The Fuji GFX 50R review

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It was two months ago when I ultimately failed to resist the temptation of going medium format. And while initially I was inclined to explore the Hasselblad universe – especially given the unexpected launch of their X1D ii –  at the end I decided to go Fujifilm GFX instead.

While the Hasselblad X1D ii looked stunning and would offer me an overall new experience – the screen touch based interface; the leaf shutter lenses; a brand totally new to me – ultimately the money side spoke louder.

I figured with the Fujifilm GFX system I would potentially spend half the money I would need to get on a Hasselblad journey, not to mention future savings if I am to further expand the system with more lenses.

Long story short, I bought the Fujifilm GFX 50R together with the GF 63mm f/2.8 R WR lens, and in the last 2 months had shot hundreds of photos in several different scenarios for a proper testing of the camera.

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Fuji GFX 50R body and my everyday (and only…) lens: the GF 63mm f/2.8 R WR 

What you are about to read is not really a review, rather a collection of thoughts and feelings after clocking significant hours using this medium format combination.

Why am I not writing a review?

Firstly, because technical reviews of the Fuji GFX 50R are abundant in the internet and I’m really not into it these days. You can read it somewhere else from other prestigious camera review sites.

Secondly, if I am to write a detailed review – as I did with other cameras before in this very same blog space – I would be repeating a lot of the contents from my previous Fuji X-E3 review, such are the similarities between these two cameras.

Hold on a second: similarities?

Yes. And before you blast me for this statement because there is no way a small APS-C camera weighting a mere 337 grams can be compared to a medium format beast weighting 775 grams, let alone alluding to their similarities, please let me explain.

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Same DNA from same Fujifilm family

As I wrote here in the recent past, the Fuji GFX 50R feels like a beefed-up, bulkier version of the X-E3. 

You have the typical shutter speed dial, exposure compensation dial and the aperture ring in the lens body.

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At the back, you have no D-pad and in its place there is that well-known joystick first introduced in the Fuji X-E3. Similarly, D-pad shortcuts are now accessible through finger swipes in the rear touchscreen. And yes, you have the Q button for quick setting shortcuts.

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All the other buttons are basically the same, have the same feel and are in the same location. Finally, the menu system is what you would expect as in all other Fuji X cameras. So, if like me you are a long time Fuji X shooter, you will feel immediately at home.

Similar, but different

As a conclusion, this is what I wrote in that post about the X-E3 / GFX 50R similarities.

” [Compared to the X-E3] it feels very similar in terms of operation, but overall slower. Autofocus is slower, FPS rate is lower, frame blackout time is longer. That’s the result of growing larger, from a petite 24 megapixel APS camera to a 51 megapixel medium format monster.

So, as in real life: you gain weight, get bigger, and you lose your agility. But still, for a medium format camera, the GFX 50R is pretty agile.”

Faux portability

Let me set this straight: although this is a mirrorless camera, this is by no means a small camera, nor is it light or portable like other APS-C or even some full frame mirrorless cameras. If anything, you can only state the GFX 50R is portable by medium format standards.

If you have the experience carrying a large, full frame DSLR around, then this comes pretty close: the GFX 50R feels the same due to the weight and the overall bulkiness. Mind me, I’m using it with the GF 63mm f/2.8 R WR lens which, when I took the plunge, was the smallest and lightest available lens. Yet it weights 405 grams and is 71mm long. It is, by no means, a small lens!

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Not small: GF 63mm f/2.8 R WR with the lens hood attached…

Of course, Fujifilm had recently announced the pancake GF 50mm f/3.5 R LM WR, which is considerably lighter and smaller. This is probably the lens to get if you are to shrink the GFX 50R size, and hopefully Fujifilm will keep launching similar small lenses.

But if you have your eyes set on the other lenses of the GF family, then don’t convince yourself this is a truly portable camera, because it is only as portable as a full-frame DSLR.

Not a street camera then?

Fujifilm was smart enough to market the GFX 50R as a rangefinder-esque camera due to its design – hence the “R”in the “50R” – and differentiate it from the GFX 50S which is styled like a conventional DSLR.

The rangefinder inspired GFX 50R led many to think it could positively be used as a street camera, such are rangefinder cameras status for this this type of photography.

So let’s be clear here: the GFX 50R is by no means a street camera.

I mean, of course you can use it as a street camera, as I did during a week in Paris as documented here. More, you can even fairly state that this is one of the most portable and street friendly medium format cameras ever created.

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Side by side with the full-frame Sony RX1Rii

But if you are to accept that a so-called street camera is supposed to be small, nimble, agile and inconspicuous, then there are other cameras in the market that will tick all the boxes above and still give you very good image quality. Plus, they are probably lighter on your wallet as well.

