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.
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.