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  • Writer's pictureCederik Leeuwe

I went Full-Fuji! (GFX One Year Review)

Updated: Dec 19, 2023

One year ago, I decided to ditch my DSLRs for a Fujifilm GFX 50R.

The GFX’s sensor is larger than a full-frame sensor (44x33mm) with a crop factor of 0.79

A little over a year ago, I still was using a few Nikon DSLRs to do just about anything. For portraits and landscape, I had a very respectable D810. Enough megapixels to provide some room for cropping and a decent dynamic range for most situations. For action and hobby-wildlife I had a D500. A durable mini-tank with performance that to this day would be hard to dismiss even in the light of mirrorless flagship innovation.

However, the question of my camera-future slowly crept into my mind. Was it time to change and upgrade into the Nikon Z system? Switching to a Z7 would indeed have been a sensible move, adapting older lenses while getting the sensor of the D850 in a smaller, cheaper body with an ecosystem of native lenses with the optical quality up to specs for the next decade. On paper and elsewhere, it should have been the obvious choice. Yet my answer to this question was a resounding “no” and I went against reason to set my sights on a Fujifilm GFX 50R. I took that model over the S because I enjoyed the rangefinder form factor a lot.

In hindsight, the smartest of all moves would probably have been to remain with what I had, adhering to the ancient photographic wisdom: “lenses are more important than cameras”. My kits could have kept me satisfied for probably another 10 years if we are being honest. I could have stayed within the F mount ecosystem and could have taken advantage of its downright insane price drops to get top-of-the-line lenses for peanuts instead of selling the farm on a whim, however carefully considered it might have been.

These old and trusty Nikon DSLRs got sold off to finance the 50R

The truth is that after fifteen years of walking the beaten paths camera-wise, I wanted to shake things up. I longed for a change of pace. I felt confident enough in my practice to know what type of photography I would want to engage in for the foreseeable future. I also felt confident enough that I’d be able to answer the call of the occasional assignment using a camera system that would have a non-negligible amount of drawbacks. The challenge even seemed like a fun new variable to add to contracts. Thus, the choice I made for my photographic future has been one born out of love rather than made from a place of reason.

When I think of good photographic memories involving the process — how photography is approached with mind and body — I immediately have two very different ideas jumping to mind and each has an ideal type of tool that best suits it. Neither of these are about efficiency. Neither of these are about performance beside niche-performance, perhaps. But that, is more of an acquired taste and it also comes at a price, but we’ll see about that later.

The first idea is an instinctive and spontaneous approach, form of feral and visceral active meditation, akin to Daido’s rabid dog method; roaming the streets clear of thoughts and letting the subconscious take the helm. Shooting, shooting, shooting and discovering everything later. No plan, only image-taking. No clear framing, no image-reviewing, no judgement to pass, no threads to weave. Only arrange and make sense later, if there’s any of that to find.

Results using the “rabid dog” method, using a Fujifilm X100, 2014

For this type of photography, the Fujifilm X100 was the tool that instantly clicked with me. The “poorman’s Leica” is an apt way to describe what the X100 represented when it came out. I got the original 12mp camera in 2012 as a fun but capable toy to bring along my Nikon D700, until the shutter release button (which also is the on/off switch) broke off in 2020 after one power-up too many. I have since replaced it with a Fuji X-Pro 2 with the XF 18mm F2, 27mm F2.8 and 50mm F2 lenses. To this day, such small Fuji bodies are my tool of choice for this kind of photographic mood (and of course, for family pictures).

Fuji X100 later replaced by the X-Pro 2 as my street photography go-to.

The second photographic process that I tend to naturally gravitate towards stems from my first year of photography school, during which all projects had to be done using film and would have us deal with the whole process (that is to say; shooting, developing, printing, framing, and displaying our work ourselves). It is with nostalgia that I look upon the memories from that time.

There sure is something inherently different in figuring out what to do with the exposures one has left on their film than being able to inconsequentially shoot within two hours three thousand pictures through which you can almost immediately browse. The latter is of course more practical and a welcome technological improvement, but the former brings an unhurried and deliberate focus that I find both refreshing and appealing.

