2021 Camera of the Year and Manufacturer of the Year, and camera body roundup (below $5000). Plus a note about holiday camera availability.

Camera & Technology

November 30, 2021 ·

Dan Wells

1.) Holiday Camera Availability and Sales

If you are thinking about giving an interchangeable lens camera as a gift this holiday season, there has been a MAJOR shakeup that is worth knowing about. Sony has stopped accepting orders for quite a few older models that composed the majority of their less expensive line. It’s not clear what’s really discontinued, and what (if anything) will come back when parts availability eases. The affected lines are the A7 II (including A7r II and A7s II), a6400 and a6100 lines. The only APS-C cameras that this leaves as current models are the expensive a6600, the vlogger-focused ZV-E10 and possibly the ancient a6000 (there’s still enough stock around that it’s unclear whether or not that camera is discontinued – but it’s approaching its eighth birthday). In full-frame, we’re left with the A7C, A7 III line (including r and s) A7 IV and A7r IV, A9 II and A1.

The ONLY current Sony under $1000 is the ZV-E10, and that’s pretty much exclusively a vlogging camera. If you want something with a viewfinder, the entry level is a $1398 a6600., which falls well behind the (mostly Fujifilm) competition – unless the recipient already has Sony lenses, it’s less desirable than a much cheaper Fujifilm X-S10, and nowhere close to the X-T4 (which is similarly priced once you have a good-quality lens on the Sony). The least expensive full-frame Sony is now the $1798 A7C (right now, the A7 III is also selling for $1798). Both Canon and Nikon offer full-frame mirrorless bodies around $1000 (depending on sales) and Nikon has two choices (Z5 and Z6) well below the price of an A7C. Good riddance to the ancient NP-FW50 battery, now found exclusively in the ZV-E10.

If you’re looking for a camera for a holiday gift, this makes Sony a lot trickier – historically, they’ve left older models on the market at low prices instead of introducing specific entry models. The A7 II had sold for as little as $1000, which provided a great entry into the desirable FE mount. Now, FE comes with a $1800 starting price tag (unless you can find something in stock for less). Looking at the less expensive cameras on the market right now, many of them have huge drawbacks. There are plenty of Canon EOS-M models, with often excellent sensors, but generally limited controls and more importantly a terrible lens line. There are a lot of Micro 4/3 models, all with the Same Old Sensor (except for a few with the Even Older 16 MP sensor). There are DSLRs from Canon, Nikon and even Pentax, but Canon and Nikon seem to have lost interest in DSLR users while Pentax is a tiny niche maker.

There are a few bright spots, though. There are a variety of mirrorless Fujifilm offerings at reasonable prices. Fujifilm has the best APS-C lens lineup around, and is a good choice for most types of photography. The X-S10 stands out as the image stabilized member of Fujifilm’s lower-end line. Nikon is aggressively discounting the Z50, Z fc and Z5. The APS-C Z50 and Z fc have relatively limited lens lineups without using full-frame lenses and often losing stabilization (the APS-C LENSES and the full-frame BODIES are stabilized, so an APS-C body with (most of) the full-frame lenses isn’t. If the lens lineup is OK with you, they’re great little cameras – unlike the EOS-M models, they DO take full-frame lenses, providing a way to grow into the Z system. The full-frame Z5 can sometimes be found right around $1000, depending on sales, and that IS stabilized and uses the full-frame Z Nikkors without compromise. To get into the line Canon is pushing, RF mirrorless, the least expensive entry point is the EOS-RP. It’s not image stabilized (some lenses are, others aren’t), and it’s neither the most consistent to use body in the Canon line nor the sturdiest – but it’s a reasonably priced entry into the RF mount. The final option is to find a Sony A7 II still in stock, offering an inexpensive entry into full-frame Sony (or pony up for a more modern A7C or A7 III).

