Fujifilm GFX 50S, one camera to do it all?

March 22, 2017  •  5 Comments

GFX, one camera to do it all?

Fujifilm GFX 50S, 63mm, thick fog on the Kalix River, Swedish Lapland, 2 image stitch.

 

I’ve had the Fujifilm GFX 50S for just over a week now, I had no expectations, running it alongside my current Nikon kit to see how it works for the type of photography I do both commercially and personally, these are thoughts on how the camera works for me, it may not work for you, we all want different things!

I have a clear idea of what I want, as a commercial photographer I have little emotional connection with the systems I use, they have to work and make me money, ideally with as little restrictions as possible. So what is it that I want and how does the GFX deliver?

In the last 5 years I have owned a few systems, an extensive Leica S kit, both the 006 and 007 models as a 2 body kit along with 6 lenses, there were huge positives with this system, dslr size and ergonomics, extremely good image quality, weather sealing, beautiful big viewfinder and great battery life, the negatives were few but significant for me, exposures limited to 2 minutes on the 006 and 1 minute on the 007 were fairly restricting.

Leica S 007, 24mm, Northern Lights over the river at Storforsen, Swedish Lapland

 

The second issue was with quality control, I had a number of lens failures, I even had 2 lenses arrive broken, I had 3 007 bodies before getting a working model and in the end that was an issue, I can’t work with bodies that fail. The nail in the coffin was an architecture project that really needed tilt/shift lenses and there was no way to get that with the S, so as amazing as the images were, the system had to go. I used the S in -35 degrees photographing aurora high above the Arctic Circle and in Mali at over 40 degrees photographing troops and counter IED training with the UN, when the system worked it was amazing and looking at the files always brought a smile to my face

Leica S 006, 180mm, Counter IED troop training in Northern Mali.

 

So can the GFX deliver the positives of the S without the negatives?

After the S went, I moved to Phase One with the IQ260 and a Cambo tech cam with 3 incredible Rodenstock lenses, I then added an XF body and 5 lenses for portrait and standard commercial work. The IQ260 on the tech cam was just incredible for interiors, it blew me away, being able to control perspectives and stitch within the image circle were hugely beneficial, images from this setup have been printed 7m wide on display stands and look incredible.

Phase One IQ260, Cambo WRS, 32mm Rodenstock, 3 image stitch.

 

The XF was an amazing body, the Mamiya glass ranged from ok for the older 35mm to excellent with the 120mm and the rest fell somewhere between, I didn’t have the newer blue ring lenses, just too expensive for me but a good all round kit. Positives were definitely image quality and usability with the tech cam but ultimately the XF and IQ is just a big heavy lump, it made long days of working a bit of a pain and the costs were very high, for the first time I operated without a duplicate backup kit, I just couldn’t afford 2 digital backs and 2 bodies plus multiple lenses, I was always worried something would give out and I’d be stuck on a job. Another issue that bothered me was the age it took for the IQ260 to be ready to shoot, turning it on and waiting was just a pain, after I completed the architecture contract, I had little use for the tech cam so it got sold and eventually after some excellent images, I sold the XF  and IQ back as well.

HyperFocal: 0 Phase One XF, IQ260, 80mm, Lofoten sunset

 

So can the GFX deliver the positives of the Phase kit without the negatives?

After the Phase kit moved on I returned to a Nikon setup, a D500 and D810 bodies and a wide selection of lenses, they are competent if uninspiring to me, I can still pick out the Leica and Phase files immediately from my catalogue, and whilst I doubt very much my clients will have any interest in cameras over content, it is apparent to me and I have been itching to pick up a system that will fill as many of my requirements as possible. The Nikon kit just works, it doesn’t matter if it’s hot or cold, the batteries last forever, image quality is good and lenses and bodies are relatively inexpensive, what’s not to like you may ask? Well not a lot, unless you have shot extensively with Medium Format gear, I know what I see and what is important to me, it may not match anyone else’s criteria but we are all different.