When I think of my strongest recollection of touching the quintessence of the analog experience, the days of using my Mamiya 645 immediately come to mind. Such sluggish, heavy-as-a-couple-bricks box-machines compel one to being careful and purposeful every step of the way. I need that too.

One of my Mamiya 645 Super, since sold to finance GF lenses.

I have for the longest of time considered getting a more serious medium format camera but some quick-math with the price of film, chemicals and photographic paper made me realize that digital medium format was actually much more worth the investment while most definitely retaining some of the core characteristics of its analog counterparts. My love for the film process couldn’t hold up against all the advantages of going digital, especially when buying second-hand.

Using medium format always felt like journeying inwards. It has allowed me to spend long hours in daydreaming-states paradoxically laced with an acute awareness of my surroundings. When thinking about medium format, I can recall the soul-washing quality of some of the winds that swept my cheeks while I was standing next to the tripod waiting for the exposure of the 50iso film to finish.

States of contemplation. Another kind of active meditation?

Of course, any camera can provide this type of feeling, but of all of the digital cameras available, medium format is the one type that will weigh you down the most and dictate the pace you work at.

Telepanoramas created with the Fujifilm GFX 50R

Notice how these two ideas are almost the ends of a spectrum?

The first one is nervous and agitated, highly reactive, while the other is composed, meticulous and invites introspective fugue-states, yet they both share one vital element in the way that I approach them in that they take the practical considerations out of the picture to leave more space for what is going on within me. The setting up of the camera or lack thereof becomes an excuse for something else. Maybe it isn’t a surprise, that my adhd-ridden brain experiences this inexorable attraction for both these approaches. For they are in essence, two sides of the same coin, with each side matching different, specific and fluctuating needs.

Anyway, let’s dive in!

After selling my DSLRs, I started looking for a good second-hand candidate. After a month or so, I found a barely used GFX 50R sold with a 50mm 3.5, a couple additional batteries and an L-bracket to boot. The price was rather attractive for the bundle, so it seemed like the time to take the leap. After a short but excruciating wait for the package to arrive, I finally was able to join the larger-than-35mm-sensor club.

How it started in December 2022

My first few months with the camera had me immediately blown away by the difference in output. The higher resolution and the sensor’s qualities made the (very much existing) noise hardly noticeable when downsized to small printing or screen-viewing sizes. What also immediately struck me, was the looks of the images the camera produced. Images taken with the GFX feel more “3D” to me. It is a very peculiar and hard to describe feeling. I suspect it is a combination of factors; the depth of field of the larger sensor and the very smooth transitions between what’s in focus and what is not that it permits, the colour depth, and the quality of the optics. I’ve seen many Youtube reviews, read forum threads or been in discussions on Discord about GFX cameras where people (who more often than not don’t own one) will maintain that these qualities don’t exist at all. After a year in the system I can confidently state that they’re wrong.

I can’t really put my finger on what causes these differences as I am not as tech-savvy as I could be, but it is still clear as day. To use a pretty apt analogy, I would say that the difference between full-frame and (crop) medium format is akin to the difference between aps-c and full-frame cameras. Are these differences deal-breaking? Not necessarily. For some people they can be. Are they noticeable? Definitely. It is especially funny to me to see medium format cameras being vigorously dismissed by so many a full-frame shooter who at the same time, will be constantly bashing aps-c sensors. Their lack of self-awareness is truly delectable.

Don’t we love to pixel-peep? Omnomnom (imagine with 102mp!)

This being said, I will always fully stand by the statement that full-frame cameras are the more sensible choice as they are better all-rounders by design. High-res cameras like Sony’s A7RV or equivalent are also better high-iso performers than the aging IMX161 sensor that the GFX 50 series uses, which sees its operational limit at around 6400iso (but the GFX 100 would be another matter entirely). A top-tier full-frame camera is evidently more practical, lighter and cheaper without any deal-breaking image quality difference to what the medium format niche can offer. When all costs are factored in, the choice would seem self-evident. If you consider medium format, it should be understood that you know this before committing to any bigboy sensor. Or don’t heed this and make people who buy second hand happy, as GFX gear loses almost one third of its value once it hits the second hand market (a consequence of too many people jumping on the medium format bandwagon only to realise — way too late — that it wasn’t for them).

