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Fujica GL690: A Review of the Medium-Format Rangefinder Beast

Updated: Oct 20, 2023


The Fujica GL690 is a medium-format rangefinder camera that was introduced in 1974 as an improved version of the G690/G690BL series. It features interchangeable lenses that sport leaf shutters, and a 6x9cm format that produces stunning images with a huge negative. The camera is also known as the "Texas Leica", because it's a rangefinder, and "everything's bigger in Texas", and "The Beast" because of its size and weight, but also because of its performance and reliability.


In this article, we will review the features, design, and image quality of the Fujica GL690, as well as its price and availability on the secondhand market. We will also share some tips and tricks for finding a good example of this camera and things to look out for and warning signs to look out for.


 

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Fujica GL690: Features and Design

The camera has a simple and elegant design, with a black metal body and rubberized grips on the lenses. The top plate has two shutter release buttons, one for horizontal and one for vertical shooting, as well as a film advance lever, a frame counter, and a cold shoe. The back has a film loading door that opens by pulling a lever on the bottom plate. The film transport requires two strokes per frame, and there is no double exposure prevention mechanism.

This camera makes you think — if only for a second — that 6x9 photography is easy. The great thing about this camera is that it feels like a (huge) 35mm camera [...]

The viewfinder is large and bright, with a 0.92x magnification and parallax correction marks. The rangefinder patch is clear and contrasty, and the focusing is smooth and precise. The camera has no built-in meter, so an external one is needed or the sunny 16 rule can be applied. The shutter speeds range from 1 to 1/500s, plus Bulb and T modes, and are set by a dial around the lens mount. The aperture is set by a ring on the lens barrel.

[The GL690] offered a redesigned viewfinder with automatic field correction: when one focuses closer, two right-angled framelines moved closer to each other to reflect the actual FOV. On the GL690, the viewfinder showed 95% of the image at 1m and 92% at infinity, which is outstanding for a rangefinder camera.

- Sebastien Lallement, Fujica G690 series (1968-1978)


The original G690 camera system came with four lenses: a 100mm f/3.5 Tessar formula normal, which was joined by a 65mm f/8 Super Angulon formula wide-angle, and a 150mm f/5.6 Sonnar formula long normal/short telephoto and Sonnar formula 180mm f/5.6 short telephoto. All of them feature excellent sharpness, contrast, and colour rendition. They also have Seiko leaf shutters that are quiet and reliable, and sync with flash at all speeds. The lenses have 72mm filter threads and can be changed by pressing a button on the lens mount. The selection was expanded on release of the GL690 with a (now extremely rare) 50mm f/5.6 Super Angulon formula wide-angle, a (slightly less rare) 65mm f/5.6 Super Angulon formula wide-angle, and an auto-exposure 100mm f/3.5 lens.


The Fujica GL690 is not a camera for everyone. It is big, heavy, and expensive, and it requires some skill and patience to use. But for those who appreciate its qualities, it is a rewarding and satisfying camera that delivers superb image quality and a unique look.


Fujica GL690: Image Quality

A black and white photograph of a wooded path in Lesnes Abbey Wood.
Lesnes Abbey Wood, shot with the Fujica GL690 and the 65mm f/5.6 lens, on Fuji Neopan Acros 100 film, pushed to 400. The light was dim in places so a low shutter speed was needed, but with the leaf shutter and no mirror slap, and the solidity of the body, I could easily shoot at 1/15s and still achieve acceptably sharp images. Photo credit: Michael Elliott

The Fujica GL690 produces images that are sharp, detailed, and rich in tonality. The 6x9cm format offers a large negative area that can capture fine textures and subtle gradations. The aspect ratio is also ideal for landscapes, portraits, architecture, and street photography. The lenses are well-corrected for distortion, vignetting, flare, and chromatic aberration. The leaf shutter ensures minimal vibration and allows for handheld shooting at low speeds.


The camera can use both 120 and 220 roll films in various emulsions. The film choice can affect the mood and style of the images, as well as the grain size and contrast. Some popular film options are Kodak Portra 400 for natural colours and smooth tones, Ilford HP5 Plus for classic black-and-white aesthetics, or Fuji Velvia 50 for vivid saturation and fine grain.

A black and white photograph of the New River in Canonbury, north London
The "New" "River" (neither new, nor a river) in Canonbury, on Kodak Tech Pan film, shot with the GL690 and the 100mm f/3.5. The marriage of a super fine grain film like TP and a 6x9 negative size makes images really sing. Photo credit: Michael Elliott

The images from the Fujica GL690 can be scanned or printed in various sizes without losing quality. The negatives can be enlarged to poster size or beyond without noticeable degradation. The images can also be cropped or rotated to achieve different compositions or orientations.

