Fuji GA645 – The Awesome Film Camera

pict3343.jpgIf you define a professional camera as one that actually says professional on it, then the Fuji GA645 was my first pro caliber photo tool. When first released in the early 1990’s it went for something near to 1500 USD. Now they are commonly found on eBay for 300-500 USD. For professionals it means a camera with near point-and-shoot convince and killer tack-sharp medium format “pop”. It really is point-and-shoot. You depress the shutter button half-way, it focuses, depress further, it takes the picture. Given its geometry and size, the GA645 is easy to hold steady in low-light situations. As I mainly do travel and landscape with this camera. The lens is a 60mm Fujion with an f/4 aperture. Many people have found fault with this design, complaining that f/4 is just too slow, the same people who have shot down the Sigma DP1, which sports an f/4 objective. Of course, numbers on paper are just that, in practice I haven’t found the f/4 lens to be limiting. Toss in some ISO 400 or 800 speed film and you have the ability to shoot in low-light situations, and since you’re shooting with a 6×4.5 film size, the quality of the resulting image will still be fantastic, especially for such a mobile camera design. The automatic focus however, can be a bit frustrating. Every camera has limitations, and the autofocus is what adds a rain-cloud texture to the overall fantastically sunny experience of shooting with a GA645. See, once in a while I get my negatives or transparencies back and find the subject was out of focus and blurry. For this reason, in general the GA645 is best used for static subjects. The focus distance is displayed in the viewfinder, so you can always look there to make sure it’s about right. It’s also possible to do manual focusing, which is nice because the focus was easily fooled when I traversed from Bettmerhorn to Eggishorn in intermittent fog cover in the Swiss Alps. Shooting into the rising sun can also screw with the focus system, and in such situations I set the focus to infinity. Despite the autofocus limitations, the metering system is dead-on and I rarely have any exposure problems.

pict3352.jpgThe Fuji GA line sports a few accessories, which one is still able to pick up if one is so inclined. A flash bracket and flash we produced, the basic GA bracket is shown here. Somehow I’ve acquired one bracket and two flashes, both of which I never actually use with my GA645. If you do use them however, the flash exposes very nicely with a butter popping sound. The bracket has a tilting head, so when you rotate the camera to shoot in landscape orientation, you can rotate the flash 90 degrees (similar to the Sony HVL-58). I sometimes use the bracket with my Minolta 7D. Since neither is produced anymore, they can be had on the used market for either reasonable or absurd prices. The one useful accessory I do use often is the tripod bracket. It lets you mount the camera and rotate around the axis of the lens, perfectly balanced and engineered. A macro attachment is also available, but doing macro work without being able to check the actual focus is bit hit and miss – and with medium format film, a tad expensive.

Zurich Night Limmatstrasse GA645
I mainly use my GA645 for travel and mountaineering. What does this mean? It’s been packed along on a month-long trip through Europe, throughout the American Southwest, in White Sands (New Mexico), sand dunes in Colorado, numerous trips in the Swiss Alps, atop Mt. Fuji in Japan, it’s been to the Zurich Street Parade, been used for night photography, and is my favorite camera when I stroll through Berlin. When you consider the quality of the Fuji EBC lens with the 6×45 format and a pack volume equal to that of a DSLR, it’s really a killer camera to take into the mountains. My GA645 has been all through Western Europe, Greece, the American Southwest, and is still taking kickass photos. Mine got a tad wet when I got lost on the Oberaletschglacier in Switzerland and slept next to a rock, but the next day it was shooting fine. The sand dunes of Colorado also did little against the durability of the GA645.
What place does a sweet film camera like the GA645 have in the digital world? A fair question, why does one need to shoot 6×4.5? Well, one doesn’t need to do anything but eat, sleep, and drink water. However, if you’re looking to capture a great deal of information on a photographic capture medium, the GA series is a fantastic answer when paired with something like the Nikon LS-9000 scanner. After three or four years of shooting with my GA cameras I rented the Nikon 9000 for a weekend to see what a decent scanner does with film from the GA. The raw files from the 9000 using Vuescan come out around 400 Mb. I also export a downsized tiff file to work with in Photoshop. Using techniques I’ve developed for portrait photography I manipulated the shadow tones and intensity to render a fantastic scene from a hike in the Swiss National Park near Zernez. The result is just fantastic.
Whispers of a Journey Into the Night

Whispers of a Journey Into the Night

Berlin walk-way GA645The general risk with buying old discontinued Pro technology is that, if it breaks – you’re screwed. So it’s actually sort of cool that you can still send in the GA645 to Fuji for a tune-up. About two years ago I picked up some surplus GA645 parts from eBay, including some shutters and body pieces, so aside from Fuji, I’m somewhat confident I could fix basic problems should they arise. The Fuji GA line is just the start, you can also get into the GW and GSW cameras, which can be bough in 6×7, 6×8, and 6×9 versions, all offering jaw-dropping razon tack-sharp images. So getting down to Brass-Tax, in the age of digital sensors and megapixels the Fuji GA645 is a film camera which still rocks hardcore. If you have some spar funds I highly recommend picking one up.

Read more about the GA645 at dante stella.