March 2, 2017
Hey gang, I’m here today to give a short walking tour of my work commute from the best house that has ever existed in Clifton to my job in midtown Manhattan.
Additionally, it is my review of the Fujifilm GFX 50s medium format digital mirrorless camera. At a mere $6500.00 (plus double that amount for the lens and accessory kit), it is a real steal!
Just kidding. I do not have the medium format camera. Nor will I ever, as far as I can tell. My review of the GFX is not of the camera itself, but of the concept of the camera and how it very well might break me off this hobby that is becoming more costly than it is worth.
I thoroughly enjoy taking pictures, of everything from raindrops on car windows to landscapes of mountain ranges. I enjoy capturing people in fleeting moments, as you see in this article, and posed portraits. I enjoy dramatic, powerful photographs with deep shadows and bright whites, too. I also enjoy high resolution, crisp lines, biting sharpness, and striking details and textures. Every camera I have purchased has been both a) affordable enough to me, and b) a steady increase in all those features I enjoy. The Fujifilm GFX is different. It no longer falls into the realm of item A. More on this, below.
Regarding the commute, I start from home and travel a mere one and a half miles to the train station for the first leg of my journey. It was a rainy morning, and I thought that might give me some good snapshots along the way because people are different in the rain, the streets are different, and contrast looks so great in this sort of weather.
Aboard the train, everyone is quiet on morning rush hour. Noses buried deep in telephones, and the occasional traditionalist does the same with an old-fashioned newspaper. Rail travel is a wildly efficient means of getting to and from work, and anyone that doesn’t believe me just has to take a casual glance at rush hour vehicular traffic out the window as we whisk on by on rail. The trains might move a few mph slower than normal highway traffic, and they make a few stops along the way, but they are nearly a guaranteed pace- and they operate as the tortoise in the famous story about the tortoise and the hare.
In my case, it is a mere three stops later that I change trains in Secaucus for my New York City-bound corridor train. About fifteen minutes on one train, a four minute walk, and nine minutes on the second train puts me from my house to midtown. No tolls, no traffic, no headache. Usually it is nothing more than observation and listening to music.
The large bay windows on the upper level allow us to see some of the great landscape of New Jersey, including our natural fossil-fuel powered power plants. Off into another direction allows us to see the New York skyline. But not today- the rain and mist in the air made it so the city could either be a mile away or one hundred miles away- visually we could not tell the difference in this weather.
Stepping out from Penn Station and ready for the power walk to Grand Central Terminal. Eight blocks up and five avenues over to our arrival. This is when I see the Manhattan landscape and wildlife.
Here in the plains of Sixth and 34th Street, Herald Square, the wind whips through the narrow valley between the skyscraper ridge lines. Manes run wild.
If I didn’t have the shutter depressed on full auto, I would have never guessed that this woman was holding some correspondence from Rolex. “Manhattan is Manhattan.”
Still climbing uptown, I found this oasis that appears to be wildly expensive. Not only is it on Fifth Ave and 40th, but it is so expensive that the name is completely unpronounceable. It is beyond French. Beyond Latin. It is… a bunch of consonants and ends -ia. Wow. Take my money, I guess…
Making progress. Grand Central Terminal is the short little building in front of the glass tower that is dwarfed by the taller Chrysler Tower that suffers an eternal inferiority complex whenever it and the Empire State Building are in the same shot. Standing alone, it is a pretty tower, though.
Grand Central is not that tall because trains don’t climb stairs well. But while it is not tall, it is incredibly deep. Trains operate on three subterranean levels under that building and it is responsible for three quarters of a million passengers a day.
So, you know, it’s not just about the height…
With such a strong sun in the background, I really like the way it highlighted the hair and accentuated the shadows from the commuting wildlife.
Ok so about that other new camera…
The photographs today were not that great. I didn’t take my time with them nor did I invest a whole lot into the processing of the images on my computer. I simply needed to get some snapshots to feel like I am still in the game. I have spent so much time in the kitchen that I have begun to feel that progress in other areas was starting to dissipate.
Now that the kitchen renovation is near complete, I am finding time to return to some of my normal routines, which include running and taking pictures of random events for no reason other than to throw them on the internet and to help me practice writing.
But all the while that new Fuji camera has been on my mind. It has not been on my mind because I want to purchase it. It has been on my mind because I am forecasting where photography is going in the near term, and I feel it is heading somewhere without me and that is a bit sad. Additionally, it is heading somewhere with more consumer dollar than it rightfully deserves.
The Fuji GFX is $6,500. Take a moment to contemplate that. It is a serious amount of cash. Sure, they say it is medium format. Big deal. It is not medium format like 2×2 medium format film was… it is merely medium format insomuch as it has a slightly larger sensor than “full-frame” sensors. And for that marginal increase, they want twice your money.
From what I can tell, it is a remarkable camera and it takes stellar photographs. And that $6500? It is peanuts compared to what medium format systems typically cost. And herein lies the great problem…
Medium Format was like driving a Rolls Royce to the car club that was full of Mercedes and BMWs. Sure, the Benz is a great car, but the Rolls Royce has always stood in a league of its own. At $40,000 plus, traditional medium format systems were held in the same regard. They were untouchable to the rest of us.
But $6500? Well, that is certainly unreasonable to anybody that is being honest with themselves as an unsponsored or self-employed photographer… BUT, it is not outside the limits of most credit cards. …Or combination of credit cards for those that are particularly stupid with their personal lines of IOUs.
You see, it is my opinion that the Fuji GFX is unreasonably priced but not out-of-reach. That means that many people will buy the systems, as well as the medium format offerings that will soon be offered by other manufacturers, and then the normal display of photography from very expensive cameras of today and yesterday will be visibly sub-par. Additionally, for people like me that enjoy trying out the “cutting edge” in hardware, I have finally been priced out of the game.
Many amateur photographers will soon agree with me that we simply cannot afford to join the new high end realm, so if we can no longer feel like we have a competitive edge, then why not just dispose of our gear and use a small point and shoot camera instead? Why not just use our telephone?
Nobody remembers those people who are in second place. Fujifilm has outdone themselves in that they have not raised the bar on the highest levels of quality, because medium format has been around for quite some time. But they lowered the price enough that many people will bite. They will invest over $10,000 in a camera system and then hope to get scraps as a ROI selling weddings and stock photos at the same prices they are selling their photos today with cheap little full frame cameras.
I do not feel I am articulating my opinion overly well, but I believe Fujifilm has made a mistake.
In my much younger days I took some flying lessons. They are expensive. Someone quoted to me that the reason flying is so expensive is that if it were cheaper, than everyone would do it and the skies would be flooded with all the same crazy drivers we see on the streets. That would be terrible.
It is equally terrible that Fujifilm is making medium format digital cameras just another low-ish hanging fruit. They are flying too close to the sun and being penny-wise but dollar poor. They may sell some GFX, but they may destroy their other camera lines. Time will tell.
Case in point-
One of these photographs was not taken with my highly-rated Fuji XT2 and stellar 35mm lens. (Pretty much everyone’s opinion, not just my own.)
One of these photographs was taken with a Sony RX100IV. A point and shoot. Can you tell which one?
If you cannot tell, then why should I bother to carry such a significant system with me any longer?