At Photokina a few short months ago, Fujifilm made a splash in more ways than one at its press conference, with a host of top level product announcements. One of them revealed a collaboration with high end medium format specialist, Phase One.
The news that Phase One’s Capture One software now fully supports tethered capture with Fujifilm’s cameras was, for many users, a headline announcement in itself, which stole the front pages of the photographic press. But the company went much further, unveiling not one, but two new medium format cameras, one a 100 million-pixel camera to be launched in 2019 and the other a ‘rangefinder’ version of its existing 50 million-pixel MF platform, the GFX 50S.
The Fujifilm GFX 50R shares its 51.4-million pixel Sony IMX161 33x44mm sensor with its GFX 50S sibling; variations of this sensor can be found in Hasselblad’s X1D and H6D-50c, the Pentax 645 Z and the now discontinued Phase One IQ250, although I am told that the Fujifilm implementation has a few tweaks that give the sensor that special look.
It’s a tried and trusted chip that has satisfied the needs of many professional photographers over the last four or so years. When I reviewed the IQ250 back in 2014, the system retailed at around £22,400 for the camera body, digital back and standard lens. At just under £4000 body only, the GFX
50R represents a considerable saving and a great entry point into the world of medium format imaging. But price is not the only advantage of this camera, as we shall see.
Not only does the GFX 50R have the same sensor as the 50S, it also has the same autofocus system. So, bearing in mind that it’s around £1000 cheaper, surely something must be missing? Well that’s an interesting question. The simple answer is yes, but as with so many things, the true answer is more complex. Fujifilm has made a deliberate effort to aim the 50R at a different user group to the 50S and, by so doing, has looked long and hard at the feature set that each of those user groups require from a camera.
The GFX 50R is around 145 grams lighter than the 50S, and its slightly longer body (160.7mm vs 147.5mm) is 17.3mm shorter in height and has a body thickness of 66.4mm, which is considerably thinner than the GFX 50S (91.4mm), meaning that it slips easily into a camera bag, briefcase or even the pocket of an overcoat. This makes it a great travel companion and a perfect back-up camera to the 50S when embarking on a trip.
It’s easy to predict where Fujifilm sees the market for this camera. Like the 50S, the GFX 50R is weather sealed and has a tough magnesium alloy body and both models, of course, are designed to be used down to the same low temperature (-10˚C) or high humidity (80%). So far as build quality is concerned, there are clearly no shortcuts or cost savings that have been made. The GFX 50R feels solid and robust. It’s not a small camera, but it does feel comfortable in the hand. Personally I like using larger cameras, so the 50R felt very ‘user friendly’.
Tiltable 3.2In LCD Monitor
The LCD screen on the 50R tilts in two directions, as opposed to the three on the 50S, enabling it to be used at waist level or above the head.
EFFECTIVE PIXELS: 51.4 million
IMAGE SENSOR: 43.8mm x 32.9mm Bayer array with primary colour filter
STORAGE MEDIA: SD Card (-2G) / SDHC Card (-32G) / SDXC Card (-256G) UHS-I / UHS-II
FILE FORMAT: JPEG (Exif Ver.2.3), Raw: 14bit Raw (RAF original format), Raw+JPEG, 8-bit Tiff (In-camera Raw Conversion Only)
MOVIE: MOV (MPEG-4 AVC / H.264
AUTO FOCUS SYSTEM: Single AF/Continuous AF/MF
BATTERY MODEL: NPT125 Li-ion battery
EXPOSURE COMPENSATION: -5.0EV, +5.0EV 1/3 EV steps FRAMES PER SECOND : 3 ISO MAXIMUM : 102,400 ISO MINIMUM : 50
LENS MOUNT : G Mount
MAXIMUM : 1/16000sec SHUTTER SPEED
MINIMUM : 60min SIZE: 160.7x 96.5×66.4mm(wxhxd)
A slight quibble might be that the grip that protrudes from the front of the camera isn’t as deep as some users may prefer, but Fujifilm produces a range of grips for many of their other cameras, so if there is a demand for it I feel confident that they could create a removable grip specifically for the 50R. The GFX 50R has been designed to be fast and easy to use. It has a start-up time of under half a second, the controls are intuitive, many of the dials and buttons are programmable and the menu system will, for any Fujifilm user, be familiar and easy to use. For those who are new to this system, its well-designed layout will get you up and running in the shortest space of time. There are a host of features that will appeal to more advanced users, such as electronic first curtain shutter, face and eye detection, film simulations and wireless connectivity to the free Fujifilm Camera Remote App, to name but a few.
