Medium format brings with it bulkier and heavier lenses mated to large cameras, but what of medium format with a top-performing lens of the same weight as even diminutive Leica M rangefinder lenses?
Equivalent to a ~40mm f/2.9 in 35mm-format terms, the 12oz = 335gram Fujifilm GF 50/3.5 lacks the lens speed but nails it on weight and yet feels like a well-built substantial thing. Now that is a “carry” proposition you will love and I sure did while using the 50/3.5 for six weeks or so in the field. I found myself always preferring to head out with the 50/3.5 by default, every time, even if I knew I had to do shooting with other lenses because the 50/3.5 is just such a pleasure to work with.
Landscape shooter? You’ll adore its compactness and weight and outstanding performance. Street shooter? Ditto, plus its bokeh is also outstanding. The ultra-compact lens hood makes the 50/3.5 seem even smaller than its 45/2.8 and 63/2.8 siblings.
You might think that the 50/3.5 is a lens destined for the smallest of the Fujifilm medium format cameras, the GFX-50R. Perhaps that’s what Fujifilm had in mind as the ideal match. True enough, but my view is that on The Beast (the Fujifilm GFX100), the 50/3.5 is if anything more appealing because it drops the whole package into the “enjoyment range” in terms of carrying and using it, along with fantastic performance at 100 megapixels. It’s a total package you cannot get any other way in medium format here in 2020.
Choosing a standard lens to go with a medium format system is more important than you might think. A camera that becomes tedious to carry ultimately means it gets used less so it’s not good value. Although going with a zoom is an easy default that checks off the boxes for flexibility, the GF 50/3.5 in my view is by far the best first-lens choice for the Fujifilm medium format system. The mental debate when going on a trip or hike resolves easily with the 50/3.5. Along it goes – maybe leave the heavier stuff behind entirely.
Sometimes we get lucky and a real gem exists that is not only relatively inexpensive, but a star performer at a modest price too.
As to value, it was just crazy, and maybe I was too, I was so impressed with the overall utility and outstanding performance of the GF 50/3.5 that I bought it when it was being promoted at half off – the incredibly low price of $499 (vs. $999) – and I don’t yet own a Fujifilm medium format system! A lens this good and seemingly a flawless sample made me grab it, being confident that a suitable matching camera is in my future at some point.
Versatile focal length
Landscape shooter, street shooter, environmental portraiture: the ideal first lens will handle all these tasks with few drawbacks, and with lens speed and angle of view suitable for a large variety of subjects. The 50/3.5 just nails it on these points.
Taking lens speed, I never found that f/3.5 was a problem for focusing versus f/2.8 on the GFX100 (except at night, when all the GF lenses are problematic), but it did seem appreciably better than the f/4 of the Fujifilm GF 45-100mm f/4 that I also had along. It’s a threshold sort of thing that just worked great. And how often is f/2.8 instead of f/3.5 really a consideration for either focusing or depth of field? I’ll take the ultra-high and ultra-consistent performance and the compactness and weight any time.
The angle of view (focal length) of ~41mm (35mm equiv) is an outstanding all-around choice. For landscape, its slightly wide view matches well with many subjects and a quick 2- or 3-frame panorama/stitch makes a substantially wider image with minimal effort in “post,” and very wide with a few more frames. Shoot in portrait orientation for more vertical coverage and another frame or two for more width. I was impressed with just how versatile its ~41mm focal length (equiv) was for all-around use. Nothing wider or longer would have served quite so well.
If you’re a street shooter or like environmental portraiture, the slightly wide field of view is right in the zone for including appropriate context both indoors and out. And although a zoom like the 32-64mm or 45-100mm is more flexible, the 50/3.5 gets you (well, me at least) moving my feet for a better composition. Plus, the 50/3.5 is less intimidating to subjects and less noticeable to people around you. And your neck and back will thank you all day long.
At only 335 grams / ~12 ounces, the GF 50/3.5 is hardly noticed on Fujifilm medium format cameras. It just sort of disappears into the package.
The lens hood is ultra-compact, adding to the feeling of compactness and light weight. Regrettably the lens hood does not have filter threads, so mounting a filter means unscrewing the lens hood, screwing on the 62mm filter, then screwing the lens hood onto the filter, so be sure to get filters with front threads. I did not observe any additional vignetting while using filters of standard thickness.
