I’ve been so happy with my Pentax K1 for 2 ½ years. Nothing that been released since has really turned my head (err, much)… The fantastic IQ, the “Three Princesses” lenses, pixel shift. What more could a photographer want?
If truth be told, absolutely nothing.
I think we’ve triple-jumped over the ‘good enough’ line in digital a few years ago, even if you have exceedingly high demands from your system. The advent of the Sony A7Riii and D850 were arguably the first ‘do it all’ cameras - but who actually needs a camera that does it all? Maybe you do, but I certainly don’t.
So why-oh-why did I drop 4 grand on a camera, when I was so happy with what I’ve got? It’s one of those questions that is difficult to answer but perhaps easy to understand. Head vs heart, the head is still reeling from sizeable can of whoop-ass that the heart opened on him.
The moment the GFX 50S was launched a couple of years ago, I started mentally totalling up the used prices of my gear to see if the system was in reach. The writing was already on the wall. When the first images of the 50R started to appear, I knew this would be a better fit for me; it was significantly cheaper, had a smaller form-factor and the 45mm (35mm equivalent) had been released with stellar reviews. Although I didn’t NEED it, I wanted it like a 40 year old virgin wants to sow their proverbials.
The final nail in the coffin for the K1 (although I am keeping it for its flexibility), was the 2 years interest free credit offered by WEX. Medium format digital was finally within my grasp.
So the biggest and most obvious question: how does it actually stack up against full frame? The first time I imported the files onto the iMac there was more than a little trepidation… was I soon to suffer from an acute onset of buyers remorse?
In a word, no.
My jaw was firmly on the floor. Superglued even. The fidelity, the textures, the sheer exquisite detail… breathtaking. That the sensor captures this much information in a fraction of a second blew my tiny mind. This is a serious bit of kit. More serious than Garth Crooks.
By sheer luck, I had a photographic weekend in Blackpool lined up a week after the GFX had landed - what better way to put the camera through its paces. Morning, noon and night for a full weekend with some talented photographer buddies. The images here are the resulting photographs from that jaunt.
I know I shouldn’t do it to myself, but I find myself lurking on DPReview more often than I care to admit. There is a night scene comparison on there between the Nikon Z1 (same sensor as the D850) and the 50R with 45mm. You have to look really hard to see the differences between the two comparison images, and that’s enough for many of the FF faithful that the ‘old’ 44x33mm Sony sensor in the GFX (and others) is well past it. Case closed. In fact in typical DPR measurebating fashion, there is a chorus of complaints that the Fuji doesn’t even have a MF sensor… it’s just a tiny bit larger than FF, so they say. The FF’ers never even cared when digital MF was away from the collective conscious of the mass market, but now that Fuji have a MF system that is essentially affordable to that market, their ‘superiority’ (I hate that word, especially in photography) is under threat. And, again in typical DPR fashion, they ain’t going down without a whinge! So the FF’ers loved those comparison images. Two pictures later and they can all sleep easy again. What the article fails to adequately evaluate is the increased 3D separation with the larger sensor, and the generous file latitude that comes inherently with the larger pixel pitch. In ‘real world’ use, the Fuji delivers a RAW file that can be tinkered with to your hearts content whilst still delivering astonishing tonality and, in some images, displays the hallowed medium format look of depth that I rarely saw in my full frame work. The latter will also be helped by the absolutely stellar 45mm that I shoot with. Like Mrs F and I, that lens and sensor are a match made in heaven.
The absolute best thing that I’m enjoying about the GFX is the ability to shoot the camera hand held. I found that to get the K1 to really sing, it demanded to be put on a tripod. And whilst the IBIS was very useful, it was always at the expense of a slight loss in sharpness. Then at shutter speeds between 1/60 - 1/180 I rarely got a critically sharp image, I assume due to mirror slap. Essentially, unless I was shooting with a tripod, I would usually come home disappointed. So I just ended up always shooting with a tripod
This, I’m delighted to say, isn’t the case with the Fuji. Anything I’ve shot above 1/100 (with the 45mm) and we have a more detailed image than what I’d have achieved with the Pentax atop a tripod. I also don’t have *any* issue shooting at ISOs up to 800 with this camera, and if you hadn’t guessed by now, I’m a fussy beggar, so lower light is also a possibility hand held. This means that the MF Fuji is more of a throw over the shoulder, take anywhere camera than the Pentax was to me… not something that would ever have been associated with a MF rig in the past. Well done Fujifilm.
What I like:
Build quality is great… not quite Leica/Zeiss engineering, but still very pleasing to the hand. This is clearly a professional grade construction, and the weather sealing of the body AND lens comes in handy living in the wet and windy UK.
Customisation: get everything you want assigned to the buttons you want.
IQ and file pliability to die for (+++)! And without a tripod when the mood takes me.
4:3: I loved the 6:7 negs from the Mamiya 7. Provided I could step backwards, it felt like I was getting the same width as 35mm frames, but with more image at the top and bottom, which is usually where I’d want it. I’ve taken to 4:3 like a fish to water. One unexpected bonus of this format is that I’m beginning to shoot portrait orientation again after at least 2 years of avoidance. 3:2 is great, but I find it a little ‘long’ when tilting 90 degrees. Of course you can crop in post, but having tried this a while ago, it just didn’t work for me. I found I had to compose in the aspect ratio native to the viewfinder. Thinking about it, I went through a 1:1 phase quite a few years back, which is when I last had an EVF, allowing me to compose with that format. Which leads me nicely on to…
Having an EVF again. It turns out that WYSIWYG is preferable in both cameras and people. But I also miss the OVF! Can’t have it all Mr Feltham ;)
What I don’t like:
As mentioned, I’ve become accustomed to an optical viewfinder over the last 6 years and enjoy framing quickly to see if there is potential. Now I have to turn the camera on and wait few seconds before scoping out a scene. It doesn’t sound like much, and in reality it isn’t, but it’s still something I have adjust to. Whether this becomes a long term gripe remains to be seen.
The lack of a lock on the E/C dial meant that I’d sometimes have nudged it without meaning to and not noticed leading to under or overexposure. Given that I can push an image by 2 stops in post without any noticeable penalty means that this hasn’t caused me bother… yet.
The 3D electronic level needs to be activated every shot then needs to be turned off (by half-pressing the shutter, or pressing the assigned Fn button) before manual focussing. This seems like two unnecessary button presses to me. Surely a turn of the focus ring should deactivate it? Can this be changed in a firmware update please Fujifilm?
The final gripe that again could be addressed in firmware, relates to how bracketing is switched on. You can assign an Fn button to bracketing settings, but to turn on any of the bracketing options you need to delve into the drive menu. For me, I’d rather have the option of turning bracketing on/off via Fn then arrange the settings either by another Fn button or dive into a menu if I ever wanted to change my standard bracketing preference.
To draw these thoughts to a close, having owned the camera for a month and taken over 1000 photographs, I have to come back to the jaw dropping IQ. For the first time ever, I’m consistently seeing the images on screen that reflect what I saw in the scene when taking the photograph. The GFX is transcribing the light into a digital file with unerring precision. In essence, the 50R is making my job as a photographer easier to produce the look in my work that I want… and that’s got to be worth paying a few pennies for, hasn’t it?