The Spring 2020 issue of the Michael Clark Photography Newsletter is now available for download. If you’d like to sign up for the Newsletter just drop me an email and I’ll add you to the mailing list.
This issue includes an editorial entitled Covid-19 Edition, a full review of the brand new FUJIFILM GF45-100mm f/4 lens, an article detailing my recent assignment covering the Marine Special Forces (MARSOC), and excerpt from my recently updated and revamped e-book A Professional Photographer’s Workflow: Using Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop, an editorial entitled Self-Quarantine, and much more.
The Michael Clark Photography Newsletter goes out to over 8,000 thousand photo editors, photographers and photo enthusiasts around the world. You can download the Spring 2020 issue on my website at:
If you’d like to check out back issues of the newsletter they are available here.
Please note that the newsletter is best viewed in the latest Adobe Acrobat reader which is available for free at www.adobe.com.
Also, if you are a subscriber and you have not already received the Newsletter, which was email out a few days ago please send me an email with your current email address and/or check your spam folder.
The back story to this e-book goes all the way back to 2006, when I shot the first assignment for Adobe Lightroom before it was even launched. George Jardine, then the Product Manager for what was known as “Shadowlands” internally at Adobe–and later became Lightroom–hired me for a freeride mountain biking assignment in the spring of 2006 to create images to promote the new software launch. We shot the images just outside of Moab, Utah at Bartlett Wash with a few top riders in the area and afterwards George showed me how to use the software so I could work up the images after the assignment. At that point, it dawned on me that not many photographers get to learn a top-end piece of software from the folks that designed it. A few months later I was teaching a digital workflow workshop with Nevada Wier and Jerry Courvoisier at the Santa Fe Workshops. We all put together a 20- to 40-page outline of our digital workflow for the workshop participants and afterwards I expanded that into the first edition of the digital workflow e-book, which was a mere 97-pages.
Fast-forward to today, and now we have the 7th edition, which has been massively expanded and is just shy of 600-pages. This is not your normal puff-piece e-book. It is just as dense as any textbook and is filled with basically everything I know about a complete digital workflow. As I learn new techniques, I add them into the next version of the e-book. Over the last fourteen years, the e-book as sold thousands of copies and some folks have purchased five or more versions of the e-book since the beginning. My sincere thanks to those that have purchased the e-book and have helped make it what it is today.
Over the last few years I have just been too busy with assignments to update the e-book. I started work on revamping this book from front-to-back about a year ago. In 2019, I had so many assignments and was on the road for over nine months, which made it tough to update the book but I worked on it as much as I could between assignments. In the last six weeks, with Covid-19 keeping us at home I have been able to make some serious progress and finally was able to finish the update. The e-book now includes an entirely new chapter on Equipment Selection and brand new links to Full HD videos where you can watch me work up three images in both Lightroom and Photoshop.
With every new update and revision of the e-book, I always try to add new information to help further enhance the usefulness of the e-book and also to help those that purchase it grow their understanding of this complex topic as I grow my own learning. At this point in the camera industry, even though it is going through some tough times right now, as is the rest of the World, we are at a major crossroads. Mirrorless camera technology is and has been making great strides. It is the future of interchangeable camera systems and is already more than capable for most genres of photography–save for action and sports photographers where the autofocus may not be quite up to snuff save for a few cameras.
I have been reticent to include a chapter on camera gear for a long time as it is constantly being updated and changing. Also, it is so easy to get mired down comparing cameras and camera brands that I wanted to avoid that altogether. But now, at this crossroads between DSLRs and Mirrorless cameras, it seemed appropriate to discuss a number of different topics related to modern digital cameras. This new chapter on equipment includes a discussion of modern camera technology, a comparison of Mirrorless vs. DSLR cameras, the advantages and disadvantages of Mirrorless camera systems, a discussion of digital camera formats including medium format cameras, and much more.
The reality is that there are really no bad cameras on the market these days. Sure, there are some that are better suited for one genre or another and some that have better image quality but in general all of the modern digital cameras on the market produce fairly incredible images. This chapter was included in the book to help photographers make good decisions about the type of camera that will work best for their needs.
In addition to the new chapter, the new videos and the updates throughout the book, the e-book also comes with a Photoshop Action which lays out the basic adjustments I do to pretty much every image. The Photoshop Action comes with a ReadMe PDF that explains how to load that action into the Actions palette in Photoshop. It will work on just about any version of Photoshop that you might have.
