First impressions of the FujiFilm GFX50s

A quick heads up… This is not a full review of the FujiFilm GFX50s. It’s a first/early impressions look at this impressive digital medium format, mirrorless camera. I will do a complete review on a similar lines to my D8XX review that proved immensely popular. Just so you are aware, I don’t write ‘technical’ reviews. There are plenty of pixel-peeping ‘nth degree’ examinations out there online already. I write usability reviews, with a user-focus, user experience, etc. You won’t find charts, scales, micro-comparisons, etc. Thanks, EN.


I took delivery of the FujiFilm GFX50s on the 13th March. I’ve had some heavy, heavy stuff going on outside of photography, so getting out there with wildlife, has been put on the back burner. I spent the first afternoon unpacking (sorry no unboxing videos – truly didn’t know that was a thing – thanks Rich & Nikki), charging two batteries, as well as huddling over the 15mm-thick manual while modifying settings, etc. Yes, long gone are the days where I may have set cameras up on the fly. Regardless of experience, you cannot just pick up these cameras and run.

Out of the box

Out of the shiny white Apple-esque packaging, the camera feels really solid, heavy, and refreshingly old-school. The retro impression is further enhanced by the inclusion of two massive dials on top, actual switches and, big buttons. Love it! All great stuff for when you don’t want to pull your eye from the viewfinder, work in the dark, or you spend a lot of time wearing gloves. Check, check, and check.

I read somewhere that it’s “surprisingly light for a medium format”, but ‘weight’ is a subjective term – you know how ‘the mind’ can effect subjective impressions like weight. I’ll say that, when it sits in my hand with a lens on, it doesn’t feel cumbersome or unbalanced. I certainly didn’t have that feeling like I did when I first hauled a 600mm f/4 from it’s box and thought “Oh Shit!!!”

My hand, wrist, and arm remember the Nikon D800 plus grip, with the 70-200mm f/2.8 or the 600mm f/4. So, with muscle-memory, the weight really is surprisingly modest. Basically, if you’re used to shooting with pro 35mm DSLR gear, this won’t feel any larger or heavier – a surprising feat considering the monster spec that lies within.

Medium format scale

This is a digital medium format camera. Even though FujiFilm have succeeded (quite incredibly) in repackaging this into essentially a full-frame (35mm) magnesium alloy DSLR body, everything that goes with this is going to be LAAAARGE! Coming from 35mm, the wide and standard lenses look immense – not in length but diameter. Even so, they fit in the hand surprisingly well and the FUJINON GF range is again surprisingly light on weight, but not on quality.

Some numbers for you… The GFX50s produces a 14-bit, 51-megapixel RAW file measuring up to 8256px x 6192px on 4:3 – averaging 62MB (lossless compressed) or 121MB (uncompressed). Even if you are shooting RAW only, the camera records 12-megapixel thumbnail at the same time. So, continuing on the the theme of LAAAAARGE scale, you’re going to have to invest in larger memory cards and potentially new high-capacity hard drives, faster and more powerful computer, etc.

A note on the FUJINON GF32-64mm F/4

I’ve invested in both the FUJINON GF110mm F/2 portrait lens and FUJINON GF32-64mm F/4 wide-angle zoom. For the purpose of this blog post, I’m using the GF32-64mm. Again, Fuji have worked their weight-saving magic on the lenses too. It’s physically large, yes, but not top-heavy so really balances well on the GFX50s. There’s a monster zoom ring, a substantial focus ring with elegantly smooth buffering at either end, plus a silky aperture dial that just begs to be used and moved (rather than setting to A for control in-camera). Ergonomics aside, the most important thing is that this lens is razor sharp. And it needs to be – FujiFilm have already roadmap a 100MP version of the GFX.

Example image from FujiFilm GFX50s

The resolution of this 51.4 million pixel sensor is stunning. Matched with the world class FUJINON GF lens line-up, the amount of detail resolved should impress any 35mm user. The images below are not to be judged on aesthetics. This is just from my first walkabout with the GFX50s, keeping one eye on my dog, the other on the imminent rain clouds.

