Fujifilm GF50S II & GF 35-70mm review

Sep 2, 2021 | GFX, Location, Travel | 1 comment

Shoot: Recce for this workshop ~ April 2022
Photographer: Damien Lovegrove
Model: Wlada Schüler
Shoot date: July 2021
Location: Fuerteventura island, Spain

Camera: GFX50s II (pre-production)
Lenses: GF 35-70mm (pre-production), GF 110mm, GF 250mm
Lighting: Ambient plus occasional use of Godox AD200
Camera Support: Gitzo 2552 monopod with RRS head and a rotator device
Styling & concept: Damien Lovegrove

Head In The Sand I love deserts, fluffy dresses too. I saw this baby blue skirt for sale online and just had to have it. The fine white windswept sand on Fuerteventura makes a beautiful background for a shot like this. All the photographs in this post are from in camera jpegs. Fujifilm GFX 50s II with the GF 250mm lens – 1/1600th second at f/4, ISO 640. (The odd ISO value is because I knocked the dial unknowingly). There are no locks on the thumb and first finger wheel. It is going to take some time to get used to using this camera if you are coming from the 50s.

Fujifilm GFX50s II

Pre production copies of both the GFX 50s II and the GF 35-70mm lens were kindly sent to me at the end of July. I had a planned trip to Fuerteventura to recce locations for a workshop and it gave me a great opportunity to give this new kit a run down in a typical shooting environment.

Top left: The only way to distinguish the 50s II from a 100s is the notation on the side door. Note that the tilting screen comes away from the body to clear the protruding viewfinder. Top right: The large screen on the top plate can be also configured to show virtual dials. Bottom left: The MASP dial has stolen the place of the ISO dial. Bottom Right: The L-plate from a 100s fits the 50s II like a glove. The lower profile of the viewfinder looks great and overall this camera is far prettier than its predecessor.

I met up with my long term friend Wlada because she happened to be on a neighbouring Island. She popped over on the ferry. We had a few laughs and put the world to rights as we drove between the potential locations. Fujifilm GFX 50s II with the GF 35-70mm lens at 45mm – 1/200th second at f/16, ISO 200. I chose f/16 because I wanted the foreground, mid ground and background in focus. The lens coped very well at f/16.

Does size matter?

Owning a 50mp GFX camera gives you the “It’s nice to know you’ve got it when you need it” feeling about technical image quality. Owning a GFX is like owning a 4×4. Sometimes you are waiting for that one day of snow each year so that you can justify choosing the 4×4. When I bought my first GFX I said to myself “Do I need it? No. Do I want it? Yes”

Is there much to gain from having 100mp over 50mp? No, not at all. Unless you crop your pictures heavily or you need the finest detail, there is very little to gain with 100mp. We are pretty much at the lens limit anyway, especially if like me, you shoot wide open. If you were to look at big prints side by side that were taken with the same lens, you’d be hard pushed to see the difference between the prints made with a GFX 50mp camera and those made with a GFX 100mp camera.

The GFX100s versus GFX50s II debate

The two cameras are virtually indistinguishable from the outside. Perhaps that is a deliberate ploy by Fujifilm to protect 50s II users from 100s envy. Who knows? I guess the real reason for keeping them the same is echonomic. It is cheaper to share 99% of the camera parts of the GFX 50s II with its more expensive brother the GFX 100s.

The GFX100s is faster to use than the GFX 50s II for sure. It focuses faster and you can shoot more frames per second. Are these factors important to you? I tend to shoot everything on a tripod so there is no advantage of the 100s over the 50s II to me. You will just have to decide if it is worth it.

The GFX100s costs a whopping 70% more than the GFX50s II for what is essentially the same camera with a different sensor.

The law of diminishing returns

It has finally come, that day when Moore’s Law died. From way back in 2001 when I stoped shooting film and started to shoot digitally, every two years or so, a camera upgrade was released that doubled the image quality of its predecessor. I noticed the diminishing returns first with the Fujifilm X series with barely any distinguishable difference in observable image quality from the X-T1 to the X-T4 and now the GFX has reached this point. No amount of pixel count increase will deliver substantial gains in image quality in a lens limited system. We have to ask ourselves is the image quality from the 100mp sensor twice as good as the 50mp sensor? My answer is definately no. The 100mp does has more detail in the centre of the frame for sure but this is not always a good thing. I’ve shot both the GFX100 and the GFX50s side by side and I prefer the 50s look. There is a creamyness and characteristic in the 50s images that reminds me of the original X-Pro1 files. The tonality, smoothness of detail and resolution are a perfect combination for my portraiture. By contrast there is an unnecessary amount of detail for people photography in the 100 sensor and Fujifilm have introduced a “Smooth Skin Effect” feature to smudge it out a bit. I realise the sensor debate is a bit like the LPs vs CDs one. The clever and far more technically advanced 100mp sensor is playing the part of the CD and the simple but pure 50mp sensor is the LP. The 100mp sensor wins the debate on paper but that’s not really what matters. Ultimately it comes down to the print.

Four and a half years ago the GFX50s set the benchmark for image quality and to be honest 50mp is more than enough for people photography. It is the sweet spot and where I want to remain. With this in mind the GFX50s II is an interesting proposition. The same great image quality within a redesigned body with IBIS and a faster processor. What is there not to like? and is it a worthwhile upgrade for GFX 50s owners? Read on to find out.

Our scouting sessions on the island of Fuerteventura took in a variety of locations including this bus stop seemingly in the middle of nowhere. I love the slightly surreal nature of this shot. Wlada had a go at levitating :) Fujifilm GFX 50s II with the GF 35-70mm lens at 59mm – 1/800th second at f/5.2, ISO 200

Comparison with the GFX50s

Some things have not changed much with the introduction of the 50s II. The size and weight of the new camera feels similar to the original 50s. The grip depth feels the same too so there is a certain familiarity when swapping between the cameras. The sensor is identical and the autofocus speed seems about the same on both cameras too. The shutter of the new 50s II is super smooth and there seemed to be a faster burst shooting rate but I didn’t count it.

No removeable viewfinder

It is a pity the original concept of the tilting and removeable viewfinder didn’t migrate to the new camera. When it worked, the tilting adapter was great. I had several issues with my ribbon cable and the flash contacts were always a bit unreliable. Maybe this ‘weakness’ was the reason that the innovative idea was dropped. It was a good try Fujifilm and one I felt could have benefitted from a redesign.

Top left you can see my trusty Hoodman Loupe of 5 years placed on the LCD of the 50s II. This is a great working replacement for the tilt and turn viewfinder. With the addition of magnetic strips this would make a great alternative solution.

Volcanoes, lava flows, deserts, wind and heat sum up the core of Fuerteventura. I love the isolation and solitude that places like these evoke. Fujifilm GFX 50s II with the GF 35-70mm lens at 70mm – 1/800th second at f/5.6, ISO 125. By day three I was becoming familiar with the dials and lack of knobs on the GFX50s II.

The GFX 50s II camera pros and cons

Cons

  • The ISO dial has gone. I only shoot in manual mode and there is absolutely no reason for me to have a MASP dial. By contrast the ISO gets changed shot to shot and the ability to lock it off is great too. This is one of the big minuses for this camera and a retrograde step.
  • The removable and tilting finder was a fabulous invention and one that needed just a few tweaks to perfect. A more robust ribbon cable, friction glide movements and a more secure locking mechanism would have perfected this wonderful device.
  • The new joystick is spikey and akward. It feels horrible and I find it ard to push down without it going off on a tangent. I will probably get used to this but it is frustrating to say the least.
  • I believe that real dials with locks is the best way to work and removing them was a big mistake. I guess it is to make the DSLR upgraders feel more at home.
  • The Dpad has gone. It is a far quicker interface to access menus and change settings than the spikey joystick thingy.
  • No battery charger. Is this a con? I don’t think so, that’s why it’s at the bottom of the list. I picked up a dual charger and spare batteries on Amazon and they came the next day along with a couple of memory cards.

Pros

  • The GFX50s II looks pretty. This matters to me. The original 50s is dog ugly and the version 2 looks so much better without the hump.
  • The IBIS really does work well and is very impressive.
  • Rubber grip feels lovely. The grip on the original camera was too slippery and the texture was too coarse.
  • The paint feels smooth and overall I’d say this camera has better finishing materials than its predecessor.
  • Dials feel super smooth. The command wheels feel super smooth and the switching action is spot on. This is a lifesaver now that the real dials have gone. The 50s dials by contrast are hard to use.
  • The battery is lighter, smaller and has more capacity than the brick from the mark 1 camera.
  • The battery position is spot on. We can finally use a rigid Lplate on the camera body.
  • The movie / still switch is a nice touch, as the menus change accordingly. Although FHD is ‘so last year’ and 8K is where it’s at now.
  • The viewfinder dioptre dial now locks. It’s so simple and yet so important. I’ve spent 4 ½ years with a bit of sticky tape on my viewfinder to stop the dial moving.
  • Having identical dimensions as the now established GFX100s means accessories are already available without the need to wait.
  • The shutter is now far quieter and silky smooth. The X speed is the same but with the advent and optomisation of HSS that has gone on in the last 18 months I see no big issues there.
  • More frames per second. I diddn’t count them but in burst mode there seemed to be a faster shooting rate. This is probably due to the latest generation of processor.

Who is the GFX50s II for?

The GFX50s mark 2, as it will no doubt be called is aimed squarely at photographers upgrading from full frame or APSC cameras who want to experience the fabulous image quality that this larger format sensor delivers. People who are happy with a relaxed way of shooting. This camera is made for photographers like me, who shoot fairly static subjects and who don’t mind the process of moving the focus point to the exact place needed before each shot. This GFX50s II camera is ideal for some photographers shooting:

  • Landscape
  • portraiture
  • Architecture
  • Interiors
  • Editorial
  • Food
  • Product
  • Still life

Inteligent AF tracking is not what this camera is about.  Nor is it a walk around fast responce tool. Although the GFX50s II has in body image stabalisation my guess is it will likely to be used on a tripod most of the time.

Should I upgrade from the GFX50s?

This GFX50s 11 camera is an evolution from the GFX50s and as such is not an upgrade. There are significant changes like the introduction of image stabalisation but the lack of a removeable/ tilting viewfinder and the loss of the dedicated dials is a backwards step in my eyes. I guess you could call it an updated camera rather than an upgraded camera.

Case study

My GFX50s is 4½ years old now and is showing significant signs of wear. I’ve had excellent use out of the camera as I have used it for every shoot over those years. It owes me nothing. Alongside the GFX 50s I’ve had an X series kit including four lenses gathering dust as a backup, just in case I needed it but luckily I haven’t had any issues yet.

Now I have the opportunity to buy a brand new GFX camera complete with a kit lens at a remarkable price. That will relegate my trusty GFX50s to be my back up solution for my professional work. I’ll put the ‘kit lens’ on the 50s and then sell off my complete X series kit reducing the cost of the update.

The GFX50s II should represent an excellent return on my investment, especially if I get another 4 or 5 years of service from it. That will see me through to retirement. The cost per use is important to me as a professional photographer. If my GFX50s was only two years old I would not be buying this mk2 version now. I’d wait a couple more years until my 50s had earned its keep.

Will I buy the GFX50s II?

Yes, I’ve got my order in already.

Fujifilm GFX 50s II with the GF 35-70mm lens at 35mm – 1/800th second at f/5.6, ISO 100

The GF 35-70mm zoom lens

That is it on the left. The ultra compact GF35-70mm mini marvel of a lens. I loved how lightweight the 50s II camera felt with this 35-70mm lens attached. The lens performed well considering its size and weight. I can hear them now, the old school folk who say “a good lens has to be prime and it has to be fast”. This is neither but the GF35-70mm lens is fabulous. I’d even consider taking this camera/ lens combination on holiday.

The GF 35-70mm lens pros and cons

Pros

  • Tiny
  • Lightweight
  • Sharp enough for 50mp for sure
  • A great carry around lens
  • A perfect backup lens for a working professional
  • Fabulous value when bought as a kit
  • Decent enough to silence the critics

Cons

  • Lack of a constant aperture
  • Lack of an aperture ring

Comparison with the GF 32-64mm zoom lens

Who would have though that 3mm would make such a big difference? On many occasions I found myself stepping back a little further than I’d like to get the shot. This in turn reduced the intimacy so that 3mm is important to me. The 32-64mm lens is sharper in the corners wide open and is not going to be replaced by this young pretender any time soon. If I were putting together a kit around this tiny 35-70mm lens I’d want to add the GF 30mm prime to my bag so maybe there is little bag weight difference in the end. With the camera on a tripod the weight of the camera lens combination becomes less of an issue.

Will I buy the GF 35-70?

Yes, I’ll take that too please as part of a ‘kit’. I’ll pop it on my 50s mk1 and that will become my backup kit. I really enjoyed shooting with this lens and I’d be happy to shoot any professional assignment with it.

Top L&R: Fujifilm GFX 50s II with the GF 35-70mm lens at 50mm – 1/320th second at f/8, ISO 200. Bottom Fujifilm GFX 50s II with the GF 110mm lens – 1/2000th second at f/2.8, ISO 100. These are just a few of our shoot locations that I’ve lined up for my workshop in 2022.

I’ll be using the GFX50s II in Fuerteventura when I shoot this workshop alongside 6 photographers. You can find all the information about the workshop here.

1 Comment

  1. Dave

    Many thanks for a well balanced & refreshingly honest review.
    It has certainly helped me make up my mind about changing my 50s.

    Best wishes
    Dave

    Reply

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