Fujifilm’s GFX 50 S: YES! Worth The 35 Year Wait

The Fujifilm GFX 50S medium format camera? No biggie; I’ve only waited 35 years for it. ūüėČ

As it turns out, this gorgeous beast was worth¬†waiting for.¬†😁

Here is a video Justin Majeczky and I¬†made for Fujifilm about the GFX… my story (including about how this video was so down-to-wire it almost didn’t get made!) and review are right below it.

 

NOTE:¬†OK gang, this is a long post. It’s part review, part story, all GFX. You might want tea. Or wine.

At any rate, buckle up cowboy, here we go.

For 6 Days Only…

Waaaaay back when I was in my 20’s and studying photography with dreams of one day becoming a professional fine artist, all I could think of was having a medium format camera. I wanted one so bad it was all I could think of! I feel asleep at night while visions of Hasselblad danced in my head.

But alas, for myriad of reasons it was not to be, back then.
Cut to now… Wow!

I recently had the opportunity to be one of 6 photographers in the U.S. to beta test the new Fujifilm GFX 50S medium format camera. I jumped at it, with a big cheesy grin on my face! The caveat: we could only have it in our hot little hands for 6 days each. That’s it, no exceptions. The Mission: create images, images, images!

I was game… so I made my plan, scouted my locations and counted the days like an 8 year old with Advent calendar¬†till this beauty arrived.
Or you could say: I went to sleep while visions of GFX danced in my head!

The Arrival

Finally, the big day arrived. A fat box from Fujifilm appeared at my door… and inside was my version of pure gold. And this is where it all got, ummm… interesting.

Stressful, anxiety-provoking, dramatic, expensive, historic are also good words.

The day the camera arrived, what turned out to be 7 inches of rain in 2 days began to fall. And that was only the prelude. But of course at this point, I had no idea about the week I was in for. I was optimistic, excited, ready and rarin’ to go.

The X-T2’s Awesome Big Brother

When I first picked it up, I had a moment of anxiety. Would it be hard to learn? How different IS this system, anyway? I had this idea that a new camera meant a whole new brain was required or something. Much to my delight and surprise, that was not the case at all!

NOTE: There was no tripod plate made for the GFX¬†at this point: but my B9 Multi-Use Bidirectional plate from Really Right Stuff did the till-then trick, keeping the camera solid and secure. Everywhere I use a tripod in the post, it’s the Really Right Stuff TQC-14 and BH-40 ballhead. My go-to rig!

here’s the rope-a-dope…

The GFX 50S is like the big brother to my beloved X-T2!! It definitely does a bunch of extra stuff – I mean, this thing is packed with goodness – but the transition to it¬†was easy-peasy, lemon squeazy on account of all the similarities! I think this was an incredibly smart move on Fujifilm’s part; one of many they made with the creation of this camera.

Here’s a bullet point list of¬†some of my fave features that the GFX pulls from my fave X Series cameras:

  • It’s weathersealed! Thoroughly tested that one, as you’ll soon learn.
  • Great big LCD screen, with the same dual-articulating feature as the X-T2. (I may have cheered out loud over that one.)
  • Add to that… Touchscreen! It auto-focuses, takes the shot, scrolls between images, pinches and zoom… just like the X-T20.
  • It has a joystick, just like the X-T2 & X-Pro2… which I also love. Options!!
  • ISO dial on the top left, sensitivity dial on the right and a Drive button! I love the Drive feature on the X-Pro 2.
  • Low noise at high ISO, just like… well all of them!
  • Dual SD cards like the X-T2 and X-Pro 2 do.
  • 4k video like the X-T2 and X-T20 (although to be honest, I didn’t have time to try it out.)
  • Those fab customizable buttons which all of those cameras feature, which I avidly use to make different¬†shooting set ups a breeze.
The Bottom Line?

Basically, it’s easy to learn even if you’ve never shot with an X Series camera… and a no-brainer if you’re¬†an X Series vet.

This being a VERY pre-production model, it did not come with a user’s manual – nor were all the features enabled yet… but even photographing with SOME of the features working was mind-blowing! Since it wasn’t fully operational at the time I had it, I can’t do a full review here; my mission was mostly to produce images. After my time with it… well, suffice it to say that the GFX 50S IS “all that” in my book.

