March 2020

Fed 2 Review

The first roll of film I put through this camera in 2017 did not turn out well. The film snapped inside shortly after loading and no images were actually made. So the camera lingered on my shelf, got listed on eBay to be sold a couple of times during gear purges, didn't sell and always left me with a lingering intregue of how this camera would perform. Sure it looked great, its operation was a bit clunky, but would the images have that vintage charm? Finally I loaded it up with a 24 exposure roll of Kentmere 400, solely on account of its price and to diminish risk that the roll would be furloughed without being finished in a reasonable timeframe.

I had decided that this camera should be more of less pocketable in a coat and so the Industar 26 lens that it had came with was replaced with a Industar 22 folding 50mm lens shipped directly from Russia. This is the coated red pi version, although as you can see from the above the coating has perhaps seen better days. Overall though it seems in reasonably good condition, with no haze or fogging. Its incredible how compact this set up is with the folding lens retracted and fits nicely into my coat pocket.

Dartmouth Park ReservoirFed 2 + Industar 22 + Kentmere 400

In operation the camera's basic operation appeared to be working ok. I did not realise until a few shots in that the lever next to the rewind knob was to adjust the rangefinder's focus and this made a huge difference as a couple of shots in I had been wondering how the viewfinder had got so screwed up whilst sat on my shelf. Otherwise there wasn't much noteworthy about the operation - once I got the hang of quickly extending the lens and focusing with the dial and I did think the rangefinder patch was bright enough that I was pretty confident focus was being attained.

These shots were taken on pretty overcast days and so I wasn't expecting much in the way of contrasty shots.The frames here are the best 4 of the 24. On almost all frames the right hand side of the negative is significantly darker than the rest leading me to think the shutter is misaligned or malfunctioning. On these images I actually think the darker side gives the images extra weight, adding mystery and helping to draw the eye across the image.

Highgate CemeteryFed 2 + Industar 22 + Kentmere 400
Chester RoadFed 2 + Industar 22 + Kentmere 400

Intrigue, as it often does, got the better of me and soon a Jupiter 12 lens had arrived in a package at my door. This lens along with a KMZ 35mm viewfinder were mounted for the last few shots of the roll. This lens is a Zeiss Bigon copy and has a crazy large rear element. Whilst less expensive than LTM 35mm alternatives it still cost £65. I'd read reviews that this lens was relatively poor wide open, with corners softer than warm butter, but stopped down (the below shot is at f11) it seems to be pretty good. This isn't a camera I'd be using for any serious landscape work anyway and so corner sharpness (or lack thereof) is all part of the character.

In a similar vein to the above I started questioning how much better a Baranack Leica would be. Would it actually be any more fun to shoot than the FED? I found a very reasonably priced Leica III on eBay from a camera retailer and as soon as I held it in my hand after unboxing it I realised why these are a premium over these Russian clones. First its noticeably smaller and the Vulcanite covering is less textured and so more pleasing to hold. The film winding knobs feel more like precision instruments than crude mechanisms that will strip skin from your fingers. I've just loaded up a film and will report back soon if its a keeper.

Wood and MetalFed 2 + Jupiter 12 + Kentmere 400

1st Roll: Fuji GW690

Nicknamed the 'Texas Leica' in account of its larger than life dimensions, the Fuji GW690 is an absolute beast of a camera that exposes a monumental 6x9 negative on 120 roll film. Purportedly created to meet the needs of Japanese tour group photographers this brick of a rangefinder does nothing subtlely. If you were thinking that maybe this would be a great hand holder to get some massive street photography exposures, think again. Its size in photos is easily misleading and despite the leaf shutter in the lens, taking a picture creates a loud 'clack' that is not suited to being indescrete.

So assuming you are not aiming to take photos of large groups of people on holiday, what is this camera good for in 2020? Clearly with only 8 frames on a 120 roll of film its not an inexpensive shooter. Whilst you can hand hold the camera its probably advisable to consider using a tripod and use it for slow, deliberate photography. For me, landscapes will probably be the primarily application of this camera.

This is the first model of the GW690 series; the other two variants have slightly modified designs which I personally prefer less. The one main difference is the removable lens hood on the model I was switched to one that is not removable on the II and III. This was a big deal for me as I aim to only keep two full sets of filters in 52mm and 77mm thread mounts, meaning I will need to use a step up ring to use the 77mm filters. When the lens hood is not extended on the II and III you will not be able to change shutter speed or aperture which struck me with great liklihood to cause great annoyance. In use the camera operates very well, with smooth focusing, a surprisingly bright rangefinder and two stroke film advance. There is no light meter on any of the models but there are other small refinements made with the later versions: strap lugs were moved to one per side as opposed to two on the same side and more importantly a shutter lock was added to prevent unwanted exposures. As each frame is so expensive, I do wish the first version had this.

These cameras are plentiful in Japan but much less so in the UK. Buying from Japan means that VAT and potentially import duty are also liable for payment when this item is delivered (plus a service fee from Parcelforce). I used this tool to estimate how much that would be, and it came out about right in the end. If buying from eBay its probably best not going for the cheapest one, and really scrutinise the listing, as often you'll see "EXC++++++" to read the description and find it say "Has some small fungus". How you can descibe any photographic equiptment with fungus as EXC or even good is beyond me.

I've been thinking alot about aspect ratios recently, finding myself drawn away from 35mm and more to 6x4.5 and 6x6. Now 6x9 is basically the same proportions as a standard 35mm frame and so I had considered one of the 6x7 or 6x8 variants of this camera. They tend to be rarer and more expensive and are bascially the same camera with modified film advance gearing and baffles to reduce the frame. You do get 1 and 2 extra exposure though respectively, which with the cost per frame so high, is not to be sniffed at. In the end I decided to spend hundred less and just go for the GW690 and see how I got on with it.

Dead TreeFuji GW690 + Ilford Ortho 80
Heath TreesFuji GW690 + Ilford Ortho 80
FallenFuji GW690 + Ilford Ortho 80

For my first roll I should probably have chosen a film I had used before, but instead went for Ilford's new Ortho 80 emulsion which is not sensitive to red light. It was a pretty overcast day out on the heath but I thought I should get out and get a roll through the camera fast rather than let it linger on a shelf. Lugging it around on a Gitzo tripod with RRS ball headmade for some good exercise too. I really liked the basic operation of this camera, I thought I'd dislike the rangefinder but instead it was actually fine to use. There is something satisfying with the double stroke film advance and also something liberating in only capturing 8 frames per roll. There were several times I set up the tripod, framed up a shot, only then deciding then to not press the shutter. The limitation on frames was a nice challenge to make me more deliberate with what I wanted to capture. Getting the images back the massive negative was really cool to see on my light table, I bet slide film through this would look awesome, thats something I will have to try when sunshine finally reappears in these parts. The film also, unsurprisingly given the large size, scans well. I've recently started ordering prints from the lab doing the scans done myself and I recieved this roll back the same time as the Fuji GS645W (subject of an earlier post). I was very underwhelmed with the prints from this camera, they lacked contrast and the aspect ratio was less pleasing than the 6x4.5 shots. However scanning them in with my Epson v850 / Vuescan and using Negative Lab Pro to do the inversion the shots impressed me much more.

Kenwood HouseFuji GW690 + Ilford Ortho 80
Reeds and PondFuji GW690 + Ilford Ortho 80
IslandFuji GW690 + Ilford Ortho 80

The Small Things: Peak Design Straps and Remote Release Cords

I had started seeing these red rimmed black circles attached to cameras pop up on the internet, intregue got the better of me and next news I'd decided to see what all the fuss was about. These are a really elegant solution to quite an annoying problem, particularly if you have a hoard of cameras you regularly switch between. I hate with a passion the metal split ring lugs to attach camera straps; taking them on an off is a pain and so I end up having a strap permanently fitted to each body. Fine, except when you don't want the strap getting in the way, like when theyre stored, or when you'd rather use a wrist strap over a shoulder strap.

