aperture, shutter speed, and focus are all on the barrel, each with a different texture and shape finger pad so that you can work the controls without looking, once you learn by feel which one is which that is.
Shutter speeds range from 1 to 1/500 with a T mode. The T mode is somewhat odd. It’s activated by a small button by the lens to open the shutter. The shutter is closed using the shutter trigger. The manual warns that if you change the shutter speed while the shutter open, you could break the mechanism.
The frame orientation is the opposite of what one is used to in 35mm. The orientation of the frame is portrait and you turn the camera on its side for landscape. I didn’t find this hard to get used to and in some situations preferred it.
60mm lens (about 35-40mm on a 35mm camera)
1sec -> 1/500 / leaf shutter.
Light meter. (Very simple, not through the lens.) 49mm filter size.
Selectable 120/220 film size. (15 or 30 shots per roll)
Things that I really like:
=) It’s small and light. About the size of a medium sized slr with a winder, or a slightly larger dslr. =) It looks modern, so it doesn’t attract attention.
=) Builtin light meter that seems pretty accurate
=) self timer
=) Nice sharp results.
=) pretty easy to load.
=) Really handy side and bottom tripod mounts. (Why don’t more cameras have this?)
=) LR44 batteries, which are only needed for the light meter and last a long time.
Things that I like less:
=) Focusing the rangefinder is not the best. The field is fairly small and not that contrasty. It works, but most rangefinders I’ve used are better/quicker. That being said, it’s a small issue in a camera that has many other things going for it.
=) I’ve read that the lens is actually a bit delicate and that’s why the cow bar is needed. In using it, I’d say there’s something to that, so I’m extra careful with it.
=) The T mode is odd in how it works. (See text, not a big deal, but something out of the norm that you have to remember.)
Conclusion: The camera has quickly become a favorite for me and a very regular shooter. It is easy to shoot handheld yet has the advantage of a medium format film size. I like shooting 6x9, so I tend to
think of this camera as a half frame. ;) 15 shots a roll seems to work pretty well for me.
It’s a small camera for medium format, light and of good quality. Used market price is currently between 250 and 500 dollars with most units coming from Japan. I paid toward the lower end for mine and was pleased. All in all, nearly perfect for what I was looking for.
HW Kateley is a film and sometimes digital photographer living in Oregon. His interests include landscape/nature, art, and candid photography using both traditional and modern photographic tools. You can see more of his work here.