Fujifilm's GFX Range and the Return of Financial Viability of Medium Format Cameras

Fujifilm's GFX Range and the Return of Financial Viability of Medium Format Cameras

The entry point for medium format has been tragically high for so long. With Hasselblad and Phase One acting as the resolute gatekeepers of a camera type that has been alluring for decades, and a long-standing staple of professionals. With the rise in power of DSLRs, both full frame and smaller, the resulting market share for medium format has dwindled, reducing these high-priced units to rentals, large studios, and presumably some sort of timeshare.

Well, more fool them. While these companies turn their nose at the common man, Fujifilm appear to want to return the state of play of medium cameras to where they once were: in the hands of everyday professionals. The GFX series has done exactly that. With the GFX 50R coming in at under $4,000 and the new flagship GFX 100 sliding narrowly under the $10,000 mark, both are reasonable enough to be warranted by photographers with even the tightest purse strings.

I write this from a bullet train to Sendai from Tokyo, paid for by Fujifilm, to tour their factory. The only reason I’m in Japan at all is for Fujifilm, paid for by Fujifilm. While this could call my objectivity in to question, I would usually merely repeat that any company I work with gets the warning before we start that I will be completely honest about anything they show me, even if it’s profoundly negative. In this case, I feel I don’t even need to lean on my morals and integrity; the specs of their cameras speak for themselves.

During this trip I have been shooting with a GFX 50R, and I’ve had time with — albeit limited — the GFX 100, and it has truly shaken my Sony resolve, who in turn shook my Canon resolve. Brand loyalty is dead, I know. I was once accused of a bias towards Canon. This was replaced with accusations — even very recently — of my bias towards Sony. By the time I've written all I have to say on Fujifilm in the coming weeks, I suspect I'll be deemed bias towards Fuji. My bias is so malleable and loose it's almost as if I don't have one.

The first thing to mention is what all photographers either salivate over publicly, or deny the existence of: the medium format “look”. It’s beautiful and if you pair these bodies with a lens like the 110mm f/2, you bokeh fans are going to have to take a minute to compose yourself. The look isn’t reserved for the wide-open shooting either. Though the real allure for me is the image quality and size. The below image is a quick snap out of a double glass window in a skyscraper, on a hazy day, handheld. Just look at the 100% crops:

The exported JPEG was 50mb, so this is a 1920px resize for web.

100% crop #1

100% crop #2

100% crop #3

Even the GFX 50R captures raw files so pliant that you can, for all intents and purposes, shoot wide-angle and crop later. The press conference for the GFX 100 played to this perk very well indeed, with example images from the camera being revealed to hushed appreciation, only for Fujifilm to then reveal it’s a 100% crop and zoom out to show the full frame. The responses were less hushed.

So the question raised for me is, “do I switch to medium format?” Or more importantly, who should? Well, even with the new GFX 100, medium format isn’t without its downsides. Firstly, they require biceps and endurance, or a tripod, for shoots over an hour. Fuji have done well to reduce the size and weight significantly when compared to other medium format bodies, but the GFX 100 with its default 2 batteries held in a stock and unremovable battery grip, 2 SD cards, and even the lightest lens they offer (the soon to be released 50mm), you’re looking at 3000g. If, like me, you are coming from mirrorless, that’s a shock to the system (read: my noodle arms). The GFX 50 is also damned ugly. I might pretend I’m function over fashion, but I can’t deny the draw of the aesthetics of Leicas and most of Fuji’s smaller range. The GFX 50 is a large plastic, 80s themed brick. The GFX 100 has taken large steps on the style front, and I do quite like it, but it’s not pretty. Think of the Hasselblad 500CM; that's what I want from styling! Both of these criticisms are resolvable through a Magic Mike style fitness regime and a stern word with yourself about vanity. The other barriers are less scalable.

Medium format is still only viable to some photographers, depending on genre. For portrait, commercial, product, studio, landscape, and all the many genres in between, you’ll benefit. However, if you shoot sports, wildlife, or anything that requires a long lens, it’ll be a challenge to make work. The Fuji launch event for the GFX 100 identified many of their target market, with portrait demos put on for photographers, and promotional videos of images shot from a helicopter, boasting the camera’s excellent in-body stabilization. (As an aside, I tested the GFX 100’s IBIS to its limits and was shooting at dusk, hand-held, at 1/8 and getting tack sharp images.) Then, they ventured a little out of their wheelhouse. They mentioned wildlife photography and how strong the GFX 100 will be for it. I chatted with an excellent photographer named Peter Delaney who agreed, but his work is singular. If you’re looking to snipe the shots from range, you’ll have to crop heavily. The longest lens on offer is 250mm (about 197.5mm comparatively on a full frame body) which simply won’t cut it. Even with the 1.4x teleconverter, which splits opinions anyway, you’re only looking at 350mm, 276.5mm full frame equivalent. So, it’s possible, but if you’re on safari, I suspect you’ll be eaten.

For the rest of us, our ears should have pricked up. With the launch of the GFX 100 and it being on sale before the end of June this year, the GFX 50R will likely drop even further and they are both quite incredible.

Are you interested in moving to medium format? Why, or why not?

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25 Comments

After reading your first sentence I take you've never seen the Pentax 645Z. It has been a affordable medium format body for years.

forget the 645Z what about the 645D

Spy Black's picture

Forget the 645D...

