Gear Reviews

One Lens Challenge: Scottish Landscapes with the GF23mm f4

· 21.February.2018

Ever since I got my first camera nearly 40 years ago, I have been drawn to wide angle lenses for most subjects but especially landscapes. Composing an image with foreground interest or a lead in line with a wide angle lens gives a 3D feel, drawing the viewer into the final image. My favourite focal length is anything between 15mm and 28mm in full frame terms.

So when I was given the opportunity to spend a few days using the new Fujinon GF23mm f4 for the Fujifilm GFX 50S medium format camera, I naturally jumped at the chance. The 23mm focal length gives a wide 99.9° angle of view, which is the same as an 18mm on a full frame camera and 12mm on the Fujifilm X Series.

I decided to take the GFX for a day shooting in the Highlands of Scotland, photographing the mountains in Glen Coe and Tioran Castle on the coast. For day two I headed to Cove Harbour in the Scottish Borders to photograph one of the oldest fishing harbours in Scotland.

Using the GFX 50S and GF23mm f4 lens

First Impressions of the 23mm f4

Weighing in at 845g, the first impression of the GF23mm f4 is that it is a big chunk of glass. This might sound a bit daft because everyone knows that the GFX is a large camera, but the 23mm f4 is about the same size as the only zoom in the GFX range, the 875g GF32-64mm f4.

At the wide end of the GFX zoom, the focal length of 32mm is the equivalent of 25mm on a full frame camera, so the 23mm f4 (18mm equivalent) certainly gives a far wider angle of view.

For a medium format camera, the GFX is very portable and hardly any bigger than the full frame DSLRs I used to use before I switched to Fujifilm in 2014.

Sunrise above the mountains in Glen Coe

Heading into the Mountains

My first stop on my whistle stop photo trip into the Highlands was the top of Glen Coe, where the magnificent Buachaille Etive Mor guards the entrance to the world famous glen. I hadn’t intending stopping at such a well-photographed place but I had arrived an hour before dawn and the moonlight was breaking through the clouds, illuminating the snow on the top of the mountains. I pulled off the main road onto the road leading down to Glen Etive, set the camera up on the tripod and composed the shot using the single track road as a lead in line. An 8-minute exposure gave the final moonlit image an ethereal quality.

I moved on into Glen Coe, making the second stop of the trip to catch the first light of the day bouncing off the top of the snowy mountain peaks. I took the shot with a panoramic crop in mind. The GFX can shoot panorama images in camera but I prefer to shoot 4:3 and then crop to 12:5 in post. I didn’t have long before the sun had risen enough to light the mountain tops on the eastern edge of Glen Coe, and bathe the sky and snow in a purple glow. A 6-second exposure was enough to give some movement in the clouds that were being blown along by the strong winds that had started to blow.

Walking through Glen Coe

The third and final stop in Glen Coe was to capture the scene from the hikers trails that winds its way down towards Loch Leven at the western end of the glen. Choosing an aperture of f11, I focused on the rocky path leading away from my shooting position, surrounded by the snowy mountain peaks.

Castle Tioran

Castle Tioran is situated on the west coast, 60km and a short ferry ride away from Glen Coe. The 14th century ruin was home to the Clan Ranald for over four hundred years and stands proudly on a rocky island in Loch Moidart, which is accessible at low tide across a sandy spit, hence “tioram”, the Gaelic word for “dry”.

Castle Tioran

I arrived late morning with the tide starting to rise. The strong wind that had started while I was shooting in Glen Coe had strengthened and I was keeping one eye on the changing weather as I set about capturing some images of this impressive ruin. I decided to shoot in black and white so I switched the GFX to ACROS (red).

The first image was taken from the beach, wading out into the shallow water with the camera strapped to my Manfrotto 190 tripod. I also fitted the Firecrest Ultra 0.9 ND graduated filter to the 23mm f4 lens to balance the exposure. Once again I shot the image 4:3 but I had already seen this shot as a panoramic, so I cropped 12:5 in post production.

Moving onto the rocky island where Castle Tioran stands, I set up to take the second shot of the day, looking west out across Loch Moidart onto the Atlantic Ocean beyond.

With the weather closing in and gale force winds making photography rather difficult I left Castle Tioran with a view to return at a later date.

Castle Tioran stands guard at Loch Moidart

Cove Harbour

The second location for the photo shoot with the Fujifilm GFX 50S and the GF23mm f4 was closer to my East Lothian home, which was the beautiful 18th century harbour at Cove in the Scottish Borders. Cove has been used as a location for film crews shooting period dramas and films and is one of the most original fishing harbours in Scotland.

Cove Harbour, Scottish Borders

The car park is located at the top of the hill and you have to walk down to the harbour using the track. A tunnel cut into the rock brings you out on a small sandy beach behind the quite substantial sea wall. The historic location is still a working fishing harbour and two modern fishing boats were tied up when I arrived at high tide.

The two original weather-worn harbour buildings provide a focal point from several angles. One the quayside you will find several rusty iron mooring posts and rusty chains that are great for providing colour and texture. The close focusing of the 23mm f4 really came into its own when using the rusty chains as foreground interest and selecting an aperture of f32 to maximise the depth of field ensured everything was in focus.

Cove Harbour, Scottish Borders

Conclusion – Quality Images, Quality Lens

The GF23mm f4 is a superb wide angle prime lens for the GFX 50S medium format camera and the perfect lens for landscape photography.

While the GF23mm f4 comes with a price tag of £2399 here in the UK, you certainly get a lot of bang for your buck! This is a lens that is capable of producing the highest quality professional images.


Cove Harbour, Scottish Borders


The Fujifilm GFX 50S + GF23mm f4 lens