With the introduction of the GFX 50R, Fujifilm has managed to retain all of the core functionality of the 50S to create a very capable and professional camera. The 50R is aimed at users that prefer to be mobile and any features that are missing from the GFX 50S are those that may inhibit this freedom.
This doesn’t come without some compromise of course, and it’s for each user to assess how important the absence of a particular feature might be to their individual workflow.
For a start, unlike the GFX 50S the GFX 50R does not sport a detachable or tilting viewfinder. Instead it has a built in EVF at the top left of the rear of the camera, and it’s this that gives the camera its rangefinder feel. The viewfinder itself has the same 3.69 million-dot OLED monitor as the 50S, but with a slightly lower magnification (0.77x vs 0.85x). Both screens give 100% coverage of the image and, similarly, both models sport a 2.36 million-dot 3.2in LCD monitor.
In the case of the 50S this tilts in three directions, while on the 50R it tilts in two. Using the 50R in landscape orientation, the camera can easily be used at waist level or above the head. At waist level it can be used in quite a covert manner and street shots can go completely unnoticed. Indeed I found that, large as the camera is, it does not attract much attention in public, which once again hints at the user groups (street and wedding photographers, press and photojournalists) the camera is squarely aimed at.
The GX 50R is not designed to take a vertical battery grip (an optional accessory on the 50S) and since, unlike the Fujifilm X-T3, its USB-C port is data only, neither is it designed to allow the camera to be powered via an external battery unit. There is, however, an optional external 15v mains power unit for those that need it. The battery is, of course, the same NP-T125 Li-ion unit that powers the 50S. One of the key issues with mirrorless cameras has always been battery life and I’d love to see a bigger battery find its way into the X series cameras as well.
The top plate of the GFX 50R has a very simple and traditional layout. There is no sub-monitor as with the 50S and X-H1, just a shutter speed dial, an exposure compensation dial, an on-off switch, a couple of programmable function buttons and a collar around the shutter button that acts as a command dial. This simplicity is elegant and once again speeds up operation considerably. But simplicity in no way implies that the GFX 50R is anything less than capable.
Fujifilm has cleverly incorporated some sophisticated design elements that give the user control over a wide range of key features. For example, by rotating the exposure compensation dial to the position marked ‘C’ and pressing an assigned function button, a full plus or minus five stops of exposure compensation can be applied using the front (shutter surrounding) command dial – the dedicated top plate dial only gives +/- 3 stops – or, by setting the shutter speed dial to the ‘T’ position, shutter settings are moved to the rear command dial, delivering a full range of shutter speed settings. Both of these functions give the user a quick and easy way to make manual exposure adjustments in fast-changing light.
I was grateful for the patience and resilience of my model Giaa, who came along to my very cold and draughty studio (it’s a long story!). Due to the fact that we wanted to be in and out of the place with little delay, my lighting was rather basic (one Profoto B1 head and a reflector). I used a Profoto TTL-F radio sync for control, which worked very well with the GFX.
The Profoto unit/camera combination supports HSS and TTL with the correct Profoto flash units, but be sure to have the latest firmware installed. To be honest, the IMX161 sensor is a known quantity and I was confident that the image quality from the camera would be very good. I was shooting really just to confirm this and to get my head around the handling of the camera.
