Fujifilm Professional GA645i and Velvia 50 in The Hindu Kush
Now, amongst the multitudes of cameras I bought, sold then regretted was a very special camera – being the Fujifilm Professional GA645i. You’ve all probably read about this and have seen Youtube videos, or you own one and love it! But I’ll relay my experience with it nonetheless. I bought this camera as I had been a very long time Contax G2 user and from what I read, this seemed to be the closest MF format (6×4.5) camera to that.
I guess I’m a Travel Photographer – if I were to put myself into some sort of category. I don’t photograph much; sometimes a year will go by (or more) without me picking up a camera – as I usually always shoot when on a trek, walk, holiday or visiting someplace for the first time. With nature, mountains, ancient sites and portraiture being my subjects of choice.
The GA645 seemed to be perfect for travel – light, compact, easy to carry and store, with Medium Format sized quality! So I went for it. After enjoying it for some time I sold it; an old habit of mine where I keep a primary camera and then cycle through secondary cameras. I actually regret selling it as the prices have increased now and hence for me it’s no longer affordable (story of my life that!).
For those who don’t know much about it, it’s a large plastic Rangefinder which can be used as a Point and Shoot. It has Autofocus and Auto wind/advance plus a popup flash. It can be used with Aperture Priority exposure, which is what I always shoot with (unless shooting careful B&W) it has a wonderful sharp and a gorgeously Huge Bright contrasty View Finder which has a slight bluish tint as it’s Polarized!
The VF display has all you need inside, but bear in mind its default position is Vertical – portrait format (like the Olympus Pen F) so to take normal landscape format shots you’ll need to hold it vertically. It’s comfortable to grip and feels great as it’s quite light yet has a decent heft even though it’s plastic. Strap lugs are on the side!! So it’ll hang sideways.
Loading it is easy, though as with all MF 120 Film cameras you need two spools and need to load it as with any other MF camera and wind it on manually until the arrow lines up – then you can close the hatch and shoot.
Using it you just flick the toggle to change Aperture (it has A M and P modes), which can be read in the Viewfinder, you half press for AF, lock focus and shoot. Easy!
There isn’t a separate exposure lock function which is a pain in the arse, locking focus also locks aperture. You’ll have to play with the Manual settings to lock exposure.
The AF is quick and very accurate – just nails focus. It is noisy though and makes a buzzing sound as it focusses and the motor wind noise is quite loud – so you won’t be using it for any stealthy shots! Minimum focus distance in practise was about 3 feet so.
The lens is very special – it’s not the fastest, being an F/4 but its wickedly sharp, contrasty and resolves so so much detail! It is a 60mm Super EBC – an equivalent 35mm focal length in 35mm, so a snapshot lens.
Bokeh is quite good considering the focal length and slowish aperture.
What really is fantastic about it is the (centre weighted) light meter – using Fujichrome Velvia 50 it nailed the exposure every time! Sure, with contrasty light it can only do so much with E6 Film, but with decent light it won’t let you down. The light meter is more accurate for Slide film than the meter in the Contax G2. The meter is not TTL, it meters through the finder!
Any downsides? Not many (apart from the noise and lack of AE lock), max Shutter Speed is only 1/700 so suits slower films and as it’s Through The VF metering, you’ll have to compensate manually if using filters.
Overall, if you’re after an easy to use AF motorised MF camera which’ll have a Konica Hexar AF or Contax G2 like experience then this is the only one I can think of for a close match. The battery life is good – in cold conditions for 3 weeks in the Mountains I didn’t have any issues. Excellent for Travel and travelling light. The downsides could be a deal breaker for some.
Shooting the the Hindu Kush
I took the camera with me as a backup for my Contax G2 to the Hindu Kush mountains. I also took 3 rolls of Fujichrome Velvia 50. Shooting handheld with this slow Film was only an issue when the light was a bit dim or in shade – my rule of thumb is that the shutter speed being equal or greater than the focal length of the lens is safe to hand hold and photograph, of course a slow film offsets this somewhat but generally this works absolutely fine and it did so here, bar a few shots where I had to shoot wide open rather than F8 which I use for general snapshots and group shots.
The Hindu Kush forms the Western part of the watershed between Central Asia and The Indian Sub Continent, it’s the 3rd highest mountain range in the world. It’s King is Tirich Mir – the highest peak in this range which dominates the skyline. It overlooks Chitral Town and The Chitral Gol National Park.
The many passes have been routes into India for Millennia, and the Mountains have an aura of antiquity and mysticism about them. Here you’ll find The Kalash and Kati people (you can visit The Kalash Valley’s via Chitral – an internal flight from Islamabad will take you to Chitral in 45minutes), who are the descendants of the first ever Aryan tribes who migrated here Millennia ago, The Kati were converted to Islam en masse (by force) back in 1896 by the King of Afghanistan, but the Durand Line which divides Pakistan (formerly North West Frontier of India) from Afghanistan ensured the Kalash retained their indigenous and ancient belief and customs.
The Kati and Kalash people both (along with the Kho) follow a Pre-Vedic faith and retain their superstitious custom and belief (much in common with Ancient European/Celtic folk and religion). They believe in Fairies, spirits which inhabit trees, and nature, and which are to be found on the high pastures, in groves in the forests, on Mountaintops and peaks. Certain Mountains are sacred, and locals fear to go beyond the foothills and lower slopes – Tirich Mir for example is referred to as the Castle of Fairies, and Lord of Darkness (of which Tirich Mir is a literal translation). They also believe they’re the descendants of Alexander The Great.
From The Chitral Gol national park, you have wonderful sweeping views of The Hindu Raj and Mighty Tirich Mir. Here you can trek, camp, watch bird and wildlife (Marmot, Wolves, Snow Leopard and Markhor being some famous inhabitants – The Snow Leopard and Golden Eagles in the original BBC Planet Earth were filmed here).
I’ve visited 4 out of the 5 highest mountain ranges in the world (4 Being the Himalaya, Karakoram, Hindu Kush, Andes and 5th is the Pamir Range – which I haven’t visited) and I must say, the Hindu Kush (and it’s sub range – The Hindu Raj) is the most beautiful and the least travelled. Tirich Mir is simply majestic and in my opinion the King of Mountains.
The selection of photographs I have shown here are from the 3 rolls which were scanned using an old Epson 4990 flatbed, shot on Fujichrome Velvia 50.
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