By Antonio Malara
Owning a medium format camera has always been my dream, but a dream that was based on a false belief. In 2005, before buying my first DSRL, I started studying digital which at the time was still at the beginning of its cycle. I learned the various sizes of the sensors (there wasn't a full frame yet), the megapixels and the differences with film. Even in those years, most professional photographers claimed that digital was inferior to film. I therefore experienced the evolution of digital until it equaled and surpassed film. I started with an APS-C DSRL then in 2010 I bought my first full frame. My false belief at the time was that the more expensive a camera was, the better the photos came out. Clearly over the years and with experience I have understood that this is not the case, at most a modern camera makes our life simpler but beautiful photos can still be taken today even with a camera like my first DSRL, the Nikon D70s. In any case, that belief accompanied me even when the first Hasselblad medium format cameras were born, cameras costing over €40,000 which were just a dream. Subsequently, when I had now understood that the photo is taken by the photographer, first Fujifilm and then Hasselblad introduced two medium format cameras (actually with a smaller sensor than the €40,000 Hasselblad) I began to see the dream as reality. A reality, however, which this time included the awareness that a super expensive camera was not necessary to take beautiful photos.
However, the process that led me to purchase the GFX 50SII was very laborious and the fault lay with the capitalist marketing that almost everyone applies today; create products that are intentionally imperfect. I bought the 50SII in December 2022, taking advantage of a cash back of €800. In reality, already the year before, after a long choice, I was purchasing the GFX 100s only that I was unable to complete the purchase because the website had problems. After contacting support they told me to try again after a few hours but nothing, fate didn't want me to buy the 100s. Subsequently, due to unexpected expenses, I postponed the purchase, thus taking more time to review my choices. After a year, thanks to an honest and independent YouTuber, I understood that the right choice was the 50SII compared to the more expensive and new 100s. This YouTuber published a video where he tested the two Fujifilm cameras side by side and thanks to his detailed video I no longer had any doubts about my purchase. The main reasons for my choice were the following:
-GFX 100s and 50SII shared the same camera body, same resolution of the viewfinder and LCD screen as well as the same weight. In other words, from an ergonomic and body technology point of view they were identical.
-The 100s cost around €6,000 body only, the 50SII around €4,500 bundled with the 35-70 lens which, purchased separately, cost €1,000. The net saving was €2,500, at the time the cash back was €1,000 for the 100s and €800 for the 50SII. In reality, net of the cash back and by purchasing the separate optics, the saving was €2,300
-the performance differences were essentially two: the autofocus (phase for the 100s and contrast for the 50SII) and the resolution (102 megapixels for the 100s and 51 for the 50SII) in this regard I had done the test several times via Lightroom which with an AI function doubled the megapixels, the files of the 50SII could literally reach those of the 100s in resolution, where there was the need. The autofocus, on the other hand, was the doubt to be resolved and many said that the 50SII's was slow, however from the videos it didn't give me this impression
-the performance of the dynamic range and high ISO was practically identical so in that respect the cameras were equal.
-lastly I knew that the 50SII sensor was older so sooner or later it would probably go out of production so I would never own it. On the contrary, the 100 megapixel sensor was new so in the future there would be the opportunity to purchase it on a new camera.
Ergonomics and Controls
The camera body of the GFX 50SII is practically perfect from an ergonomic point of view, weighing just 900 grams. The body is significantly better and more balanced than that of my Nikon D800. The weight is distributed excellently, the handle covers up to the little finger of the hand. However, I was disappointed by some details made with not the highest quality materials. I am referring in particular to some rings, the plastic connector covers and the memory card door which are fragile and thin. Furthermore, the rings do not have stable clicks but by making multiple turns, I mean that if you turn a little faster, it makes two clicks very easily. To be clear about the quality of the things I described, they are definitely higher quality in my XT3.
The buttons are laid out differently than on a Fujifilm X-series camera. The first thing I noticed was that to review the photos I instinctively go to the top left. Compared to the XT3, the D Pad is also missing and is "replaced" with swipes on the screen, an option that must be activated from the menu. But most of all what disappointed me is the new wider and flatter joystick model, I thought it would be more comfortable and practical but instead it slows down navigation compared to the classic joystick present on the XT3 which I personally prefer and use much faster.
