When I did the research to buy my first medium format camera, I quickly came to the Fuji rangefinder series. If you read forums and other online sources, good things are often written about the Texas Leica (as it is also known as). When looking to other 135 film rangefinders the GW690 is huge and bulky, but compared with many other medium-format cameras, the GW690 series has a manageable size and are reasonably priced. My photos is mainly taken in the field, so I depend on being able to carry it in my backpack among thermos and lunch. Size matters. I prefer the 2:3 format and a positive feature is that each frame measures 6 x 9 cm. One can easily make large prints from a picture made with the GW690. All this together the Fuji GW690 stood out to me as a good first buy, and the search for a good item started at ebay. Finally, I landed on a camera for sale in Japan. And after a few weeks of waiting, I received a third generations GW690 camera in mail here at Svalbard.
- 90mm, 58 degree field of view (equivalent to 39mm on a 35mm camera)
- Leaf shutter
- 120 film rolls. Medium format
- f/3,5 – f/32 half-stop increments
- 1s – 1/500s plus T-mode. full-stop increments
This rangefinder series from fuji (fujica) was introduced in the late 70s and was produced until 90s. All the pictures and tests I have done is with a third generation GW690 made in 1992. The camera has a very good fixed prime lens at 90mm with leaf shutter integrated between the glasses. The aperture goes from f/3.5 to f/32 and shutter speed between 1s and 1/500s. The lens has a somewhat long minimum focusing distance of just 1 meter. Other things worth mentioning is that the camera has a hotshoe for flash, a lock on the trigger, and a built in retractable lens hood. The lens has inner threads with 67mm diameter for your ND or color filters.
What I liked
What I like the most with this camera is the huge negative it produces. 6 cm x 9 cm is the biggest size negative one can make on a medium format camera. If you want a larger format than that you need to scale up to large format cameras (4×5″ for example). And that is a different ball game.
- The lens on this camera is really sharp, and I cannot see any noticeable distortion or aberration. It is a prime lens, so something else would be strange.
- This camera is 100% mechanically and it seems to be very solidly constructed. I can image it will withstand some beating.
- There are no batteries that die in the cold on this camera (if we disregard the external light meter you probably need). Here in the Arctic, I often find that batteries do not last a photo session. Digital mirrorless cameras are the worst.
- I often make long exposures, and this camera has its own little twist on how it is designed. T mode is constructed so that when the shutter is trigged, it stays open till the shutter settings on the lens is changed towards “1s”. I like this solution compared to Bulb mode on most cameras.
- Among other things I particularly want to mention about the GW690 is that one can find these cameras relatively cheap even though I have seen that prices on iconic analog cameras only rises. Analog photography have become popular.
What I did not like
What I liked least about this camera is that I find it a bit difficult to achieve focus. The yellow spot focus area is tiny, and I need to search around the image to find a suitable place to align the “double image”. It is tough in a low contrast scenery and bit difficult on a tripod.
- The next issue that bothers me a little is that the shutter and aperture ring are very close. I have seen on several occasions that it easily result in a mistake. I intent to change the aperture, but ends up also changing the shutter time.
- One thing that I painfully have experienced is that one must remember to take off the lens cap. With only 8 frames each 120 roll, I must not be wasting pictures on the inside of the lens cap.
- The closest point of focus with this camera is 1 meter. Since this is a fixed lens camera it makes it unfit for macro photography and similar. Even not for a close portrait.
- Although aperture goes to f / 32, I find the fastest shutter speed of 1 / 500s a bit too long. 1 / 2000s had been better especially for a situation where you shoot both inside and outside. And I don’t want to attach a ND filter to achieve a bokeh effect in daylight.
After taking an approximately 20+ rolls of 120 film, I have discovered a little light leak which appears in the bottom of the image. I have solved this easily with electrical tape. The workaround has not been a major problem for me. One can expect such error with old cameras, and if it bothers me too much I will replace the gasket with a new one. I have really enjoyed this camera and think it should run a great deal of rolls before I switch to other medium format cameras. The camera has been perfect as a introduction to the medium format. I have learned a lot with the fact that the settings are all manual. This is probably not the camera for the person who takes pictures of fast moving scenes or prefer full automation. With this camera one must think carefully and use some time before the photo is taken.
Here are a few images taken with the GW690iii :
Urban/rural exploration has been a hobby that has given me much joy over the years. Both the historical aspect of it and the joy of taking pictures and documenting old ruins. Svalbard has many such places, and I thought it was a good idea to introduce them here. Maybe others will have an interest in visiting these places as well? Coles Bay is one of the abandoned settlement that is easiest to visit, and I thought to introduce it first.
What is it: Coles Bay area has a history of Norwegian trappers dating back to 19th century, but the buildings and ruins we see today stems from the Soviet mining operations that came later in the 20. century. Coles Bay and Grumant further north was linked by railways. Coles Bay had a good harbor and functioned as an export port for the Grumant settlement. Grumant and Coles Bay had a total of over 1,100 inhabitants at its peak in 1951-1952.
What to explore: In the area there are about 10 to 12 large and small buildings that are more or less intact. Several ruins can also be seen in the area. There are two ports in Coles Bay and at one of them lies a shipwreck half sunk. Traces of the old railway is seen north-west of town going toward Grumant. The old power plant and the graveyard is seen in easterly direction from the main buildings.