The truth is, I spent 8 days in Paris carrying the GFX 50R and I missed my other smaller cameras, especially the Sony RX1Rii that last year I carried everyday happily in Italy for 2 weeks during the summer break.

It is up to you if think your type of street photography will benefit from the extra image quality a medium format camera provides. As of me, I frankly see no added value, so I’m probably not going to bring my Fuji GFX 50R to any trips with my family or any street shooting session again – it’s just not worth the hassle and the pain in the back.

Aesthetics

To start with, I wouldn’t say the Fuji GFX 50R is a good looking camera. In fact, it’s a bit ugly even. It looks overly thick and everything just feels heavy and oversized. Perhaps I just got used to a certain look for rangefinder cameras, and this one here feels like an unsuccessful attempt.

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It lacks the finesse compared to other beautifully designed Fujifilm cameras like the several iterations of the X-E or X-T series. I mean, just look at the thickness of that back screen bezel, or the EVF eyecup and diopter adjustment setting out. Fujifilm somehow dropped the ball here and let a butcher or whoever with thick fingers pick it up.

User experience

Aesthetics aside, the camera feels very solid in your hand and a real pleasure to work with. Coupled with the GF 63mm f/2.8 R WR the whole thing weights 1.2 kilos, so mostly you will be holding this camera with both hands – try to shoot single handed and chances are you will not feel comfortable and plus your photo will get some motion blur, such is the sensitivity of its 51 megapixel sensor.

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Build quality is top notch. The top dials – exposure compensation, shutter speed, shutter button and the collar ring dial surrounding it – are superbly well machined and finished. Turn the dials and you will be rewarded with a high quality tactile feed-back. Everything feels right – not too hard and not too loose.

The shutter speed dial has a spring loaded button in the middle: you can press / unpress it lock / unlock the dial. Very useful.

One detail about the collar ring dial in the shutter button: by default it is set to change ISO and once it happened to me that I had accidentally changed the ISO without knowing. To cure this I simply disabled this function and have nothing assigned to this dial now.

I shoot in Auto ISO anyway – set to maximum 6400 and slowest shutter speed 1/125. In other cameras I usually set the slowest speed to 1/60, but in this camera, due to its high resolution 51 megapixel sensor, motion blur is so sensitive that I gave it an extra stop.

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There are a bunch of user customizable buttons, and 5 of them have absolutely no external markings at all – Fujifilm expects you to go to the camera settings and assign whatever function you want to allocate them to. And, trust me, there are so many available options that you will surely find what best suits you.

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I especially like the custom button at the front of the camera, which falls rightly under the mid finger of my right hand. I have the Focus Lock assigned to this button and I find myself using it a lot.

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In fact, one thing worth mentioning is the Focus Mode rocker switch (AF-S / AF-C / MF)  is now placed at the back of the camera – not in the front like the X-E3 – and it’s so much better like this. Just because of this minor detail, changing from AF to MF seems so easy now. Combined with the Focus Lock switch, everything just works like second nature and quite liberating.

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The GFX 50R comes with a big fat battery which slots into an opening on the bottom of the body. It’s got 1250mAh and, according to CIPA ratings, it’s good for 400 shots. As always, this highly depends on shooting conditions and the way you use your camera.

From my own experience, I had never experienced any problems using 1 single battery for a full day walking around the streets with the camera, nor did I suffer any battery anxiety watching the battery % quickly going down.

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The GFX 50R offers dual SD card slots. If this is important to you, then you can tick the box from your must-haves list. But let me share this: in my over 15 years amateur photographer career I had never had any sort of problem with data cards – weather CF, SD or Sony Memory Stick, you name it. Not a single fault. Therefore, I never put 2 cards in a camera – never felt the need for this redundancy.

Talking about data cards, I’m currently using a 256 GB card. The way these things are growing is crazy. A 256 GB card in the GFX 50R is good for over 2150 uncompressed RAW files. Each uncompressed RAW file takes approximately 120 MB.

Do I need such a large card? Probably not, but the guy from my local photo store somehow convinced me I do. Frankly, 128 GB would be good enough for me. I’d rather have 2 separate 128 GB cards instead of 1 single 256 GB card – feels like too many eggs in one single basket.

Camera speed

This camera is by no means slow. However, by current standards, it’s certainly not a fast camera as well. So, while not being slow, it’s not fast either.

FPS rate is nothing to brag about: 3 frames per second. In continuous shutter mode, the buffer takes unlimited JPEGs, but only 8 uncompressed RAW shots.

Of course, nobody is buying this camera for quick action, so nothing wrong with this. But the one thing you will have to get used to is the blackout time of the screen after you take a shot.

The blackout is longer than usual – half a second, maybe?.. – and it feels like a longer than expected exposure, because when the screen blacks out you tend to think the shutter is still open and exposing the sensor.

So initially my natural reaction was to keep still and avoid motion blur… It took me a while to realize the blackout was not exposure time, but instead it was the camera processing the image coming from the large 51 megapixel sensor.

Autofocus of the camera is, again, not fast but not slow and thus suitable for normal shooting. It’s pretty accurate, it doesn’t hunt. Let’s put it this way: I can’t think of one single occasion where I missed a shot because the autofocus was not fast enough. I think this pretty sums it all.

By the way, face recognition is surprisingly good.

What really matters: image quality

None of my rumblings above are important if, like me, you get the GFX 50R for one and only reason: image quality. In fact, I can think of no other reason why somebody would decide to get a medium format camera.

Whatever the brand / system you embark on, medium format is likely to burn a hole in your wallet. So be prepared to shell out some good cash.

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Moreover, you know everything is going to be bigger and heavier than you were used to: camera body, lenses, filter thread, battery, RAW file, everything… Because, well, you are getting a sensor size that is unusually bigger than what you were used to.

So why would one decide to embark on such a treacherous journey? For the one and only reason that you just can’t resist to get a taste of that medium format magic, that’s it.

The richness of its colours, the ultra pleasant gradations and tonalities, the silky smooth shadow transitions from brightness to darkness, the added dynamic range, the super high resolution combined with a lower than usual pixel density. So, as to say, the extra image quality that medium format offers.

In the case of the GFX 50R, I can firmly state all above it’s true, it’s no wishful thinking nor marketing nonsense.

Below some photos to prove my point, all out of camera with no post-processing. Just press for full resolution and EXIF data.

Colours

This is a camera that will push you to take landscape photography, even if this is not your cup of tea, and have you obsessed with the beautiful colours it produces.

Macau, the city where I live, is not really the best place for landscape photography – this just happens to be one of the most densely populated cities on earth… But still, I had to pull out something: you cannot say you fully experienced the GFX 50R if you had never shot it on a tripod, so I had to give it a go.

 

The image above is a 3 photo panorama stitched together in Photoshop. It’s a 25 seconds exposure with aperture set to f/22 and ISO 100.

In theory, a 3 photo combined together would produce a 154 MP image file, but with the overlapping and cropping the final output resulted in 90 MP. In full size, the panorama is 7 meters long!

To fully appreciate the details you really need to zoom it to 100%, otherwise you won’t get the nuances and the richness.

I’m not a big fan of this type of photography which is a bit kitch for my taste, but in any case I cannot ignore the pleasant look of the sky captured by the GFX 50R. From left to right, I never get tired of admiring the texture of the clouds, the richness of the different colours and how smooth everything transitions together.

Below is a single image taken from the same spot, but overall darker as night was falling. Colours gained a different intensity and saturation, producing a more dramatic look.

 

This is mother nature showing-off its colours, gorgeously captured by the GFX 50R: from the pink on top of the mountains to the purples and blues in the upper sky. Stunning.

Then there is the example below, taken in the early morning Paris.

 

It just happened that the façade of the building across the street was reflecting this beautiful orange glow from sunlight. I like the way it looks and the GFX 50R handled it superbly.

Shadows

Now let’s have a look on this one below, including a full-size blow-up:

 

See the shadows and how smooth they look, from darker to brighter areas? Not only on the face, but also on the neck and other parts of the sculpture where no clear cut-off line is visible – only smooth transitions.

Then there is the roof below:

 

Notice the richness of the texture, the way it gets darker from left to right?

When you combine the richness of the colours and the shadows, you get results like the photos below from the Centre Pompidou in Paris. Please note these are all straight out of camera RAWs.

 

If you look carefully at these photos – and perhaps you’ll need to get the full size to understand what I’m going to say – you will notice how REAL and NATURAL everything looks.

There is something about the colour of the pipes, especially the blue ones, that look very accurate and real. For me at least, they look very three-dimensional, and very close to reality – no extra saturation or contrast.

For the sake of comparison, you can check the photo below taken with the Leica M-E and the Zeiss 21mm f/2.8 ZM.

 

Obviously, you would be right to argue that this is really not a fair comparison because the full-frame CCD sensor of the Leica M-E is already 10 years old, so really not the best to represent the current standards of full-frame performance.

But still, you can take it for what it is. The differences are quite obvious to my eyes.

Sharpness & Resolution

Now, I don’t like pixel peeping but no GFX camera review would be complete without mentioning the extreme resolution of the 51 MP medium format sensor. Weather it’s the GFX 50S or the 50R – which share the same sensor and image processing – you really have to admire the resolution power of the sensor and the lens – whichever from Fujifilm’s GF line – that the system is capable of providing.

