Ask any 5 photographers what their favorite aspect ratio is and you’ll get 5 different answers: 3x2, 16x9, 4x5, 1x1, 2x1, etc, etc. Cropping and/or shooting in a particular ratio can often times completely change the look and feel of an image, and depending on what you are presenting, can be a very important tool in your arsenal.
Over the last 3 years, for the most part I have gravitated toward shooting and composing in 4x5 and 1x1 formats, with the occasional stitched together landscape at 2x1. 4x5 translates very well into commonly available off-the-shelf matting and frame sizes, and 1x1 is popular once again thanks in part to Instagram. Panoramas can often be successful in many different ratios but I have generally stuck to 2x1.
Last year I purchased a 220 film back for my RB67 ProS along with a set of 35mm adapters on eBay with the thought of doing some really WIDE shots in the approximate 3x1 ratio. I modified the back so that the counter still worked with 35mm film, and with the adapters the area exposed onto each image (between the sprocket holes) measured 24mm x 72mm, a ratio of 3x1 (2x the width of the regular 2x3 ratio = 2x6). In order to compose properly I made a mask out of black .5mm Polypropylene that drops over my viewfinder. I can get about 16 shots on each roll of 35mm film this way, and it also has the added benefit of exposing the image outside of the holes in case I am going for that “look” of the sprocket holes. Sometimes I like that, sometimes I don’t. Generally when processing I will do an image both ways and save it in case I want one or the other later.
The neat thing with this set-up is that I can also do verticals with the rotating back on the RB67 as long as I turn the mask on the viewfinder to match the vertical back. With the ability to change out the composition by swapping out between my 6 lenses that I have for the system makes it very versatile.
The only drawbacks to this method is that the negative size isn’t as big as medium format: Cropping the image to 24mm x 72mm yields a negative of 17.28 square centimeters, while the 6cm x 7cm negative when using the entire area of the 6x7 back yields just under 42 square centimeters. The other drawback is that once I shoot the entire 35mm roll in the 220 back, I can’t shoot another until I get home into a dark room or use a dark bag to swap out that roll of film – because the back design can’t re-roll the film back into the 35mm canister it came on. So it needs to be removed in the dark. Neither of those are game-enders for me, but shooting that ratio and enjoying it immensely led me to look for something bigger.
Enter the Fuji GX617.
There are a few 6x17 cameras on the market but my research lead me to gravitate toward the Fuji. There is an older version out there with a fixed 105mm lens, the G617, but the ability to swap out between standard (180mm) and wide (90mm) lenses with the GX617 is super appealing to me. With the 617 the negative size is HUGE: 102 square centimeters. Print size is only limited by your storage space, wall size, and wallet size.
Drawbacks of the Fuji?
Well, its huge.
Travelling with it would be difficult unless I was driving. I wish I would have had it for my trip to Colorado in July but then part of me wonders what a pain in the ass it would have been and if I would have still just brought my 2 digital cameras and 4 lenses anyway. My Domke bag with all of that and extra batteries and memory cards was about the size of just the GX617. I just got it last week so I haven’t hiked with it yet – but my hope is that if I hike with my RB67 (which I do), then this is possible.
You get 4 shots per roll of 120 - so add up the cost of the film, and my time/cost of developing chemicals/scanning/processing - the per shot $$ goes way up along with the quality. In addition to that, being a relatively rare camera means the lenses and accessories are expensive. My camera came with the 180mm lens, but I really want the 90mm to add to my collection for wide shots. The only three for sale I could find recently were on eBay and 2 of the three didn’t have the needed viewfinder to compose the shot, and the third one had the viewfinder but no center-weighted ND filter which is a must. And that lens was over $1800 used. Someone also has a kit with three lenses and the body but that’s $8500 and NOT justifiable by any means, not even if I had a spare kidney to sell.
The viewfinder isn’t coupled. So, you can frame the shot with it, but you can’t use it for focusing. You have to estimate the distance and dial that into the lens. You could also buy the ($$$ and rare) ground glass that goes on the back – but that only works for composing your first shot, because after the film is in you really can’t open the back again while there is film in there. Same with switching lenses – you can’t do that mid-roll. I think focusing will be OK; I’m fairly good at judging distance and most of my work will be on a tripod at f/16 or greater, and probably at infinity or near infinity anyway. But it won’t be as nice as looking down into that bright RB67 viewfinder and knowing it’s in focus before tripping the shutter. #trade-offs
All that being said I am still excited to shoot a lot of images with this camera. Renee and I turned in a show proposal to DVAC (Dayton Visual Arts Center) for the 2019-2020 season and will find out on December 15th if the proposal is accepted. If so, this camera will make a great addition to my tool bag for taking some images that can be made into massive prints.
I’ll post more on this camera as I shoot more images with it over time. Please feel free to ask me any questons!
Thanks for reading!