A non-comprehensive Fuji GFX-50S review

I'm sitting here on my couch and I really don't know where to start.  It's not writers block...it's something else.  There's been so much buzz around this camera, and in turn so much hate on the internets over the past two months (and a lot of blind love too).  There's a lot of reasons why someone buys a camera.  In this day and age it seems there's so much camera talk about charts, graphs and sharpness.  But is there more to buying a camera in these modern times?  I like to think so.  Now don't get me wrong...I'm an engineer and I like tech, gizmos, doodads and doohickies.  But I like to think it's a byproduct of my photography choices, not a priority.  This is one of the reason's I've delayed this review.  You see...I had the pleasure of first shooting with the GFX since the first week in February thanks to the good folks at Fuji Middle East.  And I cannot tell you how stunned I was with it.  Zooming in on those 51MP medium format jpeg's (yes JPEGs...nothing supported RAW at that time) and seeing the kind of crisp detail and (depth?) that even my Sony A7R2 didn't show.  I was ready to run home and be one of the first reviews of the GFX.  But....I wasn't ready.  I had some pros and cons (keeping in mind these were pre-production models), I even got to shoot Hasselblad's X1D a week later (not head to head mind you).  But...for the first time after spending many hours with a camera...I simply wasn't ready to write about it.

First...what's important to me when looking at a camera?  Two things really...Am I happy with it's handling?  Am I happy with it's images?  

Handling:
This is more than just ergonomics.  Not only do I want the camera to feel good in my hands, but it needs to be more than just that.  There are settings I need to be able to change on the fly with simplicity.  With all the features packed into modern cameras, I like quick access to the ones I use most often without scrolling thru pages of menus.  Fuji has nailed this with the GFX!  
Ergonomics: I almost feel like my hands were used as the model hands for this camera.  It just feels great in my hands.  Your experience here may vary depending on hand size, what you're used to, dexterity and all that jazz.  My only real gripe is the placement of the playback button which is on top of the protruding screen.  An easy fix to this was assigning the down arrow to the playback button.  Waste of a custom button perhaps....but there is no shortage of those...more on that later.

Images:
Obviously the GFX is going to put out some stunning images.  And if you treat it like a camera phone taking random snapshots....well it'll put out shitty photos that are indistinguishable to that of a random Instagram photo of someone's cat.  As I always say....one thing cameras have in common is they all take pictures.  But certain cameras are better suited for certain types of photography.  Another factor for me here is how well the files do in post.  Obviously some of this falls on Adobe and the other software companies, but they are obviously working with the manufacturers.  But a lot of this falls on the camera.  Dynamic range...how much can I pull the highlights or push the shadows?  How close to where I want are the colors?  The skin tones?  Can I get that specific "look" I'm going for?  And this is just talking RAW files....if shooting JPEG then this is a whole new can of worms which I won't get into other than saying the GFX puts out some amazing JPEG's.

So again...where to start?  I keep blabbing about nothing and if you're still reading this you're probably wondering when I'm going to get to the actual GFX.  Majority of you have scrolled thru already looking at the photos and moved on to another site or hopefully page of mine.  For the four of you left reading (being optimistic here)...thank you!

The greatest and worst part of the GFX

As with many advantages to anything....comes disadvantages and sometimes...they are the same thing.  My point here is the price.  $6500 for a medium format camera.  This is huge.  Much less than the $20,000 to $40,000 for a Phase or Hass.  Unfortunately, this has also brought in a whole new level of trolls as it's much more affordable and within reach of so many more, so I just want to get this out of the way as this seems to be the thing most people are trolling about.


