Fuji GX617 description and user report by Steve Walton
The Fuji GX617 has been discontinued for several years but remains a much sought after camera. It is a well made and durable camera, designed for years of hard use in outdoor environments. The system comprised the camera body with drop-down rear door with adjustable film pressure plate, the 120 or 220 film is loaded from left to right with the usual arrow index mark on the upper rail to indicate the start of the format for even frame spacing. There is a shutter release and an almost conventional film wind-on lever on the top plate. The Fuji logo slides apart to reveal the battery compartment for the electromagnetic release. The batteries are twin CR123A’s and last for a very long time as the only thing they power is the release. If buying second hand, it’s worth checking the battery compartment for signs of leakage. It’s not unknown for batteries to be left in situ for several years and forgotten about until there is a problem. It’s a good idea to replace them at least once a year. The only time I have ever used the electromagnetic button release is on the few occasions when I have resorted to hand holding the GX617 for some reason, usually because of windy conditions. For the most part, the mechanical release on the lens is much more convenient with a cable release and this does not require any batteries. There is also a mount on the top plate for the external viewfinders. There are four lenses in the GX617 line up, all Fujinon EBC lenses in helicoid focus mounts and protected by the distinctive ‘crash bars’ to protect these expensive and vulnerable optical marvels from impact damage. The lens range is from 90mm, 105mm, 180mm and 300mm telephoto. All four lenses are spectacular performers, Velvia transparencies have to be beheld to appreciate what these lenses are capable of and high resolution drum scans create massive files with detail resolution that can only be seen at huge enlargements and print sizes. Anyone who likes the Hasselblad Xpan format should really try 6x17cm format for comparison, the difference in quality is nothing short of astounding, but so is the cost of feeding the beast! At current prices, you will pay around £10 per 120 roll of Velvia including processing. At only 4 exposures per roll, each time you trip the shutter and wind on the the next frame, you have spent at least £2.50. This gives some perspective to the running costs of the Fuji GX617. However, it is a great system for using black and white film to produce high quality prints at large sizes. I no longer make wet prints in the darkroom, after processing the film (either Fuji Acros 100 or Ilford Delta 100), I scan the negatives to create Imacon 3F raw files and after a couple of gentle contrast and shadow adjustments, I save a 16-bit RGB tiff at 4000dpi to continue the workflow in Adobe Photoshop 6.
An added benefit of working with black and white film is that screw-in filters (67 or 77mm) are much easier to use than square filter systems for tonal control. This means I’m carrying less equipment and weight, usually I only use a Heliopan O22 filter with the GX617 , as in the image above. Each lens has it’s matched external viewfinder and these are very useful to use by hand to assess angles of view and composition etc before setting up the camera on the tripod. I use a 14″ cable release screwed directly into the lens shutter attachment. It’s a bulky camera with even the 90mm lens attached, bolt either the 180mm or the huge 300mm lenses onto the camera and the combination suddenly becomes massive and heavy. Of the three GX617 compatible lenses I own (90mm, 180mm & 300mm), the 90mm is my most used as I have a natural preference for wide angle lenses. My least-used lens is the 300mm telephoto, it’s a very demanding lens to use and the camera needs to be rock-solid to avoid shake as the telephoto effect is much more powerful that many may at first realise. You really do need a distant scene or object to use the 300mm to best advantage, they do seem to crop up for sale fairly regularly and I would guess most expamples have had little actual use in the field. The 180mm is a delightful lens, giving a more natural perspective without the drama of the 90mm. If you already have or are considering buying a Fuji GX617, I would recommend both the 90mm and 180mm lenses to complete a good, solid ‘panoramic’ camera set-up. A ground glass focusing screen is also available, I have one but rarely use it as it is not really practicable in many situations, especially with the 90mm lens where the projected image is very dim. One final caveat to buying into the system is to ensure the centre graduated neutral density filter for the 90mm lens is also supplied. Look after it well as they are impossible to find independently and would cost whatever one needs to pay to acquire one (think £100’s!). The same goes for the external finders, if you break or lose one, you have a real problem. The earlier model Fuji G617 has a fixed 105mm lens and finder and is a cheaper option, but is more restricted in usability.
There are a number of alternatives to the GX617 worthy of consideration from other sources, such as Horseman, Linhof, Widepan, DaYi, etc, but all 6x17cm format cameras are manually operated, mechanical behemoths. The 3:1 aspect ratio is an acquired taste, I personally love it whilst other prefer a 2:1 ratio such as 6x12cm but no one could argue with the imposing scale of the negatives or transparencies. One other effect of using these cameras is that you will always attract attention when using them and it’s a frequent ocurrence to have passers-by watching and wanting to look through the viewfinder and talk about the camera. The real benefit is that 6x17cm images can make wonderful wall art!