This is an article originally written in 2001; with a lot of updates.
How did these things get started?
The former Fujisawa-Shoukai had quite a bit of pull over Konica. Recall that by 1992, Konica had made what was seen as its last serious film camera, the Hexar AF, with its legendary 35mm f/2 lens. F-S, as we will call it here, commissioned in 1996 a run of Hexar lenses in Leica thread mound (LTM). This was long before the what people in the U.S. called a “rangefinder renaissance;” in fact at the time, very little in LTM was being produced in Japan, with the exception of the Avenon/Kobalux 21mm and 28mm lenses.
The first product of this program was the 35mm f/2L Hexanon, which looked like this:
This lens is simply a clone of the Hexar AF lens, right down having the same filter size. The coatings look identical, which is not a surprise. Consistent with some other contemporaneous LTM products, it did not have a focusing tab. On close inspection, the scalloped focusing ring looks like that on a Canon 35mm f/2 rangefinder lens, or more contemporaneously, the 21mm Avenon/Kobalux lens. The chrome finishing on an alloy body is reminiscent of modern-day ZM lenses. None of this, of course, will disabuse you of the notion that the Japanese lens production industry revolves around common suppliers. This lens shipped with a black flared lens hood (no vents) and a bright sandblasted chrome “Hexanon” lens cap that fit over the hood.
F-S would then go on to commission the 50/2.4L (collapsible) and 60/1.2L Hexanon lenses. The latter is famously expensive now; I have an email from F-S where it was 178,000 yen (about $1,400). The 50/2.4 will get its own article here.
In 2000, around the time that Avenon was re-releasing its 21mm and 28mm lenses as “millennium” models, F-S had another run of the 35/2 made. These were at least superficially different from the silver ones:
- At the time, black paint was all the rage, so the lens was executed in gloss black enamel and brass. The enamel in the engravings is almost exactly the Leica color scheme.
- The filter size decreased to 43mm, the aperture ring moved back, and the focusing ring thinned out to give the impression of “compactness” and justifying the “ultra compact” – UC designation that was historic to some Konica SLR lenses.
- The focusing mechanism changed to a tab (which helped justify the thinner focusing ring and lighter action).
- The coatings changed to a purplish red to help support the notion of “ultra-coating.” As you might know, multicoating can be customized for color.
The close-focus distance (what would be the third leg of a UC designation) and focusing rate of the helicoid (0.9m to ∞ in about 1/4 turn) and overall length did not change. The new lens was priced at 144,000 yen, which in dollars would have put it at just under the cost of a clean used 35/2 Summicron v.4 (at the time, these ran from about $700-1,200) and about half of what a Leica 35mm Summicron-M ASPH would cost.
Handling versus Leica lenses
Since both of these are optically identical, it might make more sense to discuss the ways in which these are similar to, or different from, the vaunted Summicron v4 King of Bokeh License to Print Money®. They are both like the Leica version but in different ways.
The UC has the same smooth tab-based focusing as the Summicron. It is very smooth and fluid. That said, the aperture ring is very “frictiony.”
The original L has a focusing feel a lot like a Canon RF lens, owing to the similar focusing ring, which has more drag and no tab. The aperture ring, however, has the same “ball-bearing-detent” feel as the Leica.
The overall length of all three lenses is similar, though as noted above, there is something of an illusion that the Leica and UC are smaller than the L.
The Konica lens, like the Hexar lens it was based on, is a clone of the 3.5cm f/1.8 Nikkor rangefinder lens, but for all practical purposes, the Hexanon is the same lens as the Summicron 4. As you can see, there is a very smooth falloff from center-to-edge wide open and pretty much eye burning sharpness at f/5.6,
Whoah. That looks familiar! Below is the Leica 35/2 v4 as shown in Puts, Leica M-Lenses, their soul and secrets (official Leica publication). Except the Summicron’s optimum aperture is a stop slower.
On interchangeable-lens bodies, all three lenses have the same focus shift behavior, requiring a slight intentional back-focus at f/2 and front focus up to f/5.6. It’s not like on a 50 Sonnar, but it’s there.
The original chrome version is a lovely lens and a nice match for chrome Leicas, at about 1/3 the price of a chrome Summicron v4 (yes, they exist…). If you like Canon lenses, you’ll be right at home with it. On the other hand, the UC version is smooth and sexy but getting to be as expensive as a 35/2 Summicron ASPH, which is actually a better lens.
The strange thing about infrared photography is that it represents a very small piece of photography in general, but there is apparently no space in photography so small that it can’t support some form of snobbery. And in infrared photography, it is the idea that there is “near” infrared versus “true” infrared. Not only does this convey a false sense of exclusiveness to people who shoot 850nm and up, it’s also not accurate.
When you shoot a normal camera in daylight, there is a small amount of infrared contamination – it’s about 10 stops less than daylight, or coming in at 1/10 of a percent or 1/1024. Tiny, even on something with big infrared contamination like a Leica M8. So any particular shot is overwhelmingly lit by visible light.
A dark red filter (RG630, 091, 8x, #29, etc.) flips the equation: the average blockage of visible light is 3 stops, or 75%.The reality is that most skylight scenes are predominantly blue, and this filter cuts a lot more than three stops. Even if you are shooting objects that are middle grey, these filters reject 75% of all light – meaning that when you shoot them on a camera with no other IR rejection, deep red and infrared light make up 75%+ of the light. The false color you are obtaining is infrared light that is still being blocked in part by green and blue squares on the Bayer filter on the sensor.
