Cameras don’t always come cheap, but when you find the right fit for your style and your business model, value isn’t always only about the sticker price.
You already know the specs. Well, at least you likely know one spec. It’s right there in the name, after all. The Fujifilm GFX 100 has a whopping 100 MP medium format sensor (102 MP actually), a number that seemed beyond comprehension when I started my photography career all those years ago with a 10 MP Nikon D200. 100 megapixels. The number is a marketing tool in and of itself for Fujifilm, drawing gasps from even the most ardent supporters of other brands, but there’s more to the unit that just that number.
There are some limitations. If you are a sideline sports shooter or lover of smaller camera bodies, this might not be for you. If burst rate is your thing, the GFX 100’s little brother, the X-T3 can provide significantly more frames per second with faster autofocus for a tenth of the price. The flash sync speed of 1/125th versus the usual 1/250th or faster isn’t my favorite feature.
There are other 100 MP medium format sensors on the market. Phase One actually makes a system the exceeds that mark and reaches for 150 MP. Of course, it needs mentioning that, in the case of Fuji, the 100 MP comes in the form of a camera body roughly the size of a traditional full frame DSLR (with battery grip) and at about a third of the price (if not less, depending on your configuration).
But even with certain limitations known going in, there was little hesitation for me in deciding that this would be the right system for me. Here’s why.
Okay, I know what you’re thinking. How on Earth are you going to contend that a $10,000 camera is a good value proposition? Well, it’s all a matter of perspective. If I were shooting only for digital or social media and my work was never printed, I would agree with you. If my business model was built around quantity versus quality, I would agree with you. As an example, if I was a journalist working in tough locations where I have little control over my environment and it’s more important to be on the scene and get “a” shot, versus being able to take your time to get “the” shot. In that case, I might want to go for a smaller and faster camera which would put an emphasis on versatility, a smaller file size, and faster transmission of images.
But, alas, I am a commercial photographer. I shoot heavily produced, closely scrutinized, large scale, and relatively slowly moving projects where the objective is to come away with a handful of key images that can be printed in all sizes in an effort to launch a product into the marketplace. Detail matters.
This means that while I’ve been shooting many of my commercial jobs with my trusty full frame Nikon D850 (more on that camera later), I just as often find myself renting a medium format system for commercial clients. Since these systems, traditionally a Phase One or Hasselblad, can cost between $30,000 to $50,000 to purchase, the traditional business model for shooting medium format is to rent the camera instead of purchasing and bill the rental to the client.
This has advantages, as it reduces your overhead expenses, while also providing your client with the quality they need. Those who work frequently enough may even go so far as to spend the $30,000 to $50,000 upfront to purchase the system, then rent their own gear to the production, thus reducing the cost of the initial investment and ultimately (over time), even potentially making a profit off of the purchase.
Now, I am no mathematician, but seems to me that it will take a lot less time to recoup your investment on a $10,000 system than a $30,000 system. Yes, there are certain advantages, as I mentioned earlier, to the $30,000 system, such as flash sync speed and modularity, but is it a $20,000 difference? Furthermore, when looking at it from the perspective of financial risk, a $10,000 investment reflects much less financial exposure than the more expensive systems.
Yes, it’s more expensive than a full frame DSLR, but, then again, the two aren’t really the same thing, which brings me to my next point.
Image quality in a camera is one of those things that seems like it should be easy to define objectively through numbers, but, in actuality, is as much about art as it is about science. To me, the images produced by a medium format sensor just feel different to those produced by full frame. My Nikon images are amazingly sharp, and I’d put it up against any other camera in the full frame space. But medium format is just different. I would love to dive into a detailed technical discussion of how the size of the sensor affects the image, but unfortunately, I am not that guy. I’m a person who believes that the way an image feels is just as important as what the spec sheets says. And the best way I can describe the difference is that when I look at an image shot with a medium format camera, I feel like I want to walk “into” the image. It feels deep and layered. It’s somewhat akin to watching a movie shot on IMAX or in 70mm versus standard 35mm, like watching “Lawrence of Arabia” versus watching “The Crying Game.” Both are fantastic films, but one just feels more expansive and immersive. When shooting medium format, I feel like I am being engulfed into a world rather than simply viewing a two-dimensional frame.
Yes, there are a multitude of technical arguments I can make in favor of larger sensors. But at the end of the day, it just produces the feeling that I am personally after when creating an image.
Okay, this one is a bit technical. And, this one is also quantifiable. The GFX 100 shoots at a 16-bit color depth. Most of the best full frame DSLRs, like my Nikon D850, shoot at 14-bit. So, why is that important?
