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Sometimes it really clicks; a review of the Fujifilm GFX system

In my previous post, I mentioned how I ended up with the Fujifilm GFX system through a detour. I went to the smaller end of the sensor scale and used M43 for a short while, only to conclude that it wasn't for me. High ISO issues remain, and there are only so many pixels you can place on that sensor surface area. This makes the sharpness of M43 photos feel very rough and jagged. And while I would absolutely look to that system for situations where you need long telephoto lenses (safari for instance) but are not willing to carry a heavy system, it meant that for everyday use for me it wasn't working. Once I decided to move away from my short encounter with M43, I needed to go elsewhere. I had already sold my previous kit, something I should have waited a bit longer with but alas, here I was without gear. My disappointment in the limitations of the M43 sensors led me to look at a system that is the opposite of M43 in many ways; the Fujifilm GFX medium format system.

So much to see, and yet it never feels too dense. [Fujifilm GFX 50Sii - Fujifilm 55mm F1.7]

Have you ever had a moment where it feels like you are observing yourself from the outside for just a short while? Perspective is a funny thing. As humans, we are able to rationalize many contradictions. I noticed myself rationalizing the opposite angle of the argument that led me to look for a smaller kit with M43. Suddenly, the increased size and weight of the GFX system vs M43 or even APSC or Full Frame wasn't that big of a deal after all.

Depending on the facet we are focused on, many things become fluid in reasoning, once a gut feeling convinces ourselves of something. This can be a dangerous thing in other aspects of life. In photography, this is all not so bad, but it can be costly. Before making the same mistake of finding rational arguments to a case I was already locked in to from an irrational standpoint, I decided to test out the GFX system before jumping into it.

Abandoned buiding in Iceland. [Fujifilm GFX 50Sii - Fujifilm 30mm F3.5]

Before I go into the image quality and features, let me discuss an element of any photography system that is quite important to me, the ergonomics. The GFX system now only has one shape, the SLR-like body of the 100 series. But once there was the much loved GFX 50R, a rangefinder-styled 50 megapixel medium format camera. I knew I was not going to be interested in Fujifilm's latest GFX cameras. I don't want the 100 megapixels and even though they are competitively priced, I still find them too expensive for my needs. So I was looking at the before mentioned 50R and the 50Sii. I tried both and, spoiler alert, I bought both second hand for less money than a mid-range new full frame camera. Both GFX cameras are very different but each has qualities I wouldn't want to miss. The 50R is arguably overpriced for what it offers today but it has gotten a bit of a cult following which is keeping prices high.

What once was, above the Rhine river. [Fujifilm GFX 50R - Fujifilm 50mm F3.5]

While I convinced myself that I did not need a smaller camera kit after all, size still matters. I think it is a shame that Fujifilm discontinued the 50R form factor. I guess the set of features that made its way into the newer models cannot fit the slimmer body of the 50R. Fujifilm's decision to stop making them won't have been made because the 50R wasn't popular, because it was, and it still is. Rangefinder style cameras seem to be popular nowadays anyway, with Sony offering the A7C, and Fujifilm's successful range of X-series APSC cameras. I have shot with Leica rangefinders for years and I love the ergonomics. And even though the 50R isn't really a rangefinder, the placement of the EVF on the top left feels very natural to me. The rest of the body is also set up like a rangefinder as well with a simple shutter speed dial, aperture control on the GF lenses, and a few dials you can program to do the rest. Simple. The 50R is big, but somehow not too big. It reminds me of my Mamiya 6 film rangefinder. The size and sturdiness of the camera feel inviting rather than off-putting. The camera is lighter than you'd expect. This is a theme throughout the GFX system, everything is not as heavy as it looks.

The Cathedral in Palma de Mallorca. [Fujifilm GFX 50Sii - Fujifilm 55mm F1.7]

When you pair the 50R with one of the smaller lenses like the GF 50mm F3.5 or the GF 63mm F2.8, you have a relatively compact combination. I can fit this camera in a small North Face fanny pack and treat it like an everyday carry camera. For occasions when I really want to travel light, I revert to my Fujifilm X-T5, more on that later. While technically not really an aspect of ergonomics, I have to mention the shutter feel and sound of the 50R. Shutters in the SLR era were always quite loud because of the mirror. The mirrorless revolution made them a lot quieter, and recently I feel that newer cameras went even further. I quite like a comforting thump of a mechanical shutter and the 50R has one of the most satisfying shutter sounds of any digital camera I have used. It is a beautiful auditory confirmation that a moment in time has been captured. I love it.

