Fuji GFX 50S Review: Medium Format for Landscape and Travel Photography

I had the good fortune of having a pre-production model of the Fujifilm GFX 50s to take with me to Norway in February of this year on my scouting trip with Discovery Photo Tours.

Since I was already bringing a lot of my X-Series gear with me, I wanted to keep my kit as light as possible and therefore only brought the GFX body, the extended grip, and the FUJINON GF32-64mmF4 R LM WR.

I had the chance to bring the other two lenses available at this time but since my focus was on more big picture wide angle shots, I chose the versatile zoom that has a range of 25-51mm in 35mm format equivalent. The other lens that I’m excited about is the yet to be released GF23mmF4 R LM WR. That will be a very welcome addition for travel and landscape shooters like me who are constantly looking for the widest lens possible to capture the incredible vistas we encounter on our journeys.

First, some history…

While a lot of people think that Fujifilm is “jumping into” the medium format arena out of the blue, those people would be dead wrong. The fact is that Fujifilm has a long and deep tradition of medium format cameras and lenses that they created under the Fujifilm name and also for Hasselblad.

Here’s a partial list of the Fujifilm medium format cameras that photographers have been using for decades:

Medium format film camera

Fujifilm GX680

The GX680 is a series of medium format SLR studio system cameras that uses 120/220 roll film in a 6×8 format and introduced by Fuji in 1989. It was replaced by the GX680 II in 1995. A third revision was released in December 1997 as the GX680 III. The system was officially discontinued in April 2010.

Fuji GX617

The Panorama GX617 is a medium format roll film panorama camera introduced by Fuji in 1993. It replaced the Fuji Panorama G617 released in 1985.

Fujica GW690

The Fujica GW690 Professional and the nine similar models that followed it are leaf-shutter fixed-lens rangefinder cameras for 120/220 film that Fuji brought out as successors to its interchangeable-lens Fujica GL690 and GM670 Professional models.

Fujica Six

The Fujica Six, a 6×6 folding viewfinder camera, was the very first camera to be produced by Fuji Photo Film. The first version came out in 1948, the last in 1953.

Fujicaflex

The Fujicaflex is a 6×6 TLR camera that uses 120 medium format roll film and introduced by Fuji in 1954. It uses a Fujinar 83mm f/2.8 3 group/5 element lens with a Seikosha Rapid shutter with speeds of 1 to 400 with a B setting as well.

Fujica GS645

The Fuji GS645 series of compact medium format cameras was released in the early 1980’s. They share a nearly identical body and available with fixed lenses of various focal lengths.

Medium format digital camera

Fujifilm GX645AF

The Fujifilm GX645AF is an autofocus medium format camera introduced in 2003 by Fujifilm. It was discontinued in 2010. It was also known as the Hasselblad H1. It appears identical to the H1 with the only difference being the darker coloured plastic of the body. All other features are identical to the H1 and the GX645AF uses the same accessories of the Hasselblad H cameras.

Surprised? You’re not alone. Fujifilm has a deep heritage not just in film but in camera and lens manufacturing for stills, broadcast, and cinema.

Now that we’ve established that Fujifilm is a serious player in the medium format game, let’s jump to the newest offering…

Fujifilm GFX 50S| First Impressions

I’ll be honest, I’m not the most technical of photographers, and I have no problem saying that. I see a lot of photography sites that review gear where they talk about very technical things that in the long run, don’t really matter to me. They also showcase sub-par images to extol the virtue of the gear they are reviewing or, in some cases, to bash it.

Now, you don’t need out of this world imagery to show how sharp a lens is or the demonstrate noise at different ISO settings. But what I’d like to talk about here are a few of the important things that are meaningful to me in the work that I do.

Bear in mind, I had the camera for a week, and I was working on a scouting trip for Discovery Photo Tours. That means I had limited time with what is turning out to be the camera of the year for so many people. I’m looking forward to the next time I can get my hands on a GFX 50s for a longer period of time, and at that time I’ll expand on my first impressions.

