Fuji GW690iii

Fuji GW690iii – Hands on Review of the Texas Leica – By Benoît Felten

In my early film photography years (about a decade ago) I tried a few cheap medium format cameras (I own both a Moskva and a Lubitel, as well as a couple of old Kodak folders) but nothing stuck. Too fiddly, not reliable enough, etc. Obviously that had nothing to do with medium format and everything to do with the choice of cameras I tried it on (and my skill at making something of them).

A decade later, I have a lot more experience with film and with rangefinders, and in the spring I decided to revisit the issue. To be honest, it wasn’t a fully informed and rational process but rather reading and finding out about the Fuji GW690iii, a rather underlooked and underloved camera, which has the welcome side-effect of making it rather more affordable than the more renowned Hasselblads, Mamiyas and Bronicas.

After a few weeks of weighing matters, I decided to go for it when the Ricoh GR1 that I’d put up for sale at a local camera store found a new owner. I paid around 500 USD for the Fuji GW690iii in perfect working condition, and factoring in the sale of the Ricoh it only really cost me about 200. I’ve owned it now for around 6 months, enough, I feel, to have a relatively informed opinion about what’s good and what’s problematic with this camera. Spoiler alert, I definitely weigh on the side of good.

A bit of history

The Fuji GW690iii was the last in a relatively long line of Fuji cameras that have one thing in common: the size of their negatives, 6x9cm, which I’m told is as large as medium format gets (if you exclude the 6×12 and 6×17 panoramic cameras that are way wider).

The ancestor of the Fuji GW690iii is the Fujica G690, released in 1968 which had interchangeable lenses. Noting that few of the lenses sold apart from the 65mm (wide) and the 100mm (standard), in 1978 Fuji released the Fujica GW690 Professional with a fixed 90mm f/3.5 lens. In 1980 a wide version (GSW690) was released with a fixed 65mm f/5.6 lens. The two designs would stay mostly the same with some minor improvements in successive iterations and some variant 6×7 and 6×8 models until the Fuji GW690iii was released in 1992.

A basic description

The Fuji GW690iii is a fairly bulky camera weighing 1510g. It has been dubbed the Texas Leica since it’s a big and large rangefinder.

The lens is an EBC Fujinon 90mm, f/3.5 with five elements in five groups and a No. 0 interlens shutter. It has 5 straight shutter blades. It focuses at one meter minimal distance and takes 67mm filters. The focal length is equivalent to around 40-45mm in 135 terms (I haven’t been able to find the exact number).

Fuji GW690iii lens

In terms of features, the Fuji GW690iii is about as minimalistic as it gets: it’s a rangefinder, and does not feature a meter. It operates without a battery. In other words, full manual. You do get a hotshoe though, which is nice.

It offers apertures of f/3.5 to f/32 and speeds to 1/500s to 1s. For longer exposures, it features a T mode, more on this below.

The camera takes 220 and 120 film, which means in this day and age that for all intents and purposes it takes 120 film. You get 8 6×9 shots on a roll.

One unusual piece of design is that the aperture and speed settings are set on the lens itself, in two parallel rings hidden by the retractable lens hood.

Fuji GW690iii top

The top and back of the Fuji GW690iii has no dials except the film selection (220 16 exposures, 120 8 exposures or 120 4 exposures).

Finally, the camera has an exposure counter at the bottom. The spring from the counter explains the super loud click you get when you press the shutter.

Fuji GW690iii – The good

As you’d expect, the massive negatives is probably the most striking positive feature of the Fuji GW690iii. I said it previously, I have limited experience with medium format, but for the first time in my life when I got the scans of the first rolls I shot with the GW690iii back, I *got* it. There is a specific look to these shots that I’ve not had with any other camera.