Several of the most dramatic holiday discounts around on higher-end gear might appeal to landscape and other more contemplative photographers. The original Nikon Z7 is selling for $2500 right not ($300 below its regular price, and $800 less than it sold for before the Z7 II came out), and it’s got among the best image quality of any full-frame camera (especially because it has a noiseless ISO 64). Its autofocus isn’t as fast as speed-oriented cameras, but it’s very accurate, and it’s not slow. The Z lenses are excellent, and there are plenty of choices (although few telephotos). It’s the same price as a Sony A7 IV with much less resolution and without ISO 64. The A7 IV has significantly better video and somewhat better AF, but many landscape photographers may prefer the Z7. Sony is offering $500 off on the A7r IV, the highest resolution full-frame camera of all, and a vehicle for their excellent G and G Master lenses. Finally, the Fujifilm GFX 50R is $1500 off, selling for $3000. That’s without a lens and GF lenses aren’t cheap, but there just hasn’t been a digital medium format camera for $3000 before. Once you take inflation into account, it would have been very hard to buy a Hasselblad, Mamiya or Bronica SLR for that little in the film era. The GFX 50 SII is also worth considering at $4500 WITH a 35-70mm lens – it’s about $500 more, but adds an excellent image stabilizer and uses the current battery.

2.) Cameras below the Four Flagships.

We’re done with mystery cameras for the year, as the Panasonic GH6 and new Olympus model have retreated into 2022.

All the cameras we’re expecting to see for the year have been revealed, even if you can’t actually buy some of them yet. The A7 IV and the Z9 were the last expected introductions. There are a few cameras that have been expected that we haven’t seen, but they look like 2022 models now, because they weren’t introduced at logical events. OM System (the Company Formerly Known as Olympus) is clearly not ready to release the successor to the E-M1 mk III, because the logical time would have been a couple of weeks ago at the rebranding event. Similarly, Panasonic might have taken the opportunity to release the GH6 at the LUMIX 20th Anniversary event if it was ready. It, too is a 2022 camera.

These delayed cameras will be the first two Micro 4/3 cameras to use a newer sensor. Sony has released a modern stacked, back-side illuminated 20 MP 4/3” sensor that could be a good fit for either or both of these cameras. It’s probably going to be in at least one of them, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it in both. The headline feature of the new sensor is that it can do 4K120P video. Amazingly, the WHOLE sensor can be read out at 120 FPS according to Sony’s spec sheet, allowing either 5K+ 120P video or 120 FPS stills (or both), if the if the camera has a fast enough data rate to handle it. This could be the sensor for a VERY fast camera, an exceptionally capable video camera or both.

Only a little more detail than the “mystery camera” image above, but this one does say GH6…

It could be a great sensor for Micro 4/3’s best niches – either video-centric hybrids or sports cameras (or even combos of the two) below the size, weight and price of the full-frame flagships. The times of 5-10 years ago where sensors larger than Micro 4/3 couldn’t achieve the same video frame rates and offered many fewer options aren’t coming back, – but there’s still a niche for a $1000-$2500 hybrid that gives up some stills quality to a small sensor, but offers A1/Z9/R3 class speeds and video modes (around $2500) or most of it (for less than $2500). Bigger sensors have gotten fast enough that the GH2/GH4 situation where nothing else can offer certain modes is unlikely, but there’s still a role for a camera that can offer large elements of flagship performance for a lot less money and in a smaller body size, with considerably smaller lenses.. Will either Panasonic or Olympus build such a camera? So far, still no actual body releases from Micro 4/3 except more iterations of the Same Old Sensor.

The remaining speculative cameras were never likely. The Sony A7r V was probably never going to share a year with the A7 IV and the A1. Sony gave us two big introductions this year, both with important new sensors – three would be pushing it even for them! They introduce more models than anyone, but some of them are iterative – not even Sony has ever done three cameras with new sensors in the same year. The good news is that the A7r V is more likely to be a significant upgrade with an extra year of gestation. There were some rumors around another Nikon, probably an APS-C mirrorless – either an upper-end model that would fill the role of a “mirrorless D500” and compete with Fujifilm’s X-T4 and Sony’s A6600 or a low-end model to move the D3x00 customer to mirrorless. One or both Nikons are probably coming, but not in 2021. It was clear pretty early on that this year’s Camera of the Year is going to be very high-end. Four of the year’s five most notable introductions have been flagship bodies above $5000, one from each major manufacturer, and each has in its own way pushed the state of the art. The only midrange introduction to have made a real splash this year is Sony’s brand-new A7 IV, which may very well set the direction of the midrange market for the next several years, because new Sony sensors tend to get around the industry, and we’ve been seeing variants of the 24 MP full-frame sensor forever (it traces its lineage to 2008’s Nikon D3x!). The A7 IV uses a brand-new 33 MP sensor, and I have a strong suspicion that its progeny will be around for quite a while. Unfortunately, I’ve only had a few minutes with a preproduction A7 IV, and haven’t seen any output at all (nobody’s seen prints yet). The A7 IV is not eligible for this year’s Camera of the Year, but it will remain eligible next year, because it was so late in the year that there was no time to evaluate it.

The A7 IV’s “flippy” screen will appeal to still/video hybrid shooters.

It’s certainly a significant upgrade from the venerable A7 III. It’s easy to forget how old the A7 III really is, predating the original Nikon Z6 and Z7 and the first Canon EOS R by several months. When the A7 III was introduced, full-frame mirrorless meant Sony and ONLY Sony. It was among the first cameras to shoot 4K video, but cropped to reach 30p, in 8-bit mode only, with a 100 Mbps maximum bitrate (using the older H.264 codec). The A7 IV goes as high as 600 Mbps with the older codec, also offering 150 Mbps 4K30P and 200 Mbps 4K60P using the much more efficient H.265 codec. A7 IV users also gain Sony’s newest autofocus and menu systems, which are huge improvements over those of nearly four years ago. The body design is similar to its predecessor, but Sony keeps making subtle improvements – the newest A7-series camera is always the most comfortable, and the A7 IV is no exception. The battery is the NP-FZ100 that Sony has been using throughout the line for the past few years, and it offers excellent life for a normal-sized battery, although it has recently been eclipsed by the giant batteries on the Z9 and EOS-R3 (although TWO NP-FZ100s are comparable, and don’t actually weigh any more than one EN-EL18d). There are two gotchas – one obvious and the other less so. The obvious one is the price. At $2500, it’s $500 more expensive than the A7 III was when it came out, and it’s the same price as a Nikon Z7 ($500 cheaper than a Z7 II). There are a lot of situations where I’d prefer 45 MP and ISO 64 over better video and faster AF – if you prefer relatively static subjects and are OK with good 4K30P video instead of 4K60P at a higher data rate, the Z7 is a really compelling alternative – ISO 64 makes a surprising difference in low-ISO image quality. The Z7 or Z7 II is also the ergonomically better camera, at least in my hand. The A7 IV is tied with the Canon EOS-R6 as the most expensive of the midrange cameras, and it’s $500 more than a Z6 II or a Panasonic S5. Unless you need the latest video modes, an original Z6 could be the bargain of the bunch at $1600. Hopefully, Canon and Sony will work to position their cameras closer to $2000 over the next year?

Lens lineups matter – and Sony has a huge advantage above 200mm. Not so fast if you don’t use telephoto focal lengths – Sony has more choices, but Nikon and Canon have some really excellent ones (as does Sony). Of course, if you are adding to a Sony system or replacing an older Sony body, the A7 IV is the obvious choice, and it’s another $1000 to jump up to an A7r IV ( you’ll lose some video and focus prowess in the switch, too). Right now, the older A7 III is still selling for $2000, but I’d expect that to go down significantly as initial A7 IV demand is met, assuming Sony follows their own history and leaves the A7 III on the market.

