Medium Format Magazine – November 2019

Medium Format Magazine – November 2019

From a fascinating opening piece from Denis Hocking to an exclusive and engaging interview with Victor Hamke, the November edition of Medium Format Magazine offers 140 pages of ad-free, highly curated content you won’t find anywhere else.

Denis Hocking opens the November issue with his account of an incredible voyage into the deep Arctic. In his reportage-style piece, “The High Arctic: The best photographic experience of my life,” Denis takes us on a true adventure which he describes this way: “It was very difficult for me but, in retrospect, my life is substantially richer for the experience.” I have to say the same after reading this captivating piece. I am confident you will enjoy it as much as I did. 

© Denis Hocking

Every month we bring you an interview with captivating medium format photographers and thinkers. This month we are so thrilled to share with you an exclusive interview with Victor Hamke, who in his own words “likes to drink a lot of coffee, loves to sleep and who always enjoys good conversation. A pretty normal dude.” We beg to disagree. Victor’s classy, intimate and powerful wedding imagery is anything but normal. Victor shares with us his beginnings, processes and his approach to this fascinating genre of photography. Whether you shoot wedding photography or not, you will love it. 

© Victor Hamke

Next, Steven Friedman in his series “Shoot to Print” presents his image titled “Zebra Aspens” and shares his story and philosophy behind this image. Steven also explores a variety of printing papers and the differences between them, including his own favourites. I cannot emphasis enough the importance of the subject of printing. Valuable and powerful advice! 

In the following article, “In the Moment,” Paul Sanders continues his series about contemplative photography. He writes, “Reflecting on an image is a valuable exercise in itself. Ask yourself how you felt about the original moment. How you saw things is very powerful. I often journal about my images, reflecting on the way I felt at the time and how I feel looking back at the way I collected the moment.” I don’t know about you, but this thought alone opened my mind and senses to a totally different way of thinking about my own photography. Paul’s text is accompanied by a tranquil photograph you can’t stop looking at. A must-read for everyone! 

@ Paul Sanders

Chris Knight, whom we interviewed last month, has agreed to write this month’s column “How it Was Shot.” Chris presents one of his stunning images, “Queen of the North” and explains in great detail the story behind the image, including the mechanics of shooting it from inspiration to styling and from lighting to post-processing. You will see the entire process of creation. It cannot get better than that. 

In his column “Metapixel,” Lloyd Chambers tackles the issue of “Multi-Frame Stitching and Panoramas.” Lloyd explains the technique and the process and provides multiple examples. He also recommends the gear which could help you achieve the best results. I wouldn’t be surprised if you started experimenting with these techniques for yourself. 

In his article, “Sky is the Limit” Vieri Bottazzini makes a fascinating case for sky in landscape photography. Vieri shows us examples when the use of sky makes the images powerful and different. He also shares his thoughts about the use of different ratios in landscape photography and the power of medium format to achieve your own goals or, as Vieri describes it, when “the sky is the limit.” We definitely agree. 

In the following article, Ludwig Hagelstein continues his series about medium format analogue photography. In Part 2 he writes about “choosing the right film for your project.” He counters a popular notion that there are not many types of film to choose from and gives us some signposts how to look for the film that you would like to pick up for yourself.

The topic of film doesn’t end with Ludwig’s piece. Alex Burke continues the subject “exploring the dynamic range of colour negative film.” He shares his experience of shooting film and makes a compelling technical case for it. As usual, his stunning landscape photography might make you pick up film again, if you are not already shooting with it. 

Finally, the Readers’ Exhibition section makes a comeback so please make sure to see the great work submitted by our readers.

© Hermin Jouan

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PICTURES OF THE WEST: Driving South

PICTURES OF THE WEST: Driving South

The story was published in the November, 2018 edition of the Medium Format Magazine. You will find the second part “Driving North” by Benjamin Everett in the December, 2018 issue.


Death Valley

There was a dashed line and darkness. The headlights revealed a steep road plummeting through a blur of rock and sage. My main concern was heat. The overhead panel displayed a glowing 94 degrees and it was well past midnight. What would that read at midday?  

Alongside me was a dream collection of Hasselblad gear: the 100 megapixel H6D and four lenses. I’d never shot medium format before and would be getting used to this kit over the next few days in the depths of Death Valley. Thereafter I’d be a free agent, logging nearly 4,000 miles of the American West in search of unique desert landscapes.

Six months before, on a whim, I’d entered the landscape category of the Hasselblad Masters competition, and won. In total, there were over 30,000 entrants across 11 categories. It felt a bit like winning the lottery. As part of the competition, winners were asked to shoot a series of images on Hasselblad equipment of their choice. These images would then be compiled into a beautiful hardcover collectors’ book. The pressure to live up to expectations was high.