The aperture ring is a pleasure to use, and can at times be preferable to electronic control, but I found myself usually controlling aperture via the camera dials. An AF/MF switch right on the lens would have been a nice touch but is lacking.
The Fujifilm GF 50mm f/3.5 is surely the best performer in its range in the GF line in every way. That alone should make it a top choice for many shooters as a must-have.
Dynamic range requires tight control over veiling flare
The Fujifilm GFX100 has performed admirably here, and without long exposure noise reduction (“LENR” in metadata is incorrect). The entire dynamic range of the camera was used, with almost completely black shadows (a huge boost was needed to reveal detail). The 50/3.5 maintains outstanding overall contrast, so it can be used in difficult lighting situations with no concern for contrast-robbing veiling flare, although direct sunlight as non-image-forming light does matter, as it does with all lenses.
Sharpness corner to corner
To really give a lens a challenge, a finely detailed distance scene like Pre-Sunrise Snow on Alabama Hills and Mt Whitney mercilessly reveals sharpness limitations, or the common lens quality control problem of lens symmetry. The GF 50/3.5 passes with flying colours capturing an incredible level of detail on the 100-megapixel sensor.
The GF 50/3.5 offers superb corner-to-corner sharpness with nil field curvature. This makes it eminently suitable for astrophotography even wide open (though stopping down a bit helps to even out illumination over the frame).
Real depth of field
By “real” depth of field, I mean the actual gains in depth of field by stopping down versus the theoretical gains. That difference can be quite large with many lenses, making a laughingstock of already silly depth of field tables, particularly in the outer zones of the frame.
Equally important and related is consistent sharpness corner to corner. In Water Over Boulders, focus stacking would have been problematic (water movement and wind movement of vegetation), so the only choice was to stop down to f/13 for a 30-second exposure. I took half a dozen test shots to establish the focus distance that would deliver the best total near-to-far sharpness where desired, and it succeeded beautifully. That is, it can be very hard to gauge distance in the field, so even if the lens behaviour is well understood, it is wise to shoot a frame and carefully examine where the zone of high sharpness actually lands, particularly when dim light makes it hard to be sure of exact focus distance in magnified Live View.
When all is said and done, did the 50/3.5 deliver sharpness at far right on the tree, and in the corners too? Indeed it did, admirably so.
Panoramas and stitching
Consistent sharpness also means that panoramas stitch beautifully while retaining high sharpness. With consistent sharpness across the frame, there is no sharp frame to confuse the merging process with a not-so-sharp frame for the same subject area. First Sunlight after Bitterly Cold Night is a 2-frame 137-megapixel panorama that worked beautifully with little effort. It’s also an excellent example of how the focal length can in effect become much wider with a simple 2-frame panorama.
The town of Lone Pine, CA is seen in the far distance in the valley below. A cold storm dropped snow on the Alabama Hills, which is quite uncommon in late March.
Efficient focus stacking
Focus stacking is the only method that can deal with depth-of-field challenges (a very few tilt lenses can help in a very few situations). Focus stacking has its own challenges and limits, but nothing else even comes close. Besides wind and changing light and other factors outside your control, what makes focus stacking a headache? Simple: field curvature, lens asymmetry, focus shift, correction for secondary chromatic errors. A lens that strictly controls those issues always delivers superior real (actual) depth of field compared to a lens that does not, a bonus result. There is one exception to this ease of use: at close range the 50/3.5 does have considerable peripheral forward focus shift. However, that is not an issue for focus stacking and does not reduce its performance.
The Fujifilm GF 50/3.5 delivers on all those counts which is why it is a joy to work with for focus stacking. I can shoot the series knowing that the lens will give me corner-to-corner sharpness with near optimal gains in depth of field for each stop of stopping down. And that the focus will land where I intended (no focus shift), that retouching won’t be horribly confusing by trying to visualize a warped zone of sharpness (field curvature) intersecting a 3D scene. Plus, the sample I bought shows perfect lens symmetry. So, although retouching is often time-consuming, the 50/3.5 eliminates ALL the hassle factors that I have learned to loathe in a lens. The 50/3.5 is as ideal a lens for focus stacking as I’ve seen, which is high praise indeed.
