Archive | April 2009

Fuji GA645 family of autofocus 6×4.5 cameras

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Introduction. I found this camera impossible to take seriously when it came out. What a toy. Who would buy that piece of plastic? Then I rented one for a trip to California. Then I bought the camera, right from rental. And so it began. I took it to Germany and Austria and the Czech Republic and Hungary and Italy and Spain and Portugal and Italy again and New Orleans and England and the Netherlands and Belgium and Chicago and Mexico.  Then again to Italy, then Thailand, Turkey, and so on.  You can see the pictures on this site. The shot counter reads about a zillion. And it’s still cranking away lovely pictures.

Concept. At least on paper, this camera is a follow-on to the Fuji GS645 6×4.5 folding camera and the GS645S model with the crash bars. What Fuji added was dual active/passive autofocus (with focus lock and manual zone focus), programmed and aperture-prority autoexposure (retaining manual mode, of course), exposure compensation, autoloading (a la Rollei Automat), automatic 120/220 changeover (push the pressure plate to the correct setting and the camera does the rest), and data imprinting (shutter speed/aperture/shooting mode or date/time) – outside the frame! On top of that, you get a popup fill flash.

This camera comes in five variations, four of which are essentially similar.

  • GA645 has a 60mm f/4 lens;
  • GA645 (v.2) increases the number of shots on 120 film to 16 (from 15) and the number on 220 to 32 (from 30), adds a little protective ridge around the AF button to prevent accidental pressing, and quiets down the focusing;
  • GA645W is the same as above but has a 45mm f/4 Biogon-style lens, a 0.4x finder, and a rectangular bayonet hood;
  • GA645i is similar to the GA645, except that it also has a second shutter release and barcode reader for Fuji medium-format films (it automatically sets the film speed);
  • GA645Wi has the improvements of the GA645i but the basic specs of the GA645W; and
  • GA645Zi has a 55-90mm zoom lens.  See more extensive description below.

Regular or wide?  Your immediate impulse might be to question why you would use the GA645W (or Wi), since it is the difference between a 37mm lens equivalent and a 28mm.  That’s actually quite a bit of difference.  Having now had a chance to use the wideangle (45mm model), my basic comment is that the finder has a very slightly lower magnification, the depth of field is much greater, the ability to capture tall objects (when the camera is held normally) is greatly enhanced, and the lens barrel is very slightly longer when retracted.  The one lingering question is how to assure that the camera is level – fairly critical when you have a lens as wide as a 28mm on a 24x36mm camera.  One definite caution is that the 60mm lens seems to represent the minimum for closeups of people.

Finder. The GA645 finder is about a 0.5x magnification, with parallax-corrected projected framelines. There is a central crosshair that signals the focusing sensitivity. At the bottom of the display is an LED readout showing the aperture, shutter speed, distance and if in manual mode, up-and-down arrows. There is also a lightning-bolt indicator for flash. In terms of the big picture, the finder has the usual Fuji blue-cast. But that matters very little, because you don’t use the finder to focus. I can say that the finder is much easier on your eyes than the new Fuji GA645zi zoom finders are. Like other modern Fujis, the eyepiece takes Nikon F3 (non-HP), FA/FE2/FM2 diopters, etc.

Lens/Shutter. The lens on the GA645 and GA645i is a Super-EBC Fujinon 6-element 5-group multicoated planar-type lens. The field of view for the 60mm lens is like that of a 35mm lens on a 35mm camera. The 45mm lens version (GA645w and GA645wi) has a field of view similar to that of a 24mm lens on a 35mm camera (angles of view are not entirely comparable because the 6×4.5 frame is closer to 4:5 than it is to the 2:3 of a typical 35mm frame.

All I need to say about the 60mm lens is that it is deadly sharp, and that wide-open, it is still pleasant. 

The lens delivers enough resolution to sustain a 4000dpi scan and then a perspective correction in Photoshop (see the picture at top).

The shutter is an electronic (stepper-motor-driven) #00 that has manual settings up to 1/500 sec (1/700 sec if you are shooting at f/11 or f/16. 

Exposure system. The camera meters scenes through the viewfinder. In my experience, the metering system is typically about 1/3 to 1/2 stop under on bright daylit scenes, which is well within the tolerances of any film you would use in a 6×4.5 camera (slide film especially needs normal-to-under exposure). On a shot-to-shot basis, the system is so accurate that the density changes between negatives in wildly varying light conditions (inside cathedrals, outdoors, sunny and overcast) are within 1/10 of a stop. So you can trust the meter…

Focus. So the question you’ve been dying to ask is how does it autofocus? In a word, well. I remember reading somewhere (I don’t think it was in the manual, which I at any rate lost) that the GA645 uses a 900-step autofocusing system. This is more than enough to cover the entire focusing range of 0.6m (2.3 feet) to infinity. You can have the camera focus, and then lock (for single, you just hold in the shutter release partway; for multiple shots, you hold the MF button under the lens).

Manual focus is a little bit different. Since there is no focusing aid, the way you handle this is to tap the AF button on the top, hold the MF button on the bottom, and to turn the control wheel. This cycles through various fixed distances (for example, in feet: 2.3-2.5-3.0-3.5-4-5-6-7-8-10-15-30-INF). The best thing to do is to Xerox the back page of the manual with the DOF scales. This is a mode I use a lot. It would have been nice to have a depth-of-field scale on the camera, but after 150 rolls with this camera, I don’t really need it anymore.

You can set the camera to beep after each exposure and three times at the 14th (or 28th) frame on a roll, but it is annoying and you should turn it off (how to do that is in the manual).

Flash. Did I mention that the camera has a built-in flash? You can use the built-in automatic flash for all exposure modes. In Program, the flash operates in automatic (although it sets an excruciatingly-low shutter speed of 1/30 sec – and why do they call it “Flashmatic?” That terms refers to something else entirely). Ditto for aperture-priority mode. I don’t know what it is doing in manual, but I believe that that mode causes the flash to operate in automatic as well. GN is wimpy, so if your subject is more than 10 feet away, forget it. I wish I could tell you more, but I don’t ever use the flash (maybe 8 shots in 150+ rolls of film so far).

You can mount a shoe-mount flash on the hot shoe (or you can mount a Nikon AS-15 hot-shoe-to-PC adapter and use an off-camera flash like a Metz. The camera did not self-destruct with my old Vivitar 283 flash, but I would not recommend using high-sync-voltage flashes. Make sure your flash has 28mm coverage (remember, 6×4.5 is a vertical format with this camera).

Transport. The film transport is a little loud, as is the AF. But it’s not enough to cause anyone to notice the camera. The camera has a sensor that picks up the start of the film so that once you get the film threaded on the takeup spool, you snap the camera shut and it goes to town. The camera gives you 15 shots on 120 and 30 on 220 (why it shorts you that extra frame is beyond me). The film-tensioning system works well, and none of my negatives exhibit light leaks. Spools eject by little red buttons underneath each spool (definitely a step up from older Fuji and Zeiss folders).

Ergonomics. This is where you learn to love or hate it. The GA645’s feminine curves feels great in your hand, and the shutter button falls right under your index finder (much as it does with an F4s or an F3 with MD-4. The bummer is that the mode selector is right next to the eyepiece. But if that’s the worst of your problems… the control wheel falls naturally under your right thumb.

Size/weight. There is no denying that a GA645 is bigger than a Super Ikonta A. But it is a lot smaller than 645 SLRs. The lens retracts into the body, so that you can fit the camera into a good-sized coat pocket or a thin briefcase with no problem whatsoever. The overall size is about the same as an F100 with the new pancake 45mm Nikkor. Of course, your negatives will come out better.

What about the GA645zi?  Surprisingly, this is an apples-to-oranges comparison with the other GA series cameras.  I took one of these to Africa (South Africa and Namibia) in 2006.  It performed flawlessly.  Here are the differences from the “regular” GA line:

  • 55-90mm zoom lens (35mm-55mm) f/4.5-6.9.   The zoom is useful for landscapes – since you can’t get appreciably closer to infinity by walking toward it.  55mm is only very slightly wider than the 60mm on the GA645.  90mm (for which you sacrifice significant lens speed) is like a 50mm on a 35mm camera.  Lens is not noticeably different in sharpment from original GA lenses (all in all, lens is net positive over the GAs, although variable and slow maximum aperture pushes this camera more into the daylight/flash range);
  • Zoom viewfinder with LCD framelines, LCD distance scale, LCD shutter speed and aperture readouts, fixed eyepiece, built-in diopter correction (net slight negative; this is the user interface, and the visibility is not as good as the LEDs in the original);
  • Relocated mode dial on top deck (net positive if you haven’t used another variety of GA645).
  • Backlit LCD status indicator (frame number, ISO, exposure comp, etc.) is now on the back door (backlighting is a positibe, display placement is a subjective factor, but net negative to have such a critical display located on a moving part via ribbon connector).
  • Lens cap detection warning – viewfinder info flashes.  (net positive if you use lens caps instead of UV filters);
  • Improved flash operation with slow synch/no slow synch modes, external PC connection.  Flash is moved to upper right corner of camera (from front) (net positive);
  • Metal bottom plate – more attractive, more easily damaged (net neutral);
  • Improved weather sealing (net positive);
  • Back to one shutter release button, down on the front grip (net neutral);
  • Ability to change between 120 and 220 pressure plate settings while the film is loaded(!) (net positive, though 220 film is getting close to extinct).
  • Data imprinting expanded to show focal length and AF mode (net negative – why does anyone need to know the exposure mode except the photographer?); and
  • Your choice of black or champagne color (on the latter, 1987 called and wants its color scheme back).

Ultimately, I did not bond with the GA645zi because I had been using the older GAs for years and sheer muscle memory made it very difficult to adapt to the changed control layout.  That said, it is a much more refined camera – the Leica of Fuji 645s.

Bottom-Line. This is a painless way to shoot medium-format and for $450-600 used (60mm version) you can’t go wrong. Fuji just discontinued this whole series, so buy it before someone figures out how good it is and makes it a cult item.

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