As all medium format shooters know, moving fast with larger sensor cameras can be a challenge compared to their full frame counterparts. So, I recently tried out the Fuji GFX GF 45mm-100mm f/4 R LM OIS WR to see if it would speed my workflow and unlock additional potential in my Fuji GFX system.
Let’s just start out stating a basic fact. Quality lenses are expensive. High-quality glass for a professional photography system can often set you back well over $2,000 without batting an eyelash. To make matters worse, buying lenses can also be something like getting a tattoo. Both are highly addictive. It’s hard to buy just one, especially when you love the camera system they attach to. And it is very easy to suddenly find yourself with a bag full of lens options and significantly less money in your bank account. This being despite, as I always try to remind myself when passing a discount shoe sale, your camera can only wear one lens at a time.
Logically, this inevitably leads to a Don Quixote style search for the impossible dream. We all hope to one day find that single lens. The be all end all that will be able to shoot everything, do everything, and balance perfectly in every situation. Much like finding the “perfect” camera, finding the perfect lens is something that can really ever happen in our imagination. But while, much like Michael Jordan, you can’t really beat the urge to buy lenses, you can only hope to contain it; over time, you will find which combinations of glass are most appropriate for the type of work you do.
For every camera system I’ve ever owned, I like to start with two basic lenses. First, I want a simple fast 50mm. This is usually the lightest and least expensive option. Also, it’s my favorite focal length and likely to be the lens that lives on my camera in my bag, ready to shoot anything from a commercial job or some fun shots around the neighborhood. In recent times, I’ve begun opting for a 40mm prime, mainly because these often come in the pancake variety making my everyday package even lighter. But the concept is the same. Small. Fast. Versatile. Inexpensive.
But, as much as I like a light prime that doesn’t get in my way, as a professional photographer, there is also a matter of practicality. And when it comes time to go to work, there are few lenses more versatile than a 24-70mm f/2.8. It’s wide enough for an environmental portrait or landscape. And it’s long enough to get in close for a tight portrait. If you are someone like me who shoots active people for a living, having this versatility allows you to move superfast on set and rarely, if ever, have to change lenses during the shoot.
“So, why wouldn’t the 24-70mm be my base lens that never leaves my camera,” you might ask. Well, simply put, they tend to be, shall we say, behemoths. The 24-70mm f/2.8 that I regularly mount to my Nikon D850 from shoot to shoot focuses quickly, is razor-sharp, and is truly one of the best-quality lenses I’ve ever owned. It is also heavy, and heck, is super long and front heavy, causing some strain on my wrist to keep it level, and generally speaking, doesn’t inspire me to want to pick it up. Yet, with all that said, it is simply amazing at what it does. So, despite all those drawbacks, it regularly finds itself the starter in most game-time situations.
When I purchased my Fuji GFX 100 a year and a half ago, I stayed true to form. My first purchase was a 63mm prime (50mm full-frame equivalent). Like all the base lenses that preceded it on previous camera systems, this was the lens that lived on the camera most of the time. But at that time, there was no 24-70mm equivalent. There was the well rounded and quite useful 32mm to 64mm zoom (25mm to 50mm full-frame equivalent). Being someone who shoots mostly at the wider end of the barrel, I found this focal range very useful. But it still didn’t quite cover that full 24-70mm range that I was used to using in most situations. So, I filled in the difference with a variety of primes, including the awesome 110mm f/2, still perhaps one of my favorite lenses for any system. This was an effective solution, even if an expensive one, and pretty much covered me for most situations that I personally would be facing on set.
Of course, this setup meant that I wouldn’t be able to just mount one lens at the beginning of the shoot and fire away to my heart's content. I’d need to be a bit more strategic in my planning of when I was going to do wides, mediums, and closeups and plan accordingly. There would be no getting a split-second whim, instantly switching from a wide shot to a tight closeup, then pulling right back again simply because a magic moment arises out of the blue. Instead, I would need to stop, slow down, and change lenses.
All this is perfectly fine. And every lens Fuji has produced for the GFX system so far has been remarkably sharp and well designed. The only drawback for me personally was an entirely subjective one and not at all a reflection of the camera system or the lenses. In fact, much of this discussion, as with all gear discussions, is based on my personal use case. It’s the only perspective I can speak from with full knowledge. Your use case may vary. So, keep that in mind when reading this or any gear-related article.
But, in short, I like to move fast. Very fast. I want to move from concept to execution at the speed of thought. As a Virgo and hyper-planner, I spend countless hours pre-shoot planning out what I’m going to do. But, once on set, I make a point of consciously letting all that mental work go and prioritizing my gut reactions at the moment. Not saying that’s the best way for everyone to work. Simply saying that I’ve found that to be how I personally can create my best art. Mixing planning with instinct.
