• Tom Lee

GFX 50s - A first look

Sometimes when you look at new gear and all the publicity and hype around says it’s ‘a game changer’, ‘knocks spots off the competition’ or ‘it’s the best thing since sliced bread!’; you tend to feel you’ve heard it all before, get a bit blasé and gloss over it saying – ‘yeah right’.

The raft of #mirrorless cameras currently available, was the last leap of faith by photographers and we were surprised at the quality and results from a smaller and more lightweight camera, so much so that they are now becoming regular additions to many a wedding photographer’s kit bag. Some photographers have replaced their full frame DSLRs altogether. I am one such convert, recently replacing my Nikon D4 and remaining stable for the Fuji XT2 mirrorless system. I can quite happily get large 30” prints of my #landscapes and wildlife images without much problem and rarely feel the need for a better #quality image capture.

Enter the new #Fuji #GFX 50S medium format beastie. At just under £6200 for the body alone, it’s a more substantial investment than the XT2 and if all you need to produce are 10”x8” desktop prints, then it’s probably not for you. So why even consider it?

It all started when I read through the review material carried out on beta models, and I tried to get hold of one (just because I nosey), to see if the #hype was even half true. This was my first problem – they’re like hens teeth. Either the hype was all based on technical material and they haven’t even gone into production yet, or they were actually that #good. I expected that most of them would have gone to Fuji ‘X’ photographers first, but the scale of independent reviews all saying great things got me curious…..

I finally got my hands on a demo version at my regular supplier #Cambrian #Photography in Colwyn Bay (almost 50 miles away). They’re still rare beasts so I could only use it on the premises, but they have a fully equipped studio where I could be let loose to my heart’s content. I took my son along to act as model and fired off some shots on my XT2 for comparison purposes. Setting the studio up and repeating the shots on the GFX was a real eye opener, even looking at the images cold on the back of camera viewer.

GFX 50s full frame (no Photoshop)
Sectional enlargement (no Photoshop)


Firstly, owning the XT1 and XT2, control functions were somewhat #intuitive even not having read the manual. The buttons are slightly re-arranged as you might expect with a few new quirks such as a touch screen for replay viewing and spot focusing (like on your phone camera) and a second LCD on the top plate with picture taking information and battery life indicator. The screen is larger at 3.2” instead of 3” on the XT2 and it has a removable prism finder.

The weight is approx. 1230g including the standard 63mm lens (focal length equivalent to 50mm in 35mm full frame), which is still less that the weight of a Nikon D4, with 24-70mm lens configuration (2240g). Adding a 120mm macro (95mm in 35mm format) instead of the 63mm lens still only brings the weight to 1805g (less than a bag of sugar), so my shoulders still won’t fall off like they used to.

The heart of the machine is of course the #sensor. Comparing sensors with the Nikon D4 and Fuji XT2:

· Nikon D4 – 36x23.9mm delivering 16.2 MB images

· Fuji XT2 – 23.6x15.6mm delivering 23.6 MB images

· GFX 50S – 43.8x32.9mm delivering 51.4 MB images

I know that we may be looking at apples and pears when #comparing different sensor types, but this isn’t the point. It’s the available information that the sensor delivers is what counts.

Although the XT2 is a crop sensor, the information provided by the sensor was such that it was easily #comparable to the D4 which although had a larger chip delivered less information. The GFX not only has a larger chip it delivers over twice the amount of information as the XT2 – so how did it do?

In Use

I opted to test the GFX with the 120mm f4 lens, as this is more closely aligned with a good portrait lens and how I intended to use the camera in my studio. The lens is image stabilised and fantastically sharp. The only disconcerting feel was the presence of the ‘floating internal lens’ system. I hadn’t had a lens with this configuration before and it feels as if something has broken inside! The floating lenses are specifically designed to minimise aberrations.

Having got over the loose feel of the lens, I noticed it was somewhat slower to focus than I was expecting. A quick scan of the #function buttons on the side of the lens showed it has three focus ranges – one for macro focussing , a general mid-range and full range focussing. Once set on the mid-range, it became a little quicker and smoother, although it still seemed a little slower than the long lenses of the XT2.

