Although I anticipated that medium format was the next area for camera companies to disrupt, I never thought that such a system would force me to rethink my gear choice.
Since the Fujifilm GFX50S camera was announced, the pixel-peeping crowd has gone berserk (at least this time they had good reason!). After all, the 51.4MP light-gathering monster would disquiet even the most stoical photographer. In my case, it was the amazing team at Fujifilm Canada that elevated me from my boring, uneventful existence. The worst part is that I asked for it! (Thank you Helen, Florence, Aling and the team!)
At first glance, I didn’t like the size of this camera. After stubbornly shooting with the X100-series for years I refused to acknowledge the existence of SLR-like cameras. However, I must admit that my first physical contact surprised me. My hand wrapped around the GFX naturally and firmly and, in fact, I felt so confident that I skipped the strap part (I don’t usually use straps with my cameras anyway).
Then things went quite smoothly. The general layout and menu were familiar to me because I’ve been shooting with the X-T2 and other X-series cameras for many years. Don’t worry, I am not going to go over all the details here, as most of you are familiar with the technicalities of the GFX system. There are many excellent reviews out there.
The primary goal of this highly biased and personal assessment of the GFX system was to focus entirely on visuals or, in other words, the look of the files. This visual appraisal had nothing to do with writing a review or trying to compare the GFX to the many other offerings. The questions were very simple and highly personal.
Do I like the files the GFX produces?
What does the transition between highlights and shadows look like? Does this transition enhance or distract from the visuals?
How does the camera transfix light and enrich my subject? Does it add a new dimension?
Will I be able to make more strokes while painting with light than I would with my other cameras?
Does this camera require me to alter the way I shoot? Does this change push me in the right direction?
After shooting intensively for the last few weeks, the conclusion is clear. I can capture and depict light in multiple dimensions and with variety, which I was not able to do with my other cameras. A new, sort of grey area has appeared – 50 shades of it! Yes, this is the visual sphere which the cellphone crowd will not give a damn about but I do! I call them transition strokes when light changes, bends and submerges into coexisting elements in the image. In most cameras, this metamorphosis is rather abrupt and loud. In the medium-format camera, it takes the form of “melting” (I stole this word from Patrick!) as if there were no border – no beginning or end. Your eyes wander continuously without interruption between shadows and highlights as if Trump’s wall never existed. The light becomes liquid and perpetually spills over. This allows the photographer to blend light and shadow in a way that was not possible before. It reminds me of recording and listening to music.
There are musicians who can compose music in so many dimensions that the sound transcends the instruments. These recordings carry such a spectrum of sounds such as background noises or even the singers’ breathing that elevate the listening experience quite dramatically.
Damn Olaf, what are you talking about?
OK, I’ve got your point! I’m not sure if the richness of the files is clearly visible when shared on the web. Probably not! However, for those who print images very large and enjoy viewing them on larger screens this fluidity is something to behold.
Finally, there is the cost. Fujifilm has priced the camera very aggressively compared to other medium-format systems – a very smart move! However, there is no way around the fact that it’s still a substantial cost for anyone who doesn’t earn serious money from photography (or other sources). Of course, this is a decision that everyone must make for themselves.
That said, keep in mind that if your “seeing” is still evolving and you are starting to learn photography, spending so much money on a medium-format system may not be the best idea. The X100F is a much better tool to learn “seeing.”
Olaf, cut this musing short and get to the point.
Are you getting the GFX for yourself?
…to be continued
Please click on each image to view it properly
If you are interested in more cohesive coverage of this system make sure to check out Jonas Rask’s excellent review and the movie here:
Spencer Wynn’s jaw-drapping imagery from his Great Canadian Road Trip:
Patrick Laroque’s no-review-yet here:
Imagery and thoughts by the master of portraiture and subtle beauty, Damien Lovegrove:
Excellent coverage by the always-entertaining and fresh Bert Stephani:
next time we will take you to Neah Bay in Washington…
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