Evolution Apropos – The Fujifilm GFX50S II and GF35-70mm F4.5-5.6 First look with 3 unanswered questions

*I had originally planned a not-as-detailed as the usual reviews but ended up I couldn’t help myself *ahem* so here are the 4 key sections to guide your reading.

Section 1: A bit of history
Section 2: The Fujifilm GFX50S II, it’s raison d’être and the 10 key improvements it brings
Section 3: The GF35-70mm f4.5-5.6 elaborated – handling, performance and samples
Section 4: Conclusions and 3 Unanswered Questions.

Section 1: A bit of history

My first digital medium-format camera was the GFX50S, which of no coincidence is also Fujifilm’s first foray into the medium-format world in 2017. In a world where Phase One, Hasselblad and Leica took reign, the Fujifilm GFX was the only choice I could afford.

Like the many kindred others in the GFX community, we took the step with much trepidation and our steps soon cumulated into a system now boasting 5 camera bodies supported by at least 12 GF mount lenses in 2021.

You can find my reviews of most of the GFX system here (except the GFX100S and GF80 f1.7)

2017 – The GFX50S with the GF63mm , Lynn was 1 years old then

In this first look review of the 2021 announced GFX50S II and GF35-70mm f4.5-5.6. I will discuss how the Fujifilm GFX50S II and GF35-70mm are necessary models in the evolution of the GFX system, seeking to elucidate why the GFX50S II achieves an important milestone while sharing real-life photo samples and a few key points about their handling and performance. 

The GFX50S II with GF35-70mm f4.5 to f5.6

And in the 4 years that has since passed from the GFX50S to now the GFX50S II…

Lynn, now 5 years old with the GFX50S II and GF45mm

A question a fellow X-Photographer reviewing this release pondered on was: “Why would Fujifilm release the GFX50S II with a 4 years old sensor?”

of course we will answer this question later in this review.

Section 2: The Fujifilm GFX50S II and it’s raison d’être

tl:dr. A camera maker that listens to the demands of the users.

Since 2017, a list of the most requested improvements from GFX owners has been to include IBIS , updated film simulations , more reliable auto-focus, a more compact body with better battery life, while somehow providing an even more pocket-friendlier price when the GFX mount is already much more affordable than the alternatives from the other brands.

The GFX100 and GFX100S releases fulfilled some of these requests, however the sore thumb sticking out was that the 51.4 megapixels GFX cameras seemed… stagnant while Fujifilm ploughed ahead.

*I understand this wasn’t the fairest statement to make given that other digital medium-format makers can easily take years to release an update (looking at Pentax’s 645Z) vs Fujifilm’s successive release of 5 bodies within 4 years.

The GFX50S II – the same but different where it matters

For me, I was very looking forward to more reliable focusing capabilities in the 51.4 megapixels GFX cameras, after-all the GFX system was the one that brought medium format photography to the masses and out of the studio and GFX users were not going to be focusing using a system with only 1 focus point like the Phase One XF camera.

GFX50S II with GF35-70mm f4.5-5.6

To Fujifilm, here was an opportunity for a redesign of the 2017 GFX50S which was much of a test-model during release. I recall how much i disliked the huge ‘box’ at the GFX50S’s back (Fujifilm said it was to facilitate cooling, I said it was bulky, none of us liked each other’s answers hahaha) Moreover, it was pretty obvious that there ARE photographers who will prefer a refreshed 51.4 megapixels option and not keen to play in the 102 megapixels arena.

At firmware version 4.20 for the GFX50S, the 51.4 megapixels GFX cameras were due for an hardware upgrade to future-proof them.

GFX50S II, GF45mm f2.8
GFX50S II, GF45mm f2.8
GFX50S II, GF45mm f2.8

And now, Fujifilm has provided the next evolutive step of their GFX 51.4 megapixels series by equipping it with the newest X Processor 4 (vs GFX50S’s X Processor Pro in 2017), paving the way to include most of the requests by the users. 

