By: José Manuel Serrano Esparza

Published in FV Photography Magazine Number 155. July 2001

I would like to comment some aspects concerning the Fuji GA645 AF, an extraordinary camera which, from my standpoint 
hasn´t received the accolades deserved by such an excellent and versatile photographic product, also a forerunner of a breaking of established molds, specially regarding the madium format cameras domain.

To begin with, the Fuji GA645 AF entailed an authentic landmark in the history of photography, because it was the first autofocus medium format camera (6 x 4.5 size) in the world, the great harbinger before the appearance of the medium format SLRs Pentax 645N AF, Mamiya 645 AF and Contax 645 AF.

It is clear that the Fuji GA645, with a fixed non interchangeable lens (both in its standard version with a Fujinon Super EBC 45 mm f/4 lens and its wideangle version with the Fujinon Super EBC 60 mm f/4 lens), hasn´t the coupling capacity of a great variety of lenses with different focal lengths and luminosities, typical in the previously quoted medium format AF reflex cameras.

Nevertheless, its very light weight and transport convenience have implied a revolutionary change concerning the photographer action speed with a 6 x 4.5 camera (with its very light 815 gr, compared for instance in 35 mm to the 1,210 gr of a Nikon F5 or the 1,490 gr of a Canon EOS 1 with PDB grip and more obviously in medium format to the 1,280 g of the Pentax 645N, the 1,730 g of the Mamiya 645 AF, the 1,370 g of the Contax 645 AF,etc).

On the other hand, Fuji has made a great innovative effort, equipping this gorgeous rangefinder camera with a wise profusion of electronic circuitry and automatisms, so conferring it an adaptability to various contexts and a handling easiness and quickness similar to the most up-to-date 35 mm reflex cameras, even on having a fixed lens and always with the option of manual focusing and exposition.

The topic can seem somewhat contradictory, since medium format photography had been always conceived (and it is still that way) as something very carefully arranged, with a lot of previous planning of details, great selection of the framings and of course the traditional manual focusing, but with the hindrance of its big weight and size, transport difficulties and the constant need of using a tripod.

In spite of it, no photojournalist would think about carrying with him a Pentax 6 x 7 medium format camera with its 1,695 g only the body with AE pentaprism and batteries and X synchronization speed at 1/30 for reportages requiring a certain speed of response with hand and wrist.

The Fuji GA645 AF is an autofocus camera, utterly motorized and automatic, with manifold electronically controlled functions, which noticeably increases the levels of working speed.

Its autofocus system, albeit mainly designed for static motifs of people, is very accurate, because it is a hybrid autofocus: active through infrared beam for near subjects and passive through phase detection for distant subjects, with a remarkable reliability and precision, though a little noisy, the same as the automatic film rewind and advance.

Obviously, the Fuji GA645 doesn´t sport the capacity of predictive focusing tracking AF Servo continuous of a Canon EOS 1N or can match the technological sophistication of the flashing automatic focusing tracking with lock of the Nikon F5 and its autofocus sensor Multi-CAM1300 with a wide cross matrix of five sensitive areas, not influenced by the momentary focusing interruptions. But it doesn´t matter. The Fuji GA 645 AF performs very well the work it was created for.

Besides, the retractable nature of its Super EBC Fujinon 60 mm f/4, which on switching the camera off, automatically folds 1,9 cm over itself, makes that the transport dimensions be even more small and convenient.

This retractable lens has contributed to the fact that both neophytes and even some persons within the photographic scope (relating it erroneously with the typical 35 mm compact cameras and zoom lenses) have considered the Fuji GA645 AF as a kind of toy for whimsical people, snob gimmick or more often than not as a simple medium format ´point and shoot ´compact camera, without more importance or special optical quality. Nothing farther from reality.

To start with, the fact that a lens is retractable, doesn´t entail at all that it must have less optical quality, but frequently the opposite. And there are a lot of historical examples of excellent retractable lenses, both in 35 mm and in medium format: the Elmar 50 mm f/3.5 (made between 1924 and 1961); the Elmar 90 mm f/4 (manufactured between 1954 and 1968; the Elmar 50 mm f/2.8 (made between 1957 and 1974 and reintroduced in 1994 for the marvellous Leica M6J limited edition, with more modern glasses of superior optical performance and non rotating lens mounting); the Summar 50 mm f/2 (made between 1933 and 1940); the Summicron Screw Model 50 mm f/2 (1953-1963); the many Russian 50 mm f/2 versions Industar 22 and Industar 50 (based on the German Elmar 50 mm f3.5 lens); the Russian ZK 50 mm f/2 with M39 screw mounting of the first Zorki (a copy of an identical Carl Zeiss lens, manufactured with German glass captured as a booty after the II World War); the Mamiya L 75 mm f/3.5 of the rangefinder 6 x 6 medium format camera Mamiya 6, a retractable lens camera folding 3.2 cm, etc.

