Fujifilm have placed themselves squarely at both ends of the sensor-size war, skipping 35mm full frame altogether and instead concentrating on APS-C and medium format. In this review we'll be taking a look at the second addition to their GFX series of cameras, the rangefinder-styled GFX 50R.
With this price point and body design, Fujifilm are clearly aiming for the consumer market with this new body. It is smaller, lighter, and simpler than it's older brother, but still packs the same exceptional image quality that drew many to invest in the GFX 50S. Today we'll take a look at what you lose or gain by opting for the “little brother” rather than Fujifilm's first release.
The first thing you'll probably notice about the body when you hold it is the strain it puts on your right hand if you support the camera with that hand. It feels rather like a bloated Fujifilm X-E3. But, with the additional weight in both the body and lenses, it can be difficult to hold. It's much easier to support the camera with your left hand under the lens and simply use your right hand for controlling the camera.
As you might expect, the GFX 50R does not feel quite as well built as the 50S. Although it is robust and feels good in the hand, all the materials feel slightly cheaper than the SLR-styled body. Much like my feelings about the Fujifilm X-H1, I find the GFX 50R to feel somewhat hollow when holding it. To be sure, it is packed with exceptionally high-end tech and a giant sensor, but it feels as though it's an empty shell from time to time. With a larger lens attached, this feeling goes away.
While not a huge difference, especially when you pair it with a lens, the GFX 50R is around 150g lighter than the 50S. What I found, however, is that because of the larger grip on the 50S, it actually feels lighter in the hand than the 50R. We'll talk a little more about holding the GFX 50R later.
Buttons and Ports
The button layout, overall, is well thought out. As with Fujifilm's other rangefinder-styled bodies, most buttons are placed to be within reach of your right thumb for easy operation. Even with the larger body size, they're placed close enough to your thumb that it shouldn't be too difficult to reach them. Personally, I do have a couple of gripes with the overall layout, but your mileage may vary.
The first issue I have is with the front dial. It is not embedded in the front of the body as it is with most Fujifilm cameras. Rather, it is wrapped around the shutter button where you would find the power switch on their other bodies. This takes a little getting used to, but that isn't the main issue I have with it. It's simply too easy to knock. I found myself constantly changing whatever setting it was assigned to by accident and ended up switching the dial off altogether.
As I mentioned, the power button is no longer a collar switch around the shutter button. It has been placed next to the shutter button as a small switch. This takes a little getting used to but it shouldn't be a huge problem once you train your muscle memory. Even after a month of using the camera, though, I still forget to turn it off quite frequently.
One departure from many of the Fujifilm bodies that might frustrate some is the lack of a dedicated ISO dial. Personally, although I appreciate having it, I don't change ISO often enough for this to really be a hindrance to my work. If you're constantly changing ISO values, it could make the 50S a more attractive option for you.
Another thing that might bother some is the placement of the ports. If you're planning to use this camera tethered or run it using the A/C power adaptor, the layout could be quite cumbersome. These ports are on the bottom of the camera rather than the side as with most bodies. Even though Fujifilm provides a jerk stopper for cables plugged into these ports, the placement of the ports will make it difficult to work on a tripod or hold the camera while changing lenses.
While we're on the subject of ports, the data connection is a USB Type-C port. However, Fujifilm still hasn't included USB charging capabilities. For a traveling photographer like myself, being able to connect the camera to a powerbank in the field and have it charge the battery would make things so much easier at times. As it stands, I've invested in the great Nightcore FX2 Pro USB charger for GFX batteries as a solution.
A final thing that plagued my use of the camera for the first couple of weeks was the lack of a four-way selector. So far, every one of my Fujifilm bodies from the X-T1 to the GFX 50S has been set up with my function keys doing exactly the same thing on every Fujifilm body so no matter which camera I use, I can operate it in the same way. The 50R has taken some getting used to as I have had to retrain myself for the new button layout. There are plenty of function buttons to go around, so functionality isn't an issue, but it does mean that I have to consider which camera I'm using and where the functions have been assigned. In this respect, I much prefer working with the GFX 50S.
