Fuji GS645S – Camera with a Roo Bar

Medium format in a small package, the Fuji GS645S Professional gives that to you in spades. Apart from some of the folding cameras, this is one of the smaller cameras I have come across which shoots 120 roll film.

I really enjoy cameras where they have been designed in a thoughtful way to achieve a specific outcome and again this camera delivers.  From a grip which fits in your hand comfortably to quiet click of the shutter, it is a very enjoyable camera to use and then it delivers nice sharp results.

What’s with the reference to a Roo Bar?  For my non-Australian friends, I should describe what a Roo Bar is.  It is effectively a bull bar put in front of a car or truck to protect it.  While in the U.S. these are mainly installed at ranches with cattle, in Australia they serve another purpose.  Kangaroos can grow quite big, are made up of a whole heap of muscle, and have a habit of running in front of moving vehicles, and without one of these there will be a lot of damage.

Back to the camera, it has a bar around the lens, I imagine specifically for protecting it from knocks and probably not from Kangaroos.

The GS645S is a Japanese made 6×4.5 format camera, so at the smaller end of the medium format spectrum.  That does allow it to be very portable, very light and does shoot 15 frames on 120 film.  30 frames if you can find 220 film.  It is a very modern looking camera which does tend to still attract attention when using it, though shooting natively in portrait mode does take a bit of getting used to.

I treat this camera as the little brother of the Fuji GSW690III Professional that I also love to use, and being exactly half of the 6×9 frame of that camera, it is like using the half frame Olympus Pen EE-2 that I also use in 35mm.

History

The Fuji GS645S Professional was released in March 1984.  In fact, in 1983 and 1984 Fuji released 3 GS645 cameras.  These included GS645 Professional, a folding 75mm rangefinder, and the GS645W Professional, a wide angle, 45mm viewfinder camera with scale focusing.  The GS645S was the third of these, and was also designated as the Wide60.

Fuji uses the S to designate wide, but by looking at these designations I would say it is considering it as widish, compared to the true wide GS645W.  From what I have been able to work out, it was released to feedback that the 45mm (28mm equivalent in 35mm) was too wide for most people and there was a preference for a rangefinder rather than scale focus.

Fuji was on a bit of win with this series and the other fixed lens rangefinders in the medium format size back, as I very rarely come across any complaints of the optical quality.  These was successful enough that Fuji even released “point and shoot” versions of the 645 line in the 1990s, with the GA645 range of cameras.  I prefer manual cameras, but I also am worried through reports that the electronics in some of the GA series are compromised due to age now, which led me to choosing this model.

Camera Specifics

As mentioned earlier, the GS645S is a fixed lens medium format 6×4.5 rangefinder.  It has a 60mm f/4 lens and requires a battery to drive the meter, otherwise it is fully mechanical.  It is mainly built in plastic and metal fittings.

The EBC Fujinon W 60mm 1:4 Orthometar-type lens is comprised of 7 elements in 5 groups, mounted in a mechanical Copal 00 shutter, allowing the camera to be quiet.  The reputation of this lens is very good, and considered something that does deserve the “Professional” moniker.  It does have a reputation of being easy to break its fixed mount, which is the popular theory on why it has a bar around it. I reckon it just makes it look a bit cooler.  Yes, I can hear my kids’ eyes rolling at that.

Most of the controls are on the lens with different feeling grips or tabs.  The shutter speed is right at the front, with the aperture ring right behind it.  The film speed setting is also next to the aperture ring allowing ISO 25 through to 1600.  Shutter speeds range the leaf shutter from 1 second to 1/500sec.  The aperture range is f/4 to f/22.  A very handy focus range is imprinted at the base of the lens right under the Wide60 label.  The “T” slot for timed photos is also on the lens, you just need to press it down when the shutter is cocked, press the shutter release and then press it a second time when the time is up.  A self-timer switch is a final control on the lens just behind the film speed ISO selection.

The top of the camera has a hot shoe for flash, exposure counter, film winder and the shutter release. The film winder requires a full throw to wind onto the next frame and to cock the shutter for the next exposure.  The shutter release is a standard thread type, making quite easy to find a remote cable, and is surrounded by an exposure lock lever.

On the back of the camera is a film counter switch.  It allows you to select the counter for either 120 or 220 film.  120 film will give you 15 exposures, while 220 doubles that to 30, by having a tighter wind on the spool without the backing paper.  The selection of 220 also moves the backing plate to ensure a straight film plane.  There is also a film reminder slot which you can insert the cardboard end of the film box into it.  A texture has also been designed into the back around to the grip, for better handling.

