Complete Review of the Fuji GFX 50S, Part Four: Medium Format Versus Full Frame

Complete Review of the Fuji GFX 50S, Part Four: Medium Format Versus Full Frame

In this section of my five-part series, I’d like to look at the overall experience of shooting with a medium format camera versus shooting with a full frame or APS-C sized sensor. We’ll also look at some of the unique quirks to take into account with the Fuji GFX 50S.

This section was originally titled simply “Quirks In Shooting With The GFX 50S.” But as I began writing, I immediately started to think that it might be a bit of a misnomer. There are many things to keep in mind when considering a medium format camera versus a 35mm or APS-C sized camera, but many of these things apply to all medium format digitals as opposed to just the Fuji GFX 50S. So, I will combine this section with the additional comparison between shooting with the Fuji GFX system versus other medium format systems like the Hasselblad X series or the Phase One IQ systems.

For example, shooting any medium format system, there are some mental adjustments you’ll need to make regardless of which medium format camera you choose, like compensating for the shallower depth of field, as mentioned earlier, and adjusting your calculations to account for different combinations of the exposure triangle.  

Due to the larger sensor, these cameras are naturally all going to be physically bigger than other cameras. The GFX is notably smaller than the Phase or Hasselblad systems (I’m referring to the Hasselblad system with digital backs, I have not shot with the Hasselblad X1D-50C, so cannot accurately compare it), but it is by no means a small camera.  

With all larger format sensors, you’ll also want to keep in mind that with greater detail comes, well, greater detail. This may be great if you want to see more detail in texture of a building, but requires much greater preparation if you are, for example, shooting a beauty portrait of a model’s face. Like that textured wall, you will see every single pore and wrinkle in your model’s face. So, unless that’s what you were aiming for, having a talented hair and makeup team will become that much more important. You may even need to up your retouching game in order to keep up with all the added detail that can sometimes be missed by smaller sensors.

Large sensors and higher resolution also require a steadier hand. Small motion blur can often be overlooked at lower resolutions. When you increase your resolution, what may have previously been a minor amount of camera shake may suddenly appear far more obvious. This may mean that you need to change your approach or adjust your camera settings to give yourself a cushion to maintain a sharp image. The lack of a physical mirror in the GFX 50S does help with camera shake caused by the mirror movement itself, but it’s still worth consideration.

Also applying to pretty much all medium format systems, if you buy your cameras based on burst rate, medium format may not be for you. Even the most expensive medium format systems will shoot far fewer frames per second than their full frame brethren. I’m sure there’s a technical explanation as to why, but, long story short, that’s just not the purpose they were built for. So, if you are one to shoot action sports or are in a situation where you like to grab focus on a subject then just hold down the shutter to rattle off a series of shots from which you can pick the optimal one later, this is probably not the right camera for you.

Likewise, if you, like me, enjoy shooting bursts for the purpose of creating GIFs, you’d be best served by having a separate system for that purpose. This is not much of a sacrifice however as GIFs are generally only going to ever live on a digital screen and thus require far less resolution than something that will end up printed on the side of a building. But, still, you will want to have another body handy to create them efficiently.

In the size category, the GFX is built far more like a large DSLR compared to other medium format systems. So, while the other systems are more like a brick shape with a grip in the middle, the GFX 50S feels similar to holding your average high-end Canon or Nikon, just with fatter lenses.

Time for another quirk. One thing that I did notice would occasionally occur with the GFX 50S was that the excellently clear EVF would at times lag behind the real world. Not by much. And I didn’t notice it often, mostly in very dark or poor visibility situations. But if, like me, you shoot a lot of fast-moving people and you want to catch that split-second moment, you will need to adjust your timing to make sure you’re capturing the exact moment. It seemed to me that this is less of a problem when shooting without live preview of exposure and white balance, but I may have been imagining that. I can't say that was a major hindrance, however, and it didn't hamper my workflow, even when shooting fast moving subjects.

I would be more upset about this; however, often, when shooting with the Phase One system and an optical finder, I find that it also suffers from delay issues. On that camera, sometimes, when I press the shutter button, the actual picture is taken just a split second later. So, for example, when shooting a jumping athlete and attempting to catch them at the height of their jump, I would sometimes have to press the button slightly before the height of the jump so that the shutter would click at the height. If that sounds confusing, it’s because it is. Not impossible, but definitely annoying.

Another issue that you’ll need to contend with when shooting the GFX 50S versus a traditional DSLR or competing medium format systems is the flash sync speed. If you shoot with strobes or off-camera flash on a regular basis, you’ll know how often you may want to manipulate shutter speed in order to affect your background one way or another. Adjust it one way and you can allow a darker background to bleed more light into your image. Adjust it another and you can overpower the sun by using a fast enough shutter speed that the sensor only recognizes your own manufactured light.

Most cameras have a flash sync speed of between 1/200th of a second to 1/250th of a second. Many pro DSLRs incorporate High Speed Sync options which allow you to exceed this limit with certain combinations. Top-end medium format Hasselblad systems, due to their leaf shutters, can achieve a sync speed of 1/8,000th of a second.

