Some cameras challenge you every step of the way. The Fujifilm G617 is such a camera, but the results are worth it. First introduced in 1983, the G617 is a wide-field camera that captures photographs with 3:1 aspect ratios measuring 2.25 x 6.5" (6 x 17 cm). The G617 was designed for shooting landscapes, architecture, and—from personal experience—speedboat catalogs (more on this later).
The G617 is fully mechanical and fully manual—no batteries required. Ever. You compose pictures using the camera’s fixed optical finder, which isn’t coupled to the camera’s 105mm manual focus lens. This means you must guesstimate your camera-to-subject distance. If guesstimating isn’t your forte, you can focus on your subject with a camera and lens with distance markings and set the focus distance on the G617 accordingly.
Photographs © 2018 Allan Weitz
While you’re at it, you might want to take a light reading with the same camera because the G617 doesn’t have a light meter. Alternatively, you can always guesstimate the exposure using the Sunny 16 rule.
The camera’s viewfinder displays about 94% of the total image area and there aren’t any frame lines to guide you when composing pictures. The trick to achieving relatively accurate framing is to nest the small bubble level located on the crash cage crossbar into the notch located at the base of the viewfinder. When composing pictures through the finder, keep in mind your final image will have a slightly wider field of view than what you remember seeing in the finder, and always keep an eye on your horizon lines.
If the thought of being limited to 12 or 36 exposures per roll is daunting, how’z about a camera that only gets four exposures per roll? Like I said, the Fujifilm G617 is a challenge to use. It’s also a refreshingly fun camera to use.
The Fujifilm G617 also accepts 220 film, which yields eight exposures per roll. Unfortunately, 220 film has been universally discontinued, though rolls with varying “use by” dates can still be found online.
If you’re used to cameras with “normal,” i.e. 2:3 or 4:3 aspect ratios, wrapping your head around an oversized wide-field camera can slow you down at first. It’s important that you recognize the G617 is not a panorama camera—the photographs do not bow out toward the center like curved-plane panorama cameras. Nor do the photographs have a wide-angle look, mostly because the field of view of the lens is stretched over a wider viewing area.
The camera’s fixed EBC Fujinon SW 105mm f/8 lens, which has an image circle wide enough to cover 5 x 7" sheet film, contains 6 elements in 4 groups. The lens takes in an 80.3° diagonal AoV, which approximates the AoV of a 25.8mm equivalent lens on a 35mm camera stretched to a wider 3:1 aspect ratio. The camera’s Seiko #1 shutter goes from 1 second to 1/500 of a second plus Bulb, and syncs with flash at all shutter speeds.
The G617 has a minimum focus of about 9.8' (3m), which isn’t terribly close. Stop the lens down to f/45 and you can extend your minimum focus to a bit less than 5' (1.5m). The camera’s viewfinder is strictly for composing pictures—it’s not a coupled rangefinder. You focus the G617 by guesstimating the distance or by measuring the camera-to-subject distance using a tape measure. My solution to the problem was to pack a spare camera and a 50mm lens with an engraved distance scale that I would use to accurately measure the camera-to-subject distance. The camera also served as my back-up meter.
The camera comes with a 77mm 2x center-weighted neutral density filter that evens out the one stop of edge vignetting that’s inherent to many wider-angle lenses. Without the filter, there’s a graduated darkening (vignetting) toward the outer corners of the frame, which I personally prefer for aesthetic reasons. The images accompanying this post were taken with the filter in place. Dual accessory shoes are located on the top deck for bubble levels, flash triggers, and other accessories.
You can’t help but notice the Fujifilm G617 when somebody walks by with one. It’s big—10.75 x 5.25 x 8" to be exact—and it weighs 5 lb. One of the more interesting design features is the crash cage that surrounds the lens. More than a cosmetic appendage (think fake hood scoops and a spoiler on a Honda Civic), you’d be surprised how often that cage prevents lens impact when hanging the camera from one’s shoulder.
The cage also helps you compose pictures. The camera’s finder lacks frame lines, which makes it hard to discern exactly where the edges of the picture are. About the only guide you have is a bubble level located in the center of the top forward crash bar. By seating the bubble level in the small notch located along the bottom of the viewfinder, you can easily straighten your horizon line while establishing a center point for your photograph. According to the specs, the camera’s finder shows about 94% of the image being captured, which means if you can see it in the finder it’s going to appear in the final photograph with a bit of image area to spare.
Though the Fujifilm G617 was designed for handheld shooting, if you want straight horizon lines and a tight composition, I highly recommend mounting the camera on a tripod.
Something I learned from using this camera is that if you want to make the most of a camera that only gets four frames per roll, you want to have a checklist to go through before taking a picture. I found working from front to rear was the best method. First, check your focus. From there, cock the shutter, set the aperture and shutter speed, take a deep breath, and squeeze the cable release. Before moving on, I advance the film to the next frame and re-cock the shutter to ready the camera for the next picture.
I once used a G617 to photograph a power-boat catalog. The boats, which we photographed in the factory against a sweep of white seamless, measured 17 to 31'. The G617’s elongated format proved to be perfect for the job. I was able to capture large-format image quality with a medium format camera.
The Fujifilm G617 remained in production for 10 years and was replaced by the GX617, a modular camera that featured interchangeable lenses and viewfinders (90mm f/5.6, 105mm f/5.6, 180mm f/6.7, and 300mm f/8) and the option of ground-glass focusing.
Do you have any experience with the Fujifilm G617 or GX617? How about its 35mm sibling, the Fujifilm TX-1, aka the Hasselblad XPan? If so, let us know your thoughts on wide-field photography.