Nikon D810, 85mm portrait of a Frenchman.

 

So here it is, I want..

  1. Leica S quality without the reliability issues, with lenses that appeal to me as much as the S glass did.
  2. Flexibility of the Phase system combined with image quality without the cost and weight/bulk.
  3. Nikon reliability, high ISO performance, dslr type form factor for handheld work and similar costs for a system.

After 10 days of use I’m starting to get some initial impressions from the GFX, this isn’t a technical review, it is just how it works for me with what I do, it may help other which is great but just as likely to not!

GFX 50S, 63mm, first shoot, fog and clouds over the Pite River, Swedish Lapland.

 

Size, weight and ergonomics.

This is my first Fuji, I am not used to the menu system or layout so coming at it blind, it took 5 minutes to initially set it up and off I went out shooting, it is very comfortable in my hands, I prefer the grip over the Leica by a long way, it is also better than the XF and the Nikons, the rear thumb protrusion makes all the difference, it is very easy to walk around with the body as the thumb really hooks in, can’t really fault the feel of it, the weight is excellent too, much less than the S and a lot less than the Phase, similar enough to the D810 not to make a difference, all good on that front.

Ergonomics are good, there are dials for shutter speed and ISO with an aperture ring on the lens all can be set to be controlled by the body which is how I prefer it. I can control all 3 without removing the camera from my eye, perfect. I prefer the layout of the XF which had 3 dials, one for each setting but the GFX has multi functions on the front dial, a press and you are switching between ISO and aperture, good enough for me. All of the rest of the stuff, film simulations etc will appeal to lots of people but not interesting to me, it hasn’t been off manual mode since I have had it.

GFX 50S, 63mm, line of Birch Trees at the Kalix River, Swedish Lapland

 

It is very easy to set the camera up how you want it, I can access 2 second timer with 1 button push, bracketing with 1 push, switch off the exposure simulation with 1 push for strobe work etc. etc. it is excellent in this regard, just works. My only frustration is with the Q button, I can’t switch it off and sometimes when on a tripod in portrait orientation I hit it with my thumb, hopefully in a future update I can just disable it.

GFX 50S, 63mm, order amongst the chaos, Birch trees, Lulea, Swedish Lapland

 

Flexibility of the system.

It’s a new system, it’s unreasonable to expect it to launch with everything ready to go, as it stands, the 3 lenses cover a decent range, I only picked up the 63mm lens to start with, I am not a big fan of zoom lenses and most of my commercial portraiture work is environmental and I tend to use a 50mm on the Nikons more than any other lens, I used the 70mm on the Leica 75% of the time too, it’s just a focal length I like. I will wait for the wider primes to become available and I am most interested in adding the 110mm f2 once that is released, should be an excellent portrait lens.

So flexibility may appear at first look to be a limiting factor but that’s not necessarily the case, Cambo and Arca Swiss have released GFX versions of their respective cameras, the Actus and Universalis, for interior work that I often do, this will be excellent, I can use any of a huge variety of lenses on both these systems, I’m thinking a Hasselblad 40mm on the front will allow plenty of movements and stitching within the image circle, plus they are relatively compact so these are big bonuses.

There are also many companies now releasing adapters for a wide range of lenses, whilst I’m not a fan of adapted lenses, I can see that there is an opportunity to expand the usefulness of the GFX dramatically whilst waiting for native lenses to be released. Fujifilm have released their own adapter for Hasselblad H glass which is interesting, allowing use of the internal leaf shutters will increase flash sync speed to 1/800 I believe so adding another level of flexibility.

For studio work, Fujifilm have released an adapter for 4x5 cameras, this is fairly big, these cameras offer huge flexibility and take some excellent lenses, for tabletop work, products etc then this will be a big benefit although the Cambo/Arca models should work just as well.

GFX 50S, 63mm, a little colour after sunset at Storforsen, Swedish Lapland.