Many of my artistic heroes were painters of the West. These wild landscapes lent themselves particularly well to interpretation. There is a fascinating correlation between the line quality found in art and design, and the lines nature tends to draw. For my series of images, I proposed exploring this across a variety of windswept dunes and Badlands. After a thousand miles driving from my home in the Pacific Northwest, Death Valley was the first real stop.

I spend a lot of time on the road. My Dodge Durango is getting close to the 200k mark, and I hope she can go as many more. Some may prefer the spaciousness of a camper van, but there’s something nice about the versatility of an unassuming SUV. The back seats fold completely flat and with a few foam pads, all six feet two of me sleeps blissfully.

Pulling into a quiet corner of the Mesquite Flats parking lot around 2 am, I shook my head while setting the alarm for 4:30. When it went off, just two and a half short hours later, I swung my legs down to the ground, and wondered how awake I was. Everything about the medium format gear was surreal, including its weight. The full kit came to about 40 pounds. I hefted this and took off for the dunes, enjoying cool sand under my bare feet.

Oceans and deserts are remarkably alike, silent and clean. Thoughts are distant like ships on the horizon, you see them a mile off cresting waves they roll towards you. For me, that space is a key to creativity. It’s an expansive emptiness that must exist before the good that fills it. 

You have to go away from the parking lot to a place where there are fewer footprints and pretty soon, none. I set up the tripod and locked down the H6D. It was time to start experimenting with compositions. The camera was friendly. We got along straightaway. The menu is sleek and intuitive, as are the controls. The large kachunk of the shutter was a startling transition from a DSLR, but I see it as symbolic of the effort required to lock in a 100mp file. It’s like the vault door slamming shut on a newly minted gold bar. 

It would be nearly month before I would see that digital gold on the screen, but yes, the files really are that good.

Drifting along, the lack of wind provided a perfect opportunity to experiment with lenses, something I’d appreciate later when the elements were not so kind. Quickly, the 35-90mm f/4-5.6. became a favorite. I’m used to prime lenses on my usual Nikon D810, so this range allowed me to move quickly. In the desert, it’s nice to have the freedom to compose different shots without disturbing the sand. As the sun crested the horizon, I made my way to the top of a large dune. Here, the 300mm f/4.5 shone. Abstract layer combinations lay in all directions. As raking light began to fall across the textured ripples underfoot, I switched to the wide angle of the 24mm f/4.8. The last of the four lenses, the Macro 120mm f/4 II, didn’t get used that day but after discovering its incredible sharpness, I wouldn’t make that mistake again.

As the sun rose further, so did the heat. This kicked up wind and wind brought sand and the lens now on the camera stayed on the camera. My initial concerns about temperature were valid. By midday it was 111 degrees. I protected myself and the gear as well as could be expected. But that wind! If I’d only known how it would become a constant issue.

Having wandered far into the dunes, I was low on water and ready to return. The path back was punctuated by stops and starts. The light went flat with a slight heat haze, but the forms were still there, teasing you. Countless times I pulled the tripod from my shoulder saying, “Just one more.”

Arizona Badlands

On the road again, heading further south. There was a day lost to Las Vegas. During an oil change, the attendant showed me a tire gauge. “See this red area indicating danger?” “Sure.” “You’re way past it.” I pictured blowouts and precipitous plunges down canyon walls. “Go ahead with the replacements.”

Then it was over the Hoover dam and onward through Flagstaff. I spent the night on a utility road among sage and volcanic rock. Highway lights twinkled in the distance. 

Arriving at the Petrified Forest National Park, I was shocked to learn the gates close several hours before sunset. Apparently, it’s harsh light or nothing. 

Sitting in the Visitors Center, swirling a bad cup of coffee and concerned about the project, I had a moment of exasperation. Maybe Google has some answers. Pinching maps towards dark patches of crimson and gold, paved gray arteries led to dusty veins, and I’d found a road of new possibilities. 

Upon arrival, there was a slight hesitation. This appeared to be the remains of a Navajo State Park. I steered my new tires around broken bottles, potholes, a lopsided park bench, and the graffiti-covered remains of a derelict restroom. Towards the end of the road, on the horizon, a sliver of red indicated hope. The color grew. A band of white, a band of gold, another band of red – I jumped from the car and ran to the edge. Draped across the horizon was a giant Navajo blanket of rippling color, geometric ridges and geologic patterns. The connection between the indigenous people of the southwest, their art and their land is immediate. Everything is connected. I laughed out loud.

It was the most beautiful thing I’d seen all day. There was a desire to turn and say to someone, “Can you believe this!?” but there was not a living soul in sight.