Will be interesting to see what the battery life is like, not just how many shots you can hammer out but how much composition time you get. Firing up the sensor to compose sucks battery... its interesting how phase one have pretty much moved away from this small medium format size. Fuji are going for the economies of scale and choosing a sensor size that is much easier to make. As a Phase One user it would be interesting to play with to compare, but I am invested phase, alpa and a EVF hater and that's not likely to change

JetCity Ninja's picture

not only did you leave out the aforementioned Pentax 645Z, you also left out the GFX 50S... an option if you can't afford the GFX 100 but hate the look of the GFX 50R.

I returned to photography last Fall after a long break, I knew Nikon. So I jumped back in with both feet and started shooting with a D850, which has served me well for the architectural and interiors work I focus on. But as soon as I saw the details of the GFX 100, I knew immediately that’s how I wanted to work going forward. The level of detail and dynamic range, the ability to shoot at 16-bit when that ultimate file malleability is needed or expected, combined with the handheld usability, just seems ideal. And since I’m not over-invested in F-mount, and don’t do sports or wildlife, I’m selling most of my Nikon gear and shifting to Fuji as my main work body. I’ve never shot with the 4:3 aspect ratio, so my composition habits will need to change, but that won’t take long. So yes, that medium format “look” at that price, and weather sealed, etc. etc. leaves me chomping at the bit to get started. Hopefully my camera store will be able to fulfill my preorder on day one.

Blake Aghili's picture

After you shoot film and medium format, you can't stand looking at 35mm digitals and I even have D850 ... but just use Nikons now for weddings... anything else I shoot either medium format film ( for my own fun shoots ) and medium format digital for commercial client shoots ... ( I have GFX 50S and also PhaseOne IQ3 100 which I want to downgrade to maybe IQ3 60 ... when you get to HAIR and skin retouch you will see how painful a 100 meg file is lol )

Fuji making all the insanely priced MF cameras look bad. Fuji’s lenses also seem to be better as well.

Friend, I don’t mean to question the knowledge you’ve gained on this trip, but as a GFX 50R owner I can assure you it lacks IBIS.

Stuart Carver's picture

Wasn’t it the IBIS in the GFX100 he was talking about? That’s how I read it.

He seems to have edited it.

Robert K Baggs's picture

Max is right, I did edit it. It was a jet lagged mistake. Thanks for spotting it!

Jorge Cevallos's picture

My situation.

rodney simba masarirambi's picture

This is me with the prettier version 2 of the GFX 100 and the Hasselblad X1D 🤣

Philip Field's picture

"...but if you’re on safari, I suspect you’ll be eaten..." - possibly the funniest thing I've read all week. Excellent!

It's great that Sony have released a MF sensor that provides better AF, I hope AF on this GFX 100 is in the same ballpark as Xt3. That is tempting.
I just wish it was E mount, then I could shoot square format and use FF lenses.
Good work Fuji.
Anyway the price is not for me, I would not know where to store a so expensive camera when not in use, and to heavy to carry at all times:) Not talking about paying it:)

I own GFX-50S and it's an awesome camera with good ergonomics. However it's a magnet which draws attention when you take out in public.

Gfx-100s in two years (bought my GFX-50S 7 months ago and so buying another one within 2 years makes me feel bad :-D )

I was looking at a Hasselblad H5d used digital, but now with the Fujifilm GX100 less than 10 grand, I expect that MF digital prices will soon take a nose dive. Providing that Fuji can meet the initial demand.

David Stephen Kalonick's picture

What's the DR and eye autofocus speed compared to the Sony Alpha a7R III? I bet the Sony blows this camera out of the water. I just switched to Sony from Canon because they are clearly lightyears ahead of all other camera manufacturers. I photograph​ about 4 families a year and some senior portraits maybe a wedding our two but my main goal is commercial.

Bert Pearlman's picture

In my teens I saw my first large format film negative, and immediately understood the inescapable lure of the siren's song - so much detail in the negative - such amazing color! In my 20's I shot a used ZEIS 35 and borrowed MF film cameras. Unfortunately, I lacked the space and $$ for a suitable darkroom until my 50's when I found a used Mamiya 645, began equipping a darkroom, and then then added a used Toyo 4x5 to my kit....I was in heaven! .....but I was getting old(er), and the weight of the equipment was feeling significant. But the gods smiled and digital cameras, Aperture, Photoshop, and Lightroom gave me new freedom; 5D, 5D3 and 5DSR kept me going ...... but now, in my mid-70's, the kit again seems heavy. If I had the stamina, there is no question in my mind - MF digital (and the FUJI) would be my next camera. My advice: if you hear the photographers' Siren's song, if you have a vision of the photographers' Holy Grail, if you have the stamina, and you can scrape up the $$, go for it! Something new and better will eventually materialize, but you only live once.

Jan Kruize's picture

At this moment i am testing a Fuji GFX 50-R with a 32-64mm f4 I test it against my Canon Eos 5D MKIV.with a 24-70mm 2.8 And to be honest till now i'm not very impressed. I have to be honest i printed nothing yet. Tomorrow i'm going to shoot a model in the studio. Friday i'm going to shoot a photo for an exhibition with it. We'll see.

Sorry for my ignorance, but what is a 100% crop, please? In my math, if I crop by 100% I'm left with exactly nothing. Am I missing something here?

It just means that the picture is zoomed in to where the pixels in the image match your display at a 1:1 ratio.

andy greenwell's picture

Does anyone know for sure if/how the Fuji 120 mmƒ4 works with the GFX 100?