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Fujifilm GFX 50R review: Hefty and unwieldy, but it takes some cracking photos

Dave Stevenson
13 Mar 2019
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
4,000
inc VAT

The 50R produces astonishing images, but it will cause you no shortage of pain in the process

Pros 
Phenomenal image quality
Packed with features
Cons 
Weighty and tiring to hold
Irritatingly difficult to use
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Previously the reserve of well-heeled studio photographers, mirrorless technology is beginning to make medium format photography available to a much broader swathe of photographers. Indeed, at a shade under £4,000 (admittedly before you add a lens), the Fujifilm GFX 50R is within the grasp of moneyed enthusiasts with a taste for huge sensors. If that sounds like a stretch, just compare it to the Hasselblad H6D, a medium format competitor that starts at £14,000.

Fujifilm GFX 50R review: Price and competition

The GFX 50R presents competition not just to its traditional medium format competitors, but also to high-end, full-frame DSLRs such as the Canon 1DX MKII and Nikon D5. The big difference is that sensor – it measures 44 x 33mm, which compares nicely to full-frame’s 36 x 24mm. Home to more widely-spaced pixel-sites, it offers greater light-gathering capabilities, and slimmer depth of field.

The extra real estate is used to add resolution, with 51.4 megapixels on offer. That’s more than double the Canon 1DX MKII or Nikon D5, and slightly more than Canon’s ultra-high-res 5DS R. Want to print your images the size of buildings? This could be the camera for you. Still, those comparing high-end DSLRs to the 50R will find plenty of trade-offs waiting for them.

There is some medium format competition at this price. The Hasselblad X1D-50C costs about £8,000 body-only, and the Pentax 645Z is closer in price. Both offer about the same resolution and sensor size.

READ NEXT: Our Nikon D750 review

Fujifilm GFX 50R review: Features and design

All the features you’d expect from a camera this expensive are here. An excellent, tilting, 3.2in touchscreen, as well as wireless tethering to smart devices via either Bluetooth or Wi-Fi mean the 50R offers plenty of mod-cons. Transferring an image to a smartphone (a compressed JPEG, obviously, not a full-fat, 116MB RAW file) took around seven seconds, which is respectable.

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Those who want the reliability of wired tethering or image transfer can use the 50R’s USB-C port, which is awkwardly placed under a rubber flap beneath the camera, so it has to sit wrongside-up when you want to use it. You can’t charge the camera via its USB port, but an AC adapter is available. A final pro touch is the twin SD card slots, which can be set to do the usual things – overflow capacity, simultaneous writing or writing RAW files to one card and JPEGs to the other.

It’s an almighty thing. Big, black and boxy, with uncompromising looks and sharp corners, it weighs 775g before you attach a lens and it’s worth noting that Fuji’s GF lenses aren’t particularly light. Portrait photographers might opt for the 110mm f/2 – a fantastic bit of kit that nonetheless outweighs the camera itself at over a kilo.

It’s not particularly comfortable to use, but that’s not because of the weight. The Canon 5D MKIII is heavier, but arguably more comfortable because of its huge, deep grip. Here, in keeping with its rangefinder styling, the 50R’s grip is shallow, sticking out just a centimetre or so from the body of the camera. That means you need to hold it tighter, which is tiring.

We like – as we did with the Fujifilm X-T3 – the top-mounted shutter speed dial and exposure compensation dial. The shutter dial only moves in whole stops, though, so photographers looking for slightly more fine-grained control will end up using the rear dial. By default, the knurled ring around the shutter release button adjusts ISO, which is useful, while aperture is controlled by a fly-by-wire ring on the lens itself.

The buttons are a different story. Small and only just protruding from the body of the camera, they can be hard to hit and, although the 50R and its GF-series lenses are weather-sealed, we wouldn’t fancy trying to use it with gloves on. The rear dial, set by default to adjusting shutter speed, can be particularly tricky to use accurately.

