Fuji GF670, the XXI century folding camera.
by Ricardo Silva
It may also be called Bessa III in the European market, but mine is a Japanese import of the limited but not so limited, Black Fuji GF670 model, as the common model comes in silver. The only problem this model has is that the manual of the camera comes written only in Japanese.
Now, a bit out off-topic but in someway the Fuji brand and the Deadcameras names are related. When Fuji some years ago steadily increased the price of Fuji films and ceased selling some of their most popular emulsions, some folks started talking in forums about how film was dead and how they would eventually end up with several “deadcameras”, cameras that would not work in anyway, if film goes out of business. Of course, I had a few of these film cameras so the name for the blog came naturally to be “Deadcameras”. Fortunately these days it seems that film is coming back! Let us hope it does.
Now back on track, Fujifilm decided in 2015 to stop the production of the GF670, possibly their last film camera. Sad.
But what a great camera it was!
A medium format device that shoots 6×7 (10 exposures) and as a bonus also will do 6×6 (12 exposures) in a 120 film, that comes with a great optical rangefinder coupled to the lens. It can fold to take less space on your camera bag or fit inside the glove compartment of your car!
Mind you, medium format cameras are traditionally big so taking one for a walk makes us look somehow like strange geeks.
The GF670 by the contrary, is a pleasure to take to the street, it´s a head turning device and one can receive pleasing comments about it, like… “-Uau, that camera looks good, it´s like new!”… , to which we reply that it looks like new because it is new, and not only new but with an electronically controlled leaf shutter and with modern conveniences like aperture priority auto-exposure and in the viewfinder, LED reading for the shutter speed!
Of course, digital camera users will laugh at such technological achievements but mind you that like with every thing in life, including photography, simple is better. This is the philosophy behind the Leica brand, not the quality of their products or the status of their lenses but the ability to keep it simple, that´s what brings people to the Leica brand. And the GF670 like the Leica M is a simple camera.
And since we are talking about Leica and maybe the reader has already used a Leica rangefinder camera, let me tell you that this is the closest one can get to a Leica in medium format and in several ways it surpasses it.
To start with, the viewfinder is on a class of it´s own. Put it this way: If you think the Leica viewfinder is good, then I can tell you that compared to the viewfinder of the GF670 it is dimm, the difference between the two is clearly noticeable, that is how good the viewfinder of the Fuji is. Not only that, one gets an extended out of the frame view, just like on the Leica, but with switchable frames between 6×7 and 6×6 and on top of that, parallax correction. Also, the central double image square for focusing is big and very easy to read for precise focusing. regard this, much better than the older Fuji GW690.
Of course the Leica is better built, not that the Fuji is bad but having some plastic parts on it, not on the same league or even close. More on that later.
The second point where the Fuji beats the Leica by a mile is on the image quality of the negatives it produces. I find it funny how clever marketeers have made up our minds to believe that “Full frame” is the quality benchmark we must pursuit. FULL FRAME!! In the days of film photography that was called the “miniature format”.
So a 24x36mm image format went from “miniature format” to “full frame” just by applying the right marketing philosophy. There, you should not want to have a m43 camera just because it is not “full frame”. In fact m43 and “full frame” cameras are both miniature format cameras so not much separates them.
We say miniature format because it has only 864 square millimeters of area compared to the 3808 square millimeters of a 6×7 frame. That is to say that the “sensor” of the Fuji GF670 is 4.4x bigger than the one on the Leica RF. No way one can beat that!
Of course, with fine emulsions that yield a lot of image detail that is not much of a problem because 35mm cameras have lenses that can resolve much more detail (line pairs per millimeter) than MF lenses, but try to use a fast emulsion like Ilford Delta 3200 Pro and the difference is surely obvious. Of course a big negative/positive is better for enlargements, but to me, more important than that, is the ability of medium format cameras to take film rated at 400 ASA/ISO or faster, with less perceived fall in image quality, as one would notice on a miniature format camera.
But apples to apples, this camera must be compared to other MF cameras when it comes to image quality. Of course, as being a Fuji it should not disappoint us and it doesn’t. The images it makes are stunningly gorgeous, not with the razor sharp feel of the Rolleiflex TLR lens or the Hasselblad Zeiss glass, but the detail is all there.
