Adventure sports photographer Michael Clark has spent more than 23 years pushing himself, his photography, and his equipment to the extreme. Working with some of the largest editorial and commercial clients in the world, he integrates beautiful landscapes with high-end action and, more recently, uses innovative artificial lighting techniques to give his images an extra edge. We gave Michael the FUJIFILM GFX 100 to test on location in Utah at two of the most famous extreme sports locations in the world: Indian Creek’s iconic splitter cracks and Virgin, the ‘Mount Everest’ of mountain biking.
Michael’s stunning photography all stems from a love of rock climbing and a desire to capture the majestic beauty of the cliff faces and mountains he visits, so for this project he wanted to go back to his roots. Not only do the locations he chose present spectacular photographic opportunities, but they were the ideal test for some of the GFX 100’s most attractive features.
“Indian Creek and the sport of rock climbing were a great test to see how well the In-Body Image Stabilization (IBIS) worked and how the camera did at high ISO settings. Freeride mountain biking in Virgin, on the other hand, proved to be a great testing ground for the GFX 100’s autofocus (AF) tracking modes and to see just how fast the camera could shoot at high frame rates,” says Michael, who has been waiting for a large format camera that is capable enough to keep up with his dynamic style.
“On this assignment, I was looking to see if the GFX 100 can replace both my current medium format camera and my DSLRs all in one fell swoop. That is a tall order – or I thought it was at the outset of this assignment,” he reveals.
Michael currently uses DSLRs on an everyday basis, but has worked with a number of medium and large format cameras over the years. “I love the look that medium format gives and have dreamed for a long time of a larger format camera that could work for my fast-paced adventure sports photography. I think I have finally found the one with the GFX 100,” he admits.
He goes on to describe how natural the camera felt when he began using it. “My first impression of the camera was that it felt good in the hands, like the old pro DSLR camera bodies I used to own. The lenses were also much lighter than I was used to with my Hasselblad, which was a very welcome feature.”
For this shoot, Michael paired the GFX 100 with a variety of GF lenses including the GF23mmF4 R LM WR, GF32-64mmF4 R M WR, GF100-200mmF5.6 R LM OIS WR, GF110mmF2 R LM WR, GF250mmF4 R LM OIS WR, and GF1.4X TC WR teleconverter. He was impressed with the quality these combinations allowed him to achieve.
“I was blown away by the lack of noise at the high ISO settings. The lenses were still crazy sharp – and at a wide array of apertures,” he says. The GFX 100 also fitted seamlessly into his existing setup. “The camera worked perfectly with my Elinchrom strobes. For the action shots, we used the more powerful ELB 1200s, and for the portraits and everything else we used the ELB 500 TTL kit. To control and trigger the strobes, I used the Elinchrom Transmitter Pro, designed specifically for FUJIFILM cameras. This gave me access to the Hi-Sync and HSS modes,” he explains.
As Michael continued to explore the camera on this shoot, a number of features stood out. “While working with the GF110mmF2 R LM WR lens, I set the aperture to F2 for creamy bokeh and let the Face and Eye Detection AF do all the work. Pretty much every image was tack sharp right on the eye. I’ve never seen that before with my DSLRs,” he reveals.
Michael then tells us how impressed he was with the fast frame rate at such high resolution and the ability of the AF tracking to keep up. “I set the camera to the highest frame rate and was completely blown away at how fast it would fire off frames. My assistant chuckled a little bit when he saw my huge smile just after the first burst of images,” he enthuses.
In addition to AF performance, the GFX 100’s IBIS stood out as a favorite feature, proving extremely useful when dangling from a rope and shooting with a 102-megapixel sensor. “Using the IBIS, I was able to get sharp images all the way down to 1/8 sec shutter speeds. That is absolutely incredible. With my current 50 megapixel camera, anything below 1/500 sec is dicey,” Michael tells us.
The other clear advantage of the camera was its remarkable portability. “Larger format cameras of yore were big and bulky. Carrying one of those into the backcountry was like having a cinder block in your pack,” chuckles Michael. “The GFX 100, by comparison, is considerably lighter, more ergonomic, and familiar since it is about the same size as a full frame pro DSLR,” he continues.
Overall, Michael sees the GFX 100 as a milestone, telling us he thinks the camera will change the industry. “The GFX 100 is redefining large format. Fujifilm has brought all the features we are used to in our DSLRs and full frame mirrorless cameras, and added them to a top-end large format camera. Because of that, this is truly the first larger format camera of any brand that I feel can be used for the great majority of my work,” he says.
He rounds off by highlighting the GFX 100’s versatility and the impact it is going to have on the industry. “This camera is just as easy to use in the studio for still life and fashion photography, as it is for adventure sports and landscape. It is essentially the do-everything camera,” he enthuses.
“This is going to be the camera to beat in the medium and large format sphere. Nothing else even comes close,” Michael concludes. “For professionals looking for the best image quality and the most usable larger format option on the market, this is it. Period.”
Michael Clark is a FUJIFILM-compensated professional photographer. Learn more about Michael’s lighting set-up here, see more of Michael’s work at his website, or watch the full behind-the-scenes video from the shoot below…