By Alex Samuels, San Francisco
The Fujifilm GFX 50sii is a medium format digital camera that features a 51.4mp sensor, an in- body image stabilization system, and a magnesium alloy body that makes it both weather resistant and one of the world’s lightest medium format cameras. The size of the sensor combined with Fujifilm’s long history of dazzling color science helps create images that are seemingly 3D and vibrant. Perhaps with the one exception being fast-paced sports, this camera would be ideal for any shooting situation.
So how does it fare in the real world day-to-day?
Medium Format Vs. Full FrameBefore moving on, it’s worth going over the differences between Medium Format and Full Frame cameras. In the photography world, full-frame sensor-sized cameras are what many enthusiasts and professionals would choose for their work. Full-frame often times blends the most ideal camera specifications such as appropriate camera size (debatable, but most times can be carried in one hand), sensor size, software & button customization, and access to incredible lenses. All of these aspects packed into one camera are capable of producing some of the world’s best images. This is why it should come as no surprise that many well-known photographers use the full-frame sensor as their main camera setup.
In a nutshell, medium format is everything that full-frame is, but ‘larger.’ It begins with the sensor, which is bigger than the ones found in full-frame cameras and is therefore capable of capturing more detail and tonal range, resulting in better color accuracy. The camera bodies for medium-format cameras are also traditionally larger than full-frame cams and more often than not, weigh more too. Lastly, medium format setups have even bigger price tags. While full-frame can set you back by quite a bit, MF will often cost thousands of dollars more just for the body. So, how do you justify the price of MF when you could get the job done with cameras that are smaller, cost less, and are more widely known/utilized?
The Sensor & Image Quality
The Fuji GFX 50sii (and all other medium format cameras) has a wonderful sensor. The 44 x 33mm sensor captures more detail than almost all other full-frame cameras and is capable of rendering extremely clean tones. To elaborate, even compared to full-frame cameras with the same resolution, the megapixels within the 50sii are larger and allow for a smoother transition from color to color. This makes it so that regardless of if you’re shooting in JPEG or RAW you’re getting files that are great to work with right out of the camera. If you’re using Fuji’s film simulations, those ‘film’ JPEG files are beautiful and look scarily like film if utilized correctly.
The sensor here is going to be the biggest draw to saving up your change and getting the 50sii. The clean tones, film simulations, and resolution all packed into a body that barely weighs more than most other full-frame cameras makes it tough to pass up. Granted the price tag (which will be touched on soon) is large, but the camera is an imaging solution that would help any photographer create images that would stun people, licensing agencies, and brands alike. Or, if you’re only interested in using a camera to satisfy your creative fix as an enthusiast, you’d likely come away from every shooting situation happy with your results.
One more thing that’s worth mentioning is: it does give you the medium-format look. People often speak about a noticeable difference in ‘viewing experience’ when looking at images made with MF cameras and the 50sii does exactly that. Each image, with the assistance of the aforementioned clean tones and exceptional detail, looks 3D. This helps add depth and a look that helps each image look like a work of art. Which, for many, likely sounds exactly like what they’d like their camera setup to help them accomplish.
During my time utilizing this camera in the streets of San Francisco, I also felt like I could see that 3D look. Even with f-stops above F8, each of my images had a pleasing depth that helped me render my own style of shooting. Which mainly consists of finding layers filled with people and buildings within the city. My eye wandered through each image after I imported my first batch and I was at ease the next time I took the camera out knowing that the image quality would help me produce what I wanted.
The one thing about the image quality that I found to be negative in my experience was a lack of in-camera dynamic range. I don’t personally enjoy editing in a manner where I pull my highlights all the way down and bring my shadows all the way up, I prefer to stick with minor adjustments and let the highlights and shadows fall where they will, but some range is helpful. This could be due to most of my photography experience being with film and enjoying the latitude that it offers, but I felt like I’d have to compromise on both my highlights and shadows if I was exposing for one or the other. If I attempted to expose the shadows in the way I wanted, I often would find the highlights to be way overexposed and visa versa. While this didn’t happen every time, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention this occasional frustration.
Vs. Medium Format FilmFor some, including myself, the intrigue surrounding MF digital cameras is due to curiosity about how it compares to MF film cameras. The same conversations about the ‘look,’ tones, and overall image quality are also had by film shooters. Would they feel the need to pick up an MF digital camera though or would something else suit just fine?
