A preview of the FUJIFILM GF500mm f/5.6 Lens

[Disclaimer: I am not an ambassador for Fujifilm but I have worked with them closely over the last five years or more. I have created images for the launch of the last three 102 MP GFX cameras including the GFX100, GFX100S and the GFX100 II. Check out my portfolio website to see those images and the behind the scenes video for those assignments. I have also created images for the launch of some of the GF lenses as well–notably for the GF45-100 and more recently the GF500mm lens. As a result, I cannot say that this preview is unbiased. I am certainly biased. I hope that you find this preview at the very least informative since I do use other cameras systems for some of my work and thus have similar gear that I know extremely well to compare it to. The GF500mm lens was provided to me for the assignments I was on to create images for the launch of the lens.]

The FUJIFILM GF500mm f/5.6 R LM OIS WR lens has now been officially announced. The GF500mm focal length on the GFX cameras is the 35mm equivalent of a 396mm lens. Over the last few months from early February through the end of April, I have had a lot of time with this lens photographing action sports, landscapes and some wildlife as well. Fujifilm USA has let me work with two different prototypes of the lens and even let me take one to Patagonia for three weeks. Hence, my sincere thank you to Fujifilm for letting me have so much time to work with this lens and to test out its capabilities. My hope here with this preview is to give you a sense of the lens and how it performs so that you can make an informed decision on whether or not it is a lens that will work for your needs.

Last year, when the GFX100 II was announced in Stockholm, the night before the announcement I was told that Fujifilm was also announcing a GF500mm lens to put on the road map. I have to say I was almost more excited for the new 500mm lens than I was for the GFX100 II. I have been talking with several different folks at Fujifilm about a longer telephoto lens since 2019 (and even specifically mentioned something like a 500mm f/5.6) so when they told me about this new lens I was over the moon. I am sure many of the Fujifilm photographers were asking for a telephoto GFX lens so it certainly wasn’t just me asking for it. Hence, you can imagine my excitement to be a small part of the launch of this lens–and to get to work with it for such an extended period of time before it was officially launched. Because all of my experience so far was with pre-production firmware and a prototype lens this will qualify as a preview, not an exhaustive review.

Let’s start with the physical characteristics of the lens. The first thing you notice when you pick it up is how light it is. It is easily hand-holdable. At 1,375 grams (3.03 Pounds) the GF500 is actually 50 grams (0.11 pounds) lighter than the GF250mm lens, which is pretty amazing given its longer focal length. Length-wise it is just slightly longer than the GF250 at 246.5mm (9.7 inches). The way the lens elements are arranged in the lens itself also means that the bulk of the weight is towards the camera body, which means it balances on a GFX100 II quite well — also making it easy to move when panning with the action. The front element has a 95mm filter thread so it is decently large but also not so big that filters would cost a fortune. It has an aperture ring, a manual focus ring and also focus lock/focus recall buttons. It also has the standard switches on the side of the lens as shown below that include restricting the autofocus distance, turning on and off the Image Stabilization (OIS) and a switch that tells what the buttons on the lens do (i.e. autofocus lock, preset AF and initiating AF).

The locking collar on the lens also has a built in Arca-Swiss style tripod foot (as shown below) which is one of the first I have seen from any camera manufacturer. I believe Fujifilm also added the Arca-Swiss tripod foot on the smaller format XF150-600mm lens but that is the only other lens I have ever seen that had one built-in and that ships that way from the manufacturer. This is a great addition to the tripod foot and I hope to see more of these from all manufacturers. Bravo Fujifilm! It slipped perfectly into my Really Right Stuff ballhead and seemed rock solid.

My first time working with the new GF500 was while photographing wind surfing at Ho’okipa Beach Park on the north shore of Maui in February. Ho’okipa is one of the best spots on the planet for wind surfing and I had two world-famous windsurfers to work with, Levi Siver (formerly sponsored by Red Bull) and Marcilio Browne (the current world champion). Hence, there was no lack of talent in front of the lens on this assignment. With the tight timelines and only a few lenses to share among photographers at that time I only had two days with the lens. But I made good use of those two days and we had perfect weather as well.

As you can see below I shot a lot of wind surfing images, all at 8 framer per second (fps) with the FUJIFILM GFX100 II camera body. In all, I created over 3,500 images with the GF500 in those two days–most of those were created while photographing wind surfing. With the GFX100 II, I would say that the GF500mm autofocus was pretty darn amazing, especially for a medium format camera. When it locked on the subject it would normally track the surfer all the way through the sequence unless another wave splashed up between myself and the surfer. I got around 80% of the images in focus while firing away at 8 frames per second and tracking the surfers in the AF-C mode. While 80% may not seem like a great percentage remember that any other medium format camera (aside from the new GFX100S II) would have a much lower in-focus percentage. The older GFX100S, with its less capable autofocus tracking capabilities (compared to the GFX100 II and GFX100S II), would probably be somewhere down in the 40% range. Hence, 80% is an incredible percentage for a camera creating 102 MP image files at 8 fps. With the full production model and new firmware this percentage might improve. I will definitely test that out when I can get my hands on a full production model.

While photographing wind surfing, I also used the GF1.4X TC to extend the focal length out to 700mm f/8. With the teleconverter attached that gets us out to a 35mm equivalent of 554mm f/8. With the teleconverter (shown attached to the lens below on my backpack) the images were still very sharp. I saw barely any noticeable drop in image quality. But I did notice that the autofocus was just a hair slower. Given that this was a prototype lens I would not say that is a definitive statement. We will see how the full production lens does. Though, in general, when using any type of teleconverter (of any brand) on a lens there is usually a very slight drop in autofocus speed–mostly because of the slower aperture that is a result of the teleconverter.

I will say that the GF1.4X TC fits on the GF500 very well as you would expect. There is a tight seal and the teleconverter has little if any play between the lens and body. It is great to see that the teleconverter works so well with both the GF250 and the GF500 lenses. The teleconverter doesn’t seem to shift the balance that much either–the center of mass is still near the camera body. Thus, even with the teleconverter attached the whole setup still balances well and is easy to handhold. I worked with the GF500 both on a tripod and also handheld. Windsurfing is a sport that moves very fast and the surfers are all over the place so I found that working handheld allowed me to get the best images.

Photographing wind surfing can also be quite miserable. Typically the best conditions are when the wind is absolutely howling — often at wind speeds in excess of 40 to 50 mph (65 to 80 kmh). With that much wind it can be very challenging to hold a big lens steady and move it without being blown off the subject. Hence, as you can see above in the image of me working at Ho’okipa, I mostly worked behind a wind break created by a sheet of plywood set up at the beach. The wind really works you pretty hard after standing or sitting in those conditions for several hours. By the end of a session I had not really worked that hard but somehow I felt very dehydrated just from the wind pulling water out of me.

While on Maui, I also took the GF500 up to the top of Haleakala (the main volcano in the center of the island). The top of Haleakala, In Haleakala National Park, is situated at 10,023 ft (3055 m) and is quite cold compared to sea level down below. Knowing I would be going up on Haleakala I brought with me warm clothes and a down jacket–not the norm for a Hawaii trip but key for this adventure. From the top of Haleakala you could see Mauna Kea rising above the clouds on the big island of Hawai’i (shown below) and also the observatory on top of Mauna Kea as well. Using the GF500 I was able to frame up an image with both the rim of the Haleakala crater in the foreground and Mauna Kea in the background. The GF500 also allowed me to isolate various parts of the Haleakala crater for some dramatic landscapes.

While I had the lens on Maui, I hinted to Fujifilm that perhaps I should take it with me to Patagonia in April where I would be co-leading a photography workshop with Justin Black. Justin is an ambassador for Fujifilm and hence, he would be able to try out the lens as well. I never thought that would come to fruition but kudos to the folks at Fujifilm for making it happen. I got the lens the day before I was set to leave and wrapped it up in a Aquatech rain cover to hide its identity. I also took some gaffers tape and taped over any and all text printed on the lens to hide its identity since I would most likely be pulling it out in the company of other photographers. We dubbed the lens “Snoopy,” so that when we referred to it no one would know what we were talking about.

