One of the most exciting outcomes of the arrival of Fujifilm’s GFX 50S medium format camera is its support by view camera makers like Cambo, effectively turning the GFX into a digital back for use with adapted lenses and shutterless lenses like Combo’s manual aperture Actar range.
I no longer have my medium format Mamiya RZ lenses, having been purloined from a shared studio in London, so Cambo’s Actar prime lens range is of particular interest as part of a view camera solution for architecture and portrait photography, as well as product photography of the sort Mr Witteveen demonstrates in his video.
The Actar range currently comprises five lenses from wide to telephoto:
Rod Klukas, operating under the name Arca-Swiss USA, has released an image of the soon-to-be released Arca-Swiss Universalis II view camera system for Fujifilm’s GFX 50S medium format camera. Like Cambo’s Actus-GFX mini view camera, the Arca-Swiss Universalis II uses the GFX 50S as a digital magazine in combination with existing view camera system elements.
Magazine editorial portrait photography with large format view cameras using 4″x5″ sheet film, Polaroid Type 55 instant positive/negative film and Linhof fixed-size or Sinar variable-format 120 roll film backs with the choice of 6×4.5, 6×6, 6×7, 6×9 and 6×12 aspect ratios was a passion of mine during the analog era.
I discovered that my subjects responded very differently to view cameras than they ever did to all other camera types, and I easily achieved an intimacy and calmness in my subjects that took more work to obtain using smaller cameras in the hand or on the tripod.
The cameras’ movements – swing, shift and tilt – provided extra creative control of what was in or out of focus, especially when using longer focal lengths like 210mm and even standard focal lengths such as 150mm.
This hardware also came in handy photographing architecture and figures in landscapes when I was a corporate photographer working for mining companies in the deserts of Western Australia.
I miss those cameras and that very craft-oriented approach to photography. It is so rewarding, then, to see similar aspect ratio and camera type choices appearing in the digital era and I hope that more technical camera makers will adopt Fujifilm’s GFX camera series in the way that Arca-Swiss and Cambo have now.
I was lucky to have learned the art and craft of large format photography with a pair of Linhof cameras owned by a university art school, then bought a Cambo studio technical camera followed by a Graflex sheet film press camera then a Wista folding field camera made of brass and cherrywood.
Those who have not been exposed to technical cameras using 120 roll film or sheet film may wish to do a little reading via the lists of links below.
Technical camera & lens brands, current and defunct
Deardorff – made wooden field cameras between 1923 and 1988.
Ebony – made wooden and all-metal field view cameras for analog photography only but recently ceased production.
Fujinon – made some of the most highly-regarded large format lenses, reportedly Richard Avedon’s favourites, but appears to no longer be producing them. Fujinon large format lenses are being sold on eBay at affordable prices. My two favourite focal lengths are 90mm and 210mm, with both available in f/5.6 maximum aperture versions.
Gandolfi & Sons – makers of traditional mahogany folding field cameras from 4″x5″ through to 11″x14″ format for decades from 1885 until closing their doors in 2000.
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
My favourite monitor display option on the GFX 50S (and the X-T2) is the dual display featuring the full image at left and magnified image at right.
The GFX 50S’s histogram overlay is very useful too.
The Fujifilm GFX 50S, lenses and accessories are in great company at L & P, also one of Australia’s Phase One dealers.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Fujifilm announced the development of its new digital medium format GFX system back in September 2016 with the promise that the “Fujifilm GFX 50S will give professional photographers the most extraordinary image quality in the history of Fujifilm”.
Time is rushing by and the first quarter of 2017 will soon commence, during when we can expect the release of the Fujifilm GFX 50S camera with 43.8 x 32.9mm 51.4 megapixel non-X-Trans sensor and three lenses initially with three more to came later in the year.
The first three GF lenses are:
GF63mmF2.8 R WR – standard prime lens equivalent to 50mm in the 35mm format.
GF32-64mmF4 R LM WR – wide-to-standard zoom lens equivalent to 25 to 51mm in 35mm format.
GF120mmF4 Macro R LM OIS WR – stabilized mid-telephoto macro prime lens equivalent to 95mm in 35mm format.
The next three GF lenses will be:
GF23mmF4 R LM WR – ultra-wide prime lens equivalent to 18mm in 35mm format.
GF45mmF2.8 R WR – wide-angle prime lens equivalent to 35mm in 35mm format.
GF110mmF2 R LM WR – wide aperture mid-telephoto prime lens equivalent to 87mm in 35mm format.
Ivan Joshua Loh
Jonas Dyhr Rask
Piet Van den Eynde
FUJIFILMglobal –Development of Professional-use Mirrorless Camera System “GFX” / FUJIFILM
Fujifilm’s History of Photographic Achievement
Fujifilm has a long history of achievements and innovations in the photographic sphere and especially in medium and large format photography.
Richard Avedon was a devotee of Fujifilm’s large format lenses for his 8″x10″ sheet film cameras and Greg Gorman relied on the Fujifilm GX 680 series as his main studio portrait cameras for some years.
I once spotted the great German-Australian photographer Helmut Newton toting a Fujica GS645 Professional on his way to a magazine portrait assignment and fell in love with that camera for the purpose, an unrequited love affair alas, as it was with other Fujica cameras due to them being hard to get outside of Japan.
I hope that the big photography and video production trade shows will be coming back to the new International Convention Centre Sydney in Darling Harbour soon – it has been far too long without them.
Camera and Lens Choices
As a magazine editorial portrait photographer, I relied on medium and large format cameras for the way they caused my subjects to quickly settle down and and start projecting to the reader via the camera and lens. That was very different to how they related to 35mm rangefinder cameras and different again to 35mm SLR cameras the few times I used them on assignment.