Here’s something I also think is genius about this camera. It fills a section of the market that NO ONE has touched; that of a 50mg, medium format camera with a price point of way less than any other MF camera.¬†¬†I believe it’ll go for around $6500 US.

You might wonder, as I did, about the sensor size – and how a 50mp medium format compares to say, a 50mp full frame sensor. I’m not a tecchie, but I do love visuals and grokking concepts like this. This image is from a really good article in Petapixel about this very thing. You can see what a HUGE gap there was between the Canon 5D S the Phase One… which the GFX neatly fits into. I think this is pure genius. Just my opinion.

THEN it snowed. And snowed…¬†

Back to the storm. 7 inches of rain basically turned into 25 feet of snow in a week. No joke. OK, only 10-12 feet at my house, 25 feet at the upper elevations… but you get the drift. (see how I did that?)

When something like that happens, it’s INTENSE! You basically have to stay home, stay put and survive. Roads close, avalanches happen (in town!), power goes out, cell service goes out… and your whole existence becomes all about taking care of home, health and hearth. You shovel, snowblow, throw wood in the wood stove, ¬†rinse, repeat. All day. Mother Nature and the Mountains rule up here… and when they go off on a rant, you realize how small you really are.

The day the rain turned to snow, the roads became a giant gloppy mess. Like, 5 inches of mashed-potatoes-and-snot gloppy. (Descriptive, isn’t it? Also quite¬†accurate.) You can’t shovel it, snowblowers won’t throw it… snow plows and loaders pretty much have to just push it out of the way. Cars hate it. Especially mine, as it turns out.

So on Day#2 of the storm (or in Mission Time: Day 2 of 6 that I had the GFX in my possession), the transmission on my car got one taste of that stuff in our driveway and rolled over and died. AAA was so overwhelmed from the sheer onslaught of stranded drivers that they gave me an estimate of 2 weeks to tow it anywhere. My vehicle instantly became a garage ornament right when I needed it most. Since my husband works out of town, this left me with no wheels. And the clock was ticking.

The Rental Car & The Blizzard

Day 3 of the storm became about getting a rental car so that I could get out and shoot SOMEthing. I accomplished this (and hey, 2 days of 4WD rental during a snow crises only cost me $450! 😳) – and managed to get my first shots with the GFX!

It wasn’t easy. The winds were so strong (at their overnight highest, winds over ridgetops¬†were clocked at 176mph) that even in my usually protected forest nearby, it was blowing so hard I could barely see!

OK yeah, I admit it, I took the GFX out in a blizzard and in rain. It’s why I know the weather sealing works.

I held onto my tripod (which, being Really Right Stuff, doesn’t normally need hanging onto!) and grabbed this image in a moment between gusts, when the snow was only being driven at a 45 degree angle, instead of straight across:

Fujifilm GFX, GX32-64mmF4 R LM WR
ISO 500, f/11, 1/60 sec
Really Right Stuff TQC-14 and BH-40 ballhead

Protection Is Good…

Not to be daunted, I headed over to a different area that I knew was more protected. Needless to say, I was all alone. Seems nobody thought traipsing around a forest in a blizzard was a good idea. Go figure!

This was just long enough of an exposure to eliminate the appearance of falling snow… but believe me, it was falling – and hard!
BTW, both of these images are actually in color… I did not shoot in nor convert to black and white.

Fujifilm GFX, GX32-64mmF4 R LM WR
ISO 800, f/14, 1/15 sec
Really Right Stuff TQC-14 and BH-40 ballhead

Show The Aspect Ratios!

We were asked¬†to create images showing the different aspect ratios that the GFX 50S offers. At first I thought “What’s the big deal? I’ll just crop.” Then I started using this feature and fell face-first into its brilliance. It give your creative eye a whole new (several, in fact!) perspective(s) to experience, which ended up being WAY more satisfying than I imagined it would be.

You know how when¬†you try to crop¬†in-camera, but the framing isn’t quite right – so you take something close to what you envision it and say to yourself ¬†“I’ll crop that later.”?

