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, C1 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?
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 😉
Thanks for reading my personal approach of this camera.