The Fujifilm GFX50s has been available to purchase for about 20 months (at the time of writing) and in that time it has changed the medium format world for good. The GFX has been such a success story and a force of energy that even Capture One has made itself available to the growing user base of GFX shooters, an option that was apparently NEVER going to happen. The price of digital medium format cameras has been reset to a lower entry point and now with the GFX50r the system is being tailored to the serious enthusiast market too.
Here are my settings, the way I choose to use the camera and my appraisal of the GFX system. At the end of this article I compare the GFX50s with the new GFX50r and give my recommendations for prospective users.
(Scroll down to the bottom if you just want to read my review)
At the beginning of the GFX era there were arguments about wether the GFX50s should be considered ‘medium format’. Now, with so many offerings at this sensor size medium format has become the normal lingo.
There are many ways to set up a GFX camera to customise it to your way of working hence all these menus. There are no wrong or right settings just ones that work for the way someone shoots or not. As I guide you through the setting choices I discuss my shooting process to help you decide if these options will suit you too.
Image Quality settings
The top menu item is the jpeg setting and aspect ratio. I always leave this set to L 4:3 and I have good reason to do so. The jpeg image that is saved embedded in the RAW file on a Fujifilm camera is just 50% in size and that means when shooting RAW only the playback is limited to a 50% view. This isn’t enough for me so I end up shooting large fine jpegs too just to get a decent image to review in camera. I discard the jpegs in computer. Some say that if your card fails you get two chances of having a non corrupted file as either the jpeg or RAW are likely to be okay. I’ve never had a corrupted SD card so I’ve no way of verifying this. I use the UHS2 type cards by Fujifilm or Toshiba with at least a 280mb/s write speed. These are the cards the slot 1 of the GFX50s was designed to use. Slot 2 is a slower reader and writer and it’s noticeable especially when reviewing files. Next it the file type F+RAW is my permanent selection for reasons discussed above. I shoot lossless compressed RAW files because they are smaller and lossless.
Film Simulation is my most accessed Q menu item. I mainly use Pro Neg S but I also use Acros g. Pro Neg S delivers an image on screen that is calm and natural. It looks flat to most people but it gives me the chance to assess the digital file dynamic range precisely. Acros g makes skin look great. It has contrast and texture. When I get my images into Lightroom I have to remake these film simulation choices but they are so worth it as the “Adobe Standard” camera profile is not great. I set up Lightroom to apply the Pro Neg S film simulation by default and it meand the previews it builds are gorgeous from the start.
Highlight Tone I set this to minus 1. In conjunction with Pro Neg S this lets me see exactly the limits of highlight recording in the RAW file. I can accurately set my white level where I need it. I often find myself shooting white clothing into the light and I want to know just how white it looks. I’m not one of those photographers who is scared of white and makes everything a shade of grey but I am very tuned in to where I place my white point threshold in the scene.
Shadow Tone I set this to minus 2. This allows me to see every last bit of detail being recorded in the shadows. With the film sim set to Pro Neg S and the shadow tone set to minus 2 I can see exactly what I will see in the RAW file in Lightroom. It’s like previewing what highlight and shadow details can be recovered with the adjustment sliders without having to guess. Once the image is in Lightroom, Lightroom builds its own preview completely ignoring these tonal settings. That’s fine by me.
I leave Colour, Sharpness and Noise Reduction set to zero
The sRGB colour space is the one to use as it’s so much easier to get the white balance and white balance tint spot on in camera. The colour space is ignored by the RAW file but the white balance settings aren’t.
The Q menu
Focus accuracy: The autofocus on the GFX50s is steady and precise. I use single point AF with the target square at its smallest size. You set this by pressing in the joystick and then using the thumb wheel to change the size of the target box. Because I use the camera on a tripod I set the number of AF points to the maximum 425. When shooting handheld the smaller set of 117 focus points would be a better choice as it’s faster to scoot the AF point to the desired position. You can’t focus reframe and shoot with the GFX cameras because the Fujifilm lenses are flat field and focussing errors would occur (see note in the review section below). The depth of field on a GFX is so much shallower than that of smaller camera formats.
Photometry is something I never use. If the picture looks too dark I make it lighter and if it looks too light I make it darker. I only use the camera on full manual so there is no need for an in camera light meter. I’ve not used a light meter now since 2001.
Shutter Type is always MS for me. I regularly use flash and I don’t want issues with flash timing plus I work under artificial and fluorescent and light sources that ‘beat’ with the ES leaving banding in the image. The mechanical shutter in the GFX is perfect. I can shoot with flash at any shutter speed now that all decent flash systems have HSS. This makes the need for in lens shutters obsolete. That’s great because leaf shutters rarely have the ability to shoot at 1/4000th of a second.
Flash and Movie settings
EVF and LCD brightness and colour. I set these to zero as it gives me an image and exposure that I can rely on.
I set the image display to 1.5 seconds so I can get an instant playback of what I’ve shot. I find this especially useful when using flash as I use this quick playback to asses exposure, the flash position and power. If I need to see the shot for longer I press the playback button.