Are we cooking yet?

I need to talk about the GFX’s files for a little bit; I’m a raw shooter only — which hopefully you’d have guessed — in my opinion anyone buying into a medium format to shoot jpeg must have cognitive issues or too much money, or possibly both — and I have to say that when I opened the raw files to give the sliders their very first +100/-100 or +3/+4 EV from base iso (or any combination of these) I was utterly floored by how well the files (from a 2014 sensor!) could handle such an ungodly beating.

This isn’t a joke, I promise.

This type of camera makes the slider memes come true, to a point where for the first few months, my ability to edit properly was severely impaired by the glee I experienced while pushing everything way too far. I believe it is not an uncommon symptom at the start of a medium format journey. It takes a while to come back from that trip and simply find the strength of character to tell yourself “ok here, maybe less dynamic range would be a good edit”. I’m getting better at this as I consciously try to avoid overcooking.

Clean recovery? Can do!

On the image-taking side of things, the major change for me with regards to file-handling is that I’m almost systematically exposing for highlights now. Adding 3EV and boosting shadows in post when shooting at low iso is inconsequential in terms of image quality as there won’t be any visible noise whatsoever on the output, unlike my aps-c cameras that will show noise even at base iso. Similarly to many other aspects medium format manages well, this is something I got used to very quickly.

To adapt or to not adapt, that was the question. Here’s my answer:

At first, I tried adapting my old Mamiya 645 lenses to the 50R. It was useful in the sense that it allowed me to enjoy different fields of view at no cost but it quickly felt like a plaster on a wooden leg. I’m not someone who enjoys the manual focusing as a default and I’ve grown more and more intolerant of the optical flaws of older lenses as time went by. I realised that it wasn’t a viable long term solution for me and quickly chose to sell all my Mamiya cameras and lenses to finance native glass for the GFX.

My experience adapting? It was alright but not at all ideal.

Which lenses then?

Getting into the GFX system I promised myself I would make no compromise whatsoever on optical quality and directly aimed for the 250mm F4 (mainly for tele-landscapes) and 110mm F2 (mainly for portraits). The grind felt long but it really wasn’t, as I managed to secure both lenses from the second hand market within 6 months. It is only later that I added the 35-70mm “kit” lens to my arsenal to fill the wide-angle gap I had. As I seldom feel the need to shoot wider than short-tele fields of views, this is more of a lens of convenience.

The difference between adapting older lenses and using native glass was night and day to me. Two things made this the better choice in my view: first, I’ve been actively seeking the “clinical” quality of modern optics. I do not care much for the “character” of older lenses especially not if the word is used to help one overlook a lens’ unforgivable flaws. Second, while there sure are lenses worth adapting out there, this come at a cost for the adapting to be worth it (the cost of an AF-capable adapter and of course the cost of the lenses themselves) which I saw as a waste of my limited resources. I told myself I wasn’t going to make compromises, remember?

One year after switching, I am now knee-deep into the system.

After a year of transforming a heap of dormant gear and side-gig revenue into new lenses, I also noticed that the representation I had about the worth of money also changed radically when gear was concerned; a little over a year ago, an XF lens priced 800€ definitely seemed like a steep investment I’d try to find alternative choices for. Nowadays, 800€ is a mere budget lens in my mind. Seeing the price tags of GF lenses doesn’t make my head spin anymore and this is somewhat worrisome for the thrifty Dutchman living in the back of my brain.

With the announcement of the 500mm F5.6 lens being in development (a focal length I definitely miss from my Nikon days, I’m a sucker for ultra-telephoto landscape photography), I fear I will manage to push my monetary boundaries further back yet, which I will help achieve by selling my X-T3 video-oriented kit.

APS-C: you’re dead to me.

An unforeseen consequence of my GFX switch was that my aps-c cameras were pretty much relegated to the bottom gear drawer and seldom used barring a few notable exceptions (such as a wedding gig) where the need for its autofocusing speed was greater than the need for image and file quality.

