Backyard Birding with the New Fujinon GF 500mm Lens

 In Fujifilm, Fujifilm GFX, News, Steve Hendrix

The First Super Telephoto Lens for the Medium Format Digital Era

With the Fujinon GF 500mm Lens, Fujifilm has created a one of a kind lens. Why do I say that? Well, look around. The previous longest lens created by any medium format manufacturer in the past 25 years was 300mm (Hasselblad 300mm/4.5 HC Lens). It has since been a long dry spell of moderate telephoto lenses to choose from. Until now.

Fujinon GF 500mm Lens Details

This lens is a 500mm focal length with a maximum constant aperture of f/5.6. It is a long lens, but it is amazingly lightweight. In fact, it weighs less than the 250mm lens (50 ounces vs 47 ounces), and while it is longer than the 250mm, it has a slimmer profile and feels less bulky (because it is). It has less of a tank feel versus the 250mm and the filter thread is smaller (77mm vs 82mm). Like the 250mm, it also possesses an internal focusing mechanism. Weather resistant (we don’t have an IP rating), 21 elements in 14 groups, including 5 ED and 2 Super ED elements. It sports 9 rounded aperture blades and the minimum focus distance is 9 feet (108.2 inches). Similar to some other Fuji lenses, the lens hood has a slotted opening that one can then insert a finger (to rotate a circular polarizer, for example).

Fujifilm GFX 100S II with Fujinon GF 500mm

Functionality and Controls

The lens has several control factors on the side of the barrel. There is an auto focus limiter switch, which limits the travel to 15 meters or longer. This boosts the auto focus speed, as the optical elements have less travel. This is especially noticeable when shooting at distance, it reduces the focusing ramp up time. There is an optical image stabilizer switch that is rated at 6 stops. There is an auto focus Preset switch, which allows several functions. The end of the lens barrel has 4 push buttons that will operate dependent upon how you have set your Preset switch. You can pre-set an auto focus distance by pressing the Set button and recall that distance by pressing one of the 4 push buttons at the end of the barrel. Think of zoning in quickly on the the finish line at a track meet. Set to AF-L, the push button will lock the focus position. Set to AF, the lens will utilize auto focus operation instead of having to press the shutter button, or having to press the rear AF-On button on the back of the camera body. I appreciate this, as I sometimes find using an assigned rear button for auto focus lock to be awkward. The lens includes a removable smooth turning tripod collar.

Control push button for AF On and AF Lock
Auto Focus Limiter • OIS • Auto Focus PreSet

I had the lens for a weekend and used it in combination with the new GFX 100s II camera body. At no time during that period did I use it with a tripod. That camera has an 8 stop IBIS rating, and I wanted to see how well that worked. For most of the weekend I simply handled the camera like it was a small walkabout camera, no wrist strap, no neck strap, just the good purchase that the GFX grip provides as I walked about. The lens is really that light.

I specifically wanted to pair this lens with the new Fujifilm GFX 100s II Camera, since that camera model is being launched simultaneously, but more importantly, that model sports enhanced auto focus performance, including advanced subject detection modes, including birds. Now – confession time …. I have rarely ever used subject detection auto focus with a camera. Mainly because my camera that lives in the closet remains a 10 year old Canon EOS 6D. And the cameras I use most of the time that I pull from work (Hasselblad, Phase One, Fuji) for the most part, either don’t offer – or haven’t offered until recently – any of these advanced focusing modes (or only to a very limited degree).

So I quickly (or slowly?) learned that for subject detection to work, your Fujifilm GFX 100s II camera must be in continuous auto focus mode. Yay! Breakthrough! With that, I settled in Saturday to see who would visit my backyard, and all my furry/feathered friends did not disappoint. Beyond being interested in how viable is it to handle and use a lens for this type of photography, I wanted to know:

How sharp is this lens? How sharp is this lens with the 1.4 Tele Converter? How well does this lens locate and retain the eye of a bird? How well can I handhold a 700mm medium format system?

Resolving Power

I began shooting this lens natively at 500mm. And had fantastic results. Shooting wide open, and combined with 102 megapixels, this lens just slays for detail. My shutter speeds were ranging in the 1/60th – 1/80th of a second, and while I had the definite sense I could have pushed it further, I was concerned that at slower shutter speeds what I was really battling was the movement of the birds themselves. So that’s mostly where I ended up.

Kylo Wren Studies Our Deck Railing | GFx 100S II + GF 500mm | ISO 800 – 1/60th – f/6.4
Eastern Phoebe posing for mealworms | GFX 100S II + GF 500mm | ISO 800 – 1/60th – f/6.4
A Tufted Titmouse is caught by the lens | GFX 100S II + GF 500mm | ISO 800 – 1/60th – f/6.4

But I was interested in seeing how the lens performed when paired with the 1.4 Tele Converter. This combination lands you at a 700mm medium format lens, which equates to a 554mm lens on a 35mm full frame sensor. As I mentioned, I’ve had mixed feelings about tele converters, but I think what has changed is that some manufacturers are making lens-specific tele converters, and perhaps this has allowed them to optimize the performance a bit when combined with certain lenses versus a one size fits all approach.

