MIKE SCHMUCKER: Am I impressed with the Fujifilm GFX100?

Potentially a silly heading, but let’s go with it for now. Midway through the Covid-19 lockdown I received a call from a new client. “We have an airplane that we can’t ship to the USA at the moment for a big press release. Is there a way to photograph it and print it lifesize on a container?” Naturally my first reaction was, “No problem”, so we set up an online meeting and took it from there.

Just a little insight on what the shoot was about: The Bronco 2 is a small-scale military aircraft, the same size as a large container length wise, so the final print was going to be 7.5m long. My regular DSLR is a great camera and all files have always been large enough for most printed applications, but for this, I was kind of hesitant. Especially when the client wants the viewers to see all the details up close.

So, what do you do? Rental companies are not open yet, and the only possibility is shooting Medium Format. The great guys at Fujifilm South Africa (Barry Matthews), took my call and more than willingly offered the GFX100 to try for the shoot – it really was world class service.

The brief was to capture the Bronco 2 in some beauty styled settings, plus some images of the factory, the workers, and the equipment used for the manufacturing. Let’s not forget, there was also going to be a video crew doing the same. Anyone who does stills knows that working with a video crew at the same time as doing stills is a tough ask.

 It’s not the ideal way to work, but luckily the massive print request was cancelled as the client could ship the airplane to the USA. But the shoot went ahead.

On the first afternoon/evening, it was time for some beauty shots of the Bronco 2. We had limited area to move the plane around, but the facilities had enough to offer.

 I got an expert to help me the first day, Fujifilm X-Photographer Andre Badenhorst. I thought the GFX100 was going to be a handful, filled with complicated tricks like many other Medium Format cameras. This was not the case, with an easy user-friendly interface making a big difference. Changing ISO, shutter speed, getting your horizontal line, and so on, was all a walk in the park. You could jump from MF to AF easily, which is something I really need in my photography style. Same with the self timer – very easy and quick.

 The GFX100 reminded me of a basic mechanical Medium Format film camera, all the buttons and functions are easily placed around your finger movements – seriously a great ergonomic design.

 Armed with my Profoto kit, and a great lighting assistant (Andre), we tackled the location and took some shots. I do multiple exposures of the subject matter, almost a type of light painting just with flash, to then combine these images to make them appear as being well lit, i.e. as done by a big crew lighting my scene. The Profoto’s are perfect for this, as all images are shot on f22, I need all the punch I can get, so 1200W of power.

This is also the reason why I need a camera that’s steady on a tripod; if nothing moves and all the multiple images align up perfectly it makes blending the exposures together just effortless.

 All is well and good when shooting with flash – if the focus is correct once the flash pops then everything will be pin sharp. But what about when only using available light? Of course, a flash is just a fill in, but we let the sun do its job.

 The next morning it was decided to shoot some more images of the Bronco 2 in a field, showing its bush landing abilities. Best light is always at pre-sunrise but this location only allowed us to shoot into the sun. No worries, the GFX100 with its massive latitude in exposure captured the scenes with ease.

 Also added into the brief were some shots of the guys working on the machinery and on the plane itself. Normally this is not a problem, but time and budget were against us and the list of areas needed to be captured was rather long. It meant there was no time for moving two or three lights around, nor setting up more.

I then remembered one of the selling points of the Fujifilm cameras is being able to still produce quality images at an insanely high ISO. I had no choice, it was time to give it a try! Armed with my tripod, the GFX100 and one light with a big umbrella, I started on one side of the building shooting at 5000 ISO.

The GFX100 handled this with ease with such well-balanced exposures and hardly any noise. This camera made my job so much easier – with an effortless workflow I ended up capturing the shooting list in two hours. Normally this would have taken me an entire day carrying tons of gear.

 Below are just some of the images and I think I eventually ended up shooting around 12-15 different areas in the plant.

I have tested and worked with a large number of Medium Format cameras in the last 20 years, for that matter probably more digital Medium Formats than film. With some I had good experiences and others really terrible ones, so maybe I do know what I’m talking about?

 The Fujifilm GFX100 hits it out of the park, with a great ergonomic design alongside ease of use, sharpness, and many more. The fact that I can select the smallest corner in my frame with the AF indicator is also just brilliant! The only problem I had was photographing late at night. Seeing the composition clearly through only the digital screen wasn’t very enjoyable. But then again, to be perfectly honest with you, I only used the camera for three days and that is just an adaptation process anyway. I think in a couple of months I wouldn’t even notice that anymore.

 Actually, I would also make the GFX100 my everyday shooting camera, be it cars, people, architecture, products, you name it! The GFX is very impressive.

 Oh and, before I forget, the GFX100 is also perfect for aerials. The extra weight does make it super stable, so getting the shot is just so much easier! This camera had a huge impact on me. I enjoyed every second I spent using it and I highly recommend it to all and any photographers. Seriously, it’s a beauty!

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