My name is Rémi FLAMENT, and I live in the Massif-Central region of France. I’m a photographer working in constrained environments, with a particular interest in shooting underground in industrial or natural contexts. Working with images in sites as remote as underground tunnels has given me a great deal of expertise in the production of reports involving severe environmental constraints. Today, I’m taking you on a new challenge with FUJIFILM: photographing France’s most beautiful canyons. To meet this challenge, my seasoned team and I set off to test the new FUJIFILM GFX100 II. Destination: the Vercors and Chartreuse massifs.
I mainly explore canyons in the Alps. I’ve always had a soft spot for karstic massifs (limestone massifs in which water has carved out numerous cavities) containing caves and chasms. Over thousands of years, water has dissolved the limestone to form deep fissures on the surface. These natural gorges are steeply incised and inaccessible to ordinary mortals. Setting out to photograph these landscapes is a challenge. As we descend the canyons, we come across singular vegetation with tropical allure and saturated colors, but also purely mineral landscapes where the rock, laid bare, reveals gentle forms of erosion that are undeniably beautiful to observe.
Photography in a canyon is a difficult exercise. There are many difficulties to overcome, including verticality and the presence of water. To overcome the verticality, we use rope climbing techniques and adapted equipment. For the water, we’ll have specific equipment to protect us from the cold and damp, but also to protect the camera equipment. Neoprene wetsuits, helmets, harnesses, descenders… allow us to move around safely. Watertight suitcases and canisters in specially designed bags enable us to transport our equipment.
The canyons are very important recesses, subject to low light levels and where natural light is not sufficient for photography. So I bring in artificial light, made up of waterproof LED spotlights and electronic flash units. This artificial light needs to be protected, as electronic flashes are very sensitive to humidity. In the run-up to the shoot, I made waterproof protections so that they could be used without constraint.
These flashes are controlled by a radio cell mounted on the camera, allowing me to adjust them and trigger them remotely. Positioning them is the job of the team members, who point them in the desired direction. To communicate, it’s compulsory to use radios so that I can give them the right information and also understand the difficulties they may encounter, especially when they’re not in sight. If the radios fail us, we use sign language. It’s made up of fifteen or so signals, created out of habit, which you need to know in order to communicate. It’s at times like these that it’s important to work with a trained team. This team reassures me and assures me.
In canyoning, it’s inevitable to get the camera wet. It’s subject to water splashes, and we can never dry our hands when handling it. In an environment saturated with humidity, there’s no such thing as a dry cloth. In 10 days of shooting with this FUJIFILM GFX100 II, we never had any condensation enter the camera. An “weather resistant” camera that’s truly efficient and indispensable for this kind of shooting, and today’s test assures us of this.
In some cases, I have to swim with the case every time I can’t get a foothold. If the bottom is too deep, I can hardly get the equipment out of the waterproof bags and cases. I have to do it from a suitable place, on a bank, a submerged rock, or by holding onto a wall. All this remains precarious, and so as not to compromise the mission by losing the equipment, I use flexible protections that make the camera waterproof at shallow depths. Taking photographs while swimming and struggling against the current is an expenditure of energy. The effort can only be short-lived. When you release the shutter, you also have to try to keep still. The time for framing is very short, as the weight of our progression equipment, without movement, causes us to sink. Very often, I shoot with my arm outstretched, so my head is underwater. Fortunately, I can count on the sensor’s stabilization. A point I’ll develop later.
Before going into more detail about this camera, I’d like to start by telling you about the lenses used for this full-scale test. It’s important to choose the right pair of lenses, as they are often the only ones you’ll be able to use all day. In canyoning, it’s rather difficult to change lenses. Normally, I always work with two similar cameras. During this test, this GFX100 II was a single model, so I couldn’t have a second one. I had to make choices about the lens I used, and accept the risk of changing them only at opportune moments.
To exploit this new housing in this complex environment, I used three lenses chosen for their focal length, humidity resistance and optical quality..
An ultra-wide-angle lens I never part with. When it arrived on the market, this lens replaced my GF23mm, as it offered me greater flexibility of use in high-stress environments. This compact zoom covers an ideal focal range when I’m short of distance. Its resistance to humidity is beyond question, as these ten days of shooting were so hard on the equipment.
A lens that I discovered on this project and have been looking forward to using. This lens is rather imposing. It has the same optical diameter as the GF20-35mm, which makes it possible to share filters (UV, polarizing, neutral gray). Its range of use is perfect for sports and action photography, when the subject is relatively close. It links up with my GF100- 200mm, a compact telephoto lens. It’s a lens I’d recommend for any photographer looking for versatility without compromising on quality.
A new fixed-focus lens, which is ultra-compact and ultra-bright with its 1.7 aperture. It’s a sure bet that this lens is going to be a best-seller. With its dynamic AF motor combined with the power of the GFX100 II, focusing is incisive, even in low light. I’m used to the GF80mm, and I’ve noticed a real evolution in this direction. Photo quality is just insane, with very even sharpness. This lens was used to illustrate views of progress equipment and situational portraits. Its size makes it easy to wedge into the corner of a waterproof case.
A UNIQUE AND INNOVATIVE DESIGN
There are many new features on this new case. Starting with ergonomics. This new FUJIFILM GFX100 II loses its one-piece handle. Instead, we find a camera the same size as the GFX100S, but with a more shaped, angular handle. I was also pleasantly surprised by the new coating, which provides a real grip. It’s very interesting, especially in situations where wet hands tend to slip. In addition to the pure adventurer look, the grip is super secure. As on the FUJIFILM GFX100, the viewfinder is detachable. Another plus when you’re looking to be extremely compact. The viewfinder is also more defined.The adjustment screen is
slightly tilted towards the operator. This makes the display easier to read and clearer. The distribution of settings is optimized, and the characters much larger.
New buttons appear on the front panel. Their square look gives a feeling of resistance.
The rear screen retains its two-axis hinge, enabling framing in any position or at arm’s length.
When I received this new camera, I was able to test the stabilization, which has been further improved. Eight stops of compensation on such an imposing sensor is quite something! In the middle of a canyon, light is sorely lacking. Without increasing sensitivity, I was able to increase exposure times, while remaining hand-held, to increase light in areas where it was scarce. With this freedom, I wanted to emphasize the movement of water using flash to sculpt scenes in motion. I’m thinking of water that can’t be tamed, furious waterfalls and tumultuous spray. The flash freezes it, giving it its full force, while benefiting from the ambient light generated by the sensor’s stabilization.
Another improvement to note is the burst rate. We’ve gone from 5 FPS to 8 FPS. You’ve got to imagine that for a “Large Format” camera, that’s a lot of burst compared to the resolution. However, we couldn’t really exploit this burst in the canyon context. I think this improvement will be more dedicated to sports enthusiasts.
A SUPERCHARGED AF
Last year, I previewed the FUJIFILM X-H2, a camera equipped with a high-resolution APS-C format sensor capable of shooting in 8K and ProRes. This new camera impressed me with its dynamic autofocus capabilities and embedded Artificial Intelligence-driven solutions, such as object recognition. The new FUJIFILM GFX100 II will continue to surprise you. Imagine all the power of an X-H2, including video, in a large-format camera. Computing power, giving the dynamism missing from this very high definition. The arrival of the GFX100 II marks the meeting of two worlds.
Today, FUJIFILM brings us a new “Large Format” camera, slightly larger than the FUJIFILM X-H2. Still, it’s extraordinary to have such a large sensor area and resolution in such a compact camera.
This week of testing in extreme environments has enabled me to put this new FUJIFILM GFX100 II through its paces, and thanks to that, today I have full confidence in it.