Medium Format Wildlife Photography

Last year, a visit to my local branch of London Camera Exchange in Newcastle-upon-Tyne resulted in an opportunity to use Fujifilm’s medium format GFX50s camera during one of our photography safaris in Kenya’s Masai Mara.

Fujifilm’s longest telephoto lens in their medium format range, the GF250mm f/4, had just arrived in store and I couldn’t pass an opportunity to have a quick look at the handling and ergonomics. My immediate thoughts were about how a lens of this focal length, the equivalent of around 200mm in 35mm terms, could make medium format a real practical wildlife photography option.

Of course, this concept had plenty of detractors. How could a focal length like this be suitable for wildlife? And on a camera with a comparatively pedestrian 3 frames per second and contrast-detect autofocus?

But, a lot of my wildlife photography is in Kenya and South Africa. Here, many of the subjects are large mammals and they spend much of their time moving slowly or just stationary. I considered this combination could be an effective option, offering something different to my Fujifilm X system. Not as a replacement but as complimentary system with the possibility of huge prints being at the back of my mind!

Medium Format GFX50s Wildlife Photography - Alan Hewitt Photography

Male Lion – Fujifilm GFX50s & GF250mm f/4 (1/110, f/4.5, ISO12800, 250mm).

Fujifilm UK very kindly set the wheels in motion for me and a couple of days before departing for Kenya, a GFX50s, GF250mm f/4 and dedicated 1.4x teleconverter arrived at my door. I have to say, HireACamera who facilitated the loan with Fujifilm were extremely efficient in every way and I would have no hesitation in using them and recommending their loan services.

This blog post isn’t a full technical review of the GFX50s and 250mm f/4. It’s more about my experiences of using the system and of course, some photographs too. So, what did I really like about this combination?

Ultimately the overall image quality is superb. The detail and sharpness it maintains even at the widest f/4 aperture is incredible, also at f/5.6 with the 1.4x teleconverter attached. It’s not as heavy as I expected either, weighing a little less than the Nikon D800 and 70-200 f/2.8 I used to often use in similar situations to when I opted to use the GFX50s.

As I am used to the menu system, ergonomics and handling of the Fujifilm X-H1 and the 100-400mm, I found the overall feel of the GFX50s and GF250mm f/4 to be familiar and second nature in use. As we would expect, the build quality is excellent. They feel solid and durable, just like my other Fujifilm cameras and lenses. Camera controls feel very tactile with re-assuring feedback when making adjustments to the ISO, shutter speed, aperture and exposure compensation. Central locking buttons are useful to prevent accidentally changing the ISO and mode/shutter speed dial.

Male Impala, Medium Format GFX50s Wildlife Photography - Alan Hewitt Photography

Male Impala – Fujifilm GFX50s & GF250mm (1/850, f/7.1, ISO320, 250mm)

Male Cape Buffalo – Fujifilm GFX50s & GF250mm GF1.4x converter (1/2200, f/5.6, ISO800, 350mm)

Cape Buffalo – Fujifilm Medium Format GFX50s & GF250mm - Alan Hewitt Photography

Cape Buffalo – Fujifilm GFX50s & GF250mm (1/480, f/7.1, ISO500, 250mm)

The responsiveness of an electronic viewfinder and its quality is always important to me and the GFX50s does not disappoint. The 3.69m dot EVF has 100% coverage and as we would expect, we can see a live histogram, flashing highlight / over-exposure warning, virtual horizon and just about everything else we need. We can also bring up menu systems and review images via the viewfinder, ideal when working in bright ambient light.

The spread of autofocus points cover the whole frame so there is rarely a need to focus and recompose. Tracking is also available with a variety of zone size options to use depending on the size and movement of the subject. Autofocus speed is slow compared to the X-H1 but this is entirely expected so I felt no disappointment. That said, it didn’t completely rule out moving subjects and I was very pleasantly surprised when a run of ostrich photographs were all in sharp focus.

Female Ostrich – Fujifilm GFX50s & GF250mm GF1.4x converter (1/1700, f/10, ISO800, 350mm)

Medium Format GFX50s Wildlife Photography - Alan Hewitt Photography

Male Lion – Fujifilm GFX50s & GF250mm (1/250, f/4, ISO12800, 250mm)

The responsiveness of an electronic viewfinder and its quality is always important to me and the GFX50s does not disappoint. The 3.69m dot EVF has 100% coverage and as we would expect, we can see a live histogram, flashing highlight / over-exposure warning, virtual horizon and just about everything else we need. We can also bring up menu systems and review images via the viewfinder, ideal when working in bright ambient light.

