Simple Portrait of Gao Ming Ming

Simple Portrait of Gao Ming Ming

Wayne Gretzky once said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” Although he was talking about hockey, that is basically my approach in photography.

As a camera user and industrial designer, I use many camera systems with different formats but still experience the same curiosity whenever a new camera is brought out. My primary medium format systems in these digital days are Phase One IQ backs on Hasselblad H camera and Alpa12 and Phase One’s own XF100 for studio work.  When Hasselblad X1D was introduced in 2016 I immediately bought one to use as a portable solution medium format digital system. I prefer it over Fujifilm GFX50S which I found had rather a dated concept although I do not question its capability and image quality. When the 50R model was released I thought it would be a good bet as a street camera with its zoom lens so I got one, along with 45mm, 110mm and 32-64mm zoom lenses.

A couple of days later I met Gao Ming Ming, a young Chinese woman from Wenzhou, Zhejiang Province who was travelling backpack-style in Bangkok, Thailand. I noticed her not just because of her pretty face but her calm and confident manner which I found intriguing, so I started talking to her.

I found Gao was 23 years old and speaks only Chinese. She was on her third day in Thailand. We exchanged names and where we came from and then I asked her why she was in Thailand. I learned that she had been travelling alone in northern India for two months and then in Bangladesh for two weeks before landing in Thailand. She did her travel basically with a smartphone as her travel translator, guidebook and payment system (Chinese WeChat Pay and Alipay) with a 65L backpack and travelled by local bus or train, often on overnight buses between cities. She described them as: “That kind of bus that has endured a war and where every part shakes when it runs and when it is not running all one can smell is the fumes.” She stayed at budget hostels everywhere. I know it is not easy for a woman to travel alone in India and it’s probably tougher in Bangladesh, especially because of the way she travels, so that ignited my interest. I started to think about taking some portraits of her to test my new camera so I asked whether she would be interested in having her photo taken. I told her I am an industrial designer and a photographer and showed her the kind of pictures I would like to take on my smartphone while offering to buy her another cup of coffee. She declined the coffee but accepted my invitation for portraiture.

The pictures I showed her were those I shot at Bangkok Railway Station so I asked her whether it would be okay to meet at the train station at 7:15 am the next morning for coffee. I explained that I wanted to start shooting early because the light would be better and it wouldn’t be as hot then. She took a few seconds to say yes because she probably doesn’t get up that early!

I told her ahead of time that in some situations I might touch her hand or part of her body to adjust her pose to get particular angles and she shouldn’t take it as anything else. Then I asked what she would wear and advised her that anything pastel or with a print doesn’t shoot so well. She told me that she had some dresses from her trip to India and she would pick one in a darker tone. Finally, we exchanged our WeChat ID on the phone and she asked me to send her the location information before I left.  

Kaisern Chen Image Works http://www.kaisernchen.com/blog/

I woke up early the next morning to go to the train station to get some morning shots of travellers. Around 7:05 am my WeChat received a message from Gao saying she was already at the station, so we went to have a coffee before the shoot.

Over coffee, I told her what Wayne Gretzky once said: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” I said I had expected her to say no to my invitation to shoot her because it is the answer I would expect my daughter to make to a stranger. I said I wouldn’t be upset if someone declined my invitation and would only regret not asking at all. And the rest are the pictures.

The shoot in the train station lasted over an hour then we went back to the coffee shop and chatted about her interesting travels and my travels, and then I learned she only chooses to work part-time so she can leave a job easily to go travelling.  She works as a delivery girl for an online food platform “Meituan” in the northern region of Inner Mongolia during the winter to earn money to travel. I told her about Russia, a country I very much enjoy visiting and showed her the pictures I took in Russia before I returned in early November. She said that she once worked on the Chinese/Russian border where the village scenery looked exactly the same and showed me the pictures on her smartphone, including those from northern Inner Mongolia. 

Sometimes we are skeptical about strangers at first and I must admit I am too, particularly regarding such an independent young lady. When she showed me the pictures of where she had been and I saw the travel blog on her WeChat, Gao Ming Ming is even more amazing than she appears in the pictures.

Kaisern Chen Image Works http://www.kaisernchen.com/blog/

Using Fuji GFX50R for these portrait shots ended up being a good decision not only because I wanted to try the new camera but I found the medium format camera to be more methodological to operate, which slows me down. That helps to tackle the fact that not only is Gao Ming Ming not a professional model, but in fact has no experience at all, while her tough independence gained from all her travels gives her the easiness and calmness to help my shoot.  

The image quality from Fuji GFX50R is quite good, as expected, and the RAF format supported by Capture One makes editing easy. As a Leica M camera user, I will not say the GFX50R experience is rangefinder-like, in fact far from it. Fuji is a capable company with brilliant engineers and will not produce a flawed camera but it is a camera with compromises to meet various goals and I have no doubt we will see improvements in future generations of cameras. Until then I am sure I will get used to the camera in my hand even it is not perfect, because no camera is.

Kaisern Chen Image Works http://www.kaisernchen.com/blog/

Kaisern Chen Image Works http://www.kaisernchen.com/blog/

Kaisern Chen Image Works http://www.kaisernchen.com/blog/

Kaisern Chen Image Works http://www.kaisernchen.com/blog/

Kaisern Chen Image Works http://www.kaisernchen.com/blog/

 

Medium Format Magazine – December 2018

Medium Format Magazine – December 2018

My name is Olaf and I am editor-in-chief of the Medium Format Magazine and the PDF Exclusives series. I created this community and the Magazine with photographers like you and me in mind. Like you, I care deeply about the craft of photography. I value great imagery and exclusive, substance-rich and thought-provoking writing. So I contacted the best medium format photographers and writers in the world, teamed up with a professional English editor and the best layout designers. I did it all because I wanted to make sure you open each issue with anticipation and excitement and close with renewed zest for crafting great imagery. I would be delighted if you joined us today and became what we call ourselves – Medium Formatters!


As I was working with my team on the current issue, we knew we wanted to approach it as if it were our first. I am honoured and privileged to work with an amazing group of people who, despite all the cross-currents associated with a new publication, pour so much passion and dedication into forming this magazine.

No wonder the December issue is so rich in great content and stunning imagery! Patrick La Roque goes deep into the process of image creation pondering the role of individual experience. In his unique and poignant piece, he challenges us to go deeper into our own existence to uncover new layers of seeing. Fascinating read, indeed!

Ming Thein takes us on a journey involving aerial photography, sharing his experiences and expertise while shooting from above. As usual, he presents a plethora of fascinating, unknown facts and technical know-how accompanied by jaw-dropping imagery. His technical writing is enriched by stories from his personal assignments. Put your seatbelts on – this is going to be adventurous reading!

© Ming Thein

Our guest this month, Denis Hocking, writes a thought-provoking article about becoming friends with your camera. He navigates us through his thinking process when choosing and bonding with his new medium format system – what he calls “familiar friend, expensive paintbrush.” There is no question that this friendship is going well – the proof is in the stunning imagery. 

In the last two issues, Take Kayo brought us truly fascinating interviews. This time is no different. Take interviews a legend of skateboarding photography – Grant Brittain. Take writes, “Grant was in the right place at the right time as the skateboarding culture was taking root in southern California in the late 1970s. Household names like Tony Hawk, Steve Caballero and Christian Hosoi were just preteens at the time, and Grant was like a big brother to them.” That should be enough to hook you on this fascinating piece and imagery shot with medium format.

Lloyd Chambers continues his in-depth discussion about technical aspects of shooting medium format. This month, Lloyd focuses on depth of field, diffraction and focus stacking. Step by step he presents his findings, giving examples and illustrations based on years of independent and scrupulous work. Each of his pieces is a wealth of technical know-how.

If you enjoyed the first part of Benjamin Everett’s “Pictures of the West” you will absolutely love the second part in which Benjamin shares his account of “Driving North.” Benjamin once again takes us along on his photographic journey through the most stunning landscapes North America offers. His reportage-style writing and storytelling will keep you on the edge of your seat so make sure you don’t spill your morning coffee. Even if you do, this may well be worth it.

This month, Ibarionex Perello writes a highly absorbing piece about his approach to testing new cameras. He writes, “Even before these devices arrive at my doorstep, I am attempting to be thoughtful about how I intend to use them once they arrive.” A truly honest and eye-opening look at evaluating new gear in terms of your personal goals and aspirations. Beware! You may never approach a new camera the same way after reading this piece.

Finally, yours truly is sharing his own account of his surprising and revealing journey to medium format photography. If you’d told me a few years ago that I would write such an article, I would not have believed it. As one of the biggest proponents of “the camera doesn’t matter” philosophy, I question the core of my belief based on my experience. It is told as it happened. We often stick to certain convictions and shape our reality with them. For me, it was time to break this house of glass.

That’s not all. This month we have a small surprise for you with special pages of a holiday wish extravaganza. I am sure you will enjoy the thoughtful, insightful and, on occasion, humorous wishes.

My team, the contributors and I hope you will enjoy this issue. 

 

 

 

 

 

Two Years with the XCD 90mm

Two Years with the XCD 90mm

What a lens… This is perhaps my favourite medium telephoto despite having worked with similar focal length lenses from other manufacturers. It is elegant, inspiring and has a sharpness of rendition required by the 50MP sensor.

The XCD 90mm is a short telephoto prime lens designed for the Hasselblad X1D, equivalent to 71mm on a full frame sensor. Although I also work with the XCD 30mm, XCD 45mm and XCD 120mm, it has proven to be my most used lens with the camera. As others have noted, the lens is extremely sharp up to f/16, although I have obtained the best results at f/5.6 and f/8 – not unlike many other lenses. I will use f/11 where depth of field is important for the image and do not see any image compromise as a result. The lens has excellent contrast and colour rendition with little evidence of chromatic aberration.

The design of this lens has a beautiful simplicity as does the XCD 45mm. The large rubberised focusing ring operates very smoothly when some manual override of autofocus is needed. I use the camera in manual focus mode with back button autofocus. This, combined with the camera’s excellent focus peaking capability, means that my images are very rarely focused incorrectly.

Most of my work with the camera is out of doors, on a tripod wherever possible, although I did use the 90mm for a large documentary project photographing a stamp collection. The lens performance coupled with the X1D was remarkable. The lens can focus down to 0.7 metres making documentary use very achievable. On a tripod with a 3-second self-timer for the shutter release I saw no evidence of camera shake with the 90mm despite relatively long exposures. I have included a photograph of a single small stamp from a full page to illustrate the resolving power of this camera/lens combination.

Before investing in the Hasselblad equipment I was using a Mamiya Leaf Credo system. It gave excellent results but I greatly appreciate the increased portability and simplicity of operation of the X1D. The 90mm lens at 619g is comparatively light. Although I have the XCD 120mm, it travels with me less often due the greater weight (970g) and size. I was in Kyoto for a couple of weeks recently and was walking several miles a day with the X1D, the XCD 30, 45 and 90mm in a small shoulder bag plus a tripod (Gitzo Traveler). It was very manageable.

I previously lived in Japan and developed a keen appreciation for Japanese aesthetics, which has strongly influenced my approach to photography. I spend a lot of time thinking about image composition, seeking that heightened visual impact we all want in our photographs. In addition, depending on the subject, I like to look for smaller parts of a potential image that are capable of conveying the essence of the larger subject. The angle of view (34 degrees diagonally) of the 90mm is very well suited to this goal and probably explains why I like this lens so much.

My recent visit to Kyoto was the first in Japan with the X1D. Combined with the 90mm in particular, it was an inspirational experience. The lens completely suits how I like to photograph and there were subjects just waiting to be captured at every turn. The black and white image I have included is an attempt to convey the wonderful detail, the massive scale and power of the five-storied pagoda and adjacent Tōkondō hall of Kofuku-ji temple in Nara, which date from the 1400s. It also illustrates how nicely the 90mm files convert to monochrome (using Silver Efex Pro in this case).

