The Winter 2020 issue of the Michael Clark Photography Newsletter is now available for download. If you’d like to sign up for the Newsletter just drop me an email and I’ll add you to the mailing list.
This issue includes an editorial entitled Time Off, a full review of the brand new FUJIFILM X-Pro 3, an article detailing my recent assignment covering the Red Bull Rampage, an editorial entitled Work-Life Balance, and much more.
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Disclaimer:I have a working relationship with Fujifilm, and as many of my readers already know I shot some of the marketing materials with their flagship GFX 100 camera last year. I originally tried out the X-Pro 2 in May 2018 while speaking at the launch for the GFX 100 in Japan. While working with that camera, I grew to love the smaller form factor and eagerly awaited the X-Pro 3. Over the last month, I was loaned an X-Pro 3 prototype and took it to the Himalayas on a climbing expedition to test it out. I was not paid for this blog post or to try out the camera. My thanks to Fujifilm for loaning me a camera and a few lenses.
The FUJIFILM X-Pro 3 is a departure from my normal cameras. Most, if not all of my cameras have been chosen specifically to capture fast-action or for their ultra-high-resolution sensors. While the X-Pro 3 does have very respectable AF capabilities (identical to the venerable FUJIFILM X-T3) it is a different kind of camera that blends an old-world form factor with a modern mirrorless camera design to create a unique, elegant and more considered style of camera.
The X-Pro 3 is also an aesthetic choice, much like the Leica M series rangefinders. While the X-Pro 3, like the Leica rangefinders, are designed for photojournalists and street photographers specifically, it also performs exceptionally well in outdoor adventure situations where a lightweight, tough-as-nails camera can lend itself to storytelling and also keep the photographer somewhat inconspicuous. I have been eyeing the FUJIFILM X-Pro series of cameras for years now–long before I ever started working with Fujifilm on the GFX 100. The old-school look and feel of the X-Pro series cameras, paired with an incredible optical and electronic viewfinder makes for a very unique feature set offered by no other camera manufacturer. I think many photographers drool over the Leica rangefinder cameras (both the older film models and the new digital versions) but few of us can afford them and also if and when you actually use one with the manual focus lenses you realize fairly quickly just how slow and limiting those cameras actually are to use compared to modern digital cameras. By comparison, the X-Pro series seems like a modern update to the manual focus rangefinder cameras and it is eminently easier to use than any manual focus rangefinder.
I realize many might be asking why would I work with an APS-C camera like this one–especially considering the other cameras at my disposal, notably the FUJIFILM GFX 100 and the Nikon D850. As a working pro, the X-Pro 3 may not be my main working pro camera but there are certainly times when I want to take a smaller, lightweight camera on a shoot (like on my recent mountaineering trip in Nepal). I could have easily taken my Nikon Z6 along with a small 24-70mm mm lens with me but when you are cutting of the end of your toothbrush and counting the ounces in your pack, no full-frame 35mm mirrorless camera can compete when it comes to weight versus image quality to a high-end APS-C camera that is dialed in to this level. With that said, choosing the X-Pro 3 isn’t just about having a lightweight, small camera. When you pick it up, there is an immediate tactile feeling and responsiveness that makes me want to go out and shoot with this camera. That is hard to explain but there are only a few other cameras on the market that share this effect.
Similar to other rangefinders the main feature and overriding design element is an optical viewfinder on the left side of the camera. On the X-Pro 3, the viewfinder works as both an optical and an electronic viewfinder depending on your preference–and in large part depending on what lens you have attached to the camera. The optical/electronic viewfinder is one of the main reasons I love this camera so much. It gives me both options and the choice to go back and forth or stick with whichever one suits the situation and the lens I have on the camera. At the same time, I can still see the histogram in both the optical and the electronic viewfinders, which is a key element of a mirrorless camera. With the X-pro 3 you also have the option to use the Optical viewfinder and have the electronic viewfinder visible down in the lower right corner so you can see what the image will look like. This versatility is incredibly useful.
As shown below, the camera is stealthy. For the most part, the top and back of the camera are home to most of the critical control buttons, knobs and dials but notice that it is a simple layout, which helps keep the focus on the image and not on the camera itself. I much prefer the X-Pro series Fujifilm cameras over the X-T and X-H series of cameras because the X-Pro cameras simply have fewer dials and buttons to mess with. For the way I work, it just feels like I can get to the right exposure settings faster with the X-Pro series cameras. I love that Fujifilm gives us varying options for the style of camera that works best for us as photographers–and even various styles that might work best in different scenarios.
Of note, as has been hotly discussed on the internet, the rear LCD screen is by default hidden and can only be viewed when folded down. Having shot a fair bit with the X-Pro 2, which did not have a hidden LCD screen, and now for several weeks with the X-Pro 3 I have to say that at least for me it is a non-issue. In use, the hidden LCD just means that you aren’t distracted by the LCD screen or tempted as much to chimp on the back of the camera. Instead, you stay focused on what is in front of you. In reality, the EVF is so much higher resolution than the LCD (this is the same on most other cameras as well) that you can simply push the play button to view the images in the EVF without having to flip down the LCD screen. With your eye to the viewfinder, the “PLAY” button is easily visible so that you can push the right button and no matter which viewfinder mode you are in (optical or EVF) the EVF will appear with the last image you captured. For those that shoot with the camera at arms length and use the LCD screen most of the time to shoot images then this may not be the camera for you. Maybe I am old-school but I find holding a camera away from my face and composing the image with just an LCD screen on the back of a camera to be difficult at best. There are certainly times when that works, as in low or high angles but for the most part, I do use good handholding technique and a huge part of that is having the camera viewfinder pressed against my eye.
Also of note, I have purchased the X-Pro 3 along with the Metal Hand Grip (MHG-XPRO3), as shown above attached the X-Pro 3 in the lower right corner. I really like the way that grip improves your purchase on the camera and it also conveniently provides an Arca-Swiss tripod plate as well for mounting the camera on a tripod. This may be more a matter of having large hands than anything else, but it definitely helps to balance out the larger lenses like my XF 16mm f/1.4 R WR lens. It is such a lightweight camera (at least compared to my other giant cameras) that I often carry it without a big camera strap and the grip just makes it easier to hold.
Depending on which lens I have on the camera I tend to go back and forth between the EVF and the optical viewfinder. With a 23mm or 35mm lens, I usually go for the optical viewfinder because the square box outline inside the viewfinder (showing what will be contained in the image) is relatively large in the viewfinder and also allows me to see what is coming into or going out of the frame. When using wider lenses like my 16mm f/1.4 lens and anything longer than 50mm (or a zoom lens) then I opt for the EVF. In both cases I have the histogram visible at the bottom of the frame.
In this age of full-frame cameras (technically a misnomer for 35mm cameras as no camera is really “full-frame” these days), anytime you pull out a camera with a smaller sensor the camera geeks–of which I could call myself one–recoil in horror at an APS-C sensor. Have no doubt, my main camera these days is the FUJIFILM GFX 100 so I am a total convert to huge megapixel cameras and I love getting as much detail as possible so I can make giant prints. But not everything has to be shot with larger, heavier and higher resolution cameras. The X-Pro 3 has a 26 MP sensor, which for most folks, including most professional photographers, is more than enough resolution. 26 MP is well beyond the resolution of 35mm film. It is likely approaching the resolution (or beyond it) of medium format film.
In my testing the image quality on offer in the X-Pro 3 is as good if not the same as that offered by my Nikon Z 6, which similarly has a 24 MP sensor. I was curious how the brand new X-Pro 3 would compare on several specs compared to the Z6, which has very clean noise at high ISO settings. To test out and compare the high ISO noise, I shot still life images at every ISO setting with both the Z 6 and the X-Pro 3. I also tested the FUJIFILM XF 16mm f/1.4 WR lens against my Sigma ART 24mm f/1.4 lens at every aperture from f/1.4 up to f/11. My Sigma ART 24mm lens has consistently been a wicked sharp go to lens for me over the years so the Fujifilm lens would be up against one of the sharpest lenses I own.
The upshot is that wow, the X-Pro 3 holds its own in terms of noise at high ISO settings. I couldn’t really see much if any difference up to ISO 3200. At ISO 4000 and above the Z6 seemed a little smoother but even so it was very difficult to see much of a difference. It seemed that the noise just looks slightly different on each camera. Once I applied noise reduction to the raw image files, the X-Pro 3 looked ever so slightly better than the Z6 at ISO 6400—or at least I liked the way the noise was dealt with better. I remember testing a FUJIFIM X-E1 against my Nikon D4 years ago and being pretty shocked at how well the X-E1 did compared to the D4. So I wasn’t totally surprised by this finding. Folks seem to get all worked up about smaller sensors and how they can’t keep up, especially when it comes to noise, and this showed me at least just how dialed in these sensors are in X- Series Fujifilm cameras. Also, the two different lenses seemed roughly comparable. That FUJIFILM XF 16mm f/1.4 lens is a beauty!
The biggest difference I noticed between the formats is the depth of field. The smaller sensor has slightly more depth of field at every aperture setting, which is to be expected and would be an advantage for landscape photography. Other than that, there wasn’t a whole lot of difference in image quality. Of course, if you wanted a higher resolution camera then you would have to step up to a larger sensor like the Nikon D850, the Z 7, one of the Sony cameras (like the new A7R IV), or a medium format rig like the GFX 100. And note that I have all of those options (save for the Sony) and still I sometimes opt just to take the smaller and lighter X-Pro 3.
As usual with Fujfiilm cameras, the color output is excellent. If you shoot jpegs then these cameras are very hard to beat as they produce some of the best jpegs from any manufacturer–as you would assume since they were (and still are) one of the largest film companies in the world. I pretty much always shoot in raw, but even in raw mode the X Pro-3, like my GFX 100, outputs excellent color. For portraits I really love the Neg Standard color mode and for everything else I stick to the Standard color profile (Provia). Regardless of the camera setting, this can be adjusted in post when working with raw images.