Beyond these details, for the moment I can say that the ergonomics of the GFX is the one that I like the most compared to all the other cameras I own. The hand grips perfectly and the thumb nub typical of Fujifilm cameras further strengthens the grip. The camera combined with the GF35-70 weighs around 1360 kg, almost half the weight of my Nikon D800 with the 24-70. It is very light and easy to handle, the only thing different is the diameter of the lens, much wider than a full frame; I normally hold the camera by the lens and in the case of the GFX, my fingers barely close when I wrap them around it.
It should be noted that inside the box there is no battery charger but only the cable that directly connects the camera to a socket. For a product like this, they could have put even a basic battery charger in the box considering that the connector covers are made of poor material and if they open constantly, in my opinion they tend to break in a short time.
Testing it in the field, fortunately the thing that impressed me the most was the autofocus, basically the only thing that worried me was the major positive surprise. Until I used the camera to test the autofocus, I had no idea how slow or fast it could be. I watched videos, asked many questions to those who had the same camera but nothing, I always had doubts. The 50SII also has a fast autofocus function which improves its performance, however there is no need because as far as I'm concerned the autofocus is fine even by default. Using the camera instead, I began to suspect that it was Fujifilm who suggested the YouTubers speak badly of the autofocus, perhaps to avoid internal competition with the 100s. In general I have noticed that there is a lobby of YouTubers related to photography, people who, based on their popularity, receive cameras for a day or a week and who, in my opinion, are given guidelines on what to say about the product. These people tell "the story" of the new camera in question in a different style but in fact it is very difficult to understand its true qualities. In addition to this, what I don't like about these YouTubers is that they have raised the use of continuous shooting and burst to a standard, so they tend to judge a product based on this detail. I remember when in the beginning the best photographer was the one who knew best how to use the camera manually, today in an era in which Sony has automated everything, this detail has been lost. But to return to autofocus, it is not this that is slow but the sensor readout. The “old” sensor takes a little longer to record the file than a modern camera. This makes the autofocus seem slow but in reality it’s not. So those who say that the camera has slow autofocus are wrong and clueless because it's all a question of readout. For the rest, the camera focuses quickly and the focus is also very precise and rarely makes mistakes.
It must also be said that the GFX 50SII has IBIS so beyond the technicalities about the stops, the camera has an image stabilizer which helps any "slowdowns" of the readout. Personally, it is the first camera I use to have the ibis and I must say that the differences are noticeable when shooting below 1/40 of a second. Now I can take night photos with much better results than those I achieved with the XT3.
Another thing that positively impressed me was the kit lens, the GF35-70 F4.5-5.6. The lens has a large diameter but is very light and compact thanks also to the closing system. When used with the lens hood, this keeps the camera in a straight line when you place it flat, so the camera doesn't tip forward due to its weight. The build quality is also very good and the only thing missing is the aperture ring which must be controlled with one of the rings.
What created a bit of trouble for me when I started using the 50SII was the aspect of the brightness of both the viewfinder and the LCD monitor. I noticed that the image in the viewfinder and on the screen was clearer than the raw file, this aspect led me to make underexposure errors. Apparently I solved it by lowering the brightness of the viewfinder with a value of -1 and that of the screen with a -2, however I constantly change these parameters because I also happen to overexpose.
Of the many tests, I also wanted to do the one with adapted lenses. I bought a manual focus adapter and tried using the 50SII with the Nikkor 14-24-F2.8. Apart from manual focus which can be a disadvantage of fun at the same time, what I didn't like was the final result of the photos. The focus occurred correctly in all the photos but these were too soft, the lens also did not resolve the 50 megapixels of the camera. In general after editing it, the file was pleasant but the fact of not being able to exploit the full potential of the camera together with the slowdown of manual focusing led me not to do further tests with the adapter.
As for the battery performance, in my opinion these are excellent, you can take more than 450 photos with one charge and normally during my travels I cover the whole day. Of course I always carry the second battery with me but I rarely happen to use it. For comparison, just think that to take the same day of shots during a trip using my XT3, I almost always use three batteries.
