Today, we will have a brief battle between the two most compact prime lenses for the Fuji GFX system.
One thing you will have quickly realized after any time at all as a photographer is that often, your enjoyment of a camera system can depend as much on your lens selection as any individual attribute of a camera body. In fact, I might argue that often, the lens is far more important than your choice of body. For instance, what’s the point of putting a sub-par lens on a super-high-megapixel camera? Or, other times, the lens may be incredibly sharp, but the ergonomics of the lens make you not want to take it out of the bag. I know I’ve had more than one lens like this that gave results that were nothing short of amazing, yet it was such a chore to get those results that I had to seriously question if I really wanted to shoot with it at all.
A lot of those ergonomic challenges are a function of weight, which is why picking up one or two compact primes for a new camera system is almost always a foregone conclusion. It’s arguable that a prime lens can be limiting versus a zoom. But having a large system weighing you down can also be limiting, and often, the portability of a prime and typically faster apertures make the trade-off worth it.
I’ve often said that given the choice, I would use a 50mm lens to shoot everything. Subjectively speaking, I just like the focal length. It tends to be the closest approximation of my natural field of view, meaning that I can quickly lift the camera to my eye and shoot with a fairly good knowledge of what’s going to be in the frame. Of course, with training, you can get used to any focal length. Just, for me, I find the 50mm the most natural fit. Regardless of the camera system, the 50mm lens is also usually one of the less expensive options in a lens lineup, making its acquisition hard to say no to. And because it’s meant to be an all-purpose lens, it is usually smaller and provides a wider aperture than most zoom lenses, making it both portable and suitable for shooting in difficult lighting situations.
With all this buildup, you would think that I am burying the lede with regard to the question posed in the title of this article. However, there are a couple of curveballs to take into account. For one, the Fuji GFX system is a medium format system as opposed to a traditional 35mm full frame sensor. So, when I refer to a fast 50mm, in Fuji GFX terms, we are actually referring to their 63mm f/2.8 R WR which provides an equivalent view to that which you would get on a full frame camera fast 50mm.
So, what does the 50mm on the GFX equate to in full frame terms? Well, roughly 40mm. Now, it’s likely that you’ve shot with a 50mm in full frame. And it’s likely that you’ve shot with a 35mm in full frame. If you are used to using primes, it’s likely that one or both have been a staple of your camera kit for a long time. 40mm lenses in the full frame world are a bit less ubiquitous. Not all systems even have a 40mm equivalent. In fact, it wasn’t until I purchased an APS-C sized Fuji X-T2 a few years ago that I was even introduced to the focal length. Because that camera was small already, I wanted to find an even smaller lens to accompany it. This led me to discover the 27mm pancake lens, which in APS-C terms is the equivalent of 40mm on full frame (or the 50mm on the GFX). Not only did the small profile of the 27mm suddenly make my X-T2 pocketable (in coat pockets), but I found that I really enjoyed the field of view.
For whatever reason, I’ve never quite fallen in love with the 35mm field of view. It’s not bad. It’s functional and does a lot of things well. But, I guess, completely subjectively speaking, the focal length just never gave me that much oomph. How’s that for a technical term? The 50mm on the full frame was perfect for me, except that even it had a few flaws. Mainly, when shooting in tighter spaces, sometimes, it was hard to get wide enough. Of course, you can back up with your feet, but sometimes, there’s not enough room to back up without falling off the side of the boat. The 40mm field of view lands right between the 35mm and 50mm. It gives you the portability of a fast 50 with just a slightly wider field of view to accommodate tighter shooting spaces. Is this better or worse than a 50mm field of view? Well, that is for you to decide.
A few months ago, I actually did a full review of Fuji GF 50mm f/3.5 R LM WR, the GFX equivalent of a 40mm, so this won’t be an in-depth technical review of the lens. But, while the lens I used for the review was a loaner, I recently made the decision to purchase my own to mount to my Fuji GFX 100, and it has rarely left my camera body since it arrived. The 63mm f/2.8 R WR, the GFX equivalent of the full frame 50mm, was the very first lens I purchased for my GFX system. And it, too, served me well.
Clearly, I like buying primes. But obviously, even though these two lenses are on the less expensive side of the ledger, neither is exactly free. And despite the differences, which I will get into shortly, the focal lengths of 50mm and 63mm are close enough that many may consider them an either-or proposition rather than investing money in buying them both. So, if you only had enough money for one base prime for your GFX system, which should you buy?
Well, you can probably guess by now that I can’t give you a definitive answer, as it will depend on your personal shooting style and taste. But having shot with both lenses quite a lot over these last couple years, there are a few points you might want to consider.
So first, let’s talk about the things that probably won’t help you make a decision. I don’t have a scientific method for testing lens sharpness, nor am I a pixel-peeper by nature, but in terms of real-world experience, I’ve found the entire line of GF lenses to be incredibly sharp. Perhaps, looked at under a microscope, one might find a variation between the 50mm and 63mm. But in actual practice, they are both strong performers more than capable of handling higher resolution. So, in real-world practice, let’s call this one a draw.
My 63mm was my favorite lens to balance with my GFX system until the 50mm came along. I guess, in a way, that’s a compliment to both of them. The 63mm balances well on the medium format body and handles with ease. When I first tried out the 50mm, I almost thought it might be too small for the GFX 100 (on the smaller GFX 50R and 50S, it would be perfect). But, as I’ve taken the GFX 100 and 50mm combination out more, I’ve really grown to enjoy the balance. The GFX 100 is a relatively heavy camera when compared to a full frame DSLR. But the 50mm only comes in at 335 grams, so the overall system isn’t super heavy. Also, despite the 63mm only being 405 grams itself, the 50mm is shorter. So, in terms of weight distribution, I find that when shooting with the 50mm, I hardly notice the weight of the lens at all.