"It's not really medium format"
 

My definition here is anything larger than 24mmx36mm is medium format.  Just because YOU don't define medium format as anything below 6x6, doesn't make it so.  There is no standard...so for simplicity....lets just agree to disagree and call it MF for this article.  Where was the outcry when Phase and Hass were using 44mmx33mm sensors just three years ago and charging $30K and calling it MF?  There's more to digital cameras than sensor size.  It's not the same as in the film days when everyone was using the same film stock.  Film, film vessel/holder (camera) and lens were pretty much the only parts of the equation.  Now there are 1's and 0's.  There is good programming and bad programming.  You just can't compare film to digital in every aspect.  Compare images from modern smaller sensors like in the Fuji XT-2 or Olympus OM-D E-M1 with a full frame camera from 10 years ago like the Canon 5D Mark 2.  Can you not take good pictures with the 5D2?  Of course not...don't be silly...this isn't what I'm saying.  But the flexibility in the files and quality and malleability of the files is considerably different.  So...if you don't want to spend the money because it's not "really MF"...then don't.  Feel free to argue in the comments.  But 10 years from now, there will be some smaller sensor that will outperforms the 53.7x40.4mm sensors in the latest PhaseOne sensors.  Come back in a decade and prove me wrong.

When I first shot the GFX it was in a studio setting....a place where most digital medium format cameras have generally called home.  But I really wanted to take it home and out of the studio.  The initial lens lineup is two primes and one zoom.  A 63/2.8, 32-64/4 and a 120/4 macro.  All these lenses are weather sealed as well as the camera itself. (something you'll only find with the Pentax 645Z and the Hasselblad X1D in the current digital MF line-up).

Handling

So first lets look at the handling aspects of the GFX.

Shot no where near the minimal focusing distance of the 120mm Macro

Size: I've been mainly shooting with a Sony A7r and A7r2 and a Fuji X100x for the past 3 years.  Going back to a DSLR size cameras was a bit of a shock initially.  BUT, my first shock when picking up the camera was how surprisingly light it is.  Not in a cheap East German Trabant kinda way...just lighter than I expected....we're talking only ~200g heavier than an Sony A7r2!!
First thing first, autofocus.  The camera has no phase detection AF, contrast only and initial videos online left A LOT to be desired.  Of course these were all were pre-production and developmental models.  Despite this also being pre-production (this was February) I was very pleased with the AF performance.  Was it compatible to the XT-2?  No...of course not.  After a few hours of shooting I will admit my number one complaint was the AF performance.  However, as the cameras approached production, the AF improved and most importantly, I improved.  You get so used to shooting with phase detection cameras you forget how to effectively use contrast detection (guess what...it needs some contrast in the AF point).  Over the next two months I got better and better with the camera.  My last shoot I can't think of a single time the camera missed focus or had to hunt (I'm sure it happened, but it was so infrequently I forgot if it did).

Ergonomics:  I covered this above and you just need to hold it in your hands and decide yourself.  It's light enough around your neck if on a strap...the grip feels good and the button placement is great with the exception of the playback button.  

Customizability: No shortage here.  For starters you have 10 customizable buttons on the camera.  Next you have Fuji's Q menu which has 16 items.  Then you have 16 items to add to the My Menu and 7 custom settings.  If you shoot different types of work, you will love this.  Being 1-2 clicks away from disabling face recognition, or exposure preview, mechanical/electronic shutter (ES doesn't work with flash), having rear button focus makes for such a great experience.  It will probably take you a few shoots to get it to where you want it....but moving between shooting cityscapes, in studio and outdoor portraits was absolutely seamless.  There are enough custom function buttons to spare and I was able to set the down arrow to playback which is much easier than the default playback button location.  

EVF (Electronic viewfinder): So here we are at one of those love/hate things.  For starters the EVF is removable which is a great function.  Makes the camera just a bit more compact and also allows you to install the optional swivel for the EVF which I really liked.  The EVF is a 3.69m dot OLED and is one of the best I've looked thru.  Though it does seem to show the images brighter than on the LCD, I ended up turning the EVF to manual, maybe this will change in a firmware update.  The rubber eye cup is comfortable and the EVF itself has the same little button on the side of it to switch from EVF to the LCD monitor that Fuji first introduced in the XT-1.

