The Fujifilm GFX 50S as a Travel Camera

The Fujifilm GFX 50S as a Travel Camera

Over the past few years, we’ve seen digital medium-format photography go from something of a hulking utilitarian beast into something a little more elegant in terms of usability. The Phase One and Hasselblad flagships, although coveted by many, were only attainable by a select few and really only intended for methodical work. The latest additions to the medium format realm have flipped this market on its head and put digital medium format into the hands of the masses. The Hasselblad X1D-50c and the Fujifilm GFX 50S are more in line with the everyday consumer's needs in terms of both price and features. I have had the chance to spend the last six weeks shooting with the Fujifilm while traveling through northeast India and today I’ll share my thoughts on it as a travel camera.

First up, a big thanks to Fujifilm Korea for giving me the chance to use their camera for the duration of my trip. It was a great chance to explore the camera and really put it through its paces. Knowing that I had to give it back meant making the best of it while I had it, so I shot a lot of different work while I could. So, full disclosure, I did not purchase this camera, but that will not stop me from giving my honest thoughts on it throughout this article.

Travel photography is such a wide genre. It includes everything from food photography to portraiture and landscape photography. As I mentioned above, I used the camera for a lot of different work while I was away. So, I’ll break this down into those types of shooting and give you my take on how the GFX 50S performed. This will be in no way scientific, just a collection of thoughts from six weeks in the field. 

Day-to-Day Shooting

First up is what I like to think of as day to day shooting. This is nothing planned, just things I shoot as I move from location to location or as I walk around the streets of my destination. This is a great place to start seeing how the GFX performs because I was able to test things like responsiveness and autofocus. It was also a great chance to see if the weight would bother me, as I usually don't carry this much when I travel.

One of the first things you’ll notice about the GFX 50S is how quickly it gets up and running. After you flick the power switch, you’ll only have to wait around a second or so. Although this may be nothing compared to a DSLR like the Nikon D850, it is very competitive for a mirrorless camera, especially a medium-format camera. It did take a little getting used to, as these days I shoot with a Fujifilm X-T2 most of the time. But there’s nothing wrong with having to be ready to switch the camera on a few extra moments as you envision your shot unfolding.

Let’s stop there for a moment. Why even switch the camera off? Well, mirrorless cameras don’t have the greatest battery life, as we all know. The GFX is an admirable performer but it still needs attention when conserving its battery. By switching on and off between shots, I was able to get around 700–800 shots per charge, depending on what I was doing. I’ll get back to this in a moment. 

In terms of autofocus, in good light, there is nothing to complain about. For those using X-series cameras, if you’re familiar with the X-T1 at release or the X-E2 now, that’s around where the current performance is. In good light, there can be a little hunting depending on contrast, but not enough to really be a problem. Being a contrast detection system, what it loses in speed, it makes up for in accuracy, so expect stellar results once it does hit focus.

One of the things that stood out to me about shooting this camera day-to-day was just how easy it was to handhold shots. The camera’s grip is excellent, and the weight feels good in your hand. Whatever magic Fujifilm has sprinkled to make handheld shots come out sharp at low shutter speeds is also out of this world. Perhaps it's the lack of a mirror slapping up and down, but I got more unsharp images from my Nikon D800 when shooting handheld back in the day. 

The only thing I might complain about is the EVF attachment. Switching to the EVF using the eye sensor takes a full second and sometimes doesn’t even show up. I’m sure this is simply a firmware kink, but I missed several shots because the EVF didn’t detect my eye and I would need to pull the camera away for a couple of seconds and return it to my eye. It’s not a huge problem, but it really shouldn’t be an issue in a camera of this caliber.

Portraits

This is what I was mainly interested in this camera for. My current project on the disappearing culture of facial tattooing across Asia is focused on preserving the faces of those who have the tattoos. To date, I have been working with Fujifilm X-series cameras, but being given the chance to use the medium format GFX for the project was something I could not say no to. 

First of all, I was interested in the additional detail and sharpness as compared to the X-series cameras (which are no slouches themselves, especially with the X-Trans III sensor). Let’s just say that, as expected, the GFX provides incredible detail and sharpness. Fujifilm is known for its excellent lens quality, and the GF lenses are all exceptional. 