As my long-suffering wife will tell you, I am slow and methodical with a camera. I do not take large numbers of images, preferring to get the right shot by taking plenty of time. I have found that I work somewhat faster with this camera and lens than with earlier cameras, due to its greater simplicity of use. However, I am somehow finding a larger range of angles, compositions and subjects, so I still take a lot of time over a shoot.

On those occasions when I am working hand-held with the X1D, the weight and length of the 90mm lens seem to provide the best in-hand balance of the various body-lens combinations. Last November I was in Cornwall, England and took the X1D and the XCD 45mm plus 90mm on the trip. I was particularly interested in photographing one of the iconic tin mines at Wheal Coates. These abandoned tin mines are perched on the top of craggy cliffs above the stormy North Atlantic Ocean. When I reached the cliffs, I could see that a storm was approaching off to sea, so I needed to work faster than usual.

For hand-held shooting I use the camera in Auto ISO mode as the results even up to 3200 ISO are excellent. There is some loss of dynamic range at higher ISOs, but it is quite acceptable and image noise is surprisingly restrained. It was very windy up on the Cornish cliffs but the ergonomics of the X1D with the 90mm were solid in my hands and gave the camera excellent stability. The results with the XCD 90 in the changeable lighting and strong winds were excellent and I was grateful for the weather sealing when the rain and hail started in earnest. 

My wife and younger daughter are both knitwear designers, so the Hasselblad gets called upon regularly to photograph new creations. My daughter models her own work and the 90mm is the perfect lens for her advertising images. The legendary skin tones of the Hasselblad are beautifully rendered with the XCD 90. Similarly, close-up textile shots show the colours and textures brilliantly.

We were looking for locations in Kyoto to photograph some of my wife’s work and found a lovely bamboo fence in a moss-covered garden at Honen-in temple, located in the foothills of the eastern mountains of Higashiyama. The 90mm handled the subject exceptionally well, rendering the texture of the stitch pattern beautifully.

So what are the negative aspects of this lens? I have to say that after two years of working with the XCD 90, I have yet to find any issues with its performance. I will look forward to spending the coming years working with it and seeing if I can find any! It would be remiss of me if I did not mention in this context the bokeh of the 90mm. It has exercised the minds of a number of commentators, as the specular highlights are a geometric, hexagonal shape rather than circular. This results from the leaf shutter in the lens and is not limited to the 90mm, although it is more obvious with this focal length. It can be avoided if the lens is used wide open, following a 2017 firmware update, but this is an aperture I rarely use. Aesthetically, it does not bother me excessively and I only occasionally take images with out-of-focus specular highlights. I have included one in the set of images I took recently to provide an example. For the bokeh purists who want to work with the X1D, a possible option is to use a non-XCD lens with a lens adapter.

For those who like to dream about the next big thing, I expect the resolving power of the XCD 90 can work comfortably with a 100mp sensor version of the camera – should it come to pass. For me, after photographing for more years that I care to admit with many camera systems, this camera/lens combination is the best I have used and is unlikely to be displaced. Time will tell…

 

Tim Ravenscroft is an Englishman now living in Florida. You can see more of his work on Flickr (Tim Ravenscroft/Flickr or https://www.flickr.com/photos/98844125@N04/) and Instagram (x1dman or https://www.instagram.com/x1dman/). Tim has no affiliation with any camera manufacturers.

 

2018 © OLI Publishing Inc. All rights reserved.

Five unexpected side effects of MF

Five unexpected side effects of MF

Since I started shooting with a Phase One medium format camera system, I have experienced a series of quite unexpected and interesting side effects. I thought my testimonial might be helpful to other photographers who are considering making the move. Note: you won’t find any of these side effects listed at the end of the XF user’s guide, or on any equipment review of any photography website.