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Whether this is a showstopper will depend on how you use the camera. Studio photographers certainly won’t care much, as camera adjustments are few and far between when you’re working with artificial lights. Landscape photographers working from tripods will similarly have no problem with a camera that takes a little longer to set up. Photographers working in available light, in manual mode, will find that constantly tweaking exposure gets tiring.

Autofocus is another bugbear. It’s slow, for a start, as the 50R uses contrast-detection AF rather than the lightning-fast phase-detection of other cameras. That – possibly – gives it a small advantage when it comes to image quality, as there’s no need for light-stopping phase-detection pixels on the sensor, but it does mean it’s slow to reach a conclusion. Once it does, it pays to check focus very, very, carefully – that large circle of confusion (shallow depth of field, in layperson’s terms) makes getting sharp images very, very hard, particularly when shooting close up with wide-open lenses.

Help is at hand, though, as the 0.5in, 3,690,000-pixel EVF is very sharp, and a push of the rear dial crops in hard to the frame, allowing you to evaluate focus close up. We also ended up turning on focus peaking. The result: a camera with an exhausting workflow that will take DSLR photographers by surprise.

It’s pretty slow as well, which isn’t unexpected for a medium format camera, but just 3fps will take DSLR users by surprise. It actually fared a little worse in our test, shooting ten RAW frames in 18 seconds before the buffer filled. Make no mistake: this isn’t a camera with which you can start shooting and figure things out as you go – your frame needs to be settled before you push the shutter button, because the 50R won’t keep up with rapidly unfolding action. This ain’t a camera for a kid’s birthday party.

READ NEXT: Our Nikon D3400 review

Fujifilm GFX 50R: Photo quality

And then you start reviewing the images the 50R shoots, and all your concerns about the camera’s weight, comfort and usability fade away, because it takes, hands-down, some of the best images we’ve ever seen from any digital camera. Get autofocus right and you’re rewarded with images that can be mercilessly cropped – or left alone and interpolated to virtually any size. Dynamic range is enormous – claimed at 14 stops – and, therefore, images can be pushed very hard in editing software before you start to lose quality.

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Noise performance was excellent in our experience. Images to ISO 800 were more or less indistinguishable from each other, and even as far as ISO 6400 images were still beautifully sharp, with no discernible colour shifts. Noise was present, but it wasn’t a showstopper. With Fuji’s GF lenses going as wide as 23mm (18mm, converted to 35mm formats), that’s potentially good news for nocturnal photographers.

[ISO 50]

[ISO 102400]

Worth a mention is that the two lenses we tried – the 32-64mm f/4 and 110mm f/2 – were both superb, with no chromatic aberration, even shot wide-open, and gorgeously, magnificently sharp. If image quality is your overriding concern, the 50R offers some of the very best bang per buck that there is.

READ NEXT: Our Canon EOS 2000D review

Fujifilm GFX 50R: Verdict

In our experience, the 50R was not a particularly fun camera to use. Autofocus takes a long time, and even when it’s done, depth of field is so marginal you have to be utterly pedantic to come anywhere near guaranteeing a solid-looking result. It’s not especially comfortable to hold and not terribly straightforward to use, particularly for photographers working in changeable natural light.

Get the camera set up right, though, and it produces gorgeous images. Not just sharp – although we can’t recall a sharper combination of lens and camera than the 50R and the two lenses we used it with – the way focus falls off through the images and the nearly limitless ability to manage depth of field makes for some truly beautiful shots. Its dynamic range is outrageous and colour reproduction is lovely – subtle, impactful and nicely saturated, as well as being very capable when it comes to low light and high ISO imaging.

The 50R isn’t for everyone. While perhaps not capable of quite so superlative image quality, equivalently expensive full-frame DSLRs are probably the better bet for the vast majority of photographers. They might – arguably – be a step behind for image quality, but they’re easier to use and perform better in situations that require good reactions. But, if you do most of your work in a studio – or are simply happy to work around the compromises the 50R demands in exchange for top-notch shots – you might find its images worth the workload.

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