Machine to Companion: One year with the GFX 50S

Ever since my very first X100, I’ve made distinctions between cameras. Some quickly become a part of me, not just extensions—a threshold most fine tools eventually cross—but something more intimate. Others I consider machines, precise instruments that don’t necessarily pull at my heartstrings but are perfectly suited to the work I need to do. The X-T1 was like that. The X-Pro1 was too...at first. Because sometimes, somewhere along the way, that relationship can change.

I purchased the GFX 50S as a tool. A machine. And over the course of the past year I’ve used it constantly on various jobs, often alongside X series cameras. But just like the X-Pro1 all those years ago...it’s become more than it initially was.

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The pull of medium format

Everything I’ve ever said about the X series remains true to this day. I still love the footprint, the stealth, the psychological impact of these cameras on subjects—either aware or unaware of a shot being taken. I’ll never travel with the GFX 50S and it’ll never become my 1EYE camera. But those files...they’re incredibly hard to dismiss. After all this time I’m still struggling to express the pull they have over me, but it remains impossible to brush off: I get a visceral reaction to the images I shoot with it. If the role of our tools is to inspire, then the goal of this camera has been met, tenfold. No question. The result of course, is that I’ve been willing to compromise on stealth: I’ll now reach for the GFX in situations where I usually would’ve chosen an X-Pro or X100. Which may seem like a serious  shift...until you factor in the beat.

Rhythms

The GFX 50S isn’t slow—especially for a medium-format camera. But it IS slower than its APS-C siblings. It uses contrast detection, for one. The files are also much larger which, regardless of storage prices, is definitely something floating in the back of my mind as I’m shooting; in raw especially. All of this, combined with the camera itself, affects the rhythm somehow. But this is not a negative in my mind. In many ways it brings me back to my early days with the X series, the way the system made me much more aware of each moment, more deliberate in my approach to photography. It’s amazing how much evolution we’ve seen in such a short period of time—how far we’ve come from that X100. But it’s also easy to fall back into that “performance-driven” groove, to forget about slowing down when the cameras don’t force us to do so. Medium-format photography nudges me back into that softer flow. Yes, the footprint is larger...but the intent is familiar. For me, the lineage is clear and very much welcome.

 

Another detail I’ve mentioned in passing a couple of times: the addition of the EVF Tilt-Adapter, which was an important turning point in my relationship with the GFX. This is the small revolving plate that fits between the camera and the —brilliantly designed—removable viewfinder. I first used it on the shoot we did in Toronto for the Lexus+GFX video. Before this I’d only spent a few minutes with it and never while actually working. This small change—being able to look down into the viewfinder for instance—suddenly transformed the camera into a very different tool. Different from my other cameras that is. It gave me a new point of view and ADDED an element to my photography workflow, beyond the bigger sensor. Needless to say it’s stayed glued to the GFX ever since. The only times I remove it is for packing.

Expansion

Ok, enter the rabbit hole. With this camera taking on an ever increasing role in my work, I’ve looked at expanding my visual options. So the initial GF 63mm f2.8 has since been joined by the GF 120mm f/4 Macro, a Pentax 50mm f/1.7 (through a Fotodiox adapter), and recently the superb GF 110mm f/2.

 Family picture

Family picture

The 120 and 110 may seem redundant—they are. I first chose the 120 for its macro abilities on this system which, physics being inescapable, is much less accommodating in terms of minimal focusing distance. And I’m glad I did. It’s both superb and handy. But I now believe the 110 is (so far) the GF line’s magic lens ...much like the 56 f/1.2 or 35 f/1.4 on the X series. Don’t ask me to explain why, I just feel it. Yes, shallow DOF but more importantly character, imprint...something.

What I’m “missing” in this system is a super-wide zoom along the lines of the XF 10-24mm. But I’m using quotation marks because...I do have the XF 10-24mm don’t I? I know. I told you this was a rabbit hole.

 Fun with the electronic shutter...

Fun with the electronic shutter...

Conclusion

A few years ago I spoke of the possibility of a medium-format camera as a companion to the X series—how, in my mind at least, there was a logic to using both systems in tandem. A philosophical kinship if you will. Today I know this to be absolutely true: apart from a size and ergonomic shock when shooting systems side by side (which will be less obvious once the X-H1 arrives), both make sense as a pair. Both complete one another.

Now in some cases, I admit, the GFX 50S has added a layer of uncertainty—I need to think for a second or two before choosing which camera to pick up. But then, every new piece of gear usually has a similar effect, taking away from simplicity. It’s called the paradox of choice and, well...such is life. I consider myself very lucky to even have these choices.

And man, one year in...I don’t regret a single moment.
I've found the soul in the machine.

Patrick La Roque

laROQUE, 311 Lorncliff, Otterburn Park, Canada