The GF32-64mm is zoomed all the way in here at 64mm. Visibility wasn’t 100% clear, with quite a bit of haze. The image was shot on the Velvia preset for contrast and saturation, imported into Lightroom and received the default sharpening of 25. I’ve taken straight-forward screen grabs and posted them here. The images are active so you can click on them, magnify them, and download the file if you want.

quick landscape pic from GFX50s
The shot as viewed on my 27″ iMac, an 8256 x 6196 RAW file, fit to screen. Click to enlarge.
quick landscape pic zoomed in from GFX50s
The shot as viewed on my 27″ iMac, an 8256 x 6196 RAW file, zoomed to centre at 1:1. Click to enlarge.
quick landscape pic zoomed in from GFX50s
The shot as viewed on my 27″ iMac, an 8256 x 6196 RAW file, zoomed to left-edge at 1:1. Click to enlarge.

Ergonomics and usability

The FujiFilm GFX50s is a really solid piece of kit. I cannot emphasis that enough. I’ve used pro 35mm DSLR bodies since I started with a Canon T90, EOS 3, etc., right through to my latest Nikon D800 bodies. The FujiFilm GFX50s just feels substantial, imperishable, durable but refined. It’s not an easy quality to describe, but the GFX50s has it.

Physical size

There’s no denying this is still a sizeable camera, equivalent to a pro full-frame DSLR, measuring roughly 147mm x 140mm x 91.4mm. Compare that with the Nikon D850 at 146mm x 124mm x 78.5 mm the main differences are a greater depth in the FujiFilm GFX50s and height with the EVF and EVF/TL1 adapter fitted.

It feels similar in bulk to the D8XX series bodies, but more comfortable. My hands aren’t large and I have relatively short fingers (I’ll be no pianist, alas), but the shutter grip feels like it was made-to-measure – of more slender design than most DSLRs, meaning my index finger isn’t stretched and free to operate other buttons with comparative ease. One thing I always found in the Nikon Dx pro series is that the large grip stretched my reach uncomfortably – hence opting for D800 plus vertical grip, over the D4.

Accessibility

With the GFX50s, all the essential buttons are within easy reach of my digits, but there are still two that are a little awkward: The [+/-] exposure compensation for one is set just back from the shutter release (toward your hand) and it feels a bit unnatural, but I’m sure time and use will alleviate this; The other is Fn3 [number 12 on the pic below], a customisable function button on the rear shoulder of the grip – again it just feel a little weird having to really draw the thumb back so far.

Note: I am coming from a Nikon user perspective here. The combination of movements is challenging my dexterity at the moment. I’m sure it’ll be fine once my muscle-memory attunes to the new layout. If not, users can customise the function of almost every button available, so you can relocate functions if required.

shutter speed and program mode dial on GFX50s
The combination of settings on the Shutter Speed Dial, ISO Dial and Aperture Ring allow you to switch between four different exposure modes: Aperture Priority AE (A), Shutter Speed Priority AE (S), Program AE (P) and Manual. © FUJIFILM Corporation

 

One item that I’m not immediately keen on is the positioning of the rear command dial [number 11 below]. It’s very close the (rather sharply cornered) rear shoulder of the grip and not particularly easy to manoeuvre when you’re hand is in a shooting position. To use the [+/-] exposure compensation, you need to activate it first by pressing the button with your index finger, then use the rear command dial.rear view of FujiFilm GFX50s

Safe, secure, easy to use

I love that all the various panel covers – battery, SD cards, connections, etc. – are secured with button-latches. You can’t accidentally open any of them. Same goes for the satisfyingly chunky shutter-speed and ISO dial’s on top, they both have locking centre buttons to prevent accidental changes. The formidable-looking dials on top are large and pronounced with a micro-studded texture that makes operation a joy, even with with gloves it’s a breeze. All the buttons, except for maybe a couple of custom function buttons, are large and pronounced. Again, great for use without having to look for them, or when wearing gloves.

GFX50s rear LCD
The FUJIFILM GFX 50S features a smart touchscreen display, which makes it easy to select an AF area, bring up an RGB histogram, display the 3D electronic level and enlarge the Live View. © FUJIFILM Corporation

Flexible rear LCD

The FujiFilm GFX50s sports an 81mm/3.2in LCD colour monitor with ‘touch screen’ technology. It is incredibly clear, displaying 2.36million dot resolution. But there’s more. Behind the screen lies genius in the form of the 3-way adaptable mount. You can release the monitor and extend it away from the rear of the camera body. With a click, you can rotate it 90°, so you can shoot using the monitor in portrait mode. A simple concept, but a well-conceived piece of engineering.

