It was one thing introducing an analogue medium format camera, but it’s an even bigger surprise to find Fujifilm following up two years later with a wide-angle version of its fixed-lens rangefinder, the GF670W. Richard Kilpatrick has the first try of a prototype version
Fujifilm’s perceived absence from the professional camera market in Europe has been noted by some, lamented by others and furiously debated by many. Yet, with all the excitement around the x100 digital compact, it was another announcement at last year’s Photokina show, reviewed here, that best demonstrated its clear intention to maintain the professional, artistic and enthusiastic market for its film products.
The lack of a DSLR in the range should come as no surprise: Fujifilm appears to have abandoned the market for consumer compacts and professional medium format. Its S Pro series was always a Nikon-based vehicle for its unique sensor technology, at a time when sensor development could have gone in any direction. But users might rightly lament that such a promising re-entry to the digital SLR market wasn’t followed up when EXR compacts showed such potential.
The bigger surprise is that the company’s film division remains strong – so strong, in fact, that it has launched two medium format rangefinders since 2009, working in partnership with Cosina, who also marketed the first camera under the Voigtländer brand as the Bessa-III.
The latest of the two 6x6/6x7 rangefinders is the GF670W, which is closely related to the original GF670 launched two years ago, but instead of a fixed 80mm folding lens, it has a conventional 55mm wide-angle (hence the “W”), and this time there’s no Voigtländer counterpart.
As a lower-cost, fixed-lens alternative to a Mamiya 7, or a reliable alternative to used-and-abused GW models (which can set you back close to four figures even now), it represents an attractive entry point for a new generation of professional film enthusiasts. With the amateur market flooded with plastic Holga and Diana cameras, there’s a growing demand for upward mobility, whilst it remains hard to find good, clean examples of most classic Fujifilm bodies, let alone Bronica, Plaubel and Mamiya rangefinders.
Fuji's Sensia 400 captures the colours of the Covent Garden market well and with a handheld 1/60th, there's barely any shake. Image © Richard Kilpatrick.
The original GF670 defined the template for this camera. There are more modern Cosina touches than there are classic Fujifilm, such as the metering system, exposure compensation and rangefinder feel. And both cameras are capable of switching between 12 exposures with a square 6x6 format, or 10 with 6x7, naturally only between rolls but without additional inserts.
The new wide-angle model is considerably easier to handle than the folding 80mm camera. The focus ring is huge, dominating the bulk of the lens with two grip points, with the aperture ring ahead of it is almost as wide. Give it a shock bar like the old GS645S and you’d probably satisfy the old Fujica crowd – and I wonder if the market remains for a 645 portrait rangefinder like the old GS: something simple, lightweight and small. Fujifilm automated too much of the follow up GA models, losing the simplicity and compact size whilst also losing spontaneity. The GF models return to basics and feel right – more appropriate to the genre.
I was fortunate enough to have been provided with the first GF670W in the UK, and it was only after running around with it that I was told it was a prototype. It made no difference – given the tried-and-tested body, film, metering and rangefinder, there’s little prototypical about it aside from the Fujinon 55mm f/4.5 wide lens.
This is presumably also assembled by Cosina, whose manual (Zeiss and Voigtländer) lenses tend to be impressive, and the 55mm indeed delivers. Even with this pre-production model, I found excellent corner sharpness, and beautiful bokeh, and any minimal distortion feels natural for the view of the lens. The 58mm filter thread and non-rotating front element make using gradient filters as easy as they can, though the metering is not TTL, so for some effects manual compensation may be required.
For rollfilm users, it’s this that makes the GF670W special; reminiscent of the Plaubel Makina W67, a camera that still sells, as a used body, for almost as much as the Fujifilm costs new, and often requires repair work at those prices. Both Fujifilm GF bodies offer full manual or aperture priority modes, with a positive locking dial on the left of the top plate to select A or manual shutter speeds of 4-1/500s + Bulb. When in A mode, the dial offers +/- compensation either side of the A position with a lock button marking the centre position and positive one-third-stop steps contributing to an intuitive “touch” interface without needing to look away from the rangefinder or subject.
The ISO sensitivity ranges from 25 to 3200, and is set by lifting the collar and turning. That 1/500s upper limit can be quite restrictive with faster films, so it’s time to dig out the ND filters.
Adjustments are confirmed by the exposure display, which will increase or decrease when using compensation or display manual setting alongside the metering’s suggested speed. A PC sync socket on the side of the body, in addition to a simple hotshoe (no TTL here!), allows flash sync, with central-shutter lenses offering sync at any speed.
The rangefinder on both GF cameras has a bright central square, with automatic parallax correction featuring moving brightlines that also adjust for the two frame sizes. It handles the unusually close minimum focus well (an impressive 70cm for the 55mm, 90cm on the 80mm). There’s a red LED actual shutter speed display and confirmation of selected format too.
Film to digital
In an era of affordable high-end digital systems, you could be forgiven for seeing any film-based camera as little more than a bit of fun, maybe acknowledging the commercial potential in the fine art market for selling a fully analogue process. However, studying a 670+ MB 16-bit file, scrutinising flowers in the corner of a frame, it’s not just the quality of the Fujifilm’s lens that strikes me – there is something visually pleasing in that rendition that’s less easy to explain, perhaps evidence that with larger formats there’s still some extra detail to be found.
I found that the reliable metering, accurate rangefinder and easy layout ensured that I got my 12 shots from a roll of 120, without any technical upsets.
Image © Richard Kilpatrick.
London-based photographers should still have access to quick, competent and busy labs too – locally to me, in Worcestershire, it was a little trickier to find anyone handling medium format, and using a small lab proved to be a costly mistake.
Digitisation proves to the trickiest aspect of the workflow. Having previously used a high-end Leaf 45T and Hasselblad Flextight X5 scanner, I now find myself working with the versatile, but consumer-level Epson V750. It acquits itself very well, with options like the fluid mount for keeping transparencies flat, but is far from convenient and really doesn’t compare to machines that cost thousands.
There are few usable medium-format scanners now, despite the apparently huge market for inexpensive 35mm models. Larger labs will provide scans on CDs, and I’m curious to see what the results are like, but not yet curious enough to spend £40 or so getting a roll processed. It’s worth seeking out agencies with good high-end scanners and experienced operators if you want the best results.
If you’re contemplating medium format film, the Fujifilm GF models offer a dependable starting point without fears of failing film advance, leaking back seals or inaccurate shutters. Both the 670 Professional and 670W have fantastic lenses; the 55mm on the 670W tested here would be worth the asking price alone for most 6x6/7 systems. That the camera is so good is merely a bonus – Mamiya’s 50mm f/4.5 for the 7 camera costs anything from £1000 to £2000, plus the same again for the body. By comparison, the GF670 is typically around £2100 (sometimes including VAT), and the wide is expected to be around the same when it arrives in the UK.
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