Monday, January 28, 2019


As an X-Photographer, I was challenged end of last year by the Fujifilm Middle East team to use the brand new FUJIFILM GFX 50R Medium format, for my Street and Documentary photography... 

I've shot the GFX 50S in the past and while I love the quality of the files, I always found it a bit too large and heavy for candid Street Photography. Beside I personally don't find it an attractive piece of gear. The large hump on the back, gives the 50S a very odd shape. Yes, I hear you say, "Bjorn it is only a tool". Correct, however at least for me, I tend to go out more and shoot better work whenever I shoot with a good looking camera. Back to the GFX 50R now.

First of all, Fujifilm is not new to the Medium Format market. In the 70's and 80's they had a selection of Medium format film cameras. One of them was the FUJI GW690, nicknamed the "Texas Leica". Click here to check it out and you'll immediately see what inspired the GFX 50R.

The first Fujifilm camera I bought 6 years ago, was the X-E1, (nicknamed Sexy-1) which I still own today. This small interchangeable rangefinder like camera was the one that started my switch from the heavy full frame Nikon DSLRs to the much smaller mirrorless cameras. Needless to say, that I was a bit hesitant to go back to a heavier camera system!

When I unboxed the GFX 50R, it reminded me a lot about the X-E1; closer to the latest generation X-E3 of course, it really looks an X-E model on steroids! I immediately fell in love with its shape! 

Since I picked up my very first Rangefinder like X-series several years ago, I have mixed feelings on using this style of cameras. An advantage many rangefinder shooters state is that one can check the scene with your left eye while looking in the viewfinder with your right eye. A benefit I don't have being left eyed. I love the look of the rangefinders more but must say that from a pure practical perspective, DSLR like cameras like the X-T3, X-H1, GFX 50S work better for me, being left eyed. 

Anyway, I was really surprised by the weight of the GFX 50R when I picked it up for the first time; about 150gr lighter than the full frame Nikon D850, this is quite an achievement for having a much larger sensor camera in a lighter body. The same applies to the GFX system lenses which are relatively light for its size. 

The large majority of my Street Photography, I shoot with the XF23mm f2 lens; which on a cropped X-series camera gives me that great 35mm equivalent field of view. Since the sensor is larger than full frame, one has to multiply by 0.79 to compare GF lenses it to a full frame focal length. Guess what lens I used for the project? Yes, correct the 45mm f2.8!

Although this is presently the second smallest GFX lens (after the GF 63mm f2.8), at times I did still find the lens to be on the larger side when shooting candid Urban photography. Obviously physics say that a larger sensor always means larger lenses, but I can't wait for Fujifilm to come out with the already announced pancake GF 50mm f3.5 lens!  

My first shoot with the chosen combo was in Dubai, where I've working on my "The Other Dubai" project. A Street/Documentary project where I try to show a different side of Dubai. The images below were shot in Satwa, an area which is partially being pulled down to make place for more modern buildings, this while people just try and get on with their daily life.

In neighborhoods like these, it definitively makes you think twice walking around with a camera around your neck which costs more than the yearly salary of the average person living here. Good, Dubai is such a safe place! Doing the same in a lot of other places around the world would likely make me reconsider!

Next stop over Christmas was Amsterdam; a bit disappointed of not finding a nice Christmas Market, I documented part of the Amsterdam Light festival. A great opportunity to shoot the camera in low light conditions. The dynamic range of the GFX system is a good, depending where you read 11 to 12 stops at the lower ISO's. I happily use ISO 6400 (even higher if needed) as the files are very clean in the higher ISO range. At least a solid stop better than the X-T2/X-T3/X-Pro2. 

While I shot the large majority Classic Chrome during my GFX 50R adventure, I occasionally switched to Acros (Black and White) where the situation dedicated.

I'm pretty confident with doing Candid photography, but shooting in the Red Light district of Amsterdam is always a bit of a challenge. Over the years, I've seen some pretty aggressive reactions if one gets caught... Doing so with a large camera like the 50R is even a bigger challenge.

Next stop was Belgium where I spend a week around New Years. The camera and lens held up very well in the cold and rainy weather. Yes, all of the GFX system is weather sealed! Hard to put a number on it, but I did find the larger GFX battery better than on my trusty X-T2 an X-T3's; suffering less from the cold weather and giving more shots per battery.