Dynamic Range

For travel and landscape shooters like me, dynamic range that a camera sensor can capture in one frame is a vital tech spec. I personally want to be able to have the option to recover highlight and shadow detail as much as possible in all my images, and like most other medium format cameras, the Fujifilm GFX 50S delivers better dynamic range than the DSLR and mirrorless competition.

The GFX boasts 11.9 stops of dynamic range! In independent tests, the GFX compares very favorably with all rivals in dynamic range comparisons. When coupled with the fact that we’re dealing with larger pixels and the fact that the GFX blows away the mirrorless, DSLR and medium format competition at high ISO, colour me impressed.

You’ll perhaps note that these independent tests show slightly lower values of dynamic range than the manufacturers. For example, Fujifilm claims 14 stops of dynamic range for the GFX and PhaseOne claims 15 for the listed IQ3 at native ISO of 100.

Dynamic Range – Mirrorless Cameras vs. GFX
Dynamic Range – DSLR Cameras vs. GFX
Dynamic Range – Medium Format Cameras vs. GFX

Dynamic Range Testing Source: Photons to Photos

ISO sensitivity

For a medium format camera, the GFX boast exceptional range in ISO speeds. The default ISO is 100 and goes up to 12,800. The range can further be expanded to from 50 to a whopping 102,400. I’m looking forward to testing this out on future shoots where I’ll need higher ISO for night shooting, auroras, and astrophotography.

Camera Design

I’m torn… While I love the looks and feel of the Fujifilm X-Series cameras and lenses, I’m not so sure I love the look of this camera as much.

That being said, there was a lot of thought put into the design of the GFX system and I know some of the design team. These folks are incredibly meticulous in making sure that there is a nice harmony between form and function. The more I used the GFX, the more I started to like the design.

Here’s what I like about the design:

  • The dual tilting LCD screen… Why all serious cameras don’t have this is beyond me
  • Size… Similar in size to a Canon or Nikon pro DSLR
  • The LCD screen is brilliantly sharp and crisp
  • The V/H articulating viewfinder… Well done Fujifilm
  • Balance… The camera feels extremely well balanced when hand holding and that’s both with and without the battery grip
  • Two big manual dials for ISO and shutter speed
  • Touch screen… yes!

And what I don’t like:

  • No mechanical shutter release like in the X series cameras
  • The small thumb stick seems tiny on this bigger camera, and a more robust version would have been welcome
  • The “retro” look to the camera does not fit as well on the larger GFX as it does on say the X-Pro 2 or X-T2 but that’s simply aesthetics
  • The back “dial” or four-way pad could have been significantly larger in my opinion as it is challenging to manipulate whilst wearing gloves

Fujifilm GFX 50S Layout

Custom Function Buttons

Each of the ten Fn buttons can hold the following settings:

  • Exposure Comp.
  • Image Size
  • Image Quality
  • Raw
  • Film Simulation
  • Grain Effect
  • Color Chrome Effect
  • Dynamic Range
  • White Balance
  • Select C. Settings
  • Focus Area
  • Focus Check
  • AF Mode
  • Rapid AF
  • Face/Eye Detection
  • Self-timer
  • AE BKT Settings
  • Photometry
  • Shutter Type
  • ISO Auto Setting
  • Wireless Comm.
  • Flash Fn Setting
  • TTL – Lock
  • Modeling Flash
  • Mic Level Adjust
  • Preview DoF
  • Preview Exp./WB in Manual Mode
  • P/View Pic Effect
  • Histogram
  • Electronic level
  • AE Lock Only
  • AF Lock Only
  • AE/AF Lock
  • AF-On
  • Lock setting
  • Playback

Menu System & Features

Since I’m already a Fujifilm X-Series user, I was comfortable with the menu system out of the gate. One of my favourite things about the X-Series is the very intuitive menu system and therefore was happy to see most of the menu items the same or similar on the GFX.

