Any time I upgrade to a new camera in the same system, there is a time of transition. I have to adapt to the camera’s design and features. Even the delay between depressing the shutter-release button and image capture requires a period of adjustment. When switching camera-makers, which I’ve done twice, the transition has been more challenging and required more time to understand and embrace.
I had been using the Fujifilm X-series for over five years so I thought the transition to the GFX 100 would be relatively seamless. I had received it on loan for three weeks and looked forward to taking photographs with it. My eagerness was only magnified by the imagery and comments from other photographers who had already used it.
The SLR-like design, the 104-megapixel sensor, and digitally optimized lenses held the promise of amazing results. On that count, the camera didn’t disappoint. What did surprise me was how the camera cast light on the way I worked, revealing some of my bad habits.
The camera appeared large although it was surprisingly light at only 3.08 lb. For a traditional DSLR user, this might be negligible; however, since I had been using the X100F and XT3, it was still a noticeable bump up.
Despite its increased mass, the camera felt comfortable in my hands whether oriented horizontally or vertically. The button and control layouts were similar to what I was accustomed to with other Fujifilm cameras, especially their menu system. There were some significant differences which included the top deck display and the way I controlled aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. However, I knew that in time I could adjust to such differences.
Because of my familiarity with the Fujifilm system, I didn’t dedicate much time to reading the manual. I configured the base settings so that they were comparable to my existing cameras and immediately went out to take photographs.
As I did, I expected the camera to behave in the way I was accustomed to, which didn’t always happen. Whether it was applying exposure compensation, changing a focal point or a metering mode, my lack of familiarity with the GFX 100 became a frustrating obstacle. It wasn’t that the camera was designed badly—it was rather that I expected it to behave differently from the way it was designed.
Admittedly, my eagerness or more accurately, my impatience, resulted in numerous mistakes. The results were soft images due to camera shake, off-kilter compositions and other amateur missteps. The careful and thoughtful process that usually accompanied my picture-making was nowhere to be found in my initial forays with the camera. As excited as I was, I needed to get back to basics if I was going to leverage the power and the quality of the GFX 100.
Although I didn’t read the exhaustive camera manual, I familiarized myself with the key differences of controls and menu settings. This was especially important with the changing of exposure modes, aperture, shutter speed, ISO and exposure compensation. The new top display and the small rear display at its base required a different way of negotiating the machine. I needed to become adept at not only changing those key settings but also recognizing where to look to confirm them in a pinch.
I also adjusted how I handled the camera while shooting. It didn’t fit in my hand as the smaller Fujifilm models did and it was a mistake to expect it to. Although the camera was still comfortable to handle, the increased size of both the body and the sensor meant that the images were at greater risk of softness due to camera shake. Even with the GFX 100’s image-camera stabilization, I could still produce soft images by making basic mistakes such as using too slow a shutter speed or not holding the camera steady. As I’d learned over many years of photography, technology was never the remedy for sloppy technique.
Although the DSLR styling made it reasonable to hand-hold, I needed to find the slowest shutter speed I could effectively use to produce sharp results. I often found that 1/250 second, which might have been satisfactory with a smaller camera, was risky with the GFX 100, especially after handling the camera during a long day of shooting. Image-stabilization helped but poor handling quickly defeated any advantage it provided. On a tripod, the camera delivered sharp results. So, it was easy to determine that the weakest link was me.
As I acclimated to the camera, I saw a steady and consistent improvement in the quality of the images. As I printed 30×40 prints on the studio’s Epson printers, I recognized the strengths of the camera and my own weaknesses. Had the images been relegated to only what I saw on the LCD screen or a post on Instagram, I would never have seen them. But these big prints reflected what the camera was designed for.
A Different Sensibility
The camera was engineered with a DSLR aesthetic in mind but demands a medium-format or large-format sensibility when using it. It requires a slow and thoughtful photographic practice to leverage its full potential. It was a realization that developed with each week I worked with the camera. Unfortunately, the obligation to return it didn’t allow me to solidify that awareness as I would have liked over several months.
Nevertheless, it taught me the importance of having respect for each new tool I use. It also reaffirmed the importance of being diligent about my own photographic practice, even with something as simple as how I handle a camera body.
Thankfully, the head of the photo department was impressed enough with the camera to include at least one in this year’s budget. So, if I manage to wrangle it out of the hands of my co-workers, I will have the chance to develop that all-important workflow between myself and this amazing camera.
Ibarionex Perello is a photographer, educator, and writer. He is also the host of The Candid Frame photography podcast which for 14 seasons has featured conversations with some of the world’s best established and emerging photographers. He has written hundreds of magazine articles and authored six books on the subject of photography including the most recent, Making Photographs: Developing a Personal Visual Workflow, published by Rocky Nook Press.
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