The less obvious catch was spotted by some sharp-eyed folk at DPReview, and is worth repeating here. Sony loves asterisks – a feature will work in a certain way, but only if you don’t have some other feature turned on. Every manufacturer does it, Sony perhaps more than most (their specs are often very ambitious to begin with, which means more asterisks). The A7 IV is a 10 fps camera, just like the A7 III. Unfortunately, there’s an asterisk that the A7 III didn’t have. The A7 IV is only a 10 fps camera IF you turn on lossy raw compression. Sony’s lossy compression isn’t great, and the A7 IV has their newer and much more desirable lossless compression as well (which the A7 III didn’t have). With the lossless compression or using uncompressed raw, the A7 IV is a 6 fps camera. While the A7 III didn’t have lossless compression, it WOULD shoot 10 fps uncompressed raw (albeit with viewfinder blackouts). Many of us will never shoot over 6 fps anyway, but it’s worth knowing that the only way to go over that relatively modest speed involves Sony’s 11-bit lossy raw files (or JPEG only). The A1 has the same type of restriction on its fastest speed, but it drops from 30 fps to a still stunningly fast 20 fps, not 10 to 6 fps. The Z6 II and EOS-R6 will both shoot over 10 fps without compromising image quality.

There were two weird niche cameras released in 2021 that sort of count as midrange, but I expect neither one to have any impact on the market, nor will the average Luminous reader be interested in either one. Sigma’s fp L is the latest in their menagerie of impractical cameras with a beautiful feature or two. Its best feature is the 61 MP A7r IV sensor in a camera the size of a bar of soap. In order to squeeze that sensor into the tiny body, they had to eliminate essentially everything else. Viewfinder – gone. Handgrip – who needs it? Shutter – we can live without it! Battery – well, we’d better put one in, how small can we make it? Is this a complete camera or a back like Phase One makes? It’s somewhere in between. It does have a lens mount of its own, and a shutter button, and even a rear screen (although you can’t use that very much because of the tiny battery).

By the time you are able to hold it and look through it, it’s within a couple of ounces of an A7r IV with a much larger battery, a mechanical shutter and a one-piece design that is much more ergonomic. Because the A7r IV sensor was never meant for electronic shutter usage, the Sigma has terrible rolling shutter and a 1/15 second flash sync speed (it has the dubious distinction of being the only camera I can find with a flash sync speed slower than the old Pentax 67’s 1/30 second). The A7r IV uses its mechanical shutter to get around the slow readout speed, but the Sigma doesn’t have one of those! It has a few specialized purposes – getting that sensor up on a drone, for example – but it’s not a mainstream camera. It (and the 24 MP sister model fp) offer an interesting vision of what a camera might be like going forward, but not a realized one. I’ve played with one extensively, and it’s a great concept, but nothing close to ready for daily use except in the most specialized of situations.

A Pentax K3 III all dressed up and ready to go out on a fancy leather strap

The second weird niche midrange camera of 2021 is the Pentax K3 mk III. It’s a highly capable APS-C DSLR, perhaps the most capable and certainly the most modern APS-C DSLR on the market. It’s fast and built like a tank… Why is this such a niche camera? First of all, it’s $2000 – more expensive than any other (non-Leica, as usual) APS-C camera on the market. Second, it’s a Pentax, using a decidedly nonstandard lens mount. Toss a Nikon F-mount on it and it’s very competitive with the D500, and it would be even more welcome in Canon EF, where the 7D series has languished for even longer than the D500. Unfortunately, it’s in Pentax K-mount, and it’s not full-frame. There are a LOT of old film-era Pentax K-mount lenses hanging around, which mean that a full-frame K1 or K1 mk II DSLR can be a fun trip down lens memory lane. The K3 mk III is actually more expensive that a K1 mk II, and it’s not the right sensor size for all the vintage glass. The ONLY reason to look at one is if you have access to some great Pentax APS-C glass (even then, a Pentax to Sony adapter will offer a lot more flexibility).

There were only a few more cameras introduced this year, apart from the flagships. Fujifilm’s neat little X-E4 is a fun pocket camera, like their X-S10 (more on those at the end of the article as we talk about the year Fujifilm has had). Fujifilm has also released the GFX 50SII – the old 50 MP sensor in the GFX 100S body – presumably in response to supply chain issues with the 102 MP sensor, plus the X-T30II (essentially a big firmware upgrade to the X-T30 with a new rear screen and a bigger buffer) and the X-T3 WW (an X-T3 with no battery charger in the box, sold at a discount – think Fujifilm’s having trouble sourcing battery chargers since few of their newer cameras include one?).