I can honestly say that I have not seen any other book on the market today that includes as much detailed and comprehensive information as this e-book does on a complete digital workflow from setting up the camera to backing up your images and everything in-between.
“I will boldly state right here and now that there is no other resource, be it a book, website or anything else, that has such a thorough and complete discussion on real-world color management issues as does this e-book.”
To purchase the e-book please visit my website. If you would like to download a sample of the PDF with the table of contents and the introduction click here.
I am very excited to announce that the image above of Savannah Cummins climbing the super classic route Scarface (5.11) in Indian Creek, Utah has been chosen for inclusion in the 2020 Communication Arts Photography Annual, which will be published in the July/August 2020 issue of Communication Arts (CA). The CA Photography Annual is one of the most exclusive photography competitions in the world. The Communication Arts Photography Annual competition has been held for the last 61 years making this one of the oldest photography competitions in the World. From the Communications Arts press release, “Of the 2,511 entries to the 61st Photography Annual, only 121 were accepted, representing the work of 112 photographers, making the Photography Annual the most exclusive major photography competition in the world.”
For those not familiar with Communication Arts, here is a description from the press release of the magazine, which is more like a high-end book than a magazine: “Communication Arts is a professional journal for designers, art directors, design firms, corporate design departments, agencies, illustrators, photographers and everyone involved in visual communications. Through its editorials, feature articles and the annual competitions it sponsors, CA provides new ideas and information, while promoting the highest professional standards for the field. With a paid circulation of 25,000, CA has a rich tradition of representing the aspirations of a continually-growing and quality-conscious field of visual communications. Now in its 61st year, CA continues to showcase the current best—whether it’s from industry veterans or tomorrow’s stars—in design, advertising, photography, illustration, interactive and typography. Everything is reproduced with printing technology and attention to detail unmatched by any trade publication anywhere.”
For me personally, getting the email that another one of my images made it into the Photo Annual, and especially this image in particular, is a confirmation of how we knocked it out of the park on this assignment for FUJIFILM North America. [My first image to be included in the Communication Arts Photo Annual was in 2016 and my second was in 2018.] When I got the news I was overjoyed as this image is from one of the best assignments I have ever had–and it was very exciting to be a small part of the launch for the incredible FUJIFILM GFX 100. Along with the notice, I also received an email that I could announce that my image was included in the Annual, even though the July/August issue is yet to be published.
The above image was shot for FUJIFILM North America. It was widely published to promote the FUJIFILM GFX 100. This image was created during Project Hermes, which was described in detail in the Summer 2019 Newsletter. This image was created using the GFX 100 with a GF 23mmF4 R LM WR lens and one Elinchrom ELB 1200 strobe with an HS Flash head. The strobe was placed above Savannah at the top of the route and was held by my assistant on this shoot. To see the rest of the images from this assignment check out the Fujifilm Gallery on my website. For a behind the scenes video detailing this assignment check out the behind the scenes video entitled Pushing the Limits with the GFX 100 produced by Fujifilm.
My thanks to FUJIFILM North America for giving me the opportunity on this major assignment, especially to Victor Ha, Director of Marketing at FUJIFILM N.A., and Justin Stailey, Senior Manager of Product Development for North America at FUJIFILM N.A., who helped put this shoot together. Also, my sincere thanks to Communication Arts and the jurors who chose the winning images: Ayse Bali – Rafineri, Jason Baron – BBC Creative, Dilip Vishwamitra – photographer, Marc Gafen – Capture Magazine, Cameron Gibb – Blackwell&Ruth, Lisa M. Lewis – Lisa Lewis Design Collective, Janet Michaud – Janet Michaud Design, Christine Ramage – AMC Networks, and Mark Zibert – Method Inc. And finally, I owe a huge debt of gratitude to the crew who worked with me to create this image and all of the other images for the launch of the GFX 100 including Savannah Cummins, the rock climber in this image, her belayer Angela VanWiemeersch, and Ted Hesser my assistant on this portion of the assignment. The entire crew worked incredibly hard to help us create an amazing set of images for Fujifilm.
Note: Of course, at the moment with the Covid-19 virus virtually everywhere and all of us on lockdown I am not traveling at all. All of my assignments have either been cancelled or indefinitely postponed as they should be. I have had this blog post in the hopper for a while now and thought that it might be of interest to some–and entertaining for others. I hope this finds you all doing well, staying healthy and staying home.
