28.09.2021 Fabien Butazzi

In Florence with the FUJIFILM GFX50S II

Fabien Butazzi

Fabien Butazzi is an Italian-French fine art photographer from London who mostly shoots street, travel and landscape photography.

Having had an early life split between Florence and Paris, Fabien recently realised that his work is driven by a constant quest for Beauty in everything that surrounds us. He travels the world to connect with people and learn from the different cultures, firmly believing that the only borders are the ones we create ourselves. He feels his work as a mindfulness exercise.

Fabien’s work is now exhibited in major cities around the world, including some Photographer Of The Year exhibitions. He is also passionate about sharing knowledge and information with others and is now planning documentary and humanitarian work for the next few years.

I left the world of DSLRs because I felt that they were heavy and cumbersome and as a result, were getting in the way of my photography. Gear had become a hindrance and something I would worry too much about.

With Fujifilm I don’t have to. The system is light and portable and I can hold the camera in my hand with a wrist strap all day without feeling tired. The camera acts as an extension of my arm and my eyes –  I can set the parameters how I want and then forget about them. And, if I need to change something, I can quickly fiddle with the dials without going through convoluted menus.

Fujifilm cameras are a joy to use, and even just like before they are the makers of great quality photos. It’s quite clear that if the GFX range didn’t go the same route it would have no appeal to me whatsoever. Fortunately, this is exactly where the system is going. With the GFX100S body, Fujifilm has achieved an engineering marvel. And now the same body is used in the new GFX50S II as well. It is compact and lightweight but doesn’t compromise on quality. Am I saying that this is now the ideal camera? Maybe.

So when Fujifilm asked me if I was interested in trying a new medium format camera I was extremely excited.
I’ve worked with medium format cameras in the past and I had used both the original GFX50S and the new GFX100S for my work. These are cameras that I know well and I am a massive fan of for their image quality. 

FUJIFILM GFX50S II + GF35-70mmF4.5-5.6 WR – F/9, ISO 100, 1/30sec. – PROVIA

Fujifilm then sent me the GFX50S II, paired with the new zoom lens, the FUJINON GF35-70mmF4.5-5.6 WR – a combo intended to make medium/large format even more affordable and appealing to photographers. 

When I used the first iteration of the GFX50S, I was very pleased with the quality but it was a camera I only really wanted to use in slower-paced situations, like product photography in a studio or landscape photography on a tripod. Of course still usable, but I could not see this become my main camera.  I like to use one system for all I do. As I mentioned in the beginning, I don’t want to think about my gear, only about the photos I’m taking and making. And since I’m a photographer who travels, I need my system to also be portable and light. 

FUJIFILM GFX50S II + GF35-70mmF4.5-5.6 WR - F8, ISO 160, 1/500sec. – PROVIA

With the introduction of the GFX100S, Fujifilm put a huge sensor (1.7x larger than full-frame) into a body that is only marginally bigger and heavier than the FUJIFILM  X-T4, all while enabling a much faster 5fps shutter.

The new GFX50S II shares the same body but keeps the same sensor of the previous version, so I was extremely curious to test what had improved and by how much. Because it uses the same sensor as the GFX50S, the GFX50S II is not quite as fast as the GFX100S but the new mechanics and processor still make for quite the improvement from the Mark I. At the time of writing, there is no official spec sheet, but I’d say it can now take about 3 shots per second, which is good enough to not miss a moment. 

FUJIFILM GFX50S II + GF35-70mmF4.5-5.6 WR - F/7.1, ISO 200, 1/320s – Classic Chrome

Moreover, the new smaller body makes it a very good camera to travel with. This is exactly what I did in my time with the GFX50S II.

I had already booked my first holiday post-lockdown to go back to my hometown Florence, so I asked Fujifilm if they were OK with me taking the camera abroad, the perfect opportunity to put it to the test. Travel, street, cityscape, portrait, time-lapse, low light… Even a wedding! I had quite a few busy days already planned. To be able to use this new camera was the icing on the cake. 

