FUJIFILM GFX 100S Full Review

Disclaimer: While I am not one of Fujifilm’s X-Photographers, I was paid to work with the FUJIFILM GFX 100S on an assignment in the fall of 2020 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.

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

Let’s just be honest right up front here. There are so many great cameras out there that it is pretty hard to buy a bad camera these days. You would actually have to look really hard to even find a bad camera much less purchase it. In light of that, take what I say here with a pinch of salt. There are good cameras, there are great cameras and then there are those that really knock you on your ass with their incredible image quality. This is one of those “knock you on your ass” cameras. The GFX 100S is a camera for purists and perfectionists. That has always been the realm of medium and large format photography since the dawn of “writing with light.”

The GFX 100S is essentially a smaller, lighter, less expensive and slightly updated version of the venerable FUJIFILM GFX 100 from a few years ago. Over the last two years the GFX 100 has been my main camera body. You can find my full review of the GFX 100 here. You can also find an extensive preview I wrote on the GFX 100S here. This review will dive into how the GFX 100S is different and/or better in some respects to the larger GFX 100. Let’s dive in.

Ergonomics

The GFX 100S is incredibly compact given that it houses a 102 MP medium format sensor. In fact, it is smaller and very slightly lighter than my old Nikon D850 DSLR. The body overall is superbly designed to be elegant, simple and intuitive. As can be seen below, the rear LCD can pull out in both vertical and horizontal orientations and also pulls back far enough so that the viewfinder does not block the LCD when looking straight down at the camera from above.

One of the big changes on the GFX 100S, a departure from any previous Fujifilm camera, is the PASM mode dial (Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority and Manual exposure) on the top left side of the camera. On previous Fujifilm cameras these modes were set by adjusting the aperture ring or a top-mounted control. The PASM mode dial simplifies the exposure mode settings and is something many switching over to Fujifilm will find easier to use.

Also on that top left mode dial are six custom settings C1 through C6. This is a first for any of Fujifilm’s medium format cameras and a feature I asked for after working with the GFX 100 for a year or so. The C1 through C6 settings essentially allow you to set up the camera as you like and then save that set up to one of the C settings so you can recall it at anytime simply by rotating the dial to the corresponding C1 – C6 mode dial setting. This is perhaps the biggest upgrade for me on the entire camera as it allows me to save various autofocus and mode settings to the custom settings dial and have a quick setting for portraits and/or landscapes and a variety of action photography options. I’ll dive more into this when we get to the autofocus section.

The grip on the GFX 100S is very nice–and I actually prefer it to the grip on the GFX 100. My pinky is just at the cusp of falling off the bottom of the camera but I have added the FUJIFILM MHG-GFX S Metal Hand Grip (shown on the bottom of the camera below) and that has solved that issue for me. The only issue with the base plate grip is that there is no hole in the bottom of the plate to pop the battery in or out of the camera. Smartly, the Fujifilm engineers fashioned the screw on the bottom of the plate with a fold-out finger tightening lever so it is easy enough to just loosen the screw on the baseplate and rotate the base plate to insert or remove the battery. Overall, the base plate adds just a bit of weight (and improves the ergonomics for my hands at least), but also adds some serious protection to the bottom of the camera. Also, note that the base plate has the grooves for an Arca-Swiss style tripod mount, which is very handy.

I realize some will complain that the base plate is not an L-bracket type plate but for those that want that style of camera mount there are a few options from third party manufacturers. SmallRig, Really Right Stuff and Kirk Enterprises already have a few options for those looking for an L-type bracket for the GFX 100S.

I know many who are interested in Fujifilm GFX offerings will mourn the lack of an adjustable, removable viewfinder on the GFX 100S. In order to make this camera less expensive, Fujifilm had to remove a few features. Honestly, while I see the utility of the rotatable and adjustable viewfinder that works with the GFX 50S and GFX 100 — and I own the adjustable viewfinder — I rarely if ever use it. Mounted on the camera it makes the body very difficult to fit into any camera bag and if I need to see what is going on in the frame I can usually just use the rear LCD screen. Hence, on the GFX 100S I don’t really miss that option at all. I do like the smaller, more compact viewfinder on the GFX 100S and it also makes the camera body easier to pack into any camera bag.

Over a year ago, when I heard that Fujifilm was coming out with a smaller, lighter version of the GFX 100 I was intrigued but my first question was why? It didn’t make sense to me–and I didn’t know what price point they were going for either. But now that I have worked with the camera for several months (remember, I shot with it first back in November 2020) I totally get it. In fact, I have not really taken my larger GFX 100 anywhere with me since I got the 100S. The 100S is much easier to pack, lighter, and just easier to work with when you have to carry your gear any distance.

Overall, the GFX 100S is a triumph in terms of its layout and ergonomics. Some may complain that once again Fujifilm has forsaken their normal shutter speed and ISO dials on the top of the camera but most professional photographers have not really used a camera like that in decades. Hence, I think Fujifilm did the right thing here and made the camera as friendly as possible to those that might switch over to the GFX format from their Nikon or Canon DLSRs.

Image Quality

The image quality produced by the GFX 100S is pretty much identical to the GFX 100. I have seen reports online that the GFX 100S exhibits less banding than in the GFX 100 but I have not really tested that as it only appears when pushing the exposure an extreme amount. Regardless, there is absolutely nothing to complain about in terms of image quality. If you have never seen images captured with medium format digital cameras (even 50 MP cameras) then you might be shocked at just how crisp the images are from those cameras–and also how the images have a more three dimensional feel to them than images created with 35mm digital cameras. The GFX 100S has essentially the best image quality available in any digital camera save for perhaps the Phase One 150 MP camera (that sells for around $50,000 USD). The Phase One XF IQ4 150MP camera might have a larger sensor and more megapixels but it is severely hampered in terms of usability compared to the FUJIFILM GFX 100S. Hence, in a large percentage of situations–i.e. any handheld photography–the output from the GFX 100S, with its very impressive IBIS (discussed below), will supersede the Phase One camera. As shown below, even action photography is not out of the realm of possibility with this lightweight 102 MP camera.

The GFX 100S has incredible dynamic range, 16-bit file support and razor sharp lenses to support the camera. Fujifilm has the entire system dialed in to an incredible level, which all adds up to the best image quality I have ever seen in any camera. I realize this is a lot of superlatives but the reality is that once you see a full-resolution image created with the GFX 100 or the 100S you can’t unsee it. By that I mean no matter what other 35mm camera you work with, the 102 MP sensor in the 100 and 100S is clearly a step up in image quality. That isn’t just the camera sensor itself but the combination of great color algorithms, astounding lenses, an incredible IBIS mechanism and the system as a whole.

In the image above, there are several things to notice that will help to illuminate the image quality on offer in the GFX 100S. First, look at the silky smooth tonal transitions in the sky behind the climber. The sun was intentionally placed right behind the climber but the transition from pure white to blue sky all the way to the upper left-hand corner is phenomenal. This is one of the great advantages of 16-bit large format sensor technology. Second, this image’s exposure was pushed by just over a full stop to brighten up the image and I also pushed the shadows slider in Lightroom Classic CC to show detail in the climber and the right side of the rock face. Larger pixels, a larger sensor and 16-bit image processing all add up to incredible image quality and the ability to really push an image in post-processing without it falling apart. Once you work with a camera of this caliber for any length of time, it really puts things in perspective and also makes it very hard to go back to 35mm (Full Frame) cameras and get excited about their image quality.

In-Body Image Stabilization (IBIS)

The GFX 100S has a slightly more capable IBIS mechanism than that found in the GFX 100. The GFX 100S IBIS mechanism has been shrunken down to fit into the smaller camera body and it has been optimized to work with the Optical Image Stabilization (OIS) built into some of the Fujifilm GF lenses. Together that means the GFX 100S has an extra half stop of image stabilization than the larger GFX 100. In practice, I have been able to handhold images down to 1/6th second with the 100S. At 1/6th a second every second or third image is tack sharp. At 1/10th second just about every image is tack sharp and at 1/20th second every image is sharp–as long as the subject is not moving. This is a very handy improvement and makes the GFX 100S usable in a slightly wider array of situations than the larger GFX 100. The GFX 100S is certainly much more usable in a wider array of situations than any other medium format camera made by any manufacturer because of the IBIS unit. The image below was created using a shutter speed of 1/20th second (with flash) while on assignment working with the GFX 100S for the launch of the camera.

I don’t know that the average photographer realizes just how important in-body image stabilization (IBIS) is in modern mirrorless cameras–even smaller format cameras. It is one of the major innovations that separate mirrorless camera from DSLRs and a huge part of why I sold off all of my DSLRs earlier this year. Being able to handhold a mirrorless camera down to a shutter speed of 1/6th or 1/10th a second and get tack sharp images is incredible–especially when doing so with a 102 MP medium format camera! I don’t foresee myself purchasing any new camera going forward that doesn’t have IBIS. It is a must-have feature!

Electronic Viewfinder (EVF)

The Electronic Viewfinder (EVF) in the GFX 100S is technically a 3.69 MP EVF. On a pure analytical level, it would seem that this is a major drawback compared to the 5.76 MP EVF found in the older GFX 100. In use, I have found it somewhat difficult to really see a huge difference between the two EVFs. Hence, for those that are hung up on this lower spec number I would say, “Don’t worry about it.” Sure, with the EVF boosted on the GFX 100 it does appear slightly crisper, but the lower resolution EVF in the 100S is no slouch. A lot of this comes down to the optics in front of the actual EVF screen. If I have learned anything so far with mirrorless cameras, it is that the optics in front of the EVF screen are just as important, if not more so, than the resolution of the EVF screen itself. As an example, my Nikon Z6 has a lower 3.69 MP resolution EVF when compared to many of it’s direct competitor cameras, but that EVF is gorgeous and still one of the best in the industry. All I am saying here is that the EVF resolution doesn’t tell the whole story.

Autofocus

The GFX 100S has the best autofocus ever offered in any medium format camera to date. I realize that is a bold statement, but there really isn’t that much of a contest since most other medium format cameras (save for the GFX cameras) have glacially slow and antiquated autofocus. For portraits and most things folks will use this camera for, I think they will find the autofocus snappy and extremely accurate. The face tracking and eye detection is even better than what was on offer in the GFX 100–though with the latest firmware update (as of June 2021) for that camera I believe it is now on par with the GFX 100S. With 425 focus point spread out from corner-to-corner and several different autofocus modes there are no lack of autofocus options on offer.

As with all mirrorless cameras these days the GFX 100S (and the older GFX 100) have many options for how to set up the AF and how to achieve the best results. Critical to getting good results (with any camera) is learning the nuances and quirks of that camera and the associated lenses for that system. This is no different with the GFX cameras than it would be for any smaller format camera system. For subjects that aren’t moving or aren’t moving that quickly the GFX 100S is incredibly accurate and can easily track those subjects with a high percentage of images being in focus.

The real challenge for any camera is when it comes to autofocus tracking of fast moving subjects. While the autofocus tracking capabilities of the GFX 100S–and the older GFX 100–are superior to any of their peers, they can’t really keep up with the fastest cameras on the market. This isn’t to say that the autofocus tracking capabilities of the GFX 100S are bad in any way, they are exceptional for a medium format camera that is moving much larger and heavier glass elements than any smaller format cameras. The GFX system cameras were not designed for sports photography per se, but because they are on the cutting edge of technology and their autofocus is the best ever seen in this format some of us (like myself) are using these cameras for serious action photography as can be seen below.

Now, let’s just be clear here. I don’t want to lead the reader to believe that the GFX 100S can track fast moving subjects with the same hit rate like a Nikon D6, Canon 1DX III or the Sony A1. That just isn’t the reality. But, if the GFX 100S is set up right–and you choose the correct AF tracking mode– it can track moving subjects far better than most reviewers would lead you to believe. Learning the ins and outs of a new cameras autofocus capabilities takes a long time. This is something thing I have learned over two years of working with the GFX 100 and now applying to the GFX 100S. As shown in the image below, captured with the GFX 100, the cameras ability to track this motocross rider going at over 60 mph (96 kmh) surprised even me. The resulting image is ridiculously sharp. For those looking to capture fast moving action with superior image quality the GFX 100S can work in many situations–especially if the athlete can repeat that scenario multiple times.

Of course, as a working professional, I choose the best gear for the assignment. And as an adventure photographer, sometimes that means working with a smaller format camera system. In situations where the action is going to happen only once, and I cannot afford to miss focus or miss the image entirely, I will opt for a smaller format camera–like my Nikon mirrorless cameras or a DSLR if that is the best tool for the job. There are certainly assignment where I need an 800mm lens or a fisheye lens and those are not even options in the GFX lineup. The 5 fps frame rate of the GFX 100S can seem a little slow when compared to 35mm and APS-C mirrorless cameras these days, but that is 5 fps at 102 megapixels! When I need a faster camera I reach for my Nikons or the Fujifilm X-Pro 3 or X-T4.

I just want to make it clear here that the GFX 100S can work in a much wider variety of situations than many think it can. I have been working with the GFX 100 and now the GFX 100S capturing sports images for over two years now–and I have found these cameras quite capable if the action can be repeated and I set up the camera correctly.

At this point I have not done a head to head comparison of the autofocus in the GFX 100 versus the GFX 100S. With the latest firmware update to the GFX 100, I believe it has the same autofocus algorithm as that in the GXF 100S. Hence, they should be fairly similar. I have found in the past that larger batteries (as in the Nikon D5 versus the D850) somehow result in slightly faster autofocus but I am not 100% sure that is the case with the GFX 100 versus the GFX 100S. I will have to do further testing for myself to figure that out for certain. Regardless, both cameras offer phenomenal autofocus options for a medium format camera system.

Video

I have not worked with the GFX 100S in video mode as much as I have with the GFX 100. Even so, I have tried it out and found the video to be pretty much identical as the GFX 100. That is to say the video quality is amazing, especially now that you can capture full 4k RAW video content with an external recorder like the Atomos Ninja V. Having built up the GFX 100 with a cage and all the accessories I can say that the smaller lighter GFX 100S would be a lot easier to handle when built up with an external recorder and a microphone. In addition, the new Custom C1 – C6 modes allow you to set up the 100S in a variety of ways for video separately from the stills mode. That makes the 100S even more versatile in many ways for video than the original GFX 100.

I am not sure how many folks will use the GFX 100S for video. Just as with all larger format motion cameras, the 100S offers quite an interesting image quality and shallow depth of field compared to smaller format systems. I am certain the 100S wil be used in Hollywood level productions now and again when Directors are going for a different look. The GFX 100S doesn’t have the fast frame rates of some smaller format cameras like the 4K 120p built into the Canon R5 but it does produce gorgeous 4K 24p video.

Compared to the FUJIFILM GFX 100

Amazingly, the GFX 100S has most of the features of the GFX 100. The main differences are fairly obvious just from looking at the two camera bodies side by side (as shown below). The GFX 100S lacks the interchangeable viewfinder, a vertical grip and the larger style batteries of the GFX 100. The 100S also lacks the secondary LCD display on the back of the camera as well.

The GFX 100 lacks the new Custom (C1 through C6) options found on the new 100S–and that might be one of the biggest differences in the cameras. The IBIS mechanism on the GFX 100 is also much larger and heavier than that in the 100S. The GFX 100 has a higher resolution EVF as we have already discussed. Aside from these differences the image quality is essentially the same, which would be expected since they use the same sensor.

If you really want a vertical grip, love the interchangeable viewfinder and work mostly in the studio then the GFX 100 might be the better option but those extra features comes at a significant expense compared to the GFX 100S. If you already own the GFX 100 I see no need to upgrade (if it can even be called that). I think photographers that already own the GFX 100 might look to purchase the GFX 100S so they have a backup camera with the same capabilities more than anything else.

Compared to 35mm mirrorless Cameras

Because of its low price point at $5,999 USD–at least in the medium format realm, the GFX 100S is most often being compared to smaller format cameras by reviewers who have rarely if ever worked with any medium format camera. Six grand is not what I would call a cheap camera by any means–that is still pretty expensive for most photographers–even top-end working pros. But, compared to the $20k to $50k digital medium format cameras of the past, the 100S is a revelation. In terms of its main specifications the 100S is fairly similar in size and function to a lot of full frame cameras on the market. For some photographers it will be the ultimate camera system and the only one they would every need. For others, mostly those capturing sports or fast moving subjects, the GFX 100S would be an additional tool that sits alongside a full-frame (or APS-C) camera system giving the photographer options.

The GFX 100S is slightly larger than most 35mm mirrorless cameras–though not by much. In the case of the forthcoming Nikon Z9 and Canon R3, the GFX 100S is actually smaller and lighter than those will be. The GFX lenses are the determining factor in terms of weight–they are generally slightly larger and heavier than their 35mm counterparts but now always. The GF 100-200mm f/5.6 is lighter and smaller than the Nikon Z 70-200mm f/2.8 lens for example. On the other end the GF32-64mm f/4 is quite a bit larger and heavier than the Nikon Z 14-30mm f/4 lens. Let’s take a look at a standard kit from Nikon and compare that to a similar GFX 100S kit. The Nikon Z kit with the holy trinity f/2.8 zoom lenses weighs in only 0.9 pounds (340 grams) less than the GFX 100 with three zoom lenses (32-64, 45-100 and 100-200). That slight difference overall in weight I am guessing will surprise many.

For portrait, landscape, architecture, fashion, and many other genres of photography the 100S is certainly an epic camera system with phenomenal image quality that surpasses anything produced by a smaller format. The GFX lenses are also the best lenses I have ever used–even slightly better than the Hasselblad HC lenses I used to own. As far as sports and action photography, there are certainly faster action cameras out there in both the 35mm and APS-C formats and those formats have a much wider array of lenses to choose from. But the GFX 100S can work for some action photography as well. As I said at the beginning of this blog post, there are really no bad cameras out there these days. It is just a matter of choosing the right camera for your needs and the subject matter you photograph.

For an in-depth comparison check out the interview (above) I did with Dale Sood from Vistek, the largest camera store in Canada. In this video, Dale made large prints from three different cameras and three different camera formats (APS-C, Full Frame and Medium Format) and compares the prints in terms of image quality. In the video, I also talk quite a bit about which camera system I use for different scenarios. When it comes to action sports, especially where it will only happen once, I opt for my Nikon Z system these days. Note that I am eagerly awaiting a faster Nikon Z camera, like the forthcoming Nikon Z9, for action photography as the Nikon Z7 II isn’t what I would call a great action camera.

Conclusion

Wrapping this up, I have pretty much said it all in the sections above. The FUJIFILM GFX 100S is a fantastic camera with epic image quality. The image quality is so good that I am not sure how much better a still camera can actually get. We are at a point now in the industry that photographers who have purchased a camera recently won’t really need to replace their cameras anytime soon. That isn’t great news for the camera manufacturers, but that is the reality. Consider that the day before Fujifilm announced the GFX 100S, Sony announce a 50 MP camera that can fire at 30 fps! We have come a long, long ways from the early days of digital photography.

For myself, the smaller, lighter GFX 100S is great for an assignment photographer like myself who typically has to carry two different camera systems on a gig. As an adventure photographer, I am normally taking my Nikon 35mm mirrorless kit as well as the GFX kit with me on most assignments. Flying hasn’t really gotten any easier (even now in the USA as we emerge from Covid-19) and the smaller, easier to pack size of the GFX 100S is a massive improvement on the venerable GFX 100 when packing up my camera kit and carrying it onto a plane. At the moment, I’d say I use the GFX system for about 75% of my work. The 100 and 100S are my main workhorse cameras. For those situations where I need a faster frame rate or faster autofocus I reach for the Nikons.

Choosing the right camera system these days comes down to what you can afford and what will work to get the images you want to create. If you are looking for the best image quality available then the GFX 100S is most likely the camera for you. If you need to make huge prints, then this is the camera to have. For working pros out there considering a switch–and I have heard from many of you already–I would suggest renting the camera and a few lenses and trying it out. I don’t think you will be disappointed.

For more information on the FUJIFILM GFX 100S check out the Fujifilm website. To order the camera check B&H and see if they have it in stock. From what I am hearing Fujifilm got three to four times more orders for the camera than they were expecting so there might be a little wait time. This one is worth the wait!

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