 

Reliability, performance and costs.

I haven’t had the camera long enough yet to gain an insight to reliability, it is very well built though, weather sealed and I have no issues with the build quality as it stands, we will see!

Performance is outstanding, no less than I was expecting really, the sensor is tried and tested in a few different models now and Fuji have made the most of it, dynamic range is excellent, high ISO performance is superb, the 63mm lens is extremely sharp and I have had zero issues with image quality. In my use, focus has been extremely precise and whilst not D500 quick, certainly quick enough for it not to be something I think about in use. I honestly feel that for what I shoot on a daily basis, it out performs the D810 by some margin in all areas that are important to me. I don’t shoot walls and test charts though, I just shoot clients and subjects that appeal to me so my comments are based on that alone.

Costs are higher than full frame 35mm, no doubt but compared to my previous medium format systems, it’s cheap! It will be interesting to see how future lenses are priced, especially the 110mm, the 63mm is an absolute bargain for the price.

GFX 50S, 63mm, sun trying to burn through the fog, Kalix River, Swedish Lapland

 

Conclusions.

I’m only in the initial stages of testing and forming an opinion but as it stands, it is easy to hold the camera all day, battery life is acceptable, it turns on and is ready to shoot very quickly, image quality is superb and the most important thing for me, after a day of use, I don’t have to think about controlling it, it just gets out of the way and allows me to capture the images I want to capture. I don’t particularly like Lightroom but only use it to import and catalogue my shots, I use other programs for image processing.

If the tech cam solutions work well from Cambo or Arca Swiss then this really could be a system that ticks more boxes than any other I have owned. If reliability is good, lenses are released quickly and the system is supported well then I am all in and the Nikon kit will be sold off.

I spend a lot of time working in fairly difficult environments, Iraq, Afghanistan, Mali and many other tourist hotspots, I have taken the Leica to many of these places but there’s no way I would have taken the Phase One, just to big and bulky plus it looks like a weapon! The idea of standing in the centre of Kabul setting up a tripod to use the XF in lower light would be like painting a target on my back, the GFX is small and light and weather sealed, I’d be happy to take it anywhere without worrying, the high ISO performance would allow fast handheld use in even the worst conditions.

As I said at the beginning, cameras are just tools to allow me to make a living, I don’t form emotional connections with them but that said, I am enjoying reaching for the GFX whenever I leave the house, it’s good enough to bring a smile to my face!

GFX 50S, 63mm, feeling wintery at Storforsen this morning.

 

Part 2 here.. GFX 50S A couple of weeks in..


Comments

Barry Kootchin(non-registered)
Excellent article.
I've had the GFX 50 for a little over a month.
I looked for a camera that would replace my H4D 60.
It has. It's a fantastic camera
Thibault ROUVIERE(non-registered)
Thanks Mat, very interesting feedback from you.
It's very difficult for a rookie to understand the difference between this different system.
Sean Windsor(non-registered)
Great images with the GFX 50S.
A+
Wandiba(non-registered)
I rarely read camera user experiences/reviews beyond the first few lines...In your case, I have read line-to-line to the final full stop. Excellent writing: precise, concise and free of the usual decorative bells and whistle typically associated with financial incentives. You have an outstanding eye for photography...Excellent portfolio.
Peter Mendelson(non-registered)
Beautiful work. I am shooting with both the 63mm and the 32mm-64mm zoom, and I have to say, the zoom really doesn't give seem to give up anything noticeable to me in terms of optical quality (of the the prime is a bit faster at f/2.8, but it's AF is reportedly slower than the zoom). I plan to use my tilt-shift lenses with the GFX as soon as the new Cambo adapter is available.

I did a short blog post on my experience shooting with the GFX in New Orleans: https://www.mendelsonfineartphotography.com/blog/new-orleans-with-the-fujifilm-gfx-50s-camera

Thanks for your article.
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