In the most basic terms, the greater the bit depth, the more accurate your color reproduction. Essentially, the camera is able to see more colors than cameras with lower bit depth. The first thing I did when I got my unit in the mail last week, like with every new camera, is that I went out for a photo walkabout.
With no particular events in the outing, I headed into Downtown LA to visit Union Station, Olvera Street, and Chinatown. Those last two are not only busy areas but very colorful ones as well. When I pressed down the shutter on the GFX 100 to snap a few casual images, the thing that immediately jumped out at me was that the colors I was seeing on the screen were identical to the colors I was seeing with my eyes without any manipulation in post.
Given the environment, I pushed this even further by shooting in Fuji’s Velvia profile, which provided even more pop to the already vibrant tones while still feeling natural. These were obviously just fun shots and not something I would produce for a client, but let’s take the benefits of that color accuracy into the real world.
The majority of my clients are commercial fashion, fitness, and activewear brands. They put a great deal of effort into the design of their clothes, including the unique colors they use to manufacture them. Imagine the benefit to the customer of being able to display the most accurate color reproduction of their product in the images you deliver. It’s a seemingly small detail, but one that will lead to a more satisfied customer and potentially and more likely to a return customer.
While on the subject of making our customers happy, let’s take a moment to talk about the detail provided by a 100 MP sensor. I’m not normally one to pixel-peep, but Great Fancy Moses, these images are detailed. I shot one image while I was out of a collection of masks at one of the street vendor’s booths. When I got the image into Capture One, I pushed in, then in, then in, then in, then in some more. I eventually ended up grabbing the loupe tool to keep going in ever further. And the detail in even the smallest fraction of the frame was still far beyond what I could see with my naked eye.
If you’re shooting a picture of a dog, you’ll be able to see every hair. If your shooting a landscape, you’ll be able to see every mountain. Or, in my case, if I am shooting a model wearing my client’s clothing, the potential customer will be able to make out every single stitch. Clients love these details, as it helps them to show the features of their product.
Clients also like to crop. A single image you produce may be cropped 15 different ways depending on its intended use. One image may serve as a long horizontal billboard hanging over the freeway, a cropped square for an Instagram post, a long and narrow slice to comprise a website or Facebook header, a tall, narrow version for product packaging, or any other shape you might possibly imagine.
As a side note, while you should always shoot with the right lens for the image you’re trying to create, there are times (like, for example, when wandering around Downtown LA) when you want to just have one prime lens and travel light. Added resolution allows you to basically just take a wider lens (in this case a GF45mm — 35mm full frame equivalent), shoot with it, and crop in later. This isn’t ideal, but at 100 MP, this approach is definitely viable in situations when you don’t want to or aren’t able to carry your entire assortment of glass.
While the objective is always to create the final image right there in camera, the somewhat understated benefit of 100 MP is that it gives your client almost unlimited flexibility in post. You can literally crop in 50% and still end up with a 50 MP image. And because of the sharpness produced by the GFX 100, you will still be able to retain quality.
Speaking of retaining quality, one major advantage with larger sensors is a great dynamic range. Simply put, that is the range of tones from shadows to highlights a camera can record before either the highlights blow out or the blacks turn to mush. The massive amount of information that is retained in both highlights and shadows is evident straight out of camera when shooting with the GFX 100, but is even more evident when you take the files into Capture One and attempt to recover detail in under or overexposed areas. I am able to push and pull shadows and highlights significantly. Added to the already stellar dynamic range of the original shot, this post-processing versatility offers me a safety net if forced to create images in less than ideal lighting situations.
I’ve written ad nauseum in the past about my love for the design of Fuji cameras. While I’ve traditionally used Nikon cameras as my go-to tool in most situations, in recent years, I’ve found myself drawn more and more to the Fuji X system for personal work. With the tactile dials and overall layout, Fujifilm designs cameras with as much care for the joy of taking the photograph as for the specs of the final result.
But as much as I began to turn more and more to my Fuji X-T3 for professional purposes, there were still certain scenarios where the smaller 26 MP APS-C size sensor simply wouldn’t do.
I was left with this never-ending dream that somehow I would find a camera that could merge the design of the Fuji X system that I loved with the image quality of my Nikon D850. This lead me first to the Fuji GFX 50S, which I was loaned and reviewed in a five-part series earlier this year. In fact, I was just weeks away from pulling the trigger on that purchase when I learned about the then-pending release of the GFX 100 and decided to wait.
