I first moved to the X Series four years ago because I was carrying too much equipment on trips and I wanted to switch to a smaller, lighter alternative. Now with X-T2s and the superb range of lenses available it is often difficult to decide what to take on assignments or trips, making sure it all fits in one backpack. But my kit is still smaller item for item than what it used to be before, its just a question of knowing exactly what you’ll need for each job (not always easy, particularly with nature photography).
Although the FUJIFILM GFX 50S is clearly bigger than the likes of the X-T2/X-Pro2 in body size and lens sizes; compared to much of its competition it is a medium format system which has been on a serious diet. Everyone who has used one keeps making the remark that “if you’ve used an X-T2, you can use a GFX straight away”. I was intrigued as to how well the new camera would work alongside my current set up while spending a few days on Skomer Island off the Pembrokeshire coast.
I loaned a GFX, GF32-64mm F4, GF63mm F2.8 and GF120mm F4 OIS from Hire A Camera and was briefly given a new GF23mm F4 to test out too. It was wonderful timing as spring flowers had just come out in bloom. Seeing bluebells lighting up the forest floor was wonderful. Here’s a great blog by Chris Upton on photographing bluebells – https://fujifilm-blog.com/2017/04/26/capturing-the-beauty-of-springs-bluebells/
First and foremost this is why you buy this camera. The level of resolution and quality of glass for this system is something I’ve never worked with before and it was an utter pleasure to use. I knew the benefits of shooting with a medium format system and have had film medium format systems before, but the GFX which is so similar to the X-T2, apart from the fact that it feels even better in the hand, is marvelous! Once more, the lenses are designed to deal with 100mp sensors in the future, so as a result you can zoom in 200% on an image and see incredible detail.
I drove across to the Pembrokeshire coast from the midlands, crossing the Brecon Beacons and made sure to take my time and explore this beautiful area, and hopefully get to grips with the GFX. I came across some wild ponies on the planes and stopped, even though the light was very flat to try and photograph these beautiful beasts. The 4×3 ratio of the GFX sensor certainly took some getting used to, partly thanks to viewing images on screen. I am biased towards a 16×9 or sometimes more panoramic crop. It is great that you can shoot at these dramatic crops in camera, I found this really pleasing, particularly as you have so much resolution to play with. However, the 4×3 ratio is really nice to use after a little adjustment period.
From there I headed deeper into the Brecon Beacons to a stunning series of waterfalls where I started using the new GF23mm F4. This is a beautiful lens, the flare, the clarity, it is a stunning 18mm equivalent lens. I am used to using the XF16-55mm F2.8 or the XF16mm F1.4 on my X-T2 and rarely switch to my XF10-24mm as I really like the 24mm equivalent focal length. So jumping to an 18mm certainly took a little getting used to. It was perfect for the waterfall images, though I was worried that it would simply be too wide for any wildlife images.
The thing you notice straight away when using the GFX or any medium format system, is how shallow the depth of field is when compared to an APS-C or full frame camera. This can be massively advantageous, particularly as most medium format lenses don’t go faster than F4, but it is something you have to always be aware of.
It’s clear that the GFX is designed for working photographers who require the best image quality, from studio work to weddings and landscape etc. But would it be remotely useful for wildlife/conservation coverage? As I had the opportunity to hire a kit I thought it would be great to test it out in one of the best wildlife spots in the UK, Skomer Island. Home to thousands of nesting seabirds during the summer, it was a location where I could test out all of the lenses and hopefully get up close and personal with one of the most charismatic birds in the world, the puffin.
As you can see from the handful of puffin photos so far, the GFX is certainly capable in this environment. I really enjoyed the 120mm in particular as the 45cm minimum focusing distance allowed me to utilise the proximity I could get to the puffins! That combo, combined with the X-T2 and XF16mm F1.4 (one of my all-time favourite lenses) made for a really versatile two camera combination.
Thankfully the puffins on Skomer Island were incredibly obliging with a little patience. The XF23mm had close enough focusing to make the left puffin the most dominant figure in the frame, drawing the viewers’ attention.
Straight away there is a big difference in what you can reasonably expect compared to the X-T2, clearly that also applies to positives, primarily in awesome image quality.
Auto Focus: like all new Fujifilm cameras, the GFX has a focus joystick which I found I used more on this camera than any other, primarily because you have to be that bit more stringent with critical focus, as your depth of field is so much smaller at the same F-stops, when compared to a full frame camera or X Series APS-C range. The joy of that is that once its hit, you’ve got pin sharp focus. 200% pin sharp focus. I did find that this camera hunted in backlight conditions.
The X-T2 really impressed me, I used it on another sea bird colony last year – http://fujifilm-x.com/x-stories/ben-cherry-nature-x-photographer-key-features-of-the-x-t2/
The latest firmware update has improved the overall ability of the camera. Even with difficult backlit puffins coming in to land it tracked exceptionally well.
Frames per second: The other stand out difference is clearly the frames per second between the two cameras. With the battery grip attached and in boost mode, the X-T2 can rattle out 11fps allowing you to maximise that fleeting moment which is often the case with wildlife. However that is not to say that flight images can’t be done with the GFX, just that you need more time, patience and opportunities!
This thing feels so ergonomic! I do kind of miss the exposure compensation dial but I quickly got used to not having it. Most of the buttons are customisable, like the X-T2 so I could have the two cameras set up the same. The viewfinder is crystal clear and I love punching in 100% real time, to check critical focus and it sounds like the adapter to articulate the EVF is a great addition when working at unusual angles.
The lenses are all stellar, with my order of preference being the 120mm F4 OIS, 23mm F4, 32-64mm F4 and 63mm F2.8. Having OIS on the 120mm meant that it was so easy to use handheld and at a variety of shutter speeds, combined with the fact that it is a helpful focal length and it has macro functionality meant that it was the most widely used lens with the puffins.
It is really difficult not to like this camera when you’re given the opportunity to use it. From slowing you down, to simply being satisfying to use, that’s all before you get back and look at those huge files! Once you get exposed to that level of image quality, regardless of the joyous shooting process, it is difficult to ignore it when returning to smaller sensor cameras. However, I am still exceptionally happy with the X-T2 as my primary camera, but look forward to using a GFX again in the future.