Yeah, we’ll be having none of that with the GFX. What follows is the same image shown in the different aspect ratios that the GFX will offer in-camera. Only 4 of them were enabled in the pre-production model that I had, so I cropped for the others as a demo.

This image is for my “Family Of Trees” project. I call it “Littles In The Forest.”


Fujifilm GFX, GX32-64mmF4 R LM WR
ISO 1600, f/22, 1/4 sec
Really Right Stuff TQC-14 and BH-40 ballhead

3×2 Aspect ratio
4×3 aspect ratio
5×4 aspect ratio
1×1 aspect ratio
7×6 aspect ratio
16×9 aspect ratio
65×24 aspect ratio

 

Blown Away, Versions 1&2

Meanwhile, back at the blizzard; the mighty winds finally got so bad that even I had to pack it in. That’s blown away, V 1.0.¬†The literal one!

Later, when¬†I looked at the images¬†on my computer,¬†I was blown away V 2.0!! The dimensionality, the depth of field, that “certain something” that makes you feel like you can¬†step¬†into each image… all of that sang from each photo, straight out of camera! What kind of wizardry WAS this??

These are the magical qualities that made me fall in love with medium format waaaayyy back in the beginning. They are what I’ve yearned for, attempted to create, envisioned for my work. These are qualities that my heart goes out like a heat-seeking missile to find, photograph and tell stories¬†with.

I wanted to weep when I saw them staring back at me from the beefy JPG images of the GFX. (RAW isn’t readable yet, so I created all of these images from JPG. I can only imagine what it’ll be like when we can use the RAW files!)

The Blur Of Days

Honestly, the next couple of days are a blur… power outages, all roads in the area closed, power, internet, cell phone all down. Somewhere in there I returned the rental car and gratefully accepted a loaner. The hubs and I began to realize I was going to have to buy a new car, which didn’t help my anxiety level… and the days were ticking by! Here I had the opportunity of a lifetime to beta test the camera I’d waited 35 years for and couldn’t even get out of the driveway!

One day I made it to Lake Tahoe – I don’t remember exactly when or how. Heck, this may be out of order, so please forgive. Point was, I didn’t think it was such a great day for photography… but somehow the GFX had a different idea and¬†gave¬†a little touch of magic to keep me going…

Fujifilm GFX, GX32-64mmF4 R LM WR
ISO 1000, f/32, 30 sec
Really Right Stuff TQC-14 and BH-40 ballhead

Finally, a Break

Finally, road crews caught enough of a break in the weather to open up some throughways. Not all of them, but at least I was able to drive out a bit. Thing was, the snow was so deep everywhere I normally snowshoed, that even WITH my snowshoes, I sunk to mid-thigh and deeper at each step. I love winter, but at a certain point “too much snow” becomes dangerous and damaging. Such was the case with these series of storms.

At this point, it was still¬†snowing heavily – but the clock was still ticking and the “get photographs with the GFX” mission wasn’t going to get done by itself! Parking was the issue though, since even though you could drive around, there weren’t too many places to stop except gas stations and markets.

For this shot, I found a wee spot on the side of the road to squeeze in – then jumped out, ran across the slick road (Hwy. 89) and took this quickly. Luckily, the interstate was still shut down, so the only drivers going by were locals who knew how to drive (vs. tourists who are lovely, but scary on the roads). So I survived. ūüėČ

Fujifilm GFX, GX32-64mmF4 R LM WR
ISO 200, f/8, 1/125 sec
Really Right Stuff TQC-14 and BH-40 ballhead

This next one ended up being my favorite of all.. and was printed really BIG for the Fujifilm GFX launch event in New York City the following week (I was there, so I got to see it!):

Fujifilm GFX, GX32-64mmF4 R LM WR
ISO 250, f/4.5, 1/250 sec
Really Right Stuff TQC-14 and BH-40 ballhead

Day 6: Let There Be Light!

After one of the most unbelievably challenging, stressful, kinda scary and history-making weeks think I’ve ever experienced… Day 6 of Mission: GFX finally cut us a break! WooHoo! This was doubly awesome, since my friend and videographer Justin Majeczky¬†and I were supposed to make a video about the camera. We’d¬†rescheduled every day that week on account of weather and conditions, but finally… the heavens (and roads) opened!