I’m glad I did, as the design of the GFX 100 has not disappointed.
I won’t lie. I miss the dials. One of the most notable things about the Fuji X system is the dials. More than just a gimmick, the tactile approach to photography, where your camera can be controlled without ever needing to dive into a menu, is a major design plus for me. It simplified photography into what it is really all about, controlling your images with three basic elements: aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. When I learned that Fuji would dispense with the dials for the GFX 100, I was greatly disappointed. And perhaps in a future model, they will find a way to reincorporate them.
But, with that said, the design that has replaced it, while less aesthetically pleasing, is decidedly efficient. The top screen on the right that replaced the dials and can be customized to show anything from histograms to digital replicas of the dials is immensely useful. The big new addition to the top of the camera is a three-point selector with options for Movie, Multi, or Still. They are what they sound like. Movie takes advantage of the camera’s 4K video, which utilizes the entire medium format sensor and has video capabilities similar to the X-T3. Multi stands for multiple exposure. And still stands for, well, still.
What’s nice about this setup is that if you are a hybrid shooter, as I am, it greatly simplifies the process of quickly switching back and forth from still to motion. Many cameras have this dual functionality. But as someone who shoots both in manual, it is very easy to forget to change your settings from time to time. Or, even if you do remember, the added mental energy expended keeping track of what your previous video settings were when you went to still mode is just more brain-drain than is necessary. The new multi selector simplifies this by retaining your settings for each mode when you go back and forth.
So, for example, if I’m shooting stills at f/4, 1/2000 s, at IS0 100 with a Velvia profile, but want to shoot video at f/4, 1/48 s, 24 fps, at ISO 800 with the Eterna profile, the camera will remember both. I just need to flip the switch (and account for the aperture, which is still changeable via the aperture ring on the lens).
Call me an old-timer, but this is actually the first camera I have ever owned with in-body image stabilization. I wasn’t against it; I just never owned a camera that had it. So, while I understood the benefits, I didn’t really “understand” the benefits. As someone with shaky hands and a serious aversion to tripods, I’ve had more than my fair share of images lost due to camera shake. With the GFX 100, even shooting at slower shutter speeds than I might usually, and mistakes further emphasized by the resolution, I haven’t had any trouble keeping my images sharp. I realize I’m late to the party on the IBIS train, but as it is new to me, the ability to shoot 100 MP on a medium format sensor is game-changing. While many full frame cameras have the option, this is the only medium format camera with that capability and for one third of the price.
This is a smaller point, but one that factors into the overall investment question. As I stated earlier, I have been a Nikonian for the majority of my career. This means that over the years, I have also acquired all the lenses and accessories that go along with Nikon cameras, and I am heavily invested in the system. Because of this investment, it has always made sense when upgrading to stay within the Nikon ecosystem. Any change would require me to re-buy my lens lineup to accommodate the new mount.
So, logically, after the D850, one would assume my upgrade path to be the Nikon Z 7. Mirrorless has clearly proven it's bonafide as the years have rolled along, and even Nikon has seen the writing on the wall in adding the Z 6 and Z 7 to their lineups. But, necessarily, the new mirrorless Nikons have a new lens mount. While you can certainly use a converter to attach your legacy lenses, inevitably, you will get the best results from any system by using the native lenses that were designed specifically for it.
This means that on the next iteration following my D850, I would likely be changing to a mirrorless system regardless. And because of the new mount, the expense would be significant, because it would mean that I would also be upgrading my lens selection. So, while I needed to purchase Fuji GF lenses for my new GFX 100 system, I would still have had to do the same thing with Nikon were I to switch to the Z 7. So, the only real price difference is in the body itself.
While the shift to mirrorless was a necessary change for Nikon and one that will allow it to grow in the future, the practicality of the new lens mount means I am less beholden to stay within the brand than I might have been just five years ago. Combine this with my growing affection for Fuji design and the development of a sensor that not only meets but exceeds the level of my Nikon, the time felt right to make the move.
I could go on and on about the ways I see this camera transforming the product I am able to deliver to my clients. The vastly improved autofocus over previous GFX models. The improved EVF. The infinite customization, which should improve my overall shooting efficiency. And, as time rolls along, I will drop back in periodically with more case-specific articles about how the unit performs in various situations.
But for now, I just wanted to give you my initial thoughts for those of you who may be considering taking the plunge. It is may not be the least expensive camera on the market. And it may not make sense for everyone’s business model. But, for my business needs at least, it has been well worth the investment.