I had been dreaming of medium format for years. Like many others, I have always considered medium format the ultimate system, the holy grail of cameras. Like many others, I thought it was inaccessible, unaffordable, something I could only dream of. Two years ago, I stopped dreaming and made the move. At last! The main reason was that an upgrade of my system was overdue, but at the time I couldn’t see any new 35mm camera on the market worth the investment. Every new generation of DSLR camera comes with better autofocus, better crazy-fast frame rate, better ISO for low light situations, and better video options. That’s all great for photographers who shoot sports, journalism, wildlife, weddings and so on but with the type of photography I do, I don’t need any of those features. I shoot manual focus 90% of the time, I don’t need many frames per second, I work mostly in the studio with strobes, I shoot at ISO 50-200, and to be honest, I have very little interest in video. Instead I’d rather have better image quality, better colour rendering, higher flash sync speed, better lenses and solid tethering features. I do photography for a living, so overall I want to give my clients the best image quality. The answer to that is simple: it’s called medium format.

@ Vincent Lions

Many articles can be found online on medium format vs. 35mm, with all specs written down. They compare sensor size, pixels, technical aspects, interface, design, all possible features, etc., but none of them really talk about how shooting with a medium format camera affects you. You. The photographer! You are way more important than your camera. How a camera makes you feel and how it affects your work and your approach to photography is what matters the most. It’s not all about AF points or megapixels.

With that in mind, I realized I have experienced a series of quite unexpected and very interesting “side effects” since I’ve been shooting with the Phase One XF. When I shared those thoughts with colleague photographers, I was very happy to hear they felt the same as I do.

Medium format photography will most likely raise your standards. This is actually the most important side effect I’ve noticed: I feel that I always have to be more than good. It is unacceptable to create an average image with such a high-end system. The image quality is so outstanding and the tool is so precise and advanced that I feel like lighting, concept and composition should constantly improve to honour the top-of-the-line equipment I am working with. To be fair, the skills I just mentioned are required regardless of the system used. The truth is that investing in a medium format system doesn’t make you a better photographer the next day, just as buying a better car doesn’t make you a better driver. Or adding a pedal to your pedalboard doesn’t make you a better guitar player. Getting better requires work. I’m now harder on myself than I was before. Between you and me, I’m still capable of shooting a bad image every now and then. I just make sure no one ever sees it!

Loss of interest in other platforms may occur.I have to admit I have completely lost interest in shooting 35mm DSLR. I’m not saying DSLRs are bad. I’m certainly not saying anything negative about the work of other photographers who shoot 35mm either because I absolutely love and respect the work of so many of them! Truth to be told, amazing photographs have been taken with pretty much every camera that ever existed. All I’m saying is that 35mm is not the best fit for me anymore. I kept some of my old gear though and still use it on certain occasions when it is more convenient (travelling, fast-moving subjects, very low light, etc.), but when I do use it, I use it with less excitement. I’m still focused and dedicated to capturing a great image, but something is clearly missing.

© Vincent Lions

The photographer may gain self-confidence.I cannot think of a single client who wouldn’t be happy about receiving higher quality work. I feel I now bring so much more to the table both in assignments and my personal projects. If I do my part right, I know the camera won’t let me down. As a matter of fact, it will exceed my expectations. With that in mind, I feel more confident every time I start a project.

The photographer may feel humbler.I know, I just spoke about self-confidence, but self-confidence and humility are not incompatible. Here’s the thing: the XF camera system is so advanced it offers many features that are beyond my needs and that I’m not familiar with yet. I still have some serious learning to do. It’s a good thing I don’t feel too bad about my visual and creative skills because I must say that in all technical aspects, my camera is smarter than I am (and so are the people who designed it)!

Upgrades may be required. This side effect might affect the photographer’s bank account more than the photographer himself. Some of the equipment I previously thought was okay wasn’t actually good enough. I replaced my tripod with a sturdier one with higher load capacity. I invested in a more precise tripod head and purchased a better (and well-calibrated) screen for editing plus additional hard drives to store larger files, etc. So unless you’re already set, if you’re thinking in investing in a medium format system, don’t forget to include some of these side expenses in your budget.