For most of my portraits, I was using the new GF 110mm f/2 R LM WR. In 35mm equivalent terms, this is approximately at 87mm f/1.6. This lens nails focus each and every time in good light and is sharp from f/2 throughout the range. The falloff from sharp to unsharp is quick and pleasing. The ability to separate a subject’s face from their chest with such a quick falloff gives a very three-dimensional feel to portraits. See the image below to get an idea of what I’m talking about. I’ll cover this lens in more detail in an upcoming review. 

The only time I really ran into trouble shooting portraits was with the autofocus system in dark environments. Many of the people I photograph stay at home in their windowless houses, and I often have to focus by door or fire light. This can be tough with the CDAF system in the GFX, but switching to manual focus yields good results by using the focus peaking function. The viewfinder is also very laggy in darker environments, making it challenging to capture moments. Sometimes, it would even take the camera 2 or 3 seconds to adjust to the darkness and show a preview of the current lighting situation. Hopefully, these things can all be improved in an upcoming firmware. Using the screen/EVF in these dark situations seems to make it work very hard and it drains the battery much more quickly.

After a full month of shooting, however, the thing I was most impressed with was the rendering of skin. Tones are very pleasing and transition from highlight to shadow is much more attractive than other cameras I have used. I use Fujifilm’s classic chrome simulation for all of my portraits, so they may not be perfectly natural in terms of their tone and contrast, but I find this to be an extremely pleasing rendering. 

Landscape

I don’t shoot a lot of landscape images, but from time to time, I try to get an image that shows where my subjects live. This time especially, being in the beautiful mountains of northeast India, I wanted to be able to capture that in all its beauty. The X-series cameras are (somewhat contentiously) known for rendering foliage in unrealistic ways from time to time, so I wanted to use the GFX for this during my trip. 

This, I feel is where the camera shows off what it can really do. The dynamic range and sharpness are stunning when shot with tight apertures on a tripod at low ISO values. There’s something quite magical about being able to swing an image file five stops in either direction in postproduction. Watching the tones come in and out as you pull the exposure slider is breathtaking. More on that to come in a future article as well. 

I love to shoot my landscapes with longer lenses and stitch multiple frames together. On this trip, that has been making my computer choke a little, but I have managed to put one together from Mon District in Nagaland. This is a set of images that I stitched, the exposure was pushed 1/3 stop and the shadows increased by 90 points from the original capture. I love the amount of detail and tone that the camera was able to capture here. 

In Conclusion

After six weeks, I have shot plenty of images and have plenty of thoughts to share. This is my first set, and I will have a few more to come. I loved working with the GFX. It has a few quirks, but the wizards in Fuji’s firmware department will no doubt work those out over time. If you have any questions about the GFX or its use, please do leave them in the comments below and I’ll do my best to answer for you. Keep your eyes out over the next couple of weeks for some more thoughts on the Fujifilm GFX 50S and GF lenses. 

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24 Comments

Samuel Flores Sanchez's picture

Thanks Dylan!
It could be great if you share a RAW file. I would love to see for myself the detail and elasticity this camera and lens is capable of.

Let me see if I can dig something up that I won't be using in my project, so I can share it with you here.

Samuel Flores Sanchez's picture

That would be perfect! A regular shot only for study purposes. Not to be shared or published in any form.

I started in photography 3 years ago. After reading some basic staff I decided to go for one of the less expensive FF kits Nikon or Cannon offered that times. But the vendor talk to me into Olympus micro 4/3 system and I went out of the shop with a O-MD e-m10. Is a fantastic system. To this time I photographed a lot of events with them but always felt that I wanted bigger files and thinner DOF with softer transitions. But really, neither one of those two things weren't necessary at all for what I was doing.

last year I grew a lot like a photographer, I discovered a lot of new things and I studied full-time and, most important, I, at last, discovered what style I want to pursue. Now I really need (Of course this is always subjective) a bigger sensor and definitely bigger files.

I'm a really big advocate of Mirrorless system and I don't think that has to be anything about with the fact that I discovered photography through micro 4/3. From the first moment, I understood Film and Digital like totally different approaches with the same purpose but in completely different levels with different possibilities, like Newton and Einstein to put an example. I love both. But I fail to understand what could be good for the image technology development in the long run about a mixture of the two approaches other than to serve as a transition time.

So my first choice to switch systems is Sony a7. But since I heard about MF mirrorless Hasselblad and Fujifilm cameras my mind started dreaming.

I downloaded some Sony a7 rii RAW files someone shared in a review and is fantastic to see for yourself the difference you are going to experiment if you decided to switch gears. MF is not an option for me now, but I don't know why not in a near future if I'm good enough doing my work. So it could be a pleasure to study and compare and learn over a real RAW file instead than over the processed and comprises JPGs people share regularly on internet.

But please I do not want to put you in a compromise with my long speech, share the RAW only if you are completely comfortable with it. Anyway, I appreciate your article and thank you for sharing your experience.

Have a nice day!!!

Good Lord, even if such a camera was gifted to me I could never carry something so big. I'd sell it and buy something much smaller, and then take a very nice vacation with the rest of the money.

Indeed, it's not for everyone. Moreover, if you can't afford this AND a holiday, I probably wouldn't recommend buying it. Draining your funds and only having your bowls of instant noodles to photograph afterwards wouldn't be much fun, after all!

I never said or implied I couldn't afford it and a vacation.

Nor did I. :)

That's an odd response. I never said or suggested that you couldn't afford the camera and a vacation. I simply responded to your remark in regards to what I said. Clearly you were responding to what I wrote about selling the camera and taking a vacation.

Chris Maes's picture

Dylan's reply was generic. The YOU in the sentence should be translated into ONE. Relax.

Such a response was reasonably judged to be based on what I wrote. He can also speak for himself, so YOU relax.

Chris is quite right. The response was generic and not in any way suggesting either of us were financially, or otherwise, incapable. I'm simply stating that camera equipment should not be purchased at the cost of actually experiencing one's life.

The grammar and context of your original comment to me was clear. My response to you was understandable and reasonable. I would say most people would have at least thought what I wrote, assuming they could afford both.

Your subsequent response made no sense at all. It's like something you would hear back in grade school.

Properly consider context and choose better grammar if you do not wish to be misunderstood. No offense intended.

Jaleel King's picture

Honestly, it's not that big but it's not that small either. LOL If you haven't held one you should try it. It is by and far the most comfortable camera for its size to hold for a long period of time. I wish I was greeted with a gift like that! Great shots so far Dylan.

William Howell's picture

That’s what she said.

Leigh Miller's picture

I've had mine for a handful of months now and you ca absolutely travel with it if you are used to DSLR sized cameras (which I'm not anymore...I switched to X-Series years ago). The image quality is superb but you do need to take some care while shooting because of the resolution.

Samuel Flores Sanchez's picture

And I have to comment about the weight and size issue because I don't understand how that is an issue in the first place.

Life is about choices and choices are about compromising; take something, left something behind.

A MF sensor gives you different characteristics than a FF or crop sensor. Or a Long Format sensor for what it matters here. Point is, every sensor size gives you different results and, until the moment quantum technology arrives, the bigger the sensor the better the information you captured with it.

Now then, you can need that "extra" information a bigger sensor gives you or don't, you can want it, if only for artistic reasons, or don't. You choose. A bigger sensor is going to give you more and better information but is not gonna make you better o worst photographer, better or wors craftsman or better or worst artist.

So if you like photographer, craftsman, and artist, make a technical or artistic decision to work with an MF sensor is because you want to achieve something, is with a purpose. It could be an all lifetime decision or it can be in shorter terms like "I'm going to shoot with a MF sensor this project", anyway is not a thoughtless decision, is the means to an end. Even if is only for learning.

So what's the issue with the weight or size? If you are a Mountain climber you do not stop climbing because you have to carry a big backpack. If you are Picasso you don't abandon the idea for the Guernica because "is so cumbersome to work with such a big canvas", you paint the Guernica! If you are Michelangelo you paint the Sixtine Chapel even if is hard to work on a concave ceiling holding on scaffoldings. You do it because is your vision, is the way you evolved and you want to see what happens.