The bottom of the removable EVF

LCD Monitor: The 2.36m dot LCD screen is beautiful.  But what's really amazing is it's touchscreen.  This was literally the first time where I was actually impressed with a touchscreen on a camera.  Unlike my experience with the Sony A6500, this screen felt like the screen on my iPhone.  It was responsive and actually worked!  I did put the touchscreen in the Q menu however so I could disable it at will.  I shoot with the EVF more than the LCD and preferred to use the joystick to adjust focus points.  When on a tripod and shooting cityscapes I would have the touchscreen enabled.  When shooting with the camera around my neck I found I would often hit the back screen and put the focus point on the bottom left of the screen.  Fat thumbs I guess...but getting the focus point back to where you need it is merely a touch away.  Or as I said...I would just disable it when I didn't feel there was an advantage to using it.  Also, much like the XT-2 it has the three way tilting.  Up and down and then the 45 degree tilt when shooting in portrait orientation.

That joystick!:  Man...what a .....joy to use this thing.  I first used it on the XT-2, then on the X100F and I absolutely love it.  Quick way of moving focus points around.  Center click to center the focus point and btw...if you're using single point AF rear thumbwheel will change the size when you have the AF point selected (green).  We'll see how well the joystick holds up over time, but man...I miss having this.  My first "expensive" DSLR was the Canon 5D2 and it had one.  Thank you Fuji for finally including these on your bodies!

Using flash: So...max sync speed is 1/125.  This was a bit of a let down...but it's a one stop difference from the A7R2.  The problem is, there is no high speed sync support for it as of yet.  I hear rumors that Profoto, Godox (confirmed) and Elinchrome are going to support...so time will tell.  In the mean time...3 and 6 stop ND filters are working just fine for me.  However, when using the Godox XT32C, you have to slide the transmitter out about 1mm for it to trigger the flash.  I've switched all my screw in ND filters to Breakthrough Filters.  These things are incredible...and come with a hand written thank you note.  That's what's up!

Battery life:  The other day I took 500 shots and still had 1 out of 4 bars of battery left and it had just dropped down to 1.  So I'd say battery life is respectable.  Not the ticking time bomb everyone has grown accustomed to with most mirrorless cameras.

Update: 4/10/2017  Eye/Face Detection: I forgot to mention a feature that I actually turned on on my last shoot and gave it a whirl and that was the Eye/Face Detection.  It worked pretty well even though I was shooting single shot mode. (these features really shine in continuous AF mode).  I did find a couple of times the "face" square showed up on the screen and I sat there for a second thinking "how in the hell does it think that's a face?"  I'm not a huge face of eye/face detection on any camera.  I think it's one of those things that I just need to build some trust and confidence with.  At this point...I could be shooting and it's working just fine and then one time...ONE TIME...it'll grab the AF on the wrong thing or the wrong eye and I get all "SEE....THIS IS WHY YOU CAN'T trust these things"....even though it worked fine for the past hour.  You can set it for R or L eye or just auto.

The images: This is after all what everyone is going all ga-ga after right?  I keep reading about this "medium format look" and I'm not really sure what this is all about.  Is there something to this?  Is it something that originates from the film days?  Could it be that only some of the greatest photographers in the industry exclusively used MF over the past 10 years due to cost and well...they kinda know what they are doing? Is it some illusion that we've programmed into our head?  Is it the shallow depth of field that MF film cameras had before fast lenses were available for 35mm?  Is it the unique rendering (transition) that MF lenses have to out of focus areas?  I see a multitude of photos taken with all types of different gear, some pops, some doesn't.  I don't think there is some special sauce.  It's all up to the photographer, the lightning, the processing and of course the scene itself.  There's no magic that I'm aware of (or maybe there is?).  And please...no talk about the GFX not being "real" medium format due to the sensor size.  People were talking about the MF look when PhaseOne and Hasselblad were using the same sized sensor (and keep in mind the Hass X1D and Pentax 645Z use the same sized sensor).


But I must tell you...there is something about it.  I don't have any "head to head" comparison shots...you can go look around DPReview for those.  But I'm just very pleased with the images coming out of the GFX.  Now keep in mind my day to day camera is a 42MP Sony A7R2.  This is only a 8MP bump going to the GFX.  But there's just (enter W. Shatner voice) some....thing about the images.  Hell...maybe there is some magic after all?  And all you're seeing here are some 2048 exports.  Maybe I'm just becoming a better photographer....haha...nah it's gotta be magic.  Maybe it's just a illusion in my head.  I simply don't care...I'm really enjoying this camera and right now it looks like I'm going to be buying one.  I took the first step and sold my A7R2 last week.  Are my photos any better?  Nope I don't think so.  Are they a little sharper...yeah...the details are better and sharper by a little bit.  I look at 200% and 300% shots and I'm constantly impressed with the images and I simply enjoy shooting with it.  But it's not twice as good...

120mm @ F/8, 1/125, ISO 100


Two of my favorite features!

Just leave it on

15 minute exposure....no problem!

Two things that were a pleasant surprise for me was Liveview Highlight protection (warning) and.....AAAANNNNND.....not being limited to 30 second exposures unless using bulb mode.  That's right....put the shutter speed dial on T and scroll the wheel....hit 30" and just keep going....and going....and in one stop increments you can go all the way up to 60 MINUTES!  Why not just use a remote and use bulb mode?  Well...I'm stupid and I forget it sometimes, or lose it or place it in the wrong bag.  Of course you can use the Fuji app and remotely control the camera, but what if your battery is low?  Or you plan on playing Mario on your phone while taking long exposures.  Anyway, it's awesome and I hope every manufacturer follows suite.  The highlight alert I almost always left on and is great to make sure you're ambient is not clipping the highlights.

This is a composite of two shots, one for the longer car streaks at 5 seconds and the second for the metro at 1 second.

 

Back in 2012 I purchased the Canon 1DX for $6000.  I was shooting motocross and other action sports.  The 1DX is basically a specialty camera.  Sports, wildlife and anything that needs a high shot per second rate and incredibly fast AF.  The GFX isn't for any of that.  But for portraits, macro/detail and land/cityscapes...this thing is a beast!  I've seen some folks doing street photography with it online...I think it's a bit overkill, but it does seem to handle higher ISO pretty well (I don't really shoot anything above 1600 which it does just fine) and it's pleasantly light.  But I don't do street photography so what the hell do I know.

So...if this is what you're into and the kind of shooting you're doing and you can justify the expense...only you can decide if it's "worth it".  The higher of a level you're at...the most it costs to upgrade.  You can take a 14 second quarter mile car and with around $1000 dollars cut a second off of that time.  A few years back my buddy had to spend $50,000 to cut a quarter second off of his car and put it into the 7's.  You pay to play I guess. 

There are some firmware improvements that I have no doubt Fuji will address over the next few months.  And Godox has officially announced Fuji support in the next few months.  Fotodiox has made an adapter for damn near everything (this is a mirrorless camera after all so adapting lenses is a breeze...and to my surprise...I have even seen some good result from certain full frame Canon EF lenses just haven't tested myself yet).  The strap attachments are going to take some getting used to.  But Fuji swears by these things.  The upcoming 23/2.8 is another thing I can't wait to get my hands on.

If you're in the market...or of a good amount of extra cash sitting around...I can't recommend this thing enough.  Here we have an "everyday" camera which performs...and performs extremely well, is not much bigger than a full sized DSLR, feels great, sounds great, autofocus's surprisingly well and puts out files that will wow you.  People talk about how the gear doesn't matter...blah blah...and yes...to a point it does't (especially depending on your work)....but it sure as hell doesn't hurt.  And yeah, I get it, $10,000 for a body and two lenses is a significant investment and again...that magic question to most..."is it worth it?".  That's up to you...for this dude....yeah...it's totally fucking worth it.