At this stage I was able to get on with shooting in earnest. I really didn’t want to look at the viewing screen but couldn’t help myself. To my amazement the difference in quality I was used to from the XT2, even on the viewing screen, was enough to excite and grab my attention. Although this sensor can be described as a crop sensor (about 0.73x full medium format), it really does deliver…..I know I should have expected it, but I didn’t.

Although I’ve used full frame #medium #format cameras before, like the Hasselblad HII which is a few generations older in the digital scheme of things, the quality of capture from the GFX is something to behold at a fraction of the price of its bigger competitors.


News or magazine print never does justice to photographic images, but hopefully you can see the quality of what is produced here. So, how impressed was I? I ordered and paid for a GFX on the spot and I have a brand new addition to my imaging family…..

Post processing RAW files was a bit of an issue for about a week, until #Adobe updated their ACR processor. The only way to do this at the time was with something called ‘Silkypix’, but take my word for it ‘Its Goddam Awful’. You can download for free from the Fuji website if you don’t believe me, but you’ll be wasting your time. I still take images using Raw+Superfine settings for the moment but ACR has now been updated with full support for the GFX and conversion is no longer an issue. The caveat here is of course you need the latest version of Photoshop and ACR to convert in this way. You can use a DNG converter from Adobe now that they support the GFX, so having an older version of Photoshop doesn’t preclude you from shooting in RAW.

Given my love affair with the XT2, why did I feel the need for this camera? I always remember the good old days of film – we had terrific 35mm Canons and Nikons, but the stamp of a true professional was their medium format kit. Hasselblad, Pentax, Bronica, Mamiya….it was a mark of ‘Quality’.

There is a propensity for photographers to tweak the hell out of their images in post-production, some out of a creative bent, but mostly ‘just because we can’. If you are in the latter group then this camera is not for you. These images are so pure that filtering the crap out of them defeats the object of having a #precision #instrument like this. I want a return to undiluted #quality in my studio portraiture, and this instrument gives me that feeling that I think many of us have lost in this digital age. I’ll still do my art creations and fine art composites, but this will be the reserve of my XT2. This doesn’t mean I won’t need to post process the images, far from it, but the DNA of this camera means that tweaking will be minimal and generally the removal of scene blemishes rather than wholesale manipulation.

Even with the most minimal of post processing, the Jpeg files from my initial test have better tonal range throughout but particularly in the skin, fine detail appears sharper and the colour gamut appears larger. Bear in mind also that when making enlargements to a digital negative we are interpolating additional information that is ‘manufactured’ in the process. Having a larger file to start with (much the same as a film negative) means that more of the original image quality is retained.

The pictures of Beth were taken in the studio and on location where I had much more scope for testing and putting the camera through its paces. I have not been disappointed. Take a look at the ‘eye’ enlargements from the full frames of Simon and Beth. These ‘warts and all’ images show the level of detail which is retained, even with extreme magnification from a minute portion of the overall file.

The main problem as I see it now, is that being primarily a people photographer, the image detail is too good for some subjects. It’s fine for emphasising that craggy, ‘lived in’ face, but a good looking girl like Beth needs treating with sympathy. I have fully retouched some of her photos, but I’ve left a few to show the quality of capture….most of the captures have only been slightly sharpened from the original Raw file (nowhere near as much as I do with the XT2 files), and a minor adjustment to the highlights to get rid of some shine in the makeup. Nothing else has been touched other than the more obvious skin blemishes. The enlargement from the same file shows the fine detail in hair, eyes and skin texture which should be evident even in this reproduction.

The photos of Beth at the rail station (on track) shows a full frame image with a tweak to the sharpness, slight reduction in highlights and a little warm up because it was a cold afternoon. You can count the goose bumps on her arm and the fine hairs when you zoom in, it quite remarkable. Absolutely nothing else has been done.

If any of the photographers are interested in having a play with the new GFX, Cambrian Photography are willing to make their studio and demo model available for a morning or afternoon on most days by pre-booking directly with them.

Contact Sarah Jones - 01492 532510

Cambrian Photography - www.cambrianphoto.co.uk


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