The GL690 is one of my favorite cameras ever. It is a joy to shoot with, especially with the 100mm lens that has a beautiful bokeh. The negatives are so rich and detailed that they can be enlarged to poster size without losing quality.

- Sébastien Lallement, Fujica G690 series (1968-1978)


Fujica GL690: Lenses

The original lens line up on launch of the G690 system consisted of 4 lenses - a wide-angle, a normal, a very short telephoto and a slightly longer telephoto.

  • The Fujinon SW S 65mm f/8 lens has six elements in four groups in a Super Angulon design, and a diagonal field of view of 75 degrees, offering the same coverage as a 28mm lens on a 35mm camera. It is a super-wide-angle lens for expansive views and large depth of field. It comes with an external viewfinder with projected frames and parallax compensation.

  • The Fujinon S 100mm f/3.5 lens has four elements in three groups in a Tessar design, and a diagonal field of view of 53 degrees, offering the same coverage as a 40mm lens on a 35mm camera. It is a versatile lens for general photography, portraits, and street scenes. It uses the built-in viewfinder with parallax correction marks.

  • The Fujinon TS 150mm f/5.6 lens has five elements in four groups in a Sonnar design, and a diagonal field of view of 36 degrees, offering the same coverage as a 65mm lens on a 35mm camera. It is a short telephoto lens for portraits, close-ups, and details. It also uses the built-in viewfinder.

  • The Fujinon TS 180mm f/5.6 lens has five elements in five groups in a Sonnar design, and a diagonal field of view of 30 degrees, offering the same coverage as a 78mm lens on a 35mm camera. It is a short telephoto lens for distant subjects, wildlife, and sports. It comes with an external viewfinder with projected frames and parallax compensation.

In addition to these four lenses, there were also three other lenses that were later made available for the Fujica GL690: a 50mm f/5.6 ultra-wide-angle, a faster 65mm f/5.6 ultra-wide-angle and a 100mm f/3.5 normal auto-exposure lens.

  • The Fujinon SW S 50mm f/5.6 lens has eight elements in six groups in a Super Angulon design, and a diagonal field of view of over 90 degrees, offering the same coverage as a 21.5mm lens on a 35mm camera. It is an extreme wide-angle lens for dramatic perspectives and creative effects. It comes with an external viewfinder with reflected alabada frames and parallax compensation.

  • The Fujinon SW S 65mm f/5.6 lens has eight elements in four groups in a Super Angulon design, and a diagonal field of view of 75 degrees, offering the same coverage as a 28mm lens on a 35mm camera. It is ideal for landscapes, architecture, and interiors. It comes with an external viewfinder with projected frames and parallax compensation.

  • The Fujinon S 100mm f/3.5 auto exposure lens has four elements in three groups and a diagonal field of view of 53 degrees, offering the same coverage as the standard 100mm f/3.5 lens. However, it has an electronically controlled shutter that allows automatic exposure (AE) varying continuously from 1/500 to 8 seconds. It requires an A28PX/PX28L battery (some users report being able to use 4x LR44, but they may be too loose) to operate and has an LED indicator in the viewfinder to show the shutter speed. It was the only lens in the lineup to receive Fuji's trademarked EBC - Electron Beam Coating.

These three lenses are rarer and more expensive (much more, in the case of the 50mm), but they offer more options and flexibility for the Fujica GL690 users who want to explore different focal lengths and compositions.


Fujica GL690: Price and Availability

The Fujica GL690 is a rare and sought-after camera on the secondhand market. It was produced in limited numbers from 1974 to 1978, when it was replaced by the GW690 series with fixed lenses. The camera was mainly used by professional photographers who needed high-quality images in a compact package.

A black and white, dramatically lit photograph of a dining table chair.
A film noir-esque shot of one of my dining table chairs. I had a flashlight in my mouth to provide the spotlight, and another lamp in another hand to provide the cross light; thus only having one hand available for holding the camera steady and taking the picture. On Tri-X at EI1600, the shutter speed was around 1/30s, which is comfortable enough to handhold steady with the 100mm lens and still produce a sharp photo. Photo credit: Michael Elliott

The price of the Fujica GL690 varies depending on the condition, accessories, and lenses included. A typical range is from $300 to $800 USD for the body only or with one lens. A complete set with all three lenses can cost up to $1500 USD or more. The prices may also fluctuate depending on the demand and supply of the market.

[W]hen you take into account the ease of accurately focusing, speed of shutter combination changes, superior trigger location, everything clicks nicely so I never have to look at it to make adjustments, the lens can be zone focused (set for hyperfocal in the dark, for instance), easily adjusted for IR photography which, BTW, you’ll also be able to see while you frame because you’re using a rangefinder; flash sync at all speeds, and creamy, dreamy out-of-focus elements you have the absolutely best shooter’s camera. Ever.