 

I took this photo handheld in HK Disneyland. I was using my only lens – the GF 63mm f/2.8 R WR – which has an equivalent 50mm field of view. Judging by the framing, I’d say I was approx. 2 to 3 meters away from the ladies.

Now let’s check below some blow-ups from this photo:

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Incredible, right? The detail you get from a 51 MP sensor are massive. But it’s not only about the resolution, it’s also about the clarity and the sharpness of the lens. It’s simply amazing.

Below another example, shot handheld in Paris, and respective blow-up.

 

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I was hundred of meters away from the Eiffel Tower, yet the camera captured the words written therein and even the people up there in the deck!

A year ago I had the same jaw-dropping experience when blowing up photos coming out of my full frame Sony RX1Rii which has an 42 MP sensor. The GFX 50R upped the ante with 51 MP, and now Sony had already announced the latest A7 line reaching 60 MP.

Then obviously there is the GFX 100 braking all records with the crazy 100 MP sensor. There was a time when I thought the megapixel race was over, but I guess I was wrong!

Below a 3 photo panorama similar to the one on top, but taken at daytime. And here is an example of the usefulness of the extra resolution and high megapixel count:

 

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Again, you can see in the blowup the amount of available information that is certainly useful for documenting purposes. I mean, you can positively count the number of floors and windows in the buildings, if for whatever project task you need this kind of information.

Some people will tell you the extra resolution gives you more flexibility in cropping. While this is true, it’s a bit of a lame quality. It’s ok to crop if we are talking about minor adjustments in post-processing, but if you are to completely recompose your photo then probably you need to enhance your framing skills.

In any case, I appreciate the extra resolution because of the information and the details it provides from the documentation point of view as stated above. And yes, I admit, nowadays I spent a lot of time pixel peeping my photos.

A note on metering…

One thing I appreciate about the GFX 50R is that it does not overexpose when shooting outdoors. This is something I find in many cameras, namely the Sony RX1Rii, the Fujifilm X-E3 or even many years ago with my Canon 5D: they all tend to overexpose.

The GFX 50R seems to get it right with accurate metering. Actually sometimes I even feel it underexposes a bit. Perhaps Fujifilm engineers calibrated the metering knowing that most photographers prefer to underexpose to keep as much details as possible, then pull up the shadows in post processing.

Needless to say, RAW files from the GFX 50R offer plenty of latitude for adjustments.

… and 3rd party lenses

I’m keeping this one short: I’m not into it because I want the best possible resolution and performance from the technical standpoint and I believe this is to be achieved by using Fujifilm’s native GF lenses. It’s a personal choice.

Out of fun and curiosity, I tried using Leica M lenses and was not impressed – you can read my post here.

Final considerations

Overall, the GFX 50R is a camera capable of amazingly high image quality. Weather this is because of the colours, dynamic range, extra resolution, or whatever other added quality because it has a medium format sensor, it’s really irrelevant.

There is no need to define what exactly makes it so special. You should simply accept and enjoy the quality of the images it produces, which certainly have a distinctive look and signature to it.

 

Even though it is not as portable as Fujifilm might lead you to believe it is – and I still hold the view the GFX 50R is a camera best suited for specific assignments, some of them mounted on top of a tripod – this is still a camera you can positively carry around all day and use in a relaxed manner.

Yes, it is not a street camera, but after all this is a medium format camera and probably the most street and travel friendly that’s been ever produced.

This camera can be used outside of a studio, shot handheld without a flash, or even handled to the innocent bystander to help you take a family group photo.

 

Is it worth upgrading to medium format?

The way I see it, it’s rather “is it worth asking this question?”.. Because, ultimately, it really doesn’t matter how big the sensor size is, or if full-frame or smaller sensors are capable to deliver the same performance.

All you need to know is that the GFX 50R delivers stunning photos – and that incidentally it happens to be a medium format camera.

Yes, medium format is potentially more expensive, but if you make your calculations in detail, the Fujifilm GFX system is not much more expensive compared to the latest full frame systems from Nikon and Canon – so hats off to Fujifilm for bringing down the costs of medium format and making it affordable to enthusiasts like you and me.

Furthermore, it is Fujifilm we are talking here: if we look at their commitment over the years expanding their X system, one can only expect the GFX system to grow accordingly as well, with a solid set of lenses, camera bodies and accessories to suit everyone’s needs – and pockets!

So, all in all, if you are to embark on a medium format journey, I highly recommend the Fujifilm GFX system and the GFX 50R.

 

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