Later that evening, soft golden light exaggerated the beauty of those rolling forms. I walked about, aligning compositions and timing exposures. This was exactly the light and location I’d hoped for, but the wind was becoming a problem and appeared to be getting stronger. Soon I imagined great towering waves of air, cresting and falling in explosive gusts across the entire ridge line. Bracing low, I was thankful for a sturdy tripod and hoped things would be better in the morning. Unfortunately, the wind buffeted the car all night and the sun rose behind racing stripes of grey cloud. It was clearly time to move on. 

Next stop, White Sands National Monument. This would be the first time I’d laid eyes on New Mexico, the legendary home of so many of the early 20th century painters I admired, including Ernest L. Blumenschein, William Victor Higgins, E. Martin Hennings, and Georgia O’Keeffe. 

The wind continued to howl as I headed south through rolling grasslands. Did the car swerve because of wind or distraction? At times, fields of small green juniper trees stretched to the horizon, endless in their arrangements of Zen. I passed perfect window-framed scenes at 70 mph and turned circles in the road to find them again. Did front-seat yoga, twisting to brace the camera against car-seat, steering-wheel and dash-board supports. Selective windows were raised and lowered to minimize wind and dust. When all batteries died, it was a relief. I might actually make it to a hotel in Alamogordo that night.

Lying spread out on the cool sheets of a king-sized bed, I listened to the air conditioner hum while battery lights blinked softly in the darkened room. Inspiration was electric. I’ve always admired these Southwest artists for their creativity and style. After the day’s drive it became apparent that half the gratitude goes to the landscape. It was exciting to feel so at home somewhere new.

White Sands

These are the sexiest of dunes, their smooth curves fast and low. The best experience is to spend a night in the heart of them. I reserved a site with the rangers and by mid-afternoon had hiked in and set up camp. It was a world that existed of two colors: soft white walls under a hard blue distant ceiling. With some time to go before the ideal light, I sat in the shade to meditate. The barely heard sounds of the park became more apparent. The wind was distant and muffled, like some great hourglass slowly pouring itself into the future, each grain heard tumbling in time. And then, the time is now. I’m up and taking pictures. It’s rare that meditation has blurred so directly into the process of photography. There was no destination, just the gradual motion towards a focused observation. No paths retraced, each fresh scene destroyed by moving through it.

The White Sand Dunes are wildly different from the gold ones of Death Valley and not just in color. Sand size and wind patterns create all new shapes to play with. Sweeping arcs rise up western faces to drop down steep walls to the east. Between each dune is an area of dry earth, reptilian scales of hardened soil that reveal sparse vegetation between the cracks. Photography there is often about excluding these low zones. Two compositions predominate: aligning crests of the dunes with a telephoto lens or focusing wide angles on the texture of broad slopes.

The sun dipped lower in the west and glinted off the blowing sand. Again, this wind! Each dune gained an aura of gold. When asked about the weather sealing of the H6D, Hasselblad answered a disconcerting, “None.” I wrapped the sensitive camera tightly in my windbreaker, feeling more clever than necessary by using the hood as a lens cover and battled on, heading west. Ridge after ridge of new and fascinating compositions. I battled stability, battled visibility, and finally gave up as the sun withdrew its final rays. ISO and shutter speed were no match for the gale.

Turning east, darkness had crept up from behind. A moment of disorientation rushed over me. I’d neglected to bring any kind of light. There was no moon, no footprints, and there was no trail. The dunes were a uniform blue turning quickly to a swallowing black. Soon I’d barely make out my feet below me. I fought a rising sense of dread. How could I have been so foolish? I’d read the warnings but passed them off as guidelines for city-dwelling tourists used to road signs and street lights. The wilderness was my home, I don’t get lost. Any judgements passed on others swung back with full self-critical force.

Looking back, this was the halfway point of my trip. Standing there in darkness, I would never be as far from home.

Breathing deeply, I focused on the horizon. To the east, the lights of Alamogordo were fixed stars, my tent was that way too. I found the brightest and set sail. At the top of each dune, this guiding light was visible. Plunging down a blank face, there was nothing, and there was walking forward into nothing. But then the light reappeared and I was on course. Up and down, trust then reassurance. After 45 minutes, I walked straight into a trail marker, and my tent soon after. Sleep was deep and easy. The gravity of my trip had shifted. It’s fascinating to watch a simple compass orientation affect your entire outlook. The fortitude to push south into the unknown became just as strong to go north and home.


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The Ingenuity and Serendipity of the Hasselblad V-System

The Ingenuity and Serendipity of the Hasselblad V-System

If someone asked us to design a home entertainment system that would be compatible with systems 60 years into the future (the year 2079), we would probably respond, “Impossible!” Not only would it be difficult to predict whether hardware would still be compatible, but what about the media and software? Designing anything future-proof is a monumental task even with the help of industry standard organizations such as DIN, IEC or ISO. As an example, it took almost 100 years to come to a universal ISO standard in 1974 for film speeds.

