In Computer Storage for Photographers in the August 2019 issue of Medium Format Magazine, I covered storage. Here in December 2019, I cover choosing a computer for photography.
There are some pretty awesome computing options that have emerged in late 2019. While I use Apple Macs exclusively, this article discusses the various choices of CPU/GPU/etc in a way that will also be useful to non-Mac users.
The size of my images has been increasing, what with cameras up to 100 megapixels, but it boils down to simple math: pushing around 100 megapixels instead of 50 takes twice the time. What once was reasonably speedy starts to feel sluggish. Compounding the issue, with focus stacking (Sept 2019 issue) and image scaling (Oct 2019 issue), routine tasks can take 5 minutes to an hour.
I have done consulting for nearly a thousand clients over the past years about choosing and configuring a system for photography, I’ve honed my skills at getting them the best possible solution for their actual workflow, sometimes saving my clients thousands of dollars they would have thrown at the problem, and yet been of little or no benefit, or even been worse. The gist of that is captured here, but I advise throwing away assumptions when it comes to one’s own work—don’t assume, but measure/test if possible—that’s what I do in order to advise my clients properly.
Desktop or laptop, or laptop as a desktop?
My judgment is that Apple’s latest 2019 MacBook Pro 16-inch model with 8-core CPU and 64GB memory can be a full-fledged desktop computer replacement, even for demanding users. That’s assuming for desktop usage the addition of a keyboard and mouse and external display (you can even close the lid and just use the external keyboard and display, pretending it really is a desktop computer). See my 2019-11-18 blog post at diglloyd.com for details: 2019 Apple MacBook Pro with 16″ Display: the Single Computer Solution At Last.
While desktop computers like the 2019 iMac 5K, iMac Pro and Mac Pro will outperform the 2019 MacBook Pro, meaningful differences will not be seen in real-world usage for 90% of the photographers out there (exceptions being when memory is a limiting factor).
Moreover, the convenience of a blazing fast 4TB or 8TB internal SSD is something no Apple desktop computer can match internally. An 8TB internal SSD along with 64GB memory and top-end GPU and 8-core CPU make the 2019 MacBook Pro 16-inch a worthy desktop replacement and an outlandishly strong travel computer—and it has dual Thunderbolt 3 busses with four TB3 ports too! Plus its thermal management is greatly improved, so it can run under load without thermal throttling longer than any previous Apple laptop.
If you do settle on an Apple laptop, note that CPU, GPU, SSD and memory are all soldered-on, and thus cannot be upgraded. It is thus unwise to down-spec such a machine. If it is to be the sole computer with a 3+ year lifespan, the smart move is to max it out, with the only choice worth debating is a 4TB or 8TB internal SSD. But even that seems a dubious debate, as the hassle of having to add external SSD storage is not worth it, and will be slower no matter what.
For perspective, what drives my decision
Everyone has their own particulars. Here I discuss how my own workflow and habits rule out seemingly better solutions.
First, I do not plan on getting the extremely capable 2019 Mac Pro, because for travel in my Sprinter van it is just not a good fit: power hungry, requires a separate display, bulk. Because I do a lot on the road, the all-in-one form factor of the Apple iMac 5K is ideal, with fast setup and teardown a mandatory feature (I can set it up and have it booted up in under two minutes). That, and the Mac Pro is insanely expensive even without a display.
While it might at first thought seem appropriate for travel, I also do not plan on getting the very capable Apple 2019 MacBook Pro 16-inch for travel. Its ergonomics are awful when used by itself, e.g., hunching over the built-in keyboard and screen. The screen is also too small for my work and my eyes too (presbyopia), so it still requires an external display, and that’s more setup/teardown hassle and desk space.
Thus for myself for those reasons and more, the only form factor that is viable for home and on the road in my van is the Apple iMac 5K form factor, which means the iMac 5K or iMac Pro. Were money not an issue, I’d have an Apple Mac Pro with Apple Pro Display XDR at home, plus the iMac 5K for van usage, using the OWC Thunderblade 8TB SSD for all my data between the two, but that total cost is prohibitive, and is a case of diminishing returns.
