“More than full frame.” Review of Fujifilm’s medium format GFX50S MKII and the FUJINON GF 35-70mm f/4.5-5.6 WR lens

Review of Fujifilm's medium format GFX50S MKII and the FUJINON GF 35-70mm f/4.5-5.6 WR lens

Fujifilm recently approached me to ask if I could test their newest and most affordable member of the GFX family, the GFX50S MKII and the new FUJINON GF 35-70mm f/4.5-5.6 WR lens. I have been using Fuji X series cameras and lenses for some time, but had only dabbled with full frame cameras, let alone a medium format camera. Medium format cameras have long been used in commercial photography, producing extremely high-quality images, suitable for really significant enlargement (or cropping).

 I’ll never forget the moment when I looked at the first image I took with the GFX50S MKII. I had photographed some cherry tomatoes on their stalks, as I often do. The quality of the image was absolutely mind-blowing. Despite being an overview shot (not a macro image), the level of detail of the individual hairs on the tomato stalks was fantastic and as a result the image had potential I simply could not capture with my existing equipment.   

As a food photographer, I have a passion for capturing evocative images that stimulate the emotions. Having the means to capture the most minuscule details and textures was a game changer for me.

GFX50S II & GF35-70mm F4.5-5.6 WR. 1/500sec – F5 – ISO320.
GFX50S II & GF35-70mm F4.5-5.6 WR. 1/25sec – F6.4 – ISO200.

Needless to say, I was excited to test this gear both in a studio environment, as well as ‘out and about’ to see what this camera and lens were really capable of and to push them to their limits a little bit.

The first thing I noticed when I held the camera in my hands was just how light and compact it was. I found the camera grip very comfortable and all the controls are well placed and quite intuitive. ISO, shutter and aperture settings are easy to adjust – in that respect it felt a lot like the Fuji X series cameras I normally work with. The same goes for the lens. The new FUJINON GF 35-70mm lens is an extremely  portable zoom lens, weighing only 390g (13.7 ounces). I was expecting something heavier and bulkier, so it came as a nice surprise that I could easily fit the camera and lens inside the same shoulder bag I use for my Fuji X-series cameras. 

The GF 35-70mm lens is a moderate wide angle zoom, equivalent to a focal range of  28-55mm on a 35mm full frame format camera. It’s well-suited for storytelling and creating larger food scenes or flatlays, and considering it’s a medium format lens, it’s also surprisingly  affordable. Even at wider apertures, it was excellent for creating a well-focused image. 

GFX50S II & GF35-70mm F4.5-5.6 WR. 1/800sec – F5.6 – ISO250
GFX50S II & GF35-70mm F4.5-5.6 WR. 1/320sec – F5.6 – ISO 1250

Several things about the camera and lens combination really impressed me. 

Colour capture is simply magnificent – I found that the new camera was incredibly accurate at reproducing natural colours. Unless I wanted to play with the colours to get a desired effect, the out of the camera JPEGs were pretty impressive. I was kind of hoping this to be the case given that Fujifilm is well known for exceptional colour rendition. 

GFX50S II & GF35-70mm F4.5-5.6 WR. 1/40sec – F10 – ISO400. No colour correction necessary.

The most striking thing for me, however, is the amount of detail captured within images. I found that every image contained the possibility of many different photographs, because there was sufficient detail to crop down to very small areas – something which just isn’t possible on a camera with a smaller sensor.  More cropping possibilities means more creative possibilities – and this will be very important from a client’s perspective! The GF sensor is about 1.7x larger than the sensor in a full-frame camera, which means that in addition to high resolution, it also has really good low-light performance and excellent dynamic range.   

Particularly at lower ISOs, the GFX 50s II is sublimely sharp – it will reveal things that your eyes won’t catch. A bit intimidating, at times! This was the case with the image below.  It wasn’t until I looked at the zoomed version on a large screen that I spotted tiny eggs on a kale leaf in the middle of the table! I decided not to remove them, just to demonstrate the resolution of the medium format sensor.

GFX50S II & GF35-70mm F4.5-5.6 WR. 1/20 – F7.1 – ISO640.

The image below was taken on a really dark and rainy day. I was visiting a food market in London, outside but partially sheltered which made it even darker. The camera’s high ISO performance in low light is very impressive and having a weather sealed, dust and moisture resistant body and lens is a major bonus – particularly in London weather!

GFX50S II & GF35-70mm F4.5-5.6 WR. 1/125sec – F5.6 – ISO1250

Perhaps most importantly, I found that the extra dimension offered by the GFX camera  really inspired me to create. I had so many ideas for photographs that were enabled by this camera and the possibilities that it offered, but sadly I didn’t have enough time to capture them all.

Here are a few more images that were taken with some of the other GFX lenses. I had the opportunity to use the GF45-100mm F4 R LM OIS WR, the GF80mm F1.7 R WR and the GF120mm F4 R LM OIS WR Macro lens. They are all incredibly versatile lenses and I was impressed with them all, but I have to say the 120mm has my heart. 

GFX50S II & GF45-100mm F4 R LM OIS WR. 1/200sec – F6.4 – ISO160
GFX50S II & GF80mm F1.7 R WR.  1/25sec – F8.0 – ISO400
GFX50S II & GF120mm F4 R LM OIS WR Macro. Done with a use of a soft box.

There’s no question that the GFX camera and associated lenses have the ability to change one’s perspective on how you capture images and the way you see things. By bringing medium format capabilities (both in terms of cost and form factor) within the reach of photographers like myself, Fujifilm is really changing the game.  It is indeed “more than full frame.”

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