In the 1940s when Victor Hasselblad started designing and manufacturing cameras for the Swedish military, there was no clear market position for medium format cameras. Initially it was an amateur film format (think Kodak Box Brownie) that pre-dated 35mm cartridge film, not the professional film format that it eventually evolved into. In fact, Victor Hasselblad’s goal was that his cameras would be for the average person, not a high-end tool for only the rich or the professional photographer. Little did Victor Hasselblad know how his ingenious design would allow his camera system to survive 60 years into the future and beyond. Let’s look at the history of the Hasselblad System and how it came to be the iconic 6×6 medium format camera.

The late 1940s experienced a postwar industrial boom. During WWII, like many industrial machining companies around the world, Hasselblad became a parts manufacturer, producing parts for watches and clocks in addition to making cameras for the military. After the war, these companies had to find new things to build, and making consumer cameras was a natural evolution for Hasselblad. Although we know this Swedish brand as the iconic medium format camera manufacturer, F.W. Hasselblad & Company started 100 years earlier in 1841 as a trading company. Victor’s grandfather, Arvid Hasselblad, met George Eastman (founder of Eastman Kodak) by chance on his honeymoon, and Hasselblad became the exclusive distributor for Kodak in Sweden. It was no coincidence, when Victor Hasselblad made his first commercially available roll film camera, the 1600F, in 1948 that it was equipped with a Kodak Ektar lens. Since Hasselblad was already manufacturing precision watch and clock parts, building cameras was not a huge leap in complexity. Unlike other manufacturers, however, Hasselblad’s vision was far more complicated than most available non-system medium format cameras at that time. It was the first modular 6×6 medium format single-lens-reflex system camera with interchangeable backs, lenses and viewfinders. Although the now iconic 500C wouldn’t be released until 1957, the 1600F was the beginning of the Hasselblad System as it was known for over 50 years. In 2002, Hasselblad renamed it the V-System (as a memorial for Victor?) to differentiate it from the new 645 H-System.

The iconic Hasselblad 500C was finally released in 1957. Although it looked similar to the 1600F and 1000F, there was a distinct internal design change. The more complicated and fragile focal plane shutter system was replaced with a more accurate and stable leaf shutter system (albeit with a slower top shutter speed). The new Carl Zeiss Compur lenses for the 500C system had the shutters built right into the lenses, allowing for faster flash sync speeds (to a maximum of 1/500th sec), as well as being more accurate, stable and less fragile. If I were to guess, the “C” in 500C stood for Compur, the then-king of premium leaf shutters. The 500 stood for 1/500th sec top shutter speed. This makes sense since the previous 1600F (top shutter speed of 1/1600th sec) and 1000F (top shutter speed of 1/1000th sec) both had focal plane shutters, hence the “F.” Later in their history, Hasselblad would make the 200 and 2000 series equipped with electronic focal plane shutters that were stronger and better designed than the previous models and could accept both standard and leaf shutter lenses. However, the legacy started with the classic Hasselblad 500C system, which included the famous 80mm f/2.8 Carl Zeiss Compur leaf shutter lens system. 

Let us first examine how this camera takes a photograph. The release cycle and precision timing of the Hasselblad 500C is an engineering marvel. Each part, the lens, the mirror and the body, must all work together to make the image. When you depress the shutter button, the first thing that happens is that the leaf shutter closes, and the aperture diaphragm stops down to the preset aperture value. Next, the mirror for the viewfinder (remember the Hasselblad 500C is technically an SLR) moves up and out of the way, blanking out your view, and the rear auxiliary shutter opens up to reveal the film to the inner chamber of the camera body. Finally, the leaf shutter opens and closes for the proper duration set by the shutter speed ring, thus exposing the film. In the end, the mirror returns to its closed position and the auxiliary shutter covers the exposed film. The single cycle must occur in this order and within a fraction of a second every time, without the need of a battery. It’s all springs, levers and gears, like a good watch. That’s precision engineering.

As fascinating as the camera’s release cycle is, the most important feature of the V-System is the interchangeable backs or magazines. Imagine today if you could swap out the 35mm sensor on your digital camera and pop in a medium format sensor, or a black and white only sensor, depending on the subject you’re photographing? In 1948 when the 1600F was first released, that’s basically what you could do with your V-System. Remember that before digital photography, your film was the equivalent of the modern sensor and memory card combined. The film and format you chose determined the size, aspect ratio, and the total number of images you could take with your camera. If you loaded one type of film at a specific aspect ratio and roll length, that’s what you were stuck with until you finished that roll of film; not so with an interchangeable camera back. With a Hasselblad camera you could swap your magazine mid-roll for another film type (colour, b&w, slide, Polaroid, etc.), film speed, film length (120, 220, sheet) or aspect ratio/orientation. Initially, the greatest advantage of having a swappable magazine system was having various types of film loaded while you were in the field: one magazine with Kodak Tri-X, another with Kodachrome 64, and still another with a colour print film. This makes sense. However, as time went on, many professional photographers realized that the speed of reloading film was another major advantage with a modular back system. Instead of handing the camera to an assistant when you ran out of film and grabbing another pre-loaded camera body and swapping out the lens (or having two of the same lens for speed), the photographer would simply swap out the finished magazine and grab a new one; no need to move the camera, lens, or take the camera off the tripod. One lens, one body, but multiple magazines. In fact, on certain projects, you could rent or borrow extra backs loaded with the same film so you could resume shooting as quickly as possible.

