GFX-50R in Japan
As I often say, this is review is not by any standard format or similar, I will just give you my perspective of having used this camera for a couple of weeks traveling around in Japan. Not used in a studio but rather having it with me in “real-life-situations”. Hope that sounds good to you!
It has certainly been a while since I posted any kind of review of gear, something I used to do much more often before. In fact, the reviews of mainly the Fujifilm cameras and lenses was what built a large interest from many enthusiasts in the “Fujifilm X world” I believe and of course I enjoyed giving my honest opinon and perspective to anyone that was interested. Via my friends at Fujifilm Nordic I have been able to use and test their equipment and of course I am thankful of that opportunity, which has worked both ways. I have been a Fujifilm user now for around seven years (started with the X-E1 back in the days) so it has allowed me to build up a good understing of the products but also the philosophy of the brand behind it. While I have not shared that much content around gear through reviews/posts here on the blog, there are other places where I have shared a little bit of gear talk - FujiLove Magazine, Fuji X Passion and (Swedish) Kamera & Bild.
There are mainly two reasons of why I have scaled back on the reviews. One, is lack of time, quite simply. Two, there are so many other great reviewers out there like Jonas Rask, Kevin Mullins etc. that do it much better than me.
I have also wanted to scale back on the level of focus on gear, and just let the photography itself take a greater place. It is not about the gear itself but the passion for image taking and the frames you are able to capture.
However, using cameras and gear that makes you wanting to take more photographs is of course relevant. It is something I often talk about in my lectures and when people ask me. You have to feel passionate about picking up a camera, otherwise I have a hard time seeing you will bring it on those moments where you necessarily don’t have to. So when I got the opportunity to bring the new Fujifilm GFX-50R with me to Japan I was certainly intrigued by also doing a short review of this new and highly anticipated camera.
Gear used in this review and during the trip:
FUJINON GF45mmF2.8 R WR
FUJINON GF23mmF4 R LM WR
The form factor and ergonomics
The GFX-50R is best described as huge Fujifilm X-E3. The resemblance is striking, from many of the design choices on the exterior to the placement of buttons. Picking up this camera I am quite sure you can react in many different ways. On one hand it really feels like one giant rangefinder-style camera that has just been blown up in proportion, on the other hand it stills feels quite nice in the hand, especially with one of the more compact lenses like the GF 45 mm or the GF 63 mm. It is a bit weird at first, I must admit that, but that feeling quite quickly goes away. It has a lot to do with just habits and getting used to it, which is something I can say after having used it extensively during these last couple of weeks. And of course you have to remind yourself what you are holding here, a medium format (super full frame or whatever you want to call it) sensor and camera as your walk around camera, that is amazing.
While I was very comfortable with the controls and layout of the buttons, there was one thing that bothered me a little bit. The “Q” button on the right side at the back of the camera is very easy to accidentally click, especially when you are holding the camera one-handed. My right thumb would quite often get by mistake click it so when I held up the camera to take a photograph the Quick menu was often activated. Then I should also say that the unit I was using was a pre-production one so a little of the feel could change of course, but the placement of the button is not perfect in my humble opinion.
While the size and dimensions of the 50R is quite a bit different to that of the 50S, just to give you an idea of the size I was able to fit the body plus the two lenses in a small ONA Bag Bowery. Although very tight and certainly borderline it is really incredible to have that kind of gear in such a small bag.
As stated above the two lenses I could bring with me was the GF 45 mm f/2.8 and the GF 23 mm f/4, one for a more classic ≈35 mm look and one wide-angle at ≈18 mm full frame equivalent. The 45 mm was on the camera around 90% of the time probably due to flexibility of that focal length but also that the smaller lens suites the body much better. Combined with the 45 mm the 50R is really coming to its full potential, it was such a joy using that. The focus performance is quite good I must say, remembering back when I first held the GFX-50S and the 63 mm when that had just been released in early 2017 this is really a step up in performance. That could very well be both due the AF performance being improved on the body but also the 45 is a faster and a more quiet lens than for example the 63 mm. At around 490 grams the weight of the 45 feels totally manageable, especially considering the sensor size it covers. A maximum aperture of f/2.8 is also sufficient in my opinion, being able to get some nice out-of-focus areas and smooth bokeh at close distances.
The larger 23 mm is naturally not as great fit as the smaller lenses but it works just fine. Balance is OK but it unlike the 45 it is not really great to do take photographs one-handed, as the it is a bit front heavy on the 50R, weighing in around 890 grams.. I imagine this being not as “problematic” on the 50S camera which has a much more substantial grip. Overall though this is not an issue, but something you feel when switching lenses and walking around with it for longer periods of time.
Both lenses feels fantastic in terms of build quality. Solid, well built and performs stellar optically. No doubt about that.
The user experience
While this goes very much hand in hand the ergonomics and handling, I felt I wanted to share my opinion of how the experience is just taking photos with it, the shooting experience. Picking up this camera and just walking around, exploring new places is such a great thing. As you develop in your photography during the years, the equipment you use often gets more and more substantial and what some would call “pro”, however this addition of new gear often takes away some of the passion and simplicity of pure photography if you will. I hope some can relate to what I trying to point at here, but this is surely a problem for many out there. “Better” and more advanced gear rarely makes you better photographer and more than anything it can complicate the process of capturing an image, inflicting on the very essence of why you do it in the first place.
Using the GFX-50R is a slow process, and that is a good thing. I am not saying it is sluggish by any means, but using this type of camera is a different process to example the automatic experience of any modern interchangeable lens camera such as an X-T3 or a Sony A7iii. Clicking the shutter button and hearing the shutter close is a slower experience and feels much more substantial. You can feel it in your fingertips and hand, a beautiful thing really. This makes you value each shot much more and think through, feel the surroundings and take in scenes around you better. This experience of “craftsmanship” reminds me a little bit of what I felt the first time I picked up a Fujifilm camera (the X-E1) back in the days. It was slow, but I had so much fun taking images with it. It was a process and a craftsmanship with the physical dials and controls. It is a little bit similar to the experience I had with the 50R, which really says a lot.
For those wondering, this camera could really be a camera you use as a walk-around camera when traveling or similar, probably a first (together with the Hasselblad X1D) in this segment of cameras. That is extraordinary and a great technical achievement.
This is an obvious one - what you get from this camera in terms of pure IQ is noting short of incredible. The level of details is amazing and clearly a different league to what you would get from most other cameras, in my case the X-T3/X-Pro2 and A7iii. Which should be expected of course, looking at what you would pay for the camera and lenses. And as most would point out also, it all depends on what your purpose is with the camera and what you plan to use it for. For me, I am a very general user and more of a lifestyle/real-life photographer meaning that I just have camera over my shoulder and photograph everything really, from landscapes and travel to food, drinks and interiors. And for me during this and for what I used it for it really performed amazing.
Opening up the images at my desk and on a large display it is extraordinary to see the level of detail. You feel like you want to pixel-peel and zoom in everywhere just to see if there is anything hidden somewhere, things that even your own eyes missed in the moment.
As stated in the beginning, this is maybe not our typical review but I do hope it just gives a little bit of an honest look in how the camera is experienced in the hand and what kind of shots you can produce with it. As I will look to go through the material from the trip much more in detail I will also be able to share so, so much more images from this camera among many other great things. Consider this a little appetizer of things to come.
Thanks again Fujifilm Nordic for letting me bring this incredible camera with me on this trip.