In 1967, the first ATM (automatic teller machine) was installed in London, the Boeing 737 made its maiden flight, President Lyndon B. Johnson was in the White House, and the average weekly wage in the United States was $140.38. In that same year, the Fujica Compact Deluxe released with a price tag of $99 USD, making it one of the most expensive compacts of the time.
Fuji has always been a company to think outside of the box, and the Fuji Compact Deluxe, that company’s most unusual and last ever 35mm rangefinder, has a number of special features that separate it from the plethora of similar cameras produced in Japan in the 1970s. These combined features, such as a control layout that allows entirely one-handed operation, the six element Fujinon 45mm f/1.8 lens with electric eye exposure, and a virtually silent leaf shutter, make it a superb street shooter and one of Fujica’s best fixed lens rangefinder cameras.
But that extremely high price, Fuji’s halfhearted marketing efforts, and the introduction of their first SLR camera, the ST701 in 1971, all contributed to a short and limited production period. Today, it’s a camera that’s difficult to locate and buy compared with other rangefinders of the period. And it’s even harder to find one in working condition – I’ve had two, and both required a bit of attention before I could shoot a photo.
Rarity in camera collecting is often overstated. I’ve seen Minolta X700s described as “Rare” on eBay, and almost any camera can be found for sale online. So how rare is the Fujica? Put it this way, it took me three weeks to find a 24k Gold SX-70 Polaroid, six weeks to find a black model of the Canonet QL17 GIII, and five months to find a working copy of this camera. At the time of this writing, there’s only one example of the Fujica Compact Deluxe listed on eBay USA (it’s “untested” – and we all know what that means).
Unusual features of the Fujica Compact Deluxe
When I asked Fujifilm’s Camera Museum in Japan about the Fujica Compact Deluxe, I received the following reply –
“The Fujica Compact Deluxe (1967-70) was a rework of the Fujica Compact D and incorporated some original features not found on other fixed lens rangefinders. It offered shutter priority AE and the fast, high resolving, 45mm Fujinon 6-Element 4-Group double-Gauss f/1.8 lens with 52mm filter thread was one of the highest quality lenses of the time. It also had a virtually silent Citizen MXV leaf shutter. The viewfinder is surprisingly bright with easy to see yellow RF spot, fixed frame guidelines, parallax compensation marks and f/stop indicators. While not officially released in any color other than silver, apparently some black units made it onto the Japanese market.”
Apart from its streamlined, elegant design and superb build quality, the camera stands out for two unusual features; the fast focus thumbwheel on the back of the camera, and the film advance lever recessed under the bottom of the camera. Fujica designed the camera very deliberately so that focus, film winding and exposure were entirely controlled by your right hand, with the left hand only being used to support the camera. Some users have mentioned that they struggle with the recessed bottom-mounted film advance lever, but I found it easy to use, and after a few shots I was quickly accustomed to using it.
The focusing wheel is a design feature that appeared on several Voigtländer cameras from Germany, such as the Prominent, Vito II and the Vitessa L, and was first used by Fujica on their Fujica 35-EE in 1961. The accompanying images show the Fujica Compact Deluxe compared to the Voigtländer Vitessa L, showing the similarities. It is a very uncommon feature, and possibly too expensive and complicated to manufacture, which is why the Fujica Compact Deluxe is one of only a handful of Japanese cameras from the 1970s that have this feature. The rear focusing wheel is my favourite feature of the Fujica Compact Deluxe as it eliminates the need to use a hand to adjust focus (as we do by turning the focus ring on the lens of most every other rangefinder camera). It’s quick, intuitive, and allows you to use both hands to hold the camera instead of having to fumble around with focus on the front of the lens.
The rear door also is unconventionally hinged on the left hand side of the camera, the opposite to the usual practice, but this has the advantage of making it easier to press the film end on the spool.
Fujica were far ahead of their time in designing the camera, which is is one of the earliest rangefinder cameras to use the now common 1.5V silver oxide MS76 /SR44/357 battery, as opposed to the dreaded Mercury battery of the era (which are now banned). The official word from the manual is that it takes a Mallory MS 76 or Eveready S 76 battery, the battery is now known by a variety of names but is widely and cheaply available. Ensure that you buy silver oxide, not the less powerful alkaline battery.
On the top plate are two more quirky features; a small circular distance dial which rotates when you turn the focusing wheel, and a second light meter that works in manual and shutter priority modes. The aperture indicator in the viewfinder only works in Shutter Priority Mode, but in Auto Mode the aperture chosen by the camera is shown in a small window on the top plate as well as in the viewfinder. These combined features make the camera a perfect zone focused street camera. Check the exposure, set the distance, point and shoot without any focusing.
A Closer Look at the Fujica Compact Deluxe
The Compact Deluxe shared some features of the earlier Fujica 35-EE released in 1961 and was actually a facelift of the previously released Fujica Compact D, with both cameras sharing an identical chassis and features. The superb Fujinon lens was previously used on the Fujica V2 camera, although the Compact Deluxe lacks the moving parallax correcting framelines of the V2.
Compared to its predecessors the Fujica Compact D and the Fujica V2, the design of the Fujica Compact Deluxe is very attractive much more modern looking with a minimalistic style, a satin chrome body, black leatherette and black rim around the viewfinder and RF windows. The green stripe and the name of the camera on the face are in the classic typeface that epitomises 1970s Japanese cameras. You can see that Fuji took great pride in their design, the lovely-looking lens on the front is marked Fujinon 1:1.8 f=4.5cm Fuji Film and on the back it proudly states its provenance – Made in Japan by Fuji Photo Film Co., Ltd.
