The Fujifilm GFX 50R is the company’s second foray into the world of digital medium format cameras (after the revolutionary GFX 50S). Originally released in late 2018, the GFX 50R brought down the barrier of entry to larger format digital cameras even further with its $4500 price tag. Medium format is now accessible with a price tag closer to that of a full-frame DSLR or high-end mirrorless camera thanks to Fujifilm’s innovations in the space.
A little over a month ago, I became the proud owner of a GFX 50R. The camera has been out for a couple of years now and good deals are starting to pop up on the secondary market. In my case, an excellent deal came up on a used body (thanks, Mr. DG!) and I figured this would be a good chance to get in on the medium format game.
I have been shooting with the GFX 50R for around six weeks at the time of writing and I now feel like I’ve gathered enough experience and made enough images with the camera to write a review. As with most of my reviews, this is mostly non-technical and based on my personal experiences in real-world shooting.
Image Quality – This one is sort of a given, but it should definitely be mentioned. Size isn’t everything, but in the case of this camera’s 51.4 megapixel sensor, it is certainly a lot. It is approximately 1.7 times the size of a full-frame sensor and that means tremendous image quality, dynamic range, and low light performance. Once you go medium format, the quality is simply addictive. You’ll want to shoot everything at this level of quality and to be honest it’s kind of hard to go back. Nowadays, for my personal work, the first camera I tend to reach for is the 50R.
Form Factor and Ergonomics – The GFX 50R is a rangefinder-style camera and kind of looks like an X-E series camera on growth hormones. Still, the camera is relatively compact and light for what it offers and it can definitely be configured to be a nimble travel and documentary camera, which is mainly what I do with it. Shutter speed and exposure compensation dials are present, as well as aperture rings on all GF lenses. Many of the buttons and dials on the camera are fully customizable as well. The legendary Fujifilm ergonomics and handling are definitely present in this camera.
Build Quality – you definitely get what you pay for in this department. All the Fujifilm GFX cameras and lenses that I’ve interacted with have top-notch build quality, including robust metal construction and weather sealing.
Fuji Colors – for me, this alone is a reason to get into the Fujifilm systems. Fuji’s color rendition and beautiful profiles stem from their decades of experience making film. ‘Color science’ may be an overused buzzword at this point, but it’s definitely one of Fuji’s strongest points. The Classic Chrome and Classic Neg profiles continue to be go-to’s of mine on both Fuji X and GFX systems.
Modern Features – The GFX 50R features dual UHS II Card slots for peace of mind for your files, as well as other nice-to-haves such as touch screen, bluetooth and wifi connectivity. The built-in sensor cleaning is a must for such a large sensor, especially if you change lenses a lot. The GFX 50R also has some video capabilities, which is nice to have in a pinch but is not really the point of this camera.
Lens System – When you buy into the GFX system, you’re buying into a system of amazing, very high-quality lenses. Fuji has really built up their GF lens system to cater to a wide range of photography styles. They are also innovating in the medium format lens space, bringing features such as image stabilization and very fast apertures never before seen in the format.
Cost – This is certainly one of the best deals in medium format cameras at the moment. At the time of writing, I’ve seen it go for as low as the $2,000 range on the used market.
Overall Speed – The GFX 50R is not a blazing fast camera, especially when compared to other cameras released around the same time. There’s a bit of shutter lag and the cycle time between shots can certainly be felt. The maximum 3 frames per second shutter isn’t the fastest either. Add the usual baggage that comes with using a larger sensor, such as rolling shutter and very high sensitivity to camera movement. But you have to remember that medium format is really a different beast altogether. The GFX 50R is a very usable camera and according to reports from seasoned medium format users, it is actually quite snappy compared to other medium format cameras.
Contrast Detect AF Only – Unfortunately, phase detect autofocus is not available for this camera. Although you’re not going to be tracking fast-moving subjects with the GFX 50R’s AF system, it’s accurate and fast enough for most situations. GF lenses with a linear motor help negate this fact even more with excellent AF speed and performance on this body.
Lack of Directional Pad – this is a small, but quite a significant detail for me personally. I’m used to working with Fuji’s APS-C cameras like the Fujifilm X-T4 and X-H1 and using the rear directional pad has become second nature to me. Being limited to the little joystick for navigation has been one of the biggest adjustments when working with the GFX 50R
ISO Dial Implementation – this is another slight pain point for me with the GFX 50R. I’m a big fan of dedicated ISO dial like the X-T series. Even in older X-E series bodies, the ISO control could be programmed into the D-pad, which is not present on this camera. With the 50R, the quickest way to change ISO is through the small control dial located around the shutter button. It’s quite easy to knock that I find my ISO changing unintentionally while shooting. I would love to see a pull-up ISO dial implementation like the X-Pro 2 or 3 for future GFX R bodies.