In terms of output resolution, I have made prints up to 24×36 inches from a 12 MP camera, and they still looked quite nice. I have made prints up to 17×22 inches from the X-Pro 3 and they are gorgeous. I wouldn’t really print images larger than 30×45 inches from the X-Pro 3 but that is already quite large. Would a 20×30 inch print look better if it is was shot with the GFX 100 versus one captured with the X-Pro 3? Well, yes, if you want to walk up to it (like a lot of photographers do) and check it out from three inches away but from standard viewing distances the X-Pro 3 prints will hold up just fine.
AUTOFOCUS & FRAME RATES
Similar to the Fujifilm X-T3, the X-Pro 3 can blast away at up to 11 fps using the mechanical shutter and up to 30 fps using the electronic shutter. The buffer depth using the mechanical shutter is approximately 42 lossless-compressed raw images or 145 jpegs. In the 20 fps or 30 fps mode the buffer drops to around 35 lossless-compressed raw images before the camera slows down, which means you have about one second of shooting time. When engaging the 20 fps or 30 fps modes using the electronic shutter there is a 1.25X crop, but even so the fact that this little camera can blast through that many frames is quite remarkable. Of course, as usual, the read and write speeds of the memory card plays a huge factor in just how fast the camera can operate and how quickly it can clear the buffer. My favorite SD cards these days are the Sony Tough 128 GB SD cards, which also happen to have the fastest read and write speeds of any SD card I have seen.
I have not fully run this camera through it’s paces yet in terms of the continuous autofocus, but I have used it in all of the different autofocus modes. The X-Pro 3 has the same autofocus algorithms as the X-T3, which is to say it has exceptional autofocus capabilities. In AF-C mode it can track subjects at frame rates up to 11 fps, which is faster by a large margin than my Nikon Z6 can manage. I haven’t tested it fully yet but the camera autofocus specifications say the X-Pro 3 can continuously track a subject in the 20 fps mode as well. Most people are not talking about this as a sports camera–and it might not be the one I reach for when I have an action assignment–but it is still a very capable camera in that department. In the image below I tracked focus on my two friends as they walked down main street in Lukla on our way into the Khumbu valley. While this isn’t fast action, the camera nailed focus on every image in the sequence.
The X-Pro 3 also has Face Detection and Eye AF, which is very useful when photographing people. It seems to work quite well. At f/1.4 it nails focus on the eye quite effectively. It is not as fast or as accurate as the Sony A9’s Eye AF is these days, but at this point no other camera manufacturer has Eye AF that can match what Sony has developed. For a camera like this, meant for photojournalism the Eye AF is more than good enough. For faster moving subjects, where having the eye sharp isn’t the issue, I would suggest switching into continuous AF and using the Wide Tracking focus mode along with the appropriate custom AF-C setting. For even faster AF and better focus tracking I highly recommend setting the camera to Boost mode in the Power Management menu.
The X-Pro 3 can also autofocus down to – 6 EV, which means it can grab focus in near pitch black darkness. My Nikon D850 can only autofocus down to – 4 EV and at that low light level it isn’t what I would call fast. The X-Pro 3 might be the best autofocus camera in low light of any mirrorless camera on the market. In dark situations where I am having serious trouble seeing anything the camera (using the EVF) picks up focus no problem, which is rather incredible for a mirrorless camera. This low-light autofocus capability is not something I have heard a lot of folks talking about but it makes the X-Pro 3 a great camera for those situations where this comes into play. The X-Pro 3 does not have IBIS (In-Body-Image-Stabilization), which would pair up quite nicely with this low-light AF capability but the small size of the camera does allow for handholding the camera at relatively low shutter speeds. I have gotten sharp images all the way down to 1/15th second while handholding the X-Pro 3.
DURABILITY & WEATHER RESISTANCE
As Fujifilm’s top-of-the-line X-series camera, the X-Pro 3 is incredibly durable and weatherproof. It also comes in three different flavors. As shown below there is the standard black (left), Dura Black (center) and Dura Silver (left). All three have Titanium top and bottom plates but the last two options have a “DuraTect” coating that makes the camera nearly impossible to scratch. I opted for the standard black option as I wanted the least intrusive camera possible, but I tested out the Dura Silver prototype in the Himalayas. The Dura coating definitely makes the finish a fair bit tougher. It also holds onto finger prints and grime that comes into contact with the top and bottom plate–but that is easy to wipe off. The Dura Silver was beautiful but I just prefer a more understated camera that will fly under the radar while using it. It just comes down to personal preference–though I will note here that the Dura versions are an extra $200 more expensive than the standard all black model. Regardless of the color, they all have the same features.
Titanium has been used on occasion to manufacture cameras but normally in special versions of a camera model like the Nikon F3/T back in the 1980s. Titanium alloys are a difficult material to work with but they have incredible corrosion resistance and a strength-to-weight ratio that makes them stronger than a similar piece of steel. What this means for the X-Pro 3 is that it is an incredibly durable camera, especially when taking into account the weather sealing that Fujifilm has incorporated into this camera as well. I would not say they are “waterproof” but the X-Pro 3, when used with a WR lens, can handle pretty much any weather without the need for a rain cover. The X-pro 3 is a camera I would have no qualms working with in rough weather, which also makes it perhaps the perfect mountaineering camera as it is tough as nails, lightweight and small enough to take on pretty much any climb–and have it hanging off your pack strap on a Peak Design Capture Clip.
The small NP-W126S Li-Ion battery used by most of the latest Fujifilm X-Series cameras has been a point of complaint for many users. In use, I have not found the small battery in the X-Pro 3 to be an issue. Using the optical viewfinder definitely helps to save on battery power, and also having the hidden LCD saves a lot of battery power as well since you are likely chimping less than with a normal camera. The reality is that you just carry backup batteries–and they are so light and small that it isn’t that big of a deal. I am easily getting 400 to 500 images per battery if not more when using the optical viewfinder. That is significantly less than what I get with my Nikon Z6 but those batteries (in the Z6) are almost twice the size.
The reality is that if they made a bigger battery for a small camera like this then it would be a larger camera body. Hence, there is a give and take and I would prefer to have the smaller camera body. I always have a few accessories with me anyway like an extra memory card, a lens cloth and a few other items so tossing in one extra battery is not a big deal.
Having used a wide variety of the XF lenses (and all of the GFX lenses) I am consistently amazed by the quality of Fujifilm’s lenses. Fujifilm doesn’t seem to make second tier lenses like most other manufacturers. Even the kit lens that comes with a lot of their cameras, the XF 18-55 f/2.8-4 lens, is remarkably sharp. Fujifilm also has an extensive lineup of APS-C lenses for their X-series cameras because they have been making the mirrorless X-series cameras for quite some time now. There are also quite a few lens options with both faster primes and slower primes in the lens lineup. Depending on your needs one can opt for the lighter, smaller and typically faster focusing f/2 or f/2.8 lenses or if you want better low-light options there are also fast f/1.2 or f/1.4 lenses in every focal length up to 56mm.
I do not currently have a wide selection of lenses for my X-Pro 3 as I just bought into the system. I only have two prime lenses for it at the moment–those being the XF 16mm f/1.4 R WR and the XF 35mm f/1.4 R lenses. I will definitely be expanding my lens selection in the next year or so but this is not the camera I feel the need to put a longer telephoto lens on (like the XF 50-140 f/2.8). Like the Leica rangefinders of yore, this is a camera where a 56mm (85mm full-frame equivalent) lens seems giant mounted on the front of this camera. Hence, at least for the moment, I am looking to keep the lenses I use with the X-Pro 3 within the 10mm up to 56mm range. If I do opt for larger lenses, then at that point it might be time to put those on the X-T3 or X-H1 camera bodies for the optimum balance and ergonomics relative to those longer, heavier lenses.
The idea behind the X-Pro 3 is that the camera frees the photographer from distractions and helps them “stay in the moment” to capture the image. Does it actually achieve that? After a few months with the camera I have to say that the X-Pro 3 does help you stay in the moment and concentrate on the image–or at least that is my opinion and experience so far. To be sure, one would have to work with the camera for a significant amount of time to get to know it and understand its layout so that everything becomes second nature (as with any camera). Given the simple layout, the Face Tracking capabilities and the hidden LCD it does provide a platform that helps you to concentrate on the image. The X-Pro 3 has fewer dials and controls on it than any of my other cameras and the layout of the camera is conducive to quick, on the spot reactive situations–which is a big part of why I purchased the camera.
The X-Pro 3 is one of those rare cameras that gets me excited to go out and create images. Most of my other cameras are tools to get the job done, which is no slight against them, but the X-Pro 3 has a special something that really makes photography fun and fluid. The distance between what you want to capture and the act of doing so is a design feature that most photographers don’t think about that much–but I am sure engineers and designers of the cameras think about this a lot. Sure, this camera has a lot of features available in the menu but in reality, once you have it set up, all you need to concentrate on is the composition and the exposure, which makes the process quick and easy when on the run.
All in all, the X Pro-3 is an excellent camera. In fact it is so good that it has me wondering if I even need a “full-frame” camera in my kit. Perhaps working with smaller APS-C cameras like this in tandem with my GFX 100 medium format kit is all I really need. To be sure, just typing that out here in this review is a big statement. I’ll need more time to figure out if that will work. A huge part of my hold on the 35mm format is legacy–I have been using that format since I started shooting with film back in the early 80s. Regardless, having a smaller format camera with incredible image quality is really going to work well for some of my adventurous assignments.
Summing up, this is a camera I won’t be selling ever–even when Fujifilm releases a new, better version in three or four years. That is about as high a recommendation as I can make for this beautifully made camera.
2019 has been a phenomenal year. I have had some very successful assignments and photo shoots as well as several career highlights this year, like my assignment to launch the highly regarded FUJIFILM GFX 100, working on the Red Bull Supermoon project with the Red Bull Air Force and getting an assignment to document the Red Bull Rampage to name a few. This year saw a wide variety of assignments, everything from big wave surfing to studio portraits to huge advertising gigs. This year assignments had me traveling for nine months of the year. It was by a big factor the best year of my career both financially and creatively.
I know that these “Year in Review” blog posts are a dime a dozen – and I have seen a lot of them over the last few weeks – but I hope you find this blog post at least entertaining. If you have been following along this year then you have seen most of these already but there are a few new images here that I haven’t shared anywhere. Hence, without further ado, here are what I consider to be the best images I have created this past year and a few career highlights as well.
Yellowstone National Park Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming — USA
For the last several years, I have had the opportunity to travel with some good friends to fairly remote locations specifically just to have fun photographing landscapes, wildlife and various adventures without the pressure or demands of a specific assignment. Several of these adventures have been with my good friend Richie Graham, who is an amazing photographer using his skills and influence to make a difference for the environment. Earlier this year in late January, while driving back from an assignment Richie and I were talking and he told me about an adventure he had planned in Yellowstone. Richie graciously let me tag along and in several days we both created an incredible array of images–both of the wildlife and the landscape. Below are just a few of my favorites from that trip.
If you would like to see a wider selection of these images check out the Winter 2019 Newsletter. My sincere thanks to Richie for letting me tag along and for making that trip possible. Yellowstone is a magical place in winter, and if you can get into the center of the park it is a completely different experience (with relatively few people) than at any other time of year.
RED BULL SUPERMOON Los Angeles, California — USA
When I got the call from Red Bull for this assignment it was immediately apparent they had already been planning out this audacious project for several months. Having worked with the Red Bull Air Force on several assignments they are good friends at this point and they are also true professionals. It is always a huge honor to work with them. This assignment was no different. As can be seen in the images below Jon DeVore, Andy Farrington and Mike Swansons created quite the stir. Below, the middle image is of Jon DeVore and Andy Farrington and the top and bottom images are of Mike Swansons.
The idea behind this shoot was to have the Red Bull Air Force athletes wing suit through downtown Los Angeles with the last Supermoon of the decade behind them–just as it rose over the LA skyline. Sadly, mother nature had other ideas and there were low hanging clouds on the horizon behind the Los Angeles skyline. Luckily, the clouds stayed low and the Supermoon rose shortly above them–and Mike Swansons was in tune enough with the film crew to swerve over towards the moon so that I could create these images from four miles away with a giant 800mm Nikkor lens. This all happened during rush hour as everyone in LA was driving home on the freeway. So, as you can imagine, from a distance–not knowing what was happening–it appeared as if a meteor (or two) had just fallen into downtown LA. This made national news 20 minutes after it happened and we rushed back to the Red Bull headquarters to put out a social media blast explaining what everyone just saw.
One of the other fun parts of this project is that Red Bull had four helicopters in the air, and a crew of fifteen or more cinematographers running around LA and all at different vantage points to capture the action. Additionally, Red Bull hired two still photographers, Keith Ladzinski and myself to capture the action. Keith was in the helicopter and I was on top of an eight-story building four miles away from the action. As usual with wing suit flying and skydiving you literally have a few seconds to capture the action and this assignment was no different. I had two cameras firing away with two different focal length lenses (300mm and 800mm) so that I could get two different perspectives of the action. The top image here (just below) is definitely up there as one of the best images of the year–if nothing else it is surely one of the most unique images I produced this year.
My thanks to Red Bull (yet again) for bringing me in on a such a wild assignment and for doing all the research to make this happen. As always it is a total blast working with Red Bull and especially with the Red Bull Air Force. My thanks as well to Jon DeVore, Andy Farrington and Mike Swansons and the rest of the Red Bull Air Force for making it all happen.
EYLEA (BAYER) California — USA
One of my largest assignments of the year, both in complexity and scope, was for the pharmaceutical giant Bayer to create imagery and motion content for a new drug named “Eylea” that helps those with macular degeneration. The image below is a composite of several images and was the brainchild of the ad agency The Bloc. While it was relatively simple to create the images for this campaign, the pre-production was extensive and the post-processing on both the stills and motion components required extensive retouching, which is where the well-known and highly regarded post production house Happy Finish came into play. Over a period of four months Happy Finish worked closely with the ad agency to dial in the images and the motion footage so that it fit perfectly into their advertising.
For this production we had a crew of forty or more people working on set. It was a big production with Hollywood level support for the motion component of this campaign–including a giant grip truck, a process trailer, multiple grips and lighting techs, two RVs, production assistants, digital techs, Director of Photography (DP), Assistant DP, Drone Techs and of course the client and the ad agency. These larger productions are intense but also a lot of fun. When you bring a crew of people together who are all incredibly good at their jobs–and bring an agency with a lot of creativity–then magic can happen.
My sincere thanks to Bayer and The Bloc for entrusting me and our team with this production. Additionally, my thanks to the entire crew for pulling together and bringing these images and this content to life–especially my extraordinary producer Rebecca Schatten of Arpen Productions without whom I would not have been able to pull of this off.
FUJIFILM GFX 100 Indian Creek, Utah — USA
Every once in a while, an assignment comes along that is a full-on dream assignment. I have wanted to create images for the launch of a top-tier professional camera for as long as I have been a pro photographer. I worked with Nikon for many years as one of their “Legends Behind the Lens” and I even shot the launch of a few of their point and shoot cameras, but never for the pro bodies. Enter Fujifilm. Last year, I tried out a huge range of Fujifilm cameras and liked them quite a bit but at that point it just didn’t work out. Earlier this year, seeing that the FUJIFILM GFX 100 was going to launch at some point, I got back in touch and the stars aligned where I was one of the lucky few chosen to capture images with a few prototype GFX 100 camera bodies.
The GFX 100 was not a secret. Fujifilm announced the development of the camera in the late fall of 2018 and there were plenty of images of the camera all across the internet. Exactly what sensor the camera would use and how it would all come together was the big question. Having shot with medium format cameras for decades, both in the film era and the digital era, the GFX 100 piqued my interest. I was dreaming of a medium format camera with fast autofocus that could work for my brand of adventure sports photography.
At this point in my career, I was aware of how big a deal this assignment actually was while I was creating the images. That realization made it even sweeter to be a part of the launch and also to join the Fujifilm executives, engineers and designers in Japan for the launch of the camera. I have enormous respect for Fujifilm not just as a camera and optics manufacturer, but also as a corporation. Their passion for photography and the way they treat and honor their customers is apparent both in person and with every free firmware upgrade for their cameras.
Below are just a few of the images from the GFX 100 assignment. This was by far the most successful assignment of the year for me so it is hard to pick out the best of the best as there were quite a few stellar images both from the rock climbing portion of the assignment and the downhill mountain biking portion. My sincere thanks to the amazing athletes and the crew that came together to help create these images including Savannah Cummins, Angela Van Wiemeersch, Ted Hesser, Carson Storch, Dusty Wygle, and Dave Gardner. Also, a huge thank you to Justin Stailey, Senior Manager of Product Development for FUJIFILM North America, who was the tech guru helping me dial in the camera all throughout this assignment.
My sincere thanks to FUJIFILM USA and FUJIFILM Japan for entrusting me with this prestigious assignment. It was a great honor to be a part of this campaign and also to be there in Japan for the launch of the camera. It is also incredible to see how it has been received in the six or seven months since its launch. Fujifilm really did shake up the market–especially the medium format genre–and show what is possible when engineers are let loose to create a dream product. To see more from this assignment–and to read the full behind-the-scenes story–check out my Summer 2019 Newsletter. Lastly here, A big thank you to Elinchrom as well who supported this assignment with the latest battery-powered strobes allowing us to light up the athletes from near and far.
Note: A good portion of the rest of these images in this year end review were captured using the GFX 100 since it has become my main camera.
FUJIKINA 2019 Tokyo — Japan
As I mentioned in the last section, being a part of the launch of the FUJIFILM GFX 100 was a major career highlight this year. After submitting images from the assignment I was shortly thereafter on my way to the launch in Tokyo, Japan at FUJIKINA 2019. Fujifilm rolled out the red carpet at the launch and it was great to be there and see how the camera was received by the press. Following the launch was a full weekend open to the public and the press where they could come to touch and feel the new camera and also try out any of the Fujifilm products. On one floor was an active video shoot with the GFX 100, above that was a giant gallery (as shown in a few images below) showing off images shot with the GFX 100 for the launch, another floor with the cameras and tech reps to answer questions and also areas for photographers like myself to give presentations on our experiences with the GFX 100.
The gallery was quite amazing–and for me one of the coolest parts of the entire Fujikina gathering. Seeing giant prints in a huge open space–and my images among them–really was the icing on the cake. All of the photographers that shot with the camera really knocked it out of the park and produced some stunning work. In addition to the prints, Fujifilm had a few of the behind the scenes videos running in the gallery as well, which were mixed in right next to the images. On the far wall they had a giant video playing on a wall to show just how incredible the footage out of the GFX 100 looked on the big screen.
After the Fujikina event, my girlfriend and I took some time off and went down to the Kyoto and Nara region to explore Japan a bit more. We spent the next week at some of the most famous tourists sites (as shown below) and also out in the country in more remote areas, which had few if any tourists. Japan is an incredible country–perhaps one of the most civilized countries in the world. We had a great time exploring small temples and shrines, remote tea farms and under the radar restaurants. After a great experience in Japan, I am very happy to be headed back there next year to lead a photography workshop “Japan: The Art of Motion” with the wonderful Japanese photographer George Nobechi.
NEW ZEALAND INSTITUTE OF PROFESSIONAL PHOTOGRAPHERS (NZIPP) CONFERENCE Wellington and Queenstown — New Zealand
I have wanted to travel to New Zealand for a long time. It has always been touted as a magical place and man, it lived up to the hype! I was invited by the NZIPP to speak at their annual conference. The NZIPP annual conference is similar to the Photo Plus Expo here in the USA. Hence, it was a great honor and a wonderful way to visit such a spectacular country.
The conference was a blast! The conference takes place in Wellington, the capital of New Zealand. I made some great connections and met some incredible photographers. Everyone was so welcoming and enthusiastic, it really started my trip to New Zealand off with a great experience. I am not sure there is anything like the NZIPP conference here in the USA, which is a shame because that is an incredibly tight community and seeing how they honored the best work of the year was enthralling. Also, seeing that they judge the images from prints was very cool–they basically created a gallery of prints with the best work of the year.
After the conference, I flew down to Queenstown on the South Island. That flight, on a cloudless day was like watching an endless array of incredible mountains stream by out the window. Straight away I headed up to Mt. Cook. As a climber, heading to the big mountains was a must. Sadly, I didn’t have climbing gear or a climbing partner with me but just being able to see the landscape gave me the impetus to go back and climb a few of those peaks one of these days.
This was another trip this year where I was free to roam around and explore a new country without the constraints of an assignment. At every turn in my travels there was yet another incredible vista, a frozen pond, or any number of magical locations. No wonder the Lord of the Rings movies are predominantly filmed in New Zealand. It does almost feel like another planet. I can’t wait to go back!
My sincere thanks to the NZIPP community and leadership for bringing me out. It was an honor to be a part of the annual conference and explore your wonderful country. There are too many people to thank, but I have to give a huge thank you to the photography community there–especially the incredible photography couple Mike Langford and Jackie Ranken who took me in, let me stay with them and with whom I had some great diners, as well as Andy Woods who set me up with a Milford Sound flight on the only decent weather day to see it at the end of my trip.
MARSOC Camp LeJeune, North Carolina — USA
This past summer, I got a call inquiring about a project with the Marine Special Forces, also known as MARSOC (Marine Forces Special Operations Command). Photographing for the military isn’t my normal gig as most of my readers will know. I was on the fence as to whether I should take this assignment but opted to do it because the images were only going to be used for internal recruiting use–you have to be pretty elite within the Marine Corps already to even apply to MARSOC. I was incredibly impressed with the MARSOC staff and of course with the soldiers as well.
We got some incredible images–some right up there with the best images of the year actually. But at this point, I have not gotten clearance to share those images. So, stay tuned. Once I get clearance to share a few I will put together a piece here on the blog or in the Newsletter.
MAMMOTH PHOTO FESTIVAL Mammoth, California — USA
In the last several years, speaking at photo festivals has become a new thing for me. They are always a great time to meet new photographers and also hang out with my peers. The Mammoth Photo Festival was definitely a good bit of fun. First off, it was great to see several of my peers including Christian Pondella, Corey Rich, Krystle Wright, Savannah Cummins, Pete McBride and many others. It was also great to meet some legends who have inspired me for decades like Cristina Mittermeier and Frans Lanting. As freelancers, it isn’t often that we get to hang out with our peers and compare notes, swap stories and hear the juicy gossip from the photo industry. These photo festivals definitely create a space for that over a beer or a group dinner each evening.
It was very nice to see Corey Rich again since we started out at around the same time–and we haven’t seen each other in a long, long time. We had a great moment reflecting back on how our careers developed as they have. Corey gave a great presentation showing his work and images from his new book Stories Behind the Images.
It was also great to see my good friend Christian Pondella and to be able to go out and shoot with him a few times while teaching seminars for the photo festival. As can be seen below, we ventured down to the Buttermilks just outside of Bishop, California and had a sunrise session with some local climbers. Christian is in my mind one of the most unique adventure photographers working today in that he is a world-class athlete himself. Take a gander at his ski photography and realize he had to ski the same lines as the pro skiers but with a 40-pound backpack! He could have easily become a pro skier. There are very few of us working in the adventure sports genre that have his talent as an athlete and as a photographer.
My thanks to Kevin Green, Joshua Cripps and Christian Pondella for creating and putting on the first Mammoth Photo Festival. Over the four days there were a wide variety of informative and inspiring talks and seminars. If you love photography and want to go out and shoot with some of the top pro photographers working today put this festival on your calendar for October 15-18, 2020.
RED BULL RAMPAGE Virgin, Utah — USA
For the last decade or more I have wanted to photograph the Red Bull Rampage. In all that time Red Bull has had a tight crew photographing the event–and there was no way to get on that crew–until this year. As the newbie on the team it was a big challenge and a major learning experience. I was asked by Jorge Henoa, the Director of Red Bull Photography, to photograph the event using a medium format camera, which meant I shot the event with my FUJIFILM GFX 100. As can be seen below, the GFX 100 came through with flying colors–literally.
It was an honor to join my peers to cover this event. There is so much going on that you can’t be everywhere. Hence, a crew of the top adventure sports photographers that cover downhill mountain biking is a must to get a wide variety of images and actually cover the event. Some, like Christian Pondella have been covering the Rampage since it started, and the rest of the crew including Peter Morning, Garth Milan, Paris Gore and Long Nguyen have been covering it for several years. Getting the images requires hiking all over a steep desert hillside running here and to with a forty-pound backpack. The fine red dirt seems to get into everything. Your cameras and lenses are coated with it–and your backpack requires a full-on shower after the event is over.
My thanks to Jorge Henao, Marv Watson and the crew at Red Bull for bringing me in on this assignment. Fingers crossed I get to photograph it next year as well. To see some of the best images from the event check out the Red Bull Rampage 2019- Best of Article on the Red Bull Content Pool. That article also has a short interview with me on my experiences photographing the event.
This year, like last year has continued to be a year of transition–working more with mirrorless cameras than I ever have and also working on more video projects than ever in my career. I realize none of the video content is shown here in this blog post but it is forthcoming. As my readers know, I am on the never-ending search for tools that help me push my photography to the edge of the envelope technically. With the GFX 100, I am still riding that bleeding edge (as are my hard drives) and it is a fantastic time to be a photographer.
So long 2019. My thanks to Red Bull, Fujifilm, Bayer, National Geographic and all of my other clients with whom I worked this year. As I said in the beginning, it has been a remarkable year. Of course, there are a whole lot of other excellent images from this year, but for some reason these shown above have resonated the most for me.
Thanks for taking the time to check out some of this years highlights. Feel free to comment on any of these images and tell me which one you think is the best of the best from this year. Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year to you all. Here’s hoping your 2020 is filled with adventurous travels and amazing experiences!
Disclaimer: I was given the GNARBOX 2.0 to try out on a recent climbing expedition and subsequently was told I could keep it by the fine folks at Gnarbox. As a result of this trial, I have also become a member of the GNARBOX Pro Team. With that said, I would not post a review of a product if I didn’t like it and see a use for that product. Take from this what you will, but as usual, I want my readers to know what is going on in the background behind my reviews. I was not paid to write or post this review.
On a recent assignment, while filming on a climbing expedition to Cholatse (6440 m, 21,130 feet) in the Khumbu region in Nepal, I had the chance to test out the GNARBOX 2.0 (shown above). On this assignment I had so much climbing and camera gear–and we were in such a remote area–that taking a laptop to download and back up content seemed overkill. Usually on trips like this I take a few dozen high capacity memory cards and deal with it on the back end. But by chance I ran into the guys at GNARBOX a few months before my trip while teaching for the Summit Photography Workshops in Jackson, Wyoming. They showed me the GNARBOX and it seemed to be the answer to all my problems. They were kind enough to give me one of the 1 TB GNARBOX units to take on my trip and test out.
Backing up, way back in 2004–in the early days of digital–I remember buying an Epson P2000 (for an exorbitant amount of money I might add), which was a similar device with a whopping 40 GB of storage. Back in those days we were shooting with 6 to 8 MP cameras and had 2 GB cards in our cameras. Those 2 GB CompactFlash memory cards also cost a small fortune at that time. The Epson served as a way to back up memory cards so you could then re-format the card and keep on shooting. It was a key device for many of my extended backcountry trips where taking a laptop wasn’t feasible. It worked well but the battery didn’t last very long and it was super slow to download a card–especially back in the day when everything was a lot slower. After the Epson P2000, there were a few other devices that did the same thing but none were as nice as the Epson and sadly Epson subsequently never updated that device. Hence, the GNARBOX 2.0 is a much needed update to that ancient Epson P2000 with massively more functionality and in a much more durable enclosure.
Since I am working with the FUJIFILM GFX 100 as my main camera these days, that giant 102 MP sensor spits our huge image files that can fill up memory cards alarmingly fast. Having the GNARBOX in my pack just allows me to start the downloading process that much faster, i.e. on the way home or back to the hotel. In remote areas, like on this expedition, it allows me to download images and clear my cards if needed to free up some memory card space.
Here in this review, I won’t go into all of the details about how to use the device since the GNARBOX support page on their website has tons of information on their website on how to use the device. My aim is to give a real world look at how the GNARBOX works in the field and in a workflow once you get back. Let’s start off with the exterior. The GNARBOX 2.0 is built to withstand anything that might be thrown its way. The casing literally seems bulletproof and is certainly crushproof. You can toss it into your pack without having to worry about it. There is a small screen on the front of the device, that is ample for downloading images and sending them where you want–and organizing them into folders as needed. The ribbing on the device is designed to help dissipate heat and also allows you to hold onto it–even with big gloves–quite easily. The GNARBOX is highly water resistant and can be dropped without worry of damaging the SSD hard drive. It is relatively small and weighs just under a pound.
What may not be obvious at first is this is not just a hard drive in a fancy case. The GNARBOX 2.0 is basically a mini computer with an Intel® Quad Core 2.40GHZ CPU and a 4 Core Intel® HD Graphics GPU inside the case. It also has 4 GB of RAM and fast WiFi built-in. On one side you have a flip down gasket-sealed door (shown below on the left) that hides a Micro HDMI port, an SD memory card reader and a USB-C port, and on the other end–under another gasket-sealed flap–is a second USB-C port for charging or connecting an external hard drive to the device. The battery pops on to the back of the GNARBOX in a very elegant way, which means you can carry spare batteries and change them out as needed.
Because it is essentially a mini computer you can rest assured that it is transferring your images and content over to the hard drive in the safest manner possible. Once the backup is complete the device also runs a full verification–both on the GNARBOX SSD and also on any external SSD hard drive attached to it. Unless you are using software on your computer, like Carbon Copy Cloner or similar apps, then your computer doesn’t even have the same backup capabilities that the GNARBOX has. Once back at a computer, it is easy enough to put the GNARBOX into “Mass Storage Mode” so that it acts just like any other external hard drive for transferring images to your computer or if speed is of the essence working straight off the GNARBOX hard drive.
In terms of battery life, I was quite impressed with the performance of the GNARBOX batteries. Even in the incredibly cold environment at 16,000 feet (4900 m) the battery lasted quite a while–easily for several downloads before I had to recharge it or change it out with a spare backup battery. Note that in every case, I was always downloading to the GNARBOX and also to an external G-technology 2 TB SSD drive simultaneously, which did not seem to use up much more battery power than just downloading to the GNARBOX itself.
Some might ask, why isn’t there a larger LCD screen on the GNARBOX? In this day and age, we all carry a smartphone around with us a good chunk of the time and with the super fast WiFi built into the GNARBOX it makes sense that they would have a few different apps to see what was downloaded (or being downloaded) to the GNARBOX and any hard drives attached to it. The SafeKeep App (available for both Apple iOS and Android devices) connects to the GNARBOX 2.0 quickly and easily, and allows for scrolling through and seeing all the images on the hard drive. I have to say that the ease with which you can connect the GNARBOX is exceptional. All of the big camera companies could learn a lot by looking at how GNARBOX does this. It makes for a seamless workflow to check that everything is downloaded and then eject the card and get back to work. The Selects App, which is powered by Photo Mechanic, allows for adding metadata, making selects and choosing your best images. From there you can use Lightroom and other photo (and video) editors to work on those images. For my workflow, I generally don’t worry about editing or working up my images in the field. I usually wait to edit and up work up images when I am back in the office and can see them in all their glory on a high-end, color calibrated Eizo monitor. But for those that want to work up their images on a iPhone or iPad in the field and post them to social media, this is a great solution for traveling light.
On my recent expedition, every few days I would download images off my still cameras onto the GNARBOX and my external SSD hard drive. As shown below, I connected my 2 TB G-Technology Mobile Pro SSD hard drive to the GNARBOX and then selected the “Multi” option to download images off the SD memory card to both the GNARBOX and the G-technology SSD at the same time. This gave me two backups of everything in case I needed to format the memory cards later on. And even though the GNARBOX is only one terabyte, you can also choose to bypass its SSD drive altogether and just copy over the images directly to the external hard drive as if the GNARBOX was your computer. On this expedition we were downloading our video footage to separate hard drives (and I was not in charge of that) so I had ample room for my still images on the GNARBOX’s 1TB hard drive. For future trips where I might need more than 1 TB of storage space, as when shooting video and stills, it is easy enough to copy that extra content to a larger hard drive with this system.
Having used the 1 TB version for a month now, I would love to see an even larger storage capacity. I realize that may cost a lot more but having 2 TB would be nice. Perhaps this is a moot point if you can attach and external drive as shown above. I have the latest and fastest Sony Tough 128 GB SD memory cards for my GFX 100 and they seem to download a bit slower on the GNARBOX 2.0 compared to a fast card reader. I am not sure if this is the card reader built into the GNARBOX, the computing part of the GNARBOX or the care with which it copies over your images files. This is a small thing to nitpick–and in the end it doesn’t matter that much anyway. Lastly, it would be nice to see a faster SSD drive built into the GNARBOX, similar to the 2,800 MB/s G-Technology G-Drive Mobile Pro hard drives, but I fear that would make the GNARBOX massively expensive. I don’t see any of these as negatives. These are just some observations comparing how fast the GNARBOX is versus some of my other wicked fast hard drives. To be sure, the SSD built into the GNARBOX 2.0 is no slouch and even if we did have a faster SSD in it the copy speed would be limited by the read/write speeds of the memory card.
In conclusion, the GNARBOX 2.0 does exactly what it says it will do–and much more than you think it can. Once you get a feel for the menus, it is very easy to use and as I have said the WiFi feature and the associated app are incredibly easy to work with. Being able to see exactly what is on the hard drive via the WiFi app is also quite reassuring that your images are indeed on the device. Overall, the GNARBOX 2.0 is a home run. It will always be in my camera bag so that I can download images on the run and be ready for the next step in the workflow once I get back to the hotel or my office. The GNARBOX 2.0 is kind of a no-brainer product. It is easy to use and does exactly what it needs to do with very little fuss.
My thanks to GNARBOX for their generous support on this last assignment and for adding me to the GNARBOX Pro Team.
To get the ball rolling for the fall holiday season, I am happy to announce a 25% off sale on all of my fine art prints until December 31st, 2019. How this works is very simple, just take 25% off my standard fine art print pricing, which can be found here, and contact me to order the print.
All of my images are available as Fine Art Prints. You can see which of my images are in the Limited Edition category on my website. Any images that are not shown on the Limited Edition page are considered Open Edition prints. Please note that these prices do not include shipping. If you have any questions about print sizes or available images please don’t hesitate to contact me. I will work with you to make sure the final print is the best it can possibly be and will look great mounted on your wall.
These archival prints are painstakingly created by yours truly on some of the finest papers available. I do not outsource printing to a third party printer because I want to have tight control over the quality of the final print, and I have not found a third party printer that can achieve the same level of quality that I can produce here in my office. The prints are made on Epson printers using a variety of papers including both fine art matte papers and baryta photographic papers. The printer and paper combination is chosen specifically for each image so that image will be rendered with the highest possible resolution and the widest color gamut. Our main papers are Ilford Gold Fibre Silk, Ilford Gold Cotton Textured and Ilford Fine Art Smooth papers.
Below are a few sample prints that I have made in the last few months to give you an idea of just how stunning these turn out when framed up.
Please contact me with any questions or if you would like to look at a wider range of images than are featured on my website.
With the launch of the FUJIFILM GFX 100 there is certainly an uptick in interest about medium format digital photography and especially so considering this new game-changing camera. Working with Fujifilm USA we have put together a very exciting workshop for those that want to learn more about the GFX 100 and also for those that want to dive into advanced lighting techniques, high-end digital workflow, and overall take their photography up a notch.
Part of the appeal with this workshop is that you will get a GFX 100 to shoot with for the three days of the workshop. We will take you through the camera and help you set it up, teach you how to get the best results from the camera, and go out and shoot with it on three separate photo shoots. For the full itinerary check out the Fujifilm website. In both locations we will have a day in the studio, a day out on location shooting either skate boarding or mountain biking, and another day dedicated to high-end portraiture. Elinchrom will also be providing lighting equipment for us to use.
As usual with my workshops, I will be giving as much as possible to the participants and we will discuss a wide variety of topics related to digital photography. This workshop includes image critiques, a discussion about capturing video with the GFX 100, extensive digital workflow tutorials, advanced lighting techniques, and much more.
Workshop Description: Push Limits. Break Boundaries. Achieve More. Learn the secrets behind Michael’s creative process, his advanced lighting techniques and how he uses the GFX 100 to reach new heights creating one of a kind images. This is a unique 3-day, hands-on workshop with very limited capacity. Each attendee will be issued a personal GFX 100 to use for the duration of the workshop and they will also have access to an assortment of lenses and on-site Fujifilm experts to ensure that every moment is spent learning and capturing incredible imagery.
WHO SHOULD ATTEND: Advanced Amateurs, Professionals
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: Working knowledge of artificial lighting, digital workflow and manual mode on digital SLR or mirrorless camera.
WHY THIS WORKSHOP IS SPECIAL: Each workshop will feature multiple shooting situations with many opportunities for attendees to create their own images. Each attendee will also be provided a FUJIFILM GFX 100 Large Format Mirrorless Digital Camera to use for the duration of the workshop so that they may get first-hand experience in using the latest in imaging technology. Lighting equipment, additional lenses, and on-site technicians will also be available to students for the duration of the event.
WHAT YOU SHOULD BRING: Each attendee should bring high-speed SD memory cards, a laptop computer, and a notebook.
Go to the Fujifilm website for the specifics and to register for the workshop at either location. If you have any questions about the workshop please don’t hesitate to contact me.
UPDATE: Foto Care has announced a $300 discount on the GFX 100 workshop in New York City. To get the discount use the Promo Code michaelclark300 when registering at Eventbrite.
Disclaimer: While I am not one of Fujifilm’s X-Photographers, I was paid to work with the FUJIFILM GFX 100 on a recent assignment as part of the launch for this camera. I want my readers to be aware of this up front. With that in mind, also know that this system is going to be my main kit going forward. As such, I am certainly biased. I am always looking for the best image quality and the best camera for my needs. For those that need or want this caliber of camera, I highly suggest trying it out to see if it will work for you and your needs.
This article was first published in the 2019 Summer issue of the Michael Clark Photography Newsletter.
As many of my readers have no doubt seen by now, I was one of a handful of photographers selected to create images with the FUJIFILM GFX 100 for the official launch of the camera in Japan a few months ago. Many of my readers have also known me to be a die-hard Nikon user and for a time one of Nikon’s photographers whose images appeared regularly in their marketing materials. Hence, I realize this move is a big one and took quite a few people by surprise. The long and short of it is that alongside my Nikons I have often had a medium format camera kit along with the 35mm cameras. In the film days I used a variety of Mamiya and Hasselblad medium format cameras. Throughout the entire first half of my career my main go to film was the venerable Fuji Velvia and Provia slide films. More recently I worked with the Hasselblad H5D 50c WiFi for four years, which I sold just prior to the launch of the GFX 100.
In my mind, the GFX 100 was originally meant to be a replacement and upgrade for my Hasselblad kit. I never imagined it would become my main camera before working with it on this recent assignment. I slowly realized with every passing day on the assignment that the GFX 100 is not only a massive upgrade for my medium format camera, but also a camera that could work for about ninety percent (or more) of what I photograph, which is mainly adventure sports. It offers something I have never had before—a medium format camera, with large format image quality, that performs like a top-end DSLR.
Late in the day on our scout day for the downhill mountain biking portion of the GFX 100 assignment we spotted this hip jump and both Carson Storch and Dusty Wygle launched off it a dozen times or so. Here, Dusty Wygle is catching some serious air off the jump just outside of Virgin, Utah. Tech Specs: FUJIFILM GFX 100, GF 250mm f/4 lens with a 1.4 GF teleconverter, 1/2,500th second at f/5.6, ISO 800.
Having worked with the GFX 100 since early April, I have had a considerable amount of time with the early prototypes as well as with the full production level camera over the last few months. In that time, I have explored many of the various options and have learned how to squeeze the most out of this camera for my work.
Let’s get right to it. This is an all new, built-from-scratch mirrorless medium format camera. Basically the engineers thought through the needs of professional photographers and how best to implement everything into a system that meets those needs and went about creating that camera. There has never been a medium format camera like the GFX 100 ever. In terms of ergonomics and usability, it is more akin to a pro-caliber DSLR than any other medium format camera on the market, which is probably why so many are comparing it to smaller format cameras.
In the hand, the camera feels solid. It is about the same size and weight as a Nikon D5 or a Canon 1DX MII, which is fairly familiar to most professional photographers. The main grip is substantial and the thumb catch on the back of the camera further helps to ensure a solid grip. The vertical grip is not quite as dialed in as the main grip—nor is it nearly as refined as the main grip—but it works just fine. Aesthetically, the camera is quite beautiful with the two-toned black rubber cladding and dark gray top and bottom plates. I did not ask the engineers about the lack of rubber on the bottom grip but I have a feeling it has to do with heat dissipation since there are two large batteries in that bottom grip.
Above are (left to right) the back, left side, right side and top of the GFX 100. The rear LCD is tiltable and also has a pull-out feature for looking down at the camera in the vertical orientation. The GFX 100 also has two SD memory card slots, and works with the latest and fastest SD memory cards available. The top of the camera is very sleek and Fujifilm users will note the lack of manual dials, which is a nod towards those professionals that have not used dials on top of a camera in decades.
I know that many of the reviews of the GFX 100 complain about how heavy the camera is, but I imagine they have been using smaller mirrorless cameras for the last few years. Those working pros who have been shooting with the top-end Nikons or Canons for decades will find the weight of the GFX 100 to be very similar to any other 35mm DSLR. Compared to other medium format cameras (save for the less capable Hasselblad X1D), the GFX 100 is quite light and a dream machine ergonomically. In comparison, my Hasselblad H5D felt like carrying a cinder block around.
While capturing images of rock climbing and downhill mountain biking with the GFX 100, I was blown away by the stellar EVF and the wicked fast autofocus. The GFX 100 sets a new standard for electronic viewfinders. Even with a larger lens on the camera like the GF 100-200mm f/5.6 lens (as pictured above), it still is easy to handle and weighs about the same as a Nikon D5 and a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens.
Coming to the GFX 100 after having shot with Nikons for more than thirty years, it is certainly taking some time to get used to the new camera and the new camera controls. It would be the same scenario no matter what the camera brand. Going from one system to another just takes time to get to know the controls and get used to them. Interestingly, I am already so used to the GFX 100 that when I do pick up my Nikons again I have to remind myself how they work and find my fingers reaching for controls that are not there. I guess that means I have adapted to the GFX 100 fairly quickly.
Essentially, Fujifilm has created a medium format camera that has no competition within its category. Anything else in the medium format sphere is ancient technology. When compared to the advanced capabilities of the GFX 100, it is a very hard sell to purchase a much slower, less capable camera at three to four times the cost of the GFX 100. That is in large part the reason I sold off my Hasselblad gear. It isn’t that those “old style” medium format cameras can’t work to create incredible photos, they are just seriously lacking in features compared to the brand new GFX 100.
Electronic VIEWFINDER (EVF)
The 5.69 MP EVF attached to the GFX 100 is also an incredible engineering feat. I have not heard many reviewers even mention the EVF but that is a critical part of the camera. And wow, those 5.69 megapixels offer an incredible view. It takes your breathe away when you look through this viewfinder. Up until now, the Nikon Z mirrorless cameras have what I feel is the best electronic viewfinder I have ever seen, that is until I looked through the GFX 100. A key part of a medium format camera is that they typically offer massive optical viewfinders that are a joy to work with and allow for very critical analysis while composing the image. The end result of those amazing viewfinders is that you capture better images because you can see what is going on in the viewfinder. The new ultra-high resolution EVF built into the GFX 100 is nothing short of astonishing and like the aforementioned optical viewfinders makes it very easy to compose and craft the image. If you shoot with mirrorless cameras be forewarned—don’t look through the EVF in the GFX 100 unless you want to incur some serious gear lust. It is just that good.
The refresh rate is ample, even for action photography. Notably, you can select the Boost Mode to prioritize the EVF resolution, autofocus or frame rate. I have my camera set up so that the top front button allows me to cycle through these options making for a quick transition from action photography to slower, more thoughtful situations where I want to prioritize the EVF resolution.
In the menu you can add or remove a huge number of different display options for the EVF and the rear LCD screen. At a glance you can have just about any and every camera setting visible in the EVF. Even when selecting a large variety of display options to be visible I don’t personally find them too distracting. The beauty of this EVF—even more so than other EVFs I have used—is that it can be customized to your liking.
In the end, the EVF built-into the GFX 100 is so good that I don’t even miss the gorgeous optical viewfinder that my Hasselblad had. Add in the fact that it allows me to see the live Histogram (and a whole lot more info) and I feel like I am truly using a modern digital camera.
In-body image stabilization (IBIS)
Before we dive into the image quality offered by the GFX 100, I first want to discuss the incredible IBIS technology built into this camera. The IBIS system created for the GFX 100 is an engineering milestone that was very difficult to pull off. The way that the engineers isolated the stabilized sensor from the shutter and the rest of the camera body works incredibly well—especially considering the larger format sensor weighs twice as much as a smaller 35-mm (full-frame) sized sensor. Congratulations to Fujifilm, they have created an incredible camera that was extremely difficult to design and build—and mass produce.
The IBIS system created for the GFX 100 is an engineering milestone. As shown above, the image sensor along with the lens mount and the IBIS stabilizer is part of an inner frame inside the camera body. This inner frame is completely isolated from the shutter mechanism and the outer shell of the camera body to reduce any possible vibrations. No other camera manufacturer has used such a complex design like this but the upshot is an IBIS system that works shockingly well.
As shown above, the image sensor along with the lens mount and the IBIS stabilizer is part of an inner frame inside the camera body. This inner frame is completely isolated from the shutter mechanism and the outer shell of the camera body to reduce any possible vibrations. I know of no other camera manufacturer that has used such a complex designed like this but I have a feeling some of them will be copying this design in the near future. The upshot of this incredible design is an IBIS system that works shockingly well.
On the assignment for the launch back in April, I worked handheld with the camera and shot at shutter speeds down to 1/20th second with excellent results. I was able to get several sharp images at 1/8th of a second using the GF 23mm f/4 lens but for consistently sharp images I had to bump up the shutter speed to 1/20th second. Note that I am not the steadiest photographer out there so your mileage may vary. Comparing this to my older 50 MP Hasselblad H5D, on the H5D I had to use 1/500th second shutter speed just to have a prayer of getting a tack sharp image and it wasn’t always tack sharp even at 1/500th second. The mirror shock was so violent on that camera that handholding it at all was less than ideal in terms of sharpness. The GFX 100 by contrast is incredibly versatile and the IBIS allows for capturing true 100 MP image detail without having to put the camera on a tripod every time you shoot with it. With my H5D, to get the best image quality, I used a tripod 80% of the time. With the GFX 100, and its amazing IBIS technology, I won’t be pulling out the tripod nearly as much, which gives me a lot more freedom in how I use the camera.
The IBIS is truly a game-changing feature in this camera. Without it, the GFX 100 would be a very challenging camera to use. As the only medium format camera with IBIS, this gives the GFX 100 a massive advantage over the competition in the medium format space and also makes it a perfect cross-over camera for those coming from 35mm DSLRs or mirrorless cameras.
I haven’t yet spoken about the image quality, but rest assured those 102 megapixels (101.7 MP to be exact) are simply spectacular. Since I started working with the GFX 100, all of my other cameras seem sub-par. Even my venerable Nikon D850, which still has stellar image quality, just seems passable in comparison. The GFX 100, with the incredible IBIS technology, redefines what is considered excellent image quality for a wide array of shooting scenarios.
Having worked with the Hasselblad H5D 50C WiFi, a 50 MP medium format camera, for the last four years (which still has exceptional image quality) it even seems “low res” compared to the GFX 100. It is telling that even DPReview proclaimed that the GFX 100 set a new benchmark when it was tested by them—though to be fair DPReview has not tested the Hasselblad H6D-100c nor the 100 MP and 150 MP Phase One offerings.
