I have now been a proud owner of a Fuji GFX 100 medium format digital camera for three months now. So, was it all I hoped it would be?
Today, I am starting a series of articles reviewing my experience shooting with the Fujifilm GFX 100 as my primary camera for the last three months. As seems to always be the case when I start talking about Fuji cameras, all my thoughts and ramblings cannot be contained in a single article without keeping you at your laptop long enough to grow roots. So, I’ll do my best to break up the review into three parts so that you can get a full, deep dive into what it’s like to actually use the camera in the real world as opposed to just repeating the spec sheet.
I should say that while, as a photographer, I love new cameras as much as most shooters, I don’t generally like to spend too much time talking about them. I still remember the days when I was just starting out, and I clearly remember how easy it was to fall into the trap of thinking that my skill level as a photographer would be determined by my gear rather than my creativity. Along the way, you learn that technical aspects are only one slice of being a professional photographer and the term “professional” is in relation to the overall product you provide and your ability to generate income, not how much room you have left on your credit card to afford new gear.
That’s not to say that certain cameras aren’t better at certain things than others. I just want to mention that as a reminder, especially to those with more limited resources, that your value as a photographer is not determined by the cost of your camera.
But, as I write a weekly column for Fstoppers, I do find myself discussing the latest and greatest gear from time to time. Usually, it’s because I really love a certain product and can’t wait to tell people about it. Or because I’ve made a purchasing mistake and I’d like to pass along information about a camera that I wish I had known before investing in a system myself. So, what kind of review will this be? You’ll have to read on to find out.
In the case of the Fujifilm GFX 100, I think it’s even harder to get an in depth review, because at just under $10,000, it’s not a camera that everyone is going to be able to own. So, you naturally will get a lot of reviews based on only a limited amount of use of a borrowed unit, rather than first-hand accounts. I wrote my own initial review three months ago, but have had a lot of time with the system since then. So, for that reason, I thought it might be helpful to share my updated perspective on the camera having had it now for three months and having used it professionally on several occasions. And, I might add, choosing not to use it and instead opting for other cameras in other situations.
Three months is just at the sweet spot where I’m no longer in the “holy cow, it’s 100 MP” phase, but not yet at the point where the camera ceases to be able to amaze me. I’ve learned a lot about it, but I still don’t know everything. Here are my thoughts so far.
Why I Bought It in The First Place
You can get the specs of the camera anywhere on the web. And I’ve already written a complete article on why the Fujifilm GFX 100 made business sense in the past. So, I’ll only give you the bullet points here.
I’m a professional photographer who specializes in advertising campaigns, specifically lifestyle, fitness, and activewear campaigns, where the subjects move quickly and dynamically.
My clients often need high-resolution images in order to reproduce the images, both in full and in various crops, across all media from billboards, to in-store displays, to digital use. 102 MP gives them a lot of latitude.
Because I often need to rent Phase One or Hasselblad medium format bodies for my shoots, owning a medium format system of my own allows me to monetize my gear investment and rent my gear to my own productions, thus offsetting the cost of the camera.
I love Fuji cameras. While I have used Nikon professionally for years, my personal “fun” cameras have almost all been exclusively Fuji. I was hoping to find a system that would merge the fun shooting experience of my X-T3 or X100S with the resolution required by my clients.
There’s a lot more to why I bought the camera, but you can read the previous article for that, and I’d instead like to focus this series of articles on how the camera actually performs in the field. The good, the bad, and the ugly. Hopefully that will help you make the decision on whether this is the right camera for you.
As advertised. Likely the first spec that caught your attention when you heard about the Fujifilm GFX 100 was the 102 MP sensor. The thrift shopper in me would like to say that the effects of 102 MP are overblown. But, I can’t. Getting home to view these images is, well, wow. When everything comes together, the images that roll off of this camera really are second to none.
I’m not really a pixel-peeper, but you don’t really have to be to see the difference. Even my mother, who couldn’t care less about photography or cameras, but has seen almost every photo I’ve taken for the last 15 years commented after seeing my first shoot with the new camera: “wow, it really does make a difference!”
Interestingly, beyond the sheer megapixels and the new game I play called “how far can I zoom in before I lose detail,” one of the most unexpected benefits I’ve noticed is how accurate the color reproduction is. I shoot in raw. In Fujifilm simulation terms, I generally leave the camera in the standard Provia profile, but knowing I will do any relevant color adjustments in Capture One.
If I’m being completely honest, my first reaction after shooting with the camera was that the colors seemed slightly off. But, I would soon learn that it only seemed that way. I know this, because I then went back to shoot the camera side-by-side with my Nikon which I’ve used for the last 15 years and whose colors have come to seem “right” to me. My plan was to create a style adjustment in Capture One that would automatically convert my Fuji GFX 100 images to the more warmer base tones that come from my Nikon.
In order to do this, I set the two cameras up side-by-side to photograph the same thing at the same color temperature. Then, I imported the images into Capture One, ready to use the color tools to create a preset.