The 10 key improvements in the GFX50S II

(for the full specification list , please visit Fujifilm’s official GFX site here)

  1. The same 51.4 MP (CDAF only) sensor but a better performing and more reliable autofocus system with improved eye/face detection
  2. 5-axis IBIS (up to 6.5 stops by CIPA standards) 
  3. More pocket friendly prices (USD3999 – GFX50S II vs USD6499 – GFX50S vs USD4499 – GFX50R)
  4. Faster and more competent performance with updated imaging processors 
  5. Improved body design (the GFX100S body in fact) with USB-C charging
  6. A wallet-friendly native zoom lens, the GF35-70 f4.5-5.6 at USD500 as a kit lens or USD999 alone. (Comparatively, a Leica SBP Pro-1 battery for its medium format S3 costs USD285 in comparison)  
  7. Updated film simulations, including the current Nostalgia Negative making a total of 19
  8. Updated functionality like smooth skin effect, Bluetooth support among others. 
  9. Updated batteries NP-W235 so you do not need to handle multiple battery types. In fact this is the same battery used in the Fujifilm APSC mount X-T4 and GFX100S. 
  10. Video capabilities remain pretty much constant but look forward to better tracking with the updated algorithms and processor (the GFX50S II does not do 4K, it records full HD (1920×1080) at 29.97p/ 25p/ 24p/ 23.98p at 50 Mbps up to approximately 120 minutes.

    Other improvements in the GFX50S II over the GFX50S includes the GFX100S body design now at 900 grams with an additional 1.8 in top-plate LCD, 95 points of weather sealing and on.

The way I see it, the move to the GFX100S body in my opinion was a correct decision, bringing to the 51.4 megapixel GFX bodies an updated styling and button/dial placement that is more user-friendly, especially with the variable-LCD 2.36 million dots screen. There is no more ‘optional’ removable EVF like it was in the GFX50S.

Section 3: The GF35-70mm f4.5-5.6 elaborated

The GF35-70 next to the GF45

I did face initial issues writing about the GF35-70mm f4.5-5.6 lens as I was not sure where to place it in the GFX ecosystem, and this section took quite a few re-writes in my attempts to capture the essence of this lens.

The new GF35-70mm f4.5-5.6 lens is a collapsible lens design and to start shooting, one needs to twist the lens to the 35mm position. At this point, Fujifilm already has 3 other GF-mount zoom lenses, the GF32-64mm f4, GF45-100mm f4 and GF100-200 f5.6 and this new addition clearly is the more wallet friendly equivalent of the GF32-64mm f4 (USD2299).

The GF35-70mm f4.5-5.6 is the casual, made for travel equivalent of the GF32-64mm f4 at lesser than 1/2 of its price and weight.

at USD999 vs USD2299 for the lens-only purchase.

There is weather resistance, however there is no aperture ring (reminds me of the XC35mm f2) and no in-lens stabilisation. Build-wise the lens is decent with no flex however the body seems to constructed out of high-grade plastic, unlike the cool-to touch metallic bodies of the other GFX lenses.

The lens is almost silent and very quick to focus, and will come in handy as a lens option for a photographer who seeks compactness or a backup zoom lens. While using it, I never had any issues with the lens hunting for a focus on the GFX50S II and if I encountered any problems, it was my own user-issue in forgetting to ‘unlock’ the lens before powering up the camera.

Once unlocked, the GF35-70 is not actually much smaller than the smaller primes in the GF family.
The gentle reminder if you forget to ‘unlock’ the GF35-70mm before shooting

Optical design wise, one gets 11 elements in 9 groups (1 Aspherical, 2ED) in the GF35-70mm f4.5-5.6. The filter size comes in at 62mm, and lens size at φ84.9mm X 73.9mm (collapsed length) and 96.4mm (telephoto end) and it weighs 390 grams. The GF32-64mm f4 comes in at 895 grams in comparison.

