It has been just over a year since the release of Fujifilm’s entry into the digital medium format market, the Fujifilm GFX 50s. Fstoppers reviewed the camera a few months later, and I talked about it as a travel and portrait camera a while later. It’s an exceptional machine, there’s no doubting that. But after a few solid months of using it, how do I feel about it? The initial “wow” that comes with the honeymoon phase is over now, so what’s left?
Ever since writing my initial thoughts on using the camera for portraits and travel, I’ve been getting emails every few days asking for a recommendation to buy it or asking about how it stacks up against another camera. So, I thought I would take these questions and form them into a long-term review to give you an idea of how I feel about the camera now.
I’m not going to go into technical specs, etc., here. The camera does the job it is said to do. It is an exceptional high-resolution medium-format digital camera. The lenses are nothing short of jaw-dropping and almost all the features one would need are present. I believe the elephant in the room is still Capture One support, however. Please correct me if I’m wrong here. Anyway, on to my thoughts.
The GFX 50s feels like any Fujifilm X-series body. As a Fujifilm user, you’ll be right at home when you pick it up. However, over time, its unique features and quirks come to light more an more. For me, there are a few things that really stand out and make the camera quite annoying to use at times. These gripes are simply my own personal ones and you may or may not feel the same.
The first for me is the lack of a dedicated exposure compensation dial. In my opinion, one of the great features of this camera over the bulkier medium format systems is that you can simply pick it up and walk out the door to shoot casually. When doing this with the X-Series cameras, shooting aperture priority with the exposure compensation dial is a treat. It is one of my favorites and most frequently used features of the X-Series cameras. Of course, the GFX offers its own method of doing this with the jog dials, but it’s not the same when shooting this camera run-and-gun.
Of course, the removal of the exposure compensation dial does make room for the large thumb grip and e-ink display. Neither of these are really a big deal for me. Not once, after the first day of “Hey, that’s cool!” have I even looked at the e-ink display. It seems like a superfluous addition to a very streamlined camera. The thumb grip also doesn’t feel like it needs to be so large. Comfortably, my thumb actually rests a bit to the left, which makes it easy to press the buttons closer to the center of the body.
One more control that could be better placed is the focus mode selector. Having it on top of the screen protrusion at the back takes a lot of getting used to. I understand that on a camera like this, you’re probably not going to switch focus modes as frequently as you would on a more general purpose body. However, I found it quite annoying as every other camera I have used places it next to the lens. That’s a place where it makes sense to have the switch.
The final thing that seems at odds with the more robust body is the cheap plastic feel of the shutter and ISO dials. Where everything else about the body feels premium, these two feel like they were pulled off a toy in comparison. This is minor, but I notice it every time I turn them.
Of course, the image quality is nothing short of stellar. This is where the camera truly shines. The beautiful medium format sensor combined with Fujifilm’s own microlenses brings the much talked about sharpness and detail possible with this camera.
ISO performance is fantastic. Of course, you’ll want to shoot at the base ISO of 100 for maximum image quality in controlled settings, but the camera is more than usable at ISO 1600 or 3200 if needed. I found this useful for my style of shooting as I’m often working outdoors at the fringes of day and loathe using a tripod when I don’t absolutely have to.
By far, what really separates this camera (and other medium format cameras) from their smaller-sensor brethren, is the tonality they produce. The skin tones reproduced by the GFX are far more subtle than those in any of my previous cameras. The jump from my D800, D750, and X-T2 to this is huge. There is something more lifelike, more tangible about them. This is the one thing that keeps me coming back to the GFX for my Tattoos of Asia project. It brings a special quality to the files I bring home. People talk about the Hasselblad color rendition, and I honestly cannot speak to that as I don’t have enough experience, but the GFX is a step beyond any of the smaller format systems I have used in this regard.
When the GFX was released, many lamented the 1/125 sync speed, despite it being quite respectable for a focal-plane shutter in a medium format body. We knew HSS and other technologies would come, but out of the gate, they weren’t available. That is a different story now.
I have been using the Godox system extensively with the GFX and it has been flawless. The combination of the X-Pro trigger and a couple of AD200 units has been the perfect travel companion. Shooting at f/2 on the GF 110mm f/2 with high-speed sync enabled meant that I could use a shutter of 1/1000 to all but black out the ambient light or vary this when I needed to get a beautiful shallow depth of field with flashes on location.
The Godox system has been a treat, but they’re not the only option now. Profoto and Broncolor have also made their offerings to add support to their high-end flash systems. These three have made the Fujifilm system a much more viable option for flash photographers.
Hopes for the Future
The Fujifilm GFX 50s is an excellent entry point for Fujifilm into the world of medium format digital cameras. They did an excellent job of releasing a polished product that put them instantly on the map in what was an elitist industry before. I still feel like there are a couple of things they can do to solidify that place and grow their market even further.
The first thing would be improved autofocus. We have seen what the Fujifilm engineering wizards are capable of, and I believe there are some huge improvements coming in future firmware and body releases. The autofocus is quite quick, but it often does a full cycle through the lens’ focus distances before locking on. I’m sure an improved algorithm would be able to reduce this and make focusing faster again. Of course, in future bodies, improved processing power and the potential of PDAF will likely improve this significantly as well.
The second thing would be smaller, lighter lenses. As I mentioned, the GFX is a great on-location camera. The 45mm and 63mm lenses are small enough that you can simply walk around with them all day and photograph like you would with the X-Series cameras. I would love to see a smaller portrait lens or wide-angle lens that could be used in this way. Something like a 110mm f/2.8 could be significantly smaller and cheaper, bringing more people to the system and offering a lighter package.
Versus Full Frame
This is the question I get in almost every email I receive about the GFX. “I’m tossing up between a GFX and a Canikon full frame camera,” I answer this the same way each and every time. They’re not the same thing. If you’re trying to make this decision, you probably want to go with a DSLR. They’re much more versatile. The D850 and 5D Mark IV are exceptional machines and will produce equal if not better image quality in the majority of situations. Medium format is a more specific beast. If you need it, you’ll know.
This article might seem like it’s harping on the little things too much, but I don’t mean it like that at all. These are simply some of the quirks that have stayed with me over time. For anyone considering the camera, I hope that this helps you in your quest. I’d love to see a few things improved and a few things changed to make this camera even better than it already is.