I assign the Preview exposure and white balance in manual mode to the function button on the front of the camera. It’s the most useful function when shooting with flash on location or in the studio. The ability to switch off the white balance preview is useful too when composing images under tungsten modelling lights when the exposures are to be lit with flash at 5600k.
You can see my sub monitor settings in shot 1 above.
I thought I’d write my long term user review by answering some of the most obvious and frequently asked questions put to me on social media.
What is the GFX50s like to use?
Shooting with the GFX50s is an old school experience for me. The mirrorless advantage and autofocus speed remind me of the classic Fujifilm X-Pro1. The three way tilting LCD and the dial controls remind me of the Fujifilm X-T2 and the size/weight remind me of a pro spec dSLR. I like to use a tripod with the GFX50s because it affords me more control with composition and framing. I find my work has become more refined and the images are a delight to print as a result. There is a loss of spontaneity that comes from using a tripod and that is something the GFX50r may well address or even the 100mp variant with its IBIS.
What are the GF lenses like?
At the time of writing there are 7 dedicated lenses for the GFX plus many hundreds of lenses that can be adapted to work with the GFX. I’ll just discuss the native lenses here because my experience has shown them to be far superior and better suited to the GFX than adapted lenses. This is partly because the micro lenses on the GFX sensor are offset at the the corners to allow for an extreme angle of incidence caused by a short flange to sensor distance. Most adapted lenses that were designed with a large flange to sensor/ film distance to enable a mirror to operate are not well suited to the GFX sensor. There are exceptions of course but none have decent AF so that rules them out for photographing people as far as I’m concerned. I do have a Carl Zeiss Apo Makro-Planar 120mm f/4 for Contax 645 on a Steelsring smart adapter that I use for 1:1 macro work and a Pentax 45mm 67 lens on a Kipon shift adapter that I use for landscape panoramas.
All the GF lenses are weather and dust sealed. All of them have linear auto focus motors except the 45mm and 63mm lenses. All the GF lenses have beed designed with a resolution of 100 million pixels in mind. The 100mp variant of the GFX is due out in 2019 and will incorporate a lot of new tech like a faster processor, in body image stabilisation, a backside illuminated sensor and greater battery capacity.
GF 23mm f/4 I hired this lens for a trip to Arizona and Utah last year. It was pin sharp, very well corrected and excellent in every detail. I found the field of view a bit to wide for my liking so I’m holding out for a GF 27mm f/2.8 should one come along anytime soon.
GF 32-64mm f/4 This is my default lens and the one I use more than any other. The focussing is fast, the optical quality is astounding, the bokeh is delightful and I only seem to shoot this lens wide open at f/4. This is a peach of a lens.
GF 45mm f/2.8 This lens is of the same style as the 63mm but seems to have a better build quality. It’s lightweight and I might get this lens along with a couple of others at some point in the future if I switch to shooting just with primes.
GF 50mm f/3.5 (pancake) This lens is due in 2019 and is designed primarily for the GFX50r. We can only wait and see how it turns out.
GF 63mm f/2.8 I have this lens as a backup but have never really used it as the 32-64mm zoom is faster at focussing even in low light. Some early examples had AF motor problems and caused the camera to lock up if filter systems were used on the lens.
GF 110mm f/2 This is the best lens I’ve ever owned followed closely by the Hasselblad HC 210mm f/4 (also designed and made by Fujifilm). This 110mm lens has a beautiful bokeh, crazy shallow depth of field at f/2 and is super sharp even wide open.
GF 120mm f/4 OIS This lens has more contrast than the 110mm and does 1:2 macro. I shot with this lens side by side with a 110mm pre production unit to establish which one I would get. I opted for the stellar 110mm. The OIS and close focussing of the 120mm make this lens great for tight head shots as well as macro and general purpose photography.
GF 250mm f/4 OIS This lens is smaller and lighter than I imagined. I rented it for a trip to Belgium earlier this year and it impressed me with its subject separation and clarity. I found the field of view to tight for my needs and I’ll wait for a GF 180mm f/2.8 or similar.
Lenses that I’d buy in a heart beat should they be made are: GF 27mm f/2, GF 35mm f/2, GF 55mm f/1.4, GF 180mm f/2.8
What is autofocus like with the GFX50s?
My process of shooting with the GFX is to compose and frame the shot. I then move the focus area to the desired spot and focus using a half press of the shutter button or the rear AF button and finally I shoot. The fraction of a second it takes for the AF motors to drive the lens to the correct position is such an insignificant part of the shoot process time that the AF speed seems perfect. I’d rater the AF took a beat to lock on and for it to have perfect positioning rather than the process be rushed with occasional errors. The GFX nails the focus position every time.
Note: GFX lenses are flat field meaning if you point one at a brick wall 2 metres away and set it wide open focussed at 2m it will create a sharp shot edge to edge and corner to corner even though the corners of the frame may be 3m from the lens. The focussing distance changes as you pan away from centre. That’s why a focus and reframe system of focussing doesn’t work with GFX unless the lens is stopped down somewhat. Incidentally it’s also one of the main reason SLR users tend to get back focus issues. With an SLR, only the near centre focussing areas are sensitive and accurate due to the way the prism operates. With the Fujifilm GFX system all the focus zones are as sensitive as each other even right into the corners and that is why focusing errors are a thing of the past.
What is the durability of the GFX50s like?
I once had an ingress of dust under the top plate of the camera in Antelope canyon, Utah but apart from the thumb and finger wheels feeling gritty the camera continued to work as normal. I sent it in to the Fujifilm UK service department where the camera was stripped down, cleaned and re sealed. The pro level maintenance comes as part of the purchase cost of the GFX50s camera. Apart from that incident I’ve had no issues with any of the lenses or camera body functions. I did have to get the ribbon cable replaced in my viewfinder tilt adapter. This had become intermittent and I put it down to rough handling on my part.
What works really well on the GFX?
The 3 way tilting LCD is excellent allowing me to use the camera on a tripod with ease.
The tilting viewfinder is surprisingly good too and gives a freedom from having to spend a lot of time on my knees looking through a viewfinder.
The batteries last well. I only have two batteries and I’ve not run out of battery power yet on a shoot. I find if I change battery at lunchtime the second one lasts me for the rest of the day.
What could be improved?
The dioptre adjustment wheel on the viewfinder gets knocked easily. I’ve had to tape mine up to stop it getting knocked.
The battery compartment door is in an awkward place if you want to use an ‘L’ plate. There is no really good ‘L’ plate design out there and no decent solution is likely.
What are the GFX RAF files like to work with?
Right from the word go the GFX50s files were compatible with Adobe Lightroom. As both of the GFX cameras use sensors with the regular Beyer pattern no special magic was needed to get the best out of the files. The Fujifilm film simulations were already in Adobe Lightroom and these were available for the GFX upon launch too. Because many GFX users were previously using Capture One they came up with work around solutions to get GFX files into Capture One. Those days are passed now and Capture One has opened up its software to GFX users.
The first thing you notice with the GFX images is the dynamic range. There is so much more shadow detail above the noise floor than you get with so called ‘full frame’ or 36mm x 24mm sensor files. The files can be pulled around without introducing artefacts like banding and contouring. The colours seem natural and getting great skin tones is easy. I tweak my white balance and image quality settings in camera and the white balance and tint values come straight into Lightroom as they were shot. Not having to fiddle with the white balance and tint sliders in post saves a lot of time.
The files come into their own at the printing stage. I tend to print most of my work and some of the prints I make are several metres across. It’s when printing that the subtle shadow details become almost magical. If you’ve ever studied an Ansel Adams print you will know what I mean.
GFX50s or GFX50r
The main technical and specification comparisons between the two cameras have been made many times on review sites but what they often lack is the subjective opinion and real world user experience. I’ll lay down my thoughts on the two cameras here and let you decide.
If the price of both cameras was the same there would still be reasons to choose the GFX50r over the GFX50s. The GFX50r looks fabulous with its understated slick design. It is significantly lighter than the GFX50s and the shallow form factor makes it an ideal camera to sling over your shoulder. The image quality of both cameras is identical and because of the combination of these factors the GFX50r is set to become a really popular camera.
What does the GFX50s offer that the 50r doesn’t? The GFX50s has a three way tilting LCD. I shoot portraits so this matters a lot to me. It’s a game changer and the tech is hardly expensive so I’m not quite sure why only a two way tilting LCD mechanism was fitted to the GFX50r. The large central EVF with the optional tilting mechanism is superb and I’d not be without that for sure. The top plate LCD is nice but not really necessary. The hand grip on the GFX50s is substantial and better for hand holding the long lenses like the 110mm and 120mm. The other differences are less significant.
The list price of the GFX50r is lower than that of the GFX50s but I’ve heard of dealers offering the GFX50s with a couple of lenses at bargain prices that seem to close that gap. It’s probably worth negotiating with your official Fujifilm distributor, especially if you have an extensive shopping list. There is not much in it between the two cameras on price at the moment. That will change once the launch demand is met, maybe by next spring when the 100 megapixel camera is announced then the price point of the GFX50r will likely drop like the GFX50s did to rest at a point significantly lower than the GFX50s. I remember when the GFX50s was announced it was initially pitched at “under $10,000 with a lens.” The 100 megapixel camera has been rumoured to be about the same price. One thing is certain, list prices and street prices will vary from country to country. Check the small print. Does the price include complimentary Fujifilm Professional Service membership? If so, is it for one year or two?
If you want a walk around camera of the highest quality then the GFX50r is probably right up your street especially when coupled with the GF 45mm or GF 50mm lenses. The GFX50r hangs really well on a camera strap. By comparison the GFX50s is lumpy and bumpy. If you are a landscape photographer and carry your kit over varying terrain then the lighter GFX50r is probably the one to get. If like me you want the most versatile package with a tilting viewfinder and you are less concerned by looks then the GFX50s is the one to get.
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