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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70 Comments

Matt Williams's picture

I love these cameras. I have the GA645Zi myself, because I found one at a really great deal a year or so ago. It's actually not a step-less zoom, so it jumps from 55 to 65 to 75 to 90mm (35/40/45/55 FF-e). Which I don't mind at all. The portrait orientation is very cool but very disorientating at first.

Lovely cameras. I'd really like a 645W or 645Wi version for a ~28mm FF-e.

James Madison's picture

Nice! Have you had any problems with the screen on the back? Most all of the copies I’ve seen in person and on eBay has problems with it. The zoom aspect of it was quite attractive but I didn’t end up going with it.

Matt Williams's picture

Mine is completely fine but that is a very common issue. The various parts of the digits begin to fade away and only show some of the lines that they should. I assume it's an issue with the connector between the PC board and the screen (either the ribbon itself or the solder connections).

A lot of other point and shoots exhibit similar problems with their top or rear LCDs... believe me, I've seen hundreds. Sometimes pressing firmly on the screen can reveal some of the missing "digits" or pieces or whatever you want to call them.

I'm sure it'll happen to mine eventually. In which case I'll just roll with it.

The zoom is very nice because of, well, the zoom, but the lens is a tad slower (though only a third of a stop at 55 vs 60) and not quite as good as the fixed lens version. The 60mm lens in the GA645 is sharper throughout, especially in the corners, compared to the 55 or 65mm steps on the Zi. You have be using a very fine grain film and good scanning to notice, though. Both are stellar performers, either way.

James Madison's picture

Interesting... I don’t have too much experience with P&S cameras. I wish I had picked a 35mm up before our most recent trip but alas - I didn’t find a good one at a price I was willing to pay.

Out of curiosity- have you shot any Fujichrome on GA645? I’ve had a bit of an issue with shooting Provia. It’s the weirdest thing... for whatever reason, only for Fuji slide film, the camera does not tightly wind the film back up on the receiving spool.

Matt Williams's picture

Sorry, I don't really shoot slide film. I've dabbled in it, but most of what I shoot is black and white or Portra. I shoot Velvia sometimes on 4x5, but not really on anything smaller anymore. And it's pretty rare that I do it with 4x5. That is very very odd though. As far as I know, there's no reason (logically speaking) that there should be any difference between slide and negative that would cause that problem. Does it happen with Velvia as well as Provia, if you've tried? Have you used a rolls from several sources (to rule out some kind of batch error)?

There are tons of really great and cheap 35mm point and shoots. Honestly, most of the expensive ones are absurdly overpriced (looking at you, Yashica T4/T5). Though there is a place in my heart that one day wants a Minolta TC-1. Check out one of the following, you can pick up pretty cheap and they're great cameras (a few are manual focus, a few auto): Olympus Trip 35, Nikon L35AF, Nikon AF600, Minolta Hi-Matic AF2 (there are some other Hi-Matic models too that are good), Olympus XA, Minox 35GL or GT. All good cameras with great lenses. I'm particularly fond of the very tiny, almost silent Minox 35 cameras. Wonderful lenses on those things and easily found for $30-90 depending on the model. GL is probably the best deal.

James Madison's picture

I’ll keep an eye out for those. Do you have much experience with them? Other than the camera in this article, I’ve never used a P&S camera.

Matt Williams's picture

I have experience with hundreds of film cameras. I used to repair and/or sell them a few years ago. Obviously, I have more experience with a select few cameras than many others, but after seeing thousands of cameras, I learned which ones tend to have weathered the years and which ones you could toss a coin on being faulty. Forgot to mention one of my favorite little point and shoots, though it's really a fixed-lens rangefinder since it doesn't have autofocus but rather a rangefinder: the Konica C35.

