Cameras

Fujifilm GFX 50R Review

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The Fujifilm GFX 50R is a very exciting camera for a number of reasons. First, it’s the most affordable medium format digital camera yet to hit the market – it’s a full £1,000/$1,000 cheaper than the DSLR-style Fujifilm GFX 50S, the previous record-setter.

Second, 2018 is touted as the year of the full-frame mirrorless camera, but the sensor in the GFX 50R is a full 67% larger than full frame. Indeed, Fujifilm has deliberately skipped the whole full-frame market to go larger still.

Third, the 51-megapixel resolution. It’s the highest yet outside of seriously expensive studio kit, and it’s not been achieved by cramming in lots of tiny photosites – the larger sensor means even 51 million pixels have room to breathe.

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Specifications

Sensor: 51.4MP medium format CMOS, 43.8 x 32.9mm
Image processor: X-Processor Pro
AF points: TTL contrast AF, 425 points
ISO range: 100 to 51,200 (exp. 50-204,800)
Max image size: 8,256 x 6,192px
Metering zones: 256
Video: 1,920 x 1,080 at 30p, 25p, 24p
Viewfinder: EVF, 3,690k dots OLED, 100% coverage, 0.77x magnification
Memory card: 2x SD/SDHC/SDXC UHS II compatible
LCD: 3.2-inch tilting touchscreen, 2,360k dots
Max burst: 3fps, unlimited JPEGs, 13 lossless compressed raw
Connectivity: Bluetooth, Wi-Fi
Size: 160.7 x 96.5 x 66.4mm (body only)
Weight: 775g (body only, with battery and memory card)

Features

The GFX 50R’s 50.1-megapixel resolution will be a big draw for quality-conscious photographers, and its sensitivity range is pretty good at ISO 100-12,800, expandable to ISO 50-102,400.

Right now, however, you do have to accept some technical compromises when you move beyond full-frame cameras into medium format territory. For a start, the GFX 50R is limited to 3fps in continuous shooting mode, and while it can capture unlimited JPEGs, it has buffer capacity for only 13 compressed raw files (or 8 uncompressed).

It also relies on a precise but slow contrast-based autofocus system, as hybrid on-sensor phase-detection AF has yet to make it on to these bigger sensors. However, with up to 425 selectable AF points covering most of the frame, together with face detection, eye detection, single-point AF, zone AF and wide/tracking AF, it doesn’t lack sophistication.

The GFX 50R doesn’t have in-body stabilisation (though Fujifilm’s promised GFX 100S, due in 2019, will have this), and so far the specialist 250mm telephoto is the only GF lens to feature an optical stabiliser.

On the plus side, its big focal plane shutter still manages a maximum speed of 1/4000sec and a flash synchronisation speed of 1/125sec, and Fujifilm claims a 150,000-shot shutter life.

Elsewhere, the features are classic ‘Fujifilm’, with external physical dials for zoom lens aperture and shutter velocity control, a choice of multi, spot, average and centre-weighted metering options and further control over exposure and tonal range via dynamic variety expansion (around 400%) and separate shadow and highlight tone control.

This is on top of Fujifilm’s regular array of Film Simulation modes, now totalling 15 different options, from super-saturated Velvia through to its rich Acros black and white mode. These are applied to in-camera JPEGs, but it’s also possible to ‘re-process’ natural files in-camera to produce as many variations as you like, saving them to the memory card either as JPEGs or as 8-bit TIFFs. It’s also possible to add a film-like ‘Grain’ effect and employ Fujifilm’s new Color Chrome Effect, which increases the depth of strong colours without losing fine, textural detail or ‘clipping’ the colour data.

Build and Handling

Fujifilm says the GFX 50R is not only durable but “astonishingly compact and lightweight”. Well, on paper maybe, but in reality, it’s a bit of a beast. It does have a slimmer body than the GFX 50S, but it’s wider too, which seems to offset any advantage. Is it usefully smaller and more wieldy compared to the GFX 50S? Possibly.

But while it’s a good deal cheaper, Fujifilm doesn’t appear to have cut any corners in the GFX 50R’s construction. Its magnesium alloy body is dust-resistant, weather-proof and freeze-proof down to -10 degrees. It’s nicely finished as well, with dials milled from solid aluminium blocks.