Condition: Most buildings have roofs intact but may have such a state that those are not recommended to enter. Some houses have locked doors and windows in good condition, while the other houses are open. Intrusion by force to closed buildings is not ok.
How to get there: You can travel to Coles Bay with either boat in the summer time or snowmobile in the winter time. Coles Bay has a good harbour and is a safe lie in. The trip from Longyearbyen by boat is approximately 25 kilometers one way. No liner go there ohwever regular tours go there in winter time. In winter you can travel with snowmobile over the mountains near Longyearbyen and down Colesdalen. Also about 25 km one way. It is recommended to travel with a local guide to get to Coles Bay. Hiking between Longyearbyen and Coles Bay is not recommended. At least not for people without mountain experience.
“Take nothing but pictures. Leave nothing but footprints” Is a good rule to follow. These places exist because there was activity in the area and the facilities and location served people a purpose. Today they are a memory of a bygone era. Let us not destroy them or affect them in any way with today’s activity. Be careful.
I have done another toning test similar to the tea toning test I did before Christmas. I used the same concentration of washing soda for bleaching and the same type of watercolour paper (Arches satin hot pressed 300g).
The recipe is as follows:
Bleach bath: 1 teaspoon Sodium Carbonate (washing soda) for each liter hot water. I mixed up 3 liters.
Toning bath: 3 tablespoons instant coffee (Nescafe gold) for each liter hot water. Also 3 liters in total.
Cool down the bleach and toning bath to room temperature before starting the process. I have been precise when it come to the timing. Especially with the bleach bath. A few seconds longer or shorter time submerged in bleach will produce a noticeable difference in the result. I might consider using a lower concentration on the bleach. I think it should make it easier to get the best result. Golden in the highlights and purple in the shadows is what I try to achieve. Another important ting is the pre-soaking in water (1 minute) and thoroughly cleanse between bleach and toning.
Early 2016 I placed six pinhole cameras in the terrain around Longyearbyen, and let them collect sunlight for about one year. The cameras were made from a beer can with a photographic paper curled inside the can and with a small pinhole to let in sunlight. Apart from the pin hole, the camera was lightproof and mounted on a wooden frame.
When I collected the cameras I soon understood that I had made a mistake. The sun and weather has dried and cracked the wooden frame and it must have caused a movement to the camera during the exposure time. I saw warped wood on all six of my pinhole cameras. The picture below is the one with least movement.
Some edit is needed in lightroom and/or photoshop:
- Horizontal flip. The camera obscura produces a left-right flipped and upside down image
- Color invert. The photographic paper is a negative. More light means darker imprint.
- Convert to BW. Pink converts to blue and I think black/white looks a little better.
- Work with contrast settings so the image become more apparent.
This last image is the original photographic paper straight from the pinhole camera to the flat bed scanner. No development or other chemicals added. If the paper is submerged in developer it will turn completely black. Don’t do that!
Lesson learned: Create a better foundation for the camera. It must withstand the weather conditions without creating any movement. One year is too long to wait to find out that one has camera movements …
If you like the simple process (and low price!) of cyanotype printing, but wish not everything was bluish. Why not try toning your prints! You will be surprised how different the print appears. This time I have decided to tone my prints in black tea. It is said that it produces a warm black/brown shade! In my opinion the image below came out best:
Mixing ratio and preparations:
- Bleach bath is one teaspoon Sodium Carbonate (washing soda) for each liter hot water.
- Toning bath is 5 teabags per liter hot water. (about 10g black tea)
- Cool the bleach and toning bath to room temperatures before you start the process.
- Rinse bath is cold tap water.
- Pre soak the cyanotype print in cold water for about one minute.
- Submerge the print in the bleach solution for the selected time.
- Start rinsing in cold water just before the print has bleached enough. (the print will bleach a little after rinse has started)
- Tone the bleached print for the selected time.
- Rinse in cold water
- Dry. I dry mine flat on paper towels. Image side up.
In the image to the right you can study how far I bleached the print. On the top you see the dried original from the flatbed scanner. Number two is briefly bleached. Only 15 seconds. Number tree is bleached for 30 seconds, and the last one for 60 seconds. After the bleach bath I rinse the print in water for at least one minute. If you bleach on eye measure, start rinsing in water a little before you think it is bleached enough. Remember the print will continue bleach for a while after you have removed it from the bleach bath. Photo of the bleached prints were taken when still wet. Sorry about the glare.
Bleaching and toning cyanotype prints is a bit tricky. There are many variables; paper quality, under/over exposed image, bleaching time and toning time. All those variables are essential for a successful result. My best advise is to experiment with several prints. The result will vary, and do not judge the print before you have seen it dried. I performed some pre tests before I completed this one, and found my paper to stain a lot with long toning baths. The print was completely ruined after 20 minutes, and I decided 12 minutes toning was enough for this test. Another make of paper might produced better (or worse) result.
Out of twelve cyanotype prints, bleached and toned differently I have this result:
From the result I see that the none bleached prints ends up too dark blueish. And the longest bleached prints is a little washed out. I think the best one is number 6; 15 seconds bleach and 12 minutes toning. The darkest parts are black and warm brown in the highlights without looking washed out.
In this test I used Arches hot pressed 300g watercolor paper, Lipton Yellow Lable tea, and Stabil krystall soda (Sodium Carbonate). And of course tap water from Longyearbyen 🙂