June 25, 2024

Lens in Focus: Photographer Dan Westergren’s Dependable Travel Fujinon Lens

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I am Dan Westergren, a Fujifilm X-photographer and my favorite lens, the only lens I have for my Fujifilm GFX 100s, is the Fujinon GF 50mm f3.5. I consider the GFX camera to be my “extra” camera. It is the one I always have with me. This is true even if I’m doing “real work” with my other Fujifilm system cameras. When I select the best photos from an assignment or trip, many of my favorite shots are taken with this lens. According to the Goldilocks Principle, the full-frame equivalent of a 40mm field of view of the GF 50mm f3.5 is just right.

Key Features:

  • Ultra-light at just 11.82oz for mobility
  • Engineered for GFX System Camera clarity
  • Advanced 9 in 6 group lens configuration
  • Aspherical lens minimizes distortions
  • Rapid, whisper-quiet autofocus
  • Triple-proofed for weather extremes

As a newspaper photojournalist at the beginning of my career, I was addicted to wide-angle lenses. With a super-wide lens, getting close to a subject was pretty easy, making it stand out from the background and creating a visually arresting image. However, with time, I began to feel that type of picture felt like a gimmick. As Director of Photography for National Geographic Traveler, I encountered many photographers who relied too much on their wide-angle lenses.

Fabled Lands of the North Lindblad Expedition. Sisimiut lies just north of the Arctic Circle and is the northernmost town in Greenland, where the port remains ice-free in the winter. at the same time, it is the southernmost town in Greenland where it is possible to drive a dogsled in winter and spring. Sisimiut means “the inhabitants at the foxholes”. The town was founded in 1756 as a mission and trading station under the name Holsteinsborg. However, the area has probably been a settlement site for more than 4500 years. In Sisimiut’s old quarter, you can still see buildings from the first 100 years of the colonial period, for instance, in the museum area with the portal built of enormous whale jawbones and the blue church, Greenland’s second oldest, dating back to 1775. Today, the municipality of Sisimiut is Greenland’s second-largest community, with 6000 inhabitants living in the town itself along with the settlements of Kangerlussuaq, Sarfannguaq, and Itilleq. A high-tech factory where prawns and crabs are processed is evidence that fishing continues to be the town’s main industry.
Photo by Dan Westergren

Beyond Normal

Because of this, I started forcing myself to use a 50mm lens with a normal field of view. This was going against the recommendation of my Journalism School professor. They once told us we shouldn’t even own a normal lens because we didn’t want to take normal pictures! It was a revelation; after years of wide-angle work, the 50mm seemed almost like a telephoto. Objects in the background now felt like they belonged. They could be used to create images with a more nuanced composition. The Fujinon GF 50mm f3.5 is slightly wider than normal. However, I find using it much more comfortable than even a 35mm equivalent field-of-view lens.

I have similar feelings about telephoto lenses. In my masochistic view, using a telephoto is just too easy. Long lenses are fantastic at simplifying a photo. When I look at shots I’ve taken with them, I have a strong initial attraction. But upon reflection, I feel they’re too one-dimensional. Selecting a simplified scene from the chaotic world makes me feel like I haven’t created something memorable.

Antarctica South Georgia Lindblad National Geographic 2023                                    Larsen Harbour is a narrow 2.6 miles long inlet of indenting volcanic rocks and sheeted dykes known as the Larsen Harbour Formation. It is a branch of Drygalski Fjord, entered 2.5 miles west-northwest of Nattriss Head, at the southeast end of South Georgia Island. Wikipedia
Photo by Dan Westergren

Prime Lenses Make You Think

The other obvious advantage of this lens is that it’s not a zoom. Having edited photo shoots from hundreds of photographers, I find that they think more is better and rack out the zoom. The problem with that approach is the composition often gets destroyed. Good composition in a photograph doesn’t always come from following some rules. It comes from purposefully filling the frame with foreground and background elements. That is hard to do with a zoom ring right there under my fingers, tempting me to twist it back and forth. I use zoom lenses, but I try to force myself to set a fixed focal length, take pictures, and work on the composition before trying a different field of view.

When creating a body of work using a normal lens, there is an important principle to keep in mind. I consciously think about varying the camera to subject distance. It’s important to have close-up, middle-distance, and far-distance views. By making this effort, I’m sure I will have a good variety of shots to make my final edit more visually interesting. I do admit to having a slight obsession with tiny subjects against the background. Using the Fujinon GF 50mm f3.5 helps with this because sometimes it doesn’t feel right. However, with this camera/lens combination, the subject may be a little too far away, but the lens is incredibly sharp, and I know that even a tiny detail in the distance will be resolved in amazing detail.

Lindblad Patagonia/Antarctica Voyage 10/2022 West Coast Of Chile. Chilean Patagonia  The White Narrows, NG Explorer traversing at Slack Tide Torres del Paine NP Chile Kirke Narrows.
Image Captured with Fujinon GF 50mm f3.5
Photo by Dan Westergren

Make, Don’t Take Photos

Another advantage to having a camera with only one lens is that I love accidental pictures. I’ve seen so many photos in my life that I’m always looking for something different. If I don’t have the choice of changing my lens to something more appropriate, I have to make it work. Not changing lenses allows me to be more playful in my photography; I think about making interesting pictures instead of obsessing about the equipment. 

I also find the GF 50 to be a great lens for portraits. Since it’s wider than the typical portrait lens, more of the background is included in the final frame. Once again, this makes me pay attention to everything that is in the picture. The medium format sensor of the GFX camera provides very smooth tonal gradations and just enough blur in the background to highlight the main subject while still placing them in the context of their environment. It makes me work a little harder but leads to less simplistic portraits.

Conclusion

The last thing I’ll say about this lens is that I’m not bothered at all by the maximum aperture being only f3.5. The advantages brought by that “small” aperture, relatively small physical size (by GF standards), and stellar optical quality greatly outweigh the fact that it’s not a super-fast lens. Since most modern digital cameras perform so well at high ISO values, it’s not that important to have a large maximum aperture anymore.


Dan Westergren


Dan Westergren is a Fujifilm X-photographer based in Washington, D.C. For years, he was on staff with National Geographic as a director of photography and photographer. Through his former work and now as a freelance photographer, he’s been exposed to some of the best travel and nature photography from expeditions worldwide. As a result, he is obsessed with location searching. This means, finding the best backgrounds for his images, and appropriate subjects there. So much so to travel to the North Pole under his power. https://www.danwestergren.com/



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