The last thing could possibly pass through my mind when I see a photographer carrying a Long Format cámera is "OMG it has to be so uncomfortable to carry that" At the contrary, I'm curious and impress and full of curiosity about the photographer and his old camera.
And even far away is the thought "if someone gives me that camera I sell it" which I see a lot in youtube comments. What in hell could possibly make me think that someone is going to give me a beautiful expensive camera out of the blue? And they are planning to sell it already. That is simply bad planning and organization. I prefer to think that someone is given me the cash and it skips me the troubles of selling it. My imagination has things to do, don't want to waste any good time selling an imaginary camera.

We choose what we want in relation to what we need, and in choosing, we have to compromise, always. A travel photographer is not going to see his family so much as he probably wishes. That type of compromise is the one that matters, that deserve our thinking. If one camera weight a little too much for our weak wrists or if the camera size is uncomfortable because thas not fit in our pocket, that camera is not for us, really. We don't need it. Because if you have a vision and you need that camera to fulfill that vision, you buy a bigger bag, you bandage your wrists and you shot the hell out of that camera.

Frank Withers's picture

I walk around with a phase one 645 system. It's big and heavy. Not once have I looked at people using smaller cams and envied their portability. I have smaller systems too. When I bring this guy out, it's for a purpose. Honestly, I don't look at ANYONE'S gear anymore, it just doesn't matter. Much more interested in their results!

Nice write up . I've played around with the GFX at the local shop and was surprised at how light it was for its size. It's not that much different from my D810 in size . Would love it have the GFX along with the 110mm F2

I'm interested in low light (and night) landscape photography, and in while I'm attracted to the idea of a large sensor I'm concerned that the reduced (relative to FF) depth-of-field inherent with large sensors... combined with slow f4.0 lenses... will require longer exposures and/or higher ISOs to achieve sharpness in foregrounds. The question is whether the compromises would render image quality which would be inferior to a D850 with a 12-24mm f2.8 (or a faster prime). Anyone care to share an opinion?

Frank Withers's picture

It would all depend on output size. If you are putting images online, then it would be an idiotic investment. If you are making large-format archival prints of the night sky, then you will definitely see improved IQ from a modern large-sensor system such as the phase IQ250 or 100mp backs (this has the same sensor as the IQ250). Slower lenses become less of an issue when you are stacking 100s of images in post anyway for astro-photography.

Frank offers a good point in terms of printing. Depending on the size of your output, you'll either see a benefit or you won't. Also, the difference in resolution between the D850 and the GFX is negligible. If you already have some great Nikkor glass like that 14-24 or the likes, I would stick with that. It will be more than enough resolution for most purposes.

In terms of raw ISO performance, I can't comment on Frank's choice of backs as I haven't used them, but the GFX has excellent high ISO performance. I had no issues shooting at ISO 1600 or 3200. However, I also wasn't shooting 15-30 second exposures or longer.

Jean Cazals's picture

I would definitely think about switching my D810 for a GFX but unfortunately unless they bring longer lens that will not be possible. I use 1 200mm on my Nikon and there is no equivalent .... yet ? on offer for the GFX.
Find as well the viewfinder sticking out a bit 'dangerous' as when you move around on location etc... it would be really easy to damage it. They should have tried to put in within the body . I like the fact on the other hand that you can put it on an angle view. Get the old feeling of shooting with 500CM Bladd !!
To switch completely therefore few things will have to be provided I'm happy to wait ... unless I get the D 850 which look like a worse horse at 47MB !!!

They are very different beasts, and it would really depend on your shooting style as to whether the GFX would be a good replacement. That D850 does look like a beast, though.

The two points about the viewfinder are interesting indeed. I, too, thought that the viewfinder sticking out would be a little dangerous, but it turned out that it never even got knocked. I was quite careful with the camera, however. On the angled viewfinder point. That is actuallly an optional accessory that does not come standard with the camera. :(