Just before stepping out of professional photography for a time due to extreme photochemical allergies, I had planned on rationalizing my gear with Fujica 6×4.5cm 120 roll film cameras and the GX680. A GX680 III might have been a good choice with which to enter the digital age as Fuji later introduced a digital back, the DBP for GX680, though that was reportedly only available in Japan.
The GX680 series was celebrated for its big range of top notch lenses, 17 in all with one of them a zoom lens, as well as an even larger range of accessories. Lucky owners reported that their experience of the GX680 was a little like using a small view camera, a little like using a 120 format SLR and a little like using a motor drive SLR.
From what little I have seen of using the GFX 50S, its user experience seems like something of a hybrid too, given its fealty to Fujifilm’s X-Series cameras and lenses and even, perhaps, aspects of the FinePix S5 Pro and its S-Series predecessors. We will learn more soon and I am hoping Fujifilm Australia will host a GFX 50S launch event similar to its X-T2 event earlier this year to enable some hands-on experience.
Back to my editorial portraiture experience. I would often be lucky to get not much more than fifteen minutes to meet, greet, assess, set up, light, shoot then pack up for a typical portrait session. That was a product of expectations created by other magazine and newspaper photographers’ typical modus operandi, and client requirements of three to five such assignments per day.
The challenge was to come up with enduring, insightful portraits of two basic types, a landscape aka horizontal format environmental portrait and an intense vertical format full-face portrait. If time allowed I would grab more candid shots with my Leicas. My clients rarely needed more than those two types of portraits, though, one for the article intro and often full-page and the other in the body of the article. I like some focal lengths for 1:1, prefer others for 4:3 and 3:2, and others again for 16:9.
I used a medium wide angle lens for the environmental portrait, lens stopped down for detail and camera mounted on a tripod. A medium long telephoto macro lens was perfect for the emotionally-engaging full-face portrait. I usually carried a three-light flash kit but substituted it with a single continuous light when needing to shoot in 35mm only.
Looking at Fujifilm’s 2017 GF-Series lens list, of the three to be released in the first part of the year I would choose the GF 120mm f/4 R LM OIS WR and the GF 32-64mm f/4 R LM WR.
The 120mm’s OIS is a real bonus for handholding close and framing tight under continuous light. The 32-64mm’s wide to standard focal range provides framing choices in tight interiors. I would stop both lenses down to f/5.6 as a matter of course, and more again with the wide end of the zoom lens for even more environmental detail if needed.
Out of the three lenses to be released mid to late 2017, the faster lenses look interesting. But, so much hinges on how the camera handles, what configuration works best for what sorts of subject matter and which genres, whether it will be handheld or tripod-mounted, and whether it will be used in available light, continuous artificial light or flash and even what aspect ratio one is shooting for.
Time will tell. Meanwhile I have fingers crossed that one of the rental studios around here may consider adding a full Fujifilm GFX 50S camera and lens kit to their equipment hire inventory.
Raw Processing and Image Editing
Right now it is impossible to predict if and when software companies making raw processors and raw-savvy image editing software will begin supporting the Fujifilm GFX 50S.
But one thing is almost guaranteed, Fujifilm will be supplying an updated version of its Raw File Convertor aka RFC software “powered by SilkyPix” as soon as the GFX 50S is released and it will be available to download and use for free.
RFC is a special edition version of a product by Ichikawa Soft Laboratory Co. Ltd, made in two regular versions, SilkyPix Developer Studio 7 and Developer Studio Pro 7. Having used neither of these the precise differences between RFC, Studio 7 and Studio Pro 7 are unclear to me but RFC is enough for my purposes given I use other raw processors and image editors as well.
Complaining about RFC is almost a cliché in the online world, and while it is true that its user interface is unlike most others’, it is reliable and powerful.
Due to Fujifilm’s special relationship with Ichikawa Soft Laboratory, RFC will always be updated to handle each new Fujifilm camera’s raw files and it will always have Fujifilm’s proprietary raw demosaicing algorithms built in.
So far the ‘GFX Challenges’ series numbers sixteen videos and I hope that more are to come, especially some featuring female photographers.
Female professional photographers are just as likely to use medium format digital camera systems as non-female pro photographers, as I can personally attest having been a professional magazine photographer as well as photography client commissioning many of the finest female and non-female photographers in the world to shoot for advertising campaigns and magazines.
Non-Australian female photographers visibly working at the top end of photography had a major effect on my decision to take up professional photography in an era when women were almost completely unknown as pro photographers here.
It was one of those then incredibly rare Australian female professionals who recruited me as a teenager into working for a wedding and portrait studio, using big, heavy, clunky analog medium format cameras and big flash units, and it was another Australian female photographer who showed me that the same subject matter could be brilliantly tackled in a different way with 35mm analog rangefinder cameras.
I owe both those Australians a debt I can never repay, and I owe the same to the great female photographers around the world who inspired me, with whom I have worked, commissioned, produced or about whom I have written.
I hope that, some day very soon, all camera and photography hardware and software companies will recognize the crucial contribution female photographers have made and continue to make to the art and craft of photography by adding equal numbers of women to their professional and ambassadorial ranks.
I cannot help but note that Fujifilm, for example, currently includes only one female photographer in its 18-strong Australian X-Photographers line-up. Surely there is more than one qualified Australian woman using Fujifilm cameras?
As of January 26, 2017, Fujifilm has released 30 GFX Challenges videos via its FUJIFILMGlobal YouTube channel, 28 of which feature male photographers and 2 of which feature female photographers.
Billy Luong, manager for Fujifilm’s Technical Marketing and Product Specialist Group, shared that: “With the GFX we had something like 50 photographers around the world using pre-production cameras.”
Does this mean that there may be more than 2 female photographers in that group?