GFX 50S | First Impressions

Fuji Guy Francis Bellefeuille strikes a pose... 1/160 sec at f/7.1, ISO 5000 (GF32-64mm f/4.0 LM WR)

 NOTE: I confirm support from Capture One in this post—something that was picked up on a couple of sites. After verification, it appears this is NOT a done deal at all (and has turned into a bit of a saga with a lot of contradictory reports). Apologies for the very unintentional confusion.

I've mentioned my interest in the upcoming GFX 50S camera/system a few times (most recently during my interview on the Hit the Streets with Valerie Jardin podcast). Last week I finally had a chance to spend some quality time with it. Not a review by any means: just quick first impressions (keeping in mind this is still a pre-production unit).

WHY THE GFX?

Short answer: because I've dreamed of owning a medium-format camera for years. Longer version...in 2014 I sat in a New York City space with four other photographers as we were presented with Fujifilm projects in the works: the X-Pro2, X-T2 and a tentative medium-format system. When I say tentative I mean it: the engineers were asking questions, trying to find out what photographers wanted and if the idea was even worth pursuing. They had a few mock-ups that basically looked like smaller variations on existing Phase One or Hasselblad bodies—very square and blocky; eons away from what was revealed at Photokina last Fall. But shortly after the meeting I heard the project was possibly on hold...which really bummed me out. After salivating over the possibilities of a Fuji medium-format system, it was hard to let go and move on. So much so that at some point I came extremely close to pulling the trigger on a used Pentax 645Z. Like, very close.

But why the interest? Why consider a much bulkier kit after extolling the virtues of the X-series, their stealth nature and portability? Two words: different and complementary. Right or wrong, in my mind a medium-format system has always seemed like a logical extension to the X-series' philosophy: a similar deliberate approach, the organic characteristics of the images. Rationalizing G.A.S? Possibly. But it's been an enduring idea.

The key here is that I'm not replacing but adding—and it's a business decision first and foremost. The GFX is the reason I didn't get the X-T2 because for me THIS will become the workhorse camera, replacing how I had used the X-T1 for its battery grip, tilting screen, tethering etc in situations that needed it. Except you know...big ass sensor. No, not as big as Phase or top of the line Hassy but big ass nonetheless. And for my work this is more enticing and a much more important differentiator than the impressive AF tracking advancements found in the X-T2.

LOOKS VS MEGAPIXELS

Image size is good. Megapixels (of this quality) are great. But ultimately it's the look of medium-format sensors that I've always been interested in. Now, let's be clear: there's no magic gear out there. I remember stumbling on cat pictures while researching Phase One cameras a few years back and guess what? They looked like bloody cat pictures. Ultimately it's what we do with our kits that matters. The promise of the GFX is in the control it brings over dynamic range and the precision of the resulting images at much higher resolutions. Yes, sharpness but also a more natural gradation across tones. What I've seen so far looks quite promising.

The pictures above and all others in this post were processed from the GFX 50S Super Fine JPEG files. I can only imagine the control we'll get from raw images once support is added to both Lightroom and Capture Pro One—yes, I've been told it WILL be supported by Phase One. In fact, this may justify an upgrade to the new version, depending on how both apps compare (Adobe is again dropping the ball on LR, with tons of extremely annoying new bugs appearing and lingering since last fall). I could envision Capture One Pro as my dedicated GFX 50S processor...as long as they don't cripple it with a bunch of " function isn't supported for this file format" crap. But I digress.

These web versions don't do justice to the images, but here are 100% crops of those two images:

Sure, individual eyelashes are razor-sharp. But what has me most excited is the overall smoothness of the image. It's very hard to explain but when I compare to similar images shot with previous cameras, there's less edge, more fluidity. And the most immediate effect of this is that my initial reflexes were wrong and I later found myself processing differently, even from the JPEGs. It's now clear I'll be creating very specific presets for this camera when using the same film simulations.

PHYSICAL ASPECTS

Ok, it's bigger...and I'm sure by now you've all seen and read how it compares to full-frame DSLRs, how it's essentially a larger X-T2; it is and feels all the more natural because of it—in fact I'd say the design is even more successful for me at this size. The only missing link is a dedicated exposure compensation dial which has been superseded by what Fuji calls the sub monitor (a customizable always-on display that sits on top of the camera). This was a little jarring at first but a quick trip to the settings mostly fixed the issue: you can access exposure compensation from the rear-dial after either pressing (holding down) or clicking (on/off switch) an assigned button that sits next to the sub monitor. I say mostly fixed because the pre-production firmware version I was working with would reset the button anytime I left shooting mode (such as using playback to review images). In my opinion this is just wrong: unlike AFL-AEL, the function should be locked once it's been set. Otherwise it can quickly break the flow when shooting in shutter or aperture priority in the field.

But I was most impressed by the design of two accessories I had initially written off for my own use: the battery grip and the articulated viewfinder. Because when you combine the two, the GFX 50S transforms into a fully reversible camera—meaning it feels exactly the same whether horizontal or vertical. I wasn't expecting this and only understood it once I held the actual kit in my hands. It also makes shooting at waist level very comfortable.

Another aspect I had mostly written-off: touch. Gimmick right? Weeellll...turns out it's pretty damn natural post-iPhone to review images by tapping, swiping and pinching. Two minutes in and I was sold. Which sucks because I know I'll now be reaching for the screen on my X-Pro2 and X100F. Stupid tech reflexes. I didn't try using the screen for focus selection but I can see it being useful in certain situations.

I really barely scratched the surface with the camera: we had planned on a city shoot but a dead car battery messed it up. Huge thanks to Fuji Guy Francis Bellefeuille for driving over and accepting to model :)

In terms of lenses I'm still undecided between the 63mm f/2.8 and the 32-64mm f/4 zoom. The 120mm macro is stunning but a little too big and heavy for my taste. I am however very impressed by the zoom's performance and leaning towards the wider range it offers. I'd complete it with the 110mm f/2* (which I have a feeling will be a defining lens for this new system) giving me an equivalent range of about 24mm to 85mm when all is said and done. Pretty versatile.

New territories, new frontiers...these are definitely exciting times to be a Fujifilm photographer.
In any format.

*I previously said this lens would be released in May. Turns out it's mid-2017...sorry about the confusion.

Patrick La Roque

laROQUE, 311 Lorncliff, Otterburn Park, Canada