 

Big thank you to Fujifilm Middle East for the opportunity to test this beast.  I was not asked to write a review, I am not sponsored or paid by Fujifilm or affiliated with them in any way (ok I did get a free t-shirt once in the spirit of full disclosure).  

Oh and one last thing...if 16 bit vs 14 bit is your issue....just don't buy it.  I assure you I cannot tell a difference.

If you like the photos and would like to see more...my only real social media presence is on IG so please go give my Instagram account a follow: www.instagram.com/sebimagery/


I've asked two of my friends, Waleed Shah, and Vartan Kelechian to give me their thoughts on their experience with the GFX and some sample images.  Below is what they both had to say.  Be sure to give their websites a view a follow on social media. Both these dudes do incredible work.


Waleed

Let me start of by saying that I’m not a medium format shooter. The GFX 50S would be the first one that I’ve tried so this is by no means a comparison between it and cameras in the same category. So here are my thoughts

THE PLUSES

  • Layout and Controls: My main camera is the Fujifilm X-T2 so the first thing I noticed was how the layout of the controls and menu was so familiar. I didn’t spend a lot of time figuring things out
  • The weight was a pleasant surprise. I expected it to be heavier given its size. This makes it less of a hassle to carry around
  • The vertical tilt screen is just so key. I said that when I first got the X-T2 and I’ll say it again now. Why aren’t the other manufacturers jumping on board with the vertical tilt screen? Its so convenient.
  • The focus point is small enough to be able to regularly use autofocus. I heard from other medium format shooters that the autofocus point on other cameras is so large that you usually have to resort to manual focus. Plus, its got face/eye detection to make your life that much easier
  • Double tapping the touch screen on a photo zooms right into wherever the autofocus point was. Super handy to quickly check if you nailed the focus or not.
  • The file size didn’t actually slow down my computer as much as I thought. Lightroom and Photoshop handled the RAF files just fine and it was quite a breeze to edit. Even with the heavy editing I did my photoshop files didnt exceed 1gb per image.
  • Colour Rendering was just magical. Words cant describe it so just go back and look at the images.

THE MINUSES

  • Flash sync speed is a bit of an issue. With a high end camera like this I would expect it to sync to at least 1/200s like the X-T2 or even have high speed sync support. I heard a rumor that Profoto are working on supporting Fujifilm cameras on their next air sync remote and will incorporate both TTL and HSS. I’m crossing all my fingers and toes for this one
  • The card slot door is a little funny. When you have the strap attached it lays flat and quite taught right up against the card slot door so you cant open it. You need to rotate the camera a little until the strap isn’t laying on the door. Its not a big deal but it just annoyed me a little.

So… yeah.. I want this camera.

Click to enlarge:

You can see more from his shoot at the link below as well as a full write-up on his shoot and his processing of the files.  Check out his other work on his website too.

http://waleedshah.ae/not-another-bikini-shoot/
Give him a follow on Instagram too
https://www.instagram.com/waleedshah/


Vartan

I always wanted to own a medium format camera but I never had the chance to do so because of its price. To start with, the GFX is affordable in a way for many professional photographers. 
Having said that about the price, the sharpness and dynamic range of this camera are outstanding, and the amount of crop that you can achieve is mind blowing. 

I am a fuji user already from XT2 to XPRO to X100T, to me using the GFX is like a walk in the park, it has the same menu as most of the cameras but a bigger sensor and much larger files.  Additionally, in the past, medium format digital cameras were used mainly for studio shoots, because of the ISO limitations and the weight of the camera, now that's a bigger issue solved in my opinion. 

Website: www.vartankelechian.com
Instagram Page: https://www.instagram.com/vartankelechian_photography/