For the head shot of Giaa, I used a Fujinon GF120mm f/4 lens with OIS (Optical Image Stabilisation) which was very sharp. The 35mm equivalent of this lens would be 95mm and it’s a macro, so it’s comparable to the Canon 100mm macro that I’ve used for many years. Being a larger format than FF 35mm or APS the depth of field is considerably shallower and creates a pleasing feel to the image. Image colour was, as we’d expect from Fujifilm, spot on. Focusing of course is not quite as snappy as with a smaller format camera, since there’s a lot more glass being moved around, but the system had absolutely no problem keeping up with my shooting speed.
LEFT: Using the Fujifilm film simulations in Capture One it was easy to match the in-camera options. GFX 50R with 120mm Macro lens. 1/125sec f/11 at ISO 400
ABOVE LEFT: GFX 50R with 120mm Macro lens. 1/125sec f/11 at ISO 400. Generic Fujifilm look processed through Capture One. I love the skin tones that C1 gives
To my mind, the biggest difference between the GFX 50S and the new 50R is the location and accessibility of the aforementioned power and data connections. On the GFX 50S these are located on the side of the camera, while on the 50R they are in the baseplate.
This has a consequence that skews the user experience and firmly divides photographers into two camps. The GFX 50R has covers on the baseplate for the battery and for the USB connection that, when used with a decent sized tripod mounting plate, cannot be fully opened. The plate must be removed from the camera to change the battery. Of course every problem has a solution and the camera can successfully be used with a smaller tripod mounting plate, such as that found on a monopod. Meanwhile, in the studio, the external mains power supply can be used for extended shooting, but it’s clear that the camera has been designed primarily for handheld use.
A full review of the video capability of the camera is beyond the scope of this article, but the main things to know are that both GFX models shoot full HD (1920×1080) and standard HD (1280×720) using MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 compression at speeds between 29.97 and 23.98fps. There is no 4K or slowmotion.
It’s fair to say that they are video ‘capable,’ not full spec video cameras. The GFX 50R and 50S have microphone sockets in addition to their built in mic, while the GFX 50S additionally sports a headphone socket.
ABOVE: Shot at ISO 1250 and 1/125sec f/4. Processing the image through Capture One allowed me to make full use of the 14-stop dynamic range, pulling in both the highlights and shadow areas RIGHT: This illustrates perfectly the dynamic range of the chip. The top half of the shot is without any correction applied and the bottom has the C1 highlight and shadow sliders dragged to around the halfway point.
IN THE STUDIO
As a fashion and beauty photographer my first thought was to use the Fujifilm GFX 50R in my familiar environment, the studio.
After shoots with Phase, Hasselblad, Pentax cameras and the GFX 50S, I initially tried shooting by locking the camera down on my ‘industrial’ Cambo camera stand. It is, after all, a medium format camera and that’s the way I’ve shot with every MF camera I’ve used for the last 30 years.
Shooting in this way, the position of the EVF felt a bit awkward; I found myself composing the image on the LCD screen instead of the EVF – not my preferred way of working. After a few frames I took the camera off the stand and shot handheld. The experience was transformed. The smaller size and weight of the 50R compared to other MF cameras, together with the optical image stabiliser of the 120mm lens I was using, made medium format photography more akin to shooting with a small format camera.
I was immediately more mobile and reactive to the subject in front of me. This is, of course, helped in no small way by Fujifilm’s excellent focusing system. With the entire viewfinder covered by no less than 425 focus points and with a choice of three focus modes and six focus area sizes, there was no excuse for un-sharp images.
In low light the EVF image can look a little grainy but this was outweighed by the singular advantage of mirrorless systems, the implementation of focus peaking. For the uninitiated, this is a system that highlights the area of the image with the highest contrast (the ‘in-focus’ part) and means that, for the first time in many years, I can confidently use manual focus without glasses.
ABOVE: At ISO 2000 noise just begins to become visible, but it has an attractive film-like quality.
ABOVE: Noise can just be seen creeping in on the yellow tip of the propeller, but it’s not offensive.
USING CAPTURE ONE
Once I’d separated the GFX 50R from the Cambo support in the studio the USB connection port was free, and I shot tethered into Capture One. Of course the camera can be used with Lightroom, Fujifilm’s own X Raw Studio and other Raw conversion software, but since Fujifilm and Phase One had only recently announced their collaboration it seemed only right to give it a go.