In April of 2019, Justin Stailey, the Senior Manager of Product Development for FUJIFILM USA, flew out to New Mexico to hand deliver a prototype FUJIFILM GFX 100 and help me get to know the camera. I was set to shoot a major assignment with the GFX 100 a few weeks later for the launch of the camera and was also flown to Japan to attend the launch event and the 2019 Fujikina conference as well. When I returned home from Japan, I received one of the first GFX 100 camera bodies in the USA–long before it was actually available on the market. Since shooting that assignment for the launch of the GFX 100, and getting my own production version of the GFX 100, I have barely even picked up my Nikon D850 or my relatively new (at the time) Nikon Z6. There have only been a handful of assignments this last year where I needed something specialized (like f/1.4 lenses) for any of my assignments. Even if I needed slightly faster glass or a specific camera to pull off an assignment, the GFX 100 went with me on every single assignment last year and was used for both stills and video. Here in this blog post I thought I would present some of my thoughts on the GFX 100 and the Fujifilm GFX system after using it for a full year.
It wasn’t my intention that I would fully switch over to the GFX 100, and I am still grappling with which camera systems to take on which assignments–and how to transport multiple camera systems when flying. The image quality produced by the GFX 100 is so mind-altering that I have worked hard to maximize the performance of this camera for use on a wide range of subjects including action photography, which is typically not the genre associated with medium format photography. See my earlier post on Setting up the FUJIFILM GFX 100 for Action Photography.
Even landscape photography is a bit more involved than one might think with medium format cameras (and here the GFX 100 is no different than the Hasselblad and Phase One offerings). The shallow depth of field created by the larger sensor means that even at f/11 (on the cusp where diffraction starts to lower image quality) it is not possible to get a full landscape with close objects completely in focus from near to far as it is with a full-frame (35mm) or a smaller APS-C sensor. Hence, I have to use focus stacking and take multiple images to get everything from a few feet to infinity in focus. This is commonplace with medium format systems though not all of them have a focus stacking feature like the GFX cameras have. Regardless, the image quality is so phenomenal that doing a three-to-five image focus stack is worth the effort and the post-processing is fairly easy.
The Long and Winding Road of Adapting a new Camera System
When Nikon and Canon release new DSLRs, like the new Canon 1DX III and Nikon D6, they purposely don’t radically alter the design of the camera. Having shot Nikon for nearly 35 years now, I know my Nikons–and the nuances on how to eke out the best from them–incredibly well. Even the new Nikon Z6, which I have had for over a year, feels quite familiar and there was very little for me to learn to get up to speed with that camera. By contrast, over the last year with the GFX 100 I have had to really dive in deep and scour the menu to learn everything I could. It has not been a difficult path to get to know the GFX 100 but it is a complex camera with incredible capabilities and if I want to get the best out of it then I need to know how I can dial it in to get the best possible results. Even one year later, I am still finding new menu items that I have seen before but never really explored.
As an example, setting up the camera to use High Speed Sync or Hi-Sync flash techniques with my Elinchrom strobes is quite a bit more complex than with my Nikon D850. This is partially because the GFX 100 is a mirrorless camera and I have to go in and turn off the EVF preview so I can actually see the subject and also because there are considerably more flash settings to deal with in the GFX 100 menu as well. As another example, when using one of my older Hasselblad leaf-shutter lenses with the Fujifilm H-Mount Adapter G, there are several menu changes that have to be made to get the camera to use the Leaf Shutter. None of these are that difficult to set up, it is just educating yourself to know how the camera works and what is required to get the desired result. It would be the same scenario if I switched to Canon, Sony or any other camera brand. I remember years ago shooting with a Canon DSLR on one occasion and I couldn’t even figure out how to turn it on at first.
What I have found is that the GFX 100 has just about any and every feature you could ever want in a camera. Lots of people that test this camera out for YouTube camera reviews never spend enough time (and by that I mean months and months of shooting with the camera) to figure out how to squeeze the best possible performance out of the camera. I have heard too many reviewers say that this is not an action camera–and it definitely is not the camera for shooting the NFL, NBA or any other major league sport–but it does have impressive autofocus capabilities if you set up the AF for fast action. I am not saying it will then track action on par with the best sports cameras but it will do far better than most might imagine. I shot the Red Bull Rampage, which is a fast action downhill mountain biking event, with this camera last year and it held its own.
This is one camera where I highly recommend reading the User Manual. I have to say that I am only now starting to feel like I know the GFX 100 camera really well after a year of using it. It has taken a long time to learn about all the various shortcuts and settings and I now feel I have command of the camera and can change settings quickly and efficiently.
