Impressive control of vignetting and flare

For single images, I rarely worry about lens flare or vignetting. When it comes to panorama stitching, both issues can be a lot more critical, particularly for multi-row stitching. On this trip, I shot a few very casual, hand-held single-row panoramas just to get a wider perspective than a single image would allow. When I stitched the frames in Lightroom, I didn't apply any lens corrections and I didn’t see any dramatic issues with vignetting. In images with very smooth sky gradients, I saw just the slightest, barely perceptible shading between frames.

ISO 400 ISO 400 | 1/125 sec | F8

ACR Settings: Adobe Vivid, WB 6500, Tint +19, Exposure +0.15, Contrast +15, Highlights -40, Shadows +20, Vibrance +40, NR 0

Five frames shot handheld and stitched in Lightroom with no lens corrections.

Note the very slight shading in the sky where the frames overlap. Considering that I made no effort to correct for vignetting before stitching, this is actually very good performance.

Panorama shots that include a direct view of the sun are easily ruined by lens flare artifacts that don't line up across multiple frames. In the example below, two of the four frames had the sun in view while the other two did not. There was zero flare in the images with the sun just out of frame. I did not use a lens hood. I'm actually very impressed by this lens's flare resistance, considering I made no effort to deal with flare either in camera or in post.

ISO 100 | 1/250 sec | F11

ACR Settings: Adobe Color, WB Daylight, Highlights -50, Shadows +45, NR 0

Four frames shot handheld and stitched in Lightroom with no lens corrections.

ISO 400 | 1/2000 sec | F8

ACR Settings: Adobe Color, WB Daylight, Shadows +100, NR 0

Two frames shot handheld and stitched in Lightroom with no lens corrections. Note how clean and detailed the tree bark is. The original exposure had essentially black tree silhouettes.

When I have more time for testing, I’ll be very interested to see how this lens performs for serious multi-row panorama stitching since the much smaller size and lighter weight could allow for a smaller / lighter tripod and gimbal head.

Conclusion

Overall, the Fujifilm GF 50mm F3.5 lens is easy to love. I've shot with some of the best, most expensive gear in the world (Phase One, Alpa, Hasselblad, Leica) and this 50mm is among the sharpest lenses I've ever used. It's also fast to focus and relatively small compared to other GF lenses. It transforms the GFX 50R into a camera that is actually very easy to carry around and shoot with casually, which is definitely NOT something you can say of most medium format gear. I enjoyed pulling over on the highway to hop out and snap with it.

The 40mm full-frame equivalent field-of-view is often not wide enough to capture everything you really want in the frame, and it’s not exactly a portrait lens, but it definitely has that slightly wider-than-normal view that is lovely for street photography or as a leave-it-on-unless-you-specifically-need-something-else kind of lens. That said, 'compact' or 'discreet' are not words I’d use to describe this smallest of digital medium format combos; no matter where I was, if there were people around, they noticed this beast in my hands.

I've shot with some of the best, most expensive gear in the world... and this 50mm is among the sharpest lenses I've ever used

At the beginning of this write up, I compared the Fujifilm GFX 50R with 50mm F3.5 to the Olympus PEN-F with Lumix 20mm F1.7. Many photographers might think this a ridiculous comparison and they would not be wrong. There's absolutely no contest when it comes to resolution, dynamic range, and overall technical quality; the GFX wins without even trying. We're talking little-league vs. NFL here. That said, the Lumix 20mm beats the Fujifilm 50mm in one very significant way: close-focus.

Close focus is this lens’ Achilles’ heel

In many ways, these two camera/lens combinations are kindred spirits with matching fields of view, sensor aspect ratios, and rangefinder styling. The Olympus PEN-F with Lumix 20mm has been (and still is) one of the most enjoyable creative tools I've ever used, particularly because of the close focus ability. I wanted so much for Fujifilm's GFX 50R with 50mm to be a medium format equivalent, but it turns out that close focus is this lens’ Achilles’ heel.

It sometimes took the fun out of shooting with it, like when your go-cart just won’t go fast enough no matter how hard you slam the pedal. That said, it’s not a deal breaker. Slap on one of the excellent Canon close up filters and you’re good.

To buy or not to buy?

Ultimately, an article of this nature comes down to a simple 'buy or don’t buy' recommendation. If you already have the excellent GF 45mm F2.8, this lens might feel a little redundant. Because of the small size, passionate street photographers will likely consider this the 'must-own' lens they’ve been waiting for. As a commercial studio photographer without any paid work requiring this focal length, I’d have to put the GF 50mm squarely into the 'nice to have' category. I’d have a hard time justifying a purchase at full retail pricing, but if I saw this lens on promotion in a sale, I'd have a really hard time passing it up.