In my city it is not easy to take night photography because the street lighting has a weak and yellow light, at the same time there are few buildings that have dedicated lighting to highlight their beauty. Generally when I take night photos I always photograph the same things and to test the GFX I almost always shot at 2,500 ISO. From first impressions, thanks to the Ibis, shooting at 1/30 and up to 1/10, the photos come out sharp and without blur, managing to capture the poor lights that I had to try with. As for focusing, I only had problems with one subject, in my opinion because I was photographing a sort of statue but sideways so it probably didn't find the contrast part. But in general by photographing with the values I indicated, with poor lighting, I got excellent results. However, after my first trips with the 50SII visiting places with another level of lighting, I found that with this camera you can produce beautiful photos that seem unreal. Post production clearly plays an important role even with the addition of the latest AI features. In other words, by shooting trying to obtain a slightly dark photo but without blur rather than a clear photo, during the editing process all the noise that is created is canceled out in one click and I noticed that on the GFX the results are clearly superior compared to those of a full frame or APS-C camera (I'm talking about the products I own). I don't want to exaggerate but I think I like night photos more than day photos, certainly at the moment I have found a better setting for this type of photos.
Basically the primary use I intended to make with the medium format camera was for travel photos of those destinations where I can't return often. I wanted a camera that produced high resolution files with perfect details. Starting from a raw full of information and keeping in mind the evolution of editing software, in this way I would have had the possibility to go back and improve files that perhaps were not perfect, something that was more difficult on an APS-C camera. At the same time I wanted a camera that gave me more quality to create projects such as books or gallery prints. Even though I'm not a professional, I still have ideas for photography projects that I hope to do with this camera. For digital photos in general, as I said at the beginning, you don't need a camera like this or better to create beautiful and impactful shots or to tell stories through photography. Let's say that I also have a bit of a mania for perfection.
Contradicting this principle, I used the 50SII during my third time returning to Madrid last May. It was an unplanned visit as are all those related to a girl, however the experience was fundamental. Carrying the GFX around for a whole day didn't bother me at all and this is thanks to the magic of weight distribution. Clearly it wasn’t like the XT3 but a significantly lighter experience than the Nikon D800. In reality the weight is not noticeable at all, shooting with the 50SII and the 35-70 or with the XT3 combined with the 10-24 doesn't make much difference and it doesn't feel like you're carrying a heavier combo. What you perceive instead is the bulk but not when you hold it in your hand, but as in my case when I hang it on my belt. In fact, I don't use a neck strap or anything like that but just a leather buckle and when I want to have my hands free I hang the camera on a hook that I wear on my belt. In this case the bulk effect is noticeable and the 50SII tends to flap vigorously when walking fast or during a run.
For the rest, traveling with a camera and having superior image quality in an overall compact body with perfect ergonomics is unparalleled. Initially I had doubts about weight and size but I have to say that even if it will never be as compact as the XT3, the 50II can also be used in travel situations that I thought were a bit challenging with a camera like this. This detail opens up a challenge for me in which next year I will try to take more travel shots using the 50SII compared to the XT3.
From a portrait point of view, the GFX performs excellently even though I took some shots without having a dedicated lens. In fact I shot using the 35-70 almost always at focal length 70 which is more or less equivalent to a 55 in the 35 mm format. Personally I would have preferred to shoot with the 110 which I don't have (I bought while I’m finishing writing this review) but I have the equivalents for both full frame and APS-C. I've noticed that when I photograph people I prefer to focus on them and exclude the background. Furthermore, I noticed that at the focal length of 70 I had to move so as not to let my shadow come out of the frame. However, the shots taken with the 35-70 satisfied me and the only defects are due to mistakes I made with the exposure. I didn't want to use too closed aperture so I didn't go beyond F11 which is unsuitable on a sunny day. I should have lowered the ISO to 160 and increased the shutter speed to avoid overexposure, which I corrected in post anyway. However, it is always better to expose correctly but I must say that the recovery was also good in terms of color tone. In fact, even from the point of view of portraits, with the GFX and a little patience you can obtain a practically perfect file, marking every single color to your liking. As with other types of photos, even with the portrait you can saturate the photo making it natural, to tell the truth I managed to edit in such a way that the photos look like they were taken with flash. I believe that the potential from the point of view of image quality regarding portraits is much greater than what I achieved. Without a doubt, with another more suitable lens and by exposing correctly you can obtain even more beautiful files. One thing I noticed with pleasure was that the absence of depth of field was not very accentuated, shooting at F10-11 I didn’t see that blurring between a part of the body more external to the face, the part on which I concentrated the focusing point.
