The GFX 50R The portable photography beast

I now have the Fujifilm GFX50R in my hand. It is essentially what I would like to call a more cut down version of the GFX50S but with all the potential to upgrade to a full studio photography beast. It is Fujifilm’s answer to full frame. It is also a statement by Fujifilm that a large sensor camera can have a certain degree of portability and does not have to be stuck within the confines of a photography studio. I also received it with the 63mm f/2.8 (Which is essentially a 50mm f/2.2 full frame sensor equivalent) and am eager to see the GF glass perform.

What is the GFX50R?

The Fujifilm GF50R is a medium format (43.8X32.9mm) sensor camera with a 51.4 megapixel sensor. It sports a sensor that has a native ISO of 100-12800 and weighs in at about roughly 690g. It is weather resitant and has the X-Processor pro chip. It also has a 2.36 million dot touchscreen LCD backpanel and a 3.69million dot EVF with 100% coverage. It works with the G mount and, therefore, uses the excellent GF line of lenses by Fujinon. The effective pixel area of the sensor measures 36.0mm x 24.0mm. Although is not a “real” medium format in the total sense of the word, it offers larger pixel area and, therefore, higher physical dynamic range, low light tolerance and color depth than a standard full frame sensor.

For those wishing to take advantage of Fuji’s beautiful film simulations, you will not be disappointed. All simulations are there. However, I still have the gripe about all Fuji film simulations in general in that they should just give the film simulations package to anyone using the CaptureOne or Lightroom software and let people add them in post. As great as they are, to me they simply offer you a preview of what filter you are about to put on. Albeit an amazing filter it remains a simple filter along the likes of Gingham, Juno, Moon and Lark one finds in Instagram.

The camera has a mechanical focal plane shutter that goes to 1/4000 of a second, electronic front curtain shutter that goes to the same shutter speed, an electronic shutter that goes to 1/16000 of a second. It has 425 focus points that can be put into single, zone, and wide tracking modes. It also has face and eye detection modes which I found particularly useful in a studio shooting environment. Auto exposure is relatively standard as is flash.

It has full hd video functions but if you ask me. Talking about HD video functions on this camera is like asking how well a Lamboghinni Eventador can pull a camper. We will skip this aspect of the camera altogether.

 

How it feels (ergonomics)

Ergonomics of this camera is great. Although many have spoken of the fact that it feels clunky in the hand, I am not getting it. It is strikingly a lot thinner than its “S” counterpart. All buttons are close and button placement feels intuitive. The only one complaint I have is that, coming from the X-T3 body, I wish that they would have made the analogue button integration more complete. Meaning I would have loved to have seen an ISO dial on the outside of the body on the left top. I was able to fix that by assigning an “F” button but was missing that function in general. But besides that little gripe, I really loved the physical user experience. Button feel and construction are second to none. And, although this is a bit of a dumb remark, the shutter release sound and feel is sublime. Anyone old school will love it.

The onlys

The GFX series is, without a doubt a niche camera. It really is a camera that holds its own in many many ways in the sense that it is one of the few cameras that offers a huge medium format sensor with the practicality and relatively small size of a mirrorless camera. Being that it does that, it suffers from having a couple of substantial onlies that need to be addressed. Some of the onlies can be ignored because of what the format has to offer and some cannot and render this camera less attractive for any buyer out there.

Only 3 frames per second

This camera only shoots at a burst rate of 3 frames per second. To me this is not a big thing because where the medium format shines i.e. landscape, studio, still life, fine art, you are not looking to pop off a whole lot of shots. It just is not the case.

It only has contrast detect autofocus

Although it could be argued that in many of the workflows one might use this camera for, where we mostly focus manually, I think that Fuji really could have tried to up the ante on the auto focus and move toward phase detect. Indeed portrait photography is where this camera could have really shone. Manual focus can be used but with a large sensor, depth of field is even shallower and focus can be missed very easily manually or automatically. I found this camera hunting quite a bit during a couple of portrait shoots I was doing. In places where I would have needed good continuous auto focus like street and portrait, I found this camera lacking quite substantially.  I believe that Fuji’s idea was to compensate for that technology lack by giving more focus points. Although it might help, it just adds more less accurate focus points.

Only 1/125th shutter speed synch

The GFX50R also only has a flash shutter speed synch of only 1/125th of a second. This is one of the biggest disappointments on this camera and the GFX50S. To me, to sell a medium format camera with such a slow flash shutter speed synch is to actually shoot one’s self in the foot. As ingenious as it was for Fuji to put a shutter speed synch of 1/250th on the X-T2 and X-T3 models this move is, in my humble opinion, a bit nuts.

Cons

Now for a look at some of the general pros and cons of this camera

  • The continuous focus is not that good. With the 63mm lens it hunts and often is off the mark
  • Unfortunately, because, it markets to the street and walk around I have to say that it is big (It did not bother me but it will bother others)
  • Film simulations only in jpeg on a camera so many people will use with a RAW workflow (A Fuji con in general)
  • Face and eye detect were OK but not amazing
  • Clunky and slow startup, shooting, and focus

Pros

  • Grip is great, feel in the hand is great and the photos that come out of this camera are stunning.
  • At a technical level, the images are all you would expect from a medium format sensor sized camera. Medium format UMPH is there.
  • Low light tolerance, dynamic range, color depth and clarity are exceptional.
  • Battery life is great
  • Getting the picture is, in general, a fun experience
  • EVF and LCD are excellent
  • Hardware is top notch

Who is this camera for?

The GFX line of cameras, for me, remains a small enigma in the sense that I wonder who they will be selling them to. Even after getting off the phone with the people at Fuji, I find it hard to see where the niche of this camera is. Because of the medium format sensor size and flange distance, it remains quite clunky. Kudos must be given to Fuji for bringing this camera size down but it is indeed a funny thing to hold in my hand. Therefore, size itself limits the utility and workflow potential for so many things. Some of the fuji marketing has pushed this camera toward the street photographer.

Just like medium format film cameras in the past, the GFX 50R has been developed in pursuit of a compact and lightweight system while delivering the ultimate picture quality for everyday snapshots and street photography.

I see where street photographers might be a good market to go for because any person looking to get a fine art feel to their photos will indeed embrace these camera for that artistic look only a larger format sensor can give you but, according to my first hand experience, I find that street is the one place where a small camera with spunky autofocus speed, and quick startup time would be advantageous. But the GFX50R is none of these things.

The Fujifilm GFX50R excels at what it does do for the limited niche that it caters to. The question still is: For the narrow fine niche that this camera does caters to, will it survive in a market where full frame alternatives offer you so many more break neck features. The GFX50R is definitely more than a Full frame but does that “more” warrant the high price of 4000$ and limited functionality?

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