One of the best things about shooting film is that there are so many cameras to choose from! Of course, your wallet may disagree with me. The number of formats, combined with the different brands, form factors, lenses, and options make shooting with film almost impossible to get bored with. If you're at all familiar with my articles on Fstoppers, you know that I tend to focus on film and bringing it to a new audience. To that end, I've created a new video series profiling various film gear, some of it well known, some not so much! In my quest to learn about and use different systems, I hope you'll learn along with me. First up, a medium format rangefinder style camera from Fujifilm: the GF670.
The GF670 is a interesting animal in that it combines a lot of the simplicity of a rangefinder with the ability to use 120 and 220 film. For the uninitiated, a rangefinder is different from an SLR-style body in that there is no mirror, and focus is achieved by looking into a window that displays the scene in front of you along with crop lines. At the center of the viewfinder is a small window with two diverging images. By focusing, you bring the images into alignment. Once the images are in alignment, you know that you have achieved focus. In a rangefinder there is no depth of field preview, so it's important to have good instincts as to how much depth you need or to use the scale on the camera to estimate your working depth of field.
It sounds complicated, but it's this way of working, along with a nearly silent shutter, that's made rangefinders one of the preferred style of cameras for documentary photography. They're unobtrusive, quiet, and, once they're set correctly, very quick to operate. This rangefinder is different in that rather than having a cocking lever to advance the film, it uses a dial. I find this to be out of place on this style of camera, as turning the dial over and over to advance the film gets tedious and wastes time.
In my adventures with this camera, I not only used it in a situation for which it was made (street photography), but I also shot with it on a portrait shoot. Of course, these cameras are not built for shooting portraiture in dark locations, but I thought it might be fun (and humbling) to try it out!
On the street, the camera performed flawlessly. Any defects in the results are solely due to my lack of talent as a street photographer. But in actual usage, the gear shined. For portraits, however, the camera was definitely not suited to my needs.
Although being unable to see my depth of field was a bit of a speed bump, the real killer for me was using the rangefinder focusing in the dark. Details were very hard to align in the finder, and working with what I knew would be shallow depth of field, I was sure I wouldn't hit the level of sharpness I wanted. Of course, this was done purely for my own sense of adventure, as I know that this is not the right tool for the job. But I figured it would be fun!
As predicted, the portraits were a bit soft due to user error, but it makes me respect people who go out there and take awesome portraits with Leicas in the dark. Pretty impressive stuff!
The camera uses either 120 or 220 medium-format film and can usually be bought on the used market for between $1,300 and $1,500. Is it worth it? I suppose it depends on your priorities. It's certainly fun to work with, but if you're a portrait photographer, there are far better options. If you're into documentary/street work and you need a bigger negative than 35mm can offer, this may be right up your alley! But if you don't mind the smaller 35mm format, a used Leica would fit the bill with the added bonus of interchangeable lenses.
If response is good, I'd like to do more profiles of older film cameras like this. If you're interested, sound off below and let me know what kinds of film cameras and gear you'd like to see featured and given a run-through in a photo shoot! Be sure to check out the accompanying video for more information about the camera as well as a bit of behind-the-scenes from the portrait shoot.
A big thank you to Englewood Camera, my local mom-and-pop, for lending me the body for review!