The Fuji GFX S sync speed is only 1/125th. I don’t know enough about the inside of the camera to explain the smaller shutter speed limit, but it does require some adjustments to your calculations. Just as an example, in studio, I generally shoot at 1/200th or occasionally 1/160th. That’s usually enough when shooting on seamless or even when wanting to darken an otherwise bright environment. But when you are outside and really want to eliminate the sun, you need to either be able to use a faster shutter speed or back up the lighting truck to get sufficient power.

Even in studio, if you are looking to freeze motion, you will need to compensate for the slower sync speed if your objective is to freeze every part of the motion. You may need to use lights with a shorter flash duration or add additional light, just as an example. Just like adding ND filters can help you block out the sun, this is not an insurmountable problem, but it does require adjustments. If the sensor size and image quality for the (relative) price is the biggest draw of the Fuji GFX 50S, the slow flash sync speed is definitely the biggest drawback.

In the next and final section of my in-depth, month-long review of the Fuji GFX 50S, I’ll offer my final verdict. Is it worth the investment?

Christopher Malcolm's picture

Christopher Malcolm is a Los Angeles-based lifestyle, fitness, and advertising photographer, director, and cinematographer shooting for clients such as Nike, lululemon, ASICS, and Verizon.

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Nice article, gives good info. There are four things to address and probably take into consideration before you write the verdict:

Burst rate: new GFX-100s addresses that and so it may not be held against MF anymore (5fps is really good for majority of shoot save for sports and fast moving like vehicles)

Flash sync: HSS enables to shoot even at 1/2000 (tested on my camera, it could go more, didn't test the max ss)

Computing & Storage: The storage space required to store RAW files and the CPU/RAM upgrades required at some cases to process those in LR (mixed results on low spec'd devices)

Did you analyze the distortion due to ES on MF vs APS-C or FF? I felt the distortion between GFX-50S and XT3 is very different.

Good points Rhonald. I didn't actually test out the ES vs MS, but that is a worthwhile consideration.

Man I love this series so much. I kinda wish that this was the format for all reviews. Would really love this for the Hasselblad X1D (especially if it gets cheaper after the Mark 2 is out)

Thanks Rodney. The camera inspired me to want to write about it. Which I guess is probably a statement in itself.

Just a hobbyist photographer here who used to shoot with FF and now uses GFX50s. First I am not sure which leaf shutter lenses have 1/8000 sync speed. Most only do 1/800 with top of the line new ones going to 1/2000. Shooting with leaf shutter is not without issues either specially if strobe flash duration is long. Second with almost all strobes now a days allowing HSS, it is not that big of a deal that GFX50s only can do 1/125. I shoot 1/4000 with my Godox strobes all the time. Yes you loose power but you can gang two AD600s for 1200 ws if and when needed.

Great article.
I had the Hassy X1D for a while but overall didn't like its handling and its more wider lenses like 45 and 35 weren't that good so I sold it but it was a beautifully designed camera. Comparing the images I had took with it ( skin in studio and on set ) to Fuji, I do like Fuji better but its 1/25 sync speed I don't like much. I don't have a Fuji AirTTL Profoto trigger so maybe that solves the problem? not sure.
It is still no Phase but yeah between X1D, Pentax 645, and Fuji : Definitely go for Fuji .

Yes. The Fuji AirTTL with HSS does address the shutter speed a bit. You lose some power. But it is useful in certain situations.

Another nice article in the series. Thank you.

Regarding the slow sync speed, I would guess it was due to the larger format. Larger format means larger shutter means slower shutter (more to move) that has to travel farther means longer time until front curtain has cleared the sensor means longer time before the flash can be fired means longer flash sync time. There might be some technical shenanigans that could help here, e.g. electronic shutter.

The slower frame rate is likely also a function of this (the time taken to open and close the shutter as well as preparing it for the next frame), but the biggest factor is probably the time it takes to move all the pixels off the sensor. Based on the approximate size of the RAW files, five frames per second is equivalent to about 1.1GB per second, which is still quite a respectable figure.

Great article. I have one question. Have you ever tested picture quality between Fuji GFX50s and PhaseOne "fullframe medium format" cameras (I am aiming on a cameras with 54×41 mm sensor size)? Since the price difference is huge, does it reflect on a image quality as well? Best regards from Bosnia.

Hi Esad. I have shot with the Phase One and the Hasselblad medium format systems. Those are amazing cameras as well on multiple jobs. I have not shot them side-by-side in the sense of a specific test aimed at evaluating image quality. But I can say, having shot both in the field that I didn't notice a substantial improvement with the more expensive systems. There are advantages in terms of sync speed and the sensor is somewhat larger on the Phase/Hasselblad, I believe. But, like you said, they also cost about 3 times as much. So, the question is whether the image quality is three times better. Personally, I don't think so. But, I am also not someone who shoots focus charts and evaluates individual pixel sharpness.