To reuse a similar sensor-size illustration as the one I made earlier: my X-Pro 2 and X-T3 have become to me what a micro-four-thirds camera would be to a full-frame camera user. Getting into Fujifilm’s medium format system prompted me to think about how I use my cameras and to what end. The realisation that there is a clear split in my photographic approaches I evoked at the very beginning of this article is the result of that thought process.

Although I will sell my X-T3 because it feels superfluous and I want to stop my video gigs completely, (and because my need for GFX lens money is still great), I would never part with my X-Pro 2 nor the few XF lenses that I have as they serve a totally different purpose to that of the GFX’s.

Having a compact, fast, discreet yet still capable camera that can be casually put into a pocket is an advantage that I would be a fool to part with. The X-Pro is a more practical choice for street-photography, documentary in less-than-favourable conditions, as well as for family pictures, when packing a brick of a camera and two bricks worth of lenses for a walk in the park in suboptimal weather would be met with a tired roll-eye from my spouse.

My dear X-Pro, I’m Never Ever Gonna Give You Up.

Especially not the 90F2 (not featured in the image above)

Of course there have been many occasions for which I have chosen to take the challenge and went into these situations with the GFX. However, I wouldn’t want the GFX to be the only option at my disposal in such cases.

For example, during the last wedding I shot, when the dining room got darker and the guests started moving around a lot (and dancing), the switch to aps-c cameras was absolutely necessary because of how difficult it was to consistently get acceptable results in poor light and with subjects making erratic movements. When you are held under a result-delivering imperative, you have to be able to honour it.

Packing a Fuji GF or Fuji X kit can be a slightly different experience

“Megapickles don’t matter!”

This was an idea that I lived by just a few years ago. I changed my mind. I still believe that megapixels don’t matter when you don’t have them. Just like one should shoot with the camera one has / is able to afford. It doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things but all these technical niceties just make one’s life more comfortable. Cropping, denoising through file reduction algorithms, or enjoying detail endlessly because one can, these are just the icing on the cake. I just happen to like my cakes with more icing than cake now.

Regarding resolution specifically, it’s been another area in which there seems to be no possible coming back. Nowadays, every time a manufacturer announces a new camera and I discover they plan to fit it with a 24MP sensor I dismiss the information entirely. It doesn’t register anymore. 32-36 is the new 24 in my mind now and it’s sometimes difficult to come back from those expectations.

This being said I have no issue using lower resolution aps-c that I own and could perhaps even have fun with a X-Pro 1 because then the output quality wouldn’t be my prime concern. It is only concerning new releases that my interest dips firmly for “low” MP cameras.

Did I tell you that medium format AF sucks?

Before I conclude this one-year review, let me hammer this point in with a two-handed mace; it can’t be understated, especially for the GFX 50 series which uses contrast detection — the autofocus will throw you back to the early 2000s. Be ready to be stuck on single point, single AF mode because that’s the only thing that will be consistent enough.

Then let’s not forget other factors that add to the bad and make it worse; the shutter lag is half a second, the sensor readout speed is ¼th of a second, and the time the shutter takes to clear the large sensor in combination with the camera’s high resolution means you’ll need higher shutter speeds in order to get rid of motion blur when shooting handheld (count about one stop faster than usual). Those would be valid reasons as to why a less niche camera system makes more sense for a lot of people.

The final comment:

Despite its sometimes dramatic drawbacks, I definitely have found the pleasure I sought when I originated this system switch. The complete gear-paradigm change and the constant adapting of my process is engaging and makes me think more about what I do, what I use, when and why. This is a rebirth of my interest for the act of taking images, which is a win on its own.

All in all I feel like I am still at the very start of my GFX journey though I’ve had the opportunity to test the 50R in a wide array of situations in the past year (portrait, landscape, events) and it seems like the way forward is inviting me to plunge deeper into this incredibly fun (but also needlessly expensive) rabbit hole.

My GFX's first year was an instructive one with about 16k shutter actuations

The upcoming 500mm, the 55mm F1.7 and the prospect of finding an original GFX 100 (with its weirdly appealing tiltable EVF) are ideas that will — for the foreseeable future — definitely keep pulling me back in (and emptying my pockets).

My photographic future is definitely going to be Fun! Fun! Fun!


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