£300 FUJI MEDIUM FORMAT CAMERA - THE 'TEXAS LEICA'

Below is a 100% blow up from a £300 Fuji Medium Camera. Is it a knock off Fuji GFX? No it's a FUJI GW690III Rangefinder Film Camera that shoots 6 x 9 Transparencies or Negatives. It is 100% manual, has no battery, a fixed 90mm lens (In 35mm. approx. 45mm) and below is a scan from my Epson V850 downsized to 50MP. Because of it's rangefinder focusing, the shape and the size, it is known as The 'Texas Leica'. And it cost me £300.

And of course this is genuine medium format. Not the 'full-frame plus a little bit' of the GFX. And yes you may have picked up that I'm somewhat skeptical about the Fuji 'MF' digital camera. And the reason for that is that it is unjustifiably and ridiculously overpriced. And though comparing film size and digital sensor size is not simple (or even possible) below is the size of the Fuji GW690's film frame and the GFX plus a standard 'full frame' sensor.

As you can see 'genuine' medium format is way bigger than the Fuji GFX's version of it, which is again not that much larger than full-frame. Now if you shop around you can get a Canon 5Ds for between £2100-2400 depending on whether you are happy with a grey import or not. The Fuji GFX is currently selling in the UK for £6200. Now how can Fuji possibly justify this price difference for a scaled up mirrorless DSLR lookalike with a marginally larger sensor? Again, as I've indicated comparing film size to sensor size is not necessarily an indication of quality, but when I scan a negative or slide at 4800 ppi the size of the image from the 'old' Fuji MF film camera is an astonishing 150MP !! So if 'size matters' I've got a pretty amazing bargain. 

However, it really isn't that simple. When I scan an image and look at it on my screen I downsize that 150MP image to something around 50MP, the size of the Canon and Fuji cameras I mentioned above. And with a bit of Photoshop sharpening, as you can see in the sample above, a Fuji 6 x 9 film image looks very good indeed. For the above shot I used Fuji Velvia 100. And of course any idea of higher ISO performance is determined by how good high ISO film is. The camera doesn't even have a ISO control, as it is totally manual. However if I'm going to produce negatives or transparencies this big, then I want the best quality possible. This is not a low light 'street' photography camera, though it can be used hand held since it's not that heavy, but with only eight exposures per 120 film reel (costing around £2.50 per shot) I need to make each shot count. 

So, enough of that. What's it like to use? Well, regular readers will know how much I like simplicity and the 'Texas Leica' is certainly pretty minimalist. There are shutter speed and aperture selectors on the fixed lens, there's a shutter button, a rewind lever and that's about it. With no metering or even an ISO selector (which would be redundant anyway) and no electronics, because all the shutter speeds are mechanical, I obviously needed to get some kind of light meter. And in a somewhat strange combination, I use LUX a light meter app for my iPhone. Which is simple and accurate. 

It is a very enjoyable camera to use and the results are very good indeed. It illustrates that as you get larger and larger film sizes, there is an advantage in terms of IQ compared to digital that becomes apparent. And while they are a pain to use there is nothing comparable to a camera that shoots 10 x 8 sheet film. For example those taking archival photographs of art works, antiquities and archeological finds still use 10 x 8 film as they don't believe that even high end (and high price) MF digital can beat it. 

The FUJI GW690III gives me a lot. Incredibly high quality film images that don't rely on electricity to view them and that I can store (carefully) for years to come and take advantage of any digitisation options in the future. And this is another reason I've come back to film. My film images are not a collection of 0's and 1's that require a computer or other electronic device to translate them into something I can see. They actually have a physical form. Sure, you can make prints from digital, but since I personally have so many images that is just impossible. 

I honestly believe I did get a bargain and hopefully the FUJI GW690III will keep going for many years to come, which of course is another good reason to use film. None of the 4 film cameras I have will ever get an 'update' not that they need one. Better image quality will come via an improvement in film technology and / or lenses because film cameras are only a vehicle for letting the right amount of light hit the film. I enjoy manual photography and it's very satisfying to see the images I create. And yes it IS more satisfying that viewing my digital images. While many probably won't see the point of what I'm doing, particularly as the process is complicated, takes time and is expensive, I'm very happy with it. I haven't enjoyed creating images this much for years and putting a price on that (in terms of money AND time) is for me meaningless. My wonderful job just got better!!

Finally, here are some pictures of the 'beast'.

STOP PRESS!!

Just as I was finishing off this post and preparing it to go live, an envelope arrived in the post with four films I shot with the Fuji last week. So I thought I'd wait and see what they looked like.

Again after Photoshop work, I have some superb images, which can be printed to huge sizes. 

So what does this camera give me? Well it's certainly the cheapest camera I could get that gives me top class 50MP files. And while the costs and film processing may add up over the years, it's certainly cost effective at the moment. Fixed lens yes, but it's an incredibly sharp lens and I have no problem with the focal length. After using it for a couple of weeks now, I don't really have to use the light meter on my iPhone that much. For sunlit pictures 1/250th. at f/11 works most of the time and gives me the right balance to work on in Photoshop. Eight shots per roll is certainly a pain, and changing the film is fiddly and time consuming. But then the 'Do I REALLY want to take this shot' warning kicks in and I find I'm being very selective about what I shoot, which is no bad thing. And since I have my iPhone with me whenever I shoot with the Fuji, I use that for the 'run of the mill' shots anyway. 

I love simplicity and having a camera free of all the 'digital clutter' is refreshing. Plus using film has been getting me back to what I really love shooting anyway. Landscape has always been what I enjoy photographing most  and this is obviously what the Fuji 6 x 9 is best at. Add in the incredible colour depth, even after scanning and that 'film look' and it's not hard to see why I like it so much. And I have to say I'm really looking forward to using this camera through the next few months with the changing colours of the countryside I live so close to.  It's a camera low on technology and options and high on artistic expression under my total control. And if that sounds pretentious then so be it. I know what I like to take pictures of and what I like to create those pictures with and the Fuji 6 x 9 fits in very well with that. Anyway, back in the day, when this camera was a current model I always wanted one but couldn't afford the price then. And with my four film cameras that is one of my motives for coming back to film. Using gear I lusted over in the past but wasn't able to buy at the time. Time warp? Maybe, but then there is nothing wrong with rekindling the enthusiasm I had when I was beginning my adventures as a photographer.