The GFX 100 has the option to work in 14-bit or 16-bit. Both modes produce excellent image quality but 16-bit is a huge part of why anyone would work with medium format cameras. The color rendition and tonality produced by 16-bit large format sensors is absolutely incredible. With the GFX 100, when you need speed, simply drop into 14-bit. When you need the ultimate bit depth and don’t need 5 fps, then up the ante and set it to 16-bit mode. Below is a 100% crop of a portrait to give you some sense of the image quality but here in this blog post it is difficult to show the real image quality created by the GFX 100.
To give some sense of the incredible image quality the GFX 100 produces above is an approximate 100% crop (on a Retina Screen). Also of note, Face Detection autofocus was engaged for this image and it locked onto the eyes creating a tack sharp image even though Carson Storch was wearing goggles. Tech Specs: FUJIFILM GFX 100, GF 110mm f/2 lens 1/3,200th second at f/2.8, ISO160.
Fujifilm also made a big deal at the launch about calling this camera “Large Format” instead of medium format. I know many might call that marketing hype, but the reality is that this camera and all other medium format cameras are producing images with resolutions that are the equivalent of 4×5, 8×10 and 11×14 film cameras of yore depending on the sensor used. Hence, since those were the Large format cameras of their time it follows that these medium format cameras qualify as Large format image quality. No one is actually making a 4×5-inch digital sensor for consumers. In general, I think it is time we update the format names according to resolution. APS-C is the new 35mm film format equivalent (or even better by a large margin), full-frame is the new medium format (and it is better than medium format image quality ever was), and finally medium format cameras are the equivalent of large format film cameras.
Mount Aspiring (also named Tititea by the Māori) at sunset rising above Lake Wanaka on the South Island of New Zealand. This landscape image, captured on a tripod, is a good example of the incredibly wide dynamic range the camera is capable of capturing. Also of note, as with most medium format cameras, the depth of field is so shallow that I had to shoot two images—one of the foreground and one of the background— and composite those two images together to get a fully sharp image from front to back. Tech Specs: FUJIFILM GFX 100, GF 32-64mm f/4 zoom lens, 1.3 seconds at f/11, ISO100.
During the launch, Fujifilm chose one of my expansive panoramic rock climbing images (shown below) and initially showed only a small two megapixel portion of the image, which looked impressively sharp on their 2K monitor. The next slide was the full resolution image showing just how small that crop was and you could hear an audible gasp from the audience. My point here is that this camera offers the ultimate in cropping options. For example, a vertical 4×3 crop taken out of a horizontal image still has 57 MP! The upshot is that there is resolution to spare.
Below is a panoramic image created from twenty different 102 MP images. The final pano is a whopping 174 MP and could be printed the size of a bus with insane detail. It also took three attempts to build this pano as my computer shut down the first two times trying to chomp through the insane amount of data. The file size for that PSD layered image is just under 4 GB!
This panoramic image of Carson Stroch hitting a hip-jump in Virgin, Utah was created from twenty different 102 MP images and was then built in Photoshop. The final image file was 174 MP and had a file size of 3.97 GB before it was flattened. The detail in this image is completely insane. It could easily be printed the size of a bus and even from close up the image would appear ridiculously sharp. Tech Specs: FUJIFILM GFX 100, GF 250mm f/4 lens, 1/2,500th second at f/5.6, ISO 1600.
The only downside, if there is one, is that capturing 102 MP images on a regular basis, and occasionally at 5 fps, is going to fill up hard drives like never before in the still photography world. On my assignment for Fujifilm, I created 1 TB of images from a six-day assignment—and that is only a little over 3,000 images. Each worked up image file is around 1.5 GB in size. I have just expanded my already giant RAID arrays to account for the expected increase in data acquisition. For those looking at this camera, this will be an issue. Luckily, hard drives are relatively cheap. This is just part of the digital game: the bigger the resolution, the more space it takes up on hard drives. Of course, when you see the image quality this camera produces any worries about extra hard drive space flies out the window.
One last note on image quality, the dynamic range of the GFX 100 seems right in line with other high-end medium format cameras, which is around 14- to 15-stops. I am guessing that this camera is right at 15-stops or just a hair under. At some point when that is measured we will know for sure. Nevertheless, there is ample dynamic range and for the best possible image quality I would suggest capturing images in 16-bit mode as this brings up less noise when pulling up the shadows.
Editors Note: A lot of hoopla has been made about banding on a wide variety of mirrorless cameras including the GFX 100. To actually see that banding you would have to pull up the shadows at least five stops or beyond in post-processing. I realize for landscape photography we are often opening up the shadows in post because we exposed for the highlights (usually the bright sky) but even then five stops is a pretty massive amount to be pulling up the shadows. So far, I have not seen any significant banding in the GFX 100 images. I tend to go for a more realistic landscape look than the HDR technique some photographers employ so that might be part of the reason, but nonetheless this is most likely a non-issue for most photographers.
For a medium format camera, the autofocus built into the GFX 100 is nothing short of amazing. No other medium format camera on the market is even in the same universe as the GFX 100. It’s autofocus capabilities are much closer to the top-end DSLRs and 35mm mirrorless cameras than any medium format competitor. I have been very impressed with the AF accuracy as well as the AF tracking modes.
The camera was able to track mountain bikers in pretty much any situation I faced. The mountain biking images included in this review show the cameras autofocus capabilities. The mountain biker in the panoramic image in the last section was tracked using the new autofocus algorithms and the fast frame rate allowed me to capture the height of the action at five (5) frames per second. This is an unusual type of image to be created by a medium format camera. Note this composite only used half the images the camera created! There are additional shots of the rider in positions in-between those shown here, but they didn’t work for the overall image I was going for.
How does the AF tracking compare to a Nikon D850 or a D5? It certainly isn’t as fast as the venerable Nikon D5. But it feels like it is only a small step below the AF capabilities of the Nikon D850—with the caveat that the Face Detection and AF accuracy of the GFX 100 is far better than the D850. I definitely would not say the GFX 100 has slow autofocus but it can’t quite compete with the fastest autofocus 35mm cameras on the market like the Sony A9, Nikon D5 and Canon 1DX MII. But realize what I just said, this is a medium format digital camera that is only a notch below the best autofocusing cameras in the world—all of which are using a smaller format sensor and smaller lenses!
Above you can see a few of the motocross images I captured with the GFX 100. The top images are the full-frame versions and the images just below are the same images zoomed to approximately 100%. Of course as these images are resized and compressed JPEG screenshots these are not completely representative of what the images look like at 100%. Also, having photographed a fair bit of motocross at the same MX track, I know that images captured with shutter speeds below 1/6,400th second can exhibit some motion blur, making those images look slightly soft or completely out of focus depending on the shutter speed used. Since the GFX 100 mechanical shutter speed tops out at 1/4,000th second, we are very close to the cusp of motion blur wrecking the tack sharp focus we were trying to achieve. Regardless, with the right settings, it is impressive to see the GFX 100 keep up with such a fast paced sport. For extremely fast moving sports like this, the GFX 100 would not be my first choice though it is still a capable camera if your aim is the ultimate image quality. Tech Specs (All Images): FUJIFILM GFX 100, GF 100-200mm f/5.6 lens, 1/4,000th second at f/5.6, ISO 800.
Recently, I had the chance to photograph motocross with the GFX to really see how it handles ultra-fast action. During that test shoot what I realized is that the AF settings have to be dialed in to get the best AF tracking results—as they do with any camera. First off, set the camera to continuous AF and set the Boost Mode for the best possible AF performance. I typically have the camera in 14-bit mode and set to shoot 5 fps when tracking action. The last step is to set up the correct AF tracking mode in the menu and there are six options. For the most part the default AF tracking mode works great but for the motocross shoot I found AF tracking mode 4 to be the best options since the rider suddenly appears in the frame when he boosts off the jump. Before I had all of these settings dialed in, the AF struggled. But once I figured out the best settings, I got a fairly high hit rate—especially when considering the rider was flying through the frame at 40- to 50-mph. This above was a fairly severe autofocus test but shows that when the settings are dialed in, the GFX 100 can track even ridiculously fast moving action.
[Side note: I have seen a lot of camera reviews where they say that the GFX 100 does not have fast AF and is lacking when it comes to AF tracking. In my experience, as explained above, I would have to say those testers did not know how to set up the AF tracking and this is what gave them the impression that the GFX 100 had poor AF tracking. As already discussed, when set up correctly the GFX 100 AF is incredibly capable even for sports.]
In addition to the incredible AF tracking, the Face Detection and Eye AF is a revolution for medium format cameras. As someone who hasn’t had much experience with Face Detection and Eye AF I was blown away by how well it works in the GFX 100. The image of Carson Storch shown below (see the 100% crop above) was captured with Face Detection and Eye AF engaged and it focused on his eye even though he was wearing a helmet and goggles. For this image I used the incredible GF 110mm f/2 lens at f/2.8. The depth of field was incredibly shallow so this was a great test of the advanced autofocus modes. In nearly every image his eye was pin sharp, which blew my mind since my DSLRs typically need ten to twenty shots at f/1.4 to get one where the eye is sharp. Even when shooting rock climbing with the climber far below me the camera was able to pick up the face and detect the eye allowing me to concentrate on the composition and forget about AF.
On a recent studio portrait assignment, I had the camera on a tripod, the rear LCD angled up, and I then engaged the Face Detection and Eye AF. In this scenario, I had the image framed up and the lighting dialed in, which allowed me to look directly at the subject and concentrate on him (without putting my eye to the viewfinder). This allowed me to really connect with the subject and capture those moments when his expression changed or fell into place. I have never had such a seamless portrait shoot before, which speaks volumes about how all the various features of this camera work together to help raise the level of the images.
high iso noise
The GFX 100 certainly has some noise at the higher ISOs, as does every high-megapixel camera, but it is very well controlled and looks quite organic. In my testing, I don’t hesitate to crank up the ISO to 6400. ISO 6400 on the GFX 100 seems on par with the Nikon D850 at ISO 6400. But, and this is a realization I have only made in the last month or so, because of the super high resolution of the camera, unless you are printing massive images (larger than 30×40) you won’t be seeing any of that noise in a smaller print or resized image. The reality with this camera is that for most uses the images are massively downsized, which essentially erases a lot of that noise present at the higher ISOs. In that regard, there is phenomenally little noise at high ISOs—much less than pretty much any camera I have ever shot with. Of course, if your intention is to blow up these images huge, and by huge I mean bigger than five feet on the long end, then I would keep the ISO settings as low as possible.