Two things became immediately evident. One, Nikon colors run more yellow (warmer) than the Fuji. And two, much to my surprise, it was actually the Fuji that was providing me images much closer to real life. Spot on, as a matter of fact. Like, so spot on that I was literally holding the images up next to the real life scene and it was like looking at the real thing, whereas the Nikon images (which I had grown to think of as normal) actually had more yellow in them.
That’s not to say the Nikon color is bad. I’ve been basing my photos off of their color profiles for years, and I love them enough that I apparently feel it in my bones without intentionally looking for them. And, in the digital world, any camera can be made to resemble any other brand of camera with a few minor tweaks in Capture One.
But I did find it surprising and decidedly amusing to see just how spot on the color rendition from the GFX 100 really was. I repeated the experiment with my X-T3 and X100S and got a similar accuracy. So, apparently, all these years my eyes have been trained to see the real world in warmer tones than are actually present. Nothing necessarily wrong with that, but if your goal is to exactly reproduce colors, the Fujifilm GFX 100 is a great place to start.
I am one of those weird people who continues to watch camera reviews on cameras that I’ve already bought. Sometimes just to kill time. Other times to confirm my purchase decision. Sometimes, I even learn new tricks that I didn’t even know the camera in my hand was capable of.
I was watching one the other day, and the host pointed out that it is difficult to review the Fujifilm GFX 100, because it’s hard to know what to compare it to.
For instance, some would say that $10,000 is a lot for a camera. But, those people are comparing it to its smaller full frame counterparts. $10,000 would be a heck of a lot to spend on a Nikon D850 or a Sony a7R IV. But neither of those are medium format. So, in reality, the cameras you are comparing it to would be more like the larger Hasselblad or Phase One systems which can easily cost you four or five times as much. In that light, $10,000 is not only not expensive, it’s downright cheap.
On the other hand, because this camera offers a design and capabilities that are unlike any of its competitors in the medium format market, it’s a little hard to compare it to those cameras as well. It’s built like a DSLR with a battery grip as opposed to the larger brick format of most medium format digital cameras. It’s mirrorless. For crying out loud, it’s even got in-body image stabilization. At least on paper, it’s not even a fair fight between the GFX 100 and its medium format rivals. On paper, that is, although we’ll get to that in a second.
Comparing It To The X-T3
I mentioned earlier that one of my biggest motivators for buying the camera is to recreate the experience of shooting with my Fujifilm X-T3, a camera which I have come to believe was built specifically for me, in a camera with a larger sensor.
In many ways, it succeeded. This camera is flat out fun to shoot with. Despite its greater weight, I’ve taken it out on multiple occasions to use as a street/walkaround camera simply because it’s such a joy to hold that I wanted to shoot something with it. The camera definitely takes a toll on my spine after several hours dangling on the end of my neck strap, but for shorter days out, it’s always there staring at me as I walk out the door, drawing me back to it like one of the Sirens of Greek mythology. It’s a camera you just want to have with you.
But there are notable differences. I’m sure there was a logical reason behind removing the dials from the top of the GFX 100 that are present on every other Fuji camera including its medium format brother and sister, the GFX 50S and the GFX 50R. And I know many people out there (mostly non-Fuji users) will listen to Fuji owners wax on about our love for the tactile feel of Fuji cameras, and their eyes will roll into the back of their head. But, the thing is, those darn dials really do make a huge difference.
Does stopping to rotate the dials atop my Fuji X-T3 make for a faster shooting experience than the quick and easy to reach ubiquitous front and rear dials on my Nikon? No. In actual point of fact, despite how much I love my dials, I would be lying if I didn’t say that it was faster to change my settings with those two front and back dials on my Nikon D850. There’s a reason with Nikon and Canon and most other manufacturers have had the front/rear dial setup for so long. It’s just plain efficient.
With the GFX 100 aimed more at the professional market, it does stand to reason that the engineers felt that they wanted to provide regular DSLR users with a more familiar experience. And, in the absence of dials, I’ve set up my front and back dials on the GFX 100 to mimic the responsibilities of the similarly placed dials on my Nikon D850. Why bother to re-learn finger memory?
But, there is something missing with the lack of dials. There’s no logical or objective way to explain it. It’s just a wholly subjective thing. Whereas the X-T3 or GFX 50S really have that tactile feel that brings me back to the basics of photography, the GFX 100, with its more modern design, really does feel like a machine. The Terminator of machines. But, still, it does feel less unique in some ways than the other members of the family.
I think this is why, whereas the other Fuji cameras tend to feel like islands on their own, the GFX 100 simply begs comparison to other cameras with a similar physical build, meaning full frame DSLRs or mirrorless camera. This makes the cost/value proposition even more difficult to examine.
So, how does it compare in other areas? Check in next week for part two, where I will discuss autofocus performance, burst rate, and how they affect how you are able to shoot in the real world.