Setting up the FUJIFILM GFX 100 for Action Photogrpahy

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.

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