Poetic Landscape Photography With the Medium Format Fuji GFX 100s – Part 1
“Poetry is an echo, asking a shadow to dance”
| Carl Sandburg
While I have often asked myself about the differential qualities of a medium format camera in landscape photography, I finally had the chance to use the Fuji GFX 100s in the field. This blog post is a field report after using the camera for about one week in the field. Typically, one would expect a medium format camera to be used in architecture, portraits, or on still life objects. All these scenarios are not very dynamic but are characterized by many small details, intense textures, and often large tonal differences. However, medium format cameras also have a long history in landscape photography for similar reasons. You may think the title of this blog post is an oxymoron. Why do I need a medium format camera for poetic landscape photography, when a much cheaper would do this job equally well? That’s my question in this article. This article is neither a technical introduction to medium format photography, the specifications of the GFX system, nor a review of it. There are already hundreds of similar articles and videos out there and I don’t see any need to contribute to this plethora. In this article, however, I’ll talk about my approach, different experiences, and insights from using the camera and applying it in the field. I’ll close with a summary, take-away, and recommendation for those photographers thinking about switching systems and moving towards the Fuji GFX medium format system. The article comes in two parts: In Part 1 I explain my approach and discuss customization and handling of the camera. In Part 2, I share my impressions on image quality, dynamic range, color rendition, details, image stabilization, and how to camera feels in my hands before I’ll close with a personal verdict.
For this opportunity to test out the GFX 100s, I would like to express my gratitude to Fuji Switzerland. This article is neither funded nor sponsored by Fuji. In a generous gesture, Fuji has given me the opportunity to intensively field test the Fuji GFX 100s camera with the Fujinon GF 45mm F2.8 R WR, GF 80mm F1.7 R W, GF 110mm F2 R LM WR, and the GF 250mm F4 R LM OIS WR lenses without asking for anything in return. From my point of view, this is a great example of customer relationship management and collaboration between companies and photographers. For this opportunity, I would like to express my thanks. With this in mind, I also consider my stance to be neutral and will report what I honestly think about the camera. If you have any questions, you can reach out to me via my email.
When I received the camera, I spent almost half a day getting to know it and its features. Afterward, I thought about the goals and planning of my time with this camera.
The following considerations came into play for me:
- I wanted to apply the camera in my usual environment, no further than 30km from my home.
- My natural environment tends to be texture-heavy forest and mountain landscapes.
- By avoiding capturing images in iconic places, I hoped to find out how I would react to the camera specifically.
- My goal was to find out if the camera helps me realize my ideas, or even inspires me to implement new approaches.
I was particularly interested in the following questions or topics:
- How complicated is the transition from a full-frame camera to a medium format camera?
- How does the camera feel after a day/one week of intensive use?
- How does handheld image-making feel with the GFX lenses?
- How easily does the camera fit into my processes and support me or not get in my way?
- How is the image quality?
- How fast and accurate is the autofocus in difficult scenarios? How differently does it work with different lenses?
- How helpful are the screen and electronic viewfinder (EVF) in focusing and checking images?
- How comprehensive is the dynamic range?
- How does the camera react to noise in the image when higher ISO values are applied? With which ISO values can I photograph handheld and how fast?
- Do textures and details come out well and do they show more detail than full-frame cameras?
- What is it like working with uncompressed, 16-bit image files in-camera as well as on the computer?
- What additional options does the camera give me to crop into the image at what loss of quality?
- How well does the image stabilization work?
- How do multiple exposures work with the camera?
- Can I apply focus-stacking to the camera easily?
- How well does the stitching of images into one large panorama image work?
- How long can I photograph with a full battery?
On the other hand, I was not interested in the video capabilities of the camera and I obviously didn’t want to test its weather sealing or robustness in high humid environments (which would be interesting to me, but I didn’t dare nor had the environment to test it out with the rented camera).
In summary, I chose the following scenarios to photograph in order to answer the questions posed above:
- Photography in situations with a large dynamic range (sunrise, sunset, mid-day in the shadows).
- Objects with a high level of complex textures. I opted for trees as they are round and focus might be challenged.
- Photography of objects underwater with reflections that are difficult to focus on, have great detail and tonal range.
- Photography of panoramic images with a high level of detail.
- Poetic photography of plants without a tripod during the sunset.
- I didn’t want to invest more than 10 minutes in editing one single photograph. With the exception of the plant underwater photography (that I will keep in my portfolio), all photographs presented in this article are only minorly adjusted in contrast, white balance, and some minor cleaning.
In the following, I’ll go through the different questions, present some of my resulting photographs and talk about my impressions.
Customization and Handling
My first impression after receiving the camera is that the Fuji GFX 100s feels very ergonomic. The body seems a bit bulkier than a Nikon D850, but remarkably compact and light for a medium format camera. Many of the photographers originally interested in the GFX 100, but rejected it as of the size, weight, and comfort, now find a comfortable, and ergonomic body. Most of the Fuji lenses however are significantly heavier than my corresponding Nikon lenses. Given that the Fuji sensor is about 68% larger than a full-frame sensor and receives around 2-3 EV more light, it is obvious that high-quality glass is needed to capture an image without biases. At first, the heavier camera and lenses feel comfortable and even like holding a “real” camera in your hands. Over time, the weight of the system has an impression on the body, posture, and tendons of the arm. It depends a lot on how you work how big this impact is on you. If the camera system is often on a tripod, this certainly does not matter. If the camera is operated freely with the hand over long distances, you should think carefully about which lenses you work with and how you can also relieve the hand. It wasn’t a problem for me, but I imagine it can be for some people.