Files and Editing
The thing that obsesses me the most and that I immediately pay attention to when shooting with a new camera is white balance. I noticed that in the 50SII the tones are warmer than those of the XT3 to which I am now accustomed. However, it is the latter that has the coldest and most neutral tones, let's say that the white balance of the XT3 is different than that of all the other cameras. In this case therefore I think that the tones of the GFX are more natural and remind me a bit of those of the Nikon D800. However, I have achieved a symbiosis with the WB of the XT3 so I can manage the tones as I prefer, which is more difficult with the other cameras including the 50SII.
But when it comes to editing in general, the GFX is superior to a full frame or APS-C camera (at least the ones I own). In addition to preserving details and colors in the shadows or highlights, you can push colors to the max without them looking artificial or unnatural. Furthermore, the modification of each individual color is much more accurate as is the separation of them. Certainly to edit the GFX files I have to use different values but the final result gives much more satisfaction thanks to the multiple corrections that the file can undergo without alterations. In other words, the more you push the colors to the maximum, the more beautiful the file becomes, in general the colors seem more natural even if very saturated. Personally I love the HDR file and normally I edit my photos trying to have all the colors stand out. Surely there are situations in which even with this camera I cannot create such a file perfectly. In some photos there is a slight extra purple or the blue is too strong and trying to balance the colors I necessarily have to lower the tones of one of the two colors mentioned. This is a flaw that many cameras have and unfortunately even with this medium format camera things aren't any better. I will try to study this aspect better and try to understand if I can improve this editing phase. From the point of view of dynamic range, there is a notable recovery of highlights, until now I have managed to recover overexposed photos without burning the lights. I like the recovery of the shadows a little less, let's say that to balance the file I prefer to increase the exposure to recover the black areas because then the highlights are more flexible and allow me to compensate perfectly.
Among the negative factors of the camera is the shallow depth of field. Medium format tends to detach the subject in the foreground even more from the background, often this phenomenon creates effects that I don't like. There are people who love this type of effect in portraits but situations can arise in which the blur is totally out of place. I personally don't like it, in fact I love the opposite, that is, that the background is also in focus. As for product photography, it bothers me that even at F8 some details of an object placed at 3/4, tend to blur which I don't like and which also manifests itself in normal photos. For example, photographing a pineapple, I noticed a very strong blur between the upper leaves and the base of the fruit, a blur that was not necessary. Even photographing a subject; there is a chance that it will focus on the eye and the nose will be too blurry. Regarding "normal" photos, it happened to me, for example, that during my holiday in Miami I photographed many cars including the background in order to create a more impact scene, it must be said that they were always photos taken in a hurry however the problem was precisely the blur. Even at F9 that bit of blur in the background was just annoying. The same photo at the same aperture, taken with an APS-C camera, performs better because everything comes out sharp, both the subject in the foreground and the background. This is why many times the file from a crop sensor seems more beautiful than the others and even from a medium format. Even the three-dimensionality of images, something for which medium format excels, can be ruined by the shallow depths of field and is this case depends of composition; if we have a series of trees placed in depth but which are in the background of the composition and we focus on them, then the photo will have an increased three-dimensionality. However, if the main subject occupies a lot of space in the composition in the foreground and the objects that create the three-dimensionality are in the background, this will not be perceived. The cause is the blur which in this case causes the background to lose depth. So in the end it's always a question of composition and what more do we want from the photo, GFX can be great for certain compositions and bad for others. Certainly the superior feature compared to other cameras is the resolution and detail of the file.
