Fujifilm GFX 50R for Wilderness Photography

I have been photographing with the Fujifilm GFX 50R for a year now. I have put it to hard use deep in the wilderness in all seasons including extreme cold in the winter. In this long-term review I want to share my experience with the system from the perspective of a mountain photographer.

Before I’ll start I just want to say a word on the importance of the lenses. When looking into a new camera system you should pay as much attention to the lenses as to the camera. After all it is actually the lenses that gathers the light and ”paints the picture” on the sensor.

Working the light with the Fujifilm GFX 50R and GF 250 mm in Sarek National Park.

The Camera – Fujifilm GFX 50R

Let’s start with the camera itself, the GFX 50R. Coming from a Sony full-frame camera I was expecting an upgrade in terms of image quality but a compromise when it came to usability. However I’ve found that not only do I get the excellent image quality I had hoped for, I’m also impressed with the handling of the camera in general.

It’s not a jack of all trades camera but what it does it does extremely well. As a landscape photographer I don’t need fancy autofocus but what I appreciate is a camera that is suited to the style of photography that I do. A camera that makes me immersed in the moment.

Apart from the excellent image quality and handling there are two things that I’ve really come to appreciate. The different aspect ratios you can work with and the beautiful film simulations that adds another creative element to the camera.

The GFX 50R has a native 4:3 aspect ratio which I prefer over the 3:2 found in full-frame cameras. What is nice is that Fuji has added the possibility to work in other formats such as 1:1 (square), 5:4 and 62:33 – the classic Hasselblad Xpan format. It makes for more creative freedom to be able to try these different aspect ratios when I compose an image in the field.

Then there’s the film simulations. On cameras I have used before these have been pretty much useless in my opinion. What Fuji has done here is that they have taken their expertise in film and color science so that I can switch between classic film stocks. My favorites are Provia, Velvia, Astia and Classic Chrome. It’s so nice to be able to switch between these film simulations in the field to change what I see in the viewfinder and then back home in Lightroom to be able to choose the most suiting film simulation as a starting point for the editing process. It saves a lot of time, gives me more creative freedom and make the end result better.

Everything is not just positive though. One problem I had in the beginning was when I focused manually and zoomed into the image in ”live view” the image wasn’t as clear as on the Sony and it was hard to get the focus right. I did some research and found that if I turn on Focus Peaking the magnified image becomes much clearer and now, with some experience I actually find it better than on my previous camera (Sony A7R III). Even in low-light situations. I do however wish that Fujifilm adressed this issue and made the magnified image less grainy in a future update.

Before I’ll continue on to the lenses I want to point out one often overlooked aspect of a camera – the problem with sensor dust that will eventually show up in the images. The 50R handles this much better than any of my previous cameras. I don’t know what Fujifilm has done to achieve this but it is a very welcome “feature”.

The Lenses

To be honest, it was really the lenses that got me excited about the GFX system. I read a lot of appraisal for the Fujifilm GF lenses and having now used them for a while I can only agree. They are excellent lenses and very suitable for landscape photography.

The lenses I have are the 23 mm, 32-64 mm, 100-200 mm and the 250 mm. I think these lenses makes for a great system and while there are some gaps in the focal length coverage it hasn’t been a problem for me.

On most of my adventures so far I have packed the 32-64 mm, 100-200 mm and the 250 mm. On a few adventures I brought all four lenses.

The two lenses I have used most so far is the 32-64 mm which is a great allrounder and the 250 mm which has become a personal favorite.

Here are some of my thoughts on each one of the lenses.

GF 23 mm: Quality Wide Angle

Equivalent to a 18 mm wide angle on full-frame this lens, to me, strikes a good balance between wide but not to wide. I haven’t been using it as much as the 32-64 mm but it’s mostly due to the kind of environment I have been out in. But the images that I have got from this lens are spectacular. The 4:3 aspect ratio of the GFX sensor make wide angle work better, both for horizontal and vertical compostions, in my opinion.

GF 32 – 64 mm: Versatile Allrounder

This is a lens that I’ve come to appreciate a lot. It’s a 25-50 mm equivalent on full-frame. Unlike any other normal zoom that I have worked with before this one is sharp all the way through it’s focal range and even on larger apertures as f5.6. It’s a real joy to work with!

GF 100 – 200 mm: Lightweight Zoom

This lens is a great lightweight telephoto option for the system. It is very lightweight for being a medium format lens and also have built in OIS which is very useful.

The lens is best optically in the wider range and becomes a little softer at 200 mm but even at that focal length it is does deliver better image quality than my previous telephoto zoom (Sony 70-200 2.8 GM).

The manual focus ring is rather small for a lens this size and it takes a while to get use to it. Other than that, not much to complain about.

The GFX 50R combined with the 32-64 mm and the 100-200 mm together makes for a great lightweight kit for serious mountain and wilderness photography. It’s probably the most image quality per gram camera equipment of any system out there. (Maybe even the most image quality per Dollar or Swedish Crowns..)

GF 250 mm: Telephoto Magic

When I switched to the GFX system this was the lens I was most uncertain about. I was going through my image archive and realized that many of my favorite photographs were actually made with this focal length.

I finally decided to get it and I’m happy I did – this lens has become my favorite lens. Sure, it’s a special lens that only works for certain scenes but when it works the results are amazing. I have never photographed with a better lens.

So why all this excitement? First off, it is exremely sharp and renders beautifully. It is sharp wide open at f4 but becomes super sharp at f5.6. This coupled with the very effective OIS has made me overcome a large problem in mountain photography – the wind.

Photographing with the combination of a large aperture (f5.6) and the OIS I have been able to get sharp images in really windy conditions on top of mountains. Yes, it’s not uncommon with wind in these places. Spending days getting to these locations just to have the wind make it impossible to photograph is no fun. Now being able to use the telephoto even when the wind is blowing is just fantastic!

Final thoughts

Having put the camera and lenses through the paces all I can say is that I am impressed by the system. The image quality is definitely a significant step up from my previous setup and the handling in the field is comparable if not better. Overall it’s a very enjoyable system to use and it’s comforting to know that the quality of the photographs I capture will be of the highest level.

And for those of you that thinks it’s strange that someone would carry a setup like this into the backcountry I want to add that to me it has become clear that the further into the wilderness I go, the more I push myself to get a photograph, the more important the image quality becomes. Because chances are I wont be able to capture the same scene in the same light again – ever.

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