Fujifilm has been quietly dominating the rather niche market of reasonably priced medium format cameras. However, their rumored newest addition is either going to the perfect option in that sector, or it's going to narrowly miss that target.
On a tranquil Spring evening, I leaned against the railings of a dimly lit rooftop in Tokyo, watching the sunset's gradient of blue through to pink reminiscent of a WordArt font coloring slowly fade. I sipped a local beer and wondered: "what the hell did I do to deserve this?!" For the best part was in front of me, braced against that railing (half to test the IBIS, half because I'd opted against lugging my tripod around for 12 hours) was the pre-release Fujifilm GFX 100. I'd spent the day at Fujikina for the launch event, and I was thoroughly enamored.
The next day, I was given a tour of the factory in which the GFX 100 was made, and that was it. I had to have this camera. I'd had Gear Acquisition Syndrome before, and this didn't feel like that. Well, okay, it felt like that but underpinned with logic and... more desire. The sort of work I was doing in advertising would benefit from 100 megapixels and every portrait I took with it in Japan was just dreamy, though my attraction to the camera was as much through an attraction to Fujifilm as their new release. While before the trip, I had merely appreciated their APS-C bodies and camera aesthetics, now I was spellbound by the company and its ethos. They had care and passion for making the GFX 100 the greatest camera they had ever produced, and it was more than endearing; it was inspiring.
That might seem like hyperbole, but I assure you it isn't. To walk into the part of the building where they built the GFX 100, you had to go through a sort of walk-in decompression module, then don a hazmat-looking suit complete with a mask. (After 2020, that doesn't sound all that shocking, but it was back then.) You then went through a vacuum connector and into the production area, which was one hundred percent dust-free. Inside were assembly stations and testing areas, but it didn't look like a factory you might imagine, it looked more like a laboratory creating a nuclear fusion reactor. Each person wasn't an assembly line worker, but an artisan at their specific task.
I gather not many eyes get to see into this part of Fujifilm's world, so I hope some of the shots I was able to capture can do their work and their practices justice.
So, I flew home and immediately pre-ordered the GFX 100, and that large gunmetal gray box and I lived happily ever after. Right? Sadly not, no. I got home, I fired up my computer, and then I started working out how much money I'd need to make the switch. The camera was $9,999 — ouch, but let's see where we end up. The Fujifilm GF 100mm f/2 R LM WR is in the top three best lenses I've ever used, so that's got to be bought for my portrait work. Then, my commercial work — the work that brought in the most income — required a macro lens, so that's non-negotiable, the 120mm needs to be bought too. Finally, I'd need something a little wider as magazine shoots, environmental work for companies, and so on, all often called for something that could fit more in the frame and preferably, with some zoom. I had used the GF 32-64mm f/4 (which equates to 25-51mm on full frame), and that'd do that job nicely; I don't need faster glass. I pressed enter, and I knew that was that — there was no way I could justify $18,000. It was — and is — a brilliant and singular camera, but it wouldn't bring me in enough new work to pay for that sort of outlay. I was stuck.
I spoke to my contacts at Fujifilm and asked their advice, I looked at the GFX 50R, which I had used for some of the trips and loved, just to get into their medium format ecosystem. Even with a discount, after lenses, I'd still have been spending $10,000. I wasn't wholly averse to investing in my business, but the 50R was aging, and it simply couldn't be seen as a wise use of money. So, with a heavy heart, I abandoned the idea. (Though one of our writers didn't, and I regularly have had to edit his articles about it, so thanks, Christopher Malcolm!)
Now, my love for the GFX 100 wasn't completely blind. Having used it, there were a number of considerations. Firstly, it was massive compared to my little Sony a7 III. Not only was it extremely bulky to carry and move around with, but it also weighed an awful lot too. This made it tricky on long days and shoots. Don't get me wrong, I spent a long time walking around with it and shooting, and I loved it. But once that honeymoon period ended, I wondered if it would become an albatross. This size and weight were due to the advent of IBIS, which was one of the key selling points and required a larger body. The GFX 50R was markedly smaller and lighter, and while still large, was more in the region of older DSLRs in weight and manageable.
Enter the Rumored GFX 100S
The issues I had with moving into the Fujifilm medium format ecosystem were clear-cut: The GFX 100 priced me out of the game, it was large and heavy for daily use, and the 50R and 50S were aging while still a substantial investment. If I had to orchestrate Fujifilm's next release, therefore, it would be the GFX 100 sensor and IBIS, somehow crammed into a GFX 50R body and half the price — a fair and reasonable request, I'm sure you'll agree. I had written off even two of my three requests being met with Fuji's next medium format camera, but if the rumors are to be believed, they're going to achieve all three.
Fuji Rumors is a site that does what it says on the tin, and as far as I've ever seen or verified, their rumors about the big stuff are more or less correct. So, what have they heard about the upcoming GFX 100S?
So, let’s sum it up:
- Fujifilm GFX100S
- 102 MP medium format Bayer sensor
- backside illuminated sensor with full phase detection pixels coverage
- a bit smaller than Fujifilm GFX50S
- coming early 2021
- price: $5,999
So, we're keeping the GFX 100 sensor — that's a great start. We're keeping the IBIS — another bonus, but in what way is this going to be different from the GFX 100? Ok, it's going to be markedly smaller if it's tipped to be closer to the GFX 50S. How on earth are they going to fit the IBIS system in? This is going to cost a fortune. No, wait, it's $4,000 cheaper. My biggest worry for the GFX 100S is how they will ever shift their stock of GFX 100 bodies now.
Perfect or Still a Bridge Too Far?
The question this raises for me is whether this will do enough to bring more people to Fujifilm medium format cameras. The biggest perks (the sensor and IBIS) of the GFX 100 are coming over to the GFX 100S, and while dealing with the biggest flaws (the size and price), so it should be a home run. But, will full frame shooters now be tempted enough to make the leap? The most cutting edge full frame body is presently the Canon R5, which is $2,100 cheaper (unless you happen to live in the U.K. like me, where the R5 is both sold out and costs both kidneys) and an attractive hybrid camera for those who also shoot video. The GFX 100S, like the GFX 100 before it, will be primarily aiming at purist photographers who shoot genres like portraiture, landscape, or commercial, as opposed to sports or wildlife.
It appears that there is a demographic of photographers (and I'd put myself firmly in them) that shoot full frame but would love to shoot medium format if they could justify the investment. Hasselblad has long been heading towards this same target: medium format cameras that aren't out of reach for all but 0.01% of photographers like their H Series cameras as Phase One bodies have been for some time. Even Hasselblad's newest medium format camera, the 907X 50C, a body so beautiful I want to whisper poetry to it, is only 50 megapixels (who could possibly live with so few?) and doesn't have IBIS. Despite this, it's $400 more expensive than the proposed price of the GFX 100S.
So, if the rumors are correct, has Fujifilm found the medium format sweet spot? Or, is it still a little too far out of reach for many? I'm leaning heavily towards the former.