The Fujifilm GF 50mm f/3.5 R LM WR is a gem in the GF lens lineup. It’s the smallest and lightest, least expensive, highest performance lens in its range, and (mostly) free of optical headaches leading to sub-optimal results. It should be at the top of the list for most all Fujifilm medium format shooters.
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My name is Ian Howorth and I’m a documentary photographer from Brighton, England. I also work as a content producer for mpb.com.
I remember when I began shooting film three years ago, I kept hearing about medium format and its benefits. With photography, however, as with anything reliant on a visual element, it’s difficult to grasp the true meaning of words — you have to see it to understand it.
My background and journey through visuals came from film and video so my tastes have always been based in the “cinematic” look — a term which gets bandied around a lot. In my mind, one of the traits of a cinematic look, aside from framing and colour interplay, is the balance of light. Having a background in film, it allowed me to understand light from the off and simply apply this knowledge to stills.
Although I shot digitally on crop sensor cameras, it wasn’t until I got a Nikon D810 with its vast dynamic range that my eyes were opened to the possibilities of what i could do with single frames. Moving onto film, I started out with 35mm which retained dynamic range and colour but added grain and that certain je ne c’est quoi that film provides.
While I explored the wonders of 35mm film, which suited my aesthetic and what I needed from my work, I began reading more into medium format and its benefits. By this point I had stopped making video my artistic priority and was focusing totally on stills. I was now looking for a way I could incorporate medium format into my workflow, besides the simple allure of “bigger” and “better.”
I found on occasion I didn’t simply want the charm of 35mm and having to simply embrace its (apparent) imperfections or its limitations. Equally, I didn’t want to go back to digital to get a cleaner look as, for me, the experience of shooting film was far more appealing. Enter Mamiya 7 II.
I bought this camera very much on a whim. My local shop had one and I was simply there at the right time. Having never held one before I simply asked to hold it and that was enough for me to dive head first into medium format.
On the first few outings with it, I treated it with, well, I don’t want to say disrespect but I was still very much in the 35mm mindset, where a fast lens could get me out of a pickle, and heavy grain in underexposed areas would just be something I could simply leave in as part of the beautiful aesthetic of film. Medium format — well, not so. Whatever I learnt from 35mm had to be scrapped. The Mamiya with its slower lenses turned whatever charm I could extract out of the smaller format into a mess of grain and muddied dark areas. Through this learning phase, though, I found I had to work very differently — tripod, cable release, light meter and a careful thought process as to where I was shooting and what my film stock of choice would be. Obviously, for daytime I could be a bit looser with these rules but generally, due to my preference for low speed film, a tripod has become a tool which is inevitably strapped to my backpack.
My nature being on the good side of obsessive means that I would never have been happy with continuing shooting MF and making do with mid-res scans from my lab — I already owned a very good scanner for 35mm, a Reflecta 10T, which gave me up to 4000 DPI, but sadly it wouldn’t scan any format other than 35mm. I also realised that it would end up frustrating me no end knowing that even a cheap flatbed which would scan 6 x 7 would never extract all the quality available from the negative. If I got only 25% of what the negative could yield, I would have stopped and just continued with 35mm. This is something I advise anyone who is going to embark on medium format film — the negative is only as good as the scanner that will extract your image, unless of course you’re doing contact prints straight from your neg.
I invested in a Minolta Dimage Mutli Pro which lasted me just over a year until the Firewire chip went on it. After this, I bit the bullet and invested in a Nikon Coolscan 9000, which has been an absolute dream. It’s clinical in terms of its delivery of scans, whereas the Minolta had more personality. The issue with both of these scanners is that they are both over 15 years old, and except for a Hasselblad Flextight or a drum scan, nothing comes close in terms of scanning medium format. This of course is a worry and no one knows if any more investment will be made technologically, for good and semi-affordable film scanners. Buy one if you can afford it, but always be prepared for a hefty bill to fix it, if it can be fixed, that is. I know people who are constantly swapping their medium format cameras and all the while, they are scanning on sub-par scanners. I always say keep the camera and devote your time to scanning well and with as good a scanner as you can afford. Scanners are effectively digital cameras — some are better than others — and as much care and attention needs to go into making the right choice in buying one as the cameras exposing the negatives. I’m not just talking resolution or DPI here, I’m talking about dynamic range and rendition — optically, the quality of the lens on the scanner will have as much say in your final image as the lens on your camera.
