THE GF 100-200 F5.6 – Review

THE GF 100-200 F5.6 – Review

When I was booking my trip to Australia, other than planning my Visual Poet Experience Workshop in Melbourne, I knew I would like to rent a car and drive along the Great Ocean Road. That is when I started to ponder my gear choices for this trip. After all, my swimming shorts were already in the bag and I had acquired my own Akubra.

First, I thought about the GF 110mm F2. There is no question that this fast lens has quickly became the favourite of many, including me, for good reason. It’s fast with beautiful rendering, the right dose of micro-contrast and magical bokeh (nice eyes – sorry, can’t see the eyebrows). Indeed, it’s one of the best lenses I have ever used. 

GF 110 F2 and GF 100-200 F5.6 OIS

Then I thought about the GF 120mm F4 OIS Macro lens. I really like this original offering from Fujifilm. I think this lens has been getting a bad rap and it deserves more love. It’s bitingly sharp, if not the sharpest of all GFX lenses, with some even arguing it could be too sharp (can you believe it!?). I found it great for landscape, travel and some portraiture, especially because it comes with an excellent OIS system. When I find an image stabilization, lens or in-camera important, such a mechanism takes on another meaning in medium format where the slightest movement affects the quality of the image in a big way. 

So, as I was scrutinizing my choices, Fujifilm came out with the GF 100-200mm F5.6 OIS lens. Yes, I thought, that is exactly what I would like to take to Australia other than the GF 32-64mm F4 zoom. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect. Koalas and kangaroos watch out!  

GFX50S + GF100-200 @ f/16, 1/500 sec, ISO 100
GFX50S + GF100-200 @ f/11, 1/200, ISO 100

BUILD AND MECHANICS 

The first thing that struck me when I opened the white box and held the lens in my hands was its size and weight. For the medium format telephoto zoom lens it appeared to be very light and quite small, especially after shooting with a brilliant but enormous GF 250mm F4 OIS a few weeks earlier. In fact, the lens weighs almost the same as the GF 110mm F2 (around 1 kilogram) – not bad for a medium format zoom. When inspecting the lens more closely, I found it feels as solid as other GF lenses with no apparent shortcuts in its build.

The lens has the WR label, which means weather-resistant – sealing that I tested quite extensively with other XF and GF lenses during my R-A-I-N project, never experiencing any problems other than uncontrolled sneezing and coughing. Of course, I wouldn’t submerge either the lens or a photographer, but even heavy rain should not cause problems. Given the main purpose of this lens, there is no need to panic if a sudden storm catches a lost soul by surprise. 

For technical devotees, the lens consists of 20 elements in 13 groups including two super Extra-Low Dispersion Glass lenses and one aspherical lens to reduce chromatic and field curvature aberrations. The lens has been designed to use with the 1.4x teleconverter (GF1.4 TC WR) for those who want to extend the range to 140-280 (that makes it a 111-221mm range in 35mm terms). 

GFX50S + GF100-200 @ f/5.6, 1/320, ISO 125
GFX50S + GF100-200 @ f/5.6, 1/320, ISO 1600
GFX50S + GF100-200 @ f/16, 1/320, ISO 100

There is no question that the F5.6 ruffled some feathers to say the least. When the lens was announced, the online forums went berserk crying “wolf.” How could Fujifilm produce such a slow lens? Was I taken by surprise? Certainly not.  

First, the F5.6 on the medium format system is not the same as the F5.6 on full frame or APS-C. Second, many people who cannot live without a high-speed glass and spend hair-raising amounts of money acquiring one (F2 or faster, I guess), usually go out and then shoot at…F5.6 or F8, rarely if ever going wide-open. I have seen this over and over again. Keep in mind that at F2, there is already a challenge getting just the eyes in focus. There is certainly a trend in claiming to own the fastest lens ever. Third, we have to be realistic. A super-fast medium format telephoto zoom lens would be huge – I mean gigantic and super heavy. I won’t even mention the cost of such a beast. As much as we all like to be exhilarated, few of us could afford it or use it in real-life situations. It reminds me of a friend who owns a super car but almost never drives it because it is so unbearably uncomfortable.   

GFX50S + GF100-200 @ f/5.6, 1/200, ISO 400

So let’s get back to the GF 100-200mm lens. With the F5.6 aperture, Fujifilm managed to keep the lens very affordable and relativity light and small, which clearly suggests that Fujifilm has been aiming at landscape and travel photographers, leaving them the change for a plane ticket or two. How considerate!  

Indeed, I became a travel photographer when I packed my gear for the 16-hour flight to Australia. No, I wasn’t flying 737 Max – I wouldn’t risk my lens!  

GFX50S + GF100-200 @ f/14, 1/500, ISO 100
GFX50S + GF100-200 @ f/5.6, 1/340, ISO 100

IMAGE STABILIZATION 

After shooting for a while with the GF 110mm F2, it was such a relief to put the image-stabilized lens on my GFX 50S, especially because I am not the most stable person out there in terms of posture or visual interests! When shooting I get easily excited when I find the first piece of a visual puzzle that fits the narrative I am trying to convey. As you can imagine in situations like this, my shooting discipline goes out of the window. Fortunately, the OIS on the GF 100-200mm came to the rescue again and again, providing at least 4-5 of stops of correction. 

