My personal camera
Before I begin this review of the Fujifilm GFX50R, I should include a disclaimer. This review is based on my personal camera and lenses which I purchased at full retail price at an authorized Fujifilm retailer in Hong Kong.
These are not loaned to me, nor are they purchases that I intend to return. I hope this will provide background for a candid review from someone that has put his own money on the table, respondent with the expectations that come with that.
All images in this post were taken either with the Fujifilm GFX 50R, or in the case of the images of the 50R itself, with the Fujifilm X-Pro2.
All about trade-offs
I should start this first impressions review by talking about trade-offs. We all have to make them in life, all day, every day. Do we eat that delicious bagel and then try to sweat it out in the gym, or do we skip the breakfast and stick with an Americano? Do we buy that new medium format camera, or do we put food on the table?
Often, we don’t have to make such binary decisions as these examples; we can compromise and find some middle ground that gets us most of the way there on both sides of the decision. We can have half a bagel and do a shorter run in the gym, or get the Fujifilm X-T3 and eat instead of getting the 50R, since 50MP isn’t really needed for Instagram anyhow!
The big moment
Upon opening the pristine white Fujifilm box, which contrasts dramatically from the black boxes used in the X series, it becomes readily apparent that Fujifilm engineers had to overcome a number of challenges through pragmatic trade-offs.
The very first thing that a new owner will experience is the weight of the camera, or the lack thereof. This incredible 50MP medium format camera that clobbers other cameras with its image quality, feels barely heavier than what you’d expect a toy camera to weigh. I had to turn it on to make sure I hadn’t been given a prototype plastic shell. The official weight is 775g, which is a bit heavier than the Leica M10, but the 50R feels noticeably lighter and almost hollow compared to the M10.
This leads to our first trade-off, that incredible light weight means that the camera doesn’t feel as high quality as perhaps expected of a USD4500 camera. The buttons, control dials, and finish lag behind the Fujifilm X-Pro2, let alone something like the Leica M10, which is orders of magnitude higher quality. The lack of a proper front control dial is annoying, but not a big deal, however the lack of a proper ISO dial is very annoying indeed. One can only assume that price played a role in leaving out the super complex and super cool combined ISO/Shutter dial from the X-Pro2.
The second thing a new owner will experience is the size. I had watched every Youtube video on the 50R, indulged almost every day in Jonas Rask’s incredible images on his website, and read every article I could find that showed pictures of the 50R prototypes. I can say, unequivocally, that a new owner is going to be surprised at how big the 50R really is in real life. Fujifilm clearly scored a home run when it comes to proportions, because the camera looks like an XL X-E3 in the pictures and videos, but in reality, it’s more like an XXL X-E3. When you add in the usual 45MM and 63MM lenses, it becomes quite a bulky package.
The trade-off that I think the Fujifilm engineers faced was fitting the huge sensor, keeping good battery life, and providing some way to balance the necessarily large (and sometimes quite heavy) medium format lenses. I think the battery largely dictates the depth of the camera, and the Fujifilm engineers likely accepted a fatter camera for the convenience of having the same battery in the 50R and the 50S. I personally would have preferred a slightly smaller battery and a thinner camera, since this T125 battery seems to last longer than needed. Having said that, I’ve read a few people already commenting on how they’re struggling to hand hold the heavier lenses on the 50R due to the shallow grip and wished the camera was larger still.
If you’re a long-time Fujifilm X fan, then you may be somewhat taken aback by the lack of a D-pad. Even the latest X-T3 has one, but the X-E3 and 50R don’t. I thought it would be irritating to use the 50R without a D-pad, but it actually became second nature pretty quickly. I do find I use the joystick the most, or control lever as some camera companies call it. I’m trying to train my muscle memory to use the touch-screen more since the control lever doesn’t feel great to use when going through tedious menu settings.
Speaking of the touch screen, it works well enough, but I’m not a big fan of tilting screens, and the 50R doesn’t change that view. In fact, I’d say this is one of the more chunky implementations of a tilting screen; it feels very sturdy, but also thicker than it needs to be. The wide bezel around the screen certainly doesn’t help with the aesthetics.
Going back to our theme of trade-offs, it appears that some corners were cut and money saved on the buttons hardware, with every button on the 50R having a different feel. In comparison, the X-Pro2 has a very distinct click to all the buttons, with a consistency that screams quality.
The 50R has several mushy buttons that would make Sony A7 owners feel right at home; the worst offenders are the AF mode and Q menu button on the rear palm grip area, right next to where you rest your thumb. If there ever were any buttons that needed a nice click, it would surely be these two. This lack of quality in the controls is a big disappointment because Fujifilm knows how to do this right; having owned the X-Pro1, X-T20, X-Pro2, and X-T2, I’ve experienced the progression to great tactile button and control lever feedback as each model evolved.
In order to find a practical solution to losing the traditional in-laid front control dial, the Fujifilm engineers came up with the trade-off of moving it to a little dial ring under the shutter button; this then forces the relocation of the power switch to a toggle to the right of the shutter button. I initially thought this would be a challenge to get used to, but it becomes second nature very quickly.
However, I still don’t like this trade-off and wish they had stuck with a regular shutter button with a traditional power switch. I’ve already disabled the front control dial because I found myself mysteriously shooting at ISO12,800 in broad daylight, not realizing I had inadvertently turned the dial. After this occurred several times, I disabled it, and use the ISO button to the left of the exposure compensation instead.
