Last year I decided to try my hand at Medium Format film photography. After doing some research I went for the Fuji GW690iii and ordered a "Near Mint" condition version from a Japanese seller on eBay. After a couple of weeks it arrived.
This is just a review having had my initial rolls of film returned and focuses more on using the camera rather than anything else.
The first thing I noticed about this camera is that it is big! It's like an enlarged version of a normal size camera which is why I imagine the nickname for it is the Texas Leica. It's also pretty heavy - about the same as my DSLR with a normal lens attached. The build quality feels solid and being a purely mechanical camera (i.e. it doesn't need batteries) means that it has a simplicity that is pretty refreshing when compared to the latest digital cameras.
The camera takes 120 or 220 film and produces negatives which are 6x9 format. This means you get 8 images on a 120 roll. Not very many, that's for sure! Inserting the film is relatively straightforward - you press two little red buttons to release the spools and place the film in, feeding the film over to the empty spool on the right. One thing to make sure of is that the film is fed parallel and straight to the metal guide rails. I have been told that if you don't, the roll of film can end up wrapping around the spool end cap and cause light leaks or worse, ruin the whole roll. After rolling the film to the arrow mark you shut the back (with a big thunk) and wind the film to the starting position. It sounds a little like trying to crank a motor on a lawnmower. This is not a quiet camera!
At this point, I always check that the shutter lock on the front shutter button is in the "L" or locked position to avoid the chances of any accidental in camera bag images. So far so good...
The viewfinder offers a range finder focusing system which in my experience has been very accurate. It really does help to have straight lines in your composition to focus on otherwise it can be tricky, especially as the focusing circle is absolutely tiny! And it's dim too - not terrible but in certain conditions it has been tricky to get focus spot on, particularly on closer objects. There is another issue I have found which is that the lens takes up a good portion of the lower right hand corner of the viewfinder frame, blocking out whatever will be in shot there (in landscape orientation). This has been genuinely troublesome on some occasions when working with things like leading lines. Thankfully there are excellent apps on the iPhone which can help with framing - I highly recommend one called "ViewFinder Preview" for iOS which you can download from here.
The lens itself, on my version, is a fixed focal length of 90mm which is about 40mm in full frame/35mm terms. The 6x9 ratio is also the same as most DSLR's. The settings for aperture and shutter are on the lens itself as is the rubber focusing dial. The GW690iii has a retractable lens hood which slides back and forth on the lens. This has been a slight bug bear of mine because it turns out that this is very loose, apparently by design. This means that it sometimes doesn't stay retracted/extended as required. This can be a problem, particularly when you consider the aperture and shutter dials are covered when the lens hood retracts. You cannot remove the cover at all. It also caused me an issue when using filters. It takes 67mm filters and I found that it was VERY easy for the filter to get stuck on the lens ring as it tightens up very easily. Oh yeah, and with a filter attached the hood is retracted so you cannot change the aperture or shutter settings. In essence you better hope that you have the settings dialed in correctly when you put the filter on, and nothing changes (e.g. light conditions) , otherwise you have to start again. I ended up holding a filter by hand which causes it's own issues with stability and getting your hand in shot (yes that happened in image 4 below).
There is a top shutter and a front shutter. I have tended to use a shutter release cable personally. Once the composition is framed I take my light reader readings, dial in the appropriate aperture and shutter settings and check the focus. I then repeat this and only then press the shutter. It goes off with a bang which I really like! You then crank the film on to the next position which takes about 1.5 cranks. Probably because the negative size is so large.
There is one other thing which I am going to need to adapt to and that is using the "T" shutter setting which is equivalent to bulb mode on DSLRs. For any exposure that is 1 second or longer you need to use this setting. For some reason, probably only known to Fuji, pressing the shutter only opens the shutter. They decided that you either need to start the film winding action to close the shutter or turn the shutter dial on the lens to close it. Either of these things is incredibly fiddly to do without knocking the camera. Especially with long exposures where you may be holding up a filter at the same time. I have read that at the end of an exposure people will throw a hat over the lens, or something similar, and then take the necessary action but when I tried this I ended up with less than ideal results. See image 4 below.
With all that said, I really do like this camera. Its simplicity means you are going right back to basics with image taking. You have to be extra careful with your framing and composition and I really spend a good amount of time checking the light conditions and corresponding camera settings before making an exposure. With only 8 images per roll you are also forced to be more deliberate with your image making decisions, way more so even than with a 35mm camera and 36 exposures roll of film.
I have included some of the images I have taken with the camera. These have very much been test shots as I get to grips with how the camera and film performs in different situations. I love the detail it can capture and its relative ease of use. I will share more images from this camera in the future on my site.