In addition to this aspect of the shallow depth of field, I also have to familiarize myself with the aperture value which is different compared to full frame or APS-C, so at F5.6 there is already a blur which is greater than the full frame equivalent. For the moment I'm still studying these aspects and while I’m writing I bought the Fujinon 110 mm F2 with which I’ll try to learn how to manage it and see if as far as I'm concerned, this shallow depth of field can be a creative tool or something that sends me astray compared to to the style I like.
Regarding high ISO, the camera behaves very well up to 2,500 but I must say that I now consider it unnecessary to create problems in this regard because with the new AI functions for noise reduction, the files become superlative especially on this camera. The noise is canceled impeccably and since the medium format has much more detail, this stands out clearly after the correction. In general, from the reviews I have seen, the 50SII still behaves like the 100s regarding high ISO.
The choice of the GFX was also dictated by the economic aspect and therefore by its highly competitive price compared to cameras of the same type from other brands. In the months before my purchase, the options available from other brands were the following:
-The new Sony A7R V body only costed €4,450. If you paired it with a lens like the 24-105 you had to add another €1,000. In this case I was definitely going beyond the price of the GFX
-Canon R5 body only costed €4,200 bundled with the 24-105 it cost €5,450. Also in this case, a thousand euros more than the GFX
-Nikon Z7II body only costed €3,550 bundled with the 24-70 F4 it costed €4,129. This option was the only one apparently cheaper than the GFX.
Except for the Nikon Z7II, all the other cameras costed significantly more, it must be said that they offered and offer superior features in the video sector and in general are faster and therefore more versatile. However, in my opinion and from what I have been able to see while editing files, the GFX in terms of image quality always remains superior. To these observations we must add the cash back present for the GFX which was €800, the final cost of the camera plus the lens was therefore €3,700, a super competitive price for what the camera offered!
I started writing this review about three months after purchasing the GFX 50SII and at that time the Hasselblad X2D100C and GFX100II were not yet on the market. I probably could have done something crazy and bought the Hasselblad because that camera body remains in my opinion the most beautiful ever designed (yes mainly for aesthetic). If it were today, knowing the size of files on the 50SII in relation to the power of my computer, I would always choose the 50SII because for those 100 megapixels there’s the need a lot more powerful computer to edit the files and also bigger hard disks. Another camera that was not present at the time of my purchase was the Nikon Z8, a camera that is not medium format but whose sensor, already present on the Z9, immediately impressed me with its image quality. The Z8 would probably have been the option that would have put me in crisis the most if it had been on the market last year. The weight is the same as the 50SII and the resolution not far behind, however the Nikkor Z lenses are both expensive and heavy like those of the GFX. In the end, in addition to its characteristics as a camera with a medium format sensor, the GFX 50SII was the most economical choice, a reason that also made me choose Fujifilm in the past. However, even if I have never tried other similar cameras or the latest full frame with stacked sensor, I must say that I am fully satisfied with the choice. I have always loved Fuji files in the same way as the Nikon ones with which I began using the first digital cameras. The value for money of this GFX is unmatched and the photos that can be produced are sensational. Clearly the camera don’t do miracles and I don't recommend it for any type of dynamic photo but for everything else it performs great. Ergonomics, style, image quality, resolution and manageable files combined with a super competitive price make this camera an object that must be bought and held tight also because it is destined to disappear completely from the market. To tell the truth, to this day I am not overly impressed with the photos I see produced with the GFX 100s, 100II or the Hasselblad X2D100C. The marketing war does not always lead to quality and if on the one hand Sony is in a certain sense automating cameras by launching its objects which are pure electronics, on the other hand there are mobile phones which edit the photo after taking it. What I would like is that in the future the companies aimed precisely at this, that with customizable functions, the super expensive camera with a larger sensor was capable of creating an HDR file or with more contrast or less saturated and etc. A bit like film simulations but taken to the next level, an evolution from the better style of the presets that some so-called YouTuber photographers show. In fact, I believe that on the one hand we are moving towards a process of automating the taking of a photo but without having the equivalent in image quality. My choice regarding medium format and the GFX 50SII was also dictated by this, by the possibility of producing a file that is top in image quality, color and resolution , being able to edit it until it looks like a more beautiful scene than reality. Something that can be achieved with medium format and GFX.
Pictures: Antonio Malara
Camera: Fujifilm GFX 50SII