Fuji GW690iii negs

When shooting wide open, while you won’t get super wild bokeh, f/3.5 is more than enough to deliver a really cool background blur, which is great for portraits and street. Of course, at the opposite end of the aperture spectrum, my usual street photography default of shooting at f/8 or f/11 becomes somewhat problematic because that’s still pretty shallow, but for the most part that’s nothing to do with the camera, it’s a medium format thing.

Focusing the Fuji GW690iii is super easy, and the focus patch while unusually round (on my XPAN it’s square) is relatively visible in most conditions. As usual (again) when shooting vertical you need to be careful not to block the light in the focus patch by putting your hand below the lens to focus (the natural way to do it) but this isn’t specific to this camera.

While the Fuji GW690iii is undeniably bulky and heavy, it’s also well designed so that when I’m shooting with it I don’t particularly feel it’s weight. I used to own a Canon 7D, and with a decent 50mm lens, it didn’t weigh much less than the GW690iii. My other main film camera, the xpan, is slightly lighter with a lens attached, but because of its form factor it actually feels bulkier. All this to say that I didn’t find the GW690iii to be particularly cumbersome for a medium format camera. The fact that its body is designed as an SLRs also feels “natural” both with handling and with viewing/shooting.

I’ve said above how large the negatives are, but I should stress how sharp the lens is as well. A well focused shot really delivers in terms of drawing you in. Blurred backgrounds when they occur are smooth and pleasant although I’ve not tried deliberate bokeh style photos (like portraits with foliage backgrounds, etc.)

One last thing in the good side (but maybe to be tested further): the Fuji GW690iii comes with a hotshoe, and it works (there’s a PC socket as well, so I wasn’t quite sure at first.) Or at least, it has worked, I should say. I only shot a single roll with flash, and the flash only worked on 6 of the 8 shots. It could be because I didn’t wait long enough for the flash to recharge, at the time I couldn’t determine what was going on. It’s something I intend to test further.

Fuji GW690iii – The bad

There are a number of design decisions on the Fuji GW690iii that baffle me. They led me to some issues, although it’s typically the kind of things that once you know, you can factor in.

The first, and most annoying one, is the misguided idea that having the aperture and shutter speed sitting next to each other on the lens would be useful, or even just convenient. It’s neither. Most of the lenses I’ve used that have an aperture ring, it’s designed so you can adjust aperture without looking, while shooting. With the Fuji GW690iii, you can’t, because essentially you never know which ring you’re adjusting, and furthermore they are so close that it’s actually hard to move one without moving the other. It’s a really stupid design especially since there’s plenty of real estate all over the body for a speed dial…

A more obscure, but really really stupid design is the T mode. Admittedly, this will not affect most people since it is only used for exposures of more than 1 second. But if (like me) you occasionally dabble in long exposures, then this will affect you in a bad way. Most cameras have a bulb (B) mode. You screw in your cable release, the shutter opens when you press and closes when you depress. Very simple. Not the Fuji GW690iii. With T mode, the shutter opens when you press your cable release… and closes when you either wind the lever or change the aperture. Neither of which can be done without moving the camera. Stupid, stupid, stupid. I actually ruined a few rolls testing this. I now realise that I need to have a piece of cardboard with me to block the light going into the lens before moving the lever to end the exposure. Who thought this would be a good idea ???

I had some issues with the 120/220 selector as well, but only once: it accidentally moved mid-roll, when i finished the roll, I had to press the shutter several times to just be able to advance it. By then it was showing exposure 10. When I put in another roll it didn’t reset, so by the time I could expose, the camera thought I was on exposure 12, which meant that after I shot 4 exposures I couldn’t press the button anymore. It did reset the next time though, and I haven’t had that issue since.

Finally, one slight but annoying bug is the exposure counter. It’s nice to have one, for sure, but it clicks as loud as a Texas ranger shooting his rifle. To know that this massive noise is not even the shutter, but just the counter bugs me a little.