Going through the whole menu system of any camera in a review would be overkill, but I’ll brush on a few of the features that I like best.

Shooting past 30 seconds without being in Bulb mode is now possible! I’ve been asking for this one for some time, and finally, Fujifilm delivers. Since I shoot a lot with ND filters, I’m often surpassing the thirty-second mark in my exposures. If I recall properly(I no longer have the camera), the GFX allows us to shoot up to thirty minutes now. Love this.

The menu can be accessed by using the touchscreen and buttons/dials.

The camera’s Q.menu can also be customized with frequently changed settings.

The customizable E-ink display “sub” menu on the top of the camera is clearly visible with vital information in both low light and bright daylight.

You can now bracket up to 9 frames continuously.

The GFX allows users to choose from the following ratios in camera:

Sensor

The GFX 50S has a 43.8×32.9mm 51.1 megapixel CMOS sensor that features an X Processor Pro image processing engine. The proprietary processor allows the GFX to render spectacular colour reproduction and utilize Fujifilm’s Film Simulation modes to its full advantage. Maximum resolution is 8256 x 6192 (51.1 MP, 4:3 ratio).

Pixels

I think it’s appropriate at this point to discuss the difference in pixels between the GFX and similar megapixel DSLR cameras.

As I’ve said above, I’m not the most technical of photographers, but this is a very important thing to consider if you’re looking for a large megapixel sized sensor…All pixels are not the same!

The pixel size of the Fujifilm GFX 50S sensor is 5.3nm. This is actually 1.7x bigger when compared to 50MP 35mm format sensor. Bigger pixels with more space between each pixel allow for crisper, sharper, more detailed image files when compared to a similar megapixel sized sensor on a DSLR.

Electronic Viewfinder and Optional Tilt Adapter

One very nice thing about this viewfinder is that it is detachable. That makes it easy to pack the camera away snugly and securely in smaller packs.

The EVF is crisp and clear, but I did notice some minor shimmer when shooting with autofocus. I chalked that up to very cold and windy conditions, but I will look for it again when shooting in a more hospitable climate.

Unfortunately, I was not given the tilt adapter to test on this shoot.

Shutter

Shutter speed

Mechanical Shutter
4sec. – 1/4000sec (P mode), 60 min. – 1/4000 sec. (All modes)
Bulb mode (up to 60min), TIME:60min. – 1/4000sec.

Electronic Shutter*
4sec – 1/16000sec (P mode), 60min – 1/16000sec (All modes)
Bulb mode (up to 60 min), TIME:60min. – 1/16000sec.

Electronic Front Curtain Shutter**
4sec. – 1/4000sec (P mode), 60 min. – 1/4000 sec. (All modes)
Bulb mode (up to 60min), TIME:60min. – 1/4000sec.

Mechanical + Electronic Shutter
4sec – 1/16000sec (P mode), 60min – 1/16000sec (All modes)
Bulb mode (up to 60 min), TIME:60min. – 1/16000sec.

Electronic Front Curtain Shutter** + Electronic Shutter
4sec – 1/16000sec (P mode), 60min – 1/16000sec (All modes)
Bulb mode (up to 60 min), TIME:60min. – 1/16000sec.

Synchronized shutter speed for flash
1/125sec. or slower

Display

The GFX has a very large and extremely sharp rear 2.36M-dot LCD display that also acts as a touchscreen control panel with 100% coverage. The screen tilts in three directions (90°up – 45° down – and 60° to the right) which is ideal for photographers like me who shoot from all different heights and angles.

The touchscreen allows the user to control AF point selection, input characters, swipe through photos, make selections from the Q menu, and more.

Vertical Battery Grip

At first glance, the vertical battery grip looks odd but hen you actually hold the camera in your hands, you’ll see and feel why the Fujifilm design team made it like this—the camera is equally balanced when holding it either in vertical or horizontal positions.