As mentioned before, during my time with a 50sii, it certainly produces images that rival all other medium format cameras and gives images another dimension. I personally find viewing medium-format images to be very satisfying and that satisfaction is palpable when looking at the images with the 50sii. If I took 4 photos, two with 35mm (full-frame) and two with MF, one with film and the other with digital, I feel positive the two MF images would look most alike. Especially if all 4 images were lined up with one another.
All of that being said, I would find it difficult to justify owning a digital MF camera vs. a cheaper full-frame just because the images look more similar to my MF film photos. Of course, having MF in both digital and film would be amazing, but it’s not entirely necessary. If someone out there reading this has the extra $ saved up and really appreciates the MF look, I say, go for it. For everyone else who’s teetering on the fence, save the money for the film, and rent digital when it’s needed.
DrawbacksThe 50sii is a wonderful camera. It offers image quality that is some of the best in the world and in a camera body that is light enough to be taken anywhere. However, even though its Pro list is extensive, you can drum up a sizeable Con side of the list too.
The camera relies on contrast-based focusing and shoots only up to 3 frames per second. So, the rough translation is that the autofocus is sometimes going to be slow and fast-paced environments are going to be challenging to shoot in. This is a bit unfortunate because you could almost argue every photography environment is capable of being fast-paced. Plus, while I’m on the topic of reasons why this camera is slow, the menu system is outdated. The features in it are rich and that’s cool, but getting the settings you want is always a couple of clicks away. You could spend a few days learning the Fujifilm menu system and you’d probably be set, but even if you knew it by heart it can still take a bit of time to navigate around the camera.
Video isn’t this camera’s forte at all. It’s certainly capable since it shoots Full HD video (1080p) and that’s enough for many productions, but it doesn’t have 4K. So, in today’s day and age where the smallest cameras and even phones are capable of pumping out quality 4K footage, the 50sii is way behind. This drawback should not play on the mind too much though, Fuji didn’t intend for this camera to be video-centric and aimed it towards creatives that are photography focused. Just consider other options if you need one camera to do both photos & videos.
Handling-wise, it’s compact for a medium-format camera, but it’s not a small camera. It can fit in two hands easy as you like, but having it slung around your neck will feel like a bit much over time, and raising it up to your eye with one hand is likely a challenge. I enjoyed having it for its quality during my tests on the streets of San Francisco, but I could tell people were looking at me more than usual when I was using this camera. So, you can hike, walk around town, and take photos casually with it, but it should be noted that you probably won’t be saying ‘I forgot it was even there.’ The Feel
The FeelWhen it comes to cameras, I love learning about all the specs. It’s important to know what resolution a camera has, what lenses it can utilize, its size & weight, battery-life, button options, and much more. I’ve had one or two instances where I didn’t do my due diligence about what I was spending my money on and that came back to haunt me when I was out shooting. So, knowing all of the previously noted specs regarding the 50sii is important in my mind.
At the risk of contradicting myself right away, I also sometimes am willing to compromise on what a camera offers (a.k.a disregard specs) if it ‘feels good’ to shoot with. How a camera feels in my hands, what the shutter sounds like, and how much I enjoy the experience photographing with a camera are right about there with the top reasons why I’d purchase a camera. The 50sii checks off many of those unofficial boxes for me. While I often prefer smaller cameras for their lighter weight/smaller footprint, I found I really enjoyed shooting with the 50sii. It was easy to grip, felt easy to compose in either portrait or landscape, the shutter was satisfying to hear go off, it’s modern looking, but pleasantly so, and when paired with a smaller lens it’s not too intimidating for me to take out onto the streets.
Even with those boxes checked though, I still find it difficult to consider paying for it brand new. For me, it’ll be a ‘when I’ve made it’ kind of camera. One for the future when I have the resources to simply purchase it without wincing and purely because I want to own and use it. If I was weighing it for work purposes or to be my main camera body I think I’d turn towards other cameras.
Final ThoughtsThe Fujifilm GFX 50sii is a great camera, maybe I’d dub it as excellent for some situations. It gives photographers access to medium-format in a unique/innovative way with its size and specs offerings. You could take this camera all over the world, into the studio, and out your front door to your local spots and you’d come home with photos you’d end up really enjoying. The only things that could stand in the way of you doing that though are its price tag and the shooting situations you like to find yourself in.
It’s worth noting during any review that no matter what camera you have with you, it’ll be down to how you photograph that’ll determine the outcome of the photo. Take some time to refine with what you have currently and then ask a friend or rent one before getting one for yourself. You’ll be able to weigh your experience and your photos when you finally try it out and that’ll leave you with more info before you make the decision to go for it.
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