I had a swift and fleeting dance with a GW690 a couple of years ago.
I really liked that camera. Why?
- Big, fat detail-rich 6×9 negatives combined with a bitingly sharp 90mm f/3.5 produces photos chock full of detail.
- Excellent rangefinder focusing experience.
- While large compared to 35mm cameras it is relatively compact compared to other large negative cameras like the RZ67. (Actual size offset by user’s beef mitts. Side by side compared to a small digital for reference.)
- Quiet mirror free leaf shutter as opposed to the sha-flumph of the Hasselblad.
So. Why did I sell it? Not the camera’s fault. A few facts combined in an unfortunate manner.:
- 6×9 yields 8 shots a 120 roll instead of 10, 12, 15, or even 16 like other formats. Not a bad thing in isolation, but…
- GW690 has two shutter releases, top and front. Again. Not a bad thing in isolation, but…
- No shutter lock.
Combine these three things and this guy gets far too many accidental fires. Quite portable as it can fit in near any messenger bag, but get too grabby when retrieving it and ‘click’ accidental fire. Hand it to a well-intended friend unfamiliar with the camera and ‘click’ accidental fire. Hold it to your side while not being attentive and ‘click’ accidental fire. So on and so forth. Tried not winding on after a shot to combat this, but that did not prove to be an effective solution. As much as I enjoyed the camera 7 or even 6 available exposures for a roll of film left after a misstep or two grew tiresome quickly.
I was recently enamored with a 6×7 find, but then I walked into my favorite camera shop and there it was. A GW690III which promised everything I liked about the GW690 with one very important addition.
A shutter lock switch. A simple, but effective fix of my main GW690 issue. So I then looked at my recent acquisition and realized a trade was about to happen.
Still a great camera, but the Koni did not stand a chance against the Fuji.
Let us compare the two GWs, minuses first.
GW690III vs. GW690 Minuses
- The III body is constructed of all plastic as opposed to the metal/plastic build of the GW690. While not fragile feeling, and may take a hit better actually, it does not feel as premium in hand.
- Not a huge fan of the film compartment open switch. It takes a bit of force to open and has a plasticky click sound when you do. This is the one ergonomic weak point of the camera when compared to its predecessor in my opinion.
GW690III vs. GW690 Pluses
- The aforementioned shutter lock switch.
- Strap lugs were moved to either side of the camera from the side of the camera. Personal preference, but this is a much more practical setup for me.
- To my eye and recollection, the GW690III viewfinder is brighter than its predecessor.
- While the materials do not feel as good in hand I do prefer the less blocky aesthetic and less slick feel (reduced drop risk) of the newer camera.
- I like the built-in lens hood that also conceals the aperture and shutter speed dials and display when retracted.
- Flash sync port has moved to the front face with a cover and there is a bonafide hotshoe as opposed to the older camera’s cold shoe.
- Has a bubble level on the top plate just ahead of the viewfinder.
- I like the updated film reel release mechanism replacing pull and twist locks with two red release buttons and two lock buttons below.
Sidebar: If you prefer the looks of the original and would like a shutter lock of the III there is the GW690II just between.
Now that my usable exposures per roll have been maximized with a simple switch I realize I enjoy the 6×9 format.
Back when I reviewed the GW690 I stated:
- Already had 6×4.5, 6×6, and 6×7 so, of course, I had to have a 6×9.
I have since jettisoned my 645 cameras (Pentax 645and 645N). I really liked 645, but the 645 format did not offer the film surface real estate advantages necessary to justify the size and reduced shot count when compared to my better 35mm cameras. Personal preference.
I have also since dispatched my lovely, wonderful RZ67 because huge and heavy and dispatched the recently, briefly acquired Koni because Fuji. I was later told that the GW690III had only been in the camera shop for all of 3.5 hours when I bought it. Such is the pull of this Fuji.
I still really like 6×6 which is why the two examples I have have not budged. That being said I do personally prefer the GW690III’s ergonomics to both of them out and about.
This has since subsided. Will this happen again? Doubtful, but anything is possible. Sony and Samyang/Rokinon have combined to make me quite a happy camper on the digital side of things.
Before the GW690 I was not really drawn to rangefinders. But that camera changed this and I now have a film camera 50/50 or more rangefinder split.
For me, the GW690III is also something of a rarity in the fact that it is still relatively affordable. I landed on the Koni largely because other rangefinder medium format cameras I had been shopping cost more than I am willing to pay at well over $1,000. The Koni was peanuts by comparison. The GW690III makes for a nice Goldilocks option price-wise while giving up nothing IQ wise to more expensive options like the Makina 67 or Mamiya 7. Both do offer built-in AE, but for me, that is not a deal-breaker for a medium format film camera.
If you are looking for a top-quality rangefinder medium format experience I highly recommend this camera.
Here are some sample shots below and a full gallery here.