We just wrapped on our most massive shoot for the Inner Circle yet! I knew this shoot was going to be something special, and because of that I wanted to make sure we had this baby documented in top quality for all of time! So I figured it was time to try out a new stills camera, the Fujifilm GFX 50S, to see just how well it could perform in pretty intense circumstances. I’m sure many of you are wondering why I’d choose a medium format camera to shoot with at all?
Well, as you may have noticed, the world is shifting to higher and higher megapixels and bigger and bigger sensors, and with RED’s new Monstro sensor hitting the streets and Sony chasing RED’s tails with their own pro Vista Vision camera, I think it’s obvious that VistaVision and Medium Format will become more of the norm. I’ve already had a look at what the Monstro can do and I’m impressed as hell.
I think Monstro may just be my next sensor of choice. If that’s the case, though, what camera would I use to scout my locations and do all my brainstorming with?
I’ve used the Canon 1DC for years, and have touted its beauty and usefulness with its super 35 and full frame modes, but RED’s VistaVision is significantly bigger than normal full frame. RED’s VistaVision clocks in at 40.91mm wide vs. typical full frame sensor sizes at 36mm wide. So I started looking into these new mirrorless crop medium format cameras that are about 44mm wide. That’s just a bit wider than the Monstro, but very close – close enough that I can use Photoshop to straighten out my horizons and still have the correct frame size for Monstro! That’s what led me to the Fuji GFX 50S.
Now, before I started stress testing this thing all to hell, I wanted to see what some of my crew thought of it. It’s good to get a a few different opinions on gear before committing to anything. So I asked our talented Inner Circle member Will Stewart to take the reins on the BTS stills of our latest Inner Circle content shoot and to use this new Fuji camera I’m interested in.
This is his take on his experience shooting BTS of our Inner Circle content shoot with the Fujifilm GFX 50S, and thank you Will for all your hard work and beautiful stills.
By Shane’s Inner Circle member Will Stewart
The Fujifilm GFX 50S is a monster camera with a Medium Format CMOS sensor 4 times larger than S35 sensors and 6 times larger than APS-C sensors.
Weighing in at 50-megapixels, the image it creates is unparalleled to its siblings but it still has the heart and soul of Fujifilm line.
If you like Fujifilm cameras. You’re going to love this one.
I recently used the Fujifilm GFX 50S to photograph the behind the scenes of Shane Hurlbut’s latest round of training courses. With tricky lighting situations and a subject who never stops moving, it was a trial by fire for the camera and the perfect way to put the GFX 50S through its paces.
After using the camera for several days, I believe it’s very close to the perfect camera for my needs.
The image produced by the GFX 50S isn’t just bigger. It’s better. The detail is mind-blowing. You see each hair. You see fine texture in cloth. But even though it is a detailed image, it’s not too sterile. It has the classic Fujifilm look that is so pleasing and soft. If this seems contradictory, you just need to pick one up and try it for yourself.
While the image detail is staggering, the feature that impressed me the most was the dynamic range. There is an incredible amount of detail in the highlights and shadows that allows you to do whatever you want to the image in post. When shooting in dark rooms with windows the camera retained all the details in the blacks and most if not all of the highlights in the window.
- Form factor
- Sensor size & Lenses
- Ease of use
- A Fujifilm camera at the core
- Dynamic range
- Highlight rolloff
- Low-light capabilities
Even though it has a massive sensor, the camera is easily wielded. At 5 pounds with a lens, it’s not light by any measure of modern cameras, but Fuji has made the ergonomics so well that the weight is easily balanced in the hand. For instance, there is a little rest for the thumb as you hold it that help reduce fatigue. Small touches like this make a big difference.
The optional battery grip adds bulk and weight but it provides another set of buttons and dials that are placed perfectly when shooting portrait.
Is it an effective street camera? Maybe. If you really want a high-resolution image and don’t mind the weight and bulk, then it would work. But a camera this size with lenses will get noticed. If you want to be more discreet, any number of the high-end Fujifilm line would be better.
SENSOR & LENSES
The 23mm f4 is the equivalent of a 18mm on a S35 sensor. f4 is too slow for my tastes but it does have a dramatic FOV with minimal distortion. This lens is best suited for landscapes and architecture although I did get a few interesting interiors to showcase Shane’s lighting schemes. As with any lens this wide, you have to be careful with framing. I’ve found it best to shoot with the lens level on its pitch axis.
The 110mm f2 is approximately the equivalent of a 87mm on a S35 sensor. While it does suffer from slow focus, it is a gorgeous lens. There’s something special that happens when you combine the focal length, aperture, and sensor size.
Another great example of the beautiful image that the 110mm lens creates. These lenses suppress flares fairly well. But when the light from a beautiful California sunset did get into the lens, it exploded in the glass and filled it with a warm glow. It’s a beautiful look if that is what you are going for but it is nearly impossible to color correct if you want to go a different direction with the grade.
