Why Leaf Shutter Lenses Aren't Important for the Fujifilm GFX 50S

Why Leaf Shutter Lenses Aren't Important for the Fujifilm GFX 50S

One of the biggest complaints I've heard about Fuji's new medium format camera, the GFX 50S, is that there are no leaf shutter lenses. Leaf shutters have long been a staple in some medium format systems, enabling flash sync at faster shutter speeds than we are used to with focal plane shutters. But, here's the thing: It doesn't make sense for the GFX 50S to support them. Here's my reasoning why.

What are the benefits of leaf shutters?

In order to break down my argument, first we need to know why leaf shutters are awesome. And don't get me wrong, they're great. I've used them in my Mamiya RZ67 and RB67 and my large format cameras for a while now. The shutter works by opening and closing like a diaphragm, exposing all of the sensor/film at the same rate and velocity, enabling flash synchronization at any speed. What this means is that you can shoot your camera at its fastest shutter speed without worrying about the dreaded black lines that accompany focal plane shutters when you go beyond its limits.

When you're able to increase your shutter speed, you can knock down ambient light, enabling more control of the light in your scene and not drain your flash batteries attempting to overpower any ambient light. Sounds pretty good, right? Absolutely.

Syncing at full speed on a Mamiya RZ67

So Fuji, why not have them?

If they're so great, why shouldn't Fuji, a company always touting itself as pushing the state of the art, include them in their new flagship? I can think of a few reasons.


Leaf shutters are expensive. The lenses have many moving parts that need to be precision made and timed. In addition to wanting to be on the leading edge of technology, the narrative of this product is also one of economics. They're trying to bring medium format mirrorless to a massive audience. Leaf shutters would drive up the cost of lenses in their system way past the point of being able to call their product attainable by the average consumer. I hear many arguing that Hasselblad has a sub $10,000 mirrorless medium format camera that has leaf shutter lenses, so why can't Fuji? This is true, but have you looked at the cost of the lenses for that system? The lowest price lens available for pre-order, the 45mm f/3.5, is clocking in at a cool $2,295. The highest is nearly $4,000. That's not Fuji's audience. Hasselblad has always touted themselves as a luxury brand, so they can get away with higher cost lenses and say, "Well yeah, it's a Hasselblad!" Not so with Fuji.

The benefit isn't all that great

Some film photographers say it's so nice having leaf shutters in their film cameras, so why not put them in the new digital one? But really, is the benefit that impressive? If we are referencing the lenses from leaf shutters in old medium format film cameras, most of those shutters/lenses were limited to shutter speeds of 1/400 s to 1/500 s. That's a benefit of about a stop of light compared to a modern mirrorless or DSLR. Is it really worth the cost difference in lenses to gain a stop of light? I'm skeptical. Of course, some lenses, like the Hasselblads or Phase One leaf shutter line, will sync to full speed on a modern camera. But then you get into cost again. Fuji is trying to get a medium format line out there that is attainable for a large population of photographers. Having to spend $3,000 to $5,000 every time you want to purchase a lens just isn't in Fuji's best interest for their brand.

There are alternatives to leaf shutters

From ND filters to high-speed sync, the market is flooded with options to be able to pull off close to the same effect with filters that cost less than $100 and studio strobes with high-speed sync that can be had for $599. Yes, there is a power tradeoff with high-speed sync, but it's definitely workable in the field. Even dealing with higher recycling times for flashes is workable, especially since medium format cameras aren't exactly speed demons. You could buy five of those lights for the cost of one of the higher-end modern leaf shutter lenses. I think the lights are a better investment. That said, if you're listening, Fuji, you need to be sure that you are making your specs available to third party flash and trigger developers. Don't exclude leaf shutters and not give an alternative method of working with modern flashes. If you want to be taken seriously in the medium format digital realm, then being compatible with studio flashes is a must. That and tethering. But I digress.

The pain of focusing with ND filters is mostly alleviated with a mirrorless camera, as the display will gain up to help you see what you're doing. Using a screw on ND filter takes barely any time and the cost savings is tremendous over a leaf shutter solution. Yes, it's one more thing to take along with you, but if you're a pro I'm sure you can find a few square inches in your kit for some filters. If not, get a bigger bag.