The electronic viewfinder (EVF)

The EVF is an entirely new experience for me. I have always liked big bright 35mm viewfinders and I use fast lenses to maintain that brightness. Looking into a super-bright EVF for the first time – in effect staring at a tiny screen – does take some used to from traditional SLRs. Thankfully, there’s no lag, when I pan the camera, nor is there any flickering.

3D virtual horizon
This electronic level uses a 3D system and is highly effective for architecture or landscape photography, when the accuracy of horizontal and vertical lines is crucial © FUJIFILM Corporation
histogram display with GFX50s
The FUJIFILM GFX 50S can display four types of histograms: RGB and brightness, each with or without highlight warnings © FUJIFILM Corporation

I’m genuinely impressed by the 3.69million dot resolution and the high number of display options within the EVF: 3D electronic level and virtual horizon, histogram, highlight warning, focus threshold display. You can also set the camera to display the menu within the EVF and, when you take a shot, display a review of the image – in essence you never have to take your eye away from the viewfinder.

Focus points

My most commonly used focus points (on every past camera) have been those in the furthers corners. It’s how I shoot contextual wildlife photographs. I want the animal in the extreme corners or at the bottom, so I can include the environment or a big sky in a dynamic space.

Annoyingly, all my old cameras had, at best, elliptical-shaped focus-point arrays. [I remember staring in disbelief at the Canon 5D mk1 when I saw it had a rhombus-shaped array… What use is that!?] When I want to focus on a subject outside of the focus-point array, I’ve resorted to back-button focussing or single-shot focus and reframing.

GFX50s focus point array
TTL Contrast AF is available in Single Point, Zone and Wide/Tracking modes. In the Single Point mode, the camera offers 117 points or 425 points and six different Focus Area sizes. © FUJIFILM Corporation

Without the confines of a mirror and prism, the focus points are spread edge-to-edge, fully covering the entire viewfinder area and right into each corner of the viewfinder. Marvellous!!! The GFX50s offers 9×13 (117 points – which is plenty!) or 17×25 (425 points – just plain crazy!) and six different Focus Area size. Focus point / focus area selection is controlled with either the multi-directional focus lever or the thumb-pad selector buttons, both on the rear of the camera. Options include single focus point, adjustable focus zone (collection of focus points), or wide tracking, i.e. full automatic focus.

The GFX50s only uses Contrast AF, so it’s never going to be at the same standard as pro DSLRs like the D850 or D5. Saying that, I was focussing on my black dog (during my first walkout) and it performed surprisingly well. To bolster the focus system, the GFX50s also employees face/eye detection and a visual depth-of-field indictor scale.

EVF ergonomics

The EVF extends some 60mm from the back of the camera, 40mm clear of the rear monitor. Not only does this look damn cool, it feels soooooooo much better when wearing glasses – a real-life consideration for the spectacled photographer. I’m no longer squashing my face against the rear monitor, creasing my noise and twisting my glasses. Even better, I can keep my cap/hat on, even while shooting in portrait mode, because I can angle the EVF round with the EVF/TL1 adapter (see below). With clear separation between eyepiece and nose, there will hopefully be far less fogging up.

FujiFilm GFX50s with EVF-TL1 adapter
FujiFilm GFX50s with FUJINON lens and EVF-TL1 Tilt and Swivel Adaptor © FUJIFILM Corporation

I purchased the EVF-TL1 Tilt and Swivel Adaptor for the GFX 50S viewfinder, enabling the whole viewfinder assembly to be reorientated (see above pic). This adapter fits between the camera and the viewfinder, and affords a lateral (side-to-side) range of movement from +/- 45° and a vertical range of movement of 0-90° to suit eye-level shooting, from a variety of working angles.

In essence, you can angle the EVF straight up for ground level work and avoid sinking your chin in the mud or guano. Bonus! Technically, you can achieve the same with the very flexible rear monitor but this keeps everything cleaner. Be aware that most of the GFX50s publicity product shots (like the one above) include this adapter.

Okay, so there are my first impressions of the FujiFilm GFX50s. Feel free to ping me any questions. Subscribe to my blog (on the right) and you’ll never miss a post. You’ll also receive an exclusive 15% discount on my prints and other special offers.

elliottneep3254

Currently based in Oxfordshire, UK. Experienced professional freelance wildlife photographer, writer, and photographic guide with portfolios from East Africa, India, Arctic, Antarctica and British Isles.

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