The rear interface of all V-System cameras (with a few exceptions) has been the same since 1948 with the original 1600F. This doesn’t mean that every magazine will work with every body (some backs had special features with electronic contacts that communicated with the body), but the physical connection is the same. For instance, the CFV-50C digital back will physically fit but will not work with the 1600F or 1000F. This is because the focal plane shutter must be overridden in favour of the leaf shutter lenses while in C-mode, something that wasn’t invented before the 500C. Beside the few exceptions, the Hasselblad digital backs basically act the same as the film backs. There were multiple film magazines available over the years from 120, 220, 70mm, Polaroid, sheet and glass plate. There were also multiple formats other than 6×6: from 4×4 super slide, 645 in landscape orientation (with 16 frames per 120 roll film), and 645 in portrait orientation (cropped 6×6 with only 12 frames per 120 roll film). With the Polaroid pack film, although the film size was larger than 6×6, the image itself could expose only a 6×6 image square. 

Although 120 film is still readily available, Polaroid and Fujifilm pack film is now discontinued. However, it was the Polaroid back that pointed to the possibility of a digital future for Hasselblad’s V-System. Even though it is something we take for granted today, being able to immediately see your images was a luxury feature for any camera system, even as late as the 1990s. As advanced as my Fujifilm GA645i medium format camera was (auto load, auto advance, autofocus, auto exposure, data imprinting along the edge of the frame), I still had to run to the photo lab if I wanted immediate feedback from my images. To include instant viewing in my 1990s workflow, I bought a 1960s Polaroid Land Camera and carried around a pile of 667 and 669 film. I wasn’t alone. Having a 1950s Hasselblad in the 1990s was still a wise and, in many ways, advanced option for many professional and hobbyist photographers.

Moreover, being able to use a modern digital component on a 60-year-old camera system is not only ingenious, but also serendipitous. The passing of time can be cruel to older technology (remember Sony’s Beta, DAT, MiniDisc, SACD?). External forces can make an otherwise advanced piece of hardware or software obsolete. Although many lens mounts have transitioned from film to digital (Leica M, Nikon F, Pentax K), not many camera systems have done so, or at least done so successfully. Even if film disappeared today, although the film magazines would be dead, digital backs would keep the V-System’s bodies, lenses and accessories alive and well. Victor Hasselblad couldn’t have foreseen the future of photography in 1948, but the modular V-System that he invented allowed for the system to evolve and accept the newest technologies. The recent announcement of the new Hasselblad 907X body and CFV II 50C digital back for the V-System is solid proof that Victor Hasselblad had it right when he envisioned a modular medium format camera system in the 1940s. 

This is the first in a series of articles on the Hasselblad V-System by Take Kayo originally published in the Medium Format Magazine. Take will continue to discuss the history, the future, and the advantages of shooting with a modular SLR medium format camera for both film and digital photography.

For those of you who are already shooting medium format or considering buying their first medium format camera, we invite you to subscribe and get immediate access to the latest and all past issues of the Medium Format Magazine and highly regarded PDF Exclusives publications. 

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MF REVIEW: Fujinon GF 50mm F3.5 lens.

MF REVIEW: Fujinon GF 50mm F3.5 lens.

Portable, light and the only one you might need. 

Since the introduction of the Fujifilm GFX medium format system, we have seen eight Fujinon lenses designed specifically for the GFX50S, the GFX50R and most recently the GFX100 cameras. What links them all is their superb build and exceptional optical quality. After all, this is medium format, meaning any shortcoming in design or optical quality would be on full display. One of the trade-offs is the size—most GF lenses are large and quite heavy. 

With the introduction of the GFX50R, a rangefinder-style medium format camera, it became apparent there was a need for a smaller, pancake-style lens which would match the relatively portable and travel-friendly design of the GFX50R. This is when the GF50mm F3.5 lens R LM WR came to the fore. 

As an owner of the GF45mm F2.8 and someone who has shot quite extensively with the 63mm F2.8 lens, the question arises as to whether the brand-new GF 50mm F3.5 is worth considering as the only walk-around, everyday lens. 