To load film, you open the back using a lever on the side and there will be two little release buttons at the bottom of the film chambers to release the spool, which seem to be a common design across all the Fuji fixed lens medium format rangefinders.  Slip in the new spool, thread on the other side, and wind to the starting arrow.  When you close the back, you then advance the film until it locks into the first frame.

The viewfinder eye piece is round and protrudes at the back, and when you look through it is natively in portrait mode, since the film is standard 120 size, it accomplishes the smaller format by this method.  It has a magnification of 0.5x.  There is a yellow patch in the middle of the viewfinder for the rangefinder focussing.  It uses a double image rangefinder for focusing.  The frame lines correct for parallax distortion and are of-course in portrait.  You can also see the “roo bar” in the bottom right corner of the viewfinder.

An exposure meter is also seen in the finder, which tells the user that whether you are under or over.  It uses three symbols, “-“ for under, “+” for over and “O” for correct exposure settings.  It can measure from 4 to 18 EV.  The meter requires LR44 batteries which I imagine last a very long time, I’m still on the first ones after a year.

On the bottom of the camera is the usual tripod collar, but one of the features I love of this camera is that it also has a tripod collar on the side.  Considering it is naturally in portrait and the lens is wide enough for some landscape pictures, that is a fantastic idea.

The Experience

When I first picked up the GS645S I did a double take.  It was so much lighter than I thought it would be and I thought there was no way that it would produce quality pictures.  I felt a bit like picking up my Holga.  Boy, was I wrong.  In terms of handling, it is a joy to use.  Easy to hold and not too heavy around the neck.  Loading it was also not very difficult as the spools fit in very easily.

I recently looked in my fridge and found I had some rolls of Fujifilm Reala that had been in there a decade and were long since expired.  When I thought about which camera to use one of the rolls in, it was not a hard decision.  It was one of my favourite films back when it was available, and was screaming for me to take it to Kamay Botany Bay National Park, in the south west of Sydney in the GS645S.

Walking around in a national park with a medium format camera is usually a little bit of a chore, unless it is one of the older folders which I also adore, like the Voigtländer Perkeo. What you do though, being bluntly honest, is give up a little on the quality with the older folders.  With the GS645S, that is not the case.  The lens is super sharp and once you get used to the controls on the lens, is very convenient.  As the controls all have different grips and tabs, this is very easy.

Getting used to the portrait view was a little different, but as I had shot with some Olympus Pens before, not totally foreign to me.  The finder is very clear and easy to see through.  The rangefinder patch was a little smaller than I would like, and could do with a bit more contrast, but fully usable, even in some of the darker areas of Chinatown on a separate photo walk.

During both the walk through the park and Chinatown, I did not feel the urge to rotate the camera to landscape very often, it sort of feels more natural in portrait.  But when I decided to take some photos using the camera on a tripod it was a totally different feeling.  The 6×4.5 format is quite long so it feels quite natural to capture a landscape.  Having a proper time setting, which you can cancel with another shutter release press is also a plus, especially when I have used the bigger GSW690III which requires you to change the film speed on the lens to end the exposure.

If I must have a gripe about this camera is the usual one that people tend to have with rangefinders, the use of filters.  The GS645S does this better than its 6×9 bigger brother, in that it does not have a lens hood that blocks the use of the controls when you retract it, especially when you have filters, but you cannot really gauge the position of the filter especially a polariser or a gradual natural density.  Though, if you were to carry filters, then having a lightweight rangefinder would not be your first choice in any case, you would carry a SLR type of camera.

The metering is very good, it handles most situations very well, but I must admit I did not try it on slide film, so I enjoyed the forgiving nature of negatives.  I did have a good look at the negatives as I scanned them and found that it is quite accurate.  I only overrode the meter on a few occasions, like when I wanted a silhouette or there was quite harsh backlighting.

I have never taken so many portrait orientated photos in one sitting as I did taking this camera out, but with this little camera it is such a natural orientation that I really enjoyed using it.  Normally cameras that are what I consider half frame (as 6×4.5 is half a 6×9 frame) feel a bit awkward, but this was not the case with the GS645S.  Not only do I view this as a camera for easy entry into medium format, this is a quality camera to be used often.  My recommendation is that if you can get your hands on one, do.  You will thoroughly enjoy it, and it is a quick and easy camera to pick up and use, especially on days where you do not want the hassle of multiple lenses or any heavy equipment.

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