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The Rum Diary: Testing the GF 80mm f/1.7 R WR on set with Grant Payne

How does the Fujifilm GF 80mm 1.7 R WR perform during an important shoot? Cape Town-based Grant Payne gives us the lowdown.

I got my first Fujifilm camera in 2010, the much-anticipated X100. I had mine booked and paid for months in advance – a beautiful limited edition (only 10 000 produced) all black edition of what’s now a classic little camera. This X100 found its way into every part of my life – from everyday carry to travelling to Japan with it around my neck. I even went to weddings wearing it as a suit tie, it was that good looking. More than a decade later, I’m shooting all my commercial work with a Fujifilm GFX 50R medium format camera.

My 2020 summer season was off to a good start and I was booking more and more bottle work, but then Covid happened. I decided to hit the road in a van to concentrate on photographing a personal project and wait out the alcohol ban that had brought my industry to a standstill.

After almost a full year in lock down, the ban on alcohol had finally lifted again for the umpteenth time. I got a call from a UK-based agency about shooting a campaign for a Cuban rum company. The brief was to capture that unique moment, the absolute instant of a day with friends drinking and dancing in the sun. I had been following the camera world news and saw the Fujifilm GF 80mm 1.7 R WR lens had just come out in January 2021. I’ve waited for Fujifilm to bridge the gap between the 63mm and 100mm, and don’t forget to mention the 1.7 f-stop. After attending the launch of the Fujifilm GFX 100S and testing the 80mm there, I knew this lens was the only choice to pair with my 50R for this shoot, and Fujifilm South Africa provided the lens to test.

This 80mm lens is a big chunk of glass but I wouldn’t have it any other way. It did, however, feel slightly large for my 50R body but the thick rubber focus wheel fits nicely in my hand and I found myself gripping the barrel of the lens more than the body in between shots.

My daily lens is the GF 50mm 3.5 but by having the slightly longer than 50mm crop it made for a slight telephoto compression without it being over the top. I like things to have a slightly wider look and the 80mm seems to feel just right. The bokeh appears to transition differently on the larger sensor, making the sharpness of my focus points not as abrupt as you do sometimes when shooting with shallow depth of field on 35mm sensors.

During the shoot I was keeping things shallow and fast from the get-go and working with a solid digital assistant was vital here. Often stopping all the way down, my 50R was still able to keep its autofocus up with this sharp lens. With the camera you’re able to instantly check bottle labels for sharpness and see colour grades in real-time. In fact, the colours rendered from this lens looked so perfect on-screen it was difficult to pull the client back to set.

I found the 80mm to have a lot of character and paired with my 50R it creates a film-like experience. The 80mm produces incredibly tack sharp images but without that clinical feeling I get from a lot of other pro glass.

This was a big shoot and I had a number of other camera bodies and lenses there to help do the work. However, the Fujifilm GF 80mm 1.7 R WR and Fujifilm GFX 50R remained in my hand for 98% of the day. This is testament to the quality this combo can produce.

Find more of Grant’s work here:

Instagram @grantjohnbrettpayne

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