Now, there are two things for sure about shooting with medium format. First, the image quality is amazing. There’s just something different about it, and that’s likely why you’re using a medium format camera in the first place. Second, the process of shooting medium format is going to be much slower than you would be used to shooting a full frame or APS-C. Medium format cameras, even one like the GFX 100, simply aren’t designed to operate at the same speed as their smaller sensor brethren. Fuji has made giant strides with the GFX 100, but it is still not going to be as rattta-tat-tat as my Nikon D850. Medium format favors a more deliberate approach. But, despite my tendency to plan, slow and methodical has never been one of my strong suits.
I knew this going in. I accept it. But, because of my natural body rhythms and creative pacing, I needed to find a way to make this slower camera operate as fast as it possibly could to be effective for my workflow. Enter the Fuji GF 45-100mm. Released earlier this year, the 45-100mm covers roughly a full frame equivalent of 36mm to 79mm. Why not exactly match the 24-70mm? That I don’t know. But it’s safe to say that the 45-100mm is the lens in the Fuji GFX system that occupies that midrange zoom space. But can it be as effective?
Because this zoom range is the one that I would be expecting to handle the same tasks as the 24-70mm would do on my Nikon, I wanted to try it out in a real-world workhorse situation. Even after owning the GFX 100 for over a year and a half, I am still constantly searching for ways to speed up my workflow with it. I am a commercial photographer and shoot primarily activewear fashion and fitness products for a living. This means that my subjects tend to move very fast on screen and off. It might not be the same as being a sideline shooter at a sporting event, but my needs for fast autofocus, rapid shooting, and quick handling are somewhat the same. I need the camera body and the lens to be able to keep up in fast-paced situations.
To really stress the combination's potential, I chose to use the GFX 100 and GF 45-100mm on a dance shoot with my friend Katie here in Los Angeles. I chose a dance shoot because it would involve a rapidly moving subject that would put the camera’s autofocus to the test. And because of the free-flowing nature of dance, it would require me to quickly shift between perspectives as I reacted to the various improvisations offered by the subject. I would be shooting handheld as I almost always do. And by the end of the shoot, I would be just as exhausted as the subject who had spent the last several hours doing endless pirouettes. This would be a really good test to see how the combination would perform in a less than ideal situation. Any lens could perform well mounted to a tripod shooting a stationary subject. But how would it handle being thrown curveballs in real-time?
Size and Ergonomics
Before jumping straight to the results, we should talk first about the process. To me, the process of obtaining images is just as important as the result. Obviously, the client only cares about the result. But, if I am happier and more comfortable while shooting, I find I tend to produce better results. So, how a lens handles is important to me.
As I discussed earlier with the 24-70mm for my Nikon, this focal range is always a bit of a tradeoff. If weight and nimbleness are your priorities, you are likely to be a prime shooter. But zoom lenses are about effectiveness and efficiency. And this lens offered that in abundance.
The 45-100mm comes in at 1,005 grams. So, it’s not exactly dainty. Compared to the 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR I am used to shooting with my Nikon, however, it is actually lighter than that lens’ 1,070 grams. In form, it is shorter and fatter than the full frame equivalent. Balanced on the GFX 100’s larger body, the lens pairs well with the camera.
Also on a side note, both lenses extend and contract when zooming, as do most zooms. Although the full extension on the 24-70mm is at 24mm while the shortest iteration is at 70mm. In reverse, the 45mm end of the Fuji lens is the shortest form factor and the 100mm is the longest. Weight-wise, this means that the easiest and compact handling is achieved at 45mm for the Fuji lens versus 70mm for other zooms. Since I shoot more often at the wider end than the longer end, that is good news for me. It doesn’t affect the performance of the lens. But I thought it was an interesting difference nonetheless, as in practice, it can make the 24-70mm feel more front-heavy versus the GF 45-100mm. This may or may not apply to you, but make of it what you will.
To be sure, this definitely wouldn’t be my first choice for a fun walkaround lens. Hardly any big zoom would be, to be fair. Both the weight around your neck and the large combined profile are likely to draw gazes from passersby which might not be the type of attention you want to attract. I did take it out with me a couple of times on my afternoon fun walkabouts, just to try it out. But it’s probably best suited for a controlled set situation. Of course, that is just a personal preference. I like to stay as light as possible unless a specific task requires me to do otherwise. I am also not an event shooter, but I would imagine that if you are used to shooting weddings or something like that with a 24-70mm around your neck all day, there is nothing about the size of this lens that would be prohibitive. With the shorter, fatter barrel, holding a Fuji GFX with the 45-100mm is very comparable to holding a full frame camera with a battery grip and a 24-70mm mounted.
The zoom ring has the right amount of tension to make sure that it won’t slip out of place between shots. I was easily able to move through the zoom range without restraint, but I didn’t find the lens drifting between focal lengths over the course of the shoot. Like all Fuji lenses, the aperture ring can be adjusted fluidly on the barrel of the lens. In the name of speed, I’ve actually taken to setting my GFX lenses to C and controlling aperture via the dials as I would on my Nikon. That’s neither here nor there, but I find it does help me in speeding up my shooting process. But either option is available to you. The manual focus ring is smooth and effective when called upon. Unfortunately, this lens does still show some focus breathing when racking focus in video. None of the GF lenses I've tried so far have been free of focus breathing. This won't matter when shooting stills. But this is something to keep in mind if you plan to do extensive video work with the GFX system.
