This is continued from Part 1 of my review of the Fujifilm GFX-50s
Each year I travel to Cambodia to work with a few NGOs, this year I headed across with The Giving Lens to lead a photography tour / workshop through Siem Reap, the temples of Angkor Wat and to work with a local NGO Anjali House.
I emailed Fujifilm asking if they would support me for the trip by loaning me their Fujifilm GFX-50S, which I had used for several landscape and tourism projects late last year. They agreed but said that I’d have to take a different set of lenses for this trip, they didn’t want the bulky 250mm leaving the country and the 23mm was in use by another photographer. Fujifilm sent me the GFX-50S (no battery grip this time) and 3 prime lenses, the 45mm f2.8, 63mm f2.8 and the 110mm f2.0. All in all a fairly compact kit and a pretty decent combination of focal lengths for travel photography.
In all my years of travel and flying I’ve only ever had two incidents where I’ve had to check gear in rather than taking it on board with me. I once had to check in my tripod flying home from Argentina and then another time I had to check some of my camera gear in flying domestic with Jetstar (never, ever again). On the few other times I’ve had them weigh my bag and it has inevitably been a little (or quite a lot) over, I’ve just shown them what is in the bag and asked if they’d trust their baggage handlers with it, they usually laugh and let me take it on board.
Flying with the medium format camera gear actually made my bag lighter as I didn’t bring most of my DSLR gear. I usually travel with 5 lenses and two bodies. Being paranoid about gear failure on a trip I brought 1 dslr body and 2 lenses, but packed them into their cases and checked them in, just carrying the Fujifilm gear onboard with me. The bag wasn’t weighed or even looked at.
Cambodia is an awesome country, very busy and the opportunities for street and market photography are abundant. I work to the ethos that The Giving Lens teaches, which is to always get permission before taking anyone’s photo. We don’t want to take advantage of or exploit people, I also rarely publish photos of children that aren’t my own.
The first few days I was in Cambodia was spent scouting locations for photos and food options for the incoming team. I re-visited several of the lesser known temples that we’ve been invited into before, connected with some local tuktuk drivers and generally met with people who would be helping us make the trip a smooth one. This time was also spent getting re-acquainted with the GFX-50S and the lenses that I’d be sent. I needed to know how they would handle various situations we’d be in so that when I was working with the team I didn’t have to think technical with the camera.
I have always said, the best camera is the one you have with you and that new gear will not fix bad photography. A new camera will, at best, help you produce higher resolution and sharper versions of the same photography you are already producing. This is especially true when moving from a crop sensor or full frame sensor to a medium format. In fact, one of the “down sides” (not really a down side) of medium format is that it is far less forgiving than smaller sensors. If you have a tendency to hand hold when you shouldn’t (like me), use a shutter speed that is too slow to be hand held (like I do), leave your camera on a stupidly high ISO (like I do) and many other simple “mistakes”, you’ll find that they are amplified on a medium format. The number of photos I took that looked awesome on the back screen, only to be full of camera shake and the focus to be ever so slightly off as to render them useless, is far too high. That isn’t to disparage the camera, it was doing exactly what it was told to do, that is more of a reflection on my own skills and over estimating my ability to hand hold at a slow shutter.
The adjustment from a dslr to medium format made me slow down, really think about what I was doing, compose the shot, make sure it is really in focus and then double and triple check the depth of field and for movement. I don’t see this as a bad thing, I think many times as photographers we rush around, panicking that we won’t get our shot and forgetting to think about the photos we’re taking. The best photos I’ve taken both with this camera and in my life, were the ones where I took time to pause, reflect, watch and then, with real intent, take the photo. This is not a camera for fast action photography, I wouldn’t probably use it for a wedding, sports or even as a dedicated wildlife camera… it can definitely do all those things, but there are other options for those.
