Well, so much for the beautiful spring-like weather of ten days ago. Since then we’ve had torrential rains, and now we’re back to cold and snow today. At least the sun’s shining some of the time. It’s been pointed out to me that I am a bit, er, obsessed with the weather. So stipulated…but it’s only because I’m really a fair-weather photographer. I don’t much like going out in bad weather. Cold is fine—but rain? Fugghedaboudit.
For the last week or two I’ve been playing around with a friend’s Fujifilm GX680III. For those who aren’t familiar with it, it’s a huge hulking beast of a medium-format camera. It shoots 120/220 film, making 6×8 cm images, which is a whopping chunk of film real estate to work with. Its film back rotates to enable either portrait or landscape image orientation without having to move the camera body itself—just like the Mamiya RB/RZ series of cameras—as if tilting this thing on its side would be remotely feasible. I’ve heard it said on some online forums that this camera can be shot hand-held, but I don’t see how you could and still have any image sharpness—it’s that huge. This creature was made to sit atop a tripod, in a studio—which, except for the studio, is exclusively how I’ve used it.
Its chief claim to fame, though, seems to be its movements—it has front rise/fall, tilt, swing, and maybe shift, just like a view camera—albeit with smaller ranges of these movements than a monorail or field camera. Like a view camera, the GX680III has a bellows connecting its body and lens, which slides along two support rails, permitting the two to move independently within limits—voila, movements! To my knowledge, no other medium-format camera has this capability, though some MF systems have “tilt-shift” lenses that mimic it.
I can see this camera being used as a view-camera substitute for “light” architecture not requiring extensive perspective controls; or in situations where you are dealing with planes of focus quite a bit off parallel to the film plane—think product photography, for one genre—where the tilt capability would come in handy for keeping things in focus. It’s certainly easier to use than a monorail view camera; it has a bright, easy-to-focus viewfinder (I’ve been using prism finders with it) with diopter correction on the eyepiece, and the lens seems first-rate. I have only the 100mm to play around with; this is about a “normal” lens for the 6×8 format.
Would I buy one of these things? Not sure about that, yet. It is heavier than a lightweight field camera with a fuller range of movements, such as the Chamonix 45n-1 4×5″ field camera I have on order. Compared to a view camera, either monorail or field, its main advantages seem to be a faster, more medium-format-like workflow, with roll film rather than individual sheets and holders; its very bright viewfinder; and its electronics and automation. Disadvantages are its bulk and weight and the restricted range of movements it allows. I could see using it—albeit with at least a 180mm lens—for studio portraiture or urban landscapes, though I’m not sure the image quality obtained would be significant enough an improvement over, say, the RB/RZ67 system to justify having to schlep this monster around. I’m going to give it some more time, though, and see where it takes me….
Michael, if you’re reading this—thanks for the loan of the camera. Hope you’re enjoying the Contax.