This was always going to be the real test. My dancer was going to be spinning and jumping and moving in unpredictable yet rapid patterns. And the 45-100mm has a lot of glass to move around. The GFX 100 has one of the best autofocus systems available in medium format. Yet, it’s still never going to be as fast as a full frame camera. So, would it be able to keep up?
Much to my surprise and delight, this combination performed extremely well. There were a few out of focus shots. But even during the faster movements, I would say the autofocus was still well within the range of an acceptable hit rate. I wasn’t at all hampered by the autofocus speed. And upon reviewing the images in Capture One, I was happy to see that only a very small percentage of frames ended up needing to be thrown out due to focus issues. Fuji’s GFX lenses seem to be improving in their focus speed, and that is very evident in this workhorse range zoom.
This is not meany to be a technical review measuring degrees of sharpness. It’s meant to be more of a real-world review of how the lens performs in practice. I am not a pixel-peeper and thus won’t try to give you a scientific comparison of zooming into each pixel 1,000%, but as I stated before, sharpness is simply not something you are going to need to worry about with these GFX lenses. I shot quite a bit of the series at f/4, which is the fastest aperture available on this lens and was still able to resolve more than enough detail. Shooting at f/8 or f/11 seems to yield the absolute sharpest results just to my eye test, but that is to be expected. Here is a pretty rudimentary test, pushing deeply into the frame to observe detail at different apertures.
Many who make the move to the medium format system take a moment to get used to the "slower" lenses. You aren't going to see a lot of f/1.2 or even f/2 glass available. Usually, f/4 is pretty fast in the GFX world. However, in actual practice, this starting point is not as limiting as you might imagine, primarily because the depth of field is much shallower with the medium format to begin with. So, where you might be used to opening up wide to get the shallowest depth of field in full frame, it doesn't take a great deal in medium format to throw a background out of focus. This walkabout shot was taken at 100mm at f/4.
It's up to you if that's enough bokeh for you, but I find it to be plenty for most situations. If you really need the absolute bokeh beast, try mounting the 110mm f/2 and open up to your heart's content.
It is true that the 45-100mm focal range, equivalent to 36-79mm in full frame, is not the same range as 24-70mm. I’m sure there’s a scientific explanation available for why doing an exact match would have been less ideal, but I won’t even attempt to try and explain that myself.
What I can say is that, personally, I rather like the range, even if it’s for purely selfish reasons. I do like a 24mm field of view, so much so that I often find myself just living there and forgetting to zoom to a more appropriate focal length when impulsively moving in to shoot closeups of my subjects. This can occasionally lead me to shoot tight closeups with a 24mm lens. While this is not always fatal to a shot depending on the perspective you are shooting from, 24mm is rarely an ideal focal length for tight closeups. I would say 35mm is probably about as wide as you want to go if you are getting in really close. At least, it's as wide as I personally like to go. Because the 45-100mm only goes down to the 35mm equivalent field of view, it protects me from my own stupidity by not allowing me to accidentally add too much distortion to faces in closeup. Will that help you as well? Depends on your shooting tendencies. But from a selfish point of view, based on what I shoot, I don’t personally mind it. The 45-100mm range was very well suited to being able to complete a multitude of setups throughout the day, and I was able to do it all without having to swap lenses, which were key for me in getting maximum speed out of the GFX system.
The main question I was hoping to answer when renting this lens for the last month is whether or not adding it to my GFX 100 would speed up my workflow. As I mentioned earlier, medium format isn’t exactly designed for moving fast. But I personally need to move fast while shooting, both to keep up with subjects and maximize my own shooting style. Shooting style is a wholly subjective measure, so what works for me might not work for everyone. And this is not meant to be a comparison between the Fuji lens options, but rather simply to see if there would be a tangible difference in my workflow and creativity using this zoom range as opposed to my current setup.
Could using the 45-100mm remove the need for me to change lenses in most on the job shooting situations, while at the same time being manageable enough in terms of size to carry around for a full shooting day? I think the answer to both questions has been a resounding "yes." Despite being designed for a larger medium format camera, the experience of shooting with it is very similar to using a 24-70mm on a full frame body. Sharpness is not an issue. And the focus speed was more than enough to keep up in a challenging focus situation.
I could certainly see a situation where this and the 50mm or 63mm prime would be the only lenses I would really need for the system, the prime for moving light and fast and the 45-100mm for long workdays where speed and efficiency would be my main concern. The only question I have now is if at the end of my rental term, I will decide to purchase one for myself. Get yours here: Fuji GF 45-100mm f/4.