Same effect produced with an ND filter. Also easily accomplished with high speed sync

You can adapt older lenses

If you really want to have a leaf shutter lens, one of the benefits of going mirrorless is that there are sure to be a slew of third party adapters released that will allow you to use old film lenses on the GFX 50S. Most of the medium format SLR film camera systems had leaf shutter lenses available as part of their ecosystem, some of which are available for cheap on the used market. Once those adapters come out, there will be a pretty hefty business done in old lenses, guaranteed. 

By being true to their brand, Fuji is attempting to bring a complete digital medium format system to more people than ever. The last thing they should want to do is set a low barrier to entry, only to nail you with the cost of lenses and accessories. It seems like they are doing something worth applauding. Time will tell, of course, as to whether they manage to keep the lens costs manageable, but by excluding leaf shutter lenses, at least for now, they have established integrity in their narrative of accessibility for their products.

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I agree with all this. Too much whining about not giving this system leaf shutter lenses, inasmuch as Fuji has hinted that they may be available in the future. HSS is pretty much the most practical solution, as is already regularly used in the 35mm realm. You can also probably pull off a good two stops of additional ISO increase with that sensor and not bat an eye at noise, making HSS even more practical.

Has Fuji actually released a price list? You're pretty sure that the lenses will be significantly cheaper but Pentax's 645 lenses are still $$$. Sure they do have a few for around $1500 but most of the newer, nicer ones are still $2-4k. I Fuji's lenses to cost at least that much. Fuji's APS-C lenses are some of the most expensive for their format. They're only cheap compared to full-frame lenses. The adaptability of the Fuji system is nice but I see that as the only real advantage.

This will be interesting to see. Some of their top-end X-series lenses aren't at all cheap, either. But if you look at the body+lens price of well under $10k, either the lens has to be well priced, or the body does (or both, most likely). So if the lenses are expensive, that means the body will be really cheap. And then who cares what the lenses cost if your savings are already realized with a super affordable body.

But odds are that both are somewhat reasonable in price. Sure, the kit lens will probably be the cheapest up to a factor of 2 or 3. But I think the lenses will be fairly reasonable, even if on the slightly high end when compared to full-frame 35mm lenses of today's DSLRs.

The Pentax 645Z is ~$7-8k so the lens could come in between $1-2k and the package would still be under $10k. As you pointed out the included lens is likely to be the cheapest so I'm still going to surprised if the Fuji lenses are cheaper than Pentax. I think many of them will be over $2k otherwise Fuji becomes the bargain brand and they've never played that game. The X-series isn't *cheap* but it has managed to position itself as a great value.

As Adam said, I'm going off of the narrative and their push for a sub-$10k camera with a lens. We all know Fuji can make a kit lens that will perform, so we shall see where on the spectrum the rest of their lenses land. I don't see them going over 2k, though, if they want to compete.

Aside from the missing leaf shutter, there are reports that many/most of Fuji's lenses will NOT use linear focus motors. This is will make them (relatively) cheaper and easier to design but be limiting in the long term. Just one more aspect of the Fuji system that makes me think it isn't as good as the hype—not bad mind you, just not nearly as amazing as the internet is making it out to be.

I can see myself needing maybe 2 lenses for this system that would be leaf shutter. A 28-40mm range prime and 90-150 mm prime. One for groups and one for portraits. I would be much happier with a 40mm LS lens if that was all they made as it is much easier to bring a light in close on a tighter composition of a 100mm portrait and use hss. My experience with HSS is that is just is not powerful enough to move away from groups of people. You can call it light trade off, I call it useless in bright light more than 5 feet away, and I am talking about multiple B1s. So to be correct, a LS lens would make a B1 2-3 times more powerful in respect to ambient ratio vs HSS which would mean an unusable setup in my experience when attempting to light a large group of people backlit by a bright sun. HSS makes the light 65w and at full power 500w I am at f8-f9 1/200 and they lights are hardly throwing fill. A leaf shutter (like my Fuji x100t) allows for a 1/2000 f5.6 exposure making the flash 4 times more powerful. That is why I bought that little camera, for its leaf shutter, for 1 photo need situation at weddings.