Blue Jay in a rare contemplative moment. | GFX 100S II + GF 500mm + 1.4 TC | ISO 800 – 1/80th – f/11

Chromatic Aberration and Bokeh

I did not extensively test for these attributes and demerits but I was interested to see how it performed with regard to both. The lens is made with 7 separate various ED elements and this shows in the performance. I could not get it to produce any sort of fringing or visible aberrations. The bokeh has a tendency to produce a range of rounded to cats eye out of focus visuals. But with this focal length, so many photographs just produce a creamy blurred background I find the cats eye effect less of an issue than with a shorter lens.

Zero Chromatic Aberration
Highlights toward the edge of the frame exhibited more cats eye effect

Bird Detection Performance

Some of my (very) casual photography consists of (mostly) backyard birds and most often I use a 10 year old Canon 6D (wince?) with a Canon 400mm/5.6 AF USM L Lens (a bargain lens, IMO). And the vast majority of the images I take with that lens I manually focus. So the idea of using auto focus and the auto focus actually finding the eye of a bird, particularly one not isolated but perched within some fauna was something I had to see and test. This was something more for the camera to reveal (in this case, the brand new GFX 100S II), but using it with the 500mm was certainly the appropriate setup to test with.

This capability has been the domain of the Canon/Sony/Nikon systems for years, and they have created amazing subject detection capabilities with their auto focus. What I found was that I don’t think I can say the GFX 100S II nearly matches that performance. But I think it gets a very long way toward it. And for a medium format camera to be saying that I think is a real achievement.

Find the bird: Western Palm Warbler – Improbably captured with GFX 100S II and 500mm + 1.4 TC

6 Stop OIS Paired with 8 Stop IBIS from GFX 100S II

The ability to handhold this lens is amazing. You can see from above and many other images I took that if there is going to be some blur, it is going to come from the subject moving, not my handholding. And my sense is I had numerous un-utilized stops to go before I started to hit my limits from a handholding perspective. The notion of using lens OIS combined with camera body IBIS has been skirted in vague terms so I asked Fuji directly, if using them together produces any benefit beyond using them separately. I was told yes, combined they yield more than either separately. In the case of the GF 500mm paired with the GFX 100S II, it does not then add up to 14 stops (6 OIS and 8 IBIS). But Fuji tells me that using them both together still produces better results than either by itself. The results seem to back that up.

Yellow Crowned Night Heron | GFX 100S II + GF 500mm + 1.4 TC | ISO 800 – 1/80th – f/8

Meanwhile, there is a Nature Preserve nearby, and so I did drive over and in that preserve there is a marshy area and I found a nice subject to photograph, a Yellow Crowned Night Heron. The nice thing is, they seem to hold still for long periods of time, so pretty much perfect conditions to photograph. I was hoping this one would take off and I could try capturing it in flight, but no …. this one liked the hunting too much. On that. note, while I did not have any great opportunities to check tracking performance, we have another test where we did.

The CI Take

I cannot tell you how excited I am to have this lens from Fujifilm. I think it is a supreme credit to Fuji engineering that they developed this lens. There has certainly been some frustration with waiting on Hasselblad or Phase One to produce a longer lens – I don’t know if we’ll ever see one in the ballpark of this focal length from either of them. But Fuji has one and I am grateful to them.

My takeaway is that this lens is a home run. It is lightweight and easy to handle, but optically excellent. Paired with a GFX body and anywhere from 6 to 8 stops of IBIS (depending on the camera), this lens was made to handhold. The subject detection mode seems to work well, and perhaps gets even better with future firmware. Should you ditch your 35mm system? If you’ve been thinking of making a move to medium format, this might be a tipping point. If you already own a Fuji GFX system and yearn for a longer lens, don’t hesitate, this lens is as close to a no brainer product as I’ve seen in a long time.

Well done, Fuji and thank you.

Thanks for reading! If you have any questions feel free to reach out! – 404.543.8475

Fujifilm GFX 100S II Camera Body

Fujifilm GF500mm F5.6 Lens


Half Tail, our Chipmunk Matriarch
Maybe the sharpest capture of the day
Blurred Tufted Titmouse
Full Tail, one of Half Tail’s 5 children.
Oopsie. Can’t let chipmunks have all the fun.
Blurred Eastern Chipmunk
Blurred rabbit in motion
Male Downy Woodpecker
Brown Thrasher, state bird of Georgia
Female Northern Cardinal
Blue Gray Gnatcatcher
Chipmunks are little hams for the camera
Half Tail patiently waits her turn at the bathtub
Recent Posts