I have a lot of experience with the Trip 35, XA / XA2, L35AF, Hi-Matic, and Minox cameras. Biggest issue with the Minox cameras is the leaf shutter mechanism going out and/or the light meter, but if you find one where both of those are working (easy enough) then you're good to go. The Minox 35 is the smallest 35mm camera ever made, totally pocketable and basically silent. It *does not* have a focus aid, so it works best at middle to longer distances or stopped down, unless you're amazing at guessing distance wide open up close. But, it's a travel/street camera, so rarely ever use it with near-focus. The Minotar lens is a real gem and the ability to preset focus distance, aperture, and pull it out of your pocket, frame, and shoot makes it a killer stealth camera. It has auto exposure so no worries there.

The XA cameras are likewise incredibly small and stealthy. I prefer the lens of the Minox cameras (you want a model with the Color-Minotar lens not the later Minoxar).

eBay is pretty foolproof for buyers. If they say a camera works and there's a problem, it's a guaranteed easy return and refund. It's a bit less foolproof for sellers, on the other hand.

Good luck finding something! Lots of great affordable compacts out there. I've had the Contax T2/T3, Leica Minilux, all that jazz, and just not worth it. I do really want a Nikon 35Ti and Minolta TC-1 though someday because I can't help myself.

James Madison's picture

I've seen some Minox cameras before - they are impressively tiny. I've wanted a Nikon 35Ti for years but at the moment, don't have it in me to spend that much on 35mm. Perhaps one day I'll get one if I find a great deal or my circumstances change.

I'll look into those other cameras you suggested. Thanks!

Matt Williams's picture

They're tiny but really great little cameras, mainly because of the lens and the quiet shutter. The Contax T (first model) looks very very similar but has a rangefinder built in. Needless to say, they're a few hundred dollars more expensive than the Minox cameras.

The Nikon 28/35 Ti cameras are really cool. Love the retro dials on top. Superb lenses (I borrowed one for a week). Someday....

The numerous sisters of the konica C35 - all basically variants of the Cosina Compact 35E - are well worth mentioning. They bear names carrying little glamour - Revue, Porst, GAF, Chinon... - but they are pretty good. Most common issues are corroded battery contacts due to battery leaks, and photometer underexposing by one or two stops. And as usual with vintage rangefinders, cleaning the viewfinder and adjusting the rangefinder is in order.
And yes, the Minox lens is awesome indeed. handling is a bit fidgety, but it does deliver!

Matt Williams's picture

Yup, good point - there are a lot of variants of the C35. Porst and GAF and Chinon made a lot of variants of different cameras. Decent enough for the $10-20 they cost.

R. John Anderson's picture

How is the film developed and digitized?

James Madison's picture

There are loads of places that process and digitize film across the US and several that allow you to mail it in.

R. John Anderson's picture

The reason I ask is that my experience with scanning services has been F-, and I've tried several. I send a bunch of Fuji Velvia 50 in and it came back (from all of them) looking like it was shot at iso 64000...complete crap. That's when I gave up film and haven't shot a single roll since...was 10 years ago. If you know of labs which do a proper job, maybe you could suggest them here...

Matt Williams's picture

I use my Nikon Z6 to scan film. If you shoot 35mm, the Nikon ES-2 scanning kit is a godsend. Attaches to my Nikon 60mm macro and takes a 1:1 image of the negative. Would work with any FF Nikon, though the D850 (and I think D780) have built in negative conversion to create the final image in camera, rather than in Photoshop.

You can use a macro lens and digital camera to do medium format or large format film too - just need a light-tablet, which you can get for $20-30 on Amazon. Take a few photos and stitch them together (since the negative is larger than the sensor). Or I suppose you could take one photo at less than 1:1 to simplify things.

Much better than any scanning service I've ever used.