Having been shooting medium format for nearly three years now, and adding a Hasselblad H1 to my kitbag, I’ve realised how very differently I have to shoot it. You can’t haphazardly approach a shoot — it requires much more time not simply because of the longer set up times with the equipment and having to be more careful with metering, but also due to how I want my shots to look.
I still shoot 35mm — a lot of it — and strangely, it is something I thought I would stop doing after acquiring two medium format cameras but, in fact, it has made me more conscious and more careful in terms of how I approach each shooting scenario. Much is said on the web about quality and what is “best” and frankly, my advice has always been to take it all with a big pinch of salt. Like any artistic practice, you make your own truths and live by a set of rules that might apply only to you. Sure, there are the basics, but as to where these “rules” stop being rules and just become opinion is entirely up to the artist.
For me, medium format is all about putting you there and less about representing reality, but this shouldn’t come as a surprise when, as the format increases, so does its ability to depict a scene as closely as possible to what the eye sees. We don’t have to have a 3D viewing experience to give us that feeling of being there. We can get close with separation, tonality, colour depth and light.
Although there is no doubt that many medium format systems have incredibly sharp lenses, with the Mamiya 7s often touted as top of the list, sharpness in my images is the last thing I notice. I always see the depth of colour and light tonality first before anything else. It is this that I seek for some of my work. When a location is imbued with emotion even in the absence of people, MF is always what I go for. While not strictly true EVERY time, generally speaking, if a location has a certain subtle feel and a certain texture or even a certain light quality, I see MF as the only option.
Recently, I’ve been thinking of upgrading my Hasselblad H1 kit to a Makina 67. This I hope will allow me to keep the same aspect ratio across both my medium format cameras, while allowing the magic f/2.8 aperture of the Makina to come into its own for portraits. The change will also save quite a bit of space in my camera bag, as the H1 can be a bit unwieldy to stick in my backpack together with the Mamiya 7. The greatest benefit will be to maintain consistency with format for future work. I released my first monograph this year, ARCADIA, which consisted of work which was initially outside the focus of a body of work, so it’s made up of a mishmash of formats (35mm, 645 and 6 x 7). Although this did not hinder the work, I don’t feel that keeping the same format as much as possible is edging closer to the ideal.
I think it’s an exciting time for film. Although serious artists have always demanded it for their work, the fact that it is becoming the norm for amateurs to have film as part of their workflow means that film will hopefully remain a viable option for at least the foreseeable future.
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Any time I upgrade to a new camera in the same system, there is a time of transition. I have to adapt to the camera’s design and features. Even the delay between depressing the shutter-release button and image capture requires a period of adjustment. When switching camera-makers, which I’ve done twice, the transition has been more challenging and required more time to understand and embrace.
I had been using the Fujifilm X-series for over five years so I thought the transition to the GFX 100 would be relatively seamless. I had received it on loan for three weeks and looked forward to taking photographs with it. My eagerness was only magnified by the imagery and comments from other photographers who had already used it.
The SLR-like design, the 104-megapixel sensor, and digitally optimized lenses held the promise of amazing results. On that count, the camera didn’t disappoint. What did surprise me was how the camera cast light on the way I worked, revealing some of my bad habits.
The camera appeared large although it was surprisingly light at only 3.08 lb. For a traditional DSLR user, this might be negligible; however, since I had been using the X100F and XT3, it was still a noticeable bump up.
Despite its increased mass, the camera felt comfortable in my hands whether oriented horizontally or vertically. The button and control layouts were similar to what I was accustomed to with other Fujifilm cameras, especially their menu system. There were some significant differences which included the top deck display and the way I controlled aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. However, I knew that in time I could adjust to such differences.
Because of my familiarity with the Fujifilm system, I didn’t dedicate much time to reading the manual. I configured the base settings so that they were comparable to my existing cameras and immediately went out to take photographs.
As I did, I expected the camera to behave in the way I was accustomed to, which didn’t always happen. Whether it was applying exposure compensation, changing a focal point or a metering mode, my lack of familiarity with the GFX 100 became a frustrating obstacle. It wasn’t that the camera was designed badly—it was rather that I expected it to behave differently from the way it was designed.
