Yes, it’s true. A medium format point and shoot camera actually exists. I wasn’t really into it at first, but have completely fallen in love with it after a few outings. It may well be the only camera I never sell.
The year was 1995. "Toy Story," the first entirely computer-animated film, had just come out, and Atlanta was in full swing preparation mode for the following year’s Olympic games. It was also the year that one of my aunts gave me a Minolta X-370. In the midst of all this, while I was blissfully unaware, Fujifilm released the first generation GA645, a medium format point and shoot rangefinder that would change everything about how I shot around town. In a relatively unique and arguably strange way, the orientation is set in portrait orientation.
I only bought this camera a few months ago, right before Christmas. I thought it would fill a particular but ever-present void in my camera lineup. I would occasionally find myself wanting medium format quality but wanting the size and weight of my 35mm camera. I don’t remember where I first read of the GA645, but once I found out about it, I read review after review on it and watched every YouTube video I could find. Eventually, I pulled the trigger, received the camera, and found myself a bit out of sorts with the simplicity of the camera. It quickly became a classic case of a statistician trying to overcomplicate the situation.
The GA645 had three generations, concluding with five different models. The first and second generations have two different models: the standard model equipped with a 60mm f/4 lens and the wide angle model, which was fitted with a 45mm f/4 lens. Those lenses are approximately equivalent to a 35mm and 28mm in ful frame, respectively. The difference in the titles of the first and second generations are denoted by an “i” suffix (second generation). The third generation does not have a fixed focal length but instead offers a zoom lens (55-90mm f/4.5-6.9) and is denoted as model GA645Zi. The first generation debuted in 1995, the second generation came out in 1997, and the third and final generation came out in 1998.
The camera has three modes: complete auto (P), aperture priority (A), and manual (M). At first, I found myself using aperture priority the most, but that limits the useable shutter speeds unless you stop it down considerably. The manual mode is a complete pain to use unless you’re shooting entirely at infinity, or you’re very talented at estimating distances from you and your subject. After a while, I was eventually starting using it in auto mode, and I don’t know that I’ll ever go back. It is so incredibly easy. The focus is very accurate, and the metering has thus far been flawless.
The shell of the GA645 series is made of a hard plastic, which doesn’t feel as sturdy as some other high-end point and shoot cameras from the 1990s. That said, about 15 rolls in, and I have not a single complaint. It has kept up walking around Ohio in the snow and going to the top of Nordkette in the Alps. I bought a UV filter (featured in the above photo along with a Peak Design leash strap) to protect the lens since I wanted to keep the lens cap off of it. Paired up with an excellent filter, the entire kit is so light that it almost seems flimsy, but after some use, you’ll see that it is solid as a rock.
I’m not aware of any accessories for this camera other than the branded lens cap, which I don’t have. I have been told that they made specific flash units for this camera, but I’ve never seen one.
Nonexistent. The lens you get depends on the camera you buy. So, if you’re looking for a fixed 50mm equivalent or longer, you’re out of luck. Instead, you would have the option to get the zoom version, which covers the range of normal focal lengths. For me, however, 35mm was always where I felt most at home, so getting a camera with a fixed focal length with that field of view is not bad.
What I Liked
- Compact and so lightweight it’s tough to believe
- The lens produces some stunning photographs
- Can print data on the frame border (date, time, date/time, exposure data)
- Focusing and metering are spots on
- So easy to use, someone with no photography background can efficiently operate
- Portrait frame orientation
What I Didn’t Like
- Not being an SLR, you cannot see what the camera is or is not focusing on. Instead, it provides an estimated distance in the viewfinder
- Getting more and more expensive by the day
- There is no PC sync cable for the first two generations
- The programmed year only goes to 2025
- Winding from one frame to the next is pretty loud
- For whatever reason, this camera struggles to shoot through the Fuji slide film. I’ve never had a problem with either of my Mamiya cameras, but on this camera, the film does not want to wind up on the receiving spool
- Slow lens
- I cannot get the time to stay correct. Most likely, this is operator error
I know that the above list has more items on the cons side than the pros side, but honestly, the positive attributes of the camera are so lovely that they outweigh the negative aspects that I’ve mentioned above. It took some getting used to, but as I said at the beginning, the GA645 is the only camera I own that I’m confident that I will never sell. The images it produces are stunning, the sharpness is through the roof, and it’s easier to use than any other camera I own. Even more, it’s the most compact and lightest camera I own. It is so light that it weighs the same or less compared with every medium format lens I own.
I cannot recommend this camera enough. It’s fantastic. The focusing is center-weighted, and that bothered me a bit until I learned to back-button focus, which, ironically, is on the front of the camera. With all of this said, my favorite thing about this camera is not the compactness of it, the fantastic lens, or the ability to print data on the frame’s border. It is, instead, the usability for non-photographers. On our recent excursion to Europe, my fiancée was using this camera for about half of the trip, and she took some fantastic shots with it. In contrast, with all of my other cameras, there is some amount of photographic expertise required to operate the camera efficiently. I doubt this will matter to most readers, but for me, it is important to have a camera that someone without experience can operate to excite them by the results and perhaps spur them to learn more about photography.