5 Frames with a Fuji GS645S that wasn’t quite as advertised

By Timothy Hancock

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.

Fuji GS645S
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.

Glue repair

 

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.

Ingleton back street

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.

Leaving for Appleby

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:

Find more similar content on 35mmc

Use the tags below to search for more posts on related topics:

Contribute to 35mmc for an ad-free experience.

There are two ways to contribute to 35mmc and experience it without the adverts:

Paid Subscription – £2.99 per month and you’ll never see an advert again! (Free 3-day trial).

Subscribe here.

Content contributor – become a part of the world’s biggest film and alternative photography community blog. All our Contributors have an ad-free experience for life.

Sign up here.

About The Author

By Timothy Hancock
Associate of Royal Photo Soc. Secretary of Contemporary Group. Ex chairman of camera club. Started with photography with a box brownie like so many others of my generation. Now film (still using my Dads Edixamat from the 1950’s) and Leica /Fuji both film and digital cameras. Particulary keen on medium format film with Bronica and Mamiya (645 and 6x6)
View Profile

Comments

Greg on 5 Frames with a Fuji GS645S that wasn’t quite as advertised

Comment posted: 12/01/2024

Thanks for the article. Nice pictures too. A few years ago I also imported one from Japan to the UK. A ‘near mint’ model, which thankfully turned up as advertised. I loved it, though eventually it did fail me quite spectacularly - more on that below. As for buying from sellers in Japan, I've bought a few cameras and lenses over time, and overall my experience is positive. Had an issue only once, and the seller sent me a partial refund to cover the cost of the repair. Some general pros about this camera: - image quality is great, excellent lens. - convenience is amazing. Very small and light for medium format, easy to use and carry (the grip is awesome), controls are fiddly but overall fine. - light meter seems very accurate General cons: - build quality isn’t great. - Rangefinder lag. Over time, the rangefinder developed a lag between turning the focus ring and the rangefinder patch moving into place (in one direction only - either from infinity to close, or the other way around, can’t remember). This problem seemed to be more pronounced in cold weather. But despite this problem, the camera was still useable. I found a DIY ‘fix’ online that involved removing the top plate and applying lubricant to a small metal rod in the rangefinder mechanism. People commented that this fix worked for them, but when I did it myself it seemed clear, even while I was doing it, that this fix actually had no impact on the problem, and in practice afterwards the problem persisted. I’m no camera repair expert though. These are just my two cents. I used the camera a lot and loved its images, until I took it on a two week trip, shot 20 rolls, sent them for developing, only for 10 of them to turn out completely blank. I realised that the shutter had got stuck. I hadn’t noticed during the trip because it’s a rangefinder, so you're never looking through the lens, and the camera was still making all the right noises. Heartbreaking. I got the shutter repaired, and it all seemed to work well again. I then sold the camera, and I hope it went on to work well for the next owner. I have different medium format cameras now, but none as travel-friendly as this one. It truly is a carry-with-you-at-all-times, lives-in-your-bag type of camera. And despite my experience with it, I’d still consider getting another one for travel purposes, although maybe I’d try the other model with the 45mm lens (probably not the model with the bellows, which seems extremely cool and even more pocketable, but much more prone to failure).
Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Timothy Hancock replied:

Comment posted: 12/01/2024

Thanks Greg - agree on all this and hoping mine doesn’t self destruct. It’s a pity they cannot be found locally more often. The RF is no Leica for sure ( even though 690 is the “Texas Leica”! ) The lens and convenience are the stand out positives as you say. Controls are fiddly but if you take your time OK. Exposure meter seems very good too on mine.

Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Sean on 5 Frames with a Fuji GS645S that wasn’t quite as advertised

Comment posted: 12/01/2024

I have lived in Japan and bought cameras plenty of times on auction websites here. I suspect something fishy went on as every camera I’ve bought over the years has always exceeded expectation.
Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Timothy Hancock replied:

Comment posted: 12/01/2024

Hi Sean, I wasn’t meaning to knock all Japanese sellers - just saying be diligent - and aware of the add on costs and hassle of sending anything back. The camera works well as I say so apart from no resale value and it looking odd there is no real harm done. Cheers.

Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Paul Quellin on 5 Frames with a Fuji GS645S that wasn’t quite as advertised

Comment posted: 09/01/2024

Hi Timothy. Great article, really enjoyed it. I have looked so many times at some of the Japanese sellers and there is clearly such choice, but the distance somehow makes it too scary a proposition. I never owned an analogue product by Fuji... this is the second article recently that has got me thinking. I have bought plenty of cameras from e-bay, junk shops and a local auction house. Sometimes I get lucky, sometimes I get something that needs a spend of at least the price I paid, to get it going. Buying a medium format you sort of expect it to have been well cared for and sellers to provide a lot more detail (possible exception of my £10 eBay Agifold that works well after a minor repair). I think you can get wrong information anywhere. I have bought a large format from the UK, described as excellent and fully working, only to find the bellows like a tea strainer and needing hours of work. The image of the viaduct was terrific; but for the wheelie bins and cars, it could have been taken in the 1930s. I like the lines in the Blackpool image with the seagull. Happy shooting with the Fuji, the images are great. Thanks.
Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Erik Brammer on 5 Frames with a Fuji GS645S that wasn’t quite as advertised

Comment posted: 09/01/2024

My experience with buying from Japan has been very positive so far - with a Plaubel Makina 670 and a Fujica GS645 Pro. Especially with the former I was holding my deep breath for a pretty extended time since the Makinas are quite pricey. Besides checking the images very carefully and zooming in to the maximum extent (be wary of low-res images), I always contacted the seller for more information: imperfections seen on the images, CLA activity and corresponding invoices etc. My goal was not so much to check their English skills (I am German, so non-native myself) but to check their responsiveness and willingness to answer my questions. Here in Germany we usually pay some 25% duties and import taxes on the sum of the selling price and shipping (in case the latter is not included in the selling price). For the Germans here, be careful if the seller wants to ship with Fedex: The delivery person will charge duties and taxes at your door step at the time of delivery - and demands cash! Consider this, we are living in the 21st century, and they insist on cash! And then you want to make sure to keep the fully completed delivery note that confirms payment of the duties and taxes, since the fact that you paid the dues doesn’t necessarily make it through to the Fedex accounting team. I received a payment request via snail mail a few weeks later and then had to prove that I had paid. I certainly prefer shipments with DHL where you may need to go to the designated DHL station and pay there - using whichever card. Just in case the delivery person doesn’t accept card payments at the time of delivery to your home.
Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Timothy Hancock replied:

Comment posted: 09/01/2024

Thanks - more reasons to be careful !

Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Uli Buechsenschuetz replied:

Comment posted: 09/01/2024

Fedex in Germany is pretty bad, I agree. So far, I didn‘t have to pay at the door, however. DHL or DHL Express isn‘t much better, at least in Berlin. Recently I‘ve waited for weeks that my parcel arriving from the UK to be processed by customs.

Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Erik Brammer replied:

Comment posted: 09/01/2024

Ouch, that’s painful. I wish we could still trade with the UK as we could in the past. Your experience reminds me of a purchase from the UK that was not only plagued with some residual covid related delays but a Royal Mail strike on top, delaying the handover to DHL.

Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Timothy Hancock replied:

Comment posted: 09/01/2024

I wish lots of things were like they were in the past !

Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

David Hume on 5 Frames with a Fuji GS645S that wasn’t quite as advertised

Comment posted: 09/01/2024

Hi Timothy - I hope you have many happy years with your Fuji! I live in Australia, and Japan ebay seems like a much better option for us than for you... which is great for us. I think because we are a small market we sort of sneak in under the radar. I've bought lots of stuff from Japan that has always been as good or better than expected, but I've learned to trust the photos only, because, as you say, the written descriptions are pretty generic. We have a 10%GST (like VAT) added, but they only bother about that when the value gets to around $1K. It's a bit of a lottery; you never know when it will be applied. Buying from the States or Europe is pretty much out of the question because of the delivery costs, and it's always nice to buy locally but that is less common for me. Cheers.
Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Timothy Hancock replied:

Comment posted: 09/01/2024

Thanks David - I can see your point !

Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

John Fontana on 5 Frames with a Fuji GS645S that wasn’t quite as advertised

Comment posted: 09/01/2024

That first shot including a viaduct has a timeless quality to it. Glad the camera ultimately worked out so well. Your experience confirms my reticence to buy from Japan. It’s a pity since they have such an abundance.
Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Timothy Hancock replied:

Comment posted: 09/01/2024

Thanks John - Yes the japan sellers make their stuff look good for sure - its a temptation !

Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Art Meripol replied:

Comment posted: 09/01/2024

The toning on the first frames is gorgeous. But I too have resisted ordering much of anything from Japan. Just hear too many sad tales from the land of "Mint 5555"

Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Enid Bagnold replied:

Comment posted: 09/01/2024

It's odd, and also perhaps the luck of the draw - but I have bought a dozen cameras and even more lenses from Japan on the auction site and only once have I had bad luck, and the seller refunded immediately. I can't tell you how many hours I spent down each rabbit-hole researching the items and the sellers, but maybe I've just been lucky. I'm thinking of adding 6x4.5 to my arsenal, so reading this post has been a blessing - thanks!

Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Timothy Hancock replied:

Comment posted: 09/01/2024

Thanks Enid - 645 is a great format I think too. The aspect ratio I much prefer to 3x2 if 35mm and of course you have the negative size.

Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *