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:
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?