GFX50S II and GF35-70mm
GFX50S II and GF35-70mm
GFX50S II and GF35-70mm
100% Crop

Image quality is good (if I am to be really honest, I prefer to use the word ‘decent’ for someone pampered by the extraordinary GF-mount lenses). The image quality is not mind-blowing excellent like the other zoom options in the GF-mount but it is important to note that the GF35-70mm is one-quarter of the price (if bought as a kit lens) and half the weight of the GF32-64mm f4, which is an extraordinary performing lens difficult to surpass.

from the GF250mm f4 lens on the GFX50S

Stopping down obviously brings more improvements in center-sharpness but this is to be expected. The separation (3D pop) is acceptable but if this is your key criteria, you probably will be considering the GF primes like the GF80mm f1.7 or the GF110mm f2 instead.

the GF35-70mm’s variable aperture hits f5.0 at 45mm, f5.4 at 63mm and f5.6 at 70mm

An interesting observation I had was that even as overall GF35-70mm outputs good performance, it does seem to have variable levels of center sharpness at different focal lengths, with peak center sharpness at around the 45mm focal length. Shooting at 70mm wide open close-up to the subject seems to create a ‘soft halo effect’ (see samples below). Minimum focusing distance is 35cm for this lens.

However this phenomenon goes away once one steps further away from the subject.

*Disclaimer – I only had a copy of the GF35-70mm to test, it will be fairer for me to conclude this if I have access to more copies. What I did was to check in with two other reviewers and one contact and it seems we all experienced the same phenomenon.

At 45mm focal length (35mm example was above)

GFX50S II, GF35-70mm at 45mm
100% Crop

At 70mm, close up at as close as possible.

GFX50S II and GF35-70mm at 68.8mm (~70mm)
100% Crop

Otherwise, the GF35-70mm f4.5-5.6 was a pretty easy-going lens option and similar to the GF50mm f3.5, I will deem it portable enough for a walk-about shoot.

GFX50S II and GF35-70mm
GFX50S II and GF35-70mm
GFX50S II and GF35-70mm

Handling and autofocus performance

I believe most users will be more curious on autofocus capabilities of the CDAF-only GFX50S II.

The autofocus performance while not up to par with the GFX100S’s PDAF and CDAF sensor is a significant improvement over the GFX50S/R. Current GFX50S/R owners will definitely notice and appreciate the improvement.

Eye-detect and face-detect is much more responsive and reliable versus the GFX50S/R where sometimes it would not even activate with a face obviously in the frame and this brings the 51.4 megapixels GFX body up to the demands of 2021.

GFX50S II, GF45mm f2.8

The GFX50S II is only 20 grams lighter than the GFX50S but it feels much less bulky in a more robust body. The variable LCD design is an added convenience, moreover I do not miss the detachable EVF design of the older GFX50S and in all I do welcome the GFX50S II using the current GFX100S body for handling and future-proofing (more on this in the conclusion part)

For a shoot, my wife and I were actually shooting in a drizzle for close to 2 hours and the GFX50S II, GF45mm and GF35-70mm setup easily shrugged off the inclement weather. Having the same battery as the X-mount X-T4 body helped in defraying costs and inconveniences of managing different batteries for users of both systems.

I have consistently found the GFX100’s design and handling bulky and easily find the GFX100S / GFX50S II’s design much better for handling

Section 4: Conclusions (a tad long but bear with me)

A point seldom spoken about is the consistency of a camera system in its design and performance.  As someone using a professional system, you want consistency in the work you present to your clients. You likely do not have the luxury to figure out why the same scene looks different because you used a different body for the shoot and this is an area where the GFX50S II makes sense.

Fujifilm aims the GFX system to be taken seriously by professional photographers, and for that it is important to have consistency in minimum these two areas,

  1. Controls and handling across cameras 
  2. Imaging quality (the output) 

One thing users agreed on consistently was the extraordinary image quality from the cropped medium format sensor, whether it was the 51.4 or 102 megapixels GFX sensor. 