I got out early, since I hadn’t been able to create¬†NEARLY the number of images I’d planned on. Heck, after 10-25 feet of snow (depending upon elevation) drop on your head, you’re just grateful that you’re still on your feet with a roof over your head. Even if your car is now¬†a garage ornament.

The amount of water and snow everywhere was just astounding. And with the cold temps came ice:

Fujifilm GFX, GX32-64mmF4 R LM WR
ISO 250, f/32, 1/15 sec
Really Right Stuff TQC-14 and BH-40 ballhead

Fujifilm GFX, GX32-64mmF4 R LM WR
ISO 640, f/22, 1/125 sec
Really Right Stuff TQC-14 and BH-40 ballhead

The Dimensionality

Justin and I met up in Donner State Park for our video shoot. And for the first time in a week, the light showed up and started doing its thing, gently but beautifully. #GRATEFUL!

Fujifilm GFX, GX32-64mmF4 R LM WR
ISO 200, f/20, 1/125 sec
Really Right Stuff TQC-14 and BH-40 ballhead

This lady and her dog had come out to play after being cooped up for days. We chatted some and marveled at how completely the landscape had changed in such a short time. Before the storms kicked in, this whole area only had a spindly¬†little stream through it… and you could walk right next to it. All that was now underwater.

Fujifilm GFX, GX32-64mmF4 R LM WR
ISO 400, f/20, 1/1000 sec
Really Right Stuff TQC-14 and BH-40 ballhead

Although it doesn’t really look like it in this photo the trees were SO HEAVY with snow, many were actually breaking. I came back this same area a mere 2 days later (after more wind and stormage): hundreds of trees had¬†come out by their roots… crazy! And a little unnerving, I must say.

The GFX just gives everything an epic sort of feel… I ended up cropping this one, but did zero post-processing to this image, just so you could see it SOOC.

Fujifilm GFX, GX32-64mmF4 R LM WR
ISO 200, f/20, 1/125 sec
Really Right Stuff TQC-14 and BH-40 ballhead

The Details

Then, the details… just WOW!

Fujifilm GFX, GX32-64mmF4 R LM WR
ISO 200, f/10, 1/250 sec
Really Right Stuff TQC-14 and BH-40 ballhead

Here’s one of Justin, as we were wrapping up our shoot. He used the Fujifilm X-T2’s 4K video for that:

Fujifilm GFX, GX32-64mmF4 R LM WR
ISO 400, f/5, 1/1000 sec
Really Right Stuff TQC-14 and BH-40 ballhead

I looked up at one point¬†when the trees were shedding some snow.¬†Y’know how looking up with a wider angle lens often makes it seem like trees are leaning in? Ummmm… these trees WERE leaning in, from the weight of the snow! In two days, some of these giants had come crashing down..

Fujifilm GFX, GX32-64mmF4 R LM WR
ISO 200, f/10, 1/320 sec
Really Right Stuff TQC-14 and BH-40 ballhead

Of course, no day of mine is complete without a little Artification. Here’s another from “Family of Trees” series…

Fujifilm GFX, GX32-64mmF4 R LM WR
ISO 1250, f/8, 1/125 sec
Really Right Stuff TQC-14 and BH-40 ballhead

Buh-Bye GFX!

The second Justin and I were done filming, I packed that¬†GFX up lightning-fast and got it to FedEx¬†for its return to Fujifilm. It was right up to the wire! I was the last of the six X-Photographers tapped for beta testing to have it… now it would go home and give the engineers all the data it had collected along its journey. It’s a great feeling to know that I may have contributed just a bit to some truly ground-breaking technology coming to a camera near you. ūüėČ

As of this writing, the Fujifilm GFX 50S isn’t yet launched. But it will be before long – and I hope I’ll have one in my hands when it does! Did I mention I’ve waited 35 years for this? Hahahahah!!

It’s one helluva a camera. And while there were unusual and unexpected challenges to conquer in order to accomplish the mission… I wouldn’t have passed this opportunity up for the world! It was 100% AWESOME.


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