Columbus-based photographer and our friend, Aaron Sheldon, took the Fujifilm GFX 50S on a working vacation to New York for his new photography project, Small Steps 2.0.
Hey, want to see pictures from my Summer vacation? How about if I tell you they were all taken with the Fujifilm GFX 50S and it was a working vacation? I recently went to New York City to work on my new photography project Small Steps 2.0 and to do some street photography. After trying the GFX 50S back in May on a trip to Washington, DC during my gallery show there, I knew that I wanted to see how it could handle the big apple.
Day 1 – Let’s Be Tourists
I knew, based on prior trips to the city, to pace myself the first day. I decided just to hop in an Uber to Brooklyn to get a slice (or three) of pizza from Grimaldi’s, and do the tourist thing around Dumbo and then shoot the Manhattan skyline at twilight from Brooklyn Bridge Park.
Aside from the twilight shots, I left my tripod folded up and handheld my shots as I explored the park and even tried to shoot a little street photography with it while walking across the Brooklyn Bridge during rush hour.
“For a medium format camera, it handled everything I threw at it, including fast moving bikes, shooting into a late day sun, long exposures on a shaky pier, and more, with flying colors.”
For a medium format camera, it handled everything I threw at it, including fast moving bikes, shooting into a late day sun, long exposures on a shaky pier, and more, with flying colors. And, let’s talk about color for a second. Ever since Fujifilm introduced their Classic Chrome film emulation preset I have used it for all of my street photography as well as my Small Steps Are Giant Leaps Project. I love that I can shoot images with the GFX 50S, my Fujifilm X-T2 and X-Pro2 side by side and I have consistent color for all of my images.
Both times I had used the GFX 50S prior to this trip, the weather was terrible and I never got a chance to do any twilight images with the camera. Knowing that the first night of the trip would be my only evening with good light, I set up between the Manhattan Bridge and Brooklyn Bridge, near the Carousel to shoot the Manhattan skyline at sunset/twilight.
“One thing that blew me away the first time I edited images from the GFX 50S is how much shadow recovery and exposure correction it allows.”
One thing that blew me away the first time I edited images from the GFX 50S is how much shadow recovery and exposure correction it allows. Shooting the Manhattan skyline at sunset means that the sun is setting behind the skyline which means, until all of the buildings lights come on, there are a lot of shadows. Similar to shooting towards the west while on the Brooklyn Bridge walkway earlier in the evening, I was able to easily bring detail back from the shadows and increase exposure to the darker areas with no negative impact on the image quality. As someone who shoots mostly with only available light (and not very good available light a lot of times) that ability by itself makes me want to add the GFX to my camera bag permanently.
Day 2 – The GFX 50S meets the Street
Day two of the trip was specifically set aside for Street Photography. I went to New York to work with local photographer James Maher, who leads one on one workshops all over the city. Before my workshop with him began, I decided to head up to Rockefeller Center with the GFX 50S to photograph some tourists and see what I could capture of the Midtown architecture.
While at Rockefeller I decided to head to the Top of the Rock but while I was waiting in line, the blue skies that had accompanied me to Midtown had turned gray and a bit of haze had crept in. Again, the latitude that the GFX 50S allows in post helped me correct it easily thanks to the dehaze tool followed only by shadow recovery in Lightroom
I decided to try a little high ISO street photography with the GFX on my way back to the hotel. While you can’t call this camera subtle (especially with the GF 32-64mm f/4 R LM WR zoom lens attached). It was possible to get a few shots that I was happy with while waiting for our train back to SOHO but I decided that, for my Street photography workshop I would leave the GFX 50S in the hotel safe, and just take my X-T2 and X-Pro2.
Day 3 – It’s all about the Portrait
After recovering from 5 hours of Street photography, walking several miles, and a huge corned beef sandwich from Katz’s Deli on Day 2, Day 3 was set aside just to work on my Small Steps 2.0 project.
The goal of my project is to photograph people who we have met through our Small Steps Are Giant Leaps project (and anyone else who wants their picture taken whilst wearing an astronaut helmet) and tell their story about how they explore their everyday world. Like Astronaut Harrison, they get to wear the astronaut helmet for the pictures.
So day three of the trip found me taking the Red Line from Greenwich Village up to Columbia University to meet with the Director of Outreach for Columbia University’s Department of Astronomy . And yes, I did get some funny looks riding the subway with a big white toy space helmet!
For this shoot we were in the Observatory at Columbia University which, getting up to required climbing many stairs and a couple ladders finally arriving to no air-conditioning, and absolutely terrible light. It was also pretty small which made working with the 32-64mm a bit of a challenge at times. When I make the leap permanently to the GFX 50S I will be investing in the new 23mm lens (which had not yet been released at the time of my trip) just to make sure I have that extra bit of room on confined locations.
“Every time I use this lens I feel the urge to sell all of my belongings, buy a GFX and the 63mm and load up the car for a road trip where all I do is take portraits of people I meet as I travel.”
For the second shot we stepped out onto the rooftop from which we accessed the Observatory and I switched to the GF 63mm f/2.8 R WR. Every time I use this lens I feel the urge to sell all of my belongings, buy a GFX and the 63mm and load up the car for a road trip where all I do is take portraits of people I meet as I travel. I wish I could say I’m joking, kind of. But seriously, the 63mm lens was actually a big part of how I structured the Small Steps 2.0 project.
After leaving Columbia University it was back down the Red Line to Facebook HQ to photograph a friend who had arranged a photo shoot for Astronaut Harrison and I on our prior visit to NYC.
We started in what they call the “tiny office”, not quite sure why they call it that.
We then visited the “Speakeasy” which is an actual Bar hidden behind a bookshelf one of the many common areas at Facebook HQ before hopping into an Uber back to Brooklyn Bridge park to get a few more shots before I had to catch my flight back home.
Getting home and loading all of the images onto the computer made me realize two things:
- Like with the X System, Fujifilm has found another way to make photography better and, thanks to the amazing files, a little bit easier. Every file I opened in Lightroom was like opening a little present, I kept being surprised at the image quality and how much I was able to do with each file.
- I was sure that the weight and size of the system would make me not want to travel with it ever again but, after carrying it for three days in a Crumpler 7 Million Dollar Home camera bag with an X-T2, X-T10 (converted to infrared) and a variety of xf lenses, I would pack the same setup again in a heartbeat.
The last thing I would like to share about my experience with the GFX 50S is this: I was afraid that, after having worked with the GFX 50S for several days, I would be disappointed going back to my X-T2, X-Pro2, and X-T10 and, I’m happy to say, it hasn’t happened. Yes, the images are larger with the GFX, and there is a lot of latitude in working with them, but, the images that my X-system cameras produce are pretty amazing too. Now, if I had to go back to Canon, Nikon, or Sony?
That would disappoint me.