On the press call for the new XT30mkII and GFX50sII (so… a while ago), I had off-handedly mentioned that I had never actually shot with the Fujifilm Medium Format offerings (specifically when asking about the “Nostalgic Negative” film simulation, which I had never heard of because it’s only on the GFX cameras). Well Fujifilm, being the friendly company they are, immediately got a GFX100s in my hands and I got to play with it for a few weeks (but unfortunately had to return it). Below are my findings.
First off, as I’ve mentioned before, I’m a huge Fujifilm fan. I don’t generally evangelize for any particular brand but I love my XT3, I recently got an X100V, and now I want a GFX100s. I’m very much a “no unitasking tools” kind of guy, and the XT3 absolutely fits that bill, but there’s things on either end of that spectrum that the X100 and GFX series are best made for specifically and IIIIII like them!
For those that don’t know, Fujifilm has decided that they’re not going to even bother with full frame cameras, instead sticking with Super35 and “Medium” Format, which in my mind is just fine. S35 cameras these days aren’t appreciably lower-quality than their full frame counterparts, but a massive 44x33mm 102MP sensor (70% bigger than full frame) certainly has a different look to it than either of those. You can actually get 400MP stills out of this thing if you use the Pixel Shift mode and stick it on a tripod. At $6,000, the GFX100s is “only” $1,000 more than, say, a full frame Canon 1Dx mkIV, and FORTY ONE THOUSAND DOLLARS LESS than a medium format Hasselblad H6D-400c. Granted, there are a few other MF cameras in the GFX’s price-point, but I just wanted to make sure we take note of how insanely affordable this camera is in comparison to where Medium Format Digital was/can be. Moving on.
When I pulled the camera out of the box, I just went ahead and turned it on and started shooting (as I am wont to do oftentimes) without looking at a manual or any instructions. First off, this camera is totally reasonable in size and weight. It’s about the feeling of a normal DSLR and doesn’t tip its hat to how large the sensor is behind the lens. That being said, the first thing I actually noticed was the stabilized sensor (up to 6-stops of stabilization)! I didn’t know much about the GFX100s when I got it, and when I went to take the first picture I noticed immediately (and somewhat felt) the frame “lock in”. You can actually see the sensor floating around if you look at it with the lens off. Very cool, and it proved to really come in handy during some of my real-world tests.
In regards to the body, I will say I prefer the more “manual” situation happening on the XT-series of cameras, with the knobs and whatnot, but it only took me a few moments to get acquainted with the GFX’s more “standard” controls, PSAM-wheel and all. I enjoy the nice top-side LCD screen too, which can be an info display, a “knob” display (as if those XT wheels were there), or a waveform which is pretty cool! I could see that waveform coming in handy if you were sort of waist-level shooting often. The Grip and especially the Thumb-rest are nice and deep and allow for a really firm handle on the camera, which I found made it easy to just carry around without a strap or anything. Having the Q Button on said Thumb-rest is actually kind of nice, and a feature that I dig in that realm is how you can see “through” the Q Menu at a live-view of your scene which makes adjusting and comparing the various image parameters (like Highlight and Shadow comp, saturation, Color Chrome FX, etc) much easier than on my X-T3 where it’s just the menu on grey.
In that vein, I like that they stuck with the X-T3 style screen that tilts as opposed to the X-T4 “vlogger” situation where it flips out so you can use it for selfies. Personal preference, but I just like the tilty kind more. The one thing that is a bit of an annoyance with this setup is that the viewfinder on the GFX protrudes a decent amount, so when you tilt the screen out to shoot from waist-level, which I do tend to do, the top middle of the display is blocked by the viewfinder. That definitely got old quick, and the solution is to fully pull the screen out instead of just tilting it out, but still. The viewfinder is also missing a bit of functionality that I like from the XT cameras, which is that you can simultaneously be looking in said viewfinder and use the touchscreen to move your AF patch around, or whatever that setting is set to. On the GFX, once the screen goes dark it’s functionally “off” so you have to move the AF box around with the joystick or by taking your eye away and using the now-active touchscreen. Ah well. The joystick is robust enough, but it is kind of mushy. All that being said, the eye-detect AF does a good job if your subject isn’t moving around a lot and I really like the touch-select AF patch where you basically say “hey, stay focused on this” and it does.
As you can see in the images, there’s a “movie/still” switch, and while I only gave the video a brief test, it scored high, high marks from me. Essentially it’s everything I like about the XT3’s video performance, shooting 10bit 400Mbps files up to DCI 4K (4:2:0 unfortunately), but on a sensor just 10mm shy of the Alexa 65 (33x44mm vs 25x54mm) and stabilized. You can also shoot 12-bit RAW or 10-bit 4:2:2 if you use an external recorder, which is rad. The Autofocus seemed to perform admirably as well, pulling focus in a way that felt organic instead of jerky and managing to hold on to my subjects without hunting while I moved around. I’d love to get another GFX in my hands just to test the filmmaking capabilities as I assume most people aren’t using it for video in a production capacity and that’d be a fun test. Fujifilm… let me know!
Back to the camera itself, I did find that shutter is kind of “mushy”. This is clearly personal preference though, as I handed the camera to a friend and after a few shots their first comment was “man I love the shutter, it feels so satisfying” which surprised me because, in my opinion, it feels sort of “soft”. The XT3 shutter feels “snappier” and more mechanical. This has absolutely zero impact on the performance or quality of the camera, but it is something tactile that I noticed. The shutter button is part of that experience, where there’s not a really definitive “half” press zone, like on the X-T3 where there are very apparent “stages” of the button press and the full press has a definitive “click”, whereas on the GFX it’s kind of like the button is on a spring with no steps at all. Again, this had no affect on my shooting, as you’re still able to half-press and take pictures without questioning what you’re doing, but it’s a bit of a softer touch I suppose. At first I’d accidently take a picture when trying to half-press just because I was so accustomed to feeling those steps but I got used to it quickly.
In regards to image quality… I mean what can I say that won’t sound like fanboying? Obviously the resolution is incredible, especially coming from a 102MP camera, but the image quality is just outstanding. JPEG or RAW, the images are gorgeous (some Nostalgic Neg JPEG examples are below). There’s just this incredible softness, depth, and presence to the pictures coming out of this camera that I absolutely love and that comes effortlessly. I also like that there’s a few more ratio options than my XT3 (including the wild 65:24 option to replicate the XPan look). I shoot an RZ67 ProII (a medium format film camera) as my primary non-digital camera, so the larger sensor in the GFX does seem to speak to me on an emotional and familiarity level. A large imaging plane will always have a more… mature(?) look to me than simply relying on a wide-open, sub-1 f-stop. In my opinion, a super shallow depth of field isn’t really that attractive when applied that way, but the falloff of an image captured on a large imaging plane just seems to speak to me on top of the sort of “realism in detail” that comes with more physical photosites. High Megapixeladge isn’t really that important to me, but more physical imaging real-estate is (generally) better in my book. You can get close to replicating that look from a technical standpoint on any system (I’ve written about it before when talking about Full Frame vs Super35 capture) but the environment, limits of optics, and technology can affect the situations where that can be viable. In other words, you actually can technically “mimic” the Medium Format look with a smaller sensor but it may take some specific, potentially unachievable parameters. That being said, in among the solid lineup of G-Mount lenses Fujifilm offers there’s an 80mm f1.7 prime so if you are a bokeh fetishist, go nuts. There’s even lower aperture third-party lenses as well, astoundingly. In any case, they lent me a 50mm and a 63mm so that’s what the photos below were shot at (usually around an f4 or so).
So this is where some photo-sophical questions could be asked: which system do you see yourself using the most?
On the one hand, I almost exclusively shoot JPEG on Fujifilm cameras just because I’m usually shooting for myself or on more “documentary” gigs like live events where editing isn’t strictly necessary and the film simulations give such a nice look SOOC the images seem “edited” anyway. On more editorial-style jobs or situations where I absolutely will be editing the pictures (a car promo I shot on the XT3, for instance) I’m obviously shooting that sweet 14 or 16-bit RAW.