The GFX Lenses
The GFX lenses are superb. In fact, across the board they are so good that I am a bit spoiled and find many of my Nikkor lenses wanting in comparison. Compared to the extremely expensive Hasselblad lenses I had for my H5D 50c WiFi, I have found the Fujifilm GF lenses to be even better than those legendary lenses. I have a wide array of the GF lenses and none of them are weak. I also just shot an assignment for Fujifilm with the new GF 45-100mm f/4 lens (see the ice climbing image below) and that is another stellar addition to the lineup. My biggest issue these days is figuring out which lenses to take on assignments as I can’t fit all of them into my f-stop backpack.
At this point, I am not really wanting for any new lenses, though I will admit the new GF 30mm f/3.5 and GF 80mm f/1.7 that were announced a while back do sound exciting. If anything, I can see how a super wide 17mm tilt-shift lens would be really exciting for landscape photography and it would also negate the need to focus stack. On the other end, it is fun to think about a medium format super telephoto–something like a 500mm f/5.6, even though it would be a giant lens. Other than those dream lenses, the GF lens lineup is very well flushed out.
Using the GFX 100 with Hi-Sync & High Speed Sync Flash
The GFX 100, like the GFX 50s and 50r, work very well with my Elinchrom ELB 1200 and ELB 400 as well as the ELB 500 TTL. The Fujifilm cameras are a bit more complex to use with Hi-Sync and High Speed Sync as you have to make a few key settings in the cameras Flash menu, i.e. setting the flash mode to “M” (for Manual) and also setting the flash sync mode to “FP”. I have also found that I have to set the Overdrive Sync (ODS) setting on my Elinchrom Transmitter Pro to 1.2 or thereabouts to get the best light output when using Hi-Sync. On both the camera and the transmitter these key settings are by default reset to TTL on the camera and an ODS setting of zero on the transmitter every time you turn them off, which makes sense but is somewhat frustrating in use. It is the same with most other cameras as well (aside from Nikons since they do not need any ODS setting adjustments). Regardless, the results are excellent–as shown below in this portrait captured using HSS with the Elinchrom ELB 500 TTL and the new GF 45-100mm f/4 lens on the GFX 100.
I have also used the GFX 100 with the FUJIFILM H Adapter G, which allows one to mount the Hasselblad H series leaf-shutter lenses onto any of the GFX cameras. Using this adapter and the Hasselblad leaf-shutter lenses allows one to sync the flash at any and all shutter speeds (up to 1/800th second), which is a nice option for studio portraiture. This essentially gives us the best of both worlds for syncing flash via normal flash sync speeds with the Fujifilm lenses, using Hi-Sync (HS) and High Speed Sync (HSS) with the Fujifilm lenses, and also working with leaf-shutter flash techniques via the Hasselblad lenses. I have done a few portrait shoots using the Hasselblad HC 50-110mm f/3.5-4.5 and the adapter. Even though this technique forces you to use manual focus on the Hasselblad lens, in a portrait scenario this is not that big of an issue to overcome.
During my last portrait shoot I also found the flip-out rear LCD to be extremely useful with the camera on a tripod. With my subject seated and the Face Detection and Eye AF engaged I didn’t need to look through the camera viewfinder and could just look down occasionally to make sure the Face Detection was still engaged on his face. This allowed me to interact with the subject and not have the camera in front of my face, as photographers used to do with the waist level viewfinders on the old-school Hasselblads.
File Size and Hard Drives
No doubt, the GFX 100 image files are massive. That has to be taken into account when purchasing this camera as you will blow through hard drives like there is no tomorrow. I have the latest Apple MacBook Pro and it seems to have no trouble working with the GFX 100 image files in both Adobe Lightroom Classic CC and Capture One Pro. Of course, once I work up the raw image file and then save it as a layered-PSD file in Photoshop the file size often balloons to 1.5 GB or larger. In the last year, I added an OWC 84TB Thunderbay 6 RAID array to my desktop to go along with the other three giant RAID hard drive arrays I already had. It will obviously take me some time to fill that giant hard drive array up but it just goes to show that high-resolution stills, just like high res 8K video, requires huge amounts of storage.