As a travel camera and landscape camera, this is nearly perfect for me. The image quality that I get straight out of the camera with one of the Fujifilm film simulation modes on is so good that about 90% of the photos I took in Cambodia needed little to zero post-processing, maybe some minor highlights recovery and lifting of the shadows, but nothing that would stop it from being published as a documentary photo. The colour science in this camera possibly needs a little work, I’m coming from a mostly Canon background (and some Sony), there is a reason that Canon is still the dominant player in the full-frame camera market (a shrinking market over all no doubt), Canon has great colour science when it comes to skin tones. That said, Fujifilm have been quietly dominating the non-full-frame sensor market and their colour science is getting better and better, definitely more than good enough for any professional, with only minor “corrections” needing to be done in the processing. I’m also judging this based on processing the images with Adobe Lightroom, rather than the recommended Capture One.
I put the GFX-50S through its paces, really pushed it, tested in very low light situations as well as the brighter day light photography outside and it never failed me. We spent a day with some junior monks in a monastery, documenting their day to day lives, this involved some very testing lighting conditions, hugely bright back lit scenes, huge variations in light in the one scene and I was never once worried about blowing out highlights or not having enough detail in the shadows if I wanted them. Storing the photos was no issue as I usually carry a couple of external hard drives (highly recommend the Samsung Sold State Drives for speed) to back my photos up while on the go.
For street photography, if you are the type of street photographer who wants to “discretely” take candid photos, then this may be a bit too big for you. My preference for street photography is to meet people, say hello, speak and if it seems appropriate, ask them if I can take their photo, then show them the photo afterwards. I prefer the connection you get with the people this way. I’ve also found once you’ve done that with a few people, others are happy for you to take photos or will ask for them. For wider scenes where no individual person is singled out, I don’t necessarily ask, but if they are looking my way, I will show them the photo (one of the greatest things about digital photography) after I’ve taken it.
The GFX-50S performed really well in every situation that I put it through in Cambodia, handling the dust, heat and humidity really well. I never worried if it was going to shut down or not capture the photo I was after, the same can’t be said about all the cameras I’ve tested over the years. Cambodia can be a pretty harsh country on camera gear, I’ve had other mirrorless gear shut down and refuse to work there. The heat this trip was particularly hard to deal with physically, I’ve done many trips to Cambodia over the years, I don’t think I’d go in February / March again due to the heat.
After finishing up in Cambodia I flew home via Singapore. I had 10 hours in Singapore so I took my camera gear (including tripod) on board my flight and headed out of the airport to explore some of what Singapore has to offer. I caught up with a friend of mine who was living there at the time and we scooted around Singapore on electric scooters, was quite a bit of fun! At sunset we headed down to Gardens by the Bay East to take some photos. I’m very happy with the results. I tested out the 63mm for doing some panoramic images, the following image is a 15 image HDR stitch done in Lightroom, the original stitched file is 20312 x 6030 pixels, a little bit of overkill, but anything worth doing is worth over doing!
The Fujifilm GFX-50S would be the perfect camera for me if it had USB charging and a faster shutter cycle (3 frames per second on this one), one of the things I really enjoyed about my old Sony A7R and the Fujifilm X-T100 I had was the ability charge via a USB source while on the go. This is the major downside to mirrorless cameras, battery life is significantly less than that of a DSLR, as it is having to constantly power a LCD screen or electronic view finder. For this trip I never even came close to running out of battery, I carried 1 spare battery and charged them up each night at the hotel and that was more than enough for each day of photography. As long as you have a regular source of power, this camera is a great option for travel.
Overall I’m really, really impressed with this camera, as I’ve said a few times now, it is actually pretty close to being the “perfect” camera for me at this stage. This is not a cheap piece of equipment, but I’ll be working out a way to buy one for myself. I think this camera, or the 100 megapixel version when it comes out, will fit in my kit very nicely and definitely earn its keep. I’ve actually already sold and licensed several images that I captured with it in the short time I had it. I’ll be using it again on a project in Tasmania, hoping to really test out its abilities for astrophotography as well as the more traditional landscape style images that I love capturing. I’ll have a brief write up about that after the project along with some photos and I’ll provide some RAW files for you to download, inspect and try processing as well.
I have to say a huge thank you to Fujifilm Australia for providing this opportunity to use such an incredible camera. I’m eagerly looking forward to what they bring out next with the 100 megapixel medium format camera on its way. Here is a gallery of images from my trip to finish out this post.