Why Fuji's New Medium Format Camera Is Important

Why Fuji's New Medium Format Camera Is Important

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. 

The Lenses

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. 

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39 Comments

JUSTIN SISSON's picture

Great read! Proud Fuji XT2 owner here and I can say the leaps that Fuji has been making have been nothing short of amazing! I'm very much looking forward to GFX 50S as a studio photographer (Food & Portrait). The main thing the XT1 & XT2 owners have been begging for is tethering abilities through Capture One, which looks like we might finally get with firmware down the road. Cost will be the biggest factor for me because I feel like my XT2 is more than capable of doing the job and I truly love the camera! Fuji's price point for body & lens is WAYYYY below DSLR prices, hopefully this will be true for medium format. Either way I'm excited for what Fuji has for us down the road!

My hopes are not high that Capture One Pro will support tethering this Fuji medium format beast.
It is direct competition. They already do NOT support the Pentax 645Z and some of the higher end Leicas.
Although I don't understand why they do not support tethering the "lower end" of Fuji cameras at all. At least you can develop their RAW files.

Jay Jay's picture

How is that xt2? Seriously considering buying one but wish they had their 35mm equivalent go down past 2.0.

JUSTIN SISSON's picture

My personal advice is to rent one if you get a chance. I shot full frame prior to shooting Fuji. I like the fuji system/body/glass so much more than I did when I was shooting Canon. The technology is there and the days of FF vs Crop gap are closing. That's across platforms from XT2 to D500. Don't let a crop body scare you away. Fuji XT2 is INSANELY good. Best camera I've used to date.

Jay Jay's picture

I just upgraded to a canon 5d4 from a 3, so i'm used to FF. I've been very spoiled to being able to shoot in near darkness with those cameras. But i would love a small walk around camera that looks like a small walk around camera and not a suv like my canon's look like. The high iso quality is the most important thing to me in deciding on an xt2, since i do a lot of indoor and night time shooting.

Christian Santiago's picture

I too am very close to switching form my NX1 to Fuji. Love the lenses, the colors and the constant support via firmware. The last one is very important as I am still sore at how Samsung just ghosted it's customers.

I know as a photo camera it will more than exceed my expectations, I am just curious if it's video capabilities will live up to the hype.

I think there are already a few reviews/demos/samples on the net about the X-T2's video capabilities.
Although it's not a camera specifically designed for video, I read it does a very good job.

I don't have the X-T2 but I have the X-T1 and it is much more than a walk around camera :)
From what I've read so far on the X-T2, you officially can't go wrong with it.

But, since you're already a Canon shooter, you could wait and see how the new M5 is doing. I know it took a lot of crap from all the internet experts out there but I'm sure it's not as bad as many say.
One added bonus is that you already have some glass you could use on it with an adapter.

Jay Jay's picture

As much as i'd like Canon to succeed with the M5, there's absolutely nothing about it that will make people want to buy it. Fuji has definitely cornered the market with solid, well built, high quality beautiful cameras. From the reviews on the XT1 and the X Pro series, it's an experience using a Fuji. While they partially bombed on the X100s, that Xt2 looks like it's going to be an amazing camera. I just wished they had a weather sealed prime that went below 2.0 though...

Dave Hachey's picture

Well I just picked up my X-T2 today, along with the kit 18-55mm f/2-4 and the 56mm f/1.2 lenses. It didn't take long to get used to it, but image quality isn't quite up to my big Canon systems, perhaps 90% of the way there. The main reason I bought it was as a light weight travel kit. I just spent 3 weeks in Peru lugging 15 kg of DSLR gear around at 12,000+ ft. So far I like the Fuji system and their philosophy, and the body is very responsive. I still need to evaluate image quality, but I suspect it will be fine once I get the workflow under control.

Jay Jay's picture

Thanks for the feedback. I know i'll never be happy with a camera if i compare it to a 5d3 or 4. A small, portable camera that provides good quality is what i'm looking for. I'm thinking about getting that X-T2.

Give yourself a couple more days with it. I have been shocked how good it is compared to much higher mp Sony bodies and just about every brand of glass (Canon L, Zeiss, Minolta G, or Leitz). It took me a few days, then I found out that the differences in IQ were mostly me learning a new system.

Don't they have a 23mm 1.4? I never thought I'd see someone complain about the Fuji lens line up!