The cons I pointed out above seem to paint the picture that the GFX 50R is a slow camera. That is not the case at all. If you are looking for something that can capture fast action or sports in rapid fire, then definitely look elsewhere. However, I believe the slower pace of this camera is actually part of its charm. Once you get into the rhythm of the 50R, it’s a very calm and thoughtful experience. The camera wants you to take fewer frames. It wants you to think about your shot before pressing the shutter button. This is also probably for the best because the camera produces massive file sizes. 😀 Once you learn to work with the camera, it rewards you with amazing image files that leave very little to be desired in terms of quality.
First Lens Recommendation
This is of course a very subjective topic and it all boils down to your personal needs. However, the lens I’m about to recommend has grown on me so much I’d now choose it and the GFX 50R to be my desert island camera kit. The lens I’m referring to is the Fujinon GF 50mm f/3.5 R LM WR. This super versatile lens can pretty much do all types of photography that I enjoy, from landscapes to portraits, to street and documentary photography.
I’ve mentioned my love for the 40mm “perfect normal” focal length on my blog and videos several times, and the GF 50mm translates to a 40mm with the 0.79x crop factor of the 50R. The compact size of this lens allows you to turn the GFX 50R into sort of a supersized X100. I would not hesitate to go on a long photography trip with just this lens and camera combo and I could definitely imagine people being perfectly happy with this as their one and only lens on the GFX. Not only is the GF 50mm f/3.5 the smallest and lightest GF lens in the whole lineup, but it is also the cheapest. If you want a taste of what the GFX system can offer, the GFX 50R and GF 50mm f/3.5 are a match made in heaven.
(Look out for my full review of the GF 50mm f/3.5, which is coming very soon.)
While we are on the topic of lenses, there is another option for the cheapest possible way to shoot with a GFX 50R. That, of course, is adapting lenses. I have personally tried adapting the Helios 58mm f/2.0 and Asahi Pentax Super Takumar 135mm f/3.5 using a K&F Concept M42 to GF adapter. They work surprisingly well on the 50R and I will definitely discuss that more in another blog post.
Is it really that much different from smaller formats?
You may have heard the term “there’s no replacement for displacement” when referring to automobile engines. In other words, size matters. The large sensor of the GFX 50R produces beautiful files that need to be experienced first-hand to truly understand. The word that constantly comes to mind when working with these files is “lush”. There’s just so much depth and latitude to work with and the files are simply gorgeous. I’ve worked with a wide range of files from micro 4/3 to full frame, and the files from the GFX are truly something else.
We hear and read a lot about the ‘medium format look’. This is actually a combination of several factors including sharpness and detail, tonality and contrast, and shallow depth of field due to the larger sensor (or film) surface area. Not to get into it too much, but the sensor of the GFX series actually has a smaller surface area than 120 film, which means the depth of field isn’t as shallow as a medium format film camera at similar apertures. Moreover, due to the limitations of physics and lens design, a lot of the GF lenses (and medium format lenses in general) have to start with a minimum aperture of f/2.8 or f/3.5 or smaller. Some GF lenses are exceptions, such as the GF 110mm f/2 and the super fast GF 80mm f/1.7, as well as some 3rd party manual lenses. Those simply looking for extreme bokeh or shallow depth of field might actually be better served by a full frame DSLR or mirrorless and a very fast prime lens. However, if you’re looking to obtain the other aspects of the ‘medium format look’ as well, the GFX cameras and lenses can certainly provide that. Again, it’s best experienced first-hand (or printed very large :)).
I’ve been singing the praises of the GFX 50R and medium format for most of this blog post, but let’s also take a step back and remind ourselves that technical image quality and good photos are totally different things. You can take beautiful photos with impact and tell great stories with any kind of gear. One of my favorite photography quotes is from Ansel Adams, who once said “The single most important component of a camera is the 12 inches behind it”.
Of course, gear is also important and having a kit that can provide you with ultimate quality to help get your vision across is certainly a welcome addition to the toolkit. Fujifilm has brought medium format closer to the masses, and I would certainly recommend giving it a try.
Here are some sample images taken with the Fujifilm GFX 50R and the Fujinon GF 50mm f/3.5.
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