GFX50S II, GF45mm f2.8

We now have consistency in handling for the GFX user who may have the GFX100S and now the GFX50S II, because they utilise the exact same camera body design.

I am sure some critics will be saying that this is an attempt at reselling the same sensor but so? It is an excellent sensor with many years of life left in it. Leica’s M9-era corrosion-prone CCD sensors are at least 12 old but yet it still demands a cult following today.

The GF35-70mm is a welcome development, providing the fourth GF zoom lens with a very specific purpose on focusing on the budget of the photographer, adding onto the repertoire of lenses available to the photographer.

And it is in this spirit that I feel that the GFX50S II and GF35-70mm f4.5-5.6 make sense in their own ways as new members to the GFX family. For someone who started with the GFX50S and now has the GFX100, the GFX50S II is definitely a lot of the familiarity but yet different in where it matters, updating the 4-year old 51.4 megapixels GFX cameras to the capabilities possible in 2021.

Thank you for reading.

Addendum: Reviewers are humans too and there are questions I am still pondering on and please do share your take in the comments below to enlighten me on your take: 

  1. As a reader or considering the GFX50S II, does this release consign the GFX50S and GFX50R to end-of-life status in your opinion?

2. For USD2000 more, one has the choice of the GFX100S, the current apex of performance in the GFX series, and if you are looking at one body only, will you take the GFX100S or GFX50S II?

3. The GF35-70mm lens in this case optically is not as extraordinary as the other GF zooms, will you consider this lens given it’s price point and compactness?

Disclaimers (yes, skip if you are not keen on this section)

1. All images shared are photographed by me and edited in LR CC Classic to my preferences.
2. The GFX50S II and GF35-70mm kit were at firmware version 1.00 and were loaned for review purposes.

3. I am not keen on copy/pasting technical specifications, using stock photos or even making a conclusion without handling the camera like some other sites and prefer to be candid with my opinions. If I make a factual mistake pls kindly correct me, opinions shared are my own.
4. I had hoped to be able to do a bit of travel for this review but due to rising Covid-19 cases locally it was pretty tough, I do seek your understanding for the lack of variety in the samples.

12 Replies to “Evolution Apropos – The Fujifilm GFX50S II and GF35-70mm F4.5-5.6 First look with 3 unanswered questions”

  1. GFX50r end of life will not occur until there is a successor with the same form factor. The attraction of the “r” is not just that it is the least expensive. (This is somewhat analogous to the X-E series. Fuji behaves as if the attraction is economic but for many of us it is the form factor.) A GFX50r II with IBIS would attract buyers even if it were sold for the same price as the GFX50S II. I don’t Fuji understands this.

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    1. The GFX50R was an interesting concept , selling the medium format series as a rangefinder design vs the more workhorse designs we see.

      Good point about the form factor

      Like

  2. The GF35-70mm probably will not attract users other than it’s price, however I am indeed considering the 50S II as a replacement for my 50S. Well written review Keith.

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    1. Thank you. To me it was a bit tough to place the GF35-70mm, especially given how stellar most of the GF lenses are and I kinda agree with you on this. This lens might probably serve as a nice backup option too.

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  3. Hi Keith, thank you for a very detailed and useful sharing. The list of 10 improvements is very useful for me, and makes way more sense over Fujifilm’s claim of 100 over improvements.

    With that, the GF35-70mm looks more of like an entry level lens, between this and the GF50mm which will you recommend?

    Like

    1. Thank you. I do find the GF50 resolving better, but that being a prime lens i think it’s expected to perform better than a zoom.

      Which to recommend actually will have to go back to your needs for a zoom or prime lens more to start too, especially when both seem to be around the same SRP price.

