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.  

 

2018 © OLI Publishing Inc. All rights reserved.

    

The Hasselblad X1D – First Take

The Hasselblad X1D – First Take

I am often accused of taking photography seriously. It’s absolutely true! For me, photography is my entire life. It embodies my personality, 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.

Therefore, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that when I write a review of any camera, I take it seriously and I take it very personally. Such a review is an absolutely biased and unhinged view of the tool. Some cameras and my seeing click right away, 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. We somehow never connected. There is no connection.

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.

There is one more thing. I am not a brand ambassador of any manufacturer or have any 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 for those who would like to put any restraints on me.

Let’s get to the Hasselblad X1D.

It is one of those cameras when our first encounter went extremely well. The very moment I grabbed the X1D, even before I put the batteries in, it felt good.

First, I was surprised by the size of this camera. The lightning-fast thought went through my head: “Is it really medium format?” It is similar in size to the Leica M10 or Fujifilm X-Pro2 but with a beautifully shaped grip. In fact, the grip is so well designed that I took off the always-annoying strap and held the camera in my hand.

After shooting for months with the GFX50S, I had to find my smaller camera bag to carry the X1D and I loved it. It was like carrying an APS-C-sized camera but it is medium format!

Another pleasant surprise was the battery compartment – there are no plasticky and flimsy doors – you just insert the battery and it clicks into place. There is no way for it to fall out by chance. Then, if you need to change it, just pull a lever and it retracts. Push it slightly, and you’re done. I really admire such thoughtful design. 

 

Before I headed out on the streets of Vancouver, I had to set up the camera. As with every new tool I had to be open-minded. Sometimes we get so used to the way we do things that we automatically refuse different solutions. Having said that, my first slight annoyance came from the lack of an aperture ring on the lens. I knew right away I would miss this feature. Then I dived into the menu system but this time I got a pleasant surprise. The menu appears to be simple and intuitive. For example, to format the memory card you tap “storage” on the touch screen and the first thing you see are two cards represented by two stretched out rectangles. The arrow points to the associated physical button on the right to perform the actual formatting. Simple and to-the-point.

As I was setting up the camera, I noticed that all I needed was there but more importantly, all the other stuff that I never use or need is notthere. This is very important. As technology develops and new functions are added to please the always hungry-for-more high-tech crowds, the number of options are ballooning to truly staggering numbers. No wonder some cameras have a 300-page manual! Come on, I’m a photographer! I just want to take an image.

After the setup, I went out to shoot. As mentioned earlier I already liked the reduced weight and size of my equipment. For the first few minutes, I was confused about whether I had my X-Pro2 or the Hasselblad medium format with me. Yes, the camera is that small.

Then I started shooting. Immediately, warnings from my photographic peers popped into my head. The “come on, this camera is so slow” was the most common one. Slow!? Well, if you don’t tell anyone, I will make a confession: I actually like slow cameras. I remember when the original X100 came out everyone complained how slow everything was. It was never slow in my opinion. I have to admit that I am very slow photographer – in fact much slower than most of the cameras out there. Yes, you press the “On” button and it takes a moment for the camera to start. What the beef is all that about? I am not photographing Formula One races or waking up in the middle of the night with a once in a lifetime opportunity to capture an alien spaceship flying over my house. That’s not the way I work. You might call me the slowest street photographer in the world.  

Then, I was ready to craft some imagery. When I test cameras I never shoot so-called test shoots such as benches, telephone poles or people sitting in the park. I approach the session the same way I would for a serious day of photography in the field. The reason I do that is because I want to see how the new tool fits my way of seeing and crafting real-life imagery.

 

So here we go. I took the first few images. Then another warning from my friends came to the fore: “You will hate the blackout.” At this point I felt quite ashamed. What am I going to say? If I tell everybody that I actually like this blackout time I will be in serious trouble. Olaf goes berserk? My answer – a long time ago! Yes, I do like this blackout time – a lot. As I mentioned earlier, I take photography seriously and there is a strong philosophical component to it. I am not going to even try to explain this phenomenon. When I am working, after long and deliberate framing considerations, I finally press the shutter button. I hear the sound and my viewfinder blacks out for a moment. For me it is the culmination of the extensive process of crafting an image – the great finale if you will. I sometimes close my eyes and take a deep breath. This is the moment to hold, cherish and celebrate. The pause the X1D delivers is part of the process, not a distraction.

