Columbus-based photographer and our friend, Aaron Sheldon, took the new Fujifilm GFX 50S for a test drive around town while capturing images with astronaut extraordinaire, Harrison, for their ongoing photography project, Small Steps are Giant Leaps.
A few weeks ago, Midwest Photo offered me the chance to try out the brand new Fujifilm GFX 50S for 24 hours. Initially, when planning my shoots for that day I thought studio, big lights, fashion, etc. Then I remembered that I don’t have any big lights and haven’t shot in a studio in about a year and, with being behind with my current projects, didn’t really have the time to set up such a shoot at the moment. So I planned to take the GFX 50S on a couple “astronaut” shoots, and then do some street and night cityscapes with it.
When I picked up the kit from MPEX, I was downright surprised by it’s size. When I picked it up, it felt like I was holding my old Canon 5D Mark III, only with a tilting EVF (which is so truly amazing by the way).
With my Street Photography and the “Small Steps Are Giant Leaps” project you will usually find my camera set to Auto ISO (1/125 sec ISO 6400 max), and Classic Chrome film emulation. In post I use a fair amount of shadow recovery in Lightroom and aggressive dodging of a certain white space suit in Photoshop so I was specifically interested in how the GFX, with it’s traditional Bayer sensor would compare to the X-Trans sensors in my beloved X-PRO2 and X-T2.
We started the day with a shoot for my Small Steps are Giant Leaps project at Balanced Yoga in Clintonville. They have a beautiful studio with wood floors, barn doors, and lots of window light pouring in from High Street. Unfortunately, being a rainy gray March day, we didn’t have as much of the great window light that I was hoping for. So, a perfect chance to see how shadow recovery and dodging would work with the GFX.
I started at ISO 800, with a slow shutter intentionally to highlight how adding a 5 year old to a yoga session removed much of the peace and tranquility one might feel while engaging in such endeavors. Everything looked good with these shots so I decided a more robust test was in order.
Astronaut Harrison was standing in one of the windows of the studio and I decided to try out the GF63mm f/2.8 lens with a portrait. I had him stand with his back to the window. As you can imagine, the image in camera, with no fill light hitting his little face inside his astronaut helmet, did not give me high hopes in how the final image would turn out.
“I was blown away by the latitude I had in shadow and highlight recovery!”
When I got the images into Lightroom and started making adjustments I was blown away by the latitude I had in shadow and highlight recovery! My bias against the non-X-Trans sensor was completely dissolved very early in my day with the GFX.
The next stop for our day of Fuji fun was a newly open independent book store in Bexley, Gramercy Books. Bright even lighting, but with all of it being fluorescent took away my lighting concerns, here I was wondering if I would have a lens with a wide enough focal length that would work based on the layout of the store.
I started with the 32-64mm f/4 zoom and was pleasantly surprised that, at 32mm it was just wide enough to get a good amount of the store in frame but at f/4 had a shallow enough DOF to defocus the foreground and background just enough so that Astronaut Harrison didn’t get lost in a cluttered wide frame.
With astronaut Harrison done for the day and recovering from a sugar high of epic proportions from the Kitties’s Cafe cupcakes at Gramercy Books, it was time to really go out and have some fun with the GFX by doing some street photography! Normally when I do street photography I pick a neighborhood and explore it on foot for a few hours. Now, street photography in good weather in Columbus can be hit or miss. The night I had the GFX it was raining and a Monday, so the streets in downtown and the Short North were completely empty of pedestrians. I camped out near Le Meridien, where a fire escape provided some shelter from the rain and an endless parade of parking attendants running past and that gave me an opportunity to test the camera at ISO 6400.
Since I was already drawing more attention to myself than I usually do while out with a camera due to the size of the GFX, I decided to go ahead and use a tripod that night which allowed me to test the camera at lower ISOs with very deep aperture settings and drag the shutter to take advantage of all of the vehicle traffic going past on High Street.