The Fujica GL690 can be found on online platforms such as eBay or KEH Camera, or in specialized shops or auctions that deal with vintage cameras. The camera is mostly available from Japan, where it was manufactured and used, but it can also be found in other countries or regions.


Fujica GL690: PURCHASING Tips and Tricks

Finding a good example of the Fujica GL690 can be challenging, as the camera is old and may have signs of wear and tear or malfunction. Here are some tips and tricks for finding a good example of this camera and things to look out for and warning signs to look out for.

  • Check the seller's feedback and reputation. Look for positive reviews and ratings, as well as clear and honest descriptions and photos of the item. Avoid sellers who have negative feedback or no feedback at all, or who offer vague or misleading information or images.

  • Ask questions and request more details or photos if needed. Don't hesitate to contact the seller and ask for more information or clarification about the item. Request more photos or videos of the camera from different angles and in different lighting conditions. Ask about the history, condition, and functionality of the camera and its lenses.

  • Inspect the camera carefully upon arrival. If possible, test the camera before buying it or as soon as you receive it. Check the cosmetic condition of the body and the lenses, looking for scratches, dents, rust, or fungus. Check the mechanical condition of the shutter, film transport, rangefinder, and lens mount, looking for smoothness, accuracy, and consistency. Check the optical condition of the viewfinder and the lenses, looking for clarity, brightness, and alignment.


If you plan to buy a G690/GL690/GM670, check the lightshield curtain mechanism, because the spring has a tendency to become loose after many years of heavy usage, causing the curtain not to open fully when released. This problem is easy to fix and does not impair the ability of the camera to take pictures (but you won't be able to change the lens mid-roll). Those cameras are very well built and there is not much that could fail. The only serious problem you could encounter is a damaged film winding mechanism. As there are no spare parts available from Fuji, you may have to sacrifice a second camera as a donor for the repair, although a skilled machine operator should be able to create the missing parts from scratch.

- Sebastien Lallement, Fujica G690 series (1968-1978)


  • Look out for common issues and warning signs. Some of the common issues and warning signs that may indicate a faulty or damaged Fujica GL690 body are:

    • Jammed or broken film transport. The film transport may not advance or rewind properly, resulting in blank frames or overlapping frames. The film transport may also damage the film by scratching or tearing it.

    • Misaligned or foggy rangefinder. The rangefinder may not show a clear or accurate image, resulting in out-of-focus images. The rangefinder may also have dust, dirt, or fungus inside it that affects its visibility.

    • Loose or stuck lens mount. The lens mount may not lock securely or release easily, resulting in light leaks or lens detachment. The lens mount may also have corrosion or dirt that affects its contact with the lenses.

    • Check the lightshield curtain mechanism, as this frequently loosens, and so the curtain doesn't always open fully when using the spring-loaded release.


  • On the lenses, the usual applies:

    • Hazy or scratched lenses. The lenses may have haze, fungus, scratches, or separation that affect their image quality. The lenses may also have oil on the aperture blades that affect their operation.

    • However, because the shutter is built into each lens, and not the body, you need to check for a sticky or slow shutter on the lend. The shutter may not fire at all or fire at incorrect speeds, resulting in underexposed or overexposed images.


  • Return or repair the camera if needed. If you are not satisfied with the camera or if it has any major issues that affect its performance, you can return it to the seller if they offer a return policy or warranty. Alternatively, you can repair the camera yourself if you have the skills and tools, or send it to a professional service center if you don't.

A black and white photo of an aggregates elevator on the riverside at Charlton, southeast London.
One of the few times I've shot Ilford films, this was Pan F+ 50. The structure is an elevator at an aggregates works in Charlton, and allows the transport of aggregates for concrete making into the elevated silos from the ships docked on the riverside. Taken with the GL690 and the 65mm f/5.6 lens. Photo credit: Michael Elliott

Fujica GL690: Conclusion

The Fujica GL690 is a medium-format rangefinder camera that offers exceptional image quality and a unique look in a compact package. It is a rare and valuable camera that can be a great addition to any collection or portfolio. However, it is also a challenging and demanding camera that requires skill and patience to use and maintain.


If you are interested in this camera, you can find it on the secondhand market with some luck and research. You can also follow our tips and tricks for finding a good example of this camera and things to look out for and warning signs to look out for.


We hope this article has given you a comprehensive overview of the Fujica GL690 and its features, design, image quality, price, availability, tips, and tricks. If you have any questions or comments about this camera or this article, please feel free to share them below.


Thank you for reading!

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