There had been speculations for many months. Heck, even years prior to the reveal back at Photokina in 2016, there had been ramblings about a mirrorless medium format system from Fujifilm. Hasselblad took the early bird and introduced their iteration of a mirrorless medium format during summer of 2016. During the past 5 months I have gained some knowledge from various key figures in the development of the GFX 50s about why it is a different beast from the Hasselblad X1D.
This whole writeup is a little weird for me. Probably because of the whole conundrum of being the enthusiast photographer that works and talks like a professional, but isn’t a professional because not having primary income from photography. And then I’m writing about using a camera clearly advertised for commercial and high end professional photography. Never the less I was asked by Fujifilm to give my thoughts of it. And that’s what I’ve been doing.
Before christmas I got served with the entire “Fujifilm 2017 spring collection” – The XT20, X100F (black), 50mm f/2, XPro2 Graphite, XT2 Graphite Silver as well as the GFX 50s and the 3 introduction GF lenses. One of the many perks of being picked as the guy who does the Fujifilm-X.com product shots. But in addition to packshots I was asked to try out the GFX while I had it, and take it for a testrun.
Of course I started using it for the most obvious thing. The packshots. All of a sudden I had in my possession a resolution-monster with equally mesmerisingly high quality lenses to boot. But, next, I really tried to think about what I wanted to test out with this thing. Surely I would do portraiture, and surely I would do some landscapes. But what about the documentary stuff? The street stuff? Could I really do this with a MF digital camera? Would that even be possible? It had to be! Why else would Fujifilm design something that is both much smaller and more portable, if not for it to be brought along – taken off tripods – taken off tethering – taken outside!
Video, Music and Editing by the incredible Palle Schultz
My experience with mediumformat is mainly from my old 6×6 TLC’s and Fujifilm GW690. I tried out Bronica RF645 once, and played a bit with a Hasselblad H4D in a studio setting. The old analogue cameras could easily be used as documentary tools, and I still do that from time to time. But there many limitations with the big mirror digital medium formats. Mostly focus restrictions and sensor sensitivity restrictions. (Ever tried cranking a Hassy CCD higher than ISO400? – You’ll know what I mean). And yes, I know about the Phase One 100MP CMOS IQ3 and the Hasselblad H6D-100c. Those are full size medium format sensors, and will cost you a house!
So could the new breed of digital mirrorless medium format cameras finally break free from the stationary image setups? The answer? – ABSOLUTELY!!!
With the GFX 50s we get a lot of new tech! – I mean, this is a whole new ecosystem. Although obviously, and purposefully, linked and tied to the X-series and its DNA, the GFX is its own master. A new breed. As it should be. The physical design of the GFX is hardly a secret anymore. But I will go into some more functional details with this writeup.
So. I will treat this little writeup as an enthusiasts look at a very pro-grade camera in a price range that makes it very hard for most enthusiasts to justify purchasing. Even this is stupid. Because all the images you see on this screen do not show what it’s all about. The quality is smashed, and useless. And many will probably wonder if these shots couldn’t just as easily have been taken using my other gear. But I will show you some closeups, and I will tell you that working with the files is completely different. The dynamics within an image taken with a sensor of this size really IS something else. Now let’s get into it, shall we.
A little disclaimer first. The images shot in this review have all been shot using pre-production camera and lenses. So image quality might not be final. But I guess it is, since it’s so damn awesome!
As I mentioned earlier on, the design of the GFX has been know for a while. Although minor alterations has been made from the earliest prototypes, the basic functions are the same. The GFX takes the “dedicated command dial” philosophy from the X-Series, and carries it forward. It also uses the same menu structures and same basic user interface.
On top you have the dedicated ISO dial and shutter speed dial. On the back you have the focuspoint joystick. You have various function buttons that you can assign to your hearts desire. You also have a front and rear wheel dial. So far, almost exactly replicated from the XT2. So users of this camera should feel instantly at home with the GFX. And vice versa. Should you chose to invest in the GFX as your first Fujifilm camera, the jump to the X-series has practically no learning curve requirement at all.
On the top you get a sub LCD type display that gives you camera setting information such as shutter speed, ISO setting, white balance mode, exposure comp, film simulation used etc etc. Another addition to quickly glancing at your settings before taking the shot.
The screen on the back is a 3 way tilting screen just like on the X-T2, and it is touch enabled. You can flick though images, zoom in/out, adjust focus points, focus etc. Handy features when shooting on a tripod.
The body and lenses are all weather resistant, so the camera will tackle almost any situation your put yourself in.
Now, one of the really cool things is the new detachable EVF. The EVF itself is gorgeous. Large and crisp with great frame rates. But what is more exiting is the fact that you can chose to buy the multiangly-tilty-swively accessory that gives you incredibly versatile waist level shooting options. I find it really clever to offer this as an add on, for those who really needs it, and who doesn’t mind the extra bulk.
The sensor of the GFX is obviously the first thing on the list when you want to do a spec sheet of this beast. It’s a Medium Format crop sensor sized at 43.8mm x 32.9mm it has a resolution of 51.4 MP. It looks to be the same sensor type as the one in the Pentax 645Z, but Fujifilm has run it through some productional changes that is way too geeky for me to write about here.
It’s a CMOS sensor with native ISO ranging from 100 to 12.800 – and can be extended from ISO50 to ISO102.400. Dynamic range obviously incredible. Have no specs on it though. It’s a 4:3 aspect ratio sensor which, given the high resolution, has myriads of in camera cropping ratios. I really like the 4:3 format for portraits and headshots.
All this info is handled by the X-Processor Pro, as found and love by many in the XT2/X-Pro2 cameras. This also makes it possible to have the Acros film simulation in the GFX. They also added a new Color Chrome feature that will reduce the blown colors in oversaturated subjects. I found the color chrome filter to work very well on Velvia files, where it makes the oranges and reds less prone to blow-outs and colorbanding.
The autofocus system is contrast based and has up 425 points. This works very very very well. It’s clear that Fujifilm took all their expertise from designing and refining the X-Pro1 focus systems, before phase detection focus became available with the X-series.
It’s incredible to just move the AF point around with the joystick and see such a giant sensor and lens combination lock focus faster than the contrast based APS-C cameras. The cannot have been an easy engineering task to complete.
I found this incredible autofocus to be very defining in how I could use the GFX for documentary and even street photography. This is completely unheard of in Medium Format world. The GFX is exactly as versatile as an APS-C camera, but with IQ that simply blows the competition away.
The EVF is equally incredible. It’s a newly designed 3.69 mill dots OLED display, with a magnification of 0.85x. It’s amazing. Fast refreshrate and crisp image reproduction. It’s a monster of a viewfinder!
Now, in direct contrast to Hasselblad with the X1D, Fujifilm decided to build the GFX around a focal plane shutter. Utilizing the shorter flange back distance, Fujifilm has launched an accessory adapter that will let you adapt Fujinon H lenses (as in Fujifinon designed Hasselblad lenses) and you have the option to override the focal plane shutter and utilize the leaf shutters in those lenses. This is partly made possible by the mirrorless low flange distance, but also by including 12 pins in the G-mount. Just imagine in the future how we could see adapters for all sorts of old MF lens brands. An INCREDIBLE move by Fujifilm which I applaud immensely!
The focal plane shutter has a maximum shutter speed of 1/4000th sec, while the electronic shutter will allow 1/16.000s shutter speeds. You will get rolling shutter on moving subjects with the electronic shutter, since the sensor area is quite large, so I mainly used this function when I completely wanted to eliminate camera shake.
Usage and Image Quality
And may I have your attention, please. – Let’s talk about image quality for a bit. ‘Cause this is where it gets really exciting. Now, Fujifilm has already proven with the APS-C format X-Series that it doesn’t take a 35mm format full frame sensor to achieve great image quality. They folded and tweaked the APS-C sensor in concordance with the X-Processor pro, to deliver maximum output that very closely resemble that of a full frame 35mm camera.
Fujifilm I assume has made the same things happen with the medium format crop factor sensor of the GFX. There’s no doubt in my mind that the image quality we are seeing from the GFX is as close to medium format crop factor perfection as you can get. I know for one, that I was completely blown away.
Of course this is also dependent on lenses, but as most of you probably know, Fujinon has made high end lenses for large format cameras and broadcasting for ages. They build some of the best optics in the world. The new GF line of lenses carry this forward with elegance!
All the images for this review are jpegs that I have “developed” in the in camera RAW converter. At the time of testing there was no way for me to use the RAW files. So all the images you see here are straight from camera jpegs. Now isn’t that something!
The one thing that struck me most about the IQ was the incredible dynamics of the files. The colors are abundantly clear and rich. The textures are vibrant and lively and the in/out of focus transitions are a sight to behold. All of this naturally comes from a larger physical sensor, but also due to the image processing power of the GFX.
Sharpness is off the charts, and the 51.4MP gives you so much headspace in manoeuvring through cropping exercises that its not even funny.
That image of Nanna was taken using the 120mm f/4 at close range, but nowhere near macro distance, but with the IQ from the GFX, you can actually do a macro shot from it! Make sure to click the images in full size in the gallery to see the sharpness.