All the buttons, thumbsticks, and dials that are easily accessible and ergonomically placed on the back of the camera for use in landscape position are also available in equally comfortable positions on the back of the battery grip. The other bonus is that you get to double your battery life with the extra battery that is housed in the grip.

One caveat, the extra battery does not come with the grip, you’ll have to purchase that separately.

Battery Life

The GFX uses a new rechargeable battery, the NP-T125. It is CIPA rated at 400 shots but in my experience in Norway, went well beyond that mark.

When using the battery grip that holds a second battery, I did not once run out of battery on all day shoots. That’s, of course, relative to how much you shoot but even when shooting 600+ images, I failed to drain even one of the batteries, and the temperature hovered around the -2°c to -10°c.

Autofocus

Did not use much… will report on this later.

Video

I’m not a video shooter and to be frank, this is not a camera for top notch 4k video.That’s totally okay with me.

Funny enough, the little sister to the GFX, the Fujifilm X-T2 is a monster when it comes to video and offers full 4K quality video as opposed to the GFX’s 1080p. Other limitations to the video on the GFX are a minimum ISO of 200, and for any serious video shooter filming in bright light, that can be annoying.

Time to look at a serious neutral density filter kit to fix that issue!

Image File Format

JPEG, 14-bit RAW (uncompressed or lossless compressed); RAW+JPEG; 24-bit TIFF (in-camera RAW conversion)

Lenses

Just like with cameras, Fujifilm has a rich legacy of producing some of the best lenses in the world for still, cinema, and broadcast cameras. Not only does Fujifilm make their own lenses for their Fujifilm branded cameras but they also make most of the lenses for the Hasselblad system.

Other companies also engage Fujifilm to white label produce their optics and then re-brand them as their own.

GF 32-64mm f/4 R LM WR

I only had the one lens in my kit while in Norway, the GF 32-64mm f/4 R LM WR lens. I enjoyed the lens, and it actually was nice to only have one lens to work with for a change. I’m used to having at least a super wide angle prime or a super wide zoom to work with, and the GF 32-64mm f/4 R LM WR was forcing me to look at the world in a different way this time. I’m thrilled with the results in more ways than one.

The clarity and sharpness of the files produced by this lens are some of the most detailed I have ever shot, and small JPGs on a blog post truly do not do the images justice. The images I was able to produce had remarkable edge to edge sharpness.

The lens construction consists of 11 groups and 14 elements; three aspherical elements, one Super ED element and one ED element, with a fluorine-coated front element.

I would have ben bothered by the f/4 maximum aperture if it was not for the fact that the GFX 50S works so well at higher ISO. When used, the AF worked well but I typically will manual focus my landscape images like I was shooting in Norway. To be fair, I did not test out the lens for night time shooting of stars or the awesome auroras we saw, so I’ll reserve my judgements for that on the next review.

At 1.93 pounds (875 grams) the lens is similar in size and weight to the 24-70mm f/2.8 offerings from Nikon and Canon.

There are three GF lenses available in Q1 of 2017 and three more announced for later in the year.

Available Q1 2017

  • FUJINON GF63mmF2.8 R WR – Standard Prime Lens
  • FUJINON GF32-64mmF4 R LM WR – Standard Zoom Lens
  • FUJINON GF120mmF4 R LM OIS WR Macro – Medium Telephoto Macro Lens

Available later 2017

  • FUJINON GF 23mm f4 R LM WR – Available mid-2017
  • FUJINON GF 110mm f2 R LM WR – Available mid-2017
  • FUJINON GF 45mm f2.8 R WR – Available late 2017

The new FUJINON GF Lenses—like their X Series counterparts—have an aperture ring, and have a new C (Command) Position on the ring that allows users to alternatively make aperture adjustments with the Command Dial on the camera body.

Fujifilm is claiming that the G mount lenses were built with future GFX models in mind with sensors up to 100 megapixels.

Conclusion

After spending a week with the GFX, I was left wishing I had another week to use it even more extensively. This was my first foray into the digital medium format camera world and the resulting images that I was able to produce make me look forward to the next time I can get one in my hands.

