Fujifilm was holding at the end of January in Kyoto the second edition of their Japan-based event celebrating the X-Series… and now the GFX series as well. They are calling it Fujikina, as an echo to the Photokina that takes place every 2 years in Cologne, Germany. This was both a good excuse to spend the week-end in Kyoto and an opportunity to touch & try Fujifilm’s first foray into the world of digital mirrorless medium format cameras, so i did not miss on this opportunity.
I love Kyoto. I would rather live there than in Tokyo if I had the choice. I have been to Kyoto many times in the past, and I am quite glad I did because quite frankly the higher number of tourists every time I come back makes the experience less pleasurable than what it used to be. I guess I should not complain as I am a tourist in this city myself… but at least I am not running around wielding a selfie stick in the middle of other people’s pictures to take my own. Hmmm, I digress already. The weather was not really clement anyway, but I did manage to go to the Heian Jingu as the sun was rising, in order to avoid the flocks of tourists and enjoy a small patch of clear weather.
I also spent a night in Gion photographing the geikos and maikos of the district on their way to entertain their patrons, but this was more of a scouting job, as it is a subject I would like to delve into, giving it the time to study it deserves. Maybe more on that in 20 years?! 😮
Anyways, the main reason for me to be in Kyoto was Fujikina. Fujifilm had set up 3 different exhibitions in 3 separate places but having used (if not owned) pretty much all the existing X-series cameras, I was only interested in the one place that was offering to touch & try the upcoming medium-format GFX 50s.
As usual with Fujifilm Japan, the people working at the event were passionate about photography and Fuji cameras (sounds stupid, but for example they know how to operate on their own the exposure compensation and ISO dials when you hand them over your camera to take your own picture… nothing complicated but yet very revealing). Unfortunately, where Fujifilm shines with its people it lacks with its exhibition setups, as I always point out at CP+. A few of the sample images that have been released since the camera was announced had been printed in big size and were being exhibited in the gallery, but not only the prints were poorly lit but the quality of the prints was also underwhelming… which is mind-boggling for a company trying to showcase their brand new 51.4 megapixels medium-format sensor. Fortunately, one of the photographers whose work was being exhibited (and was present at the event as a speaker) was able to show me the original file of his picture on his laptop and zoom in on it. And quite frankly I was blown away: absolutely gorgeous details. Splendid!
Next step was to get my hand on the beast. And when I did, I was immediately surprised by how light it is, especially as I was carrying an X-T2 with the battery grip and its extra 2 batteries with me at the time. Even though the camera is light, they did not use it as an excuse to go small on the grip: it is big, for easy and comfortable handholding with one hand. The positioning of the ISO and exposure compensation dials will be very familiar to the X-T2 users, and so the buttons layout will. The one thing that I did not feel natural as an X-Series user was the location of the playback button. It is located above the back screen, as on the X-T2, however it is not on the same vertical plane as the screen: it is almost horizontal, so you need to reach it from above. This will probably make sense for people shooting on a tripod and looking at the camera from above, however it seems like a poor design decision for those shooting handheld. For sure, you can customise one of the buttons that you can access with the fingers of your right hand, but that means giving up on a customisable button, and therefore this should not be considered an acceptable solution given the importance of the playback function.
The “touch &I try” area for the GFX 50s was further highlighting the progresses that Fujifilm could do when setting up such events: while they thought to hire a model and makeup artist and provided them with some stylish traditional Japanese clothes, they forgot the lighting part. This led to my first surprise: when I was given the camera the ISO was set on 12,800… which made sense given given the poor lighting conditions, but you would imagine that a camera manufacturer would rather have you not have your first experience with their new product at super high ISO. Unfortunately, it was not allowed to use your own memory card to check the file later (which is a real bummer for a camera that is available for pre-order… in my opinion if you are ready to take people’s money you should be ready to let them take your files… just saying), so difficult to really judge the quality of the result from the back of the screen. From what I could see in this context, it seemed very good for such a high ISO, but, since you won’t let me look at the file, instead of praising the high-ISO performances that you seem to be capable of I will just reserve my judgment. The funny thing is that when you zoom on the JPEG displayed on the back of the camera and look at the way it handles the noise at high ISO, it does feel very familiar with the JPEGs we know from the X-Series cameras.
In terms of handling, the autofocus did its job, not with the fastest speed but with reliability, which is actually not bad if you remember where the X-Series started from. In any case, the GFX 50s with its big files was not built to be a speed monster. When shooting in “RAW + JPEG”, I would have the time to take one picture and chimp at the back of the screen, and the green light indicating that the camera is writing into the memory card would still be illuminated for a fraction of second. And that would be for just one single image (begs the question of the speed of the memory card they had put in the camera… maybe next time let me use mine, you know, just saying…). I feel like there is some room for improvement there in the next iterations of the GFX series. Similarly, phase detection autofocus and a faster flash sync speed (only 1/125sec max) already sound like logical hardware improvements for the next version. And of course it will also take time for Fujifilm to deliver on the GFX lens roadmap, delays are not unheard of. So whether you are a professional who will make a living off this camera or someone with really high disposable income, just be aware that you are falling into a product line with several “early adopters” warnings. But then again, when you see those gorgeous files and how light and easy to use this camera is…
CP+ is this week-end in Yokohama, and will provide another opportunity to test the GFX 50s for those interested. I usually go to CP+ every year and I will try to do so this year as well, but timing might be tricky this time, as I am doing a day trip to Kyoto on Saturday for a festival, and then I am shooting a different event on the totally opposite side of Tokyo on Sunday.