Components: the display, where pixel density is a tiny problem
Here I refer readers to two of my blog posts which cover this matter in detail. The key issue is pixel density and its ramifications for image assessment. Please see the articles Too-High Pixel Density on 5K and 8K Displays Impedes Image Assessment and 2.5K or 4K or 5K Display for Image Editing and Viewing?, referenced on this page: https://diglloyd.com/computer+display
To cover it in a nutshell: when pixel density it very high (e.g., 220 dpi with Apple iMac 5K), it becomes difficult to assess image sharpness, how much sharpening to apply, etc. Accordingly, I still evaluate images on a 2560 X 1600 display with pixel density of 110 dpi. Viewing pleasure may drive the desire for a 5K or 6K display, but that is a distinctly different goal than image processing and assessment, or from choosing a display for its color accuracy and color management capabilities.
Components: CPU Cores
The 2019 MacBook Pro and the 2019 iMac 5K have all the performance in their 8-core CPUs that most photographers need. It is enough for me too, even though I’d like faster this and that now and again. Eight CPU cores should be considered a starting point—do not even consider 4-core or 6-core CPUs if performance is a key goal.
If you regularly do focus stacking as I do, the one thing I’d really like is a 16 core CPU (12 cores would suffice, and 24/28 would be fantastic). For image scaling with 16 CPU cores, even the fastest GPU might be put to shame with Gigapixel AI.
It is almost always the smart move to choose more CPU cores over some fancy GPU because CPU cores get used a lot more by imaging software these days and are far more general purpose.
Only the 2019 Mac Pro or iMac Pro qualify for the 10+ core CPUs, but you’ll pay a steep premium for high-core-count CPUs from Intel. So most of us will have to be content with 8 CPU cores.
The GPU is increasingly used by imaging software, and it is a big help for things like image upscaling with Gigapixel AI, Adobe Camera Raw Enhance Details, though most other Photoshopand Lightroom features hardly use the GPU. Capture One Pro also uses it. Video processing is a special case—I’m discussing still photography here. But if you get spendy on a fancy high-end external GPU expecting Photoshop to run batshit fast, you’ll be sorely disappointed— excepting a few special cases, Photoshop won’t run faster in any meaningful way. If those special cases are your thing then it might make sense, but few of us will be in that boat.
The 2019 iMac 5K and 2019 MacBook Pro both have solid GPU options that are plenty fast for the vast majority of photographers. The iMac Pro and Mac Pro move it up further. When buying, do move up from the base GPU to the next level, but if the cost escalates, spend your money on more CPU cores first unless you have a proven workflow case for the GPU.
Beware of external GPU (eGPU), which DO NOT WORK with some Macs (an Apple/Adobe API problem). While eGPUs are hyped, they are NOT a solution for most computing problems because they either do not get used at all, or their is marginal in the context of total task runtime. Indeed, if the Mac has a discrete GPU, then an eGPU is NEVER used by Photoshop (at least as I write this and until Apple and Adobe fix that).
A key boost for me when I got the 2019 iMac 5K was/is 128GB memory. That extra memory (vs 64GB) has really helped with multi-frame stitching, saving me gobs of time in some cases. The big speed win comes from Photoshop not having to swap things to and from disk.
A high performance system must have a very high speed SSD internally. That kind of speed lets CPUs and GPU have data when needed with minimum delay, lets the OS run a peak speed, etc. While Thunderbolt 3 can deliver about 2700 MB/sec, an internal SSD might hit 3400 MB/sec.
The smart move is to go with nothing less than a 2TB internal SSD, with 4TB strongly preferred given an assumed 3+ year lifespan of the computer—both capacity and resilience to wear.
In the Apple Mac lineup, the 2019 MacBook Pro can have up to a whopping 8TB internal SSD, whereas other models are limited to 2TB or 4TB. Consider carefully your storage capacity needs over a 3+ year timeframe; for example, were I going with the 2019 MacBook Pro as my sole computer, I would absolutely go with the 8TB SSD (all capacities are soldered onto the logic board, so there is no upgrading of any component, including the SSD).
Components: External I/O Speed and bandwidth
With adequate memory, I/O speed largely drops out of the picture when working in Photoshop or Lightroom, because images sit in memory and thus I/O is a blip in the overall context. For example, if it takes 0.4 seconds to read a Fujifilm GFX100 raw file off a fast hard drive (and much less on an SSD), it may still take 3-5 seconds for Photoshop or Lightroom to convert the raw file to usable form.
That said, Lightroom users will find it essential to store catalog on the fastest SSD on the system because Lightroom uses the drive for a lot more than just read raw files into memory. Ditto if the scratch drive(s) in Photoshop actually get used, or any use case where there is a lot of disk I/O.