In a move that clearly suggests Fujifilm wants medium format to become a more casual form of photography, the exposure compensation dial is back (right where the second screen was on the 50S). This is honestly one of my favorite features of the Fujifilm body design. Being a mirrorless camera, the combination of real-time exposure preview and a compensation dial on your thumb makes for a simpler experience when working in shutter or aperture priority modes.
Fujifilm has also included a touch screen interface with the GFX 50R, but it still hasn't been implemented to its full potential and is plagued with the issues we see on many other cameras. Touch functionality can be used to move the focus point (although it is quite laggy), focus, shoot, or activate assigned functions by swiping across the screen. With this limited functionality and laggy performance, it feels more like an afterthought than a fleshed-out implementation. Personally, as with all my Fujifilm cameras that have touch-screens, I turned it off and never thought about it again.
The GFX 50R has been styled to look like the medium-format rangefinders of the film days and Fujifilm has done a great job of building a sleek camera. The boxy look of the GFX 50S that many disliked is gone and has been replaced with curves that may be more pleasing. If aesthetics are important to you in a camera, you might consider the 50R over the 50S for its styling alone.
From a more practical standpoint, the shape of the body also makes it much easier to slide into an existing bag configuration. With the protruding viewfinder and sensor box on the back of the 50S, this was always an issue for me, but the 50R simply slips into the same bags I use for my X-series cameras.
Whereas the Fujifilm GFX 50S was designed to by a workhorse, the GFX 50R is designed for a more casual photographer. As I have mentioned, the button layout is not quite as ergonomic as the 50S. A little more effort is required to change any settings you might want to change on the fly, but that is easy enough to get used to.
The difference in the grip also makes this a very different camera to use. With the 50S, I felt comfortable carrying it around in my right hand as I always had a solid grip on the camera. However, with the rangefinder styling of the 50R, you lose that grip. When working hand-held with this camera, I always add a wrist strap to make sure I don't lose my grip while walking around. Depending on how you like to work with the camera, this could be a factor in your decision of which camera to purchase.
Autofocus also feels slightly faster and hunts less than the GFX 50S, but we can assume that any firmware changes made to incorporate this will also come to the 50S soon. The autofocus system overall does have the same issues that faced the older camera. Although you have continuous autofocus modes and face detection, they are both still in need of some serious work. The continuous autofocus is not a huge issue as medium format is not commonly used for fast moving subjects, but would be great to see the face detection improved. I have found that the system has difficulty finding faces if they are slightly obscured (such as with a hat) and it will detect clothing or other objects in the scene as faces quite frequently. This should all be able to be done in firmware, so I look forward to the next updates from Fujifilm.
The Fujifilm GFX 50R is priced extremely competitively and Fujifilm offers discounts several times a year if you purchase the body with a lens. Other options for medium format in this price range are the Pentax 645Z if a traditional SLR camera suits your style of photography more and also the GFX 50S. If your budget stretches a little further, the Hasselblad X1D (discontinued and rumored to be replaced soon) could also be a camera worth looking at. All three of these companies offer different color science and a different set of lenses, despite using the same underlying sensor.
What I Liked
More convenient body shape
Well laid out controls that make the camera easy to use, although slightly different from other Fujifilm cameras
Same great image quality from GFX 50S
Excellent price for Medium-format
Exposure Compensation Dial
Mostly familiar controls
What Could be Improved
Unbalanced with larger lenses
Missing four-way selector
Front dial resistance and functionality
USB Charging Capability
If you're thinking about getting into the medium-format world and want a lightweight, relatively cheap option, the GFX 50R is a great camera that should be on your short list. It carries over all the great things about the GFX 50S and places them in a simpler rangefinder-styled body. If you're comfortable giving up some of the physical controls, interchangeable viewfinders, and larger grip of the GFX 50S, this is an excellent option. I would recommend heading into your local Fujifilm dealer to hold both cameras with your intended lenses attached as the feel of the cameras is one of the biggest differences between them. If I've convinced you here that this is a great option, you can pick yours up right here.