Sony has released no less than five cameras – the A7 IV as mentioned above, the A1 flagship, and three minor updates. Two of the minor upgrades (the A7R IIIA and IVA) are nothing more than swap-outs of the rear LCD screen on the A7R III and IV. There is a resolution improvement, but the swap was probably driven by parts availability. The last Sony is the vlogger-focused ZV-E10, a version of the A6100 with a special mode for shooting product videos on social media. If you use it for stills facing in the usual direction, it’s distinctly less useful than the already entry-level A6100, because it loses the viewfinder. In return for the finder, it gains a better microphone, a selfie grip that makes it easier to hold facing the photographer, and a fully articulating screen. Its (A6100 derived) video modes are oddly not great – an unusual omission for a vlogging camera…

Canon was uncharacteristically quiet on the body front (they released six RF lenses, although two were “permanent adapter” versions of EF designs) – the only new Canon body this year was the EOS-R3 – not even any new EOS-M bodies to use all those f6.3 zoom lenses. Not only was there no time to evaluate the EOS-R3, the 24 MP resolution (on an expensive camera) is a major downfall given the focus of The Luminous Landscape. I would expect the EOS-R3 to gather awards from sites focused on sports photography (either this year or more likely next), but it’s a niche camera for a different niche than I work in. It’s eligible next year, but I’d be surprised.

The technologies in the body are very impressive, as are the ergonomics, and an EOS-R3s or EOS-R1 using some of the same ideas and a different sensor could be a serious contender in 2022 or 2023. Nikon gave us the Z9 and the Z fc (the latter of which is really a Z50 II in a FM2 tribute body). The Z fc is a modest upgrade in an unusual body – hardly Camera of the Year material. The Z9 (extensive info in The Four Flagships on this site) is too late in the year to evaluate, remaining eligible next year.

3.) Camera of the Year and Manufacturer of the Year

It’s always difficult to choose what’s been important in a given year. Is it something that pushes the limits of image quality? Something that pushes performance, allowing it to capture images we couldn’t have before? Or is it a camera that changes the market, not because it’s especially capable, but because it will reach a lot of people and influence what comes after it. Not everybody needs the same things in our tools – one photographer may want the absolute finest image quality, while another wants 30 fps and a third wants an underwater camera. Choosing just one or a few products for awards is tricky, because what’s good at one style of photography is laughable for another.

Since the Z9, A7 IV and EOS-R3 are so new and untried, and so many other new cameras were incremental upgrades, there were only two real contenders for Camera of the Year 2021 – Sony’s Alpha A1, almost certainly the most versatile camera on the market other than perhaps the Z9, which isn’t really on the market yet, and Fujifilm’s GFX 100S, with the finest image quality of any digital camera ever made with the probable exception of a few ultra-high-end backs. I haven’t used an A1 extensively, which makes it tricky (I hope to review it soon) – but I have READ extensively about what the A1 can do, and I’ve seen a lot of images.

For many, even most readers of The Luminous Landscape, with the more contemplative style of photography that prevails here, what the A1 can do doesn’t really matter. It’s not going to come close to the image quality of the GFX 100S, its speed isn’t useful for landscape or architecture, and it isn’t essential for certain types of portraiture. No matter how well the A1 performs to its specifications, it will not be as well suited for my style of photography as the GFX 100S, and it may not be as well suited to yours, either, depending on what you prefer. My best guess is that Camera of the Year awards across the industry will divide between these two cameras, and either one could be the right answer, depending on the site’s focus. Some sites are giving awards to cameras that NOBODY’s really seen just yet (A7 IV, etc.). The best thing to do with those is to maintain their eligibility into next year

A lot of camera reviewers bought one or the other after reviewing them, which shows how groundbreaking they both are. Reviewers often buy cameras when we want a reference to test others against, especially if they also match what we want for our personal work. A lot of reviewers are going to give an award to what they own this year – that’s not actually bias – we bought these cameras because they are exceptional, and because they are good references – the GFX 100S for ultimate image quality, the A1 for performance and image quality in a supremely versatile package.