In-Body Image Stabilization (IBIS)
The IBIS built into the GFX 100 is hands down the most useful feature in this camera–aside from the astounding image quality. Without that IBIS system, the GFX 100 would be quite difficult to use and get sharp images at normal shutter speeds. I never turn the IBIS off. Even if I have the camera on a tripod, which is normally where camera manufacturers tell you to turn off the IBIS, the GFX 100 helps stabilize the image even in high winds. I have done testing with the IBIS both on and off and I have not seen any reason to ever turn it off. For such a high resolution camera this feature alone allows for a much wider shooting envelope in terms of shutter speeds–and it makes the GFX 100 a handhold able camera whereas the Hasselblad and Phase One 100 MP and 150 MP cameras would be very difficult to use handheld except at the highest shutter speeds–and still get sharp images.
The GFX 100 is not only a stellar still photography machine but the video output from this camera is also quite incredible. It hasn’t been widely discussed but the look and quality of the video output is (in my humble opinion) only a hair’s breathe away from a much more expensive Red Digital Cinema camera–at a quarter of the cost. I have tested the camera using my Atomos Ninja V recorder so that I can output the highest quality F-Log and/or 4:2:2 10-bit footage and while this setup (shown below) is a bit of a beast the footage is remarkable. Of course, the GFX 100 is not set up like a pure motion camera so it is a bit ungainly but it is a great rig when you need to swap back and forth between stills and video, especially since the mode dial on the top left side of the camera allows you to switch between stills and video easily and it retains your exact settings in each mode.
As shown above, I have my GFX 100 setup with a SmallRig cage, handle and wooden grip (hard to see as it is on the far side of the camera in the above image) to help carry the setup when shooting handheld. With the Atoms Ninja V on top, a microphone and headphones this is a big and heavy system. For handheld work I have found the IBIS is sufficient for stabilizing the camera. But of course for really high-end work, stripping down the camera and putting it on a gamble (with a small- to medium-sized lens) would be the best option. Stay tuned for more on the motion capture capabilities with he GFX 100.
In short, the GFX 100 has set a new bar in image quality and functionality for medium format cameras. The autofocus is beyond anything ever seen in the medium format genre. And after a year, I have a good handle on the complexities of this camera and how to get the best results from it in a wide variety of situations. I am sure there is still more to learn. The good news is that I don’t see this camera being eclipsed anytime soon. The 50 MP medium format sensor used in the other GFX cameras, Hasselblad’s X1D II and Pentax’s 645D was released in 2014 and it is still going strong and still produces some of the best image quality of any camera out there. As with many medium format cameras, they are not replaced nearly as quickly as their smaller format brethren. I foresee the GFX 100 having a long life as a top-end camera.
The upshot here is that I am completely spoiled now. Are there things I want added or changed about the camera? Sure, a few items here and there but overall those are small quibbles. No camera that I own is perfect. I do look forward to the new lenses and hopefully a super-wide tilt-shift lens at some point but otherwise even one year later I am still incredibly impressed by what Fujifilm has created in the GFX 100. Having spoken at length with the Fujifilm engineers and knowing how incredibly difficult many parts of this camera were to build (like the crazy tolerances of the IBIS mechanism) the fact that they can mass produce something of this caliber is an engineering miracle. Kudos to Fujifilm, from one year on, for creating such a ground-breaking camera system.
Last fall, I had an assignment working with the Marine Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC), also known as Marine Raiders, to create a series of images alongside a video shoot out at Camp LeJeune near Jacksonville, North Carolina. The Marine special forces are the most elite of the Marines and it was fascinating to spend a week capturing images mostly during the night with the Marines fully decked out on a mock mission. The images and video that were created are being used internally to encourage the top-end Marines to apply for MARSOC. These images have been held back until they could go through a series of approvals by the US Military to make sure nothing sensitive was pictured in the images. As such, because this is an unusual shoot for me and the subject matter includes a lot of sensitive topics I will keep my remarks here on the technical details of the shoot rather than give a chronological account of how the assignment unfolded.
As can be seen in the images, for the most part we were working at night under moonlight with a little help from various low-power LED lights pulled in by the video crew. The Marine Raiders were in full kit at all times and my assignment was to capture stills (and some video clips) while the crew was filming and in between takes. This was extremely challenging from a technical perspective as we were moving so fast I had to catch images on the fly . All of the images you see here were captured handheld without tripod.