If you're shooting at f/8 to f/9 then the power of your lights is already compromised regardless of the ambient. A B1 is a 500 W/S strobe. If you're shooting at ISO 100 your light probably isn't going to be more than 10 feet from your subject anyway, especially if you're using modifiers. Also, when you're shooting medium format, even though it's a cropped sensor, in order to get the amount of depth of field you need to cover a large group you'll have to stop down even further. So your f/8-f/9 starts to look more like f/11 - f/12. Your limiting factor is your aperture more than your shutter speed. An APS-C sensor like the one on the X100t can get away with shooting with larger apertures (hence shutter speeds becoming more of a factor and leaf shutters being more helpful) because the depth of field is much greater than a medium format system.

I don't find a problem with Dof difference in practical use between F5.6 and F8 at 24mm-35mm which is where I am at with large groups. Even F4 would work for Dof at wider focal lengths to be honest. The reason I am at f8-f9 on a DSLR is not for Dof but for highlights. If the sun is behind 12-20 people and you want some fill with strobe a leaf shutter is incredibly useful. Instead of needing to be at 1/200 f9 iso 100 on a DSLR I can be at 1/1000- 1/4000 f5.6-F8 ISO 200 (native for the x100t) and the strobe is effectively 2-3 times more powerful in regards to ambient ratio. This is helpful so that I can move the lights further away or in most instances actually get any power out of them. A DSLR cannot make use of this scene with 1-2 B1 strobes, I have tried and realized that I either needed more power or a leaf shutter.

I was not so disappointed SOLELY by the fact that they omitted LS lenses, as I do understand the points you made and what FUJI was likely trying to do, but what kills me is the lack of LS lenses COMBINED with a sync speed that is supposedly only 1/125. This is a full stop slower than My D800 which I routinely use at 1/250. I think that with a faster sync speed there might be fewer complaints.

As far as I've seen we don't know definitively what the sync speed will be, but I agree that if it's 1/125 s that would be a shame.

We do definitively know. It is 1/125th. So when you say "The benefit isn't all that great", it's a bit misleading as the x1d gives you 4 more stops of flash sync. That's a lot any way you look at it. The GFX has a lot going for it, so doesn't need this weird suggestion that leaf shutters aren't important/can be easily replicated.

I used to shoot with a Pentax 6x7. Sync on that is 1/30. Fortunately they offered a line of LS lenses.

I still shoot with a Pentax 6x7 and I agree the slow 1/30 sync speed is a pain.

Kind of missing the point here. The actual high speed sync is very important for controlling depth of field outside. 1/1000 and up is really important. Fuji said that more of these cameras are coming and maybe they feel they are getting closer to a global shutter that will do high speed sync. The people that don't need high speed sync will buy the first body and can use the same lens later for high speed sync on global shutter or maybe an LCD shutter on a near future body. There are a lot of options for what Fuji will be able to offer. These lens will be super sharp and are future proofed by upcoming shutter tech. The sharpness is helped by the simplicity (and cost) of not having a leaf shutter. There is a limit what they can charge for these things, what they cost to build, and this will help sell more units ultimately. How long would Fuji have to get its money back out of leaf shutter development if they are going to transition to a global or LCD shutter system soon?

Most of these lenses won't use linear focus motors which will really hamper them until/unless Fuji releases a camera with OSPDAF. Even then these first gen lenses will be slow. We still don't have global shutter or fast AF on 135 sized sensors. How long will it be before MF gets this tech? Maybe Fuji knows something we don't and it will be 2-3 years. Regardless, if Hassy can come out with a competitive road map I think their approach makes a lot more sense. Modern lens design with the flexibility of leaf shutters.

Yes i think this is the point. For static subjects (or if you are lucky with moving ones where there is a peak to the action - such as a jump) you can come close using ND filters, but for action where you need both motion stopping capability AND full flash output nothing beats a leaf shutter. There are also vignetting issues with ND filters (at least vari-NDs such as the Singh-Ray.

Oh don't get me wrong, as I said in the article, I love leaf shutters. They are definitely the way to go. I'm just not sure it makes sense for Fuji's system given the narrative we've seen thus far.

That was my main point with my comment above. I could do with just 1 single LS lens in the 28-40mm range for group portraits ect. where the flash(s) must be further away that HSS allows. For tighter shots HSS works fine.

You do know that hasselblad h lenses were fujinon right? So why do you expect the new MF lenses to be cheaper? Also, hasselblad didn't really brand themselves as luxury until relatively recently. They were riding the higher quality precision optics line not the luxury angle.