There is another common side effect that I have heard about many times, which I didn’t mention. Some people say that medium format would slow them down, in a good way. They take more time with each photo, they think more, they reconnect with the gear and appreciate things more, they don’t rush as much. The reason I didn’t mention this side effect is that in my case, it doesn’t apply. I was already doing that. Because of the nature of my work, I have to be patient and precise. I sketch my ideas before I go on set, I shoot tethered with the camera on a tripod and I take the time to compose, light, stage and style, regardless of the equipment I use. So, in a way, now that I think about it, I was actually using my 35mm camera like a medium format camera!

@ Vincent Lions

 

Become a member and download Vincent Lions’ 20 Tips On Still-Life Photography.

 

2018 © MediumFormat. All rights reserved.

The GFX 50R – The Rebirth of MF

The GFX 50R – The Rebirth of MF

FORMALITIES AND DISCLAIMERS

I am often accused of taking photography seriously. It’s absolutely true! For me, photography is my entire life. It embodies my personality and the way I see, feel and function. It is my way of having a conversation with the world. I view it as a serious craft, which requires complete dedication or as Burk Uzzle put it, “Photography is a love affair with life.” Yes, I am having an affair.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise, therefore, that when I write a review of any camera, I take it seriously and very personally. My review is a totally biased and unhinged view of the tool. Some cameras click right away with my seeing, others remain foreign or even unpleasant despite my good intentions to make it work. One example is the GR-line. Many of my friends cherish this camera as one of the best they have ever shot with. Surprisingly, we somehow never connected.

Any first impressions or full reviews are always a sort of diary of my encounters with a specific camera. I am not overly technical as a photographer so I don’t spend much time obsessing about technical specifications – in fact I don’t have much interest in such debates. I take a camera and start feeling, connecting, framing, composing. It works or it doesn’t. It’s that simple.

I am not a brand ambassador of any manufacturer or have contracts with anyone. I am 100% independent and everything I write is exactly what I think. I respect companies that send me gear for a review without any preconceived conditions. It shows that they believe in their product. I simply don’t work with those who would like to put any restraints on me.

There is one more thing. The GFX 50R I have been working with and based my review on is a pre-production copy, therefore some changes in image quality or functionality may still take place.

HERITAGE AT PLAY (lesson from history)

A few weeks ago, my friend Mac Sokulski, host of the ShutterTime photography podcast, paid me a visit. We went for a short photography escapade along the beautiful Sea-to-Sky highway in British Columbia. Mac is a film photographer and he brought with him a camera that grabbed my attention right away. It was a Fujica G690. A few days later as I picked up the GFX 50R for review I couldn’t believe the resemblance between these two medium format cameras – one film, one digital – both from Fuji. It was as if two points in photographic history have merged.

Many people may not be aware but in the late 60s and 70s Fuji had a total of six medium format cameras on the market. Given Fujifilm heritage it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the GFX 50S would finally have a rangefinder-style sibling – the GFX 50R. In fact, during an exclusive interview, Fuji Guy Billy Luong said, When we talk about design a lot of it comes from the film cameras. We had a great demand from a lot of enthusiasts and photographers who loved the medium format style cameras (the G series) and we’ve brought that into the design of the GFX 50R.”

Indeed, as someone who has had the Fuji G690, Fuji GW690II (also known as “The Texas Leica”) and a brand new GFX 50R in their hands within a week or so I can substantiate Billy’s statement. The DNA of the medium format G-series from the 70s can be found in the brand new GFX 50R. Indeed, going back to its roots and the basics of photography is sometimes all you need to create great products.

FIRST ENCOUNTER (first date)

Having said that, when I touched the GFX 50R for the first time, my tendency was to compare the camera to the GFX 50S, which I have been shooting with for the last year. I must say honestly that my first reaction wasn’t overly enthusiastic. I don’t know why. Maybe my expectations were sky-high. I am pretty sure a part of this initial alienation was the fact that when I was shooting with the X-series APS-C line of Fujifilm cameras, my clear choice was the rangefinder-style X-Pro2 over the SLR-like X-T2 style of the body. For this reason alone, I expected to abandon the GFX 50S at the first sight of the GFX 50R. It didn’t happen.