Peak Design's solution to this problem is to have these easy to attach Anchor Links, high quality plastic discs that attach to your camera lugs without going through the split ring fastened to a high strength cord (tested to 90kg), and then the disc fits into a quick release connector on compatible straps like the Cuff (wrist strap) or slide (shoulder strap). Neither of these products are inexpensive, but then quality gernally isn't. Plus it means that you only need one strap for multiple cameras. The Slide strap also comes with two more Anchor links and a screw in plate for the bottom of your camera so that you can mount your strap there instead of the lugs.

Its quality little things like this that make a big difference and buying cheap can be a false economy in the long run. As an aside another big impact little thing was to purchase some quality remote shutter releases - the Nikon AR-3 and one from Kaiser. Both cost something like £15-20, a huge premium compared to the £3 generic ones I had been buying off eBay. However too many times now the cheap ones have failed, either the plunger head coming off and getting lost or the thread disintegrating on the screw in mechanism. There is nothing worse than when your only shutter release cable fails when out in a loction that you want to do some long exposures.

1st Roll: Fuji GS645W with Fomapan 400

Highgate CemeteryFuji GS645W + Fomapan 400 (London, 2020)

Some 3 days after an impulse bid on eBay I was unboxing this camera. It was listed in fully working condition with the only flaw being the ISO dial losing its indentations making it prone to move around and loose its position. I has bought the first version of this camera sporting a 45mm lens and omitting a rangefinder. Its younger brother sports a 60mm lens protected by a curious looking bar resembling some sort of roll cage. The longer lens necessitates a rangefinder also. These "compact" Fuji 645 cameras are pretty rare in the UK, particularly this really wide version. I'd hoped this would be a good walk around 645 camera for me, and it has not disappointed.

First thing is that is bigger than you expect after only seeing images of it on the internet. It's plastic, seemingly pretty high grade, and not so weighty. It fits in the hand ok, could probably do with a bit more of a handgrip, but works nicely with my Peak Design Cuff wrist strap. The camera has basic controls: shutter speed selection from 1-1/500s in full stops and aperture from f5.6 to f22. Given the lack of rangefinder it'd be crazy to want anything with less depth of field than f5.6 in my humble opinion. The scale focus has indents at 2m and 5m which I guess must be there as most common settings for maximising the depth of field at f8 (or f11?) and f16 respectively. ISO setting goes up to 1600 and the meter reading inside the viewfinder is an illuminating -/O/+ type. Now the viewfinder, it may surprise you looking through it that its orientated vertically, and this may not sit well with you. For me it was actually a refreshing change. More and more I'm realising that using cameras with different characteristics can force you to change your perspective and help you see images that you wouldn't be apparent to you otherwise. I don't normally shoot vertical but I found this default setting of shooting vertical lead me to getting compositions I'm sure I would have been much less likely to try out on a landscape orientated camera. The film advance is a nice one and a half stroke. Finally the lens, as you can see from these images really nice and sharp. Unfortunately for me that it has a native 49mm filter thread, as I have a full set of 52mm filters, so I have installed a step up ring.

Overall this is definitely a keeper and I think will become my travel medium format camera. I'm realising I prefer the aspect ratio of 645 much better than 35mm, leading to me selling a few 35mm cameras to fund this one. 

Kentish Town RoadFuji GS645W + Fomapan 400 (London, 2020)
Raydon StFuji GS645W + Fomapan 400 (London, 2020)
Chester RoadFuji GS645W + Fomapan 400 (London, 2020)
Hampsted HeathFuji GS645W + Fomapan 400 (London, 2020)
Hampsted HeathDigitized with Negative Lab Pro v2.1.2