Since the days of film, medium format has been far from reach for many photographers. Even working professionals can have trouble justifying the high price point of these systems: when used, they can be $8,000-10,000. Medium format film bodies, while cheap now, were always several thousand away from even the most exorbitantly priced 35mm bodies. Factor in the inconvenient size of just about every medium format camera ever, and it's easy to put the idea of working with these monsters far from mind.
The Fuji GFX 50s
The world of digital photography is ever-evolving, however, and just a few short months ago, Hasselblad announced what could be a solution to these issues, the X1D. While certainly intrigued by what that brings to the table, I believe the future of medium format lies with Fuji. Fuji's new camera has this name for a reason. G refers to their medium format heritage, F for their heritage in film and the popular film simulations offered on the camera, and X because well, it's a giant X-T2. The GFX 50s has been rumored for quite a while. I recall personally having seen small rumors here and there over a year ago. To much hype, Fuji finally decided to unleash it on the world this year at Photokina. Fuji did not disappoint. The 50s has an impressive list of specifications, many of which will be familiar to current Fuji shooters, some of which are standard in the world of medium format. What has me so excited is how Fuji is marketing this camera directly at DSLR shooters. I say this for several reasons, the first of which is the size. The 50s is nearly identical in size to the D810 and 5D Mark IV, but with a sensor 1.7x larger than full frame. With the vertical grip that Fuji announced, it may be slightly larger, but the point is that the size and feel won't be foreign to full-frame shooters. The camera can also shoot tethered, which most medium format users are used to, the 50s also has more physical controls on the exterior (like a DSLR), rather than the sparse bodies and extremely menu-driven operation of many current medium format platforms. There is also no X-Trans sensor, which could be good or bad depending on who you are and how you feel about Fuji's other options. Essentially, the X-Trans sensor uses a randomized pattern for the color pixels rather than the standard RGB order in traditional Bayer array sensors like those found in Nikon, Canon, and Sony cameras. X-Trans is what has always given the Fuji cameras their distinct look and color, but it has also caused many issues with raw converters like Adobe Lightroom, as the information is a little more difficult for the software to decipher. In what seems to be more seamless integration into existing workflows, the 50s has forgone an X-Trans in favor of a traditional Bayer array sensor. Being such a massive sensor, the difference, other than better file-handling in post, is likely negligible.
I was almost more excited for the lenses than the camera itself. With the six lenses that they announced, DSLR shooters will have a hard time not finding a lens that will work for them, as the range is pretty much covered. Fuji has said that throughout 2017, they will release a 110mm f/2 (portrait photographers rejoice), a 63mm f/2.8 (50mm equivalent), a 120mm f/4 macro, a 23mm f/4, which is an extremely wide angle lens for this large of a format, a 45mm f/2.8, and a 32-64mm f/4 zoom. All of these lenses are weather-sealed too, giving the GFX system the durability to work both in the studio and in the worst conditions around the world. This could be the landscape photography camera to rule them all.
Not all is perfect, though. The lenses don't have a leaf shutter, which may make many Phase One and Hassleblad users stick to their guns, regardless of how large they are. Truthfully, the leaf shutter or lack thereof is only going to be a problem for those using flash often. Leaf shutters were the original "high speed sync" in a sense. All of these new-fangled, HSS, High-Sync, Hypersync, etc. technologies are chasing after something medium format cameras have always had built in. A leaf shutter closes much like the lens's aperture, allowing for a flash to expose the frame evenly even at higher shutter speeds, whereas a focal plane shutter has to use some radio signal trickery to stop the flash from leaving a shadow across the frame. Fuji reasoned, and rightly so, that leaf shutters would make the lenses far too large for a mirrorless system. Fuji did say that the camera is capable of working with leaf shutters, however, which begs third party manufacturers like Novoflex and Fotodiox to make adapters for other medium format lenses.
Compared to the X1D
No one can honestly argue that Hassleblad cameras are bad. I'm not here to try that, because I love Hassleblad, I do. In this new and untested market of mirrorless/consumer-level medium format cameras, Fuji has gone the extra mile to integrate both DSLR and medium format features into one camera. The X1D looks to be less of a working photographer's camera, making it an expensive piece that few photographers would get serious use out of. Lens selections can make or break a system as Sony saw during the early days of the A7 series. Coming out of the gate with six distinct weather-sealed lenses was a smart decision for Fuji and will likely put it ahead of the X1D for many users.
As far as image quality is concerned, I don't honestly think there will be much difference. With imaging technology where it is today, the differentiating factors will be in extraneous features like autofocus, ergonomics, system versatility, and lens selection. I think we can all agree that it's virtually impossible to buy a bad camera in 2016. What matters is finding the camera that best fits you. The Fuji GFX 50s looks to be a camera that will fit many photographers shooting a variety of genres. The X1D will likely be a great camera; I just don't see it having the wide appeal of the Fuji. What Fuji has done is create a camera with the highest level of image quality with the relative simplicity that photographers want and expect at a price (exact numbers aren't out yet) that is extremely reasonable for this type of machine. There is no better time to jump up to medium format, and there is no better time to be a photographer than now.