FUJIFILM GFX50S II + GF35-70mmF4.5-5.6 WR – F/5.6, ISO 160, 1/160sec. – Classic Chrome

Now, at the time of writing and being this an early pre-production camera, no software was compatible with the RAW files captured by the GFX50S II. So I relied on JPEGs and as we know, Fujifilm’s JPEGs are the best in the market. Also, the new Nostalgic Neg. film simulation worked brilliantly in Florence. It really enhanced the warm tones of the old buildings, the red bricks and tiled roofs. I think it really captured the essence of the city.

FUJIFILM GFX50S II + GF35-70mmF4.5-5.6 WR – F/11, ISO 100, 1/2000sec. – Classic Neg.

Florence is not shy of good views, everywhere you look is postcard-worthy. But it also allows me to play with my street photography style. In the narrow streets of the city centre, the sun only makes its way briefly into tiny gaps, creating small pockets of light. Here I can create my minimalistic images and play with composition to make something that is almost abstract or looks more like a design experiment with its interesting shapes. And I can go extreme, making the scene only a fraction of the frame while still incorporating story, context, subject and hopefully interest.

FUJIFILM GFX50S II + GF50mmF3.5 R LM WR – F/8, ISO 200, 1/500sec. – Classic Chrome

If you already follow me on social media, you know that I also love to play with precise alignments of sun and moon. And when I checked with my usual tools, I found that during my time in Florence, the sun would set well aligned with the famous Ponte Vecchio, so I knew this would give me even more great photo opportunities.

What I did not expect was for them to be this good and colourful. But I suppose that if many say that Florence is the most beautiful city in the world, the sky has to play its part too. The GFX50S II captured the colours and the details in the clouds magnificently. And I could really appreciate the broader dynamic range of such a large sensor as it also retained an incredible amount of details throughout the rest of the photos.

FUJIFILM GFX50S II + GF35-70mmF4.5-5.6 WR – F/7.1, ISO 100, 1/640sec. – PROVIA

Owning a medium format camera makes a lot of sense if you print your photos rather than keeping them online only. Of course I tried and printed the sunset photo below, even if I could only use the JPEG (as I said before, at my time of testing the sample GFX50S II, the RAW files were not yet recognised by any software). I was curious to see the colour rendition and it came out absolutely gorgeous. I was able to print a 24×36’’ at 300dpi (circa 60x90cm) without the help of upscaling solutions. Being able to output great quality large prints is important to me, so that’s another massive benefit of using the GFX system.

FUJIFILM GFX50S II + GF50mmF3.5 R LM WR – F/16, ISO 100, 1/6sec. – ASTIA

Just to reiterate how light and portable this camera-lens combo is (with either the GF35-70mmF4.5-5.6 WR or the GF50mmF3.5 R LM WR), I didn’t bring a big, heavy, sturdy tripod with me. When I needed a fixed position, I shot with this camera on a mini tripod and even a clamp attached to a railing without fear that the weight would compromise the stability. Much to the terrified looks of passers-by, and maybe even to Fujifilm if they had seen me, it all held perfectly well.

Back in London, I still had a few hours with the GFX50S II before giving it back to Fujifilm. So, I went out to use the camera in different situations and it always delivered. From the first day with the camera to the last, I never ceased to be amazed by what I was able to get out of such a compact body hosting such a large sensor.

FUJIFILM GFX50S II + GF50mmF3.5 R LM WR – F/7.1, ISO 640, 1/400s – ACROS + R

FUJIFILM GFX50S II + GF50mmF3.5 R LM WR – F/5, ISO 1600, 1/320sec. – PROVIA

With the new releases, the GFX system is getting out of the studio to become a camera for daily use and travel. It’s getting smaller and faster all while retaining absolutely incredible image quality. So, back to my initial question. Am I saying that this is now the ideal camera? It is indeed getting pretty close.

FUJIFILM GFX50S II + GF50mmF3.5 R LM WR – F/14, ISO 800, 1/8sec. – PROVIA