With the holidays at the end of the year behind us, it was time to head back to Dubai. My first trip of the year as an airline pilot, took me to a country I'd never been before; Taiwan. I really enjoyed my 30hr experience in the capital, Taipei. More at my Pic(k) of the week 4, where I discussed a panorama shot with the GFX 50R. 

Taipei was also excellent for Street Photography! It was the first place since I picked up the GFX 50R, where I really had the opportunity to shoot a full day on the streets just by myself. All of the images in the Taipei, Street Life gallery were shot with the 50R.

While I initially had planned to use the camera with a good hand-strap, I binned that idea pretty rapidly. When using the GFX 50R for anything more than an hour or so, I suggest using a good neck or sling style strap for the best shooting experience. Talking straps, I guess I'm not the only one that hates the strap attachment clips on the GFX 50S; well good news, Fujifilm reverted back to the ones they have been using on the X-series cameras for years! 

It was in Taipei, that I discovered that the Electronic Shutter (ES) on the GFX system is lightyears behind the latest X-T3 ES. Very sensitive to fluorescent light it also doesn't handle movement well; producing wild artifacts. I'm a huge fan of using the Electronic shutter on the latest X-series cameras when shooting in quiet spaces; something I stopped doing on the GFX 50R pretty quickly.

This brings me to the normal electronic shutter sound of the GFX 50R (same as 50S). On par with most DSLR's, I've been spoiled with the X-series mirrorless cameras I've been using over the last 6 years. Not being able to shoot more quiet (or completely silent on ES) was the biggest negative for me. 

The flying job brought me back to Dubai with a long 10 hr night flight. As the challenge had a few more days left, I headed to one of my favorite places for Street Photography in Dubai; the area around the Dubai Creek, check out "Life at the Creek" for my longest ongoing photo-project; 16 years and counting!

It is with images like the one above, where a tilt screen comes in handy; at no stage did the two guys notice me making the image. Taking the camera to my eye, would have ruined it. Yes, I've said it before, no new camera today should be coming out without a tilt screen. Well done Fujifilm! 

My 21 day love affair with the GFX 50R came to an end at Global Village in Dubai, a yearly winter festival where 90 different countries show off their products and culture. 

Although not perfect and in some ways still behind the competition, transferring images to a phone or tablet with Wifi has become easier with the new Bluetooth connection; something all new Fujifilm cameras have since the X-E3 came out. 

So what are my conclusions on shooting the GFX 50R during these 21 days? Well I must admit that did walk into the challenge with some doubts. Would it be fast enough? Would it not be too large and drawing too much attention? Well in most cases it worked fine. At times, I was working slower than what I normally do on the streets, but that can of course also be a good thing...

I really like how the GFX 50R has not too many buttons at the back and has a nice comfortable space to rest your thumb without pressing any buttons. And no, I didn't miss the lack of D-pad; like on the X-E3, the joystick together with the touchscreen is fine with me. The Q button and the function button on top of it, do unfortunately feel a bit mushy. 

Would I have loved to see a dedicated ISO button on a Pro level camera like this? Yes, of course. Doing so on left side of the top plate would have made for a less clean top plate but definitively added functionality. Having said so, I do shoot mostly using Auto ISO, so I didn't mind it too much anyway.

One of the functions I initially didn't like, was how the camera is switched ON/OFF. It took me a while but eventually got used to it. So much that after 3 weeks, I wanted to switch my X-T2/3 on the same way. Muscle memory, I guess! On the other hand the dial around the shutter button, is something I loved from day 1.

So, would I recommend a GFX 50R for Street/Documentary work? It depends is the answer I guess. The biggest drawback for me was the shutter sound and the fact that the Electronic Shutter is virtually useless for moving subjects. 

On the other hand the overall shooting experience with this camera is great; although larger than the X-series, it never really worn me down even on the longer hikes I undertook in Taipei! Beside it is just a great looking camera. Years ago, I used to nickname my X-E1, the "Sexy 1"; the GFX 50R is right up there with its smaller brother!

I can't wait to repeat the experiment once the new 50mm pancake lens is out. A smaller lens will make this camera much more stealthy and useable for real Street Photography. 

There is no question that Fujifilm went the right way by going larger than full frame with the GFX system. They don't call it "Super Full Frame" for no reason. The quality and depth of the files is amazing and definitely gives it a distinctive look. So overall, the Fujifilm GFX 50R gets my GREEN LIGHT


No comments: