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How Was I Missing a Medium Format Point and Shoot? A Short-Term Review of the Fujifilm GA645

How Was I Missing a Medium Format Point and Shoot? A Short-Term Review of the Fujifilm GA645

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. 

Build Quality

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. 

Accessories

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. 

Lens Offerings

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

Conclusion

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. 

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72 Comments

Previous comments
Yoram Pomer's picture

But Fuji added the imprint outside of the frame, so that you will not get it in your prints.

James Madison's picture

It can print the date and time or date and exposure data on the bottom border of the frame. It’s one of my favorite features of the camera!

Fristen Lasten's picture

I like the red adirondack chair in the snow. It does seem to have a slight green cast though. What film did you use and where did you have it processed?

James Madison's picture

Oh there is for sure a cool cast to the photo. It was shot on a very overcast/gloomy day, in the hour or so between two snow storms. The same batch of processing had multiple rolls without issues, taken on sunny days so I'm not concerned with processing issues.

I just found that particular photo difficult to white balance.

Leon Bensason's picture

I purchased a GA645zi a few years ago and loved the camera. Felt great to hold, lightweight and was super compact for a medium format camera. The auto focusing reminded me of my Contax G1, which came out around the same time in the mid 90s. Unfortunately for me, my copy has developed a problem whereby only a few frames into a roll, after taking a shot the camera will automatically rewind the film. Has happened the last 4 or 5 rolls. Checked the rewind button underneath and it isn't the issue. Can't figure out why this is happening, other than perhaps the camera electronics are failing, which is always the risk with such cameras. Curious to know if other GA645 owners have encountered a similar issue, as i was not able to find much information on the problem online.

James Madison's picture

Oh, man. That’s a real bummer. I’ve never heard of that happening. Perhaps Matt Williams (above comments) could provide some insight.

Matt Williams's picture

Hmmmm... sorry, I don't have a clue specifically, beyond failing electronics somewhere. I do know that if you use 220 and don't set it to that, it will auto rewind after 16 frames, but clearly that is not your issue. And you said you checked the little tiny button on the bottom? All I can think is possibly a malfunction between that button and wherever it communicates with. Unfortunately, my camera repair experience is almost entirely limited to mechanical cameras - I never really worked on electronic issues beyond replacing the occasional capacitor.

I'd recommend you send it off to Nippon Photoclinic in NYC (http://nipponphotoclinic.com/) if you're in the US or can otherwise easily mail it to them. They do free estimates, just pay return shipping if you don't want it fixed. I've always sent them any electronic work I've needed done - they've serviced a lot of Contax G1 and G2's for me. They're very reasonably priced and very quick.

My gut feeling is that it's a fairly simple fix. I just couldn't tell you specifically where to look unfortunately.

Good luck! It's a nice camera.

Philos Lee's picture

Open the back and check the film pressure plate to make sure it is set at 120 position, not the 220 position. If it is set in 220 position the plate will push the film harder toward the lens, since 220 has no backing paper. This may create too much resistance when the 120 film frame advances, causing the camera to believe it reaches the end of a roll prematurely.

Ed Hecht's picture

N00b question incoming...
Does this camera shoot on 35mm film or is there special film needed? And is it easy to find? It’s been almost 20 years since I shot film but i am intrigued...

Matt Williams's picture

It shoots medium format aka 120. It's very easy to get, Amazon, B&H, Adorama, most camera stores, etc. Pretty much any existing photo lab that still does 35 also does 120.

And most of the stocks (like Portra, various Ilfords, etc.) are available in 120 just like 35mm.

James Madison's picture

Thanks for chiming in, Matt! Would you mind looking at Leon’s comment above? If you don’t have any advice for him, do you know where he may look for an answer?

Matt Williams's picture

Got it! Referred him to Nippon in NYC, they've done great work for me many times. Unfortunately I only ever did repair on mechanical issues. But they should be able to get him fixed up. Keep them in mind if you ever need a film camera repaired - they're great, free estimates too.

Leon Bensason's picture

Thanks for the suggestions. I appreciate the advice.

James Madison's picture

I think Kodak, Ilford, and Fuji make all of their professional films in 120. Films like Kodak Gold, Ultra Max, etc... which are the non-professional stocks are only available in 35mm (but still worth giving a shot)

You should give film photography another go! The experience is so radically different from shooting digital - you may or may not like it but if you start out with Medium format, you won’t be sacrificing quality.

Ed Hecht's picture

Thanks for all the replies, folks. I do have a few more N00b questions though...
1) Can 120 negative film be scanned (using some third party holder) on a traditional flatbed scanner?
2) If no to #1, how well do standalone 120 scanners work and white kind of resolution can you get from them?
(My initial guess is that such scanning is maybe for low-med resolution "previews" until you are ready to engage a professional lab for large scale prints?)

My frugal thought process is this:
-Take pics
-Scan negative film at home using a standalone or flatbed scanner
-Take TIFFs to Costco for large size printing when ready
Feel free to wince, cringe and "correct me" here.
"The only stupid questions are the ones you don't ask."
Thanks in advance!

James Madison's picture

1 - The Epson v650 comes with a 120 film holder for scanning. It's the scanner I own and have scanned just at 3,000 photos with and it's still going strong.

2 - There may be a stand-alone 120 scanner but I don't know of one. At least not one I've ever heard anyone owning.

That's the process I have. There's a lab in town for C-41 (color negs) and I do my own B&W. I look at them all on the light table and use my phone (you can invert the display)so that color negs have a cyan tint but can still be judged and B&W frames will look just like they should) to make my assessments over what will and will not be scanned. I'll scan my shots at the minimal acceptable resolution for what I need (typically, printing in 8x10) and I'll go from there.