In fact when it comes to medium format cameras, no camera system will desilude, I am yet to find a bad MF camera.
So let´s look at the tech specs for this camera…
On the heart of the device comes the 80mm 1:3.5 EBC Fujinon lens, EBC stands for electro beam coating, which is good but not that important these days because all modern lens are multi coated, but it was a must have on the 70’s…
The 80mm lens equals more or less a 40mm lens on a “fullframe” camera, nice.
Talking about the lens, it is a bit weird to focus, it has a focus tab like other rangefinders but the bellows protrudes in such a way that one cannot held the camera in the same way like we do with other cameras, so one hand grabs the camera on the right side and the left hand goes on the bottom of the camera so that a finger can sit on the focus tab but not touch the fbellows. A bit weird.
The lens will only focus from 0.9m to infinity, a bit disappointing in this regard but having a large frame also means one can always crop the frame without loosing much in image quality.
The lens has a dedicated lens hood that takes 40,5mm filters, however the lens barrel may also accept 58mm filters, but then, the dedicated hood is of no use. Not much of a issue because flare is very well controlled by the lens.
Now, the widest aperture is f=1:3.5, not that fast but on MF it is not that bad either, because DOF is always present even at f8 and faster film emulsions can be used and we will still get a decent image resolution.
The lens can be closed down to f=1:22 and such apertures are widely used in medium format and large format cameras to increase the depth of field and check this, no reason to worry about image deterioration.
Mind you, the aspect ratio is rather different and more close to 4:3 than to 3:2, because of that, the images will look quite different from those made with a 35mm camera.
One may argue about why to go 6×7 if 6×6 is almost the same. Publishers may answer 6×7 is better suited for Magazine publishing. With a 3:2 or 1:1 ratio, photographers always have to remind themselves about the need to crop either ends (horizontal or vertical) to make the picture fit the cover of a magazine, with 6×7 it is almost certain to get the right framing.
The electronically controlled leaf shutter is very silent and free of vibration, this translates to very sharp images even at low speeds but the inability to know if the photo was taken by listening to the “click”. On a silent room one can hear it but on the street it is rather difficult. Ask a DSLR user to take a picture for you and look at his face afterwards trying to find out if he actually did it! No “mirror bang” on the Fuji I assure you. It is much quieter than a Rolleiflex TLR, in case you ever used one.
So the only way to know if the photo was taken is to advance the film and this is done by a very old fashion way that is by turning the advance wheel until it stops.
The shutter goes from 4s up to 1/500s and includes B, pretty standard on MF cameras. If you choose to shoot on an aperture priority program (the only auto mode available), overexposure or underexposure can be set up to 2 stops. Not the best, but still usable.
Flash is manual and because of the leaf shutter it can sync at any speed (I guess).
Now, the film is loaded on the back of the camera and the unexposed roll sits on the left side.
Very important! First of all you must select if you wish to take 6×6 frames or 6×7 frames before you load the film because the knob to choose such options is inside the film chamber. Secondly, pay attention while loading the film to see if it is folding properly around the empty spool. Make sure the film is aligned and does roll in very firmly into the spool. Placing your fingers above the empty spool while loading may help.
This is a big problem with the GF670, if the film doesn’t roll in well you might end up with a defective exposed roll, that lets light leak into the emulsion and that can make the advance wheel run stiff or even stop working.
The GF670 is a very fragile camera!
Firstly there is the bellows that is in fact very easy to damage so keep your fingers away from it and very important, don´t try to close the lens if it is not set to infinity first. Also, the lens cover is made of very thin plastic shell and it is prone to crack if you put pressure on it.
I had Fuji to replace mine due to a crack on the plastic cover after taking it for a walk inside a backpack and because the case for this camera is a soft case, it will only protect from dust and rain.
Repairs to this camera are made only at the factory that makes them in Japan, so while one can be reassured the job will be well done, sending a camera to Japan for repair is neither fast or cheap.
