Photographing an Art Installation With The Fuji GFX 50s
Photographing An Event With A Medium Format Camera
The thought of using a medium format digital camera on location, without strobes, for an event during the day and night, with moving subjects seems like an absolute disaster waiting to happen. Alternatively, the high quality photos produced by the Fuji GFX 50s is extremely appealing.
Historically, medium format cameras have drawbacks for event photography.
- They are large and heavy to carry all day.
- They shoot a very low amount of frames per second.
- Focusing is slower compared to other cameras designed for sports/events.
- They typically do not do well in low light and higher ISOs.
However, even with these typical drawbacks, I decided why not use the Fuji GFX 50s for event photography. Let’s see what this camera can do. I brought other cameras with me just in case, and fully intended to use them. Before I knew it though, I just couldn’t put down the Fuji (More on that later).
Coachella Music Festival and the Hipo Art Installation
The 2019 Coachella Music Festival has come and gone. The festival was quite amazing. 2019 was the 20th year since the first event. Commonly referred to as Coachella, the event is massive music and art festival. This year I had the opportunity to work with Dedo Vabo and photograph their Hipo Art Installation. This was an amazing opportunity for me to take out the Fuji GFX 50s, and give it a solid workout documenting an event for 3 days.
Dedo Vabo is an art duo based out of Los Angeles, CA. The Hipo Coachella 2019 Art Installation was a first rate, top quality, no expense cut installation. They have an outstanding crew that makes their outlandish, entertaining visions come alive. Therefore, this install lived up to all the hype. There were pranks, top notch performers, and even guest appearances from musicians playing at the festival.
Overall this was a great chance using the Fuji GFX 50s for even photography. Above all, I could see how it would handle all the tough shooting situations.
How the Fuji GFX 50s Handled
Let’s just start with the fact that the Fuji GFX 50s is no ordinary medium format camera. You can see some of my other blog posts about this camera here. Given that the Fuji is mirrorless and much smaller than other medium format cameras, it becomes possible to carry this camera all day and take advantage of the amazing quality images it produces.
Let’s start with the elephant in the room. This camera with the GF32-64 f4 and GF120 f4 lenses produces amazing photographs. There is a ton of detail and the colors are amazing. There is nothing not to like about the image files. The Hipo Coachella 2019 Art Installation was immersed in bright colors. The performance art install included lots of color that would have been hard to photograph with some other cameras. The Fuji handled it no problem.
Positives I discovered carrying the camera around for 10 to 12 hours a day –
- The images were stunning! At times, I was really worried due to all the color shifts in the event, but the Fuji handled it flawlessly.
- While this camera isn’t really light, I had no problem carrying it around and shooting handheld. I was feeling it after 3 straight days, but it was much easier than I expected.
- ISO 3200 produced totally usable, amazing images. This was always a knock on medium format in the past. Typically anything over ISO 400 for digital medium format had a lot of noise and was difficult to use. I know modern full frame cameras can push ISO’s much higher than 3200, but this is still a plus given the larger and color capability at this ISO.
- It was great to be able to walk around with the Fuji and know that if I needed to crop an image, I would have more than enough detail to do so. At times I needed to crop quite a bit, however it was not a problem at all.
- Battery life was great, but I did need a few batteries to get through each day. The battery life was on par with what I’m used to shooting any event.
- The Image stabilization of the GF120 F4 was excellent. I was able to handhold the camera at 1/10 of a second and still get a sharp image. Of course this was only helpful when shooting images of things that weren’t moving, or when I wanted to have a sharp background with movement in the foreground.
With everything photography, there are always trade-offs. Therefore, I do have to cover some things that I found difficult when using the Fuji GFX 50s for event photography.
Negatives I discovered carrying the camera around for the event –
- When it gets dark, it gets difficult to keep up the shutter speed. As mentioned in the positives ISO 3200 was great. Once at ISO 6400, there was definitely noticeable drop-off in color and added noise. These images were still very usable, but being super picky this is where I could see the drop-off happen.
- Limited lenses. I know that Fuji has the GF250 F4 (which I have not used yet for full disclosure). It definitely would have been helpful to have something similar to a full frame 70-200 super fast lens. Even a 150 to 200ish prime lens at 2.8 similar to the Carl Zeiss Jena DDR Sonnar 180mm f2.8 with auto focus would have been super useful.
- The camera draws so much attention due to it’s size, it was difficult at times to blend in. This surprised me, but I had numerous people stop me and want to talk about the camera. As a result, the distractions took me away from focusing on the performance. It was easy to miss images if I wasn’t fully focused, and going out of my way to be as stealth as possible.
- Auto focus was quick, but definitely not as quick as other more sports specific cameras. For an event I would definitely want a faster focusing system. Faster focusing would have made things much easier, but the Fuji got the job done.
- Memory really goes quick. The larger file size of these images really put my setup to the test. The goal was to turn images around multiple times a day, for press images, the event, and social media. Therefore, I needed a laptop that could handle a lot of data. In 3 days I went through 500 gigs of memory and it became a problem to put them on a laptop with a 500 gig hard drive. Make sure to have a large external drive with you to back up your files. At this event internet was spotty and limited to a phone hot spot. There was no way to back up the images to a cloud environment.
Would I Use The Fuji Again For An Event/Conclusion
Using the Fuji GFX 50s for event photography was an experience. The images turned out great. I was very excited to see how well the Fuji handled in low light and in an environment I couldn’t use a strobe.
If I was photographing another event where most of the images would be in daylight, I would definitely use the Fuji for it. The camera handles so well and the image files are amazing to work with.
If I was photographing an event where most of the images were at night in low light, I would carry the Fuji, but would also carry a second camera for those times when I really needed to crank up the ISO. Clients really only care about the end product. If low light images are required without a strobe; consider carrying a low light specific camera and using the Fuji for everything else.
Overall, I was very happy to use the Fuji GFX 50s for event photography. It was very capable and produced amazing results. As a result, if you have an event to shoot I can say it a great camera to think about using.
Don’t forget to look at the images on my site in the galleries starting at: https://mjvphoto.com/the-art/. Hopefully you find some of them inspirational for your own photography adventures, or maybe you find an image you want to call your own.