Fuji GW690iii Sample shots

*Banyan Roots* w. JCH Streetpan 400. This was shot wide open, hand held in the fading light. The detail in the in-focus roots is still pretty amazing and the bokeh in the forest background is subtle but nice.
*Eating Flowers* w. Kodak Portra 400. One of my earliest street shots in Hong Kong. The colours of subdued, but there’s plenty of detail even at f/5.6.
*HK Verticals w. JCH Streetpan 400. Capturing the vertical aspect of Hong Kong is something I struggle with. Not sure if the GW690iii was a particular factor in this shot working, but let’s say it was!
*Peel St. Shrine* w. Cinestill 50D. This tight shot taken with a tripod at f/11 made me realise how shallow f/11 still was on this camera. I could have closed down a bit more and still expose less than the 1s that requires the infamous T mode.
*On Braemar Hill* w. Fuji Provia 100F. This is a portrait of my daughter. I didn’t jot down the aperture, probably f/5.6 or f/8. There’s a pleasant background blur despite the bright sunlight.
*Streaked Waterfront* w. Fuji Provia 100F. An apparently successful frame that is ruined by light streaks caused by shifting the film advance lever at the end of a 60s exposure. Damn this T mode.

In Conclusion

So, is the Fuji GW690iii ‘Texas Leica’ the perfect medium format camera? Well, I don’t have enough MF experience to make that call anyway, and it has its share of quirks (to put it mildly), so I’d argue that it’s probably not. Of course, the fact that it’s a fixed lens is a significant constraint anyway, especially in a camera that size.

And yet for all of that, it’s a camera that I enjoy lugging around, and most importantly one that delivers stunning pictures over and over. With my 135 cameras I normally hover around 2-3 keepers in a 36 exposure roll. With the Fuji GW690iii I’ve been averaging 1-2 in an 8 exposure roll. Admittedly part of that is due to the process, and the fact that manual settings added to the clunkiness of those aperture/speed rings forces me to slow right down. But I like to think it’s also in part due to the amazing glass and the massive negatives.

Remember what I said initially: the Fuji GW690iii doesn’t get much love, which means it’s affordable. For me, in terms of quality to price, it’s a steal, and while 500 USD isn’t chimp change, it’s still in the affordable range if you want to get serious about medium format. I’m pretty sure it’s not for everyone, but for me, this is a keeper.

You can find me on instagram here: @benfelten, and other articles I have written about for 35mmc here

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47 thoughts on “Fuji GW690iii – Hands on Review of the Texas Leica – By Benoît Felten”

  1. Nice review! I too sometimes found the shallow depth of field of the 90mm lens limiting for a walk around camera, but like you said that’s a medium format thing. I had the GW670III and generally loved the results apart from the 1m minimum focus distance. I do wish I’d bought the GSW690III version though with the 65mm lens and may still pick one up. As you say, they aren’t too expensive and I still have a freezer drawer full of 120 film!

  2. Nice reading!
    Why not go the ‘old style’ way in T-mode and use the lens cap to finish exposure?
    AFAIK the equivalent focal length is calculated from the negative diagonal (60X90 vs. 24X36). That’s a factor of 0.4, so 90mm would be a focal length of 36mm in 35mm.

    1. Sticking the cap on and off is actually quite fiddly, especially since most of the time the hood protrudes. That’s why I now carry a piece of opaque cardboard in my camera bag. Didn’t get a chance to try it yet though 😉

  3. I’m terribly tempted by these big Fujis.
    regarding the positioning of the aperture and shutter speed rings – is it possible that you are supposed to be able to move them together but maintain the same exposure – in effect getting an exposure shift?

    1. I agree with Phil, you should give in 😉 I suspect you’re right about the rings, someone else has posted to that effect.

  4. Mine is a GSW690III and I love it for infrared. I already had a filter from another camera and once I put it on the Fuji, I was stunned. I shoot JCH Streetpan for IR.

    I find mine easy to carry too.

    For time exposures, I stop down so I won’t be using only 1 or 2 seconds and use my hat as a shutter. It’s fine in dark settings and always handy. I am so used to it I don’t really think of it as a problem; just a quirky camera.

