GFX50S II: “More than Full Frame x Fragile Kingdom”
I am Noel Guevara and I’m a conservation photographer.
For most of my career I have been shooting in full frame. Not necessarily by choice, but out of necessity. Taking photos with a large format camera was beyond what I could afford when I first started. As such, it was an incredible opportunity when Fujifilm asked me to take the GFX50S II for a spin.
“Fragile Kingdom” is a personal project that showcases the different protected areas and sanctuaries in the Philippines. With such a rich natural ecosystem both on land and underwater, the project aims to recognize these natural treasures and remind us of their value. It seeks to spark dialogue, stoke empathy, and stir a movement for positive change.
At the top of the list is the Masungi Georeserve, a protected area in the rainforests of Rizal, and home to massive, 60-million year-old limestone formations and hundreds of plant and animal species—most of them vulnerable, if not already endangered.
Illegal loggers and land grabbers threaten Masungi, forcibly demarcating land for quarries or commercial use. To help fight back and fund its preservation, the Masungi Foundation estab- lished the Masungi EcoPark, where visitors can commune with nature and enjoy their natural heritage across two trails: Discovery Trail and Legacy Trail.
It is along these scenic trails that I was able to put the GFX50S II to the test.
The biggest challenge of the assignment was the weather. I received the assignment right in the middle of the monsoon season in the Philippines, hence it was already a given that the camera will be exposed to the elements. We would be hiking 2-4 hours a day and sheltered only infrequently by the canopies of trees.
The build of the GFX50S II surprised me. While larger than a full frame camera, it was smaller than other large format cameras of its class. It endured persistent fog and strong winds, rain, and sun over the five days of the project. The weight was noticeable, but gave me confidence with regards to the integrity of the camera, its components, and its weather resistant. Heavy for me meant sturdy.
I already had high expectations when it came to image quality as it IS a full-frame camera, but they were immediately surpassed when I took my first shot. While I’m no stranger to 50 mega- pixel images, the large format sensor visibly packed in more detail than full frame.
Conservation photography relies heavily on accuracy of detail when telling a story or covering an issue, and it became apparent that I could present more immersive stories with the amount of detail I was capturing.
Shooting in a rainforest and in limestone caves during monsoon season meant light conditions varied every hour, and I had to use whatever lighting conditions I had at the moment. The in- credible dynamic range of the camera offset these worries, and I was able to liberally pull or push as desired to bring out the detail from the shadows and the highlights.
I relied heavily on two lenses: the GF23mmF4 R LM WR and GF32-64mmF4 R LM WR. The GF32-64mmF4 however was my favorite because of its versatility. I was able to use it for landscapes (panorama), documentary, and also portraits. The responsive autofocus of the GFX50S II han- dled these shoots with ease, and not only allow me to showcase the beauty of Masungi, but highlight the staff and rangers who work tirelessly to protect and nurture our natural treasure.
I for one enjoyed the honor of photographing portraits of Ann and Billie Dumaliang, the sisters running Masungi. Under their continued leadership, Masungi has secured 2,000 hectares of land for reforestation, plant and nurture more than 60,000 native trees, and establish 12 kilometers of monitoring trails and ranger stations.
While most of the vantage points in Masungi were on solid ground, there were some shots that could only be taken on swinging bridges or passages made of rope. Thankfully, the GFX50S II’s 6 stops of In-Body Image Stabilization (IBIS) made it possible for me to take sharp, crisp im- ages no matter where I stood, even in low light.
It is also worth noting that I never ran out of battery, not once. Granted I was shooting landscapes and was averaging less than 300 shots a day, but it’s reassuring to know that my creative flow remained steady on a single battery charge. Having two card slots also meant that I could keep shooting or even do astrophotography over longer periods of time without having to be concerned about storage.
As a conservation photographer I rely mostly on the truth of the moment. And in these types of shoots, moments are fleeting and demand extreme flexibility from both photographer and his/her camera. The combination of GFX50S II’s features—build quality, weather-sealing, dynamic range, autofocus speed, in-body image stabilization, and battery life, keeps me prepared for whatever my assignment requires me to do. The GFX50S II eliminates the need for me to worry about my equipment. And it goes above and beyond by empowering me to pursue the shots that I need. This in itself is crucial as I regularly find myself in the most unsuitable conditions and in the most uncooperative of situations.
It is hard to quantify the advantages that shooting with a GFX50S II give to my work, but it is clear that the quality of the photos surpasses that of what I’m used to. The stories become more compelling, and the landscape photos, disruptive. It elevates your craft to more than what you expect from yourself. It elevates it to more than full frame.