Unrequited Love: Fuji GA645

I’ll admit my bias upfront: I adore the GA. I love the character of Fuji EBC lenses, and I love 645 format for what it is. I love this camera in spite of its power-drill voice, Fisher Price ergonomics, right down to its clown-shoes street presence. This camera delivers sharp, perfectly exposed negatives with a minimum of fuss and worry. It is small enough to take everywhere but just enough trouble to make you think twice (right up until you see your results). It’s cheap enough to buy on a whim, but not so much to toss if it goes wrong. Take these words at face value, because unlike many reviewers you’ll find online I’ve owned and used a GA645 for years and hundreds of rolls of film. I’ve often been elated and on occasion bitterly disappointed. Here’s my Fuji GA story.

I’m a product of a generation that’s paralyzed by indecision from access to the sum of human knowledge at all times. The internet makes any purchase possible, plausible and vehemently dissuaded concurrently. Look hard enough, and you’ll find a detractor to match every cheerleader on any subject. I’d waffled on buying this camera for a few years, always just short of approving a sale because of some discussion-forum photography-expert in his grandmothers basement decrying the GA for it’s shortcomings. It’s too loud, it’s too big, 645 isn’t worth the effort, it’s not a Hasselblad. I say: hang all haters.

Let’s address some of the gripes first and foremost.

It’s plastic. Yup

The camera is clad completely in plastic and the skin of some exotic rubber lizard for grip. It’s dark gray unlike like the pimpy Champagne 645Zi. The frame of the camera is certainly some alloy but the face it shows the world is the same plastic that lines the inside of your 1988 Honda. Would it be cool if this camera were shod in titanium or magnesium? Oh heck yes. Sign me up. But it couldn’t possibly make better photos in a fancier frock.

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It’s too big to be practical: BS

The GA645 is the same size as a Canon 5Dc with the plastic 50 F1.8 and hood. And it’s a slimmer package to boot.

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It’s loud: Yup.

Wow, that sure is a terrible noise the lens motor makes when you’re engaging AF. Keep in mind that since you have your face up against the camera it sounds a lot more dramatic to the shooter than the subject. True, when I’ve given the camera to others to photograph my family it’s nearly inaudible. Of course it’s the also the noise of the quick, reliable 900-step autofocus. So by the time you’ve nailed manual focus with your beloved Superior Brand Purist Camera, I’m 30 paces closer to the pub to talk smack and enjoy a beer with you. Hurry up.

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645 Isn’t worth the effort: BS.

645 is the perfect format for shooting 120 on a budget. It’s 3.4 times the size of your 135 negative. On the other hand, at 15-16 frames per roll of 120, 645 is 20% more economical than shooting 6×6, 27% more again if you’re a 6×9 shooter. If you print a well exposed 135 negative and a similar 645 negative, every layman you ask will be able to pick out the difference. So for the “why not just shoot 6×9” naysayers and Only-Large-Format-Will-Do luddites, be my guest. It’s your money, There’s room for all of us in this game.

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It’s not a “internet-darling-camera of the week”: Yup.

What do you compare the GA against to make it  fair comparison? Do we set the metric on price? For the $300 you can steal one of these up for, what compares? You’re in off-brand 35mm SLR territory here. Lens performance? I’ve owned Hasselblad, Contax and Canon pro-level gear. Under a loupe in terms of clinical sharpness, lack of flare, fringing and clean high-contrast transitions the EBC reigns. As craftspeople, we have to choose our tools based on the job at hand. For what I’ve asked it to do, the GA645 has delivered consistently better results for a bare fraction of the price of other cameras I’ve owned and used. The GA gets no love because it’s ugly, its plastic and it has no sexy pedigree. For those of us who love them, they remain a bargain and for that I’m thankful.

F4 is just too slow on a fixed-lens camera: BS.

Nope. It’s 120 behind a leaf shutter, just work it. The DOF at F4 is just shallow enough without being a handicap. Push your 400 to 1600 if you need to and go make photos.