  5. Hello Benoît,
    Nice review and nice photos.
    Indeed, it’s not so easy to adjust the speed without altering the opening.
    But I like the fact that, once they are set, it’s easy to move the combination up or down (while keeping the right exposure) by grasping the two rings together.
    And, yes, it’s amazing glass and massive negatives are a joy to use.

  6. I have the II version of this camera so I enjoyed reading this, great review..

    Positives for me are

    – the massive negatives! Makes 6×6 seem like micro 4/3s 😀
    – relative simplicity of it, mine has no meter and very little in the way of options
    – the look of the images it produces is just fantastic, even if you only get 8 per roll

    The downside for me is the size of the thing, but I guess that goes with the territory. It’s also double-stroke too, which feels a bit odd and the noise of the shutter, a discrete camera this is not.

    I use mine on a tripod all the time and shoot it at f11 to f16, I applaud you for trying to use it hand held!

    1. I don’t think it does. That would be perfectly acceptable for me. I’ll have to try again when I’m back home, but I don’t think so.

  7. I think the light streaks in the last photo are actually a nice touch, it looks like the flares from an anamorphic lens in a way and really suits the night landscape! Great photos thanks for sharing!

  8. Christian Schroeder

    Nice review, indeed! I bought a GSW690I last summer, a great and simple camera. By coincidence, I have found out about the “unusual” ways to close the shutter in T mode just a few days ago. Haven’t used the Fuji for any non hand-holdable time yet. (As mine is lacking a lens cap, I unfortunately couldn’t practice Wim’s great trick.)

    In comparison to your iteration of the camera, I feel a bit envious to not have a shutter lock button. I always have to be very careful to not take too many frames of my camera bag’s interior. 🙂

  9. I have 2 of these cameras, and really like them. I think that the things the author has labeled stupid are actually differences from most 35mm SLRs that he simply is used to. The shutter speed and focus rings being on the barrel is normal for a leaf shutter camera. The shutter speed setting is simply closer mechanically to the shutter itself. Having it on the body would probably have made the mechanisms in the camera more complex for no good reason. The rings being together and moving togeather is a feature that the author is also simply not used to. They allow you to set exposure, and then change aperture or shutter speed tracking with the other. Move both rings together and exposure stays the same. It is handy and I use it often. So, it’s not “stupid”. it’s something different the author isn’t used to. There is also an easy work around to how T mode works. Cover the lens with the lens cap before moving the ring to close the shutter. A bit clunky perhaps, but pretty easy once you do it a couple of times.

    1. Herbert, you are right, maybe “stupid” was a bit of excessive emphasis on my part. Although to be fair, unless I have not understood how the T Mode works, I cannot figure out any intelligent reason why it works the way it does. Regarding the rings, I had not thought of that and although I feel that would be a cumbersome way to use it for me, at least it makes some sense.

    2. Spot on! I was about to make the same rebuttals. If you don’t have an in-body focal plane shutter, the shutter is on the lens.

  10. Another problem with the iii version of the camera is that the lens hood never fully retracts, making it very difficult to change filters on the camera. Once I put on a filter, that’s it for the day as I find it almost impossible to change it in the field (a rubber band around the filter helps). That said, I love this camera and try to take it with me whenever I can.

    1. That’s a good point. I haven’t tried screw-on filters yet, and I imagine the hood would make it difficult to use a filter holder ?

  11. Why didn’t you just cover the lens with a cap or cloth and then use the wind-on the close the shutter? Your long exposure images would have been free of camera shake.

    1. Fuji suggested not to use the “wind-on” option as it could weaken the shutter. Cover the lens or change the speed.

  12. Andriy Kryvtsun

    Good article! Thank you!

    Could you share your example images somehow with maximum resolution? I wanna see how many details the camera can reproduce.

    1. “Maximum resolution” would be down to scanning preferences. I haven’t tried scanning one of the negatives at max rez yet. If I do I will share.