I’m a long time C1 user (since version 3.4, and we are now on version 12). It was good to discover that Fujifilm cameras slip effortlessly into the Phase environment and the acquisition, management and processing of the files was quick and pain free. It’s a nice touch that Phase One has incorporated Fujifilm film simulations into the latest version of Capture One. Like all cameras employing a 50MP sensor, the camera produces very big files. The 14bit RAF (Raw) file is around 65MB and a full size JPEG weighs in at about 30MB.
There are of course plenty of options to reduce file size, including a lossless Raw compression algorithm, but reasonably large and fast cards are the order of the day. The camera has two SD slots, both of which are UHS-II compatible, meaning that the user can choose to store video or stills files to either card.
ABOVE: The ‘Cold War’ Hangar at Cosford. Shot with the 32-64mm lens ISO 250 1/1000sec at f/4. Shot at about 3pm as the sun was rapidly dropping.
ABOVE: Once again the detail produced by the 51.4mp sensor astonishes.
Since it was by now clear that this is a camera that’s most at home when used handheld, and is a robust, relatively lightweight device, I decided to take it for a walk. I live fairly near Cosford Aerospace Museum, which provided a perfect spot to exercise my meagre skills in architectural photography. Fujifilm had kindly supplied three lenses with the camera, the 120mm, a 23mm f/4 (18mm FF equivalent) and a 32-64mm f/4 (25-51mm), so after an excellent hot chocolate in the museum café, I sallied forth to grab a few shots in the fading December light.
Inside the hangars it was quite dark, so I opted to shoot at up to ISO 2000 and the sensor coped very well. Processing the
images later in Capture One, I was able to get the most out of its 14 stop dynamic range, lifting the shadows and pulling back detail into the areas where the light was spilling in through the windows. As expected, 51.4 megapixels pack in an awful lot of detail. No matter how many times I’ve used a camera employing this sensor, I’m always astonished at how much detail is in the final shots.
With any of the three lenses attached, the camera was comfortable to hold and felt balanced. After using it for an hour, the controls were familiar and intuitive. The OIS on the 120mm worked well and shots were pin sharp. I shot around 150 frames, but the battery indicator at the end of the day showed it still was around 60% full, so the quoted 400-frame capacity should be achievable.
The rear LCD screen is touch enabled. The difference between the GFX 50S and 50R is apparent here: the 50R has more functions than the 50S, and this allowed me to quickly navigate a variety of options in both playback and shooting mode.
There are currently seven native Fujinon lenses available for the GFX series, ranging from 23mm to 250mm (198mm equivalent), together with a 1.4 converter that’s dedicated to the 250mm f/4 and two extension tubes.
More are promised and there is also a Fujifilm-made adapter for Hasselblad H series lenses and a view camera adapter plate, making the system very versatile.
My brief encounter with the Fujifilm GFX 50R was over too soon. It’s a camera that exudes quality, both in terms of design and build and in the calibre of the images it’s capable of producing. For landscape and wedding photographers its comfortable, lightweight form factor is delightful, while its ease of use and unobtrusive design will appeal to street photographers that seek the image quality afforded by the 51.4mp sensor.
For those specialists that prefer to work in the studio with their camera locked down on a tripod, or need the additional benefits of a tilting viewfinder or battery grip, there is always the GFX 50S, but for the studio needs of most photographers, the GFX 50R should be more than adequate.
As an entry into the world of medium format digital photography I can think of no better camera than the 50R. With a near identical sensor to the one that inhabited a £22,000 camera just four years ago, but with the benefit of four years of R&D in camera technology, the GFX 50R is an absolute bargain. The collaboration between Phase One and Fujifilm acknowledges the fact that the latter’s medium format cameras are rapidly becoming a force to be reckoned with in professional photographic circles.
The GFX 50R represents an ideal platform on which to build a system that will satisfy the demands of the busy photographer for years to come.
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