For this shoot, I needed the fastest lenses I owned, which meant I was working with my trusty Sigma ART 24mm f/1.4 and Nikkor 85mm f/1.4G lenses for pretty much the entire assignment. Since I was working at crazy high ISO settings ranging from ISO 6400 up to ISO 12800, I chose my Nikon Z6 as my main camera body since it has the least amount of noise of any camera I own at super high ISO settings. The Z6 also has incredible In-Body Image Stabilization (IBIS) which allowed me to capture images handheld at extremely slow shutter speeds in the range of 1/10th to 1/20th of a second. For a good portion of the entire assignment I was working wide open at f/1.4, 1/10th second shutter speed and at ISO 6400 or higher. These were some of the toughest lighting conditions I have ever faced while on any assignment–at least in terms of the lack of light. The idea was to keep the shoot as realistic as possible and closely aligned with what Marine Raiders actually do. Hence, the nighttime images in this blog post.
I also had the privilege of working with an incredible crew on this assignment including Jon Long (Director), Gary Lorimer (1st AD), Alex Fostvedt (DP), Lane Stevens (1st AC), Ben Cowan (2nd Unit), Tal Black-Brown (2nd Unit AC). What these guys were able to pull off in terms of the video was astounding. The video was captured using a Red Gemini and Blackmagic 4K Cinema Cameras–all mounted on stabilizers. They captured a lot of footage with nothing but the moon lighting the subjects, which was mind-blowing from a technical standpoint. In between takes I would jump in and capture stills–and because I was using such slow shutter speeds most of my stills required the subjects weren’t moving.
As shown in the first image in this post, we were also working in and around the Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, which is one of the most complex aircraft in the world. MARSOC utilizes various aircraft in training, and while forward deployed, including the MV-22B Osprey, which was used to capture them sky diving out of at night during this mock mission. Not many civilians get to fly in an Osprey so it was a special honor to jump in and capture images as the team exited the aircraft. Myself and another cinematographer sat on the open back exit ramp of an Osprey capturing images of a second Osprey flying behind us, which is how the daytime images of the Osprey in flight were captured. We did some practice runs in the daylight in preparation for the night jump. Note that we had to be especially careful while capturing images of the Marine Raiders in order to protect their identities.
All in all, I have to say I was quite impressed by the entire MARSOC team. Even though this was just a mock mission, it was incredible to see them at work and see what they go through just in training. At one point while we were set to shoot images of the snipers I showed up a few minutes after they got set and asked “Where are they?” One of the crew pointed down right at my feet and there was a sniper all set in the grass just below me. Looking down at him I couldn’t even see him until he moved his finger. Needless to say I was pretty blown away at their ability to camouflage themselves. With the help of a little green tinted LED light we made the image below.
My grandfather was a Marine Sniper in World War II, and much of his career was so secret that we only learned of his whereabouts during the war after his death. He was at Pearl Harbor when the Japanese bombed the base, then was sent all over the Pacific to many of the largest battles. He also received a Purple Heart, among many other medals, and was handicapped for 70-plus years after being hit by shrapnel at Okinawa four years after he enlisted. As with many World War II vets he never spoke of the war, but he did speak about the Marines often. It was clear the respect he had for the Marines superseded the respect he had for the government. The MARSOC team I worked with were all super smart, dedicated and honorable men who did their job to the best of their abilities.
Technically, this assignment pushed the limits of what is possible with modern digital cameras about as far as I have ever seen. I was blown away by the handheld images we were able to create at such shockingly low shutter speeds. The lighting employed to get any detail in the soldiers was comical at best (in terms of its brightness). I also used the FUJIFILM GFX 100 for some of these images and for capturing 4K footage for the motion component of this assignment. The GFX 100 would have been my main camera but I need faster lenses than were available for the GFX system–specifically a fast wide angle lens. Hence, the Z6 stepped up the plate and performed incredibly well.
As someone who has not spent much time around the military or military bases this assignment was quite interesting and the images we produced are quite frankly like nothing I have ever captured in my career. A few of the images–especially the second image in this blog post–look like they were captured on a modern day Apocalypse Now film set. As an adventure photographer, I have seen a lot but this assignment was out there in a completely different way knowing that the team we worked with could and most likely would be sent out on a real-world mission at any moment. My thanks to Nathan Simpson for this assignment, and also thanks to Becca Newman and the entire MARSOC team for working with us deep into the night for an entire week.