The spread of autofocus points cover the whole frame so there is rarely a need to focus and recompose. Tracking is also available with a variety of zone size options to use depending on the size and movement of the subject. Autofocus speed is slow compared to the X-H1 but this is entirely expected so I felt no disappointment. That said, it didn’t completely rule out moving subjects and I was very pleasantly surprised when a run of ostrich photographs were all in sharp focus.

An area I found rather challenging was the shutter lag and frames per second rate. My view on the advantage of high rate of frames per second like that of the X-H1 is that it is not about taking 20-30 shots over 2 or 3 seconds. Instead, it is about using fieldcraft knowledge and having the ability to deploy 5-6 frames over half a second or so to increase our chances of capturing the key moment.

The GFX50s has a shutter lag of around a third of a second and at 3 frames per second. A bit of forward planning and thought was needed to capture the two male lion photographs above as their jaws reached their widest points.

Earlier in 2019, Fujifilm announced the 102 million MP GFX100, describing it as a “game changer in digital camera technology and capability”. It joins the X-H1 to boast 5.5 stops of in-body stabilisation, includes phase-detect AF reported to be a vast improvement on the GFX50s, a built-in vertical grip, 5 frames per second and a much more manageable shutter lag at tenth of a second.

It’s certainly a specification which improves upon the GFX50s as a camera for wildlife photography, especially with the introduction of a 100-200mm f/5.6 lens which would offer increased versatility.

Bull Elephant – Fujifilm Medium Format GFX50s & GF250mm Alan Hewitt Photography

Bull Elephant – Fujifilm GFX50s & GF250mm (1/750, f/5, ISO200, 250mm)

Elephants – Fujifilm GFX50s & GF250mm Alan Hewitt Photography

Elephants – Fujifilm GFX50s & GF250mm (1/1250, f/8, ISO400, 250mm)

Overall I enjoyed using medium format, I was more than impressed with the results and I’d be absolutely happy to use the system again in Africa.

With thanks to Fujifilm UK, HireACamera and London Camera Exchange Newcastle.

Giraffes on the Horizon – Fujifilm GFX50s & GF250mm (1/1250, f/8, ISO100, 250mm)

2020-04-26T14:34:06+01:00July 26th, 2019|Blog, Equipment, FUJIFILM, Learning, Resources, Wildlife|10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. Winn July 26, 2019 at 8:24 pm - Reply

    So are you going to LCE with £15k in your back pocket before your next trip to Kenya?

    • Alan Hewitt July 26, 2019 at 8:31 pm - Reply

      I doubt it! Unfortunately my budget doesn’t stretch very far at all at the moment!

  2. Ricky July 26, 2019 at 8:27 pm - Reply

    Okay for still an slow stuff but what happens when a Cheetah or Leopard is chasing down prey? Would the 50 have coped with that or do you thing the 100 would?

    • Alan Hewitt July 26, 2019 at 8:32 pm - Reply

      I don’t think the GFX50s AF could cope with the speed and movement, but I would never expect it to either. Instead I would opt to use my X-H1. I’m not sure how the GFX100 would manage as I haven’t used one yet. I’d be hopeful and would love to give it a try though.

  3. Steve Daily July 26, 2019 at 8:29 pm - Reply

    Fantastic range of photographs. Love the Buffalo shots especially. I’ve never thought such a system could be used this way I always thought it was for landscapes and studio work. Well done ..

    • Alan Hewitt July 26, 2019 at 8:33 pm - Reply

      Thanks Steve

  4. ravinder August 21, 2019 at 11:14 pm - Reply

    Are you using the medium format again this season, I see from Instagram you are to be back inside Kenya within immience

    • Alan Hewitt October 4, 2019 at 10:57 am - Reply

      Hi Ravinder, not this time! But Fujifilm UK very kindly arranged for me to have a 200mm f/2 for this trip!

  5. Charlie September 8, 2019 at 10:36 am - Reply

    For this type of photography, would you prefer the XF200f2 or the GF250f4? The ability to crop or print large with the GF system seems attractive.

    Thanks for your interesting stories.

    • Alan Hewitt October 4, 2019 at 11:04 am - Reply

      Thanks Charlie. I had a 200mm f/2 courtesy of Fujifilm UK while I was in the Mara. It is an incredible lens and the second time I have been able to use it. I had a pre-production version last year! It’s a difficult question though, I did enjoy using the GFX50s medium format with the 250mm f/4 but I did find the faster frame rate and AF of the X-H1 and 200mm f/2 to be beneficial too. Perhaps I just need a giant camera bag and an unlimited budget! That way I can pick up a GFX100!

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