Unlike the vast majority of texts I’ve read over the last month or so this is not an article to let you know how awesome the GFX files are when it comes to detail, dynamic range, low noise and the lot – we already know that and to be honest it is a bit silly to discuss if at ISO 102400 this (or any) camera is better than the competition. I am a photographer and I’m much more interested in getting to know if the tool is going to help me produce great work; I am not a lab rat and I think one has to be pretty much distracted to compare the advantages of three cameras against one, finding silly excuses not to buy the GFX- yes I am referring to that appalling article published by DPReview where a lab geek, not a photographer, is flooding the page with technicalities that, although accurate, do not translate into the real world per se much less have the power to define your work as a photographer. If the Nikon D810 is the camera for you, that is absolutely fine.
What we need to know is if this, or any camera, adds value to your work, if the investment and resources you need available to start using a new system will have return, not only financially but also artistically.Yes, the camera is a brush, a tool, not the brain, the camera doesn’t create, you do. And to be honest, photography is not about cameras, is about pictures, emotions, stories, art, reality, fiction – concepts are developed in your brain, ideas come to mind, the system you use is just a tool, a very good one for this purpose, preferably.
Over the past two days I’ve been using the GFX as a street camera, alongside the 63mm f2.8 and the 120mm f4 Macro. The pictures published here are just a small fraction of what I’ve produced over the past 48 hours. It has been overcast, the grayish tone is not the camera’s fault and even if I had three in the bag (those that are marginally better at doing some sort of meaningless stuff) the grayish tone would have been there, still.
What I tried to do was simple: get out on the street with the GFX same way I do with the X-Pro2, realizing in due course if the GFX is a good tool to do so. As an inspirational gizmo, the camera excels. The touch and quality of the dials is paramount, ergonomics are quintessential – everything falls naturally in your hand. I miss the exposure compensation dial and probably the Q button should have been placed elsewhere. The grip is substantial and even after a full day walking around Porto the weight of the camera with any of the lenses attached is acceptable for the task at hand. I love the secondary LCD (you can assign and reorder information on it), the tilting screen is a must and the viewfinder is absolutely brilliant – extraordinary piece of engineering. I did not use the accessory that allows the viewfinder to be tilted up, down and/or sideways but probably it will end up on my shopping list.
Shutter lag is negligible for street photography and Fuji has done a pretty good job damping the internal impact of the first curtain – the shutter sounds always slower than expected, probably because of this.The refresh rate of the viewfinder is good enough, it never got in the way of a good photograph. Auto-focus is contrast detection, 425 points if you wish – works under almost every circumstances, but if you want to take pictures of Valentino Rossi riding at 200 mph there are better options on the market usually paired with lenses with longer focal length and cameras with much higher fps. At only 3 frames per second one cannot say this is a fast camera. But it is just enough for street photography, and of course studio work, fashion, boudoir, landscape, portraiture…
Battery life: nearly 400 shots with the 63mm f2.8 using the viewfinder most of the time and 270 shots with the 120mm f4 lens with OIS on and a lot of LCD use, chimping like crazy… you know.
All the images I’ve posted are in camera converted RAW uncompressed files – reflecting shooting conditions and Acros film simulation. No correction has been applied, whatsoever, to any of the files.
One of the main reasons medium format is so addictive is the ratio and the feel of the images – bigger pixels, less noise, some sort of creamy like effect smaller sensors cannot provide mainly because they are crammed with pixels. Other tremendous advantage is the option to produce bigger prints without compromising quality and probably one of the most cherished characteristics is the extended dynamic range that allows post production miracles, rendering beautiful images with detailed highlights and deep shadows retaining an enormous amount of information.
The GFX is a pure medium format camera – quintessentially. Feels smaller, like a DSLR, follows the X series brilliant ergonomics and disappears from your hand after a couple of hours letting you focus on photography. And this is probably one of the best attributes of the GFX. It is not an extremely desirable object like a X100F or a X-Pro2 from the design point of view but it is highly functional, specially because it produces MF files, from a huge sensor – full frame sensors are 864 square millimeters in area, the GFX sensor is 1441 square millimeters in area.I guess this gives you an idea of how big the sensor is, although it doesn’t translate into camera size – the camera is completely usable on the streets, just like a D810 or a 5D Mark IV. Do not get lost in translation here, the APS-C based X system is the tool if you want to disappear into the crowd.
All images published in this article were shot handheld – even the night shots. The fact of the matter: this is a completely usable tool for street photography, no doubt.
Depth of field: every photographer knows that MF lenses were never as fast as full-frame lenses. This is not the point for MF. Regarding depth of field the 63mm f2.8 is on par with a 35mm f1.4 on an APS-C system, generally speaking. I’ve done test shots with both systems and the aforementioned lenses and I would say the images produced by the GFX have a bit more bokeh, or maybe the bokeh is smoother and looks better. But this is not scientific and although the maths are simple, this is not point here.
How do you perceive images, what sort of relationship you establish with the camera, with the system, how it reacts to your inputs, how long and how difficult or simple it is to fiddle with the dials and change parameters, what sort of feedback you get from the camera and how good the images look like, are some of the main features you should look for. Photography as an art form is about passion, about interaction, not about physics.For photographers, photography is a canvas, a medium to express themselves, their feelings, not an integrated circuit or a special coating on the lens. Yes, gear is fundamental, but it is a tool and you should buy the tool you LOVE the most, the tool you get the best pictures out of, not the sharpest ones. A tool helps the creative process, it does not imposes it on you. A tool is designed with passion in mind by skilled craftsmen, dedicated engineers. By the end of the day, your photographs must make the difference, specially for you. And that is not about noise, dynamic range, sharpness or depth of field – it is mainly about how you see the world and how you interact with it, what you choose to frame, how you put different realities in context. Bresson became famous because of his photographs, the legacy he left, the composition techniques – Bresson was not the only one using Leica at the time. Many did before him, many more have used it and plenty are using Leica nowadays. The vast majority will not become famous. When your pictures are exhibited and the public looks at them from a certain distance, spending enough time watching and decoding the message you tried to convey, no one really thinks or cares about the camera behind it. You do, you have to, because to get to a point you’re producing art, no matter if you’ve followed Ansel Adams of Bresson’s footsteps, your camera has to be part of you.
We have plenty to choose from nowadays. For me, this is – alongside the X-Pro2 – the tool to create great photographs. If you want to know the technicalities and all that weird stuff, browse the Internet – there are plenty of articles detailing all that. If you want to know if you can fall in love with this camera and use it as an extension of your brain, of your body, I can tell you that it is; this a fabulous camera, that will disappear from your hand quickly, letting you focus on your work.
Is it better than a full-frame DSLR? It is DIFFERENT and not comparable. Put your shoes on, get out on the street and test both systems, bearing in mind what you are looking for. Let your heart decide, after all photography comes from the heart.
I am in love and extremely happy with my options. Are you?
All photographs shot handheld, night shots at 8000 ISO (plus), other well below the reciprocity law. In camera conversion from RAW files, Acros film simulation, no editing.