Quick Hands-On with the Amazing Fujifilm GFX 50S Mirrorless Medium Format Camera

Today I made a flying visit to L & P Digital Photographic in Artarmon, a suburb in Sydney’s north shore that is home to several movie and photography industry retail, rental and manufacturing companies, the most notable of the latter being Miller Tripods. My mission was to have a very quick look at the Fujifilm GFX 50S and its first three lenses, the Fujinon GF 63mm f/2.8 R WR, GF 32-64mm f/4.0 R LM WR and the GF 120mm f/4.0 R LM OIS WR Macro

For the next couple of days a Fujifilm GFX 50S, vertical grip, tilt adapter and the three lenses will be available to see and experience a hands-on with and then, some time after that, a GFX 50S kit will be added to L & P’s rental collection.

L & P also operates a compact rental studio at their Artarmon premises that once housed the studio and darkroom of Max Dupain, the late Australian modernist photographer known for his architectural photography collaborations with Austrian-Australian architect Harry Seidler.

Some Rough and Ready BTS Snapshots

L & P is already taking orders from professionals wishing to purchase or lease Fujifilm’s latest photographic innovation in the form of the GFX 50S.

My aim during the visit was to get a quick impression of the GFX 50S as a hand camera and not a stand camera, and not to create great photographs of the types of subject matter I would place in front of a camera like this. With luck that opportunity will come later and I will do a proper job of it.

Sample Snapshots

I simply stepped outside the door during a brief interval between rain showers, made two shots with the GF 32-64mm f/4.0 R LM WR lens set to f/8.0 and the GFX 50S set to ISO 400 and 1/640th of a second, focussing on the foremost figure at left of frame. I made the first exposure at 32mm and the second at 64mm.

I then processed each raw file in version 3.1.4 of Iridient Developer and applied minimal tone, colour and sharpness corrections after choosing Pro Neg S from Iridient Digital’s free Fujifilm-style film emulations set.

After exporting the largest JPEG file, I uploaded it to my Flickr account as I need to conserve media space in my website hosting account right now. Flickr has applied its own sharpness-reducing compression algorithm so please bear that in mind.

These snapshots are mediocre photographs but the GFX 50S is anything but a mediocre camera. Click the images below to see them large in my Flickr account.

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Thoughts and Observations

A quick and dirty first test like this of a newly released camera can only tell one so much. But it satisfied my aims. I wanted to know whether the GFX 50S would meet my needs and be a viable option for renting, leasing or buying sometime in the future, bureaucracies and lawyers permitting. The ‘Untitled’ project self-financing saga is ongoing.

When I got back into photography after an absence enforced by ill health resulting from chronic photochemical allergy and extreme dermatitis, a major concern was whether then current digital technology would offer as much variety in ways of seeing and photographing as the variety that I had come to rely on with analog photography.

My first serious digital camera was a DSLR, the Canon EOS 5D Mark II, and it was not an easy fit as I had never been an SLR person. Rather, I had relied on a range of non-SLR rangefinder and technical cameras and these somewhat unconventional, even non-conformist, cameras had helped create my personal photographic vision. Or more properly, visions.

It was only with the arrival of Fujifilm’s Finepix X100 rangefinder-style camera that I began to feel comfortable with digital photography. The Fujifilm X-Pro2 cemented that comfort with a camera that, in many ways, recalls the 120 roll film rangefinder cameras I had so loved.

Likewise Fujifilm’s X-T2 is a reminder of the technical cameras that were so crucial to my development as a photographer just as Panasonic’s Lumix GX8 shares some of the traits of the waist-level Rolleiflex twin lens reflex cameras I adored for their own unconventional way of showing me the world as a square and from down below, via the GX8’s unique tilting EVF.

Now the GFX 50S, with its clear similarity to the X-T2’s shape and usability, offers a combination of features I relied on in my technical cameras and my Rolleiflexes, filtered through Fujifilm’s and Panasonic’s recent digital camera innovations.

The GFX 50S allows you to use it like a small hand or stand-mounted view camera, like an EVF camera, more or less like a DSLR but minus the mirror slap, or like a tilting EVF camera that is in itself the closest simulation we have now of the wonderful TLR cameras once made by Mamiya, Rolleiflex, Yashica and others.

My brief experience with the Fujifilm GFX 50S was enough to tell me this and remove the last concern I had about whether contemporary digital hardware can provide me with enough creative options to build a set of closely related personal photographic styles in the way analog hardware did.

One thing is certain, confirmed by my two snapshots above: the Fujifilm GFX 50S’ resolution and image quality equals that of 4″x5″ sheet film cameras and I suspect that its future GFX 100S descendant will rival the results from 8″x10″ sheet film cameras.

Postscript:

After covering an International Womens’ Day rally in the Sydney CBD, I dropped into digiDIRECT’s city store to take another quick look at the Fujifilm GFX 50S. They had the camera, three lenses, EVF and vertical battery grip and kindly allowed me do some snapshots of one of the staff members, Benny, below.

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This photograph was made with the GF 120mm f/4 R LM OIS WR Macro lens and with the Vertical Battery Grip on the camera. I processed the raw file in Iridient Developer then exported it as a TIFF that I opened in Alien Skin Exposure X2 where I applied a Polaroid Type 55 preset and platinum split toning.

I chose f/5.6, AutoISO and aperture-priority, and the GFX 50S set 1/60th second. Although this is not a portrait as such, the experience of making it reminded me of how I loved to make frontal, full-face close-up portraits of artists, chefs, celebrities and businesspeople for the glossy magazines in Polaroid Type 55 positive/negative instant film, split-toning prints made on silver-rich baryta papers.

On considering the Fujinon GF lenses currently available and coming later in the year, I would choose the GF 120mm f/4 R LM OIS WR Macro and the GF 45mm f/2.8 R WR prime lenses as a very workable pair for full-face and environmental portraiture. The 120mm is roughly equivalent to 90mm in 135 aka 35mm format and the 45mm lens is close to 35mm in 135 aka 35mm format.

Although I often lit those editorial portraits with Broncolor flash units with spot grids and barndoors, nowadays I’d be more likely to use continuous light such as my Rotolight Neo three light kit with barndoors to narrow the beam down.

Other LED lights I want to investigate sometime are the Dedolights with variable beams that spread from spot to flood and take a range of light-shaping accessories.

While electronic flash has its advantages in freezing movement, it can be distracting when trying to really narrow down the beam and place the light with a high degree of precision but little time with a portrait subject.

Using continuous light allows you see exactly what the camera is going to see and permits building a closer relationship with your sitter, faster. The GF 120mm f/4 lens’ optical image stabilization means one can handhold the lens in continuous light and obtain enough sharpness, or one can of course place the GFX 50S on a tripod and use it somewhat like a small view camera.

Image Credits:

Header image concept and hack by Carmel D. Morris.

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