Can You Do Medium Format Photojournalism with a GFX 100?
Updated: Aug 31, 2020
As I walked backwards in front of the banner-carrying demonstrators, a fellow photographer, looking as bit astonished, asked, “Are you photographing the march using medium format cameras?” I responded, “Yep,” and kept stepping backward to maintain the wide view that kept shrinking as the marchers continued to push ahead. The photographer then asked, “How’s that going to work?” to which I responded, “We’ll find out.” He then peeled off to my right.
Last night I found out the answer to his second question: It worked just fine. The march was Chicago’s version of the anti-Trump immigration marches that were staged in a number of cities throughout the United States yesterday in anticipation of ICE raids on immigrant communities that commenced today.
I was carrying two cameras, the Fuji GFX 50S, which I have owned since its release some two years ago, and the GFX 100, which I have owned for two weeks. Normally, I would have used two Sony R7III cameras, and before that a Canon kit. Attached to the GFX 50s was the Fuji 32mm-64mm lens. I was using the Fuji 100mm-200mm lens with the GFX 100. In retrospect, I wish I had also brought the Fuji 23mm lens. I left it at home because I wanted to reduce weight given that temperatures were project to soar into the nineties. I also don’t like changing out lenses in demonstrations.
Both cameras performed beautifully, and I learned a lot that will be useful going forward.
Basic Settings. I shoot in manual mode. Even though the GFX 100 has in-camera image stabilization, I still set the shutter speed at 1/250th or faster because I don’t want blurry people. I try to shoot at F8 or slower, but at times yesterday that proved difficult because of the variable light caused by fast moving clouds and the skyscrapers forming a canyon along Clark Street. Obviously I try to keep ISO as low as possible, but it proves be the fastest way to quickly adjust exposure, at least for me.
On the GFX 100, I had image stabilization set to “Continuous.” Normally, I shoot single shot, single focal point, but yesterday I experimented by using “Continuous” and “Wide” on the GFX 100. On the 50s, I used single shot, single focal point.
Weight: I was nervous about carrying two medium format cameras and the attached lenses. The cameras are bulky and heavier than most DSLRs and mirrorless cameras. I was pleasantly surprised. I generally left one camera in my backpack, but at times I had two camera straps around my neck. No fatigue, nor muscle strain. The size works nicely in terms of access.
And size does have its advantages. As I was approaching the press section, the keeper of the coin looked at the two cameras and waved me in without the checking the credential that I failed to register for.
Battery Life: Using the 100 GFX, I finished the day off with 631 images, about 620 of which were RAW. I ran through one battery and about 20% of the second one.
With the GFX 50s, I had about 270 images, and the battery still had plenty of power left.
Buffering: With the GFX, I used two128gb Sandisk cards, with a 300mb transfer rate. I used two 128gb Sandisk cards in the GFX 50s, but with a 170mb transfer rate. In the near future, I want to try the 170 cards in the GFX 100. They are a lot cheaper, so I would prefer not to buy anymore "300" cards until the prices come way down.
Auto Focus, Continuous Wide: The autofocus on the GFX 100 worked fine, although I am inclined to go back to single shot, single focal point. I have always steered clear of the “Wide” setting because the moving green squares drive me crazy. I am never sure which facial feature is in maximum focus—eyes, nose, mouth, or ears? A telephoto lens on a medium format camera eliminates any wiggle room that would otherwise come from using a smaller aperture. Face detection may help with that, but on the street, I find it sometimes doesn’t focus on faces. Any suggestions would be appreciated.
Dynamic Range. When I want to recover highlights or lighten the shadows, I appreciate the additional range that the newer (and often more expensive) cameras provide. But to be clear: I do not aim for perfection most of the time. In many cases, I prefer blown out highlights and crushed shadows.
When processing images, I was able to recover highlights and lighten shadows when I found that to be desirable. I have now used the GFX 100 for somewhere around 60 hours a variety of settings—rock concert, urban landscape, architecture, and even a little “street.” I have been able to raise or lower the exposure by two stops without any issues.
Multiple Exposure. I am intrigued by the multi or double exposure feature, although I think it could easily be overused, turning into a gimmick. I experimented yesterday with it.
I think it would be a far more interesting tool if Fuji put some more work into it. Specifically, as far as I can tell, it only creates jpgs. It would better if it also saved out RAW images. That way you could use the tool to compose the image at the time of capture, but then edit each image and create a composite in Photoshop.
Viewfinder. On my GFX 100, the viewer finder is too dark. I discovered this because I use the viewfinder as a meter—yes, I know about histograms and do occasionally check them, but I have always found the WYSIWYG provided by viewfinder or LCD screen to be the latest way to check for exposure. Throughout my time using the the GFX 100, I have been reluctant to stop down to too far because the viewfinder image shows an underexposed image. Now that I have determined that it is the viewfinder, I will experiment with its brightness.
Post-Processing. Since the images from a demonstration are photojournalistic in nature, I tend to go light on the post-process. I correct perspective (tilted horizons), sharpen, and make basic adjustments through the exposure panel. I am adding about 30 images from this demonstration to my Age of Trump portfolio, which is an ongoing project. If I recall correctly, none of my images from yesterday's demonstration made a trip to Photoshop and back to Lightroom.
I find that the actual processing of the GFX 100 files is not very intensive in terms of speed, but Lightroom does slow down significantly under three circumstances. First, it takes forever to transfer the images to the computer—I’d say well it took well over 40 minutes to import the 620 raw images . I suspect like many other photographers, I cheat a bit when transferring by switching to development mode to begin tinkering. You can’t do that with GFX 100 files.
Second, even after the files are transferred, it takes much longer for the files to load when reviewing them at 100%. Third, the export process is very slow.
I am using a late 2013 Mac Pro (the trash can), with 16gb of RAM. I’ve already been to the Apple store. Tomorrow, I order 64gb of replacement RAM, something I had planned to do long before I purchased the camera.
Bottom Line: I can and will certainly use these cameras to cover other demonstrations and events. For me, the best feature about medium format is still the native 4:3 aspect ratio, which is one of the reasons I love these cameras.
I like urban landscapes. I have tried on numerous outings to capture the above mash of signage, but always in the afternoon when the scene was in shade. After the demonstration, I walked over, finding a nicely lit scene. The street was white in the RAW file. I recovered the color and texture in Lightroom.
To see my work, visit http://www.jacksiegelphoto.com. I also maintain a photoblog at http://wwwchicagoobservations.com. The images and the story about yesterday's immigration march can be found here: https://www.chicagoobservations.com/chicago-observational-ramblings/2019/7/14/its-about-the-numbers.
All images and text, Copyright 2019, Jack B. Siegel, All Rights Reserved. Do not copy, reproduce, redistribute, or alter.