Why I Prefer To Shoot Medium Format: It’s Not What You Think

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If you are a regular reader of Light Stalking, you may remember back in October of 2023, I wrote about buying a medium-format camera. The camera in question was the Fujifilm GFX50s. I did not buy it new, my budget does not allow for cameras of such ilk, especially when many of the lenses cost the same as a full-frame camera.

So it was secondhand, seven years old, and in great condition. I got the body for a great price then added a secondhand lens for it from MPB. The lens was the Fujifilm 32-64mm f/4. The nearest full frame equivalent is the 24-70mm f/2.8. Since then, I have added exactly no more lenses to my medium format kit yet the GFX has become my daily driver.

But why is that?

It’s Big And Slow

Ok, I know what you are thinking, why is a big, heavy old camera better than a modern fleet-footed mirrorless?

Well, hear me out. Since leaving Ukraine, I have moved my photography more toward the region I live in in the UK rather than travel stock.

That means, cityscapes, landscapes, seascapes, and a little architecture. This is not only for stock but also to sell high-quality, large-format prints through my website. As you might imagine, this type of photography requires a more patient and considered approach compared with travel photography.

Fujifilm GFX50s in action shooting the Tyne Bridge in Newcastle
The GFX in action shooting the Tyne Bridge. By Jason Row Photography

With travel photography, vb you are nearly always trying to cram as much in as you have. You have to consider the travel and accommodation costs and factor them into any potential money you might make from the shoot. That means you work light and fast.

My Fuji X series cameras have been perfect for this, for well over a decade. Small cameras, great image quality compact and fast lenses. But, because I have a way of working with those cameras, even now, when I use them, I tend to shoot in a more shotgun approach. That is, quick composition, move on.

But here, I don’t have to.

I live in a very pretty part of the UK. The shot list within a one-hour drive of home, is huge. I don’t need to rush around taking shot after shot, because I can return pretty much whenever I want.

That’s the primary reason that the GFX50s has become my go-to camera. The very features I suggested as negative earlier are, in fact, positives.

Tyne Bridge in Newcastle on a foggy morning
Fog on the Tyne shot with the Fujifilm GFX50s. By Jason Row Photography

You Have To Work Slowly

The camera with lens weighs in at around 1.7kg (3.75lbs). Add in the general bulk of the camera and you are looking at a heavy bit of kit. Heavy enough to be pretty hard to shoot handheld. For that reason, virtually every shot I have taken with the GFX is from a tripod.

I have a love/hate relationship with tripods but if there is one thing to be said for them, they slow you down and make you think much more about your composition. A tripod with a big heavy camera on it, makes for hard work if you keep moving it around. So, you look at the scene. Play around with the composition off camera and only when you are happy, put the camera on the tripod.

This slow considered approach is a real boost to your creativity, it makes you think, and wait for the light. It makes you look around the scene, looking for imperfections, perhaps some litter on the floor, a rogue shadow across the subject.

The Millennium Bridge and Baltic Centre in Gateshead UK
The Fujifilm GFX 50s is capable of exquisite quality. By Jason Row Photography

There’s No Video

Actually, there is, and it’s pretty decent quality, with all that medium format sensor goodness. But it doesn’t shoot log, it’s 1080p only and it is quite cumbersome to operate. Again, those are positives in the world where I now shoot.

When traveling, 80% of my focus is on shooting video. Video stock is a primary income source for me and my mindset when on the road is that of a hybrid photographer. I will often set my shots up as a video clip first and then as a photograph after. This is quite the habit to break when shooting with the smaller Fuji.

Whilst on paper, video, and stills share a lot of similarities, they require a different mindset. It’s often quite hard to get into a stills mindset when shooting video. Equally, even when shooting stills on the smaller Fuji, there is always the temptation of trying to get some video clips for stock.

The lack of easy-to-use, 4K video on the GFX negates that desire to keep switching between the two mediums and that is a very good thing from a creative perspective.

Herd Groyne Lighthouse at dawn in South Shields, UK
The GFX 50s allows me to concentrate on stills photography. By Jason Row Photography

It’s Actually Not About The Image Quality

Whilst there is no doubt that the image quality is better on the GFX compared to my X-H2, the difference is not as great as you might expect. For most of the shoots I do, the X-H2’s 40mp APS-C sensor is more than capable. Where the GFX comes into its own is with high ISO and with heavy editing.

I rarely shoot high ISO but some of my images are quite heavily edited. Below is a video I did recently that compares the image quality and editability of the cameras and the results are quite close.

As you can see from the video, the X-H2 files can be quite heavily edited even up to higher ISO levels.

Light trails on road under Tyne Bridge in Newcastle, England
The GFX50s is very much about the shooting experience. By Jason Row Photography

It’s About The Shooting Experience

If there is one thing I have learned the most from shooting medium format for the last six months, it is this. It really is about the right tools for the job. My style of photography has changed. The Fuji GFX50s suits that much slower style of photography.

It is also proof that technology is not everything. Forums are full of people arguing about autofocus speeds and accuracy, video modes, and high-speed flash sync. Yet at its most basic form, photography is about the relationship between the photographer, their camera, and the scene in front of them.

The GFX gives me that, for the type of work I shoot.

About Author

Jason has more than 35 years of experience as a professional photographer, videographer and stock shooter. You can get to know him better here.

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