That is exactly what I tried to find out during the testing process. All conclusions are mine. The lens was kindly provided to us by Fujifilm Canada for a review; no conditions or provisos were attached to it. 

Let’s get to it. 

BUILD AND FIRST IMPRESSION

The first thing that came to mind when I took the GF50 F3.5 lens out of the box was “Wow, this is small.” I’ve had the chance to shoot with every GF lens available and most of them are quite large—that should be no surprise. After all, this is medium format where image quality is everything. With this proviso, compromising on the quality of the glass just to make it smaller wouldn’t make any sense. 

Even in comparison to the GF63mm F2.8 lens, the GF50mm F2.8 is quite small. It weighs only 335gm(11.8 oz). The build quality doesn’t differ from the rest of the lineup. I tried to look hard to see where Fujifilm might have saved money but I couldn’t find it or at least it is not apparent. 

It is still an all-metal lens with a pleasant high-quality rubber grip and a dedicated aperture ring as are all the other lenses in the line-up. As seen in the other offerings, you can put the lens in the “A” or “C” modes with the latter allowing for a command dial on the body to control your aperture.  

The good news is that the lens’ front filter thread size is 62mm, the same as the GF45mm or GF63mm lenses. Another interesting feature of the lens is its unique metal arching lens hood; you will find two different size caps inside the box to bring back your childhood Lego memories. When using the lens with the hood it looks as if it had no hood at all. I quite like it. 

Last, the GF50mm F3.5 is weather resistant, which means I can attach the lens to any weather-resistant body and I don’t have to worry about rain. Hello Vancouver! Hello the R-A-I-N Project! 

For those who need specifics here they are: 

  • 9 elements in 6 groups
  • Angle of view: 57.4°
  • Max. aperture: ƒ/3.5
  • Min. aperture: ƒ/32   
  • Focus range (from the sensor surface): 0.55m 
  • Max. magnification: 0.1x 
  • External dimensions: Diameter x Length (Distance from camera lens mount flange):  φ84mm x 48mm
  • Weight (approx.) (excluding the lens cap, lens hood and hood cap): 335gm

FOCAL LENGTH 

Although we started with the lens’ physical qualities, its field of view is a much more rivetting story. 

The GF45mm F2.8 is 36mm full frame equivalent and the GF63mm F2.8 is 50mm —both classic viewpoints. Having said that, the brand-new GF50mm F3.5 gives us the 40mm focal length, just between the GF63 and GF45. What an interesting field of view! 

Once again, despite its unusual number, the 50mm focal length (40mm in FF) worked well when framing this scene. The 45mm would be too wide and the 63mm too tight. Strange indeed, but the more I used the GF50mm, the more I found how useful and versatile this lens is. It took me a while to figure out the exact framing of this shot. What you see on the left side of the frame is a wooden structure of some sort, which one gentleman was working on. It was placed outside for a while, then moved inside. It is amazing how visual opportunities appear in front of you if you attune your seeing to one focal length. 

When I received this lens, I didn’t know what to make of it. I had shot extensively with both 35 and 50 focal lengths (in FF terms) and am comfortable with both. Having said that, my “to go” focal length for most of my photography is the GF45mm, a  wider 35mm field of view in full frame terms. 

In other words, the GF45mm F2.8 was a more natural choice for me. I found little reason to reach out for the GF 63mm F2.8. I enjoy having a wider lens to make my frame visually richer and more interesting. This of course comes with the challenge of having more elements to deal with and more space to control in the frame. There are times, especially when I want to take some street portraits, when I could use the GF63mm F2.8 but it doesn’t justify buying another lens and carrying it with me. 

GF 50mm vs. GF45mm

The most vital question for me is whether the brand-new GF50mm F3.5 would solve this problem. Some of you may say, “That’s fine, Olaf, but this is F2.8 vs. F3.5.” You are absolutely right but let’s not beat the drum too loudly. When I see some people go mad over the look of the bokeh of wide-angle lenses it really turns me into a Grinch, even if it might be slightly too soon to become one. I even have a dog. 

The GF50mm F3.5 allows you to play with out-of-focus areas quite effectively. 

No, you don’t buy wide-angle lenses for bokeh. The difference between F2.8 and F3.5 is not enough to play a major role in a light-gathering sense. In fact, when taking a portrait with the GF50mm at F3.5 I don’t have to worry too much about depth of field because most of my subject’s face is going to be in focus (unless I misplace the focal point of course).

Did I notice the difference between the GF45mm and the GF50mm in real life shooting situations? 

ON THE STREET

Initially, yes. Even though the 5mm difference seems insignificant or as someone put it, “nothing to worry about,” I noticed it right away. I have to admit that in my type of creative photography every inch of frame matters. On the first few days of shooting I had several situations when I wanted to include more in the frame, but I couldn’t. The 5mm difference in the wide-angle world is much more than the number would suggest. After about three days of shooting one thought was buzzing in my mind: “No, this lens is probably not for me.” 