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OK, I’ve gushed. If you’re still with me, I thank you. Now, what about the caveats, because there have to be some at this point right? I can only speak for myself, (since I’m smarter than an AF system) but I have never had any of the “commonplace” out of focus images I’ve read about. It’s amazing how many people online have no idea how to use a single AF spot, and that we got by without 199 of them in our viewfinders for years. I’ve had my example to the mothership at Fuji Repair in NJ twice. Once was for a loose shutter release that was on its way to breaking completely and the other was for a stripped film advance gear almost 5 years later that was giving me incredibly creative (nevertheless unwanted) double and triple frame compositions.

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When I received the camera back the first time, I am happy to report that Fuji Repair inspected all mechanisms and replaced the entire shutter release assembly, as well as performed a preventative silent recall service (from decades ago) on the LCD. The second repair was unsuccessful due to a lack of parts anywhere in the supply chain. Not content to roll over and let my old pal waste away, I got in touch with the Fuji doctor, Frank Marshman at Camera-Wiz. His advice was to pick up another one since they’re cheap enough to be disposable.


So I own a dead camera. I keep it with sincere hope that I can have a replacement part 3D printed, or find a cheap parts camera in the future. The Fuji owes me nothing, but I feels as though I would be letting go of an old friend to junk it or sell for parts. I tend not to form attachments to equipment; the camera and lens are simply tools to make an image. The GA is a different case for me. We’ve traveled together. I’ve watched my little girl grow up through its finder. It has recorded holidays, Christmases, milestones good and bad. Don’t judge me, we’ll be together again someday.

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Now, what can I tell you about the GA that you haven’t already read 13 times elsewhere online?

  • The vertical lugs are lovely, and the camera hangs comfortably from a shoulder or around the neck.
  • When you take a photo in a quiet place you can keep the shutter release engaged until you’re at a better moment to wind on. Advance the film when the dirty looks from the AF motor have died down.
  • While loading film, to take up slack you can use the top control dial to advance the film take-up  1/4″ at a time. Handy to eliminate the fabled “GA645 fat roll” myth (which is really just sloppy loading).
  • The GA will take 120 or 220 film, of you’re in possession of a time machine.
  • The camera is as simple to use as any point-and-shoot on the market. Perhaps easier because of the monster, coated viewfinder. Give this to a stranger to take your portrait at Disney, and you’ll get a keeper in one shot providing they’re not legally blind.
  • The GA will imprint the date, shooting mode, shutter speed, and lens aperture in the margins beside every frame. It’s very convenient.

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  • The Strobe GA is a forgotten gem of a flash, designed to cover the portrait orientation 645 frame. Enjoy full sync flash at any speed since the GA uses a leaf shutter.

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The GA isn’t the high school valedictorian. The GA never ran for student council, wasn’t Prom Queen and never got elected most-likely-to-do anything. The GA is the kid you sort of knew through a friend and lost track of after graduation. What you don’t know is that they’ve quietly become a rocket scientist, orthopaedic surgeon or deep sea welder. They’re the sort that doesn’t talk about their income and is happy for the work to speak for itself. The GA645 brags only on its resume. Results talk, BS walks.

My conclusion, don’t bother. The GA645 is certainly not worth your time. They’re big, noisy, funny looking and people will laugh at you when you go out shooting. Fuji? Didn’t they make film once? Spend your money on a proper camera, like a Hasselblad. Ugh, and 645? Such a waste of effort.

It’ll be our secret.


 

Header image courtesy of the fabulous Monika Morris. Color images courtesy of Apple iPhone 6.

Butkus.org GA645 Manual (16Mb PDF)

11 Replies to “Unrequited Love: Fuji GA645”

  1. Hi Matthew,
    I stumbled upon your review thanks to a quote by a fellow film photographer on twitter, and I share every single bit of it, the GA645 is a gem. I also own a Strobe GA, but I found impossible to find its manual: do you own it by any chance? And will it be possible for you to share it?
    Sorry to ask, but it seems to be the Holy Grail of manuals, even Mike Butkus surrendered..
    Thanks,
    Bruto

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