I ran the GFX through a handful of real-world-ish tests, shown in the gallery above, but ostensibly you get this camera for those more professional gigs. On a portrait shoot you totally could shoot the 100MP jpegs after dialing in a look you like with the image controls and white balance matrix, almost mimicking the “trust the emulsion” workflow of film, but would you? It sounds scary doesn’t it? A lot of “what if’s” there to scare you where raw gives you that comfort of knowing that (more or less) nothing is set in stone yet. You’re in data capture mode. I don’t know, that could be a weird article in and of itself. It also isn’t “street photography fast” necessarily, although I certainly got away with using it in that capacity. At the end of the day this is a professional camera intended for professional, planned work that just so happens to be usable at the enthusiast level quite easily. I want this camera for editorial work and I want the X100 for carrying around. Could you swap those and get away with it? Absolutely, especially if the shoot at hand lent itself to it (as opposed to doing it arbitrarily). Do I want to? Not really.
One thing that’s analogous to filmmaking is that once your image size goes up, so do your storage needs. A full day of shooting on my C100mkII might only take up something like 30GB, but a few hours of footage on my C500mkII is half a Terabyte! So with the GFX, we don’t necessarily have the storage problem (as a decent sized, affordable SD card can hold thousands of JPEGs or hundreds of RAW files) but we might have a client problem. To wit: I was tasked to shoot an evening event. It was a big to-do, lots of folks invited, tons of decoration, big private venue, the whole nine. My plan was to just hand off the SD card at the end of the night and call it a day since I knew the images would look awesome SOOC, and I could prune the really bad ones or anything out of focus or whatever in-camera before giving them the card. The problem is, most folks aren’t expecting 50MB JPEGs that have a 10,000px long-side edge. Depending on their computer or viewing environment that could be jarring. Luckily, you can just kick the “size” parameter down to Medium or Small and now you’ve got all the benefits of the huge sensor but in a more manageable/expected file size for the client (in this case, at least). Knowing that the intent was just to share and enjoy the images, likely on social media or sent via email, I set the GFX to “Small” which is a 4000x3000px image. The “Medium” setting on the GFX100s is 8256x6192px, still larger than the X-T3’s “Large” offering, so that’s potentially an option as well depending on the situation.
There is a happy medium in that regard, between JPEG and RAW, that takes a bit of time and effort but is still a rad feature and that is the in-camera RAW processing. A lot of people don’t know, but on the Fujifilm cameras (not just the GFX) there’s an in-camera RAW processor where you can choose your crop, film sim, image/color parameters, all the good stuff, and then export/save a JPEG from there. SUCH a cool “hidden” feature that does go under-used on my X-T3, but is present either way on the GFX. Another thing I kinda love is the Manual Focus Assist option where you get a preview image as well as a small square off to the right that’s super punched in so you can both evaluate composition and focus simultaneously. On my X-T3 the screen is a touch small for this feature but the GFX has a slightly larger display where it’s a bit nicer to use. On top of all of that I also noticed that I didn’t notice any noise in any of the images, even in super low light. Shoot raw and bring people out of the darkness, it’ll work!
The only other thing about this camera I can think of is that I wish you could add items from the “wrench” menu to your My Menu; “Format” and “Bluetooth Connection” would be nice to just have right there instead of having to dig through their menus, not sure why that’s a thing. Otherwise I found this camera to be stellar and well worth it for anyone at that level of photography. I remember shooting a promo for Death & Co. and the photographer there was using a GFX100 tethered to his laptop running Capture One and that looked to be going great for him, so there’s that as well. As with all Fujifilm cameras, this thing is just fun to use on top of it all and I think that’s actually pretty important. A tool that makes you want to pick it up and use it is something that will eventually “get out of the way” and let you create, as opposed to something you don’t look forward to dealing with, which will always be in the way and stifle your creativity. Personally I don’t shoot much editorial photography, I actually would love to as an aside, but if it were my job I’d be looking hard at the Fujifilm GFX offerings that’s for sure.