Admittedly, my eagerness or more accurately, my impatience, resulted in numerous mistakes. The results were soft images due to camera shake, off-kilter compositions and other amateur missteps. The careful and thoughtful process that usually accompanied my picture-making was nowhere to be found in my initial forays with the camera. As excited as I was, I needed to get back to basics if I was going to leverage the power and the quality of the GFX 100.
Although I didn’t read the exhaustive camera manual, I familiarized myself with the key differences of controls and menu settings. This was especially important with the changing of exposure modes, aperture, shutter speed, ISO and exposure compensation. The new top display and the small rear display at its base required a different way of negotiating the machine. I needed to become adept at not only changing those key settings but also recognizing where to look to confirm them in a pinch.
I also adjusted how I handled the camera while shooting. It didn’t fit in my hand as the smaller Fujifilm models did and it was a mistake to expect it to. Although the camera was still comfortable to handle, the increased size of both the body and the sensor meant that the images were at greater risk of softness due to camera shake. Even with the GFX 100’s image-camera stabilization, I could still produce soft images by making basic mistakes such as using too slow a shutter speed or not holding the camera steady. As I’d learned over many years of photography, technology was never the remedy for sloppy technique.
Although the DSLR styling made it reasonable to hand-hold, I needed to find the slowest shutter speed I could effectively use to produce sharp results. I often found that 1/250 second, which might have been satisfactory with a smaller camera, was risky with the GFX 100, especially after handling the camera during a long day of shooting. Image-stabilization helped but poor handling quickly defeated any advantage it provided. On a tripod, the camera delivered sharp results. So, it was easy to determine that the weakest link was me.
As I acclimated to the camera, I saw a steady and consistent improvement in the quality of the images. As I printed 30×40 prints on the studio’s Epson printers, I recognized the strengths of the camera and my own weaknesses. Had the images been relegated to only what I saw on the LCD screen or a post on Instagram, I would never have seen them. But these big prints reflected what the camera was designed for.
A Different Sensibility
The camera was engineered with a DSLR aesthetic in mind but demands a medium-format or large-format sensibility when using it. It requires a slow and thoughtful photographic practice to leverage its full potential. It was a realization that developed with each week I worked with the camera. Unfortunately, the obligation to return it didn’t allow me to solidify that awareness as I would have liked over several months.
Nevertheless, it taught me the importance of having respect for each new tool I use. It also reaffirmed the importance of being diligent about my own photographic practice, even with something as simple as how I handle a camera body.
Thankfully, the head of the photo department was impressed enough with the camera to include at least one in this year’s budget. So, if I manage to wrangle it out of the hands of my co-workers, I will have the chance to develop that all-important workflow between myself and this amazing camera.
Ibarionex Perello is a photographer, educator, and writer. He is also the host of The Candid Frame photography podcast which for 14 seasons has featured conversations with some of the world’s best established and emerging photographers. He has written hundreds of magazine articles and authored six books on the subject of photography including the most recent, Making Photographs: Developing a Personal Visual Workflow, published by Rocky Nook Press.
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The GF45-100mmF4 R LM OIS WR lens has a 35mm equivalent focal length range of 36mm and 79mm. One of the most important features of this newly announced lens is “powerful 5-axis image stabilization, one super ED lens element, and a near-silent, high-speed autofocus motor.”
Here are the key features of this lens (quoting as per Fujifilm announcement):
The GF45-100mmF4 R LM OIS WR lens consists of 16 elements in 12 groups, including three aspherical elements, one Super ED element and one ED element to effectively control spherical aberration, field curvature and chromatic aberration. This minimizes the negative effects of various forms of aberration, such as luminance shift and color bleeding, to deliver astonishing image sharpness.
Compact and lightweight large format standard zoom Weighing 2.2lb (1,005g), measuring 5.69in (144.5mm) long, and having a diameter of 3.66in (93mm), the lens is extremely portable and compact despite being a 2.2x zoomfor a large format camera system.
Fast, quiet and highly accurate AF. The use of an Internal Focusing system has minimized the size and weight of the focusing group, which is driven by a linear motor to achieve fast, quiet and highly accurate AF.
