Fujifilm GFX 100S Preview

Disclaimer: While I am not one of Fujifilm’s X-Photographers, I was paid to work with the FUJIFILM GFX 100S 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 the original GFX 100 has been my main camera for the last two years and the GFX 100S will be a welcome addition. 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.

Once again, I was lucky enough to work with Fujifilm on the launch of a major new product, in this case the FUJIFILM GFX 100S. The GFX 100S is the new baby brother to the larger GFX 100 released in mid-2019. Essentially, the GFX 100S is a smaller, lighter, and less expensive version of the GFX 100 with essentially 99% of the same capabilities of its big brother and a few notable upgrades. The GFX 100S sells for $5,999.95 USD, which is a remarkable price given the resolution and sensor size. The new camera body has great ergonomics and makes for a phenomenally powerful 102 MP camera in a package about the size of the Nikon D850—or even just a bit smaller. In fact, the GFX 100S is actually 15 grams lighter than the Nikon D850!

Here in this blog post, I am not going to posit this as a review of the GFX 100S, but speak to my experiences with the camera while capturing images on assignment for Fujifilm. [Note: I will create another blog post with the full story on my assignment capturing images of downhill skateboarding in the next week–stay tuned for that.] I only had the camera for a week before I had to give it back to Fujifilm. I was also one of the first photographers in the USA (or anywhere for that matter) to get my hands on the camera. At the point in Mid-November that I was using the camera, the firmware was in daily flux, and I was using a very early version of the firmware. As a result, I do not fully know all of the capabilities of the GFX 100S. Hence, I will refrain from a full review until I have had time to work with a production version of the camera.

Of course, my familiarity with the GFX 100, gives me a lot of insight into the capabilities of the GFX 100S. In my time with the new camera, it seems every bit as capable as its larger sibling. In fact, there is very little in terms of specifications that separate it from the GFX 100. The only specification I could find that differentiates the GFX 100S from the GFX 100 is the lower resolution, fixed electronic viewfinder (EVF). The EVF on the GFX 100S is 3.69 MP versus the 5.76 MP EVF in the GFX 100. Comparing both cameras there was little if any major difference between the two viewfinders save for the fact that the GFX 100 has an extra adjustable EVF option, which in some cases is quite useful. The non-detachable EVF on the GFX 100S is a major reason that it is so compact—and honestly, I rarely use the adjustable EVF on the GFX100 so I might even prefer the built-in EVF on the GFX 100S. 

Amazingly, Fujifilm has figured out how to significantly reduce the size of the IBIS mechanism [In-Body Image Stabilization] and fit it into this small medium format camera that is only a little larger than than the FUJIFILM X-T4. The IBIS, which stabilizes the image sensor, is key for a camera of this type since 102 MP is very sensitive to camera shake. Without the IBIS stabilization this camera would essentially require a tripod at all times. With the IBIS mechanism, the shooting envelope where this camera can be used, is massively expanded. I haven’t done testing yet with a production model (no one has), but during the assignment was I pleasantly surprised at how effective the IBIS worked. It is at least as effective as that in the GFX 100 and it might even be a bit better. And seeing the announcement this morning it does indeed seem that they have improved the IBIS in the GFX 100S over and above the GFX 100.

The overall size and feel fo the camera is pretty much perfect—especially considering this is a medium format camera. The grip is sculpted more than that on the GFX 100, and fits my hands quite well. Fujifilm has also smartly crafted a base-plate (shown below on the bottom of the camera body) that extends the hand grip and also has an Arcs-Swiss type dovetail cut for tripod heads like those made by Really Right Stuff (RRS). As that is the predominant tripod head used by professionals and high-level amateurs that is a very welcome accessory. Notably, the GFX 100S wil not have any other battery grip options. This was part of the plan, and part of how Fujifilm was able to keep the price reasonable (for medium format cameras). Since the intention is for the GFX 100S to be a lighter, more portable version of the GFX 100 I have no issue with that and would never put a battery grip on it even if it was an option. 

Speaking of batteries, the GFX 100S uses the NP-W235 Li-Ion battery designed for the X-T4, which is a 7.2 Volt battery. The regular GFX cameras use a 12.6 Volt battery. Thus, the GFX 100S uses a smaller battery, and because of that it also gives you fewer shots per charge than the other GFX batteries, but in use I didn’t see any major issues. I think we are all starting to get used to mirrorless cameras going through batteries a bit faster than their DSLR counterparts. I always have at least one or two spare batteries with me whenever I take a camera out on an assignment. If I have multiple camera bodies then usually I have a bag full of batteries unless I have to hike in a ways for the shoot.

