A Camera in it’s simplest form, the Fujica GW690 is a fine exercise in minimalist design, stripping the camera down to it’s essential elements.
The camera was apparently originally designed for Japanese Group Shot photographers who would ply their trade in popular tourist spots. These photographers wanted the quality of medium format film, with the simplicity of a 35mm rangefinder. This camera was Fuji’s response, a kind of stripped down, scaled up version of a 35mm camera.
On the top of the camera, from right to left, there is a a cold shoe for holding a flash or accessories, a switch for selecting the film format, 4 exposures (a shortened version of 120) 8 exposure (standard 120 film) and 16 exposure (for 220 film). A frame counter and a big film advance lever and a shutter button. On the back there is the viewfinder/rangefinder, and a film reminder slot. On the bottom there are the levers for opening the back, changing the spools and a total shot counter that is intended to remind you when the camera is due a service. On the front of the camera is a huge fixed 90mm f3.5 EBC coated Fujinon with a leaf shutter offering speeds and flash sync upto 1/500th of a second and an aperture that stops down to f32 and a secondary shutter button. Thats it… There is no meter, no interchangeable lenses and no batteries.
In use the camera is reasonably simple. Load the film, line up the start arrow with the red dot, close the back, wind on to the first frame. Set your shutter speed and aperture, compose and focus through the viewfinder/rangefinder then take your pick of the two shutter buttons to press to take your shot (Or use a cable release and a good tripod!) Wind on to the next frame, set your speed and aperture, compose, focus, fire, repeat.
The 90mm lens equates to something around the field of view of a 40mm focal length on a 35mm film camera, and I find it perfect for my use. It is also beautifully sharp, with excellent colour rendition, and the amount of detail you can get from the large negatives is superb.
In use I find the camera to be very good. I mainly use it on a tripod for shooting landscapes, with the aid of a small spirit level (Later versions had a built in level, or you can get ones that fit in the accessory shoe). Using certain filters with the camera has one big advantage compared to an SLR in that you can have a 10 stop ND filter attached and still have the normal view and focusing through the finder. Using polarizing or graduated filters is a lot more difficult/ a matter of guesswork however, although i generally find colour negative film has enough latitude to cope with the dull English light I normally work in.
These cameras aren’t small, but with a fixed lens you can’t be tempted to carry a bag full of lenses! And working with just one focal length can be very liberating. The Camera, a light meter, and a couple of boxes of film will easily fit into most small camera bags… With space left over for a Rolleicord… and a film compact… and a digital.. Oh.. Erm… One day I will manage to pack just one camera.