Ask as many questions as you need! There's nothing wrong with learning. Most likely every question you want to ask has been asked before because the answer is rarely obvious.

Ed Hecht's picture

Thanks again, James. I found this standalone one on Amazon:
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07TC2YVYY
Looks pretty no-frills, but has some good (recent) reviews. I suppose with liberal Prime return policy, it's worth a shot (pardon the pun).

Stephen Dietrich's picture

This camera is so under rated! I have the 645Wi for about 2 years now when the prices where cheap from Japan. I've taken it to Cuba and man, it is incredible.The lens is SHARP and the portrait format is perfect for me. The only draw back is that the close focus distance is maybe 3 ft so its not the best for portraits, but good for environmental portraits where you want some of the surround area in your image.

Some take aways I've also learned about this camera:

-Auto mode does the job. I tend to use this camera on Auto or P, set it and go. It's meant to be a point-and-shoot and does a fantastic job with that. If I want manual controls, I'd use my M6 for a different experience.

-Provia does seem to have issues rolling up. I haven't tried E-100 on this so I'm not sure if its all slide film in general.

-1/400 Shutter Speed is Maximum. Choose your film speed accordingly.

-Studio Flash Sync does work! I've used a few different types and all have seemed to work fine.

Also, I get more people stopping to ask about the camera than anything else I have!
Added some samples to share the results.

James Madison's picture

Thanks for sharing your experiences with the Wi! I’m happy to know I’m not going crazy I with shooting slide film.

It was my understanding that the 1/400 max shutter speed was only for wider apertures and can shoot faster speeds if stopped down.

Thanks for sharing some of your work with the camera!

marcgabor's picture

For the love of god please stop telling the world about these little gems. Just post your nice photos to IG and keep quiet about the gear. Seriously what's the point? Gear doesn't matter to the viewer. You're drawing attention to yourself because of the gear you use and not the work you make. I understand if you write about new gear because you get paid (either as a journalist or as a rep) but to write about stuff they don't make anymore just drives the stock down and the prices up. This is hardly the first article about this camera but seriously just stop. There's literally not a single fixed focal length point and shoot camera left that hasn't seen it's second hand prices shoot through the roof. If you are a photographer who likes to shoot film it doesn't take much google searching to learn about every medium format camera ever made, read some spec sheets, archived reviews and make an ebay purchase if you feel so inclined. That said this is such a good camera I wish Fuji would make it again.

James Madison's picture

I do feel like writing about this camera and other film cameras still has a valuable place. While it’s true that the rising costs of these cameras is quite frustrating to those of us who have been using this gear before the prices started skyrocketing (I paid hundreds more than others reported paying on YouTube), it does indicate an increased interest in this medium. Without clear indications of increased interest in film photography, Kodak and Fuji would have carried on discontinuing stocks rather than releasing new ones. What’s more, without articles still discussing film photography and, more specifically, film cameras there would be an even lower chance of manufacturers making new film cameras.

I promise I realize that the supply of these cameras along with almost all film cameras is finite and as such, will only increase in price as the demand goes up. I just believe that it is a necessary evil to grow the popularity of film photography in hopes of having even the slightest chance of restoring this medium back into the mainstream.

I hope you can see it from my perspective. I love film photography and am doing what I believe is in its best interest in the long run. Plus - attempting to write a review for new gear I likely wouldn’t keep in my bag feels disingenuous to me. I have tried to stick with reviews on gear that I have used enough of and have invested in to keep the reviews as honest as possible.

Philos Lee's picture

To solve the Fuji film fat roll issue in the GA series camera, use the spool with a pin in the middle of opening as the take-up spool to load Fuji's 120 films. Fuji's 120 films leader has a hole to be hooked in the spool pin.

Every roll of Fuji's 120 film uses such a spool. So next time after finishing a Fuji 120 roll, ask the lab to return the spool or just save it after you process the film.

James Madison's picture

I thought about doing two rolls of slide back to back to see if that would fix it but never did. And it doesn't happen on all Fuji film - I shot through a couple rolls of Pro 400H on it without a hitch. It's just happened on Provia so far.

Edward Oneill's picture

The even more portable option is a medium format "folder," which can fit in a jacket pocket. These date back to the 1930's, and Zeiss was a major player.

There is no need for autofocus if you follow the 'zone' focusing procedure common in street photography: you choose a narrow aperture and determine the depth of field such that, for instance, everything from 8 to 20 feet is within the depth of field for that lens and focus point. Some of these cameras also have the depth of field indicated on the lens.

James Madison's picture

Is there a specific model you're referring to?

Philos Lee's picture

I have both GA645 and GA645W. I don't really use them as a point and shoot, instead I operate them more like a manual rangefinder. Most of the time I don't use the auto focus. The manual has DoF tables for each. I printed a small version and stick it to the back of camera. Then I use zone focus based on the the DoF table. Also I carry a handheld light meter, so I seldom use the in-camera meter.

James Madison's picture

That's interesting. Having not done anything in manual mode on the camera and only once did I use manual focus, that seems like a very labor intensive process. Have you found your focusing/metering not worth trusting?

Philos Lee's picture

The reason I use zone focus is to put the important elements in the frame in focus based on DoF.

I never trust in-camera metering systems, no matter how advanced they are. What they do is some weighted averaging across the frame. If I shoot negative film, I want to place my shadow in zone III or IV and make sure the highlight is still in manageable range. If I shoot slide films, I want to make sure the overall contrast doesn't exceed the latitude of the film (if it does, I'll give up.)

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