Dear Fujifilm, if you’re reading this blog, please use the X-Pro2’s ISO/Shutter dial in the GFX50R v2, and bring back the regular shutter button and power switch combination. Why change something that wasn’t broken?
Based off the early reviews I had read, I wasn’t expecting much from the autofocus system. I was expecting it to be slow and uncertain, with lots of nausea inducing pulsing or hunting. I was also expecting it to be very accurate once it locked on due to it being a contrast detection system. Having owned the Leica Q before which also uses a contrast detection system, I’m familiar with this type of system, and as with the Q, the 50R does not disappoint. I would go so far as to say that I’m rather impressed with it’s autofocus performance with the types of scenes that one would normally use a medium format camera for.
If you’re trying to shoot sports or pets or animals running around, it’s certainly possible to use the 50R, but you’ll have to call upon your manual focus tricks like focus trapping, zone focusing, or taking 1,000 pictures and hoping one comes out tack sharp.
On the flip side, manual focusing the 50R is a dream. Using M lenses with an adapter has turned out to be one of the most fun photography experiences in some time. I can get absolutely tack sharp images at F1.2 on the Voigtlander 50MM using the excellent focus check function of the 50R. I can’t get close to that level of consistency with the excellent rangefinder patch on the M10.
When you first handle the 50R, it feels like a brute. People like to compare cameras to cars, so the first thing that came to mind was Corvette ZR1. I wish it were a Porsche GT3, but it’s just got so much brute force, without a lot of finesse, that it has to be a Corvette ZR1. I think Fujifilm did this intentionally to play on their history with the Texas Leica, a brute in its own day.
With the brute looks and feel comes very good performance. I’m surprised at how quick the camera turns on, quick enough that it’s ready to go when you’ve raised it to eye level to take a picture. I’m surprised at how quickly you can zoom into a recorded image and smoothly pan around to check focus. The menus and overall camera operation feel like any modern Fujifilm X camera. It’s not up to the super fast X-T3 speeds, but it’s certainly on par with the much smaller and lower resolution X-Pro2.
Another area that seems to have grown up through the X series is the shutter sound and feel. The 50R has a multitude of options for how you want the shutter to operate including Electronic Front Curtain, Mechanical Shutter, and Electronic Shutter. I use the setting that lets the camera decide, and when it chooses to use the EFC, the sound is just divine; it’s a beautifully dampened and serene sound. Even the new Leica M10P doesn’t hold a handle to this beautiful sounding shutter.
The camera is big and a bit unwieldy, but I was surprised to find that I can fit the 50R, with 63MM attached, and the 45MM on the side in a Peak Design 5L sling. It’s a bit tight depth wise, but has enough space remaining to also fit in a small wallet and iPhone X.
I recently took the 50R for a short hike in a backpack with the 63MM, 45MM and 110MM, and a Sirui carbon fibre tripod and didn’t feel that it was too bad. This system, with the exception of the 110MM is actually not that heavy; it’s just the size is a challenge to fit at times.
It takes videos, I think. If you have your 50R and an iPhone and you absolutely must take a video, save yourself the hassle and use the iPhone.
Remember all that talk about trade-offs above? Well, it becomes readily apparent that this is one area that Fujifilm was not willing to make any trade-offs, whatsoever. If they went cheap on a button here and there, it was so that they would not have to compromise on the image quality.
I have some pretty good cameras at my disposal, either as my personal cameras (Leica M10, Fujifilm X-Pro2 and the now sold Leica Q) or in my household (Sony A7R3 and Fujifilm X-T2), and nothing prepared me for the first time looking at familiar scenes outputted from this beast on a 5k iMac screen. If you haven’t already downloaded some of the full-size JPEGS linked throughout this article, I highly recommend you try it out and view them on a high resolution screen. I treated this camera just like the X-Pro2 when taking those images. It’s rather mind-boggling to see this kind of resolution from a camera that you can carry around with you.
The A7R3 comes very close, but that system is somewhat let down by the small pixel size (there seems to always be noise in the sky, even at low ISO), and the lenses that seem to have edge sharpness issues, even the G-Master lenses that we have (and love).
Given the price point that Fujifilm was trying to achieve (half the price of Hasselblad at launch, and a few thousand lower than their own 50S at launch), I think they made the right trade-offs for the most part. I think we’re going to see Fujifilm have a home run with the 50R, bringing a lot more people into the medium format world.
In many ways, I see the 50R as the modern X-Pro1. It’s a bit clumsy and some odd choices have been made with the control dials, but Fujifilm knows how to make improvements, and I can only imagine what the GFX 50R2 will be like. In fact, rather than imagine, let’s make a wish-list for the 50R2:
- Proper front control dial or no front control dial at all
- Shutter button and power switch brought back together from their divorce
- ISO and shutter speed dial combined like the X-Pro2, but evolved so that you can lift the dial up and it stays lifted to adjust ISO; when set, you can press the dial back down
- Thinner battery so that we can have a slightly thinner body, given that battery tech should have advanced by then
- Much better button feel and consistency; if it doesn’t click, give the engineer some stick!
- Even though the 50R is a semi-pro camera, it would be nice to have the same auto-ISO functionality as the X series cameras; there is currently no auto minimum shutter speed based upon focal length
In conclusion, the 50R is 90% of what I hoped it would be (size, controls, quality) and 110% in the areas I needed it to be (image quality, weight, familiarity). I’m very happy to have joined the medium format world, and am looking forward to seeing how Fujifilm evolves the GFX series over the coming years!
Thank you for taking the time to read this first impressions review. Please leave any questions or comments in the section below and I’ll be happy to respond.
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