I have yet to see any other images that I have taken a look as sharp as those produced by the GFX 50S and, to me, that is what counts the most: the end result. The colour rendition is also superb, but I’m not surprised at that since I’ve been using Fujifilm’s X-Series of cameras almost from day one.

The camera is nearly as versatile as a DSLR or mirrorless camera, but no medium format camera is known to be made for action, sports, or photojournalism. That’s not what they are for. For photographers who are into landscape, fashion, portrait, commercial advertising, or fine art… this is your game changer.

When we look at the competition in the medium format world, the cost for comparable cameras and lenses can range from four to eight times the cost of the GFX. The GFX is also more hand holdable than the medium format competition and more ergonomic.

I’m not saying that this is an every person’s camera—far from it. The Fujifilm GFX 50S is revolutionary in terms of offering a fantastic new medium format camera system from a company that is at the forefront of mirrorless camera technology and lens manufacturing. The price of the GFX system is also groundbreaking, in that it finally makes medium format quality substantially more affordable to pro photographers and serious advanced enthusiasts.

Overall, the camera is well thought out and is perhaps the most versatile of all medium format cameras on the market today. The lens selection will hopefully grow rapidly such as we saw with the continuously growing X Series lens stable.

Aside from the Fujifilm accessories mentioned above, Fujifilm also offers the Fujifilm H Mount Adapter G for using Fujifilm-developed Hasselblad H-mount lenses on the GFX. Another exciting accessory available for the GFX is the View Camera Adapter G for studio photographers. Couple that with the Cambo ACTUS-GFX View Camera Body with Fujifilm GFX Bayonet Mount and you’ll have a top-notch studio bellows camera system at your disposal with full front tilt & swing and rear shift movements.

Other third party adapters will allow GFX owners to use their existing Canon, Nikon, Leica M, Mamiya, Pentax and other lenses. Just don’t expect the same quality from full-frame lenses on a medium format camera.

With a few exceptions (noted below in the cons section) this is one serious professional camera that I’m looking forward to using for years to come. No wonder that after the much-anticipated announcement of the Fujifilm GFX 50S at Photokina 2016 in Germany, the press dubbed the show “Fujikina”, and rightfully so.

Pros

  • Exceptional Raw and JPG image quality
  • Weather sealing is exceptional
  • Dual hinged tilting LCD allows usage in both portrait and landscape
  • Focus Peaking
  • AE Bracketing (2/3/5/7/9 frames) ±1/3EV – ±3EV, 1/3EV step
  • Exposures up to 30 minutes without cable release or intervalometer
  • Tons (ten) of customizable buttons that make the camera truly your own in terms of handling
  • In camera RAW processing
  • Easy to use WiFi
  • Mirrorless system and electronic first curtain shutter allows for less camera and shutter shake
  • Intelligent form fitting ergonomics
  • Touch screen LCD rear display
  • Super high resolution 51.4MP, 44 x 33mm sensor
  • Two AF joysticks (with optional vertical grip) makes it easy to select AF points
  • Classic ISO and shutter speed mechanical dials

Cons

  • Small joystick could have been significantly bigger to allow for easier control/li>
  • The boxy look to the camera was not what I had hoped for in a revolutionary camera system/li>
  • Lenses do not feel as solid as similar lenses in the X-Series/li>
  • Limited lens selections at launch/li>
  • No image stabilization/li>
  • No GPS built in/li>
  • Low flash sync speed/li>
  • No ISO 100 during video capture/li>
  • No dedicated exposure compensation dial/li>
  • Small buttons for a large body could have been bigger to allow for easier manipulation, especially when wearing light gloves

About the author: Ken Kaminesky is a commercial lifestyle and travel photographer, and co-founder of Discovery Photo Tours. To see more of his work, visit his website and blog, or give him a follow on Facebook and Instagram. This review was also published here.

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