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Medium format is kinda my thing. What can I say? I like being able to finish a roll of film in a day. I also love to travel and was looking for a compact-ish medium format camera I could easily carry with me when I wanted something other than my Holga.
I have a Mamiya 645 1000s which I LOVE, but it’s massive and not fun to travel with. I also didn’t want to spend more than $500 or so. Imagine…medium format, compact, under $500? Does such a camera even exist? If you aren’t afraid of manual cameras with manual lenses, yes – they very much do exist!
My search results lead me to two Fuji cameras: the Fuji GS645 and Fuji GA645 (note: a working, good condition GA645 will cost more than $500, but less than $1000). Having not shot either of them, I went with the GS645 for one main reason: mechanics. The GS645 doesn’t need a battery (note: it does take a battery for the light meter, but that’s it).
Whenever I talk about this camera, people picture it’s more popular younger sibling, the Fuji GA645. The GS is not to be confused with the GA. The Fuji GS645 is a mechanical, manual camera built in the 80’s that doesn’t need a battery. The Fuji GA645 can be shot 100% auto or manual mode – much more modern. To further the confusion, Fuji made three of these GS cameras: GS645 – 75mm folding bellows lens; GS645W – super wide 45mm lens; GS645S – f/4 60mm lens (this review is for the Fuji GS 645S).
The Size of the Fuji GS645S
I said I wanted something compact, right? So how big is it and how much does it weigh? It’s just over 1.5lbs and a little bigger than a Holga 120. That’s pretty compact in the world of medium format.
The Elephant (or Cow Bar!) in the Room
rather cow bar in the room… Yes, the lens has a cow bar around it.
In Texas, we see them on trucks, but on a camera is something totally
new to me. It’s rumored to protect it’s very fragile lens, but
the bar isn’t attached to the camera – it’s attached to the
plastic, attached to the camera. So it really only protects against
gentle bumps. Just embrace it as a quirk and not an invitation to
bang it around.
The Fuji GS645S comes with a 60mm f/4 lens. The lens is manual focus and super smooth, almost too smooth. You have to focus on your subject slowly, because it’s easy to skip right past the focused subject and start to unfocus again. To help you focus, you get a ghost image in the viewfinder – meaning you see a slight ghost or outline of your subject that aligns with your subject as you focus your lens.
On the lens, you’ll find an aperture ring, focus ring, and ISO ring. Yep, you set your film speed through a ring on the lens itself.
This is probably the biggest downfall of the camera, it only goes up to 1/500, so pick your film wisely. I have yet to shoot 800 ISO film in this camera for that exact reason.
Yes! If you put a battery in it, you have a simple light meter. Just point your camera at your subject, gently place your finger on the shutter-release button and press it half down. You’ll see a “+” or “-” or “o” to help you get your aperture and shutter speed correct. Pretty simple and easy to use.
My Thoughts on Shooting the Fuji GS645S
The GS645S is a lot of fun. It’s probably not for the professional photographer at a wedding who needs to get quick shots, but it is a joy to shoot. And, yes, easy to carry around in just a normal purse or bag. I’m pretty sure it’s the first camera I picked up after my 365 toy camera project. It’s one of those cameras that every time I pick it up, I’m reminded why I love it. It makes me ask myself why I don’t shoot with it more often. There are tons on eBay in Japan in next to perfect condition. So if you are in the market for a lovely, compact, medium format camera, I’d highly suggest looking into the Fuji GS645S.