Fifty Years of Fujifilm Mirrorless Medium Format Cameras


Yep, 51 actually. Back in the 1960s, unlike all its rivals in the medium format camera market at the time, Fujifilm decided to concentrate on rangefinder designs rather than reflexes. And, of course, rangefinder cameras are mirrorless, right?

As has been the philosophy behind the GFX 50S and now the 50R, Fujifilm’s key objective back then was to combine “carrying ease” with “handling speed” hence the decision to package the 6x9cm format in a 35mm-style rangefinder body.

The Fujica G690 was launched in March 1968 at the Tokyo Camera Show and went on sale in the December of that year. It was compact for a 6x9cm format camera and had interchangeable lenses. An internal mask covered the film gate when lenses were being changed. It had a coupled rangefinder and the viewfinder also incorporated frame lines which not only adjusted for parallax as the lens was focused, but also the field-of-view. Even Leica didn’t offer this facility on its contemporary 35mm RF cameras. An updated version, the GL690 Professional, was launched in 1974 along with a 6x7cm camera called the GM670 Professional.

However, in 1978, Fujifilm decided to adopt a fixed-lens configuration which, along with a switch to GRP bodyshells, resulted in significant weight savings. The original GW690 and GW670 both had a 90mm f3.5 lens which was equivalent – in 35mm format terms – in focal length to a 35mm on the 6x9cm format and a 42mm on the 6x7cm. These models subsequently evolved through Series II (1985) and III (1992) versions and an ultrawide GSW version of the 6x9cm model was introduced in 1980. It had a 65mm f5.6 lens which was equivalent to a 25mm.

A line of 6×4.5cm format RF cameras was introduced in 1983 to enable even more compact and lightweight designs. While the early models were fully manual (but with built-in metering), in 1995, Fujifilm launched the next-generation GA645 Professional which caused almost as big a stir as the original X100 digital camera did in 2010. It pretty much went ‘all the way’ with automation – autofocus, program exposure control, motorised film transport and a built-in, pop-up flash – with styling similar to the 35mm compacts of the time. It was a medium format point-and shoot camera. The GA645 had a 60mm f4.0 lens, but a wider-angle version, called the GA645W (and also launched in 1995), was fitted with a 45mm f4.0 lens. Both were subsequently upgraded in 1997, and rebadged as the GA645i and GA645Wi respectively, with the main change being the addition of a second shutter release button on the front panel. In 1998, Fujifilm introduced the last-of-theline GA645Zi model which had a 55-90mm f4.5-6.9 zoom lens (equivalent to 35-55mm) and a modernised body with a more pronounced handgrip.

Given this track record, don’t rule out a digital medium format X100-style camera (i.e. with a fixed lens) from Fujifilm sometime in the future.
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report by Paul Burrows
in Australian Camera

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