Favor machines with at least two Thunderbolt 3 busses, all else being similar. This is critical if you intend to use an external 5K or 6K display—a 6K display will eat up 30 Gpbs of the write bandwidth available on the 40 Gbps Thunderbolt 3 bus. The other bus to which the display is not connected can thus run at full speed for high-speed I/O.
The 2019 Mac Pro rocks for Thunderbolt 3 busses and ports (with options). The 2019 MacBook Pro rocks in having dual Thunderbolt 3 busses with four ports. Ditto for the 2018 Mac mini, but its GPU is so slow that it is a very poor choice overall. The single Thunderbolt 3 bus of the 2019 iMac 5K (two ports) is a disappointing design, but for most photographic uses it will be of no concern.
I’ve selected several Apple Mac products here to illustrate the foregoing points.
High performance desktop machine — 2019 iMac 5K
This beautiful display includes a powerful computer with it. Get the 8-core CPU, Radeon Pro Vega 48, 8GB memory configuration, then add 128GB from OWC to double the max RAM and save a ton of money (see my website), and the 2TB SSD (no larger option available).
The 2019 iMac 5K is my workhorse machine as I write this, and has been for 6 months. By far the fastest and most powerful Mac I have ever used. Its only real drawback is its single Thunderbolt 3 bus, which makes it undesirable for connecting an external 5K or 6K display, or lots of Thunderbolt 3 peripherals.
Debuting in December 2019 or so as I write this. Total overkill for most photographers. Suitable for long-term aggressive usage with gobs of expansion possibility supported by its 1.4 kW power supply. More info: https://macperformanceguide.com/2019+Mac+Pro
Computing power on the Apple side is really outstanding with four excellent choices even for those shooting at 100 megapixels. On the PC side, similar if not the same considerations apply.
Lloyd’s photography blog is found at diglloyd.com. You will find Lloyd’s monthly column “Metapixel” in the Medium Format Magazine where he writes about technical issues related to medium format photography.
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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.
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
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!
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Phase One is known for its highly customisable camera systems offering the best available image quality and longevity. If there was one weakness in the current Phase One system it would be its weight, which should not come as a surprise given the quality of lenses and sophistication of the gear.
Despite the weight, many fine art landscape photographers travel and shoot with the Phase One XF system to achieve the highest quality capture and produce massive and highly detailed prints.
Today, Phase One has announced a brand-new camera system, the XT, designed exclusively for landscape photographers. The key features of this new system are the highest image quality, portability and “travel-friendly” design. Phase One has built this new system on the Phase One’s IQ4 Infinity Platform, fully integrated in this compact portable system.
The XT camera system has the latest 150MP “full frame medium format sensor,” which is 1.5x the size of crop sensor found in mirrorless medium format cameras. We recently had a chance to view large prints crafted from the same sensor and the level of detail was stunning.
The small, brand-new camera body is “the most compact digitally integrated field camera to date.” In its press release, Phase One cites fine art landscape photographer, Reuben Wu:
“I can easily fit the camera with two lenses in my small shoulder bag, and still barely feel like I am carrying anything.”
This could be a game-changer for those who want the best image quality available in the current market in such a small package.
To achieve this level of portability without compromising image quality, Phase One called on its partner, Rodenstock, the less known but highly respected producer of the highest quality lenses. “All lenses are fitted with Phase One’s new, digitally integrated, X-Shutter—an intelligently controlled electromagnetic shutter—born from Phase One’s industrial applications.” At the moment of this release, Phase One offers three lenses:
The XT – Rodenstock HR Digaron-S 23mm f/5.6
The XT – Rodenstock HR Digaron-W 32mm f/4
The XT – Rodenstock HR Digaron-W 70mm f/5.6
One of the most important features of the cooperation between Phase One and Rodenstock is 24mm of shift on both the X and Y axis. Phase One explains: “The shift movement allows the photographer to correct perspective distortion and create stitched images at a tremendous scale/resolution.” The XT camera body integrates the shift position in the image file for later reference.
Phase One emphasises the simplicity of use of the new system. The XT camera system is built to “obviate the steep learning curve of a technical camera.” We found this approach quite promising—something our Medium Format Magazine team will be eager to test and experience in the field. The same design logic prompted the Phase One design team to go with manual focus which “gives greatest control and precision—yet its operation is intuitive. The XT camera movements are simple due to large prominent dials. The image in Live View displays the results of a composition and focus in real time.”