Exposure controls

The controls will take a little getting used to for anyone swapping from another digital camera brand. It can offer program AE, aperture-priority, shutter-priority and manual modes, but there’s no mode dial. Instead, there’s just an aperture ring on the lens and a shutter speed dial on the camera. For full system AE exposure, you turn both to their ‘A’ setting; for aperture-priority control, you leave the shutter velocity dial on ‘A’ and use choose the aperture establishing manually, for shutter-priority you use the shutter rate dial and keep the aperture band on ‘A’; for the full guide, you just change the dials to the settings you want.

For long-time photographers used to film cameras, this is just perfect, and one of the traditional features that have drawn so many fans to the Fujifilm camera range. If you’ve been raised on screens and dials and this is all a bit too much to take in, it is possible to swap to regular control dial operation for both configurations.

Buttons and Dials

But these handle dials do highlight a slightly odd feel about the GFX 50R’s design – it’s a big camera, but many of the controls feel as if they’ve simply been swapped over from a smaller model. The front control dial around the shutter release button works fine but feels as if it could be bigger, the rear dial isn’t quite big enough to give you a proper purchase with your thumb and the trunk focus lever (also used for menu navigation and other purposes) simply feels too small.

The GFX 50R is, however, extremely customisable, with no fewer than five assignable buttons on the body, four swipe options for the touchscreen display and a customisable ‘click’ action for the rear control dial.

The touchscreen display is pretty effective, though the 3.2-inch screen feels slightly swamped on the large back surface of this camera, and a couple of times the touch-focus failed to focus properly, though a biting December gale is probably not the best time to be testing the subtleties of the touchscreen control.

The fact is, the GFX 50R is a big, muscular camera which feels built for physical controls. It’s possible to see the advantages of the touchscreen in calm, considered (warm) shooting situations but it doesn’t feel like it really adds much to this camera.

The display quality is very good though and, with this being a mirrorless camera, there’s no penalty in autofocus options when switching to live view, and the very good EVF can display all the shooting and settings information need.

We have to mention this camera’s extensive bracketing options, which include exposure bracketing (of course), Film Simulation bracketing (a choice of three), dynamic range bracketing, ISO bracketing, white balance bracketing and even focus bracketing.

Performance

If you want to get the kind of results it’s capable of, the GFX 50R demands a certain amount of time and attention. The autofocus system is perfectly usable, but not fast, and the extraordinary resolution of the sensor – and Fujifilm’s GF lenses – means you might want to think twice about what constitutes a ‘safe’ handheld shutter speed.

Image quality

The payback for all this attention is simply stunning image quality. It’s not just the 50.1-megapixel sensor at work here, but Fujifilm’s excellent GF lenses, which not only produce aberration-free images but are sharp from edge to edge.

It’s worth increasing the ISO to get faster shutter speeds just to make sure of this. Bumping up the ISO to 800 for some post-sunset shots in fading light yielded images where the knife-edge sharpness easily outweighed any slight increase in grain.

And if you shoot raw files rather than JPEGs you’ll discover terrific reserves of highlight and shadow information, especially if you use the camera’s extended dynamic range modes. These reduce the exposure and apply a modified tone curve to offer up to two stops extra dynamic range.

Even after using cameras like the Nikon D850, Nikon Z7 and Sony A7R III, there’s still an undefinable extra spatial quality and depth in this camera’s raw files that we’ve only ever seen in other medium format cameras.

The GFX 50R’s 400-shot battery life won’t impress DSLR owners, but it’s in what we’ve come to expect from a mirrorless camera. If you’re going to be spending any time out in the field you’d be wise to take along a couple of spares.

Don’t get this camera if you’re worried about file sizes. Our fine quality JPEGs came in at around 13.7MB each, while our uncompressed raw files were around 117MB. The GFX 50R has an uncompromising approach to image quality, and this is the price you pay!

Check Out: Best Fujifilm GFX 50R Lenses

Verdict

The GFX 50R has somewhat ponderous autofocus and a weak burst mode, but it was never designed for fast action and you only have to take a look at its raw files for the first time to instantly forget all its weaknesses. The GFX 50R was designed for superb medium format image quality at a price we haven’t seen before and in a portable, resilient camera, and it does that quite superbly.

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