As you say their market may not demand leaf shutter. But that doesn't diminish the value of a leaf shutter. There are some good reasons why they cost more and it has everything to do with performance.

As I said above, I love leaf shutters. If I had my way all systems would have them. As for pricing, we all know that the origin of a part has little to do with the final pricing of a system. Just look at Sony and their manufacturing of sensors. The same sensor can pop up in 10 different bodies, but they will all be priced differently depending on where they ended up.

I thought in-lens shutters had other disadvantages (I am not a lens designer). The lenses for Hasselblad's 200 series are faster and can focus closer than the older 500 series lenses. Zeiss says on its website that it's because they got rid of the in-lens shutters: http://www.zeiss.com/camera-lenses/en_de/camera_lenses/classics/hasselbl...

The lenses Fuji's bringing out are faster than the ones Hasselblad has so far...

Wouldn't electronic shutters at high speeds obviate the need for leaf lenses? Is that the future? If so, why invest in such expensive lenses?

(not disparaging leaf shutters by any means, just seeking knowledge on a topic with which I am not familiar)

Current electronic shutters aren't too dissimilar from focal plane shutters in that they don't read the entire image at the same time. They very quickly scan the image. That's why rolling shutter is a problem, where you'll get weird distortions when you pan a camera too quickly. Global shutters exist that capture the entire frame instantaneously, but they are cost prohibitive at the moment. As global shutters come down in cost I'm sure leaf shutters will go the way of the dodo!

Thanks for the info.

The great thing is that you have a choice now. Hasselblad X1D for leaf shutters, and Fuji GXF50S for no leaf shutters. Less to complain about. If Fuji is clever they will do both. Phase One cameras have a traditional focal plane shutter for use with lenses without leaf shutters, as well as a set of leaf shutter lenses. The customer decides.

As it turns out Fuji had a trick up its sleeve with an H adapter that allows leaf

I agree that leaf shutter lenses come in handy for that one very specific reason but it's a doozie of a reason and I wonder why Canon and Nikon never went there. A 24-105 leaf shutter lens would be great and they could even leave off the auto focus if that was a problem. The make tilt shift lenses so how far of a stretch is a leaf shutter lens. Fuji seems to be a pretty responsive and progressive company so I can imagine that everyone's thoughts and prayers will be answered sooner or later.

Absolutely valid to make a system without leafshutters in order to keep the costs down... just as valid to say that makes it so you are not interested in it. There is a system out there for everyone... for my needs, this does not quite suit... I will happily spend more to get what I want. One thing I am curious about... you say that they are making adapters for older lenses, and point out that you could use a leaf shutter lens with an adapter.... how? are they going to have the necessary connections and controls for a leaf shutter lens through an adapter? and if they are already including that in the camera, why would they be saying "absolutely not" to making a leafshutter lens of their own? Doesn't make sense to support them, and then not have any.

Fuji doesnt directly make the adapters. 3rd party vendors such as fotofiox do. It really makes a lot of sense for Fuji to be tentative in its first steps into the medium format market. By doing so they see where their market preferences are, how much demand there is for leaf lenses, and they save money on R&D in the meantime. You can bet that they have plans drawn up for LS lenses, if not actual prototypes. Theyre peobably just seeing if they can make a profit off of them.

that's what I figured... I just don't see how an adapter (especially a third party one) could possibly allow for the use of leaf shutters unless the controls for them were integrated into the original design.

I imagine the adapter would need to be set manually to cock the shutter and there would have to be a mechanical trigger fired from an electrical signal. Probably not cheap! Especially for a stop or two

If there was an impetus to do this, why hasn't this adaptor popped up on 35mm cameras- or am I missing something here? Genuine question.

35mm? This is a mirrorless, so they don't have to worry about the mirror getting in the way of adapting lenses. 3rd party vendors have been adapting old manual lens mounts for Fuji, Sony, Olympus/Panasonic for years now. On DSLRs the mirror gets in the way of creating the necessary distance between the sensor and lens to create a workable solution.

Sorry I should have been more specific- on the a7 series etc. I don't mean just adapting mounts, but when you suggested that there could be an adaptor to allow leaf shutter operation.