As a point of comparison, I do a lot of walkabout shooting with my Nikon Z 6 and 50mm lens (full frame). That combination all together weighs 1,000 grams versus the GFX and 50mm combo coming in at 1,735 grams. So, by any objective measure, the Z 6 is lighter. I won’t argue math. But because of the weight of the camera versus the weight and shape of the lens when pairing the 50mm with the GFX 100, the system sits fairly comfortably around my neck over the course of long walks versus the length of the light yet longer lens on the Z 6, which can often cause my camera to spin and sway in undesirable ways as I stroll along. I use that simply as an extreme visual example, but the same applies when considering the GF 63mm and GF 50mm. So, I give the 50mm the edge for ergonomics. Neither is going to be a detriment. But the smaller profile of the 50mm has benefits.
The 50mm also takes the award for faster autofocus. None of the medium format GF lenses are going to set the world record for focusing speed. But, in my experience, I feel as though the 50mm focuses slightly faster than the 63mm. This is likely due to the fact that the 63mm has to physically move in and out more when shifting focus points. Because focusing is accompanied by this front and back motion, it can take the 63mm longer to lock on. So, autofocus goes to the 50mm.
Just when you thought the 50mm was going to run away with the title, the 63mm strikes back. The speed of focus is one thing. The minimum focus distance is another. If you are only worried about shooting distant landscapes, for instance, this might not mean much to you. But the appeal of both of these compact lenses is that they are the type of glass that you can mount on your camera all day and shoot a variety of subjects, from portraits to photojournalism. Typically, the closer your lens is able to focus on a subject, the better. As someone who photographs people, I want to be able to get close to my subjects and fill the frame with portions of their faces as well as back up and shoot environmental portraits all without changing lenses.
The 50mm can only focus down to 1.8 feet (55cm). The 63mm, on the other hand, can focus to 1.64 feet (50 cm). When you add in the longer focal length of the 63mm versus 50mm, you are more able to shoot tighter close-ups with the 63mm. This is not to say that you can’t still shoot a closeup with the 50mm, especially since the higher resolution of GFX cameras makes cropping a valid option. But if you want to shoot close-ups or a person or even still life, the 63mm has the advantage.
The 63mm f/2.8 also has another advantage apparent in its actual name. The maximum aperture of f/2.8 offered by the 63mm is obviously superior to the f/3.5 offered on the 50mm. So, if you do a lot of shooting at night or in dark spaces, this might come into the picture.
Personally, I haven’t found the minimum aperture of f/3.5 on the 50mm to be very limiting. First and foremost, because of the larger sensor, when shooting with medium format, I very rarely want to shoot lower than f/4 for matters of the depth of field. There are definitely situations that call for using the GF 110mm f/2 R LM WR at f/2 and drowning my subject in a sea of bokeh. But I’d say 99% of the time, I stick to f/4 as a maximum aperture to make sure I have sufficient depth of field to keep my often mobile subjects in focus. Because modern cameras, including the GFX 100, have made significant improvements in terms of noise at higher ISOs, I am also not afraid to push my ISO speed a bit to account for the larger aperture.
Then again, I am also the type of person who is rarely out of sweatpants after sundown and a big proponent of the early bird special dinner at 4 pm, and thus not someone who desperately needs a low-light beast. So, your needs may vary. But either way, the 63mm aperture range of f/2.8 to f/32 beats the 50mm’s f/3.5 starting point.
Field of View
This one I touched on earlier and is wholly subjective. I still say the 63mm (50mm full frame equivalent) is my personal favorite. However, the 50mm (40mm full frame equivalent) is very, very close to that field of view while offering an added benefit of a slightly wider angle. From taking environmental portraits to taking arm's length selfies in front of the Taj Mahal, you never know when you might need to get just slightly wider. At the same time, the 50mm does not introduce too much distortion when photographing subjects close up, making it slightly more versatile in my opinion.
Currently, on B&H, the 50mm comes in at $999 versus the 63mm at $1,499. Not that price should be the number one motivating factor behind your lens decision, but let’s not kid ourselves, it matters. So, while I wouldn’t say simply to buy one lens versus the other because it’s cheaper, there is some appeal to buying a smaller, faster-focusing lens for two thirds the price. Then again, if you do a lot of night photography, need a shorter focusing distance, and don’t need rapid autofocus, then the extra $500 might be worth the investment.
So, like all things photography, it’s impossible to say for sure which is the best investment between the Fuji GF 50mm and 63mm. It boils down to what type of photography you do and how you intend to use it. I’ve owned both and each has spent a significant amount of time mounted to my camera body.
I am currently having a love affair with the 50mm mounted to my GFX 100. The smaller size just makes me that little bit more likely to pick it up, and I’ve been taking the combo with me every time I leave the house. The only flaw so far that has actually impacted me has been the minimum focus distance. It makes it hard to move in really close and get details without changing lenses. Then again, with the added resolution of the GFX, it’s easy to simply shoot wider, then crop in Capture One, so it is more of a nuisance than a roadblock. And the added focus speed and portability of the 50mm has more than made up the difference.
But, that is just me, though. Which is your preference?