As a matter of fact, the Fujinon Super EBC 60 mm f/4 lens of the Fuji GA645 AF, immensely versatile (equivalent to a 37 mm in 24 x 36 photography, with seven elements in six groups, is a superlative quality lens yielding extraordinary results at all apaertures (except at f/22, because of the diffraction), superior in resolution, lack of grain and capture even of the most minimal details and colour hues to the vast majority of medium format retrofocus design lenses, save by a narrow margin the most advanced and very expensive Carl Zeiss SLR models for Hasselblad, Rollei or Schneider-Kreuznach and the lenses of the impressive Mamiya 7 (which both owing to its rangefinder trait and its bigger size 6 x 7 cm format, belongs to a superior quality level of final image achieved, from my viewpoint very close to a 9 x 12 sheets large format camera.

Within the Fuji GA645 there isn´t a tilting mirror limiting the constructive and design quality of the lens, whose back part can be easily placed at a very few millimitres from the film plane, so beating reflex medium format lenses of similar focal length featured by much more expensive cameras.

On the other hand, the searching of a rangefinder medium format camera with a reduced as possible size, scarce weight and great optical quality, has been a diachronic dream in the history of photography, with very symbolic models, initially folding ones as the Zeiss Ikonta A 1930, with a Tessar 75 mm f/4.5 lens; the Zeiss Ikon Ikomat A (model 520) 1933, 6 x 4.5 format with a Novar f/4.5 lens; the Voigtländer Bessa 1936, 6 x 9 and 6 x 4.5 formats with an Heliar 105 mm f/3.5 lens; the Ensign Commando 1945 with an Ensar Anastigmat 75 mm f/3.5 lens; the Zeiss Ikon Super Ikonta IV from the end of the fifties and beginning of sixties, with a Tessar 75 mm f/3.5 lens; the Voigtländer Bessa I 1950 with a colour Skopar 105 mm f/3.5 lens; the elite model Agfa Super Isolette with a Solinar 75 mm f/3.5 lens; the Voigtländer Perkeo II 1952 with a Color Skopar lens; the Zeiss Nettar 6 x 6 with a Novar Anastigmat 75 mm f/6.3; the Welta Perle 6 x 9 with a Schneider Xenar lens (a Tessar 4 elements design), etc.

But usually, the prices of all these marvellous cameras were high or very high.

Curiously, until the launching of the Fuji ´Texas leicas´(Fuji GW645, Fuji GW670 and Fuji GW670, along with their wideangle versions) and after manufacturing interesting 6 x 6 format models as the Vymperl-Estafeta, Vympel and Estafeta-Gomz of the fifties, with retractable 75 mm f/4 lenses, were the Russians the ones more closely approaching to the cited ideal, with the excellent folding rangefinder cameras Iskra and Iskra 2 (the latter having a built-in light meter), jewels of the crown of KMZ, with an outstanding ability for handheld shots without a tripod and at a bargain price. Inspired by the 1954 Agfa Super Isolette, they sported an Industar-58 75 mm f/3.5 lens, coated, having a very high quality and resolution (a rather good copy of Tessar design) and they´re able to achieve even nowadays in mint or good condition units, results very superior in quality to that attained by SLR medium format Russian cameras as Saliuts, Kiev 60 or Kiev 88 with its Volna 80 mm f/2.8 lens.

The Fuji GA645 AF viewfinder is top-notch, very bright and with automatic parallax error correction, revealing itself spectacular in photographs at a very short distance, in which the framelines narrow ostensibly, while they move to the right.

Another very remarkable aspect of the Fuji GA645 AF is that it frames vertically on being grabbed in a conventional way, while for standard horizontal images you must turn the camera until having it in vertical position. That´s because the designers of this beautiful 6 x 4.5 format rangefinder camera were well aware that most reportage photographs or those ones intended for magazines, are vertical format. And these feature has also been emobodied in the more recent rangefinder Bronica 645 RF camera, with manual focusing and interchangeable lenses.

The Fuji GA645 AF is a camera very suitable for various contexts: indoor photography, weddings, fashion, travels, etc.

It excels specially in landscape photography, with the great benefit of being able to get a towering percentage of handheld shots, without a tripod, even with low sensitivity films as Fuji Velvia ISO 50 and Fuji Reala ISO 100.

And loaded with ISO 400 spool (Fuji provia 400F, Fuji NPH 400) and 800 (Fuji NHG 800) you can face with hand and wrist, without a flash, practically to any photographic juncture.



© Copyright José Manuel Serrano Esparza