The lens is equipped with five stop image stabilization (CIPA guidelines), allowing photographers to make the most of the high-resolution sensors found in GFX System cameras, especially when making images hand-held. Highly robust design that withstands various shooting conditions.
The GF45-100mmF4 R LM OIS WR lens will be available in late February 2020, at a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $2,299.95 USD and $2,999.99 CAD.
Fujifilm has announced development of two new lenses for the GFX medium format system.
FUJINON GF 30mm F3.5 R WR: A wide-angle, prime lens. This wide angle 30mm lens is an equivalent 24mm focal length in the 35mm film format.
Of course, the FUJINONGF 80mm F1.7 creates the most excitement among photographers. Fujifilm in its official statement says about the GF 80mm F1.7, “A unique, wide-aperture, standard lens. A standard 80mm lens with an equivalent focal length of 63mm in the 35mm film format, which is incredibly suitable for portraiture and making images in low-light conditions. This will be the lens with the widest aperture among GF lenses and be an incredible solution for portrait photographers who want beautiful, creamy bokeh with their GFX System Cameras. This compact and lightweight lens will have a wider angle of view than the highly popular GF110mmF2 R LM WR and deliver the same level of incredible image quality.”
The team at MediumFormat.com is in touch with Fujifilm and as soon as this lens become available, we will bring you more information.
The original Hasselblad X1D was the first mirrorless medium format camera on the market. But that wasn’t the only first. The X1D was also the first medium format system which was small and light enough to take outside the studio and be comfortable to travel with. Of course, the accompanying XCD lenses were also relativity compact, matching the X1D and enhancing its portability.
In fact, I remember when I had the original X1D, and now its successor the X1DII, in my hands I couldn’t believe it was medium format. As someone who travels and teaches photography around the world, portability and image quality are of great importance. I usually travel with one camera and one lens combo.
Therefore, I believe that the latest lens release from Hasselblad—the XCD 45P—is an important and exciting development for Hasselblad users.
This is why:
First, the X1DII paired with the brand-new XCD 45P creates a small, light and portable combo, allowing those who seek medium format quality to travel and shoot medium format with a combo even smaller than some of the smallest full frame cameras.
Second, the XCD 45P lens offers a 35 mm full frame equivalent, which is a perfect focal length for most types of photography and certainly for travel, urban, street and even environmental portrait photography. For years I have travelled and shot with the one camera, one lens combo (35 mm focal length) and I never felt the need for more. This combination is not only highly liberating, but it has improved my photography drastically.
Third, in short, the image quality. Although there is plenty of grumbling online, especially in the context of medium format vs. full frame, those who appreciate the subtleties of medium format never look back. The tonal transitions, depth, flexibility of the files and so on are simply unmatched. Now with this new lens, Hasselblad shooters have it all in a small and portable package.
Fourth, the light and portable X1DII plus the XCD 45P combo matched with the Phocus Mobile 2 gives a window into a very portable workflow solution. Although I haven’t had a chance to test it just yet, I will certainly report on my findings.
Fifth, this may not appeal to the tech crowd but, personally, I find it is important. The X1DII paired with the XCD 45P lens is one of the most beautiful combos on the market. The camera feel, buttons and materials are among the best I have seen and the matching grey-titanium-like colour of the lens and the body proves an attractive match.
Sixth, one of the most common misconceptions is that medium format is very expensive. I also used to think so. As I work with many photographers, we often take a look at all the money spent on cameras and lenses. We found most photographers use only one or two lenses and leave all the rest gathering dust. For many, especially those shooting with higher-end full frame or even APS-C systems, total spend on such hoarding could easily purchase the Hasselblad X1DII with the XCD 45P. In fact, the new lens cost just US$1099, less than some full frame counterparts. That brings the total for all you need to craft great photography in stunning medium format quality to $6,849. It is cheaper than some full frame Leica offerings without the lens. Keep in mind that the replacement cycle for medium format cameras is much, much longer than for other formats. Or in other words, how much did you spend on all the gear sitting on your shelves? This equation becomes even more appealing once you consider investing in a medium format camera on the second-hand market with the ability to add an excellent lens for just US$1,099.
In sum, the addition of the new Hasselblad XCD 45P lens has made the X1D system even more appealing to those who seek medium format image quality and portability. We are currently testing the X1DII and will give you some comprehensive imagery and a review of this new lens.
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