That said: Old School Photo Lab in New Hampshire is wonderful and has never done me wrong. They process fast (and good quality), upload scans to the internet for you, and mail your negatives back.

https://oldschoolphotolab.com/

marc gabor's picture

The ES-2 almost makes me want to shoot 35mm over medium format because of how good a scan you can get. Lab scans are fine to look at but your really need an Imacon or drumscanner to get the most out of your negatives. There were some old very big flatbed scanners used for graphic design that could make nice scans too but nothing like an Imacon.

marc gabor's picture

I've tried shooting film on a light table but it can be a challenge to get the film to lay flat. Anti newton glass and tape can help but I've found it very challenging to get the film perfectly parallel to the sensor

Matt Williams's picture

It is very difficult to get the film flat and to get your camera perfectly perpendicular to the negative. That's why the ES-2 is such a godsend. It's the best thing this side of drumscanning but ultimately a hell of a lot less money in the end unless you only ever shoot one roll.

I actually have a spare one because I ordered two of them on accident from Adorama and didn't realize it until it was too late to return. Unfortunately I think it's down where I live in Tennessee and I'm currently stuck in Ohio with my family because Kentucky has closed their borders. I'll double check, if I have it with me I'd absolutely be willing to sell it for a good price. Brand new. But I think it's in TN and who knows when I'll be able to get back there haha.

Hi Matt, I'm just curious if you know whether the ES-2 only works on Nikon's, and if that's the case will it only work with specific digital camera or any Nikon digital? Also if I'm not mistaken it allows you to scan the dry negative straight from your film camera without any further work done to the negative? (I understood that the camera could convert the image into something that could be worked on further in Lightroom or Negative Lab Pro). Thanks for your time

Matt Williams's picture

You can use any Nikon FF camera (I use a Z6). If you use the D850 or D780, it has a built-in negative digitizer, otherwise with other cameras you'll shoot a raw file and de-negatize it in Photoshop or whatever software.

As far as I know, it's only designed to work with the Nikkor 60mm macro. But it also works with the Nikkor AI 55mm macro with a PK-13 extension tube.

It *may* be workable on other cameras, but it would depend on the lens. The lens needs to 1) fit the adapter and 2) be able to focus at the correct distance. I can only speak to the 60 and 55 Nikon macros working (the 55 can be adapted to pretty much any other camera since it's fully manual, so that's one option).

Edit: and yes, you can scan the developed negative and then just de-negatize it on a computer (very easy) unless you have the D780/850 which can do that in-camera.

James Madison's picture

That’s really too bad. I understand though - the local lab where I used to live messed up more than one roll of film and it was always very discouraging. The Darkroom Lab, The Find Lab, etc... offer many-in services with scans. There are dozens of places in the US that do it. On top of that, many cities around the US still have local labs that can process color negatives. Finding a place that will do B&W is a bit more difficult to find.

For what it’s worth, Velvia is a really difficult stock to meter correctly. Pick up some Gold 200 or Portra 400 and see if you don’t grow a love for it.

R. John Anderson's picture

Thx...I had preferred the velvia for its color and vibrancy.

Michael Holst's picture

ugh yet another want of mine! Keep these articles coming!

James Madison's picture

You should pick one up! It’s been great to have it around.

I owned one many years ago, they are the best, i remember you can imprint date in between the film frame which is really high tech in those days

Matt Williams's picture

The GA645 was introduced in the mid 90s (94? 95?) so actually it was standard tech at that point. It was a common feature on point and shoots from the 80s onward and many, if not most, Pentax / Canon / Minolta / Nikon DSLRs had data backs available since the mid to late 80s.

James Madison's picture

The GA655 came out in ‘95. It couldn’t have been too standard - my Mamiya 645 Pro TL cannot imprint the date anywhere and I’m not aware of a special data back to do so. In fact, I’m only aware of one other MF that can do that - a Contax. If you know of other MF cameras capable of it, I would love to know. I think it’s so cool... haha

Matt Williams's picture

Oh! As far as medium format cameras. Yes, it wasn't standard for them. I was thinking film in general.

marc gabor's picture

Pentax, Contax, and Mamiya could all imprint exposure info. Not sure about date

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