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  4. Hello Keith, I read your whole article till the end. I surmise that this is an attempt from Fujifilm to expand their medium format audience in view of the more accessible price. One would argue there is no discernible difference using this medium format body compared to a full frame camera. Geometry and perspective appear almost the same. AF in intial reviews mentions that it doesn’t compare to its hi res sibling. A compelling reason to purchase this seems to be if one wishes to print larger or sharper. And perhaps have significant depth of field in the images. A zoom is perhaps more convenient though such a system deserves a prime lens. My opinion one should wait for a camera with less compromises in terms of AF and face detection before one proceeds with a purchase.

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    1. Hi! Thank you for taking the time. Spot on in a sense, especially with the deliberate pricing of the GFX50S II and GF35-70 below the bodies of some full frame bodies.

      In a market sense, sale of bodies should bring about sales of lenses.

      Seldom spoken of but in honestly this is a cropped medium format sensor, not full frame medium format and yes, the 102MP bodies are ahead with CDAF/PDAF sensors but in a more balanced answer my take is for what medium format has been, the performance of the GFX (AF etc wise) has been pretty excellent and value for money , let’s hope that one day one doesn’t have to seek a compromise between AF and IQ too.

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  5. Hi Keith

    I think another view is that the 50s II is going to push the price of the used GFX 50s further down, and put the original 50s in the hands of more people. In SG you can buy a used 50s at SGD$3,000+, maybe with the 50s II coming to our shores, it might get pushed even closer to $2,800 by which time is very close to the Nikon D850 (around SGD$2,200 ??). Of course it is a cropped medium format, but close enough to the 645 instead of a 35mm with a SGD$600 difference (of course they are different cameras, but cameras nonetheless). And that is a great option.

    Now the GF35-70mm will be a great addon for street photography, not the fast and furious kind, but the slower kind. And there you go. A show stopper for me, would would be:

    “it does seem to have variable levels of center sharpness at different focal lengths, with peak center sharpness at around the 45mm focal length. Shooting at 70mm wide open close-up to the subject seems to create a ‘soft halo effect’”

    If its not sharp in the centre at all focal lengths, then for me that’s a dead horse, and I will instead stick to the 63mm and the adapted Mamiya 645 glass. Hopefully Fuji did not miss that boat.

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    1. Hi Marios, I agree with the point that more people with the system will for sure help.

      For the GF35-70 I guess it will be fairer to hear from more when more samples are avail. At least for me the GFX is a system where IQ cannot be compromised coming to expectations hence I made that note. I do expect more users to share on this soon too.

      Like

  6. Hey Keith — I appreciate your candid review of the new 35-70 zoom. As an X-mount user, I’ve closely followed the rumors of this lens as it represents a “gateway” into GFX given its cost and, more importantly (to me), its size. I never expected it to perform as well as the 32-64 — but this lens is a lot heavier (not to mention, much more expensive). I’m used to carrying the “Red Badge” zooms on hikes (16-55 and 8-16, in particular) and the 35-70 on the new GFX 50s II body is a similarly-sized kit. I have few doubts the image quality of the 35-70 on a GFX 50 body would best the 16-55 f/2.8 on my XT-3. But how much better are we talking?

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    1. Hi , thank you for dropping by. To compare against the XF16-55 I think we have to look at a few areas of IQ, rendering , sharpness and prob but no as much – bokeh. The GF35-70 by itself is a medium format sensor lens using the very good 51.4MP sensor and as such , overall I’ll say it does produce better details and sharpness (when it is sharp) than the XF16-55 which I mostly use at F4 onwards. Out of focus rendition will of course have the GF35-70 better the XF16-55.

      Other concerns are AF speeds which is need dependent, for a hike I would assume one doesn’t have much concern for that. In all I’ll say taking everything into consideration , esp for a landscapes person the GF35-70 kit gives better value than the XF16-55 which is actually more expensive too. It’s more of a comparison of already good and slightly better.

      Like

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