Shot at 6400 ISO with the 63mm f2.8 lens. The equivalent of a 50mm on the S35 sensor, this focal length was my favorite of the three. 6400 ISO is completely usable in most cases. While there is visible noise, it feels organic.
Another 110mm shot. Again, all the information is retained in the highlights and shadows. If we underexpose the shot we can see the texture of the ground and if we overexpose, we can see the black tape covering the seams of the soft box. It’s incredible.
Shot on the 63mm. The highlights are blown out in the top left of the image. This is one of the few instances I found where the sensor got overexposed. If I had to shoot this over again, I would have underexposed by a stop and brought the mid-tones up.
EASE OF USE
Core settings are all controlled by the external dials and buttons. There’s no need to consult the menu system once you have your camera initially set up to your liking. It was incredibly liberating to spend the entire day shooting without fiddling with menus. I cannot overstate how much I loved it.
All the external controls are laid out thoughtfully. Not only does the layout allow the user to quickly change settings, but the camera can be set to fully automatic without consulting the menu.
Of course, every setting on this camera can be manual, but if you need to put it on autopilot, it does an incredible job at metering. Because I was dealing with tricky lighting situations, I mostly shot all manual (except for focus) but during the few times I put it on auto, it handled the image very well.
Even the lenses can be set to automatic aperture from the lens itself without the menu. That was a first for me.
A FUJIFILM AT THE CORE
Anyone who owns a modern Fujifilm camera will instantly feel comfortable with the menu system of the GFX 50S. With the exception of a few camera-specific menu items, it is laid out the same as the X-E2: my go-to street photography camera.
You get the standard Fujifilm look that we have all come to know and love along with their film stocks. The big difference is of course the medium format sensor.
Fujifilm claims their camera has 14 stops of dynamic range. I wasn’t able to test the camera in a formal setting to confirm, but after working with the stills in post, it feels close to 14 stops.
When you combine the dynamic range of the sensor with the Fujifilm software’s dynamic range settings, you get an amazing amount of latitude to work with in post. If you’re unfamiliar with this feature, it’s simply Fujifilm’s way of adding more highlight headroom by underexposing by 1 or 2 stops and then lifting the midtones by the appropriate amount. It looks good for many situations, especially high-contrast scenes.
I don’t use it when photographing people in bright situations. The magic sauce they use starts to break down in my experience and you lose a little life in the skin.
Here’s the same image underexposed by several stops to show the information in the highlights. What appeared to be completely blown out is 100% usable. You can even see the wrinkles in the table runner, the pavers outside, and the detail of the camera operator’s shirt.
This is my favorite shot of the entire week. I set up in this position before the scene started, hoping and praying Shane would step in to give me my shot and he did. Even though this is a dark scene, there is an incredible amount of detail that can still be salvaged.
While you can’t see it in the jpeg, in the raw image you can still see the outline of the trees from the sky in the background and you can pull all the highlight data from the light in the bounce. I’ve shot with many cameras where this scene would have never been possible.
Another example of the sensor’s dynamic range. Here we have several HMIs bouncing directly into ultrabounce and all the data is retained in the highlights. You can even see the wrinkles in the fabric.
Some digital sensors struggle with highlight rolloff, which is essentially the gradual transition from pure white to color. But the GFX 50S manages highlights beautifully. It’s exactly how I would want it.
The camera performs spectacularly well even at it 12,800 ISO. Obviously, the image is noisier than a lower setting, but it is still usable.
Captured at the maximum ISO of 12,800. This image does not properly represent just how dark the evening was. The ability for this camera to see in the dark is spectacular. It’s on par with Sony sensors like the a7s II. While this image is usable in certain circumstances, the noise is noticeable. I personally wouldn’t shoot above 6,400 ISO except in extreme circumstances.
But like any camera, it’s not perfect. There are some things that I wished were better.
- Battery grip
The autofocus is slow and inaccurate. If a subject is facing you, the camera can focus fairly quickly. But if the camera does not have a face to track, it struggles to find focus. I found that the 110mm lens was especially difficult. I often had to manually focus to get it in the general area of whatever I was pointing at and then let the automatic focus take it from there. Because of this, I missed several shots that were either blurry or so out of focus I didn’t even try to shoot it.
In the course of use, the battery grip will start to unscrew and come loose. I had to tighten it almost every day.
If you need a high-resolution digital camera that can produce a stunning image, check out the Fujifilm GFX 50S. You may like it as much as I did. If you love the Fujifilm line but don’t want the bulk, get an APS-C equivalent with the X-T2.
I’m Will Stewart. A Director of Photography located in the Atlanta area.
I got my start as a 13-year-old when I borrowed my dad’s Minolta. I shot with that manual film camera for years. Eventually the love for photography led to a love for cinema and I made a successful career of it. Today, I work as a DP for companies like John Deere, Samsung, GE, Michelin and Northwestern Mutual.