I must say I don´t like the finishes to the camera, I think the paint can chip off easily and the rubberized parts will wear over time or gather a ugly patina, dust, and dirt sticks to it easily. I would much prefer a traditional leatherette instead. But maybe it is just me, I have the GF670 for several years now and it still looks like new but I must say, I don´t use it that much.
The GF670 drains batteries quickly
Yep, I find this to be true even if you keep the lens closed which also turns the camera off. The camera only takes one CR2 Lithium Battery but it will drain in 6-12 months if left in the camera when not in use. Keep also in mind to check the battery prior to using the camera because it won´t work without it. Always bring a spare.
On the field
One cannot avoid comparing this camera to a Leica M because both are rangefinders, both are compact cameras, at least when not in use, and both shoot in a similar way. The M6 is 790g with the small 35mm summicron and the GF670 is 1050g, so not so far apart. The GF670 does not feel heavy in any way.
So is it like a Leica? Well… here is where one may miss an essencial point about this camera… Because the camera is lightweight and shoots like a Leica rangefinder, one may think that it should be used like a leica M.
Yes it can be used like a rangefinder! But then you loose the advantage of it, that is state of the art, high resolution imagery. Unless you shoot at high speeds of 1/250s or 1/500s, a tripod is mandatory for the ultimate picture quality when using a MF camera and the GF670 is no exception.
A good pair for it would be a moderately compact tripod. In my case I use the Manfrotto carbon fiber 190CXPRO4G with the excellent 057 magnesium ball head. This makes for a stable yet lightweight combo that pairs well with the camera.
Then there is a mistake that I find myself doing quite often with this camera, that is shooting from a distant position. The culprit for that I think, is the excellent viewfinder of the camera. The image is so rich and detailed while framing that one may think he is closer to the subject than he actually is. The lens is a 40mm equivalent, already a wide angle lens so I must teach myself to get closer to the subject with this camera.
I must also add, to the (short) complaint list that it bothers me a lot to use the camera on a rainy day, because of the bellows getting wet.
Also, I have to mention the cost of running such a camera. Each roll will give you only 10 pictures, at most 12. So compared to a 35mm camera you waist 3x more on films and development! For such, this is a tool to be used in exceptional photographic opportunities, not for candy photography or selfies, and it is very easy, at least for me, to miss that essencial point.
This is a high performance photographic device for state of the art quality with film medium. I am pretty sure that this camera on the hands of a very well trained and creative photographer can be a powerful tool and this also means that one masters the development of film, the printing and or the scanning procedures.
If you decide to scan the images, a high performance scanner is also mandatory, only a drum scanner or something like the Imacon/Hasselblad flextight, or the Nikon Coolscan 9000ED or or the Minolta Dimage Multi Pro will make justice to the camera. The epson V700 flatbed is ok for the price it costs but will not get you half of the detail recorded to the film. So why use such an expensive camera in the first place?
To sum up, I think the GF670 is one of the best film cameras ever made alongside other great cameras like Rolleiflex TLR or the Hasselblad V series.
Compared to other 6×7 cameras like the great Pentax 67 or the Mamiya RB67 it is much smaller and truly light, the Mamiya 7 sits between being also light but not so compact.
Therefore the Fujifilm GF670 makes for a great traveling tool, and one that will not make you feel awkward when you take it out for a walk.
If you master analog photography and need the best possible quality, this camera should be on your short list but for those that are beginners to analog photography or those that cannot afford the cost of film medium, film development and the ownership of a good scanner, I would recommend a 35mm camera instead or a 6×4.5 MF camera to start with. The Bronica 645, the Fuji 645 or the Mamiya 645 are amazing cameras that are cheaper and at least they will make 15 frames out off a 120 roll. If you luster for a cheaper MF rangefinder, then the Bronica RF should also be a excellent option, it is also a 6×4.5 MF camera.
If you just desire that Medium Format “look” mind you that this is not the best lens for it, as one can see from the images above they are pretty standard in appearance, I mean, the lens on this camera does not render like those one can find on other MF cameras, like the Pentax Takumar 2.4/105mm, or the Contax 645 2/80 or the Hasselblad 2/100.
Bringing dead cameras back to life…
Thank you for reading.