The case for the “near” classification is even weaker with the 695-720nm filter (RG695, 092, R720). First, consider that wavelength ratings on filters are at the 50% mark. So a 720nm filter really starts passing 100% of its light around 750nm. On a short exposure, which you will see is commensurate with a normal visible-light exposure, infrared light is providing almost all of the illumination.
Going the other way, “true” infrared is not that advantageous – and may not be something to commit to in an IR conversion. First, even though the Bayer filter does not affect 830nm+ light, the decoding algorithm in your camera still compensates for it. So if you dump the RAW file into DCRAW, what comes out still has something of a checkerboard pattern. Second, the false color effects generated by mid-band IR actually allow for more contrast control because there are multiple channels of useful information (and with 850nm+, you really need this, since everything likes to come out bright white in sunlight, especially around dusk). Eliminating this effect means that you have less ability to rebalance the tones in a scene.
None of this is to say that it’s good to meet one form of snobbery with another technical one. But let’s just keep the infrared world big, okay?
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- B+W 010 MRC – pretty much the highest-quality protective filter that exists, the B+W MRC resists flare, dust, liquids, and fingerprints. This can be swapped out for a KR1.5, though the tone difference is so small as to be negligible. The newer Nano versions repel water even better, but probably not as much as their 40% premium would suggest. If your primary goal is killing UV haze in the mountains, the fabulously expensive B+W 415 is a better choice. It has only a single coating and no water repellent characteristics, but it has pretty much the highest UV blocking power you can get without a color cast.
- B+W 491 Redhancer (2x) – as far as red enhancing filters go, this is the real deal. Using the same Corning glass as Howard Ross did when he invented the enhancing filter, this one selectively cuts alternative colors, which makes reds, yellows and oranges stand out from each other. It has a flat suppressive effect elsewhere. This is not a filter whose effect can readily be replicated using Photoshop, but sadly, it is becoming extinct. You can still get the less impressive versions from Hoya, Marumi, or Tiffen. A couple of cautions that might make you think twice about making this “the new UV.” One is that rare-earth glass often suffers from humidity damage (corrosion). The other is that it does not block very much UV light.
- 80A/KB15 (2.2x) – automatic white balance has not rendered the tungsten correction filter obsolete – because incandescent light is deficient in blue – and blue is the noisiest channel when amplified. If you are shooting this filter in room light and balancing with a flash, be sure the gel the flash with an 85 to make it the same color as the room lights.
- Infrared filters (720nm) (~1,024x) – Infrared was a real pain back in the day. But most digital cameras have so much infrared contamination that when a 720nm filter is screwed on, they expose just like old-school infrared film (as in barely shootable without a tripod on a bright day). These filters work the best on contrast-detect AF cameras that automatically compensate for focus shift. You can get a 560 or 650nm filter for “false color,” but they focus less precisely – and the result may be mistaken for a Japan Air Lines travel poster featuring cherry blossoms. An 800nm+ is an option for true monochrome IR, but it is difficult to focus.
- B+W 486 UV/IR cut (1x) – this oddball interference filter is most often associated with the Leica M8. It has coatings that cleanly kill UV (at least as well as a UV filter) and IR. “Infrared,” you ask, “isn’t that filtration built into the camera?” Yes and no. Digital cameras attentuate IR light but do not completely eliminate it. That’s why you can screw a 720nm filter onto an unconverted camera and (barely) shoot a daylight picture with it. Further, camera AF systems are not aided by IR contamination in the red channel. The catch? You can’t use it on lenses wider than 35mm field-of-view.
- FL-D – the rise of compact fluorescents is reason to revisit these filters that kill the sickly greenish glow. If only they made a version for LED light bulbs. Soon, my children, soon.
- Cokin – these filters can be uncontrollably cheesy. But for an average price of five bucks apiece on the used market, you can have a lot of fun without cracking open your post-processing software or doing the same retrofilters as the fauxtographers you look down on. Mirrorless cameras are quite easy to use with them. If your taste is more conservative, Cokin has a decent selection of good grad filters, two-color polarizers, and other landscape staples.
- ND8x – unless you are shooting an f/2.8 lens, most modern cameras that go as low as 200 ISO can shoot wide-open in sunlight. Some cameras now have ND filters built-in (c.f. Fuji X100/X100s).
- Circular Polarizers – circular polarizers are needed only when you are metering through a semitransparent mirror. If you don’t have a DSLR, you can get away with a linear polarizer from the junk bin at your local camera store. That said, the need for any type of polarizer is usually exaggerated. If you want to experiment with polarizers, start with the junk bin at your camera store.
- Diffusers – soft-focused pictures are good for the 1980s, but that was 30 years ago. But they’re still perfectly good for nudes with perms.
- Round graduated ND filters – grad filters are already endangered by Lightroom. Use them if you don’t like computers. But if you don’t like computers, why shoot digital? And round graduated filters are inflexible (you can’t move the “horizon,” which can be pretty critical).
- Clear digital filters – why do these exist? Why not just an UV and get something out of that extra flare?
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.