The Fuji GSW690III is a medium format film camera with a fixed 65mm F/5.6 lens. The Camera takes 120 film, which is still widely available today, and developing is the same as 35mm film, so your local camera shop should be able to handle all your 120 needs. The Fuji GSW690III is one of two 6×9 models, the ‘GSW’ designates a wide angle lens, and the ‘GW’ or GW690III is for a longer 90mm F/3.5 lens. Since both cameras produce a picture with the same aspect ratio of 135 film, we can easily estimate the approximate coverage area to reflect what you would see on a 35mm camera. The 65mm lens has about the same coverage as a 28mm lens, and the 90mm about 40mm. See the comparison with a digital camera here. There are more cameras in the series, like a 6×7 and 6×8 using the same lenses. All newer models are off-shoots from 1970s models, however, the camera tested here is a early 1990s version of a model from the mid 1980s. Go here for more info.
There are many online reviews of this camera series, however, I never saw any that posted full size scanned images made from the camera, so go down to the sample gallery and check ’em out!
Build quality is very good, although the camera is clad in plastic, it is quite heavy and solid feeling. It weights about the same as a Canon pro body with built-in vertical grip.
Camera features include; a hot shoe, two shutter buttons, one on top and the other in front; a shutter button lock—works for both shutter buttons, sliding retractable lens hood, double exposure prevention, exposure counter with automatic reset, coupled rangefinder, spirit level, PC port (non locking type) for off camera flash, film reminder slot, film length selector (half roll-4 shots, 120-8 shots or 220-16 shots), and ‘Nikon’ style changeable eye piece. One of the most important features is the lack of any power needed for use, meaning you need no batteries, it’a fully manual!
Focusing is of course manual with a nice damped feel. You turn the front rubber coated ring to the required distance using the coincidence (ghost image) rangefinder. Marked around the focusing ring in meters is 1, 1.2, 1.5, 2, 3, 5, 10, and ∞. Infrared focusing mark in red, see third product shot.
Aperture settings are; F/5.6, F/8 F/11, F/16, F/22 and F/32 with half stop clicks.
Actual picture size. 56mm x 83mm. Spacing ranges from about 4mm to 14mm. 8 shots per standard roll.
Compared to 135 film. It would take over five frames of 35mm film to get the same area as one 6×9 piece of 120 film! See overlay below. Comparing this 65mm F/5.6 medium format lens to a 135 format (35mm, full frame etc) lens: the capture area and depth of field is similar to 28mm F/2.5.
Shutter speeds include 500, 250, 125, 60, 30, 15, 8, 4, 2, 1, T. The ‘T’ is for ‘time’ and works somewhat like bulb mode, however, you must turn the shutter ring to anther setting to close the shutter, or turn the wind knob about half way. It’s a mystery why Fuji didn’t put a regular bulb mode on the camera. When taking a long exposure at night, I use a black cloth to cover the front of the lens, and then turn the shutter ring so as not to move the camera. One big complaint about this camera is the shutter is very noisy, but that’s not the case at all, the shutter is very quiet, it’s almost imperceptible, test that by using the “T” setting with the back open; press the shutter button; booingggg; it’s loud! Now turn the shutter speed dial to another setting, at which point the shutter blades close and you can’t hear it unless you’re in a quiet room. The noise you hear initially is probably the counter mechanism. The counter counts all shutter actuations, but only records every 10th, so if the counter reads 255, there are 2550 shots on the camera. The flash syncs at all shutter settings. Dry fires only with back open.
Lens. EBC Fujinon SW 65mm, F/5.6. Six elements in four groups with a No. 0 interlens shutter. 5 straight shutter blades. One meter nearest focusing. Takes 67mm filters. 76° coverage diagonally. Built in metal lens hood. You can use a 67-77 step up ring (I use this one) for using 77mm filters, and they fit under the hood!
Lens characteristics. Bokeh seems smooth, but don’t plan on getting any unless you focus on something pretty close, see the owl picture below. Lateral color fringing is light along the sides, (magenta and cyan), and very little axial type. Flare and ghosting control is about average for a lens of today, but great for back in the day! See pic in sample gallery below.
Film selector. Most people will probably use the ‘8 exp’ setting as this is for standard 120 film. I’m not sure if Japan is still selling half rolls or not, if so, use the ‘4 exp’ setting. 220 film is quite rare here in the US, it doesn’t use backing paper over the entire length like 120 film.
Film pressure plate. The camera has two settings, one side for 120, flip it over for 220 film, it may be important to set it correctly as the focus will not be dead on if you have it set for the wrong type of film. My guess is 120 film is thicker than 220 as it has backing paper behind it and will wind up being slightly in front of the focus plane if there is not enough pressure to make up for the loss of paper thickness. I’ve never had any issues with this, and shot a whole roll with it in the wrong setting.