In terms of image quality, the GFX 100S offers identical image quality as that found in the GFX 100. Working up the images I could see no difference at all, which is to say that this camera (along with the GFX 100) has the best image quality of any camera on the market that doesn’t cost upwards of $50,000 USD. The new camera uses the same 102 MP sensor so that is what I would expect. For those looking for the ultimate image quality at a relatively affordable price (for what it is) this is the best deal ever offered in the medium format space. Hell, back in the film days buying a Hasselblad or Mamiya medium format film camera was around the same price (or even more expensive) as this vastly superior digital camera. I realize six grand is by no means a small amount of money, but keep in mind that just seven years ago I paid over four times this amount of money for a 50 MP medium format camera that had the slowest autofocus I have ever seen. In terms of image quality versus price, Fujifilm owns the medium format market.

The above studio images of the GFX 100S provided by Jonas Rask / Fujifilm North America.

In terms of the autofocus, for subjects that weren’t moving that quickly and for portraits the autofocus seemed very accurate and fast enough. For fast action, which I have shot with the GFX 100, the GFX 100S was in such an early state of development that it was not really dialed in for advanced focus tracking when I had it. Hence, I will have to get back to you on the AF focus tracking. But in the announcement this morning Shin Udono, one of the Fujifilm executives, said the GFX 100S has autofocus tracking capabilities that will “blow you away.” That is very exciting news. I did use the eye and face detection AF options for several portraits and I can report that the camera did an excellent job focusing accurately on a subjects eyes—even with the new GF80mm f/1.7 lens wide open at f/1.7, which I was also able to use on this assignment. Once I get a full production camera, the first thing I will be testing out is the autofocus tracking and rest assured I will publish the results of that testing in my full review of the camera. 

Speaking of that FUJIFILM GF80mm f/1.7 R WR lens, which is shown on the camera in multiple images throughout this article, it is yet another wicked sharp lens in the GFX lineup. It is also the fastest aperture lens ever built for any medium format camera system. An 80mm f/1.7 medium format lens for the GFX system is equivalent to a 63mm f/1.35 in 35mm format (i.e. full-frame). While that may not seem like much compared to the latest f/1.2 lenses out there, the background blur is quite spectacular (see the portraits below for examples). I’d say the new 80mm lens is easily up there with the GF110mm f/2 and GF45mm f/2.8, two of Fujifilm’s sharpest GFX lenses. It might even be a bit sharper than those. The image quality is simply stunning. I’ll definitely be adding this lens to my kit as soon as it becomes available. Once I have a full production lens I will also write a review of it here on the blog as well. Below are a few images from my assignment photographing downhill skateboarding with the GFX 100S. I’ll share more about the assignment in another blog post soon.

On this assignment, I was tasked with shooting still images. As such, I did not have an opportunity to shoot any video or dive deep into the video offerings. I am guessing that the video output is just as spectacular as it is in the GFX 100. As this is a smaller camera, it might even be a better option as the GFX 100 built-up with an external recorder and other accessories can get quite heavy. Capturing video with the GFX 100S and the smaller lenses, everything from the GF23mm f/4 up to the GF80mm f/1.7 is going to make for a very compact and easy to handle package even with an external recorder attached to the hotshoe or attached to a cage. 

Having used the GFX 100S for a week, I have to say I am really looking forward to adding it to my kit. A smaller, lighter camera body with the same stellar image quality of the GFX 100 will be a welcome addition, especially for those times when I need to hike a considerable distance and still want the best image quality possible. Back in late 2019, I hiked into Cholatse over the course of three or four days in the Himalayas and the weight of my GFX 100 with several lenses added some serious weight to my backpack (as would any large camera kit), which I felt more at the higher altitudes. Having a smaller camera for those types of trips, where the camera body weighs no more than a DSLR, will allow me to go farther and faster. It also means I can carry this camera, along with a smaller zoom lens like the GF32-64mm lens, in a small accessible top-loading pouch on the hipbelt of my backpack.  

The above studio images of the GFX 100S provided by Jonas Rask / Fujifilm North America.

For the professional photographer looking to invest in gear that will serve them for an extended period of time and represent a good value for their money, the GFX 100S is an incredible value if it suits their photographic needs. With essentially the best image quality of any camera on the market (save for the Phase One 150 MP sensor) and in a relatively affordable, small package the GFX 100S is a camera no professional looking for the best possible image quality can ignore.

After having shot with medium format, or what Fujifilm terms Large Format cameras (with good reason as they are the new digital equivalent of Large Format cameras), I have come to realize that these high-megapixel larger sensor cameras live a much longer life in a photographers camera bag before they are superseded by new technology. With that taken into account the slightly extra expense of the GFX cameras can actually represent a savings for those photographers that need cameras of this caliber because you won’t be replacing it anytime soon. The GFX 100S is not an inexpensive camera, but in the medium format world it is the best deal ever offered. For more information on the stellar new GFX 100S visit the FUJIFILM website

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