GFX50S + GF100-200 @ f/5.6, 1/320, ISO 640
GFX50S + GF100-200 @ f/5.6, 1/600, ISO 100

AUTO-FOCUS

It works really well. I haven’t experienced any problems with the lens not being able to lock focus. Having said that, I am a very slow photographer, so most lenses are much faster than I am.   

GFX50S + GF100-200 @ f/16, 1/480, ISO 100

IMAGE QUALITY

After shooting hundreds of images and reviewing them carefully, I concluded that the GF 100-200 F5.6 is not as razor sharp as the GF 120mm F4 or GF 250mm F4 and it doesn’t render as gently as the GF 110mm F2 (for obvious reasons). Wait a minute! No need for an internet meltdown! The GF 100-200mm has its own unique look, which is a good thing. It is even-tempered and calmer than the GF 120mm F4 and it works really beautifully with landscape vistas. This is quite apparent in images shot along the Great Ocean Road. The Twelve Apostles (I know it is now seven for those who insist on accuracy) show this lens’s gentle temperament quite well. As such, it works marvellously for what was intended – landscape and travel. 

When I was photographing people, I clearly missed the magic of the 110mm F2. Having said that, it doesn’t take away from the GF 100-200mm but rather reconfirms the brilliance of the GF 110mm F2 for portraiture work. Yes, even portraiture can be done using this lens during your travels. Don’t believe me? Check out these images taken by Damien Lovegrove.  

GFX50S + GF100-200 @ f/5.6, 1/200, ISO 160
GFX50S + GF100-200 @ f/5.6, 1/600, ISO 100
GFX50S + GF100-200 @ f/5.6, 1/420, ISO 100

PRICE 

In recent years, gear review sites went crazy over A to B and C to D comparisons regardless of the price of the product or the intended audience. So medium format is being compared to APS-C and Porsche to Toyota. Remarkably, some people find no difference whatsoever. Well, if I was looking for a car with four wheels as my only criteria, such comparisons would work for sure. After all, those comparisons, regardless of how insane they can be, are a magnet for internet eyes – many of them, and this brings in advertising revenue. What’s wrong with me then? With the US$1,995 price tag for the telephoto medium format zoom, this lens becomes a no-brainer and I am certain it will find its way into the bag of many travel and landscape photographers. It’s a medium format lens at the price of a full frame zoom.

Those who are waiting for the elusive $10,000 F2 zoom lens in medium format will never be satisfied with this offering, regardless of its intended use. For those who want to have in focus a little more than the top of the nose of their beloved pet, this lens is a true workhorse. Next time when I head out to photograph Australia’s outback, the hills of Palouse or details of Paris architecture, it’s exactly what I would like to pack with me, other than sunscreen. 

GFX50S + GF100-200 @ f/16, 1/100, ISO 100

FINAL THOUGHT

For those who want to travel light (in MF terms) the GF 100-20mm F5.6 lens completes the package. Now as the GF 100-200mm F5.6 lens joined the GF 32-64 F4 zoom, there are no more excuses for travel and landscape photographers but to go out and capture the vistas and cities of the world without any limitations. 

HOW I SHOT WITH THIS LENS

Winter in Vancouver

Before I left for Australia, I had the chance to photograph a very unusual snowstorm here in Vancouver. I drove to the top of Burnaby Mountain and took the following imagery. 

GFX50S + GF100-200 @ f/11, 1/20, ISO 100
GFX50S + GF100-200 @ f/5.6, 1/300, ISO 100
GFX50S + GF100-200 @ f/5.6, 1/125, ISO 160

Here is an example of the urban exploration I did with the GF 100-200mm. I could reduce my minimum shutter speed to 1/125 sec (I could easily go even further) and hand-hold my camera, allowing OIS to police my shortcomings.  

12 Apostles (7 to be exact)

The 12 Apostles is clearly the number one attraction on the Great Ocean Road in Victoria, Australia. While I usually try to avoid this sort of tourist spot, I found the view simply spectacular. We only had one chance to photograph the site and we were incredibly lucky. When we drove from Melbourne to the coast the sky was cloudy and dull. The moment we arrived at the viewing platform, the clouds opened and the sun hit the rocks. The stormy blue skies completed the show for us. The viewing platform was quite limited in terms of position so the 100-200 zoom turned out to be very handy. We were standing there for about an hour admiring the ever-changing light and experimenting with different focal lengths. Magic! I shot from F5.6 all the way to F16 without any problems. Here are some images from the Twelve Apostles.  

GFX50S + GF100-200 @ f/16, 1/110, ISO 100
GFX50S + GF100-200 @ f/16, 1/200, ISO 1000
GFX50S + GF100-200 @ f/16, 1/100, ISO 100

AROUND THE HOUSE

One afternoon when vising a friend in Adelaide, I decided to shoot some imagery around the house. It was a great visual exercise walking around his backyard and finding these pieces of seeing. All images were handheld and due to excellent image stabilization, they all turned out to be sharp.

GFX50S + GF100-200 @ f/11, 1/200, ISO 160
GFX50S + GF100-200 @ f/11, 1/200, ISO 160
GFX50S + GF100-200 @ f/6.4, 1/550, ISO 100

Finally, here is the promised photo of a kangaroo 🙂

GFX50S + GF100-200 @ f/5.6, 1/200, ISO 1250


Are you shooting with medium format film or digital? Become a member and receive the only magazine dedicated to Medium Format Photography including PDF Exclusives.

2019 © OLI Publishing Inc. All rights reserved.

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/

 

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.

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.

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?