Having got back into film photography, like many during covid, the old technology has now taken over as my main interest. I started to collect all the old film cameras I owned in the 1960’s through to the 1990’s starting with the much loved Brownie Box camera. Most of these were 35mm but I also moved into 645 with a Mamiya, looking for the increased quality from the 2.6x bigger negatives.
Looking for an easier to carry 645 camera to go with the Mamiya, I started to research the many Fuji 6×4.5 cameras and eventually decided on the GS645S Professional with a “wide” 60mm lens, equivalent to 37.5mm in 35mm format.
The camera has a fixed (more of that later!) lens and rangefinder system which I was well used to with my film Leicas and seemed to fit the bill. I couldn’t find one in the UK however and was soon drawn into the many adverts on that auction site, from Japan. I knew there would be add on costs for customs, VAT but also read that sometimes cameras can pass through customs without challenge or cost! I doubted I would be that lucky.
I took the plunge and ordered a camera I had never even handled, from a seller who claimed it was “near mint” and had a 100% rating. He used the strangely common descriptors and advertisement format used it seems by nearly all Japanese sellers. The camera duly arrived in the UK and I was invoiced by the shipper for about 28% of the purchase price, which I paid, and awaited delivery.
The Fuji GS645S has a protective guard around the lens, as it is evidently all too easy to knock the lens which can then come apart from the body – a known weak spot of the design. Despite being described as “near mint”, my camera had obviously received such a knock and the lens had been crudely glued back on with superglue, which had also eaten away at the plastic body! You can see this in the photograph.
Naturally I complained to the seller, who to his credit did offer to take the camera back. But you are not going to get the duty and VAT back, and the returns customs forms were something of a nightmare – I was not keen on going down this route! I agreed a significant refund from the seller after testing the camera with a roll of film to check that the “repair” had put the lens back in parallel with the film plane. I then covered the glue repair with black insulating tape to improve its appearance.
If you are expecting more tales of woe, you will be surprised to know that the camera has actually been a delight. The lens is super sharp and clear, and the whole system works well. The rangefinder is not Leica quality, but it works. The exposure meter seems spot on, and the somewhat quirky and fiddly focus, aperture, iso and shutter speed ring settings which are all on the lens work well enough once you get used to them.
The camera is unusual in that when held in landscape orientation, the frame lines are in portrait, so you need to turn the camera through ninety degrees if you want the landscape 4×3 aspect ratio of 645. The body seems solid enough, though it is tough plastic, and not the solid feel of metal as with my early Mamiya 645 1000s, which is more satisfying to use, but the Fuji is more convenient, with an exposure meter, and that superb lens. A couple of images are included (tinted in post). For the price (now much higher than when I bought) it is an excellent medium format machine, and I would encourage others to try it. You may wish to find one locally though based on my experience.
There are other versions of Fuji 645 cameras, including the GS645 75mm which is a folding camera with bellows (which carries its own second hand risks) and the GS645W with a 45mm lens. Later came the Fuji GA645 range of auto focus cameras, so there is lots to choose from – but you will probably end up buying from Japan.
Three images on XP2 from the Fuji taken in Blackpool – all were taken under very grey skies which I find is not the best for monochrome film photography, but the detail still looks good to me.
Share this post: