Fuji GW690III
5 frames with...

5 Frames with the Fuji GW690 III – By Phil Steelandt

October 12, 2020

I’m learning to find the balance between the freedom and the limitations of a (huge) rangefinder. I have to confess that I am new to rangefinders. I graduated in a film school in Brussels in 1981. Rangefinders were totally incompatible with my way of framing a shot.

There is one big constraint in film: we have to compose in the viewfinder because that’s the frame projected on the screen. My film background is the reason why I avoided the rangefinders up until now.

If I told you that I am a Contax fanatic, it would feel like an understatement. Contax cameras and Zeiss lenses have been my companions since 1985 – and I still use some of the older SLR’s today. That’s the reason why I wanted to try the most famous of them: The Contax II.

Last year I found one and, after a serious CLA, I put my first steps into the rangefinders world with my 1937 Contax II. The second step was to upgrade to medium format.

Wouldn’t a Pentax 6×7 perfectly fit my needs? A massive SLR with large negatives? Yes but instead – since I made the step to move from a “modern” SLR Contax to a 1937 Contax rangefinder – why shouldn’t I look for a medium format rangefinder too?

The huge 6×9 negatives and the lighter construction of a rangefinder pushed me to the Fuji GW690 III.

There is another link between my Contax love and the Fuji GW690 too. My digital cameras are Fuji’s and my first one (XT 1) was like a small digital Contax RTS. With the retro style shutter speed dial, the ISO dial and the exposure compensation I recognised the same feeling. The Fuji-film simulations and, most of all, the beautiful lenses were the final thing that convinced me to go for a Fuji medium format camera. The link to Fuji was an easy one to make.

The GW690 fits in your (large) hands and is a product of true craftsmanship. It also has a marvelous lens: the 1:3,5 f 90 Fujinon. Fujinon lenses are well known in the film world.

A few words about my workflow:

I develop my black & white negatives at home, the colours at a nice lab (Fotoshop) in Ghent. I then scan the negatives with my flatbed Epson V850 without sharpening. I use a rather flat profile to be able to recover the highlights and shadows in post. Finally, I import the TIFF-files into Capture-One to fine-tune them. By the way, C1Β  has a new tool that makes removing dust and scratches very easy.

Using the Fuji GW690 III

I used the Fuji GW690 III in a way it was obviously not intended for: Portraits and architecture. But there is nothing better to trigger your creativity than limitations.

The first limitation I encountered with the Fuji GW690 is due to one of the advantages of the camera: to avoid weight they choose to build a rangefinder with fixed lens. The lens is a 40mm equivalent with a minimum focus distance of 1 meter.

The closest you can go is a waist shot – you can forget making beautiful close-up portraits with this camera… but you can crop them out in post if needed (one of the advantages of a 6×9 negative)

The second one is a general limitation with rangefinders and architecture. It’s impossible to see in the viewfinder how your final picture will look. Trying to have a perfectly symmetrically aligned shot is a long trial and error process, a costly one, knowing you have 8 shots on 1 film.

There is also an advantage in having only 8 shots per film: it slows down the process and boost the accuracy.

The third one is due to my own limitation. The portrait with the man on the Vespa is wide open at f/3,5 with a very shallow depth of field A close look and you can see that the focus is behind his eyes.

The camera was mounted on a sturdy tripod but I focused from my temporary wheelchair (I am recovering from a broken ankle) so I was limited by a lower angle, the wheelchair hitting the tripod and my acrobatic moves to get to the viewfinder.

So I learned to live with the various limitations and to look at the bright side of this camera.

The Fuji GW690III is easy in use, is relatively light and can be used handheld, has a very good lens and delivers massive negatives. The camera is sturdy, fully manual, without batteries (you need a handheld light-meter) feels good balanced in the hands, has a good viewfinder with parallax correction and is much easier to handle than my 1937 Contax II.

Would I recommend it?
Yes !
But…
If you want a Fuji GW690III, they are not cheap on the vintage camera market. And remember, I was a die-hard SLR user. Like an ex-smoker, we are the most fanatic anti-tobacco preachers πŸ˜‰

Thanks for reading my personal approach of this camera.

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23 Comments

  • Reply
    Daniel Sigg
    October 12, 2020 at 4:15 pm

    Hi Phil, Fun article. I especially love the portraits, in particular the last one. I own a GW690ii and it has been in CLA for a while now (leaf shutter issue I think). I do use a Hasselblad 500cm for most of my medium format work, but do look forward to getting the GW690ii back after your inspiring article πŸ˜‰

    • Reply
      Phil Steelandt
      October 12, 2020 at 5:10 pm

      Hi Daniel,
      Thanks.I enjoy the ease of use of this camera. I will use it a lot…it fits so well handheld.
      I hope yours will be repaired soon.

  • Reply
    Paul
    October 12, 2020 at 4:50 pm

    Your negs are under developed.

    • Reply
      Phil Steelandt
      October 12, 2020 at 5:28 pm

      Hi Paul,
      I have them printed out on paper 30×45 cm. And indeed they are flatter than the prints or the Tiff’s on my screen.
      I think that I was messing around when I had to post them here in lower resolution (I’m new to worldpress)
      The photo of the man with the Vespa is developped with Kodak HC 110 and the other ones with T-Max developer.
      The negs are T-max 100 and 400.
      I’ll check a testfilm next time by increasing a little dev time.
      Thanks for comment

      • Reply
        Paul
        October 13, 2020 at 10:59 am

        Sorry Phil, my comment was awfully blunt and rude! What was I thinking? It’s a matter personal taste anyway and you can show your pictures how you like. Great site and articles. Thank you.

        • Reply
          Phil Steelandt
          October 13, 2020 at 2:03 pm

          Paul, no problem.
          I like soft contrast for portraits. But they are indeed too flat here.

    • Reply
      Kurt Ingham
      October 12, 2020 at 5:54 pm

      Not necessarily. Good tonal range-flat contrast may be a ‘printing’ choice

      • Reply
        Paul
        October 13, 2020 at 11:02 am

        Yes you are right Kurt. I’ve apologised for my comment which was blunt and quite rude. A momentary lapse of reason. People can show their pictures how ever they like!

  • Reply
    Kurt Ingham
    October 12, 2020 at 5:52 pm

    Very nice work, indeed. I am always delighted when I see the 6×9 negatives (or even better, transparencies) mine produces. I laugh when people claim that 6×4.5 is ‘just as good’!

    • Reply
      Phil Steelandt
      October 12, 2020 at 8:13 pm

      Hi Kurt,
      The funny part of it is that the massive negs can’t beat the first generation digital pictures…okay that’s just pixelpeeping 😁
      You have 2 6×4.5 for one click 6×9.
      Even “half-frame” of an Olympus Pen is another way of taking a picture…it’s still a limitation of 72 pictures compared to digital.
      It’s a way to go to the frame you think is the right one
      And it’s more critical with transparency

      But we are here because we live with it and we love it too.
      Thanks for comment and eager to see your “small” 6×4,5 πŸ˜‰

  • Reply
    Christian Schroeder
    October 12, 2020 at 5:52 pm

    Hi Phil, nice article indeed!
    You don’t have to recommend the camera to me – I already succumbed to the lure of Fuji’s large rangefinders. This summer, I started to document the countryside around my home with the wide-angle version of the 690. I like to use a specific camera for a specific project.
    By the way, your portraits are beautiful – but you’ve also done a great job in capturing the bridges’ bellies.
    Cheers, Christian

    • Reply
      Phil Steelandt
      October 12, 2020 at 8:36 pm

      Hi Christian,
      I hesitated a lot between the 90 and the 65 version.
      I’m still not sure that I made the right choise…but I’m sure that I can’t afford to buy the 2 cameras.
      One of my Fuji X system digital lenses is the 27 pancake in APSC format.
      It’s nearly the same of my 90mm on the 690.
      Not too long and not too short. You could say “not long enough or short enough” but
      I think full of opportunities.
      Too close for classical landscapes, too wide for portraits.
      But still challenging…exactly what I wantede to share here.
      Thx for comment

  • Reply
    davesurrey
    October 12, 2020 at 6:04 pm

    Hi Phil,
    I owned a GSW690iii which has the wider 65mm lens but apart from that it’s basically the same camera. I agree that it’s a great camera capable of terrific results and has lots of Fuji attention to detail (eg the red buttons to pop out the spools) but there are also some gripes eg the lens hood, the close spacing of the shutter and aperture rings and it’s not the quietest chap on the block.

    I used mine for landscapes but found it just too bulky as a travel camera. I read somewhere that the main sales in Japan were for shooting groups of tourists which may be where it got its travel reputation? So I sold it and I have no regret as I never felt a close affinity to it.

    I now have a few 6×9 folders, much lighter and of course they take the same film and some have quality lenses. Each one to his own but thanks for the article.

    • Reply
      Phil Steelandt
      October 13, 2020 at 7:33 am

      Hi David,
      Thanks for your comment.
      I like the close spacement of shutter and aperture, once you have set them to correct exposure, it’s easy to move both in one movement to keep same exposure but with different aperture-speed.

  • Reply
    Neal A Wellons
    October 12, 2020 at 6:15 pm

    It is always nice to read a post about the “Texas Leica” since I use a GSW690III and a G617 for my medium format photos. I like your story and photos and look forward to more.

    I like to shoot mine with a 720nm filter and JCH Streetpan 400 film. The big negative is great in infrared.

  • Reply
    Zisis Kardianos
    October 12, 2020 at 6:45 pm

    Hi Phil, I appreciated very much your impressions on the Fuji 690 and not just because I’m also a proud owener of a Fuji 690II. I particularly like the first two portraits. It seems that you nailed the focus on those. I guess you went as close to the minimum focus distance as you could get and judging from the DOF your aperture must have been 3.5 or 4. I’m having a really hard tine to nail the focus on such a small distance and wide open aperture. The slightest camera move during exposure can easily throw the focus out. Did you use a tripod for these shots too?

    • Reply
      Phil Steelandt
      October 13, 2020 at 7:39 am

      Hello Zisis,
      It’s not easy to focus full open (3.5) at 1 meter as you can see in the photo of the man with the Vespa.
      I think that I was at 5.6 for the two other portraits.

  • Reply
    Will
    October 12, 2020 at 7:39 pm

    Lovely Phil! Both the write-up and photos. A GW690 (first generation) and GSW690III are my go-to shooters these days. While there are definite challenges, as you laid out, I absolutely love the results, and so I can work around some of the limitations. I, too, use the GW690 for portraits, but I have largely focused on environmental portraits, for which 40mm works nicely.

    Hope you recover soon and enjoy the camera πŸ™‚

    • Reply
      Phil Steelandt
      October 13, 2020 at 7:46 am

      Thanks Will.
      Yes, it feels more natural to shoot more environmental portraits with this camera

  • Reply
    Zvonimir
    October 12, 2020 at 7:49 pm

    Wouldn’t the 6×7 format be just as useful and considerably more economical?

  • Reply
    Sammael99
    October 13, 2020 at 1:57 am

    Thanks for this great write-up. I’ve been working on and off on a review of the GW690iii for 35MMC, hopefully it should be ready soon-ish. In the meantime it’s great to see what others are doing with it. Love the third frame and the portraits. I’ve found that my B&W shots with the Fuji are really noticeably different/better than equivalent 135 shots. I still haven’t determined if it’s more because of the camera or because of the process…

    • Reply
      Phil Steelandt
      October 13, 2020 at 7:50 am

      Waiting to read your review.

  • Reply
    Chria Rampitsch
    October 13, 2020 at 3:31 am

    Interesting! I bought a MF rangefinder too, even though I was/am an SLR/TLR guy. And I did if for more or less the same reasons you did: the ability to hand-hold, afforded by the leaf shutter. I don’t regret it (the rangefinder) although I find it hard to focus in portrait mode! I also find I have to use a spirit level to get a straight horizon. Very annoying, but then no camera is perfect and the other advantages (light weight and ability to shoot hand held easily) don’t really come with too many MF cameras.

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