The color processing and the film simulations that you can use with the GFX is great for nature and landscape photography. This is clearly one of the strength of larger sensor format cameras.
The images above are mostly done using the Velvia Simulation, but some uses the Classic Chrome with color set to +4.
The great thing about using the GFX for landscape and nature is in part the portability. If you’re used to seeing medium formats from the digital era, you know that they have a certain heft and size to them. This wasn’t always so. Take for instance the classic Mamiya 7, or the Fujifilm GX690. They’re portable, and meant to be carried to on location destinations. This is where the new mirrorless technology gives us a great advantage. The camera is physically smaller. It’s light, and it has little camera shake from the shutter.
This of course brings me to the next chapter of usage. Documentary. – I thought it would be great to do a little bit of documentary with the GFX 50s. So I set out to do a couple of documentary stories. I wanted to do mixtures of portraiture and documentary so I brought along the GFX, used natural lighting where I could, and spiced the shoots with the Nissin i60’s or the portable Bowens XMT 500.
The Coffee King
The first story is about Thomas Sigfred. A local coffee roaster from Aarhus, Denmark. He has just recently opened up Sigfred’s Coffeefactory at an abandoned Soyfactory near the south harbour. Prior to opening his factory, he owned a chain of cafés. Even though Thomas is incredibly passionate about his coffee, the café business didn’t work out for him, and he had to close them down late 2015.
He’s now back to where it all started for him. Importing and roasting coffee. He sells it to cafés, companies etc, and hosts coffee tasting events. He is the uncrowned king of coffee in Aarhus.
The Motorcycle builder
Relic Motorcycles was started by a group of friends with a joint passion for café racer type motorcycles. They set up shop a couple of years back and have expanded rapidly. In the beginning they were 4, but now reduced to 3, they’re as productive as ever. Crancking out one amazing bike after another. I have been doing their photography for a couple of years now, and when I asked if Jonas Sabel wanted to be featured in a small series of portraits and bikes, he was happy to accept.
The shop itself in Åbyhøj, Aarhus is made to proper manacle standards. Pin-ups, old Evel Knievel relics and motorcycle parts shapes the shop into an incredible venue for building these great machines.
You can find out more at http://relicmotorcycles.com
The Denim Store Owner
Brian Mogensen opened a small jeans store in Aarhus back in 2016. He’s been employed by one of the biggest jeans brands in Denmark, but he wanted to start on his own. His focus is on importing and selling high quality denim wear from especially Japanese and to some extent american denim brands. He has decorated the shop with the help of his father-in-law. He created a fantastic place with a great atmosphere. I convinced him to pose for a documentary/portrait session to show off some of his imported styles.
You can find out more at http://www.blue-caviar.com
With the launch of GFX 50s Fujifilm and its Fujinon division has a starting lineup of 3 optics.
- GF63mm f/2.8 R WR
- GF120mm f/4 R WR Macro
- GF32-64mm f/4 R WR
There are 3 more optics planned for 2017.
They all performed incredibly well. The 120mm f/4 was by far the sharpest in my testing. Sharpness was simply off the charts. For the Fujifilm pack shots below it was the lens used. The resolution is incredible. Great sharpness. Great detail. A lovely focal lengths for portraits with an amazing falloff into out of focus areas.
For allround usage I found the GF63mm f/2.8 to be the best. It gives you a FOV eq to a 50mm in 35mm format, hence being a very great around standard lens. It’s also a very compact lens, making the GFX truly portable. Again a fascinatingly sharp lens offering.
I didn’t spend too much time using the 32-64mm f/4 zoom lens, but I did use it for landscapes and more inclusive environmental portraits like the ones of Jonas Sabel on his bike. – It’s a very versatile lens, and goes without saying by now – Quite sharp and awesome!
I will be going into more detail on the individual lenses in another blogpost, or else this might get VERY VERY hairy! – You can find all the geeky information on Fujifilms website.
In all fairness I only spent 2 short weeks with the camera. There are a million other, better suited, better skilled photographers out there for which this camera is perfect. But I got a chance to see if it would really be a new era in Medium Format photography. And I have to say that it more than qualifies for the Gamechanger moniker that Fujfilm has labeled it. It is a true portable medium format camera. If you decide to invest in this system, it will give you some of the best image quality you will ever achieve – All while being almost as versatile as a regular DSLR. A great new camera series from Fujifilm for the professional photographer.
I will leave you with some more samples of things I found interesting to shoot. You can find the EXIF data when downloading them from the gallery.