I was surprised by the size of this camera. I knew that the GFX 50R would be larger than the X-Pro2. After all, it has a gigantic medium format sensor inside. I thought the GFX 50R would be noticeably smaller than the GFX 50S but it isn’t. The fact that the new arrival is wider and almost as high as its older sibling (if you exclude the GFX 50S’ towering electronic viewfinder and the GFX 50S’ hump at the back) the dimensions of these two cameras are quite similar. I was expecting a slightly smaller body. This fact alone put my idea of abandoning the GFX 50S on the back burner.

Then the GF X50R fought back. The camera’s lighter weight in comparison to the GFX 50S was something I noticed right away. From the start, I had two cameras paired with the GF45mm lens and I really wanted to try the GFX 50R with the newly announced GF 50mm F3.5 pancake lens but it wasn’t available. I must say that such a lens along with the flatter (no hump) design of the GFX 50R makes it a much more portable and travel-friendly camera. You can wear it over your shoulder without feeling awkward.

HANDLING AND OPERATIONS (becoming one with the camera)

Along with the new body design comes a major layout change. It must start with the grip, which is much, much smaller than the one on the GFX 50S. I can confidently hold the GFX 50S in my hands even with a larger lens attached such as the GF 110mm. When walking around with the GFX 50R paired with the GF 63 or 45 it wasn’t a big deal but when I attached the GF 110, my confidence about holding the camera without a strap crumbled. Also, the weight distribution with the larger lenses is no longer as favourable as it is with the GFX 50S. Having said that, after shooting quite extensively with the GFX 50R on the streets of Vancouver, I really see the R coupled with the 50mm pancake lens. This combo is most likely to become a dream team for street and travel photographers – a sort of medium format X100 package.   

Along with the rangefinder design, the EVF has been moved to the left. It is slightly smaller but the difference is negligible. What was clearly noticeable was the rubber padding around the EVF, which I usually press quite hard to my nose as I am shooting (to stabilize the camera). After coming home after a day of shooting, my wife noticed a mark on my nose, which I quickly found out comes from the hard padding around the EVF. For those of you who mostly use LCD it won’t be an issue.

Image courtesy of Jonas Rask.

The four-way d-pad is gone and now the joystick takes over its role. Although I like the d-pad on my GFX 50S, I quickly found out I was perfectly fine without it. Most importantly, Fujifilm decided to put back the very important exposure compensation dial! I was thrilled with this addition but I found it hard to operate with my thumb, unlike the X-Pro2. Maybe it is too retracted into the body or too small or both. The ISO dial is gone and that is perfectly fine with me because I usually shoot ISO Auto. Interestingly, the front command dial has been integrated with the shutter button. Overall, all necessary operations such as shutter speed, exposure compensation and aperture are plain and simple and at your disposal – the way they should be.   

The on/off switch has been redesigned and it is now placed on top of the plate in the form of a movable switch. When talking about this solution with Take Kayo (bigheadtaco) he pointed out that it is now much easier to turn the camera on or off even without looking. The whole experience becomes more intuitive and I have to agree.

One of the biggest surprises was the new shutter sound. I admit that I find it absolutely mesmerizing. It is gentle but commanding. Well done, Fuji!

IMAGE QUALITY (hello pixel-peepers)

The camera houses the same 44x33mm 51.4MP sensor as the GFX 50S. The processor, focusing speed, film simulations and generous dynamic range result in an image quality that is exactly the same. Yes, there is a considerable difference in the look of medium format files, especially the rendering in comparison to other formats. I wrote about this in more detail here.

PRICE (makes it a no-brainier)

Only two years ago it was difficult to find a medium format system (camera plus lenses) below US$10,000. When the GFX 50S was launched, the prices of most systems were reduced and now you can purchase a medium format camera below $4,500 and just above $5,000 with the lens kit. This aggressive pricing makes the GFX 50R a no-brainer for those who would like to buy their first digital medium format camera. If not for a very generous gift, I would not be able to afford the GFX 50S myself but I would certainly consider purchasing the GFX 50R.