  13. Andrea Visconti

    Nice review! Only one thing regarding the T-mode: it usually works this way (at least on some large-format lenses I use): pressing the cable once it opens the shutter and pressing it a second time it closes it. This is quite good because you don’t need a cable that keep the shutter pressed for all the duration of a (long) exposure. Are you sure it doesn’t work the same way on the Fuji?

    1. I was sure before I saw all the comments, and I’m still pretty sure. This is what the manual says : “To take long-exposure pictures, set the shutter speed selector to “T”(Time) and press in the shutter release. The shutter will remain open even if you take your finger off the shutter release.To trip the shutter, just turn the shutter speed selecto rback toward “1”. On time exposure, it is also possible to trip the shutter by operating the film advance lever, but the film will advance and move your picture out of position in this case.To trip the shutter on time exposure, always turn the shutter speed selector. Do not operate the film advance lever.” I will try what you suggest though, just on the off chance…

  14. @Bob Janes is correct on the reason for the shutter and aperture so close together. Back in the day and without a light meter someone using the Sunny 16 rule . You can move the two together easily keeping your exposure correct. I move each individually usually but have done it together. I don’t shoot my 690 enough to become familiar with this.

  15. Hmm… that’s an annoying T-Mode. I’ve used cameras that offered a T-mode, but it was click-open, click-closed… no camera shake. I have been intrigued by these old MF cameras… not enough to jump on one yet, but it’s great to keep reading about them.

  16. That’s a well-balanced review Benoit. I had the 65mm version, the GSWiii, a few years ago as it seemed to be a great way to get more into 6×9 MF.
    The “crop factor” is 0.43 so this is equivalent to the same angle of view as a 28mm on 35mm. Too wide for some.

    I agree that the image quality can be excellent. And the proximity of the aperture and the speed rings never caused me any problem, perhaps as I was use to this idea on my Olympus 35SP and others. Yes the T implementation is a pain but the one that really bugged me was the inability to use a filter system due to the retracting lens hood which hides the shutter and aperture rings when retracted. Dohhh!

    But….the reason I sold it and prefer to use my Bronica or one of my 6×9 folders is that I never really enjoyed using it. There was just something intangible that I never liked about it as it seemed like an overgrown RF on steroids with no character. Not very logical I admit but if it doesn’t feel right then it won’t stay in my collection.

  17. Interesting review of this camera. I’ve owned the same model shown here, but currently have the II version, as a personal preference of the more metallic feel.

    To the contrary of some of the others commenting, unfortunately the T mode doesn’t work the way of other similar lenses. One must use the aperture/shutter ring or the film advance. I found a larger slip over lens cover that you can quickly put on to get around this.

    The camera is really just a 4×5 rangefinder built around 6×9. The lens is exceptional, only surpassed in resolution and sharpness by two of the Mamiya 7 lenses. Color and contrast is very high and its slightly warmer than it’s German counterparts.

    Shooting handheld is very possible thanks to the leaf shutter! Use the front shutter release and you’ll have shockingly shake free images.

  18. It is a myth that the noise of the camera is coming from the shutter counter. Simply take the bottom plate off and see and hear for yourself. You can easily reset the counter and you will notice that the noise is produced by the shutter mechanism itself.

  19. The only issue I’ve had with mine is that it is far more susceptible to fat rolls/loose rolls than any other camera I have used.
    Have to be very careful maintaining tension on the film when closing the back.

  20. You are correct that the T shutter will not close with a second press od the shutter release or cable. However, with longer shutter speeds, the several methods suggested should all work fine, as the quarter second disruption should not register on anything longer than a few seconds. Sometimes we forget that camera controls continually evolve, and that we enjoy today the culmination of picking everything that working in the past, and putting them all in one place, has spoiled us! The T setting was developed because we complained about having to hold the cable release down for any more than a few seconds! So, set screws were put on cable releases, and the T shutter setting developed, so we could open the shutter, and have some coffee, while we waited for the 30 minute exposure to be completed…..

  21. Two limitations with this fine camera from my perspective: 1) The 6×9 format. 6×7 is the maximum size that will fit in my enlarger (remember those?). I could get the same results on a 6×7 and get more frames on an (expensive) roll of film. The extra two cms of the 6×9 may serve other shooters better. Not me. 2) Weight. I am a middle aged backpacker. This thing weighs the same amount as my tent, and likely needs the same amount of space in my backpack. Thus, I’ll stick with my ancient 6×6 Zeiss folder and its limitations until something better appears.

  22. It’s an excellent review.
    I considered the Fuji Texas Leica, but after reading comments about the noisy shutter linkage, the counter noise and the lack of a bulb setting , I opted for the Brooks-Veriwide (second version 6×9). It is lighter than the Fuji and sports a 47mm Super Angulon
    (albeit only f/8, but sharp as a tack) and a really big viewfinder with parallax adjustments. No rangefinder, but I have a very nice Watameter RF when I need precise distance settings as well as a Leica Disto. The only real advantage of the Fuji over the Brooks is the larger aperture.

    1. No offense J but the Brooks Veriwide is nothing like the Fuji. I have both. Mine is the Veriwide 100 which actually is a 6×10 camera, giving you 7 exposures per roll. The lens also is much much wider than my Fuji GW690III – equivalent to 21mm in 35mm terms. It is a lovely camera to use, and the Leitz optical viewfinder is breathtaking. But it essentially is comparing a semi-panoramic camera with a very wide and slow lens to a general use medium format rangefinder camera.

      My perfect Veriwide 100:

  23. No argument there. I pointed out that an RF is an extra accessory, the lens is very WA and I love the Leitz VF on the Brooks. I was looking for a 6×9 and the Brooks Veriwide suited my needs better. The Fuji minuses such as the clunky noise and the awkward T exposure drill were non- starters for me. Non-starters for someone else might be the totally basic operation of the Brooks.

  24. Hi. I’m using my Fuji GW680III almost every day. I shoot landscape with everything (slide, color neg and b&w neg) .
    Regarding T mode… Yes Bulb mode would be nice but can it be done without battery ? I know that Mamiya RZ67 has bulb mode that uses battery and works only for 1 minute !? RB67 has only T mode just like this Fuji.

    I don’t really think it’s a problem. I do a lot of long exposures with good sturdy tripod I don’t even need dark cloth. I just use two fingers to turn shutter speed dial to close the shutter. Never had a problem. I don’t know why you used film advance to do that. It needs much more force.

    It may be stupid but I like the placement of aperture and shutter speed dial. It’s just like on pentax digital spot meter.
    I set up my camera in advance so I don’t need to fiddle with it fast.

  25. I’ve also got the 690III. Mine came in almost mint condition except for the lens hood. It was so worn that it just slid around and would not sit square. I ended up taping up the lens with painters tape and a cheap UV filter so that I could take a Dremel to it. It was a successful operation outside of one small nick on the flange that held the hood on the lens. I’d love to get rid of that flange–looks rather odd–but removing that would be major surgery. I’ve yet to find a replacement that I’m happy with but I’m much happier without the original.

    Quirks and that lens hood aside it’s a great camera.

  26. I haven’t used mine very much but I’m still really glad I have it. Love the huge negatives. “Full manual” is the reliable way to work with a film camera.
    By the way, 6X9 is not too much wider than 35mm. I find it similar regarding image composition. 35mm is 1.35:1 while 6X9 is 1.5:1

  27. I have found this on mine as well, mostly on the older one of the 2. I find that if I drag my finger on the roll with the initial load, pulling the paper leader tight, I don’t see the issue.

  28. hey dude when you took that 60 sec exposure, you should have blocked it with something like bringing a book or something in front of lens to block light in that way, light streaks won’t appear with that double stroke.

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