Film advance. This camera series uses a two-stroke cocking feature, meaning you must advance the lever almost twice to set the shutter. The first advance is 138°, the second depends on the film roll diameter, but just wind it until the lever won’t go anymore!
Eye-piece. I think you can use standard Nikon F type eye-pieces although I haven’t needed any. I show a Nikon FM, FE, FA -3.0 in the picture below.
Rangefinder and viewfinder. Double image coupled. Guide lines move as you move the focus closer or farther away. 75% magnification; 93% field of view at 1 meter, 90% at infinity.
Recommended service. Fuji wants you to send it in for shutter service after 5000 shots, and 10,000 shots for the film advance mechanism. I’m guessing most people that use these cameras will never need to service them under normal use. Digital cameras are for spraying and praying, medium format cameras require compositional thought, and careful set-up before pulling the trigger; at least from an economic standpoint.
My own approximate dimensions; 7-7/8″ (199mm) long, 4-3/4″ (122mm) tall, 5″ (128mm) deep (hood closed, infinity focus). Weight is 3lb, 6oz (1532g).
Here are a few shots that most people now seem to think is a normal ‘film’ look. Film does not look like this unless it has gone bad, like fading of the film or picture, cross processing, poorly scanned on a flatbed scanner, or someone added a bad film filter effect(!) Film has always looked great, similar to large sensor digital, but it has gotten a bad rap lately due to people posting their awful film pictures from yesteryear on social networking and photo sites. Again, the reason film so many times looks bad compared to digital is because it hasn’t been stored properly, developed properly, deliberately made to look bad, or was scanned without knowing how to get the proper colors back.
Most of the images below were set-up shots or just snaps. I scanned them on a Nikon Super Coolscan 9000 ED. They are not necessarily the best they can be. Sometimes it can be hard to get the piece of film perfectly flat for proper scanning; a virtual drum scanner would be nice, but I don’t have one to make any comparisons to. Depth of field is limited in some shots, and in others the film may have been a little wavy and not in perfect focus, usually this happens along the sides as I focus the scanner lens in the middle of the frame. Some pictures have what are called Newton’s rings; they’re caused by improper scanning on glass. Even when using a mask, they still show up sometimes, and you have to rescan until you don’t get any. I was a little lazy and didn’t rescan, sorry.
The first three shots are the same as the three from above, but without the awful color and fuzziness. All the larger shots would produce great poster size prints. Most pictures are sized around 6000 pixels on the long end. You can eke out a little more resolution by keeping them around 7500, but they look nice and crisp slightly smaller.
Click buttons for full size image.
Use notes: the Fuji 65mm lens is best at F/8, the whole picture is sharp, although depth of field may be a problem. Remember, you are getting the depth of field of a 65mm lens, (not a 28mm) so you may need to stop down more if the subject is closer than infinity.
Film use. I nomally use inexpensive Kodak Ektar, it has a nice light range, I’d estimate about 12 stops of light. It scans well, and with a little color tweaking, can be made to look similar to digital if you like that look. Fuji Velvia is quite good, I use the ISO 100, it’s just as good as the ISO 50 but you get an extra stop of light. Fuji Provia 100F has a more subdued color palette for people pictures. Kodak Portra 400 is very nice too and great for hand held shooting, It also scans well. For those out shooting the old folding cameras that need to be stopped down hard for sharp pictures, use Kodak Portra 800, it’s a little expensive, but excellent fast fine grained film.
For transparency (slide) film, use a light meter and a graduated neutral density filter to keep the clouds from blowing out, like what you see in the Provia picture above; I didn’t use a filter for that shot. Transparency film is not good for beginners, it has a narrow light range, and will clip shadows and highlights quickly! However, if exposed correctly, it looks great on the light table! For print film, go 1-2 stops longer than your light meter reads and your shadows will look much better. Usually, print film clips dark shadows and they look awful, but adding one or two stops to the exposure keeps them from being too dark. The highlights will be ok, print film is very forgiving of moderate over exposures. I’ve recently been shooting more B&W film. I have used Kodak T-max 100, (Pan F Plus, my favorite), (Acros pretty good) and (FP4, classic BW, it’s ok) but as with all B&W film, it’s sometimes hard to get a good scan as you don’t have digital image correction and enhancement, (D-ICE that eliminates dust and scratches automatically), and some film grain shows harsh with most dedicated film scanners like the Nikon 9000. Flatbed scanners like the Epson V700 do a good job with B&W because it has a long fluorescent tube that flattens out the grain, whereas the Nikons have tiny LED lights that accentuate it. The Hassleblad X5 scanner has a special light that reduced grain, but it also reduces the resolution.
