FUJIFILM GFX 100 Preview

Disclaimer: While I am not one of Fujifilm’s X-Photographers, I was paid to work with this camera on a recent assignment as part of the launch of the FUJIFILM GFX 100. I want my readers to be aware of this upfront. 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.

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 weeks 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. More recently I had the Hasselblad H5D 50c WiFi, which I just sold a few weeks ago.

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.

Since I am one of a few photographers who have shot extensively with a prototype GFX 100, which was final hardware but not quite final firmware, I thought I would post up my experiences here on the blog to help give folks an idea of what this incredible camera is capable of. I might be the one professional photographer who has shot with the camera the most–and with the most recent firmware–as I was one of the last photographers on assignment with a pair of GFX 100 prototypes. In large part, I want to help shed some light on the capabilities of this new camera and where it fits in the industry.

This is not a full-on review as the camera is not even officially out on the market yet and the firmware is still in flux. Because of this, and with Fujifilm’s blessing, I wanted to publish this preview article because it seems that a lot of the reviewers who have worked with the camera for a short time have missed the point of how astounding this new mirrorless medium format camera is compared to every other medium format camera on the market. 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.

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.

Essentially, Fujifilm has created a camera that has no competition within its category. Anything else in the medium format sphere as of last week 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.

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.

The GFX 100 obviously has an incredible array of new features including a 102 MP sensor, In-Body Image-Stabilization (IBIS), crazy fast 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–even sports and wildlife. 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 which should be very telling.

In my experience with the camera so far, I was quite amazed at how fast the autofocus was with moving subjects. The camera was able to track mountain bikers in any situation. The above mountain biking image shows off the cameras autofocus capabilities. The rider was tracked in with 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 large format camera. Below is a composite image showing the full jump from a different angle. Note this 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. This image is also a twenty-image panorama that is a 1.74 GB file and nearly 20,000 pixels long. It is a massive file that could be printed as large as a bus with incredible detail.

The autofocus also worked phenomenally well when I switched into Face Detection and Eye AF. The image below of Carson Storch 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.

The GFX 100 is also incredibly well weather sealed. It is as capable in the studio as it is in the great outdoors. 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. The IBIS system is an engineering milestone that was not easy 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.

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. 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 dust cleaning option does an incredible job at shaking dust particles off the sensor surface. I will report more on this in my full review when I have shot with the camera more extensively.

Rock climbing is of course a relatively slow sport so it did not tax the autofocus, but instead I worked handheld with the camera and shot at shutter speeds down to 1/20th second (using wide angle lenses) 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.

I haven’t yet spoken about the image quality, but rest assured those 102 megapixels (101.7 MP to be exact) are spectacular. The camera 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.

During the launch, Fujifilm chose one of my expansive panoramic rock climbing images and initially showed only a small two megapixel portion of the image, which looked impressively sharp on the 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! I made several panoramic images where I cropped off the top and bottom and they still had 60 MP or more. The upshot is that there is resolution to spare.

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 I created 1 TB of data from a ten day assignment. I am going to have to expand 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. When you see the image quality this camera produces any worries about extra hard drive space flies out the window.

The GFX camera system at this point is also very well flushed out. Fujifilm has an extensive lineup of lenses, all of which are ridiculously sharp. 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. In fact, you can even use the Hasselblad H lenses on the GFX cameras and utilize the leaf shutter built into those lenses, which is great for working with strobes. I still have a few of my Hasselblad lenses that I will likely use in the studio for capturing portraits. On that note, the GFX 100 can also be mounted on a view camera for the ultimate in tilt/shift studio photography. Fujifilm also makes several view camera lenses as well.

All told, the lens line up is pretty extensive as shown above. From 23mm to 250mm, 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. I will have to do some testing to see how well that works.

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 viewfinder. 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.

Another exciting aspect of this camera, which I have not tested yet, is how well it performs capturing 4K video. A few of the photographers working with this camera created video content and it is apparently a quite capable motion camera as well as a stellar stills camera. At the launch, Fujifilm had their new large format Premista 28-100mm video lens (shown below) 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 (as shown below) which looks quite interesting. Because the GFX 100 can output 4K DCI video from the full sensor in 10-bit 4:2:2 and with Fujifilm’s amazing Externa film simulation or F-log if you prefer, this gives the video output a very unique look. I am very excited to test out the GFX 100 video options and work with it on some motion projects.

Wrapping up, the GFX 100 is truly an incredible camera. I have one sitting on my desk right now and I am very excited to continue working with this camera and see what I can create with it. I am still reeling from my assignment with it and figuring out how this camera will help me take my work to the next level. It is so capable that there are very few assignments that I won’t be able to take on fully with this camera. 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.

For an inside look at my assignment with the FUJIFILM GFX 100 check out the article they posted on the Fujifilm-x.com site entitled Blazing trails with Michael Clark and the GFX 100. That article also includes two different behind the scenes videos so you can see how I created some of the above images. For a look at the best images I created on this assignment check out the Fujifilm gallery on my website. If you have any questions I will be do my best to answer them below in the comments. Once I have had significant time shooting with the full production version of the camera I will post up a full review. Stay tuned for that…

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