I’ve owned a variety of high quality 1970s Japanese rangefinders, and I can state with experience that the build quality, design, ergonomics and handling of the Fujica Compact Deluxe far exceed similar cameras of the era. It is definitely in the same class as the Canonet QL-17 GIII, Minolta HiMatic 7SII, Konica S2. In terms of size, it is smaller than the Yashica Electro GSN, but larger than a Canonet QL-17 GIII. However, I think that the improved handling and much better lens is worth the middle-of-the-pack size and weight.
- Name: Fujica Compact Deluxe
- Manufacturer: Fuji Photo Film Co., Ltd.
- Release Year: 1968-1972
- Format: 35mm film (landscape aspect)
- Material: Aluminium and steel
- Shutter: Citizen MXV00
- Speed: B, T, 1, 1/10,1/25, 1/50, 1/100, 1/200, 1/400, 1/500
- Lens: Fujinon 4.5cm f/1.8
- Filter diameter: 52mm screw
- Focus: 0.66m (2 feet) – ∞
- Aperture: f/1.7-f/22
- Exposure: CdS EE (Electric Eye) Auto
- Exposure Mode: Manual & Auto (Shutter priority)
- Light Meter: Viewfinder and top plate
- Rangefinder: Upper and lower image matching type
- Viewfinder: Reverse Galilean
- Focusing: Straight helicoid
- Frame counter: Manually, set sequential formula
- Film advance: Lever forward (bottom) Rewind crank
- ASA: 25 – 400
- Battery: 1.55V 160 mAh Silver-Oxide 44/76/357
- Size L x H x W: 128 x 78 x 68 (5” x 3 ¼” x 2½”)
- Weight: 630 grams (22 ounces)
- Original Price: 23,800 Japanese Yen ($1,056 in 2019 dollars)
The Fujinon 1:1.8 f=4.5cm Six-element Lens
The crowning jewel of the Fujica Compact Deluxe is the Fujinon lens which Fujica proudly advertised in 1969 –
“The best we’ve ever made. Has the fine-line resolving power to give you extraordinary detail and contrast in both colour and black and white”.
I agree with Fuji about the lens, and my images accompanying this article are a testament to how good it is. To this day this is a lens whose sharpness, contrast, excellent color fidelity, and resolving power can stand up against the lenses of even modern cameras.
Optically the lens is a Double Gauss design which consists of six elements in four groups, with six aperture blades and a maximum aperture of f/1.8, which was very fast for time. The lens also features a very early eleven-layer multi-coating (perhaps a precursor to Fuji’s Electron Beam Coating which first debuted in 1972, and which is still used on the latest Fuji lenses). Either way, the coatings here are undeniably early coating tech, and the lens can be prone to flare and loss of contrast if shooting into the sun. A decent vented lens hood will alleviate this greatly. I don’t bother, and just follow the old-fashioned trick of keeping the sun at my back when shooting.
The lens is mounted with a Citizen MXV00 leaf shutter with Bulb, Time and a top speed of 1/500. The shutter is completely mechanical and the camera can still be shot in Manual Mode without a battery. This Citizen shutter was also used on the Minolta V2 and AL, and is fantastically quiet and totally lacking in shutter lag. Pressing the shutter produces a barely perceptible snick that makes for near silent shooting.
Shooting the Fujica Compact Deluxe
If you’re reading this far you are probably (like me) a fan of mechanical cameras. I abhor plastic, and I want a camera to be made entirely of metal. Mechanical cameras are just so satisfying to hold and shoot. The Fujica Compact Deluxe epitomizes the quality feel that 1970s Japanese rangefinder cameras can afford users today. The build quality and solid metal construction gives the tactile sensation that we’re holding a precision object. The satin chrome feels silky in the hand, the focus wheel has just the right amount of resistance, and the aperture and speed dials all work with a satisfying mechanical click.
The viewfinder is a delight, very large and bright with a crisp and easy to use rangefinder patch. This combined with the rear focus wheel makes nailing focus very quick. Unfortunately, the camera lacks the auto parallax correction of the Fujica V2 and I wonder why they left that out. But this is a small omission that doesn’t truly bother me.
The camera has the benefit of metered manual shooting or CdS powered shutter priority, match-needle, auto-exposure system which is visible in the viewfinder as well as the secondary meter on the top of the camera. In auto aperture mode the viewfinder displays the suggested aperture, and over or under exposures are notified by the exposure warning indicator, a large red dot on the right-hand side of the viewfinder.
The exposure system works by setting the shutter speed using the dial on the front of the lens, and then moving the aperture control ring on the front as well until the light meter needle is positioned over the small black square in the middle of the aperture scale. Once this is set, the shutter speed can be changed and the light meter needle will stay centered because the combination is changed in a ‘one stop up – one stop down’ method. By then depressing the shutter release halfway the shutter priority automatic exposure lock is activated much like an AE lock.
Until now there has been very little written about this undiscovered gem, and when copies come on the market they can often be picked up quite cheaply. This is likely because the camera is so uncommon that the average camera-reviewing trend-following YouTuber hasn’t ever heard of it. Buy one now. And then I strongly recommend that it be professionally serviced by a good camera repair person. The expense is well worthwhile because a fully serviced Fujica Compact Deluxe will last for many decades, and it’s a gorgeous, capable, rare camera that deserves to live forever.
If you can’t find a copy of the Fujica Compact Deluxe, look for the Fujica Compact D which has all the same features, or earlier models like the Fujica 35-EE and 35-SE which share many of the same features.
Combining superb craftsmanship, modern styling, unusual control features, all mechanical operation and a superb lens, the Fujica Compact Deluxe can hold its head high and deserves to be considered among the best fixed lens rangefinder cameras of the 1970s. However, its short production run, poor marketing and relative scarcity means that it’s never received the credit that it really deserves. Hopefully this article will restore its place in the pantheon of great Japanese rangefinders and inspire more people to find and shoot one.
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