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Fujifilm GFX 50R review: bigger isn’t always best

Fujifilm GFX 50R review: bigger isn’t always best


Fujifilm’s latest medium format camera looks new, but it has a lot of familiar baggage

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The common line of thinking when it comes to image sensors is “bigger is always better.” You can see evidence of this in all kinds of cameras, from smartphones, which have combined computational photography with ever larger image sensors to increase quality, to interchangeable lens DSLRs and mirrorless cameras, which use larger sensors to provide better low light image quality, greater dynamic range, and shallower depths of field.

So you’d be forgiven for thinking that the biggest sensor you can afford is going to give you the best images you can capture. Fujifilm’s new GFX 50R offers one of the biggest image sensors you can find: a 51.4-megapixel medium format chip that’s nearly twice as large as full-frame 35mm DSLR. But after spending a few weeks shooting with the GFX 50R, which crams that sensor into a camera body that’s smaller and less expensive than other medium format options, I’ve learned that biggest isn’t always best.

The $4,499 GFX 50R is Fujifilm’s second GFX camera, and it shares its image sensor and processing pipeline with the larger GFX 50S that was released back in 2016. Its 50-megapixel sensor is also the same as what’s found in Hasselblad’s X1D, so it’s safe to say that the image quality and capabilities of this particular sensor are well-known at this point.

What the 50R offers, then, is a more compact body and a lower price tag: it’s $1,000 less than the GFX 50S and about $2,000 less than what the X1D currently sells for. Depending on which lens you go with, a 50R kit can cost half as much as a similar X1D setup. The 50R has a rangefinder-style design that’s blocky but surprisingly compact and light. It’s roughly the same size as a professional “full-frame” DSLR, like the Canon 5D Mark IV, but its sensor is considerably larger.

The 50R’s price point and compact size make it an intriguing option for photographers that were either priced out of Hasselblad’s option or need something smaller and lighter than the GFX 50S or a Pentax 645Z. This is a medium format camera that can easily be taken off the tripod and brought outside of the studio for weddings, portraits, landscapes, or even candid street photography.

The image quality from the 50R is already established: it has great dynamic range and color reproduction, but its resolution is challenged by the latest chips available in Nikon or Canon cameras. Also, its performance isn’t as good at high ISOs as you might expect, but as I’ll explain later, that’s not what holds this camera back in the field.

Fujifilm has been slowly expanding its GF line of lenses, and there are now seven options available with three more planned to come soon. I tested the 50R on the two lenses I thought would be most compatible with my style of on-the-go candid photography: the $1,699 GF45mm f/2.8 R WR and the $1,499 GF63mm f/2.8 R WR. Due to the 50R’s large sensor, these lenses provide a full-frame-equivalent focal length of 35mm and 50mm, respectively. That wider field of view is one of the reasons landscape and architecture photographers like medium format: you can capture more in the frame without having to resort to extremely short focal lengths and all the lens distortion that comes along with them.

Compared to 35mm or APS-C lenses, Fujifilm’s GF lenses aren’t nearly as fast; their apertures max out at f/2. A 35mm f/1.4 lens for Fujifilm’s APS-C cameras can let me use a much faster shutter speed than the 63mm GF lens while providing a similar field of view. It’s also considerably smaller and lighter than the GF lens, at about a third of the price. That’s because in order to cover the medium format sensor in the 50R, the lens has to project a much larger image circle and needs larger glass elements to do so.

You wouldn’t really want to shoot most of these lenses at brighter apertures anyway because the depth of field on a medium format camera is significantly shallower than APS-C or even 35mm full frame. At first, that may seem like a plus, as it is easier to separate your subject from the background and produce very soft, blurry, out-of-focus areas with a shallow depth of field.

But the flip side to the shallow depth of field is that you have much less of your subject in focus, and it can be very hard to nail the focus on a shot at f/2.8 on the 50R. I repeatedly ran into problems like one eye being in focus and the other being soft and blurry instead of both pupils being nice and crisp while shooting with the 50R.

The 50R’s massive sensor produces very shallow depth of field, which is both a blessing and a curse

An experienced photographer will say that to fix this, you close the aperture to even smaller settings, like f/4 or f/5.6 in order to extend the depth of field. That does work, but it also means that even less light is being let into the sensor, so it’s not always a practical option when shooting indoors or in poor lighting situations.

Ironically, despite the 50R having a much larger sensor than, say, a Fujifilm X-T3, it is not as good of a camera for low light shooting because of the inherent limitations with medium format. If you have to close the aperture on the lens down in order to get a usable depth of field, you’ll then have to ratchet the ISO sensitivity up on the sensor, introducing unwanted image noise and degradation, or extend the shutter speed, which introduces motion blur. (Neither the 50R nor Fujifilm’s GF lenses, save for a long telephoto and a macro lens, offer any form of image stabilization.) That makes shooting the 50R in a casual setting indoors more difficult than you might expect.


Further limiting the 50R’s ability on the go is its slow performance. Much like the X1D and the GFX 50S, the 50R has a painfully slow autofocus system and slow three frames per second burst rate. Virtually any modern APS-C or full-frame mirrorless camera or DSLR will run laps around the 50R in terms of autofocus and burst mode, and it will be able to capture sharper, more usable pictures than the 50R.

When you combine the depth of field limitations of medium format with the 50R’s slow autofocus, the result is going to be a lot of missed shots. My best attempts at overcoming the 50R’s limitations included setting the autofocus to continuous and the burst rate to its three frames per second maximum and then throwing out 80 percent of the shots I took.

All of that said, when I did nail a shot on the 50R, the image captured was tremendous. Fujifilm uses the same color processing on the GFX line of cameras as its X-series models, and it’s renowned for lovely colors and flexible film “simulations.” The falloff from in-focus to out-of-focus areas is lovely, and the dynamic range is just stunning. The high resolution provides seemingly endless cropping options. The amount of editing flexibility and latitude available, even in JPEG images, is incredible. There’s just so much information being captured. There’s a specific “look” to medium format images that can’t be matched by smaller formats, and it’s something that many photographers lust after.

Still, the image quality from the 50R is no different than what you get from the GFX 50S, so the 50R doesn’t really move the chains. This sensor, while still impressive, is showing its age, and it’ll be nice to see what the next generation of medium format sensors are capable of.

That makes the 50R a bit disappointing if you were hoping to use it as a medium format camera on the go. It still performs its best in slow, deliberate environments, such as in a studio or on a landscape photographer’s tripod. Despite it ­looking­ like an incredible street camera, the reality is it’s not much different from every other medium format camera currently available. But hey, at least it’s less expensive.

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