There is no question that this is still a lot of money for most people but keep in mind that this is a medium format system. Most professionals, semi-pros and serious amateurs usually hoard cameras and lenses, old and new. For the first time, there is the option of selling this gear and getting into the world of medium format photography.

IS IT WORTH IT? (hell yes!)

Vincent Lions, a renowned still-life photographer from Toronto writes, “I have to admit I have completely lost interest in shooting 35mm DSLR.” Hecited some side effects of shooting medium format as gaining self-confidence, raising his standards and slowing down, among others.

The qualities of the medium format sensor are difficult to define. Patrick La Roque in his piece “One” writes, “Attempts at explaining the pull of these images on me, however, tended to quickly devolve. It’s like trying to discuss the appeal of a rising wisp of smoke the beauty lies mostly in intangible qualities, hard to put into words. I’ve described it in the past as a hush, a sort of silence bathing the images as though, regardless of subject matter, there’s a certain tranquillity permeating the frames.”

I must agree with Vincent and Patrick (for full articles look at the October issue of Medium Format Magazine). If you are thinking about upgrading to medium format, I would certainty take the leap and do it unless you require blazing fast autofocus and operational speed for sports.

GFX 50S OR GFX 50R? (it is about the money or maybe not)

It is worth understanding the differences between these two cameras. The GFX 50S was designed as a system camera, which is perfect for studio work. You can add a grip, a stunning swivel EVF and a few other accessories. It is a super sturdy camera built like a tank, with a stunningly large EVF and LCD screen.

The GFX 50R is a much lighter camera, designed to be taken outside the studio. It is much more comfortable to have over your shoulder as you travel, especially if you opt for the upcoming pancake lens. However, if you want to use it with larger lenses, you may find the handling less comfortable than the GFX 50S. Another way to think about the choice, especially if you are upgrading, is this. In general, if you liked shooting with the X-Pro2, you will probably like the GFX 50R. If your choice of camera has been the X-T1/2/3 line, you are more likely to prefer the GFX50S.

Having said that, you must keep in mind the price difference between these two cameras, which as of today is about US$1,000. If money were not an issue I would take the GFX 50S over the R. If money is an issue, given the price difference, I would purchase the GFX 50R and put the difference into a new lens.

Which lens to pick along with the GFX50R? (It is all about the lens, stupid)

My favourite focal length is 35mm (45mm in MF), therefore the 45mm F2.8 lens is glued to my medium format camera most of the time. However, if the 50mm lens (63mm in MF) is a more natural focal length for you, go with it. In fact, when you buy the GF 63mm lens with the GFX 50R, the lens is only US$500. For this price you cannot even buy a decent APS-C lens! If you have the resources to purchase two lenses I would personally go with the GF 45mm F2.8 and GF 110mm F2.

FINAL THOUGHT (the rebirth of MF)

I must admit that after shooting with the GFX 50S, I was slightly taken aback by the GFX 50R. Having said that, as I was spending more time with the GFX 50R, the camera grew on me, especially due to its portability, ease of use and appeal of the rangefinder style. Eventually, I reached the point where I had a hard time letting it go. I suspect that when paired with the upcoming 50mm pancake lens, the GFX 50R will become the first truly portable and (relatively) affordable street and travel photography medium format camera.

Given its affordability, aggressive pricing and superb line of lenses, the GFX 50R has resurrected medium format and transformed the space from a niche tool to a serious proposition for a much wider audience. Whether you are a landscape, portrait or street photographer and you want to upgrade from full frame or APS-C to medium format, the GFX 50R is the one to do it. It may be hard to sell all your gear but I believe the reward of medium format will quickly help you to forget your hoarding tendency.

There has been a lot of talk about why Fujifilm decided to focus on medium format but not full frame. Let me say this. While the full frame wars are raging all around us, the over-eager participants may quickly find out they are not even on the right battlefield.

All imagery in this review was shot with a pre-production GFX 50R and the GF 45mm and GF 63mm and GF 110mm.

 

For those of you who have pre-ordered a GFX 50R or are interested in medium format we have prepared a special discount. Please use the GFX50R code to receive 20% off from yearly subscription to the Medium Format Magazine.  

 

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