Taken on a walk with the 50R in a sling as an everyday carry camera. [Fujifilm GFX 50R - Fujifilm 50mm F3.5]

The 50Sii does not have this wonderful shutter sound. As a matter of fact, you barely hear anything at all. This is useful in some occasions but I still prefer the noise of the 50R. Think of it as the comforting sound of a car door, this used to be something that brands would differentiate with. And weird as it may seem, I get it. The tactile experience of things we interact with is so important in the evaluation of the experience, an aspect I find not always given the attention it deserves. Case in point; I bought a new TV recently, as well as an audio streaming device. Both devices cost about the same. The TV remote is made from the blandest, and perhaps cheapest, plastic. It feels terrible in your hand. Like there is nothing there, and yet there is, making it akin to the feeling of some dead insect in the palm of your hand, something that feels off. The buttons are too shallow and the remote is way too slippery. Compare that to the remote of my audio streamer. This remote is sturdy, it has some heft to it. This makes it comfortable to hold, with some carved out slots on the back for better grip. It's mostly plastic as well but it is solid, a little bit of metal here and there makes this remote very nice to operate. Someone who designed this did this on purpose. Tactility is important. Samsung, you can learn a thing or two from Cambridge Audio. But I digress.

Ice cave patterns. [Fujifilm GFX 50Sii - Fujifilm 45mm F2.8]
100% crop. More on this level of detail later.

Fujifilm's 50Sii is about the same size and weight as a Leica SL. This is quite remarkable given the significantly bigger sensor and lens mount that need to fit in those dimensions. The Leica SL is a benchmark in my book when it comes to ergonomics. Nothings comes close, and the 50Sii is no different. It handles fine but there is nothing really great about it. I think Fujifilm put a lot more attention to ergonomics, and build quality with premium materials, with the newer GFX cameras. But the 50Sii behaves like you expect it to and it is fine. This camera shares the ergonomics design language that the X-H cameras have in Fujifilm's X APSC line-up. There are plenty of options to assign buttons and dials to do whatever you want. It also has a large top display which I actually like more than I thought. This again, is similar to the Leica SL.

What is unique to the GFX series is something I wrote about in another post; the ability to see the XPan aspect ratio in the viewfinder. If you are into that aspect ratio like me, you will get a lot of benefit from being able to frame your composition in camera instead of doing it in post. Seeing this narrow window onto the world which is such a great aspect ratio is a wonderful move by Fujifilm. They of course had their own 65:24 camera, the TX1. I use this aspect ratio a lot, and there is no better system to shoot it with than the GFX system. Firstly because they give you that ratio in the viewfinder, and secondly because the sensor is so big that this crop is perfectly fine without compromising on image quality at all.

65:24 works wonders. [Fujifilm GFX 50Sii - Fujifilm 45mm F2.8]

Let's discuss lenses for the GFX system. Fujifilm has slowly been expanding the lens lineup and now in 2024, there are many options available. Third party options are sparse. Many people rave on about the Mitakon 65mm but since Fujifilm released the 80mm and 55mm F1.7 lenses, I see no need for a manual lens that weighs a ton. But to each their own, of course. I have also not played with adapting vintage lenses to the GFX system. I get the impression that this is popular to do on the 50R. Perhaps the vintage rangefinder look is what people find appealing. I don't really see the need. I have only used Fujifilm native GFX lenses. I have so far also only used prime lenses, although I am interested in the 32-64mm F4 zoom. This is comparable to a full frame equivalent of 25-50mm. I tried the Leica 10-25mm on my M43 kit and found it to be much more usable than I expected, from a focal range perspective.

Details, details, details. Oh, and colors! [Fujifilm GFX 50Sii - Fujifilm 45mm F2.8]

The lens I use a lot is the before-mentioned 50mm F3.5. For one because it creates a setup that you could almost envision as a daily carry camera. But also because it is full frame equivalent to about 40mm. For a one lens setup, something in the range between full frame equivalent 40-45mm is hands down my favorite focal length. The 50mm F3.5 is not a fast lens at all. But is is fast enough. As I mature as a photographer, I find myself shooting wide open less than I did a few years back. Composition and timing are becoming the ingredients that define a good photo, shallow depth of field less so. And with the outstanding ISO performance of most camera systems these days, you are not that dependent on a bright aperture lens like before. Leica's Noctilux range was born out of the desire to shoot in very low light, hence the name. But these days, you can shoot in very dim conditions with F2.8 or even slower and your ISO still won't negatively impact your photo with too much digital noise. I also need to mention that, where the 50R does not, the 50Sii has pretty good image stabilization. The photograph below was taken in dim conditions at 1/42 of a second which considering the sensor size is pretty impressive.

