A Convert to Fuji
I am just back from a scouting trip in Myanmar for a future tour I am co-leading for Digital Photo Mentor; this marks my last trip of the year and over six months spent shooting with the Fuji GFX 50s Mirrorless Medium Format Camera. Mainly for travel – in this time I’ve taken it to Morocco, Myanmar, Buenos Aires and Havana. I am not making a technical review; this is just my collection of thoughts and experiences after using this camera in the field for the last several months.
I am not sponsored or being paid by Fuji, but I’ve been shooting with their cameras since 2013. Back then I was in search of a compact camera that could be a walk-around to take along with my Nikon bodies, a D4 and D700. Everything started with the Fuji X-E2; little did I know I was at the start of a path that would result in me completely switching to Fuji a couple of years later.
Back then the X-T1 kit, its design and form factor (now the X-T2 bodies), were a pleasure to use and the handling was phenomenal. Also, the quality of the images and the files were appealing to me. At the same time, it helped me to reduce size and weight for my travels … or at least that was what I thought. Bear with me here. The truth is that after I started to build/switch to better glass, the difference in weight as compared with my old full-frame system was not that great. Granted, it’s still a smaller kit, but when you start adding the Fujinon 16-55mm F2.8, the Fujinon XF 10-24mm F4.0, the Fujinon XF 50-140mm F2.8, perhaps one or two primes, two bodies, tripod, filters, etc., well, it makes a substantial kit again. And that is all good, but the point I am trying to make is that what initially caused me to go Fuji is no longer the main reason I keep shooting them. Nowadays, when I want to take family photos or just walk around, my everyday quick-grab camera is the Fuji X-100F. That little thing is a powerful, compact camera.
The Fujifilm GFX 50s
But I am not writing this to talk about my switch to Fuji or my everyday bodies. Fast-forward to 2017, when Fuji announced a medium-format mirrorless body. It was well known for some months before the announcement from sites like Fujirumors, Fujilove, blogs, etc., that this was coming. My initial reaction was something like, “OK, how wonderful, what a fantastic camera, but I really don’t need it.” I mean, I always looked at medium-format cameras and would’ve loved to own one, but those were still out of reach and primarily not designed for the type of photography I do.
What happened next is a thought process that I am still trying to understand. Perhaps it was Fuji’s marketing strategy. Maybe it was reading too many reviews. I could even admit GAS (gear acquisition syndrome), but at some point, I convinced myself that I was going to give it a try.
The Wait and Defective Lens Saga
Once I made the decision, all I needed to do was make a call to Hunts Photo. Like for many others who ordered late, the camera was on backorder. I wanted to start with only one lens; as I am mostly a zoom person I decided that the Fujinon GF 32-64mm F4.0 would give me the most flexibility, but that lens was hard to find as well.
Two weeks went by after I placed the order and I finally got the call that the camera was ready to ship. It was just a couple of weeks before my trip to Morocco, precisely as I wanted, and with enough time to get acquainted with the camera. Sadly, my excitement transformed into disappointment and frustration after I received the camera. My Fuji GFX 50s was not working properly. The lens was acting funny and showing a green color cast on the electronic viewfinder and touchscreen. Also, the photos were recorded that way, and the focus was behaving weirdly as well. I also had a warning on the display that asked me to upgrade the firmware of the lens; obviously there were no firmware updates from Fuji at that time as the camera had just launched back then.
My initial thought was that most likely the problem was the lens because by resetting the camera and re-attaching it, it made everything work as normal. But this only corrected the problem for a few minutes and after a couple of images, the green cast re-appeared. After contacting technical support at Fuji, they told me that in their opinion the problem was the installation of the final firmware on the lens. Basically, the last step in the manufacturing process had failed. There was no way for me to try to do a re-install of the firmware; it needed to be done by them.
After several calls between Hunts Photo and the Fuji support team, they finally asked me to ship everything back because nobody could be sure or knew what the problem was, or even if the issue was the lens or the contacts in the camera. Off it went, my camera and lens, back to Hunts Photo. When Hunts received the camera, they tested it with a Fujinon GF 63mm F 2.8 they had at the store and confirmed that it was all good with the body. The lens needed to be replaced. There was just a little problem: it was on backorder, again!