As I started shooting, the fluidity of this process was superb. Once everything was set up I focused on observing, seeing and framing. It was a ruthless visual execution. With Auto ISO and in Aperture Priority Mode, I mostly played with exposure compensation assigned to my rear scroll wheel.

That’s exactly the point. The light, portable, fluid camera got out of the way very quickly and allowed me to do my seeing. On the first two days, I took the images presented below.

Regarding the image quality – as someone who has been shooting with the GFX50S, which uses the same sensor, quality is absolutely stunning.

There will be a full review of the X1D coming to the Medium Format Magazine, including more imagery, in-depth analysis of my whole experience and everything I like and dislike about this camera. I will also share with you who I think would enjoy this camera the most. Would I want to own one? Stay tuned! I might also have an opportunity to shoot with the brand new GFX50R, which would be very fitting.

In the meantime, enjoy the imagery and let me know your personal experiences with this camera.

 

2018 © OLI Publishing Inc. All rights reserved.

It is finally happening!

It is finally happening!

It is finally happening. The Medium Format platform and the accompanying Medium Format Magazine are here!

It was only two years ago that digital medium format photography was the privilege of a very few mostly commercial and fashion photographers who could justify spending the equivalent of a new car to purchase a medium format system.

All those years, most of us could only admire, lust and dream. Whether we admit it or not, the appeal of digital medium format was always there. Now, this fantasy is rapidly changing to reality. The spectral hand of innovation and competition has brought us brand-new medium format tools. In fact, we have reached the point when many of us could sell our collection of lenses and cameras and enter this no longer exclusive world of digital medium format photography.

When I made my own entrance to this exciting new world, one thing struck me right away. I felt lost and deluded. Other than a few occasional articles about digital medium format photography, I couldn’t find any place on the internet or elsewhere which would guide me in those crucial first steps. I needed a place to call home, where I could find like-minded individuals for whom the craft of seeing was no longer just a hobby. Furthermore, the availability of materials to navigate these exciting but very different waters were scarce or non-existent.

I soon found that I wasn’t alone in this search for knowledge, inspiration and companionship. Whether we are seasoned pros, advanced amateurs or beginners, learning about the precision and craftsmanship that medium format demands is something that bonds us together.

This union prompted me to create a new home for medium format photographers like you and me. We knew from the start that the only right name for this new home must be MediumFormat.com. Then the idea of the Medium Format Magazine followed, sort of naturally, not out of necessity but rather as the side-effect of my passion for visuals and words.

Of course, I wouldn’t be able to do it myself. As I talked to numerous industry leaders, writers and photographers the idea became clearer: a clean website with high-quality, curated and exclusive content from the best medium photographers in the world.

At a glance, you notice that there is free content on the website grouped in three sections: NEWS, GEAR and VISION. As we progress, you will find something new, informative and inspiring every week.

However, if you decide to go deeper into the world of medium format photography I urge you to join us and become a member. You will find truly unique and exclusive content. At the centre of this membership community is the monthly Medium Format Magazine. This is not just another online magazine. From the start, we wanted to create a premium publication with exclusive content presented in a clean, beautifully designed format without the clutter of ads and sales pitches.

We also offer our members live and immersive webinars by the best medium format photographers in the world. Already, the first webinar is scheduled for October 20th with Ming Thein.

Then there are the education and inspirational publications, written for and accessed exclusively by the members of our platform, centred on digital medium format photography.

This is just the beginning.

My team and I are looking forward to your feedback, thoughts and suggestions. How can we make this new home for medium format photography welcoming, informative, inspiring, interesting and alive? We will be reading all your emails and considering seriously every suggestion. In fact, if you would like to contribute to the magazine or the website please don’t hesitate to contact us. Let’s build this new world of medium format photography together. Thank you for visiting and I hope you will join our community. Please make sure to leave us your email address so we can stay in touch.

Have great light and seeing,

Yours truly,

Olaf, editor-in-chief

50 Shades of MF

50 Shades of MF

Gear-related discussions are everywhere. They usually take the form of Camera A vs. Camera B. In recent weeks, with the announcement of some new medium format cameras, the debate turned into APS-C vs. Full Frame vs. Medium Format. When I started shooting with medium format cameras, I quickly realized that framing this discussion in terms of “versus” is a major mischaracterisation of the subject and most of the time leads to fallacious conclusions. I believe that the right way to approach this subject is with the word DIFFERENT. Medium Format is a tool which clearly differs from the APS-C and Full Frame tools. As such, it has its own advantages and disadvantages.