I have heard many camera testers say the FUJIFILM GFX 100 can’t track action very well. In my experience, it certainly isn’t a Nikon D6 or Canon 1DX III, but if set up right, the GFX 100 can deal with action much better than most might imagine. The GFX 100 is a complex camera which has quite a few settings that need to be dialed in to get the best results. Figuring out the autofocus and all the various settings that affect autofocus speed takes some serious time and experimentation. Having worked with the camera over the last year, and having tested the autofocus in a wide variety of situations, I have found the settings that allow me to get the best possible AF results out of the GFX 100. I realize this blog post is only going to be interesting for a small number of photographers, who a) have a GFX 100 and b) need or want to photograph moving subjects, but nonetheless I thought I would post this for those trying to push the envelope with this stunning camera.
Here are the settings required to make this camera track a moving subject as reliably as possible:
A) Choose the right lens. The early primes, like the GF 45mm f/2.8 and the GF 63mm f/2.8, are not the swiftest lenses when it comes to their autofocus speed. They are not meant to be speed demon lenses, they are meant for the studio or portraiture–and they are plenty fast for most everything else save for action photography. The three zooms, including the GF 32-63mm f/4, GF 45-100mm f/4 and GF 100-200mm f/5.6, all perform very well for action. I have also found the GF 250mm f/4 lens (shown in use below) to be a standout and have incredibly fast AF. The image at the top of this blog post was captured with the GF 250mm lens and the GF 1.4x teleconverter. The rest of the action images shown below were all captured with the GF 100-200mm lens.
B) Turn the camera to Continuous AF mode using the AF mode selector on the back of the camera just to the right of the EVF. “C” is the middle option between S and M.
C) Push the Drive Mode Button (top left, next to the EVF) and select “CH High Speed Burst,” which automatically puts the camera in the 5 frames per second mode and also shifts the bit-rate down to 14-bits.
D) Make sure the camera is set to use the Mechanical Shutter and not the electronic or first-curtain shutter. If the GFX 100 is not using the Mechanical Shutter then it drops the frame rate down to 3 fps.
E) Set the “AF Mode” found in the AF/MF menu to “ZONE” or “WIDE/TRACKING”. Setting the camera to one of these options will automatically cut down the maximum number of AF points to 117 from the full 425 AF points. For most subjects the ZONE AF Mode is the best setting but for subjects appearing out of nowhere or subjects that are moving across the frame the WIDE/TRACKING mode might work better. Note that if you set the AF Mode to “ALL” you can simply push straight down on the joystick and then scroll through all of the AF modes quite easily and never again have to go into the menus to find these modes–this is yet another very useful shortcut built into the Fujifilm cameras. Below you can see what the ZONE and WIDE/TRACKING AF Modes look like. The ZONE AF Mode is on the left and the WIDE/TRACKING AF Mode is on the right.
F) Additionally, we need to boost the autofocus by selecting the appropriate “Boost Mode.” There are a couple of ways to do this, one is to tap the top front button (the Fn3 button) right next to the lens mount until you see “PERFORMANCE BOOST/AF” show up on the back LCD. The other way to set this is to go into the Set Up menu (it has a wrench icon), then select “POWER MANAGEMENT” and then “PERFORMANCE” and then “BOOST” and then finally select “AF PRIORITY.” That second methods seem ridiculous as the thing you want is so far down in the menu so the first method is much easier. Note that I pretty much always have the AF in BOOST mode so this is not something I worry about.
G) Finally, go into the AF/MF menu again and make sure the “AF-C CUSTOM SETTINGS” are set according to the subject you are trying to track. For example if you subject is suddenly appears off the top of a jump then set this to Option #4. If the subject is moving erratically and also accelerating and decelerating, as with a tennis player, then Option #5 is a better setting. Learning which of these modes to use in which situations takes time. You might even need to go in and set up your own Custom AF-C setting, which is possible with Option #6 in this menu. Note that I have my GFX 100 set up so that by swiping right on the LCD screen this menu shows up right away and I don’t have to hunt for it–this is a key shortcut for making the most of the GFX 100’s AF-C options.
Note: The settings I have outlined here are also the same settings to squeeze the best AF performance out of the FUJIFILM X-T3, X-H1, X-PRO 3 and all of Fujifilm’s other cameras as well.
Ok, that’s it. Now the camera can track subjects much more accurately than would be the case when just flipping the AF switch to AF-C. Of course, for most of us, having to change all of these settings every time we wanted to photograph something that moves would be a royal pain. Luckily, the GFX 100, like all of the Fujifilm cameras have a plethora of custom settings for various buttons on the camera body. Since I have the Boost mode set for AF all the time and have a quick shortcut to access the AF-C settings (with the finger swipe detailed above) all I have to do to switch over the AF for tracking subjects is move the AF Mode dials to C, kick the frames per second into high gear via the Drive button and then select ZONE or WIDE TRACKING.