Now the date for my trip to Morocco was approaching fast, and I was not happy at all. The people from Hunts had no clue when the new glass was going to be available, so they decided to lend me the 63mm so I could shoot with the camera until the replacement showed up. There was not much more they could do at that point, so I ended up renting a 32-64mm from LensProToGo so I could take the camera on my trip. It was a big mess, but overall I am really happy with everything the guys from Hunts Photo did to manage and help with the situation. The replacement for my purchase finally showed up a couple of weeks after my return from Morocco. But, was it worth the trouble? Hell yeah!
I’ve read in forums and blogs (maybe too much) posts from some users and reviewers complaining about the design of the camera. In all honesty, Fuji probably won’t win a design award with this one, but for me, what matters the most is if the ergonomics of the design and handling work. When it comes to professional gear, I prefer functionality and ease of use rather than looks. The body of the Fuji GFX 50s is well balanced and just feels good in the hands. Fuji did a great job of preserving the dials and similar layout, with only a few exceptions, and kept it very close to the X-T2. When I opened the box and held the GFX 50s body for the first time, I knew I was going to like it; I immediately felt at home. The size of the body is similar in size to a professional DSLR camera; this is thanks to its mirrorless design. However, the lenses are heavier and bigger as they need to cover the medium format sensor.
The body and lenses of the camera are weather resistant, and with that, I am assured that I can shoot in almost any conditions and not be worried about the electronics.
The rear LCD is huge and the projected images are crisp. It can be flipped on its vertical and horizontal axes, which is especially helpful for low- or high-angle shots, and it incorporates a touchscreen as well. If there is something to be improved in future iterations, it is the electronic viewfinder; there is noticeable lag and some shimmering, especially in low-light situations.
Focusing with the GFX works like a charm. It is not as fast as the X-T2 but it works for me. This is not a camera for shooting sports or any fast-moving subjects, so the contrast-based autofocus system works perfectly for studio, landscape, cityscapes, portraits, street and travel images.
Overall I certainly like the buttons, dials, handling, and ease of use of the GFX 50s.
At 51.4 MP and sized at 43.8×32.9mm, the sensor of the GFX is a beast. It’s a CMOS sensor with an incredible dynamic range.
After all these months, I still surprise myself by how much detail you can pull in both directions with this sensor. Many times I’ve found myself in front of images where the difference between the light and shadow areas was really too much to do anything, but when opening in Lightroom the amount of data is incredible. I feel confident shooting up to 6400 ISO with almost no sign of noise. I am not sure of how all this works from the geeky standpoint, but I do know that I can push up to four stops in Lightroom, from ISO 100 to 1600, and get the same result as a native ISO 1600 shot of the same scene with the same shutter speed and aperture. There is, frankly, no way to notice the difference; that’s almost ridiculous to me when you throw into the mix the massive image size. In sum, the image quality and files that the GFX can produce are unquestionably excellent. Working in post with those is also a pretty fun and rewarding experience.
The Lenses and the Roadmap
At present, I am working with three lenses. I think that pretty much covers most of my needs for this camera. I am generally a zoom person; I love the flexibility that working with zooms provides in the field. My go-to kit with the X-T2 is my “holy trinity”: the Fujinon 16-55mm F2.8, the Fujinon XF 10-24mm F4, and the Fujinon XF 50-140mm F2.8. Now, laws of physics work against my desires for the GFX and such range in zooms is not possible. With the bigger sensor of the GFX, the multiplication factor to find the equivalent range with full frame is 0.79. The same works for the aperture and depth of field conversion: an aperture of f/4.0 for this camera translates as f/3.2 in full-frame equivalent.