For me personally, one key advantage is something that’s difficult to describe especially in an era when your work is artificially compressed to fit the technical requirements of a social media frame.

Here is what is the most appealing to me when working with medium format. I can capture and depict light in multiple dimensions and with variety, which I was not able to do with my other cameras. A new, sort of grey area has appeared – 50 shades of it! Yes, this is the visual sphere which the cellphone crowd will not give a damn about but I do! I call them transition strokes when light changes, bends and submerges into coexisting elements in the image. In most cameras, this metamorphosis is rather abrupt and loud. In the medium-format camera, it takes the form of “melting” (I stole this word from Patrick La Roque :)) as if there was no border – no beginning or end. Your eyes wander without interruption between shadows and highlights. The light becomes liquid and perpetually spills over. This allows the photographer to blend light and shadow in a way that was not possible before. It reminds me of recording and listening to music.

There are musicians who can compose music in so many dimensions that the sound transcends the instruments. These recordings carry a spectrum of sounds such as background noises or even the singers’ breathing that elevate the listening experience quite dramatically.

In this month’s Medium Format Magazine our contributors present their views on the subject “Why Medium Format?” Each editorial presents unique and thought-provoking arguments in the use of medium format. What are your thoughts?   

Interview: Fujiguy Billy Luong

Interview: Fujiguy Billy Luong

Following the successful 2018 Photokina, there is no question that Fujifilm is not holding anything back in the medium format market. With three major medium format cameras: GFX50S, the most recent GFX50R and the upcoming GFX100, the company is quickly becoming a big player in the segment. This decisive move is especially compelling, as most other major brands have decided to pursue the full frame market.

We wanted to find out more about the thinking behind this interesting move, the development of the G-sensor cameras, and get to know Billy – one of the most recognizable faces of Fujifilm.

Below please find an excerpt from an exclusive interview for the first issue of the Medium Format Magazine.

Is there a separate team at Fujifilm working on medium format versus the standard X series when it comes to design technology and things like that? Are these two separate teams or are you together on both systems?

The development of each new product is always led by a senior marketing product planning person and each has a role in the development of that product and line-up. Let’s say we would have someone assigned to the X100 series and we might have a different product planner assigned to the GFX system. Although the teams work together, the overseeing is generally done by one product planner. As the product becomes more important or/and has more technical challenges, the more senior product planner is assigned to the project. But in general a senior manager oversees the line-up both for the X series and GFX.

It appears that the original GFX was aimed at commercial, fashion and landscape photographers. Were you surprised that so many serious amateurs bought the system? And what was the biggest surprise for Fujifilm in terms of the adoption of this camera?

When we developed the GFX50S we started with a small group of professional photographers around the world that specialize in this format. We worked with fashion, portrait, landscape, street and studio photographers. The goal of the GFX50S was to develop a system that appealed to a wider audience. Medium format in the past was very niche and expensive but we wanted the system to be used by everyone, so we developed the GFX50S to be more a system-style camera. We wanted to attract not just the traditional medium format users but customers who were completely happy with the DSLR but wanted better image quality, so we developed the GFX50S to be expandable. If you wanted lightweight, you could remove the electronic viewfinder included with the camera. If you wanted to shoot in the studio we offered a tilt adaptor for the GFX50S that allowed you shoot in the traditional way. And we ensured the camera was weather resistant so you could take it out of the studio and shoot in situations where medium format may not have been thought possible. 

We understood who we were appealing to and knew that the biggest growth would be someone coming from DSLR who wanted to improve the quality whether it’s a good dynamic range for landscape or greater resolution and image quality for architectural work. So it was important that the system would appeal to a wide audience.

The GFX50R was designed for something different. We knew the mirrorless medium format was still very important to maximize handling while ensuring that the system was as lightweight as possible and that it was still weather resistant. The GFX50R was targeted to serious photographers as well as enthusiasts who wanted to have the best image quality.

To read the full interview please refer to the October issue of the Medium Format Magazine. You can become a member here.