The Patagonia trip was a three week extravaganza where we visited Torres del Paine in Chile, and El Calafate and El Chalten, both of which are in Argentina. I mostly used the lens for landscape images where I would isolate distant peaks as shown below. We also had a few times where we photographed wildlife as well–mostly Guanacos, which are ubiquitous in that region of Patagonia. The first two images below were taken near the Lago Grey Hotel and show the fierce winds whipping around Cerro Paine Grande (top black and white image) and over the peaks in the French Valley (bottom black and white image). The first color image below is a photograph of Cero Torre at sunrise as seen from a lookout point several kilometers just outside of El Chalten, Argentina.

For wildlife, the GF500 was essential since I only had GFX cameras with me on this adventure–those being the GFX100 II and the GFX100S. I often used the GF500 with the GF1.4x TC to get a longer focal length depending on where the animals were situated. This Guanaco shown above was actually relatively close to us but I still used the teleconverter to fill the frame. I will share a lot more images from this Patagonia adventure here soon in a separate blog post.

I am not sure I have had this much time with any pre-production camera or lens before. I feel like I know the GF500mm lens quite well at this point having used it every day for almost a full month. For what it is, the lens is relatively compact and fits into a camera bag fairly easily. In terms of image quality the lens is very sharp. As with any longer telephoto lens, how sharp the final images appear is going to depend a lot on heat distortion effects. When the subject was closer to the camera, as with the wind surfing and wildlife images above, heat distortion was a non-issue. For the far off landscapes, even though we were freezing our buns off at dawn creating the photographs, the heat differential between where I was standing and the peak I was photographing definitely introduced some heat distortion when you zoom into the image. Heat distortion has nothing to do with the lens, it is just a factor of using a long telephoto lens like this and having a subject that is at a far distance. Regardless, the lens itself produces wicked sharp images similar to the GF250mm lens.

The GF500mm also has Optical Image Stabilization (OIS) as well. It is built into the lens and also works with the camera body to produce the best results. I did not specifically test it out as in most situations I either had the lens on a tripod or was trying to freeze the motion of the wind surfers. I am sure it works well but I will have to test that out with a production version of the lens. The only downside, if it can even be considered a downside, of the GF500mm lens is that at f/5.6 this lens might not be the best option for use in low lighting conditions. I am sure they could have made an f/4 version but it would have weighed more than twice as much and would have cost three times more. They opted for the f/5.6 version which is much easier to travel with and much more affordable as well. And f/5.6 lens is what I asked for five years ago so I certainly can’t complain on that front.

Overall, the GF500mm lens is pretty much exactly what you would expect from a FUJIFILM GFX lens. It is sharp, the autofocus is snappy and it is well built. I found very little if anything to complain about when using the lens. Honestly, I think Fujifilm knocked it out of the park and produced a lens that really opens up the GFX lens lineup making the system as a whole that much more useable for a wide variety of situations and photography genres. We now have lenses that range from 20mm all the way up to 700mm (a 35mm equivalent of 16mm to 554mm) and also two excellent tilt-shift lenses as well. About the only lenses missing at this point are a fisheye and an ultrafast wide-angle prime. I’d say the GFX system is rounding out very nicely right now. It is certainly the most well-rounded and versatile lens lineup in the medium format photography genre.

The price for the GF500mm f/5.6 here in the USA is $3,499 USD, which for a medium format lens of this caliber is a great price point. Considering lenses from Hasselblad and Phase One cost nearly twice this amount for shorter focal lengths this is a relative bargain in the medium format space.

For more information on the FUJIFILM GF500mm f/5.6 visit Fujifilm’s website. My thanks to Fujifilm once again for letting me be a small part of the launch of this lens and for loaning it to me for my Patagonia adventure. I look forward to working with it again as soon as it becomes available.

Add a comment...

Your email is never published or shared. Required fields are marked *