For years, I’ve felt the lure of the digital medium format. But the prices of such systems were stratospheric and out-of-reach for those of us who could not justify the purchase by running a commercial or high-end fashion photography business. In fact, I was puzzled by the fact that camera companies have been bleeding margins and kept fighting on price in a crowded and utterly boring full frame market (no innovation until the Sony mirrorless). In the meantime, the digital medium format was waiting to be rattled and disrupted. When the Fujifilm announced its entrance into the digital medium format, I was all ears.
Courtesy of Jonas Rask
Since its release in February 2017, I was eager to find out if the GFX50S would finally fit my seeing. Soon after its debut I had the chance of testing the system with the first pack of the lenses: GF 32-64 F4 zoom, GF 63mm F2.8 and GF 120mm F4 Macro. While I had high expectations, I never thought such a system would make me rethink my gear choices.
But I was brought up short when I found how the sensor could capture light. Here is what I wrote:
“It’s 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” as if there were no border – no beginning or end. Your eyes wander continuously without interruption between shadows and highlights. 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.”
This year due to the enormous generosity of one of my dear friends and supporters, I could purchase the GFX50S camera. Of course, as for most buyers, it was very difficult to get all the lenses. I had to choose which lens I wanted to start with. Before I ordered the camera, I was considering two: (1) GF 63 F2.8, or (2) GF 45mm F2.8. In full-frame terms it was the choice between a classic 50mm or a slightly wider 35mm field of view. For someone who has spent the last few years working almost exclusively with the X100 series cameras, the GF 45mm F2.8 was the obvious choice.
The GF 45mm F2.8 R WR is a moderate wide-angle lens, which if translated precisely to full-frame, becomes a 37mm f2.3. As such, the lens covers a similar view as the lens on my beloved X100F. Not only would my seeing transition seamlessly to the medium format but with this one lens I could continue pursuing my street and creative photography, travel relatively light (in medium format terms) and not worry about the lack of visual leeway. This is the reason I didn’t go with the GF 63mm F2.8 lens! When I was working with it, I faced visual situations when I needed a slightly wider field of view. Having said that, the GF 45mm F2.8 gives me such perspective that if some cropping is required, it could be easily done in post-processing, bringing me closer to the GF 63mm field of view, with some minor trade-offs. I won’t even mention the monster resolution of the camera!
Most importantly, the GFX50S paired with the GF 45mm F2.8 WR provided me with a relatively portable and manageable project-focused, creative street photography/travel combo.
Wait! Olaf, why would you shoot street photography with medium format? Great question! Don’t get me wrong. My beloved Fujifilm X100F is not going anywhere! I will write a longer piece tackling this conundrum, but for now let me tell you that certain visual explorations, not only on the street, warrant medium format especially if your photography heads in a certain visual and commercial direction, as mine does. I will talk more about this in an upcoming post. Let’s go back to the GF 45mm F2.8
Courtesy of Jonas Rask
One of the biggest obstacles in producing the digital medium format system is often not the camera itself but the production of the lenses. The medium format is painfully demanding optically and any imperfections or shortcomings in the lenses are amplified by the high-resolution sensor. There is nowhere to hide. Fortunately, Fujifilm, which has been producing medium format lenses for other brands, is in a unique position. Also, let’s not forget Fujifilm leadership in cinema lenses. This experience and expertise manifests itself in the GF 45mm F2.8 WR lens.
The lens is weather-resistant! In practical terms, it was designed to withstand moderate amounts of water or dust without causing any damage. Fujifilm has placed special seals around risk areas of the lens and the camera to prevent any unwelcome intrusions. Indeed, I was shooting with Fujifilm X-series cameras, including the GFX, in pouring rain (for my R-A-I-N project) and I never had any problems. The Fujifilm WR simply works!
The GF 45mm F2.8 feels solid in the hands but not overly heavy. It is slightly larger and heavier than the GF 63 F2.8. When attached to the camera, the combo feels just right and comfortable, even for extended walks around the city (of course it is not the serenity of the X100F!). The lens has eleven elements and eight group setups including two low dispersion elements and a spherical element to prevent aberrations. In contrast to the GF 63mm F2.8, the lens uses internal focusing, which is much faster and quieter than its counterpart. As of today, the GF 45mm F2.8 may well be the fastest focusing GF lens currently available.
The lens has a physical aperture ring ranging from F2.8 to F32 in third stop increments. As with some X-series cameras, you may use an “A” switch in shutter priority mode, as well as a “C” mode if you want to control the aperture on the GFX using one of the scroll wheels.
As someone who has shot with all GF lenses, the GF 45mm F2.8 is supremely sharp over most of the frame. Its rendering is beautiful and fluid with an adequate punch of micro-contrast for the GFX50S files to shine and out-resolve. The wide-open performance is dazzling but those who demand the absolute best in terms of contrast and sharpness may want to wander between F4 and F11. The bokeh is pleasing and fluid, given that it is a wide-angle lens. In short, the image quality of this lens is a match for the stunning capabilities of the medium format sensor inside the GFX50S!
WHO IS THIS LENS FOR?
The medium format digital photography world used to be a niche for high-end commercial and fashion photographers. With the release of the GFX medium format system, a new wave of professional and serious amateurs is making the transition beyond the full frame world. I expect this trend to accelerate as more medium format cameras with lower price points enter the market. Not only will the market for medium format cameras and lenses open up, but the use of those cameras will also expand from high-end commercial and fashion photography to wedding, landscape, travel or even street and documentary photography. Especially for documentary and street photographers, the GF 45mm F2.8 is a must-have lens. In fact, as in my case, if I had to choose just one lens for the medium format system, that would be it.
The GF 45mm F2.8 is a great match for the incredible resolving power of the Fujifilm GFX50S. Light, supremely sharp with great micro-contrast punch, it should be considered one of the first lenses for the system.
This week I am leaving for a photo trip with the GF 250 F4, GF 23 F2.8 and GF 110 F2. Stay tuned for some imagery, mini-reviews and some video material.
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