So I am carrying the Fujinon GF 32-64mm F4 (24-50mm equivalent) as my general purpose and walk-around lens for this camera. A 24-70mm equivalent would be ideal for me, but again I understand that the laws of physics would make this a very large optic. The 32-64mm is a big lens, but it feels balanced with the camera. People say it is huge and heavy, but I don’t feel it that way; in fact, I’ve walked around with just this lens and the GFX 50s, carrying them in the same camera holster I used to take my Nikon D700 and 24-70mm, without any problem. I can even fit a couple of extra batteries in it and be good for a day or two.
For wide-angle images, I am using the Fujinon GF23mm F4 (18mm equivalent in full frame). So far this is the widest lens Fuji has to offer for the GFX. It is a great lens, and wide enough for most of my landscape or even environmental portrait work.
The biggest challenge was to decide which was the best telephoto lens for me; both the Fujinon GF 110mm F2 and the Fujinon GF 120mm F4 are great. Ultimately I settled for the 120 because it gives me more flexibility for the type of shooting I do. While the 110mm is an outstanding portrait lens, the 120mm can also work perfectly fine for portraits, plus you can do macro, and it gives me a little extra reach for landscape work with the added advantage of having stabilization of up to four stops, and the 110mm does not. At f/4.0 I find the bokeh of the lens pleasant and great for my purposes.
I think Fuji has done great for the first year. They launched the camera with three optics and quickly added three more for a total of six lenses within the first year. I am missing a longer telephoto, but at some point next year they will release the GF 250mm along with a 1.4x teleconverter. With that, my GFX kit will be complete. Fuji glass is legendary. The quality of the optics paired with the fantastic sensor the camera sports make it an incredible system.
Something else worth mentioning, and another great feature about this camera, is the adaptability to use third-party lenses (once again, hats off to Fuji). Call them old lenses, legacy lenses, or anything you like; there are now adaptors to attach almost any kind of glass to the GFX. Nikon, Canon, Mamiya, Pentax, Hasselblad, Zeiss, M42, even camera view adapters—you name it, it is probably there or coming. I am still trying this. I am using some old M42 lenses from wide to long to create some unique effects, but that’s another world itself and too long to post here.
Traveling with the GFX 50s
It is unquestionably more challenging to lug around the GFX than the X-T2 when traveling, but I think it is definitely worth it. The image quality and dynamic range of the files are second to none, and there is that “medium format look” that makes the images seem more three-dimensional. Shooting with the GFX is indeed joyful. It’s a slower camera, but that’s not necessarily bad; it depends on what I am shooting, under what conditions, and who or what is my subject. Being slower, it makes me more aware and attentive to the photograph I am creating. What I mean by slower is not about how fast the camera can or can’t perform; it is about the process itself. The resolution of the GFX is such that I find myself using the tripod more and more often than before. Thus my process is slower, more methodical, but the photos are more precise, sharper, and of incredible quality. That doesn’t mean the camera can’t be used handheld; in fact, I’ve used it for street, markets, and as a walk-around extensively without any issues. So I believe that the GFX is well worth the extra weight when the goal is superb results or giant prints.
I will continue to travel with the GFX, but I am not ditching the X-T2. The decision process of what to bring will be mainly the type of subject I am shooting and where I am traveling. If my trip is primarily for landscapes, cityscapes, or portraits of the locals, the GFX is the way to go. If I am shooting fast-paced subjects, like festivals, sports, or wildlife, the X-T2 will go. I don’t think I’ll ever bring both kits again—I’ve done that; it’s overkill. Besides, I ended up mostly using what was appropriate for the particular trip while the other “backup” body was in the room.
I’ve tested, used, and abused the GFX in the field enough to give me the confidence of just traveling with it. If anything, I’d throw in the X-100F for reassurance as I did for Myanmar, but it just ended up in the hotel room all the time. The GFX has proved to me that it behaves in any conditions: whether in dusty environments, rain, dunes, or heat, it has never let me down—all while helping me to produce amazing photos.
In the end, I am glad about the decision to purchase the GFX 50s. It’s a phenomenal piece of gear and I intend to keep working it.
That’s all for now. As always, feel free to comment below and ask any questions. If you like the content, feel free to subscribe to receive updates of new posts, travel photos and first-hand notifications of upcoming photo tours I’ll lead.