Here in Tucson AZ, costs average about $7 for a roll of 120 film, and about $7 to develop print film, that’s almost $2 a shot. Getting basic scans (around 2350 pixels wide) burned to a CD from you local camera shop will probably cost approximately $10 extra. It does get even more expensive if you have high resolution scans made for each shot, so save that for only your best shots! Better yet, get a decent film scanner and do it yourself.
The Fuji GSW690 and 6×9 area of film are capable of producing very sharp digital scans (using a high quality film scanner) of around 7000, to 7500 pixels long for traditional films, which equates to over 30 super sharp megapixels. Specialty films like Adox CMS 20 II will most likely exceed your scanners ability to pick out the finest details, but the Nikon 9000 will produce 10,000 pixel wide images that are tack sharp, which would be about 67 megapixels. (note; Adox CMS 20 II is a high contrast copy film, and needs a special developer for pictorial use.)
The Fuji GSW690III is a wonderful piece of equipment for film shooters that want wide angle coverage, and care about resolution and large printing; unfortunately, this camera is not for everyone because there are some negatives involved. First, it’s larger and heavy, believe me, you won’t want to carry this around all day; your shutter speeds are long even in good light, cost per shot is quite high; remember, you only get 8 shots per roll. High quality scans are expensive. And sadly, some labs are no longer developing E6 (transparency) film.
In my opinion, this camera is best on a tripod using fine grain film like Ilford Pan F Plus, Fuji Velvia and Provia 100F, and maybe some really fine grain (ISO 6-25) copy film like adox CMS II. Typical exposure times in good light are 1/60sec at F/16, ISO 100 film. Late afternoon or early morning shots can be 1 second or more! Shooting interiors can easily be over 10 seconds at F/22. Hand held use requires ISO 400 or higher to help prevent blurry shots from jitter. I get about 3-4 slightly blurry shots from a roll hand held at 1/30sec, but going to 1/60 gives me about 7 tack sharp images per roll. Occasionally I get lucky and get a good shot at 1/15sec, see the Quick Trip shot above. Note; I use a Gossen Digisix 2 light meter; it works great. For Transparency film, I most often use the setting it gives me, and of course adjust that reading depending on whether the highlights or shadows are more important. For Negatives, I usually go with one stop longer, but it depends on the scene, if I want good definition in thunderheads, I might go with the reading or a stop faster, if I have no really bright highlights, but want good shadow detail, I may go two or three stops longer exposure. The meter is easy to use, you set your ISO, and take a reading, (it gives you light values like ’14’ for daylight etc), then input that number on the dial to get your aperture and shutter combination for the correct exposure. In all honesty, I don’t use a meter much for print film, I just guess at the exposure using the sunny 16 rule, and adjust as I feel necessary.
These cameras currently go for around $500 in good used condition on eBay. Don’t buy one that’s really beat up and has a super low shutter count, it has probably seen heavy use, and the counter has flipped over to 0. I’d gladly pay extra for a clean low count model, say less than 500 on the counter.
I love film for several reasons; it allows me to take a step back and think about my compositions and what I’m trying to accomplish instead of just blasting away with a digital camera and hoping something comes out good. I can hold a piece of film in my hand; the film was in the camera at that time and location, so when you look at all your family pictures from yesteryear (especially slides), you know they were at the scene, touched and loaded into the camera by a loved one and kept safe all those years. Digital images are washed away as soon as the sensor is cleared, all you get is a code on a memory card that tells the device how to display it. Prints are only copies, not originals. Try looking at a 6×9 transparency from this Fuji camera series on a light table with a 10-22x loupe, it’s stunning, it’s almost like you are there, and the colors are far greater than what you can get on any computer monitor, tablet or smart phone.
Check out the test shots. They are good enough to show you that the lens is sharp across the frame from F/5.6-22; there is a minor softening at F/32 so stay away from that aperture unless you need the depth of field. All are 7000×4667 wide. Kodak Ektar 100 film.
F/5.6. The centers are very sharp, and about maxed out. The sides are slightly soft at the edges.
F/8. Very slight sharpening of the sides. Area of softness on the extreme right middle edge of the image, probably due to film flatness.
F/11. Very sharp, even along the sides.
F/16. Looks about the same as F/11, except for a soft area in the middle/left portion of the frame, probably due to film flatness.
F/22. Slight softening of the center, with the sides looking the same.
F/32. Softening of the whole image, but very usable, especially when you need the depth of field for interior shots etc.