While I am not a professional Fuji user, I recognized that the user interface seems to be different across their four different GFX cameras (50R, 50S, 100, 100S). For users buying into one system, this might be irritating and they may lose time in the field when searching out for the function they are interested in that specific camera. However, the usability is quite intuitive and Fuji seems to be on a good path designing a camera with the photographer in mind (rather than the Sony engineers that confuse usability with a maze).
Before I went out into the field, I adapted all the functions of the camera to my way of working, reassigned the corresponding buttons, and assigned the Quick Menu according to my needs. This menu can be accessed by pressing the Q-button on the back of the camera. You can choose to store 4, 8, 12, or 16 function slots in this menu that you want to access quickly. This gives you enough possibilities to adapt the camera to your own circumstances. The operation feels good, fast, and intuitive afterward (once you found out that you can (and have to) unlock the Q-button by holding down the Back button for 2 seconds). Here are a few of the more important customizations that I applied:
- Image mode: FocusAF-Mode to a single point, AF-S/AF-C priority on focus, matrix meter, shutter type to mechanical (and added the electronic front curtain shutter option to the Q-menu for having the option to switch between slower and faster lenses like the 80mm or the 110mm), image stabilization to continuous (stable while composing, not only after release).
- Display custom settings to electronic level and histogram. Here, I’d like to see an option to visualize the RGB-histogram as well. Sometimes, as happened to me during these days, the averaged histogram looks ok, but the greens exploded. In very color-distorted scenarios, this is extremely important. Maybe, I just didn’t find out “how”, but I’d really like this function to have on the camera.
- Function dials: Exposure compensation on top of the camera, the dials for shutter speed and ISO, back button focus.
- Q-menu: AF-mode, WB, image quality, and image size (you need both to allow the camera to work with different image ratios; the reason is the Fuji asks you to save image files also as JPEG to allow for the different image ratios; at least I didn’t find out a work-around), shutter type, film simulations.
- Custom shooting modes: I’d be so pleased to see that camera manufacturer erase the word “shoot” from their vocabulary. The GFX 100s allows you to save your favorite combination of settings to six custom shooting modes. This is fantastic and allows you to quickly adapt to different situations (e.g. night, portrait, high-dynamic-range…).
- Image files: For the test period, I used uncompressed, 16-bit raw files. In comparison to an average Nikon Z7 raw file of about 50MB in size (from a 45.7 MB camera), the average Fuji images are about 200MB (from the 102MB GFX 100s). All photographs presented here in the blog article, are of course compressed JPEG files in sRGB. I wasn’t really interested in looking at the differences between lossless compressed 16-bit files and uncompressed ones, or 14- and 16-bit files. For me, I just wanted to get an idea of the maximum possible image quality. However, I have to say that I played around with different settings and I personally found a lossless 14bit raw file appropriate in most settings. This may change with specific print sizes in mind and also with the complexity of the setting.
- A joystick can be found on the backside of the camera to move the different focus points. While the quality of the joystick has been criticized in some reviews, I cannot say anything negative about it. It worked fine for me, but I am also not using it intensively.
- As a Nikon Z7 user, I was surprised to have two memory cards :). Thus, I adapted the usage of the second as a backup of the first in order to see the influence on saving time on working with the camera. While it can be felt, the delay hasn’t impacted my flow of working with the photograph. Formated my sd-cards (in the user settings) before usage.
- Fuji offers a number of a great set of film simulations to digitally replicate the look of the analog film (e.g., Provia, Velvia, Astia, Pro, Nostalgic,…). I didn’t apply them myself, because I believe that the look of the visual strategy has to follow my intent, and I don’t want to let the camera dictate the initial outcome. However, I had a look into them and the quality is pretty beautiful.
Concerning the different optics: The viewfinder resolution of the GFX 100s shows good optics and clarity for my needs. There was criticism about a lower magnification (0.77x) compared to the 50S (0.85x) and 100 (0.86x). For me, everything was fine. The LCD on top shows a nice layout and is easy to see in different light situations. It needs a bit of adaptation time compared to having physical dials, but you gain flexibility by changing the display to show the shutter speed or ISO values. The rear main display has a good resolution (2.36M dots in a 3.2-inch screen) and can be tilted 90 degrees up, 45 degrees down, and 60 degrees to the right. Capturing images in portrait mode is nicely supported by this tilt function that I absolutely enjoy. The display has a high-quality build and makes a good impression.
Overall, the customization of the camera was very intuitive and the whole control layout is thought-out. The camera itself feels ergonomically very similar to an existing DSLR system. The only ergonomic problem I had was with the Q-button, which sticks out a bit too far on the back of the camera – for my taste. When hand-holding the camera, this button squeezes between the thumb and index finger of the right hand and caused me some fatigue. Next to this minor issue, the camera feels well crafted, solid, and like a powerful extension of my eyes.
With this, I close Part 1 of my Fuji GFX 100s field report. In Part 2, I’ll focus more on the image quality and the overall “feel” of the camera.
Photograph 1 – “Moment of Birth”: Technically, I was interested in the focus capabilities of the GFX 100s, the rendering and sharpness of above and below water plants, detail, and depths, as well as the color rendering. GF 250mm, 1/9s at f/11, ISO100.
Photograph 2 – “Celebration of Birth”: In this photograph, I intended to add a dynamic component. The moving fishes contributed nicely to this celebration of birth. GF 250mm, 1/20s at f/11, ISO100s.
- Greg Bence (2018): 8, 12, 14 vs 16-Bit Depth. What do You Really Need?!, on: PetaPixel, Sep 19, 2018.
- Fujifilm Schweiz.
- Fujifilm GFX 100s Specifications.