Portable, light and the only one you might need. 

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

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

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

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

Let’s get to it. 

BUILD AND FIRST IMPRESSION

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

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

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

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

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

For those who need specifics here they are: 

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

FOCAL LENGTH 

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

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

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

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

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

GF 50mm vs. GF45mm

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

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

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

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

ON THE STREET

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHILE TRAVELLING

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

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

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

PAIRED WITH THE GFX50R

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PAIRED WITH THE GFX50S

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

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

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

AUTOFOCUS

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

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

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

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

IMAGE QUALITY

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

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

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

CONCLUSIONS

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

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

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

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

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