It would be great if Fujifilm could incorporate a custom settings menu that would allow us to set a wide variety of parameters, including all of those listed above, so we could just flip one switch and be in action mode or portrait mode–or any mode we want to set up. That would make for a very simple transition on the fly. Of course, in most situations, you are probably shooting a fairly predictable subject and have time to tweak the camera as needed.
As shown below, I photographed the Red Bull Rampage last fall with the GFX 100. The action was happening all over the place and for a lot of it I prefocused the lens and then switched to manual focus, which is also how all of my fellow pro photographers where shooting with their Nikon and Canon DSLRs. But in some situations, I let the camera track the action–as in the image just below this paragraph. In this image you can see that the camera tracked the rider even though he was at the top of the frame and there was a lot of clutter in the foreground. I used the WIDE/TRACKING mode and the AF-C option #4 to get this image. I will admit that the keeper rate is lower than a top-end DSLR, but the GFX 100 did hit focus about 65% of the time.
Above is the kit I carried to capture images of the Red Bull Rampage, which included the GFX 100, the GF 23mm, GF 100-200mm and the GF 250mm lenses. I also had the GF 1.4X Teleconverter as well, which I used several times that day with the 250mm lens. It would have been great to have two GFX 100 camera bodies but that would have really been a heavy pack to carry with the extra clothes, food, and water I already had in my f-stop Tilopa backpack.
When I was testing the autofocus last year, I worked with a motocross rider (shown below) to see just how far I could push the camera and how well it would handle an extremely difficult autofocus situation. Before I had all of the settings dialed in, the AF struggled. But once I figured out the best settings, I got a fairly high hit rate—especially when considering the rider was flying through the frame at 40- to 50-mph. This scenario was a fairly severe autofocus test but shows that when the settings are dialed in, the GFX 100 can track even ridiculously fast moving action. For the most part the default AF tracking mode works great but for the motocross shoot I found AF-C Option #4 to be the most reliable since the rider suddenly appears in the frame when he boosts off the jump.
Above you can see a few of the motocross images I captured with the GFX 100. The top images are the full-frame versions and the images just below are the same images zoomed to approximately 100%. Of course as these images are resized and compressed JPEG screenshots these are not completely representative of what the images look like at 100%. Also, having photographed a fair bit of motocross at the same MX track, I know that images captured with shutter speeds below 1/6,400th second can exhibit some motion blur, making those images look slightly soft or completely out of focus depending on the shutter speed used. Since the GFX 100 mechanical shutter speed tops out at 1/4,000th second, we are very close to the cusp of motion blur wrecking the tack sharp focus we were trying to achieve. Regardless, with the right settings, it is impressive to see the GFX 100 keep up with such a fast paced sport. For extremely fast moving sports like this, the GFX 100 would not neccisarily be my first choice though it is still a capable camera if your aim is the ultimate image quality. Tech Specs (All Images): FUJIFILM GFX 100, GF 100-200mm f/5.6 lens, 1/4,000th second at f/5.6, ISO 800.
For those situations where I want the best image quality possible, it is good to know that the GFX 100 can track focus. If I can control the action to some degree that allows for using a camera like the GFX 100 and for the ultimate image quality. Someday maybe we will have a medium format camera that can track focus with the same astonishing speed as a Nikon D6 but for now the GFX 100 is already far ahead of anything that has ever existed in the medium format sphere. Pretty much all other medium format cameras can’t even track a person walking slowly towards the camera, so the fact that the GFX 100 can track the subjects shown above it pretty impressive.
The Winter 2020 issue of the Michael Clark Photography Newsletter is now available for download. If you’d like to sign up for the Newsletter just drop me an email and I’ll add you to the mailing list.
This issue includes an editorial entitled Time Off, a full review of the brand new FUJIFILM X-Pro 3, an article detailing my recent assignment covering the Red Bull Rampage, an editorial entitled Work-Life Balance, and much more.
The Michael Clark Photography Newsletter goes out to over 8,000 thousand photo editors, photographers and photo enthusiasts around the world. You can download the Winter 2020 issue on my website at:
If you’d like to check out back issues of the newsletter they are available here.
Please note that the newsletter is best viewed in the latest Adobe Acrobat reader which is available for free at www.adobe.com.
Also, if you are a subscriber and you have not already received the Newsletter, which was email out a few days ago please send me an email with your current email address and/or check your spam folder.