Another exciting aspect of this camera is that it is an extremely capable video camera. I tested the camera with a videographer that shoots quite a few weddings. We used an Atomos Ninja V external recorder so we could access the highest quality footage in 10-bit 4:2:2 at 400 Mbps. We tried out both the F-log and Eterna settings, and while both were excellent the camera has such a wide dynamic range that the Eterna film setting was the one that really seemed to be the best option. The roll off in the highlights was smooth and not harsh like that I have seen from a lot of still cameras with a video mode. There is some rolling shutter, as usual with most mirrorless still cameras that shoot video, but it is not as egregious as you might think. From what I have seen it is on par or slightly better than the rolling shutter produced by the Canon 5D IV.
From left to right: Apla has created a new high spec cage for the GFX 100. It comes in both silver (left) and black (center). Of note, the cage also supports a lens converter that allows PL mount cine lenses to be mounted ot the GFX 100. Quite a few Hollywood cinematographers are excited about this setup, which speaks well of the GFX 100 and its video capabilities. At right is the FUJINON PREMISTA 28-100mm cine lens, which has an image circle that just covers the GFX 100 sensor.
At the launch, Fujifilm had their new large format Premista 28-100mm video lens (shown above) attached to the GFX 100 and the footage from that combo looked incredible. Alpa has also launched a new cage to build up the GFX 100 (also shown above) which looks quite interesting. The Alpa case also has a mount adapter so that PL cine lenses can be adapted to the GFX 100. Of course, one of the main issues using this camera for video is that there are very few video specific cine lenses that cover the image circle of this massive image sensor. Of course the Fujifilm GF lenses cover it but they are not video specific lenses. The new Premista lenses just barely cover it but those are giant $40,000 lenses that will most likely have to be rented. And lastly, the Arri 65 PL mount lenses (which are rehoused Fuji-Hasselblad medium format lenses) can also be rented but doing so outside of Los Angeles or New York might prove difficult.
Because the GFX 100 can output 4K DCI video from the full sensor in 10-bit 4:2:2 and with Fujifilm’s amazing Eterna film simulation, this gives the video output a very unique look. For most of my video productions we take one or two Red Digital Cinema Cameras with us and while the GFX 100 is not set up to capture motion in the same manner as a Red, it is not far off in terms of image quality. I can definitely see our crew using the GFX 100 on future assignments where we need to capture both stills and video.
Lastly, I am not a true video geek so I am sure that others will dive deeper into the video capabilities of the GFX 100. Jordan, from DPReview, just posted a video review of the GFX 100 specifically looking at it’s motion capture capabilities and had very good things to say about it.
Professional Level Durability
The GFX 100 camera body is also incredibly well weather sealed as are the majority of the GF lenses. In hand, and in use, it seems tough and able to take any abuse that my pro-caliber Nikons could take. It is also a marvel of engineering. I can’t reveal my conversations with the engineers but it was quite evident that this camera was technically very difficult to create and they took great pains to make sure it was up to the punishment that pros regularly dish out.
dust-busting sensor cleaning
As a side note here, I worked with the camera in southern Utah in some of the dustiest locations anywhere. With such a huge sensor I was worried about dust spots showing up all over the place—as they would have with my Hasselblad H5D. In that ten day assignment, I only ever saw one dust spot on the images and I changed lenses fairly often. I don’t know how that is possible or what is going on there—the only thing we could come up with was that the sensor vibration cleaning option does an incredible job at shaking dust particles off the sensor surface.
Having shot with the camera more extensively since that assignment, I have seen very few dust spots on my images over the last three months that I have been working with the camera. The GFX 100 has a sensor cleaning mode built-in that uses vibration to shake off dust particles when the camera is turned on and turned off. I am not sure what Fujifilm has done here but it seems vastly more effective than any other built in sensor cleaning solution I have ever seen!
The engineers and tech reps have told me specifically not to try and clean the sensor myself. They told me to send it in for cleaning—so the fact that the camera can actually shake the dust off the sensor is a critical feature for those like me that live in dusty areas.
The GFX 100 comes with two batteries and holds those two batteries in the vertical grip. In use, and with the image review turned off, I average around 1,000 to 1,200 images before needing to change the batteries. Because the camera houses two batteries, I tend to replace a battery when the first one gets low. The camera can technically run on one battery but for the best performance I always keep two batteries in the camera.
The GFX camera system at this point is also well flushed out, especially considering it is a medium format system. Fujifilm has an extensive lineup of lenses, all of which are ridiculously sharp. The lens line up is pretty extensive as shown below. From 23mm to 250mm, and with a 1.4x teleconverter that extends that to 350mm, there are enough options for a wide variety of scenarios. The only thing missing for me is an ultra wide angle fisheye lens and a long 600mm f/4 super telephoto equivalent. On the long end, it is easy enough to use the GF 250mm lens with the teleconverter and crop in to gain more focal length. Cropping into the image it is possible to replicate a 500mm lens and still have a 50 MP image.
All of the GF lenses have the WR designation as well which means they are gasketed and sealed to prevent water from getting into the lens. The lenses fit to the lens mount tightly as well, making for a very nicely weather sealed system.
When I tested the GF lenses against my Hasselblad H lenses last year I found that in every case the Fujifilm glass was as sharp or sharper than my Hasselblad glass. That isn’t too surprising since Fujifilm actually manufactured Hasselblad’s H-series lenses for the last few decades. In fact, the Hasselblad H lenses can be used on the GFX cameras and they can even utilize the leaf shutter built into those lenses, which is great for working with strobes. I still have a few of my Hasselblad H lenses and have used them with the “Fujifilm H Mount Adapter G” on the GFX 100 in the studio for capturing portraits. When adapting the H-series lenses to any of the GFX cameras they only work in manual focus mode but all of the lens data does come through to the camera. On that note, the GFX 100 can also be mounted on a view camera for the ultimate in tilt/shift studio photography and Fujifilm also makes several view camera lenses as well.
As shown above, Fujifilm has a very complete ecosystem built up for the GFX cameras including speedlights, lenses, lens adapters, straps, EVF accessories, WiFi apps and large format options. In addition to that shown here there are already a wide variety of third-party lens adapters on the market as well, which allow for Nikon, Canon and other manufacturers lenses to be adapted to the GFX cameras using the 35mm crop mode.
Some have complained that Fujifilm does not have that many fast aperture lenses. In the medium format world, f/2.8 and f/4 is still decently fast and offers pretty shallow depth of field. The GF 110mm f/2 is one of my favorite lenses and it is wicked fast at f/2. Shooting wide open on that lens creates a super shallow depth of field not unlike an 85mm f/1.4 lens. Of course there are some faster GF mount lenses made by third party manufacturers like the Mitakon Zhongyi Speedmaster 85mm f/1.2 but I have not tried those. There is also the manual focus Laowa 17mm f/4 GFX Zero-D made specifically for the GF mount, which broadens the available lenses to a 35-mm equivalent of 14mm. Needless to say, there are lots of options and Fujifilm is releasing more next year including the GF 45-100mm f/4 zoom lens that appears on their lens roadmap and is sure to be popular.
The GFX 100 obviously has an incredible array of new features including a 102 MP sensor, In-Body Image-Stabilization (IBIS), crazy fast (for medium format) and accurate autofocus, a high frame rate (for a camera of this type), full-sensor read out 4K video, stellar ergonomics, Face Detection with Eye AF, and a host of other stand out features. These all add up to a camera that can be used for a wide variety of photographic scenarios. The GFX 100 isn’t replacing all of my cameras but it will be the camera I work with for the majority of my work.
Most of the reviewers compare it to DSLRs or 35mm (i.e. full-frame) mirrorless cameras because that is what they know, which is totally fine. But, I think that perspective, while totally valid, misses the point. I can certainly see a lot of DSLR or full-frame mirrorless folks who want the ultimate image quality stepping up to this camera because it is so capable and doesn’t feel like an old-school, archaic medium format camera. Alternatively, I can see pretty much every photographer worldwide working with medium format cameras ditching their current gear and pickup this system no matter what genre they work in. Fujifilm just upended the entire medium format industry.
It isn’t any one of the features in the GFX 100 that really makes it stand out but rather all of them combined together in a medium format camera that sets this camera apart from just about any other camera out there. I have barely even mentioned that the camera can fire at 5 frames per second in 14-bit mode.
There are so many features built into this camera that it is a bit bewildering. This might be the first camera for which I break out the user manual and read it cover to cover. If there is a feature you wish a camera had the odds are good that somewhere deep in the GFX 100 menu that feature exists—or if it isn’t there the Fujifilm engineers are working on it for the next Firmware update. I suppose it wouldn’t be much different if I have never worked with a Nikon camera and picked up a D850 or the Z7. I would have to delve into the user manual to figure out some little known features of those cameras as well.
I could go on and on about the GFX 100. It is a supremely capable camera for a wide array of photographic scenarios. Not only is it giving me breathe-taking image quality, but it is also changing how I work. In the end, I think I said it best in the interview entitled “Blazing Trails with Michael Clark & the GFX 100,” that appears on the Fujifilm-X website: “This is going to be the camera to beat in the medium and large format sphere. Nothing else even comes close. For professionals looking for the best image quality and the most usable large format option on the market, this is it. Period.”