This is one of the situations when I wanted to have a slightly wider lens, the GF45mm F2.8, which allowed me to make the space more pronounced. The images still look great.  

Despite these concerns, I kept reaching for the GFX50R and GF50mm F3.5 lens almost daily. With time and some beer, I came to the realization that for the last ten years I have been mostly shooting with one focal length, that is, 35mm in full frame terms. Once you do it for so long your seeing becomes attuned to one focal length, and at times, I don’t even need a camera to frame the scene in front of me. With the new GF50mm F3.5, my seeing needed to make a major adjustment and it did. 

I always enjoy positioning lines and shapes in the frame. The GF50mm F3.5 was neither too wide nor too tight for such an exercise. It was just right to frame what was happening above our heads. 

On the second week of shooting, I became increasingly comfortable with the 40mm focal length. Interestingly enough, I was shooting as if I was working with the classical 50mm, framing my scene and then expanding it for extra elements to get to the 40mm. Starting tight with your framing is always a better idea than going with the “all-in” blunderbuss attack. It was a very interesting visual exercise and helped me to transition to this new focal length.  

The framing of this image couldn’t be any better with a wider lens. 

I especially appreciated the 50mm F3.5 lens when taking portraits. With the GF45mm F2.8 I often found it was too wide for the purpose. The GF50mm F3.5 was just right. I was able to frame my subject comfortably but also include enough complementing elements. In this regard, the GF50mm F3.5 worked beautifully.   

The image was taken on the ferry in Amsterdam. I noticed this woman and asked her for permission to take a portrait. The 50mm was an ideal focal length to have visual amity but enough distance to create some beautiful negative space. 

WHILE TRAVELLING

As someone who teaches photography around the world, travelling light and simple has always been my priority. When I travel, I usually do so with one camera and one lens only. Could the GF50mm F3.5 replace the GF45mm F2.8 for my travels? 

The first test was on my trip to Amsterdam. I packed the GFX50R paired with the GF50mm F3.5. That’s all. No backup camera unless you consider my iPhone as such. I don’t, but don’t get me started. Not today!  

Another peculiar thing I like about the 40mm focal length is the fact that you can shoot across the road without needing to be on the road. With the GF45mm I often have to shoot from the middle of the road to achieve the right framing (don’t copy me!). It is strange but somehow useful. 

PAIRED WITH THE GFX50R

When Fujifilm announced the GF50mm F3.5, the most fitting camera was the GFX50R despite the fact that I am more familiar with the GFX50S. A few months back, when I was testing the GFX50R, I liked the camera but when paired with the GF45mm F2.8 and the GF110mm F2 I found them together slightly unbalanced and difficult to shoot for an extended period. I left with one thought. If only Fujifilm could do the pancake-like lens for the GFX50R it would be a dream travel and street photography combo.  

Here is the GFX50R and the GF50mm F3.5 combo in the hands of a capable photographer. Indeed, it’s a very portable and neat pairing, perfect for travel and wandering the streets. Some of you might guess who the photographer is. 

Indeed, pairing the GFX50R and the GF50mm F3.5 gave me the relatively small, light and highly portable solution. Putting the camera over my shoulder allowed me to walk around Amsterdam without the nuisance of carrying a big SLR around my neck. In fact, it felt as if I was walking with an oversized X-Pro or X-T. 

I would have problems framing so tightly with the GF45mm lens. The GF50 was perfect for capturing this tight scene. The crack that goes from the top to the bottom provides a much-needed visual break. 

Given the combo’s weight and size, the thought of having the medium format system around my neck put a smile on my face. This special combo changes perception and expands the possibilities of what you can do with medium format today. (The only other portable solution is the Hasselblad X1D 2 along with the XCD 45mm 3.5 lens. Look for an in-depth review later in the year.) 

As I was navigating the narrow streets, bridges and canals, my camera was ready for action at any time. After shooting all day long I didn’t feel any fatigue after carrying the gear. In fact, the experience didn’t differ much from shooting with other much smaller systems.   

When I saw this scene, I had to run up close to the bus. The GF 45mm F2.8 would certainly be too wide for this purpose. 

PAIRED WITH THE GFX50S

The GFX50R was not the only camera I paired this lens with. I also decided to test it on my GFX50S. Up to now it had been the GF45mm F2.8 lens that never left my camera, with the exception of some portraiture work I did with the GF110 F2 lens. The first time the GF50mm F3.5 was announced I had to face the dilemma: 45 or 50? Should I switch? Of course, the main point of such a recast would be to make the system lighter and smaller. 