We haven’t yet had a chance to test this new camera, but we found this product focused on landscape photography refreshing in an industry whose camera releases more often than not try to please everyone, resulting in confusion and gear that is difficult to operate. We believe that the future of high-end photography lies in specialized tools tailored to a well-defined audience. Once the XT system becomes available, our team at Medium Format Magazine will be delighted to test this new product and share our findings with you. This may well be the ultimate landscape photographer camera.
Look for our extended coverage of this release in the Medium Format Magazine including an exclusive interview with Drew Altdoerffer, product manager, and LauNorgaard, the chief visionary officer of Phase One.
For years medium format cameras were confined to studio spaces with occasional excursions to theme-rich locations. Medium format was a persona non grata in street or travel photography due mostly to its size and slow operation. The problem was partially solved with the release of the original Hasselblad X1D, which was a very portable medium format system. Indeed, the latest iteration of this camera, the X1D II 50C is a very capable, street and travel camera.
In 2018 Fujifilm released the GFX50R. With its rangefinder-style design, the camera could finally be taken out and used on the street. The only missing part was a small, pancake lens which would make the system extremely portable and light. With the release of the GF50mm F3.5 lens R LM WR, Fujifilm finally offered a whole street and travel photography package.
The lens weighs only 11.82oz or as Fujifilm describes it: “less than a can of your favourite soft drink.” So together with the GFX50R, which weights 27.3oz (with one battery and card) it gives you a total of 39.12oz or just above 1kg – not bad at all for an entire medium format system!
Given that this new lens is weather-sealed, the GFX50R plus the GF50 F3.5 R LM WR become the medium format equivalent of the X100 series.
In other words, those who like to travel light and shoot street photography can now grab this new combo and enjoy medium format quality without the usual weight and cumbersome size. Our contributors and I will be testing this lens extensively so stay tuned for our imagery and reviews.
Make sure to check out an excellent review by Jonas Rask here and a great video by Patrick La Roque here.
Fifty years ago, on July 20th at 20:17 UTC American commander Neil Armstrong and lunar module pilot Buzz Aldrin landed the Apollo Lunar Module Eagle on the surface of the moon. Neil Armstrong was equipped with a silver Hasselblad Data Camera (HDC) paired with a Zeiss Biogon 60mm F/5.6 lens and 70mm film magazine. The second camera, with a Zeiss Planar 80mm f/2.8 lens, was used to shoot from inside the Eagle module. Michael Collins had the third machine onboard the command module Columbia in lunar orbit. Due to stringent weight requirements, only Michael Collins’ camera returned to earth.
In New York, Medium Format Magazine recently participated in the special event announcing the brand-new modular system comprised of the 907X digital camera and CFV II 50C digital back. The special black edition of those units is the beginning of a major launch of this innovative system rooted in the rich history of the brand.
Key features of the 907X Special Edition include:
Large medium format 50MP CMOS sensor
Up to 14 stops of dynamic range
Captures 16-bit RAW images and full resolution JPEGs
High-resolution 3.0-inch 920K dot touch and tilt screen
Smooth live-view experience with a high frame rate of 60fps
Focus peaking, enabling more accurate focusing (especially advantageous on the manual-focused V System cameras)
Intuitive user interface with swipe and pinch touch controls
Internal battery slot with the option to recharge in-camera via the USB-C port (same battery used on the X System)
Dual UHS-II SD card slots
Integrated Wi-Fi and USB-C connection
Portable workflow with Phocus Mobile 2 support
One of the most important pieces of information for medium format photographers is the price of this special edition release. The 907X Special Edition is $7,499 or €6,500. Why is it important? Given the special edition version of the camera, we can assume that the regular version, which will be released later, could be priced even more attractively introducing the Hasselblad system to a new generation of photographers and enthusiasts. We will be covering the system as it becomes available for testing.
Hasselblad provides a link where you can download the images taken on the lunar surface with the HDC and read the original 1969 press release. You can check it out here.
Also, for those of you who would like to learn more about the history of Hasselblad, make sure to check out Take Kayo’s article, “The Ingenuity and Serendipity of the Hasselblad V-System,” in the July issue of the Medium Format Magazine. Take Kayo guides us through the history of Hasselblad’s camera development which will impress you and help you to appreciate the latest announcements from this iconic brand.