No problem capturing the light in the Sagrada Familia Cathedral in Barcelona. [Fujifilm GFX 50Sii - Fujifilm 55mm F1.7]

Regarding shallow depth of field, if you really want it, a lens that is outstanding in this area is the 55mm F1.7. I don't use this lens as much as I anticipated for the reasons explained above, but when I use it I am blown away by how it performs. The bokeh is phenomenal and the lens is sharp at all apertures, it does not matter what you pick. This lens is extremely well controlled.

Barcelona street performer. [Fujifilm GFX 50Sii - Fujifilm 55mm F1.7]

The 55mm F1.7 is probably the best example of the lens characteristics of all GFX lenses. It's one of the factors that has really pulled me into the system. The sharpness and clarity are among the best of what is on the market today but there is something in the photos that I cannot put to words but I will try nevertheless. The best thing I can come up with is that the sharpness and clarity has a certain 'gentleness'. The photograph below is a good example. It is so clear and has so much detail in it, and yet it doesn't strain the eyes. It's just.... there.

Barcelona brutalist architecture. [Fujifilm GFX 50Sii - Fujifilm 55mm F1.7]

I know this doesn't make a lot of sense so perhaps it is best to just look at the photos and decide for yourself, but when I zoom in to a portrait or landscape, I see an abundance in the resolving of details but it never becomes harsh. It is.... gentle. And it is not just portraits, the same applies to landscape or urban photography. Loads of details, but never hard on the eyes. I like it a lot.

Balearic wave. [Fujifilm GFX 50Sii - Fujifilm 55mm F1.7]
100% Crop. All droplets are captured with detail but it never becomes hard on the eyes.

All GFX lenses I have shot with have this characteristic. They all deliver amazing clarity. They are also, of course, all rather big. Not that heavy, as I mentioned before, but definitely big. The 45mm F2.8 is still relatively compact but the 110mm F2 is massive. They do make a great combo together which equates to about 36mm & 87mm in full frame terms. Both lenses shine. The 45mm is a great option to capture a lot of context with that gentle clarity as I tried to describe. The 110mm may be the equivalent of an almost 90mm full frame lens, but it is still 110mm. This means you get more compression than a full frame equivalent lens. When I shot Nikon, I loved shooting the 105mm F1.4. It is in my top 5 favorite lenses of all time, maybe even top 3 (great idea for a future blog post). I need much more time with the 110mm to see if it can live up to the great Nikon 105mm F1.4. The early verdict is that the 110mm is a special lens, I can't wait to shoot more with it.

Big for sure, but not ridiculously so.

This is perhaps also a good time to stress that comparing lens equivalents for other sensor sizes is useful when getting to know a different sensor system and understand the lens range. But once you established that, it is best to simply look at the focal length and aperture as it relates to the system it is made for. 110mm on Fujifilm medium format is 110mm, period. It doesn't behave as a 90mm equivalent, it behaves as... 110mm. Same with aperture. F2 is F2. Yes, it does have different impact on depth of field. But let's just compare apples to apples and stay within a system vs between. There is no better or worse anyway, there is just what you like to use. Fortunately, we have many options to choose from.

Shipwreck. [Fujifilm GFX 50Sii - Fujifilm 110mm F2]

The final lens in my current arsenal is the 30mm F3.5. This is becoming boring, but this is also a stellar lens. It also works very well with the 65:24 aspect ratio. However, this is the one lens I am not sure I will keep. I might switch to the 32-64mm F4 which gives me more options and the aperture difference is negligible. I have used the 30mm mostly while hiking and taking landscape photos. I think the zoom is a better choice as the 30mm is quite wide and I don't want to carry more primes when I want a more standard focal length as well. That is unfortunately the tradeoff that comes with the physics of this GFX system.

Icelandic waterfall at sunset. [Fujifilm GFX 50Sii - Fujifilm 30mm F3.5]

It's early days still, and frequent readers of this blog might notice that I am quite fickle when it comes to my camera gear. So far though, I like what I am getting from the GFX system. It also has a bonus feature, you are able to use a lot of the same infrastructure in case you want to use the APSC sensor based X system. Like I said, every system has its pros and cons, and you just pick what works for you. I use an X-T5 with a small prime lens when I want to go very compact, or a zoom when I go out biking. The 50R with the 50mm F3.5 is still too big for some occasions. I love that when I pick up the X-T5, everything is familiar. It's the same(-ish) menu system, the same app on your phone and if you use Capture One Pro, you can use the same embedded Fujifilm film simulations. I use this a lot and it helps me get consistency in my editing, whether I do it in camera JPG or later in RAW in Capture One Pro.

As always, I will leave you with some more photos.


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