Written by Stephen Scharf
Fujifilm reps were at Samy's Cameras in San Francisco today, so I had a chance to play and "shoot" with the much-anticipated medium-format Fujifilm GFX 50S.
As the camera was a pre-production model, we were not allowed shoot any images on our own cards, but I came away with some useful first impressions.
The GFX is everything I would expect a medium format professional camera to be; it's clear that it's extremely well thought-through and executed to a very high engineering specification. In the hand, it is about the size of a Nikon D810 or Canon 5D-series. As you may have read, it is surprisingly light, but it is also very well made and robust-feeling; the fit and finish are excellent. The front grip and thumb rest are comfortable and nicely textured, and provide excellent purchase for a secure grip. And if you're an Fuji X-camera user, the now-classic X-camera knobs and dials will immediately feel right at home. The menu system is clearly laid out, identical in organization and interface to the X-Pro2/X-T2.
In use, given that the sensor supports contrast detection-only autofocus, I found the AF to be surprisingly fast, at least as fast as a Fujifllm X-T1. The EVF and LCD are gorgeous, bright and clear with neutral, with accurate color, and the EVF has a very fast refresh rate with no perceptual lag. Having the joystick was very useful not only for AF point selection, but also for scrolling around the LCD when reviewing images or when zoomed in with manual focus to check critical focus. Something I found notable was that the shutter is quite special: upon actuation, it's very quiet and smooth and has feel that's to die for. Most importantly, it feels very well damped. You can tell that shutter shock is not going to be an issue with this camera.
Given the size of the lenses, they are surprisingly light, and bright, and made to a very high level of fit and finish. The autofocus performance is fast and quiet with no discernible aperture blade chatter. The aperture rings have just the right amount of stiffness in rotation, and the manual focus and zoom rings feel very nice, smooth but with just the right amount of resistance that allows you to precisely set the adjustment exactly where you want to. The overall impression is that the lenses are extremely well made, with superb functionality. The sales rep said that the next two lenses in the series likely be available late in the second quarter of 2017.
The strongest impression that comes across from using the Fujifilm GFX 50S is that it will be a real workhorse and a serious photographic tool. This is not a camera, though, to replace Nikon D810, Canon 1D or 5D series cameras designed for sports, photojournalism, or, for the lack of a better term, "general purpose" enthusiast photography. After holding, using, and shooting with the camera, it's clear it’s primarily intended for seriously "hard-core" advertising, portrait, editorial, commercial, automotive, and fashion medium format photography of the highest professional standard, as well as expert enthusiast outdoor, travel, or landscape photographers who truly understand what working with a medium-format camera really means, and who know how to get the camera to deliver what it's capable of.
Given Fujifilm’s excellent track record of fully thinking things through and the company's very high level of execution, the GFX will become the hub of what looks to evolve into a very, dare I say extremely, capable system for demanding professional and expert photographer applications. While the term "game-changer" is bandied about all to often, in this case, I fully expect it will apply with the new Fujifilm GFX system.
©2017 by Stephen Scharf, all rights reserved
Original contents copyright 2017 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved. Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.
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Featured Comments from:
Michael Perini: "Thanks, Interesting. One question that comes up is that given its target market as you describe, it is a market where flash synch and leaf shutter lenses as well as 16-bit color depth have been critical. Did Fuji address any of this? They certainly know how to make leaf shutter lenses. They seem to have gotten so much right—why stop short of a killer pro camera? I did read somewhere speculation about an electronic shutter, but I also read that there is no second curtain synch—another oft used feature. Any thoughts?"
John Camp: "Stephen said: 'It’s primarily intended for seriously "hard-core" advertising, portrait, editorial, commercial, automotive, and fashion medium format photography of the highest professional standard, as well as expert enthusiast outdoor, travel, or landscape photographers who truly understand what working with a medium-format camera really means, and who know how to get the camera to deliver what it's capable of.' Could he explain that a little more? I think a good percentage of the people here are pretty hard-core—but why would choose, say, a D810 instead of a GFX? Is the GFX slower, or more limited in certain ways? I'm about to upgrade some stuff in my Nikon system, but might not do that if the GFX proves enticing enough. Why would it entice any particular shooter?
Stephen Scharf replies: "Fuji knows all too well the requirements for many professionals for leaf shutter lenses to enable high-speed flash/strobe synchronization. Zack Arias hounded them mercilessly about this at Photokina, and it got to the point that everytime he stuck his head in a conference room with the Fuji GFX team, they said, 'Yes, Zack, we know...leaf shutter lenses!'
"Along these lines, the Fuji will release on the first day of sale the 'H Mount Adapter G' that will enable the use of Hasselblad H-mount leaf shutter lenses. Furthermore, they are also releasing the 'View Camera Adapter G' to to allow the GFX work as a digital back for 4x5 view cameras.
"I can explain a little more about the sentences Ben cites. when I was referring to 'hard core,' I was referring to photographers working in professional market segments where medium format digital is de rigueur, i.e., the disciplines listed above. I'm thinking of guys like Markus Klinko, Knut Koivisto, Romeo Balancourt, Jan Gonzalez, Wayne Johns, and Zack of course. The kind of pros who work in very disciplined controlled shooting scenarios where there's no rushing, the setup for a single photo may take a number of minutes or more, etc. Deliberative is the word that comes to mind here.
"There are a lot of other professional applications where the GFX would not be the camera of choice because it doesn't meet what I would refer to as the speed, size, or responsiveness requirements: street, reportage, photojournalism-style wedding photography, sports, news and combat photojournalism, etc. I wouldn't want to use it for shooting arena football, and it wouldn't meet my needs for motorsports photojournalism, either (though the X-T2 certainly does) [Ed. Note: Stephen is a motorsports photojournalist].
"To answer John Camp, I can explain it a little more. It's very likely a good percentage of folks on TOP are 'hard core' and for those folks, I think the GFX would be excellent for outdoor, travel, or landscape photography if 1.) they print large (the superiority of medium-format files don't truly reveal themselves until you print at 24" or larger) and, most importantly, if they require or want to obtain the intrinsically different, and in many ways superior, manner in which medium-format and large-format lenses render images compared to smaller formats (i.e., 35mm FF and smaller). Folks that really want or need that 'medium format look.' Shooting medium format is not just about more megapixels or a larger sensor; its really about how the lens interacts with the larger sensor in fundamentally different ways than smaller format lenses. Medium-format and large-format lenses have some intrinsic optical advantages to them that help produce this 'look': angle of view, less problems with field curvature, they can separate different planes of focus with finer gradation, they can produce finer transitions of DOF, etc., etc. Not to mention the advantages in resolution, color accuracy, acutance, subtlety of tonal gradation, shadow and highlight dynamic range, etc. For a very good explanation of this, read Ming Thein's excellent articles 'That medium format "look": what is it?' and 'Format strengths: why do different sized media render differently?'
"The Nikon D810 is a fantastic camera; especially when used with superior optics like Zeiss Otus lenses. The GFX looks like it's going to be a terrific camera, too. But, as Mike was pointing out in his column the other day about the Sony A900, I think photographers have to have a very clear vision of what type of photograph they want to make and most importantly, why they want to make it, and then as Mike says, 'But be sure you go whole hog and really commit, too.'
"Words of wisdom."
Mike adds: Somebody is going to have to convince me why anyone needs leaf-shutter lenses on this camera. In the old days, the advantage of a leaf shutter was that it allowed flash sync up to the fastest shutter speed the camera was capable of...but what that mainly meant was that you could sync a Hasselblad all the way up to 1/500th, in the days when focal-plane shutter sync speeds were between 1/30th and 1/80th. It mattered then.
Near the end of the film era in professional photography, certain medium-format professional cameras with leaf shutters added one more stop, to 1/1000th, although the "real" (measured) speeds in most cases were, for various technical reasons, more like 1/750th or 1/850th. Then, focal-plane shutters got faster, and 1/250th flash sync became common in pro cameras. This was a big deal precisely because...it mostly negated the advantages of leaf shutters.
I get it that gearheads got conditioned over recent decades to expect at least 1/250th X-sync, and so it's commonplace to find them hurling invective and derision at any camera that offers (horrors!) a stop less. And sure enough. But is 1/125th really so limiting? What, does it mean you can't continue to use Speedlights as monoblocs or that you'll be forced to invest in a few ND filters?
Not feeling your pain here. On a mirrorless medium-format camera meant to be both relatively affordable and relatively portable, who in the target market really needs leaf shutters? I might be out of touch with today's professional world—no, I'll say that positively, I am out of touch with it—but I'd bet 97% of pros who would buy this don't actually need more than 1/125th sync 97% of the time. Well, clearly Zack Arias thinks he needs it, if what Stephen says is true. But for the 3% of pros and the 0% of advanced amateurs who really do need another four stops of sync speed for legitimate reasons, I'd be inclined to say "so buy yourself an H6D and quit yer griping."