When you attach the GF50mm F3.5 to the GFX50S, it becomes a camera ready for adventure. It is not as comfortable around your neck as the GFX50R, but it has a different advantage. When the GFX50S is paired with the GF50mm F3.5, the camera’s fantastic grip allows for much more confident hold without using the strap. I couldn’t say that about the GFX50R. 

It is not that I am recommending working without straps or secured protection but the GFX50S matched with the GF50mm F3.5 is such a confident combo to hold in your hand. I take it out of my bag when I want to photograph and then put it back when I don’t. The balance of the camera and the lens is just perfect, especially for my small hands.      

AUTOFOCUS

Upon my return from Amsterdam, I continued shooting with the lens in Vancouver. 

At this point I had a great idea about the GF50mm F3.5 autofocus capabilities. I have to say that my confidence in the lens’ autofocus capabilities rose. Thanks to the lens’ linear motor, there are no moving elements. I could even say this might well be the fastest focusing lens in the GF line-up.  

If I could find one annoying thing about focusing, it’s distance. It needs 1.8 feet (55 centimeters), certainly not good for close-up photography. Sometimes I wanted to focus close—not micro-sort-of-close but closer.  

Lines are always a challenge. The GF50mm F3.5 was just perfect to get what I wanted. I wondered if I had had the GF45mm on my camera would I find this framing or would I go wider? Interesting!

IMAGE QUALITY

With the price point below US$1,000 let me remind you, for a medium format lens, the quality I am seeing is excellent. In fact, when I looked at the files and compared them, I was surprised how sharp this lens was. I could even argue that in the centre of the frame the GF50mm outshines the GF45mm and certainly the GF63mm (the weakest of the three). 

As mentioned earlier, I am not going to split hairs about the so-called bokeh. After all, this is still a wide-angle lens so if bokeh is your obsession you should probably be looking at the GF110 F2, not here.

The rendering of the lens appears to be more clinical and acute so it should appeal to those who seek this micro-contrast edge in their images. In fact, when I showed some images to my friends, they asked me if they were from the GFX100? Nope.  

CONCLUSIONS

When I was faced with choosing my first lens for the GFX system I decided on the GF45mm F2.8. Having said that, back then there was no GF50mm F3.5 lens available; it wasn’t even in the planning stage. Today, I would probably go with the GF50mm F3.5 instead, mainly for two reasons: the size, price and focal length. 

Furthermore, the GFX50R is now listed at US$3999 and the GF50mm F3.5 at US$995. For about US$4,000 you have a powerful camera system and entrance into the medium format world—something just a few years ago many thought impossible.  

For those of you who want to learn the craft of seeing properly and would like to enter or upgrade to medium format, the GFX50R and the GF50mm F3.5 is one of the best ways to do that. Furthermore, I would urge you not to add more lenses right away (unless there is a professional need for it) but to shoot with the combo for at least a year. Once you do so, you may well find out that the portable, light GF50mm F3.5 is the only lens you need for a while.

Quite a complex frame with many elements. This is another occasion when I thought the GF45mm could provide me with more breathing space, especially on the right of the frame. Would that make it better frame? I don’t know. 
Here, framing was of crucial importance and the GF50mm F3.5 gave me the perfect focal length to achieve my visual goals. 

If you are shooting with medium format, make sure to check out the Medium Format Magazine. This highly curated, professionally edited and ad-free publication covers all aspects of medium format photography. Subscribe today and take advantage of special anniversary pricing—use the MF30 code for 30% off – the yearly subscription only.   

Tomasz Lazar photographs the Nobel Prize winner Olga Tokarczuk with the GFX50R

Tomasz Lazar photographs the Nobel Prize winner Olga Tokarczuk with the GFX50R

The Swedish Academy has just announced that Polish author Olga Tokarczuk and Austrian writer Peter Handke have won the Nobel Prize for Literature. 

This morning as the news hit the wires, we had a brief conversation with photographer Tomasz Lazar who had the opportunity to photograph Olga Tokarczuk on an assignment for the New Yorker Magazine. On this assignment Tomasz worked with the medium format camera, Fujifilm GFX50R. 

After the announcement we asked Tomasz for a short comment and here is what he told us: 

“Life is a never-ending journey during which you never know who you will meet. Thanks to the New Yorker Magazine commission I had the pleasure of photographing writer Olga Tokarczuk, the Nobel Prize winner.” “To understand the person, you need dive into their realm and with this can come amazing ideas.”

You will find Tomasz’ article in the August issue of the Medium Format Magazine. We are pleased to report that Tomasz is working on another exclusive article which will be posted in the December issue of the Medium Format Magazine. 

Make sure to check out Tomasz’ impressive work including his World Press Photo winning image taken in New York. 

Below please find two images of Olga Tokarczuk taken by Tomasz Lazar.

© Tomasz Lazar
© Tomasz Lazar

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