All roads have led to this. After spending an entire month with the Fuji GFX S, today, I’ll offer my final thoughts on whether the camera is worth the price of admission.
If you haven’t read any of the previous articles detailing my experience with the camera, I suggest you go back and have a look. I’ve compared the experience of shooting the medium format GFX 50S to its smaller sibling, the APS-C sized Fuji X-T3. I’ve compared the image results to those generated by Nikon D850, which shares a similar megapixel count, but in a full frame sensor. I’ve talked about some of the benefits and drawbacks to working with medium format versus full frame. And now, I finally get to the most important part of any camera-buying decision: is it worth the money?
Is the GFX S an Everyday Camera? And Does It Meet Its Return on Investment?
It depends. Next question.
Okay, just kidding. But obviously, the answer to that question depends heavily on your budget, your clients, your shooting style, and your workflow.
For instance, I am not an event shooter by trade, but I did take the GFX 50S out to several over the course of a month just to casually shoot some events to see how it would perform. It performed admirably and could definitely be used for that purpose. However, it wouldn’t be my first option if events were the lion share of my business. There are a lot less expensive and lighter options out there which would be a much better option for someone who is going to be on their feet all day and night.
I also took the camera out on a road trip. I wanted to test the image quality out on some landscapes, but also get a sense of how long I could hike with the system slung over my neck before fatigue set in. It did eventually start to feel heavy, but not as quickly as one might guess. I was out a good eight hours of shooting, and it wasn’t until the five or six-hour mark that I started noticing myself looking for a place to set it down.
And while I don’t call myself a great landscape photographer by any means, I was really impressed with both the file size and shooting experience when shooting them with the GFX 50S. If I was in the business of making very large prints of my landscapes, I would give this camera (or perhaps it sibling, the GFX 50R) serious consideration. If I wasn’t going to print super large, but was looking to mostly post landscapes online and social media, I might opt for a smaller, more pocketable camera. Also, of course, the buying decision would rely heavily on whether I was selling and exhibiting my work or just creating it for fun.
Which all brings us to the question of return on investment. That is again highly subjective, as it depends mostly on your clientele. The reason why I am able to rent any medium format system in the first place is because I have clients willing to pay for it. It’s a benefit to them, and their budgets are large enough to where the added line item in the equipment budget is nothing to make them blink an eye. The rental costs are billed through to the client, so it makes business sense while offering them the highest quality.
When using your own equipment, it is also common in my field to rent your own gear to the production. So, while you are obviously not going to just add a $10,000 line item to your bid to have the client buy you a dream camera, if you have already invested in a piece of gear that benefits the production, you can recoup some of the costs on the backend by renting your own gear to the project at market rental rates.
This is how most commercial productions operate. But, it may not be how many other genres operate. Many senior portrait clients, I imagine, would balk at the idea of adding a $1,000 per day line item for camera rental. But, either way, you still need to factor in costs of goods sold into your rate regardless of what camera you are using, and you’ll want to gauge the ideal camera investment based on your own projected eventual billings.
For me, a complete Hasselblad or Phase One system including lenses, backs, bodies, and so forth has always cost enough to where purchasing one has made less sense than renting them per production. There are multiple configurations, of course, but you can easily spend between $20,000 to $60,000 or more for a medium format camera, lens, and digital back. At about $8,000 or so for the Fuji GFX 50S system with a body and lens, the Fuji is not exactly inexpensive, but significantly more affordable than the other options. (Side note: My Nikon D850 body and 24-70mm f/2.8 currently lists at around $5,000 together as a point of comparison) That also means it would take significantly less time getting a return on investment for the Fuji system versus competing medium format options. Assuming that you have clientele that are able to recognize the value of the added detail and subjects best served by the larger format, a very legitimate argument could be made for the investment.
But, just the same as when buying the least expensive camera, remember that if you are in photography as a business, you have to calculate the return on investment first before deciding which system is best suited for your needs.
For me, I shoot for clients that often need to print their images large and to be seen up close, meaning medium format is a regular expectation on many shoots. Many clients have this expense built into their budgets, so I am able to rent my equipment back to the production to recoup at least a portion of the initial investment. So, my choice is between fronting the money up front, then estimating that I can recoup that investment over time, or to keep hold of my money and just rent the camera per job and have the client budget essentially pass through me to the rental house. In the first scenario, I run the risk of overspending and not getting back the full value, but also have the potential benefit of getting back more than the full value and the investment and the gear eventually becoming a cash generator as opposed to a cost. On the other side, continuing to rent on a per assignment basis reduces the risk that your overhead costs will exceed your revenue.
Since there are so many potential shooting options, I also have to weigh how often I think I would find myself reaching for the GFX 50S versus other cameras at my disposal — in other words, how often would I use it, versus how much time would it spend on the shelf.
While I could use the GFX 50S as a general street camera, I would more than likely use it primarily for professional work. Is it robust enough to be able to handle all of my typical shooting scenarios? In my case, that means shooting situations that are somewhat controlled (although not always predictable). Since I do have some level of control on set, I don’t necessarily need to have a rapidfire system to just spray and pray. I can often take my time to build the frame the way I want. So, while this probably wouldn’t be my first choice if I were a photojournalist and needed to capture everything in suboptimal conditions, in my own niche as an advertising photographer, the camera has performed quite well in the field. So, while I may not take it on a vacation, it would probably be in a position to take 100% of the snaps for my professional work.
Final Verdict: Will I Be Buying a Fuji GFX 50S?
Maybe. I am nothing if not a master of the hedged bet.
Okay, truthfully, I probably will. I started off my experiment to see if I could find a camera that would combine the image quality of my Nikon D850 with the sensor size of a Hasselblad with the shooting experience of my Fuji X-T3. I was looking for a system that could provide an increased level of quality for my clients while also reconnecting me to my joy for photography.
The Fuji GFX S has answered in the affirmative on all counts. Fuji has continued its streak of designing cameras that seem tailormade for the way I shoot personally. It’s actually getting a bit eerie the way they seem to understand me, and I should probably really considering paying more attention to closing my blinds at night. But shooting with the Fuji GFX 50S has really felt very natural and has fit well into my personal shooting style.
This system is definitely not going to be for everybody. The image quality definitely is. But the process and situations necessary to maximize the camera's skillset as well as your return on investment must be taken into consideration before making a purchasing decision.
I think the ideal photographer for the GFX 50S is going to be a commercial photographer whose clients need ultimate detail and latitude for post-processing crops and adjustments. Someone who has some level of control over their shooting situation. Someone for whom color and texture detail are important. Someone whose business structure allows them to recoup investment over time.
Additional prospects for this camera would be landscape photographers or fine art photographers who want maximum detail and large prints, specifically those who won’t be prohibited by the size of the camera and who work at a considered pace. This is definitely a camera for people looking to get "the" shot instead just "a" shot.
So, will I buy the camera? Probably. Oh dear, my pocketbook is in trouble.