You are missing one other element. There has to be a way to stop the focal plane shutter from firing. Leica's S has a physical switch that you operate, while in the Phase One system you go into the menus. Either way, you need the firmware of the camera to provide for leaf shutters. So, unless Fuji includes that in the firmware, all thos leaf shutter lenses will have to use the focal plane shutter. And, why would Fuji include such firmware unless they are producing leaf shutter lenses, or at least an adapter for a particular lens line, like Hasselblad's H lenses? The info on Fuji making the camera to facilitate adapting lenses is somewhat equivocal at this point.

At this point, it's all speculation. Fuji has never made any bones about 3rd party manufacturers adapting old lenses to their bodies, so I don't think they would start now. Introducing a firmware to disable the mechanical shutter doesn't seem too far fetched. Fuji included such allowances for focusing with manual lenses as part of their firmware because they knew a certain demographic would want to use old, manual lenses. In my opinion, it's a lot to go through for a measly stop or two. The difference in price (and capabilities) of a vintage lens vs a modern lens is night and day, so I don't think using a 3rd party adapter is direct competition with Fuji's own plans (assuming they exist) to introduce leaf shutters in the future.

So then this point:

"If you really want to have a leaf shutter lens, one of the benefits of going mirrorless is that there are sure to be a slew of third party adapters released that will allow you to use old film lenses on the GFX 50S. Most of the medium format SLR film camera systems had leaf shutter lenses available as part of their ecosystem, some of which are available for cheap on the used market. Once those adapters come out, there will be a pretty hefty business done in old lenses, guaranteed."

Is fairly moot, right? You imply that old leaf shutter lenses will be able to work with the GFX, and there's zero evidence, and zero history of that happening. Not saying it could never happen in the future, but seems a bit of a stretch putting it as one of your 4 points.

Of course it's not moot. It's an opinion piece, not a rumor article. Its just one man's opinion. If you don't agree, that's absolutely fine as you're entitled to your opinion as well. I don't work for Fuji and i don't have a crystal ball. But i think the discussion of what COULD be is fun.

I agree that it's finally an exciting time in the MF world!

While I do find this to be a well written article, I was definitely one of the people disappointed that Fuji didn't announce at least 2 leaf shutter portrait lenses with the line up. I definitely have used HSS and ND filters in lots of my work. I would have preferred and been more inclined to invest into this system if they would have announced at least 2 LS lenses on the road map, even if it was down the road. 1/125th confirmed sync speed is not as big of a deal when you offer LS lenses. HSS is nice to have but you compromise power, battery and have to lug even more gear to shoots. LS lenses would have been more expensive yes but I expected that and budgeted for it. So I may not fully agree with you on your article but I do see the advantages to having both focal plane and LS lens options. Unfortunately metabones adapters add additional weight and slower focusing speed in some cases. With no phase detection currently on the body (from what I have read from hands on reviews) using third party adapters and relying on the autofocus could be a little more challenging. As a Fuji/Canon Shooter I will need to wait and see what the dynamic range is of the sensor and the quality of the files before I can give it some serious thought on if it will be right for me without LS lenses. I am leaning towards probably not as the LS was kind of a deal breaker for me. Fuji does listen to their photographers though and my hopes are they will release at least 2 LS portrait lenses. From a company stand point they may not want to put the money into RD for these however as global shutters are right around the corner and may make LS lenses obsolete from what I am reading. Time will tell. Thank you for the article.

Fuji has a success on their hands with the GFX because of cost.
Their lens line up doesn't hurt either so early in the game.

However I do think they will be able to support Hasselblad H lenses with an adapter as they have noted. This may give us all the LS lenses we might want with AF to boot.

For me having 1/1000 sec SS and flash is dead useful. ND filters and HSS are kludgy work arounds that still demand very powerful strobes.

I currently can get beautiful results from Speedlights at 1/4 power in bright sun shooting ISO 125 at 1/1000 at f5.6.
Using LS lenses allows me to use modifiers in bright sun and still not have to drag 40 lbs. of flash gear.

No, ND filters and high-speed sync are not the same as having leaf shutters. The use of ND filters would mean that you need more powerful strobes since they knock down all light entering the camera. High-speed sync? That knocks down flash power a great deal, so not all that useful.

I expect that Fuji will eventually sell leaf shorter lenses because wedding photographs need them. Mamiya offered leaf shutter lenses for their focal plane 645 system, and Graflex did, too, on their Speed Graphic Line. It’s even easier now with modern electronics.

I'm saying the effect is achievable with filters and high-speed sync. Not that they are the same at all.