Gear Reviews

Urban Jungle Field Test: GF 110mm f/2 R LM WR

· 1.September.2017

The upper realm of digital photography is the medium format systems camera. Not many manufacturers make them, and for most it’s a pipe dream. Fujifilm recently decided to create their own digital medium format camera, the GFX 50S; and although expensive it’s not unattainable. If you are currently in the Leica or high end DSLR ecosystem and you’re looking to upgrade, the new Fujifilm GFX system is a very strong contender for your attention and hard earned money. Although having no need for all this extra resolution, dynamic range, micro contrast and sharpness, I’ve had the pleasure of testing the GFX 50S for the past few months. It’s pretty awesome. Although larger than the X series cameras, the GFX is not much larger or heavier than the Nikon D5 or Canon EOS 1D cameras. If you’re use to carrying around a top-of-the-line full frame DSLR, you won’t notice any difference carrying around the GFX. I’ve tested each lens as it’s being released by Fujifilm, and recently I received the new GF 110mm f/2 R LM WR lens. It’s time to hit the streets of Vancouver for another lens test.

GF 110mm f/2. 1/1800th sec f/2 @ ISO 100. Classic Chrome

First of all, this latest medium telephoto prime has a 35mm (or full frame) equivalent of an 87mm f/1.58. It’s a great portrait lens, very similar to the XF 56mm f/1.2 in terms of field of view and depth of field. Although optically wonderful (both lenses) I struggled shooting with it. I don’t do headshots, I don’t like standard portraiture photography, and I don’t like carrying around big bulky lenses. The GF110mm is 1010g with a 77mm front filter thread (the XF56mm is 405g), which makes it heavier than the XF 50-150mm f/2.8 R LM OIS WR lens. This lens is a monster!! Although the GF 110mm f/2 is slightly smaller and lighter than the GF 120mm f/4 R LM OIS WR lens, the lens isn’t stabilized. Where and how will I test this big and bulky lens, considering I don’t have a studio and I hate using tripods? How about on the streets? Yes, I decided to take the GFX and the GF 110mm lens with me to the second annual Vancouver Mural Festival, where many local artists were hanging out in the dark backstreets of East Vancouver to throw paint on the sides of buildings. Let’s head into the urban jungle.

GF 110mm f/2. 1/420th sec f/2.8 @ ISO 200. Classic Chrome

Local artist and good friend Priscilla Yu was working on her amazing mural in a back alley of Main and Broadway, so I decided to take the opportunity to test the GF 110mm f/2 lens while she painted away. I would use it like a portrait lens, but most of the pictures wouldn’t be posed. The focal length allowed for a comfortable distance between me and my subject, allowing Priscilla to work without me being in the way. She knew I was there, but because we’re friends, it was easy to disappear as she worked hard on completing her mural on time. I did my best to shoot it as wide open as possible, since most are interested in seeing how the out of focus area looks like on this lens. Shooting at f/2 was not always ideal since you could never tell which eye the camera would focus on. Yes I could have turned on Eye Detect, but I found that with such a shallow depth of field, the focus sometimes missed. In a studio environment this wouldn’t be a problem (tethering, focus peak, tripod mounted, etc.), but on the streets with a moving subject and no tripod, this shoot was difficult. I would say I was only getting about 60-70% of my images in focus, but that’s again shooting wide at f/2-2.8. I could have easily stopped down to f/5.6-8 and bumped up the ISO, but what’s the fun in that?

GF 110mm f/2. 1/1000th sec f/2 @ ISO 100. Classic Chrome

Fujifilm said the film profile curves were adjusted on the GFX from the standard X series cameras because there was increased breathing room with the dynamic range of the larger sensor. The 44mm x 33mm digital medium format sensor has almost 4 times the surface area than the smaller 24mm x 16mm APS-C sensor, so this makes sense. I could see the difference immediately, especially in the shadows of the Classic Chrome film profile. Because of this, although you will get a similar field of view and shallow depth of field with the XF 56mm f/1.2 lens on an X series body; the GFX 50S with the GF 110mm f/2 lens will have a noticeable increase in micro contrast, dynamic range, resolution, and sharpness. Yes, these GF lenses are some of the sharpest lenses I’ve ever tested, and I’ve tested many many lenses, including Leica glass.

GF 110mm f/2. 1900th sec f/2 @ ISO 100. Classic Chrome

In the end, was it worth dragging out the GFX 50S and GF 110mm f/2, compared to bringing the X-T2 and XF 56mm f/1.2 instead? For me, the answer is a definite no. Yes, the pictures are outstanding, mind-blowing…. some of the best images I’ve ever seen coming out of a digital camera. The micro contrast and sharpness of these images are just crazy. I still shake my head as I look at these files (these images have been substantially reduced from 8256 x 6192 to 1495 x 1993 for this article due to the limitations of this article format). The classic Fuji colours are there, but the resolution is doubled!! It is unbelievable. What’s the problem then? Size and weight. The GFX 50S and the GF 110m f/2 is double the weight (1835g vs 912g) of the X-T2 and XF 56mm f/1.2, and more than double the size. Is doubling the size and weight worth the extra resolution and pizzaz of the GFX? How about the sticker price? $9300 for the previously mentioned GFX kit, versus $2600 for the X-T2 kit. That’s 3.6 times more money, which is oddly about the same increase in sensor surface area (3.78x). It’s not worth it to me, but maybe it’s worth it to you. Also, the image files are huge. Even a compressed RAW file averages 50mb, and after creating a JPEG (20-30mb), I have to reduce the size significantly before I could do anything with the files.

GF 110mm f/2. 1/1000th sec f/2 @ ISO 100. Classic Chrome

My conclusion? The GFX 50S in combination with the GF 110mm f/2 R LM WR lens is a top class performer. If you’re someone who needs a great portrait lens on a larger-than-full-frame digital camera body, the Fujifilm digital medium format system should be at the top of your list. It’s the newest kid on the block, but it’s one of the best in terms of price, performance, build quality, and future expansion of lenses and accessories. The GF 110mm f/2 R LM WR is a great medium telephoto lens. This 87mm f/1.6 equivalent lens is super sharp, very very well corrected, amazing micro contrast, absolutely no distortions or optical weaknesses of any kind. Comparing it with the GF 120mm F/4 R LM OIS WR lens (95mm f/3 equivalent), I actually prefer this lens for the slightly more compressed image with the bonus of OIS. I can easily handhold the GF 120mm lens in low light with tack sharp images each time. However, if you want the most ‘bokehlicious’ look for your images, look no further than the GF 110mm f/2, the fastest lens in the GFX line-up. AF is not as fast as the X-T2 (or even the X100F) due to the contrast detect only system, but the GFX is not about speed. This is primarily a studio, landscape and/or tripod camera. Shoot it at the lowest ISO as possible to take advantage of this sensor, and you will create some of the best digital images that money can buy. Yes, the GFX 50S and the GF 110mm f/2 lens is probably one of the best portrait making machines out there today, but at a cost: size, weight, speed and price. If you can live with these inherent ‘issues’, I say go for it. Just remember to budget for larger memory cards, more RAM for your computer and more backup hard drives. Thanks for reading and happy shooting.

GF 110mm f/2. 1/1000th sec f/2 @ ISO 100.