Since we are talking about tripods: While I was at MPEX picking up the GFX I also picked up the Manfrotto MHXPRO-3WG XPRO Geared Head to try out. As a Real Estate photographer, my current geared head (the 410 “junior” also made by Manfrotto) is the thing that keeps me from having to pull out my hair while in post production but is much more stout than I need with my Fuji X cameras. A geared head allows you to make very small adjustments on each axis separately, which when using the GFX’s built in level, makes you feel like you are playing a video game, but ensures your camera is level in every sense of the word.
When Manfrotto announced the new XPRO geared head made from some space aged polymer and less than 2 pounds I was very interested, but the reviews for it mentioned some wobble when used with heavier cameras. I figured that giving it a try with the GFX would be a good test of it to see of it would work for me as it would likely be the max weight I would be using on such shoots. Loaded with the 32-64mm at 6 feet, no ballast and a stiff wind, it did not budge an inch. 30 second exposures were blur free and I can honestly say that I found no evidence to doubt this camera mounts stability and will definitely be upgrading to it.
A large part of one of my street photography projects requires me to take pictures on public transportation so I decided to get out of the rain and go for a bus ride. I boarded the bus and sat in the very back in the center seat giving me the perfect framing to photograph people as they boarded. Unfortunately, because it was raining, and Monday, and that bus only ran until 9PM, I only got one shot before having to move on.
After my bus ride I decided to take advantage of the rain soaked streets and headed to Bexley to photograph the Drexel Theatre’s recently restored art deco marquee.
After getting the basic “street” photo with the GF32-64mm I decided see what I could get with the Fujifilm GF120mm F/4. I sometimes like to approach landscapes as if they were a portrait. Using the compression of the telephoto lens, it let me shoot the entire marquee and multiple lanes of rain soaked Main street in front of it. This allowed me to fill the frame with the elements I wanted without including the parked vehicles, bus stop sign and garbage cans that cluttered up the shot when I framed it horizontally with 32-64mm f/4 lens.
After going home that night, drying off all of the gear and taking a quick look at the images I captured so far, I decided that, Astronaut Harrison and I would go out and work with the GF 63mm f/2.8 and GF120mm F/4 the next morning.
We were in an elevated walkway between a parking garage and the PNC building he likes to call “the airlock” and in my haste to get the shots we needed and then get him to school, I didn’t realize that my ISO was set to 12,800. After processing, I was actually pretty pleased with how it turned out. Could you see a pattern in the pixels in certain areas? Yes. Would it have been sharper at a lower ISO? Yes. Would I still print it for my upcoming Gallery show at Wild Goose Creative (opening April 1st, btw)? Maybe. I decided to do a test print and see how it looked when compared to the screen on my MacBook Pro. At full size of 20×24 inches, it was definitely a bit lacking, but at 13×17 inches it looked pretty darn good. Will I go around shooting at such a high ISO in any but the most dire of circumstances? No way, in fact, if I ever bought a GFX, I would SUGRU the ISO dial so that I would know instantly if it was set that high accidentally.
” it wasn’t just how crisp and clear the images at low ISOs were that sold me on it.”
At the end of my time with the GFX 50S, it wasn’t just how crisp and clear the images at low ISOs were that sold me on it. It was the latitude in shadow recovery and it’s high ISO performance, fantastic build quality and weather sealing (i told you that it rained the entire time I had the camera, right?) that made me realize that this is a camera system that is usable for a wide variety of photography styles including street and whatever my category my astronaut series falls under.
So, the big question: Will I be buying one? If I were doing larger amount of Commercial work? Absolutely! But, for my current projects, it’s more camera than I actually need right now on a daily basis.
While I’m probably not going to be buying a GFX 50S soon, knowing that there is a digital Medium Format camera system that is as at home out on a rainy night in the city as it is in a studio setting, I will definitely be renting the GFX for several of my upcoming commercial shoots. In fact, knowing what it can do has me planning new shoots and a project or two that will allow me to take full advantage of what the GFX can do.
If you are a DSLR user thinking about upgrading your 1DX, 5DS or similar with a system that has truly excellent image quality, amazing glass (and adapters to use lenses from Hassy to Canon and everything in between), great ergonomics (that tilting EVF!), and Fujifilm’s hallmark look and latitude in image processing, you should give it a try too.