Jay Jay's picture

They do, but it's an older lens and not part of the new WR series (Which is the 23mm WR). I read reviews comparing the two and the WR has a bit better build to it (not to mention being weather resistant) and more importantly, finds focus much quicker than the their R series 1.4 in 23mm.

I see!

I didn't follow those lenses close enough, I though they were the same!

Andrew Richardson's picture

Fuji makes some of the best lenses in the world, can't wait to get my hands on the new camera and glass and see what they've been able to accomplish. If they can get me into a medium format system for a sub-$10k price, I'm in.

Bani Sen's picture

How many FPS will it be able to shoot and do you feel that it will be helpful for wedding photography

Spencer Lookabaugh's picture

I'm not sure if FPS has been released, but I see it having few, if any, advantages over an X-T2 or other camera for weddings.

michael andrew's picture

I agree, weddings are about coverage, speed, ergonomics and durability. Image quality and resolution have been great for wedding needs for as long as digital cameras have been out. I shot a wedding with a 20D before the original 5D and the photos were great.

JUSTIN SISSON's picture

If I were shooting weddings I'd look into a Fuji XT2 + Grip. 14 FPS. There's tons of videos online that showcase XT2 raw talents.

Robert Raymer's picture

I was very excited about this announcement, as I have been a fan of Fuji MF cameras since the days of film, however my excitement was quickly dampened when I found out that not only were they not incorporating LS lenses, which would have been fine, but also that the shutter sync speed is supposedly 1/125. As someone that uses flash a lot both in and out of studio that was quite a disappointment.

Their price of the body and 63/2.8 being "much" less than $10,000 is such a tease. $9500 is nice and cute. But what if it is $7500? I have some hard decicions then. And how about the lens prices? The lack of a leaf shutter, they should be less costly. Could the more normal ones be $1k each? Less? $1500 for the portrait or macro?

Fuji has thrown me a curveball. The body with the 23, 45, and 110 could do 90% of my work.

I will probably stay as I am with the XT2 16/23/56, and pray they make an adapter for the medium format to be used on the X mount. Both the 110/2 and 120/4 macro would be tempting. Not to mention get me in the door for running a MF and APS-C combo if I can double up a couple of lenses.

The leaf shutter thing is one of the defining quality of many medium format system. Not that I'm in the market per se - but I don't really appreciate the value equation of the fuji camera when smaller formats are coming up so quickly in terms of quality. The leaf shutters of the Hasselblad offer a significantly different option and technical advantage that help define the camera.

As an enthusiast, the price of MF digital cameras are out of my price range. But in regards to sensor size to film size, the MF digitals sensor size is smaller than film: 6x4.5 or 6x7; so should these cameras be classified as "APC MF"? If the sensors matched the film size, the cost of the cameras would be more expensive. Plus, there's the lens multiplier factor to consider.

Dave Hachey's picture

Trust me, you don't want a digital camera with a 60 X 70mm sensor. The lenses necessary to cover the image circle would weigh a ton! At the equivalent pixel density of the 33x44mm sensor, a true MF sensor would be about 250 MP, so postprocessing would be a nightmare.

Fritz John Asuro's picture

It's like a new trend in photography technology nowadays. First, Sony gave us a full frame sensor in the size of a compact camera. Now Fujifilm is giving us medium format on the size of a DSLR.

So based on the two given cases, mirrorless technology is really changing the game, but not by creating a new line of sensor size but sticking to the classic 35mm and medium format and fitting it in a smaller body.

I am not against DSLRs at all, but as technology advances, I don't doubt it that one day I'll be using mirrorless cameras.

michael andrew's picture

it happened before, rangefinders (mirrorless) cameras were the norm from the 30'- the 70' until the slr became popular in the 35mm format. It is coming full circle

Jay Jay's picture

From a post last week, the Fuji GFX sensor is quite a bit smaller compared to the Phase One and Hasselblads. How does it compare to that Hassel X1D?

Jake Reeder's picture

Same size/res as the sensor found in the h5d-50c, h6d-50c, iq150, iq250, iq350, x1d, 645z. Fuji say it's different to the sony cmos but can't see how.

Jay Jay's picture

Fuji has been hitting home runs in quality for several years now, so this won't be any different. But i'm sure it will be expensive enough where most mortals wont be able to afford it (as is all MF cameras out there)

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