This year is a very tough one for awards in one sense – there are two contenders that have broken new ground and that people have experience with – the Z9 and EOS-R3 may also be groundbreaking but nobody knows them yet. In another sense, it’s an easy year, because there are no real midrange contenders. When there’s an exceptional midrange camera, it may get missed because it isn’t a reference.

A midrange camera probably won’t have the best image quality on the market, or the best focus system, or the highest performance. Once in a long while it happens – the original Sony A7 was the cheapest full-frame camera on the market, but it so clearly broke new ground that nobody missed it. What happens more often, though, is an exceptional package – a camera that offers a huge amount for the money and is exceptionally well-balanced OR exceptionally good at something.

Especially the balanced cameras are easy to miss – they won’t be as good at most things as the reviewer’s (expensive) reference – but they might still offer a package we haven’t seen before, or one that meets the needs of students or beginning photographers in an unusual way. Nikon’s Z5 and Z6II are classic examples of cameras that sometimes get overlooked in this way, and Fujifilm’s X-T3 and X-T4 may have it worse – not only are they very well-balanced midrange cameras, they’re also APS-C when the message of the other three major manufacturers is “full-frame for all interesting cameras”

. What made this year easy is that there weren’t any of those. Nobody has any experience with the A7 IV yet (which may well be a real contender next year), and every other midrange introduction was either a minor update or an extreme niche camera. There were five major introductions, and four of them were over $5000 with unusual features or versatility (the last was the A7 IV) – this is a reference camera year.

One of my first images with a loaner GFX 100S and 32-64mm – seeing this detail caused me to realize it is a camera to be reckoned with…


The Fujifilm GFX 100S is the 2021 Luminous Landscape Camera of the Year, with a citation reading “With the image quality of 8×10” film in a portable package with excellent ergonomics, focus and stabilization, the Fujifilm GFX 100S brings a nearly unique level of image quality to a wide range of photographic situations and subject matter. If low and medium ISO mage quality is your priority, this is the absolute best you will see in 2021 short of exotic digital backs or ultra-large-format film. It is surprisingly affordable and versatile, given the quality it is capable of.”

New England fall color with the GFX (and the 120mm GF) – Fujifilm color science is excellent

Until 2019, the resolution, dynamic range and color science of the GFX 100S were simply not accessible to most photographers. There were $40,000 Phase backs but the market for them was tiny. In mid-2019, Fujifilm introduced the original GFX 100 – a $10,000 camera that offered image quality that cost $40,000 the day before it was introduced – and the first image stabilizer ever seen above full-frame. Unfortunately, it was an ergonomic nightmare – big, heavy and with unintuitive controls and the worst portrait grip I had ever seen (non-removable). I had one in for review, and was in love with the files, but found it the least ergonomic camera I had used until that point. It wasn’t even immediately intuitive to get into aperture priority (and the lenses have aperture rings!).

An oversized sensor with image stabilization is the basic modern GFX formula.

In January of 2021, Fujifilm introduced the GFX 100S, which is the camera the original GFX 100 should have been. It might have taken a year and a half to cram a stabilized, 102 MP sensor into a midsized body, but Fujifilm not only did it, they actually improved the image stabilization substantially over the original. The improved ergonomics make the GFX 100S not only not an unpleasant camera to use, but manifestly a pleasant one. It’s slightly, but only slightly bigger than an average full-frame mirrorless body – and it’s smaller and lighter than a D850. It’s just about halfway between a modern full-frame mirrorless and a D850 in weight, and sized closer to (but smaller than) the D850. At least to my hand, every control falls in place nearly perfectly. With my larger than average hands, it’s one of the most comfortable cameras I’ve used. It’s an expensive camera at $6000, but it is not exorbitantly expensive, especially given its image quality and what it would have cost to get that kind of image quality previously.

The big reason to use a GFX 100S is the image quality. I keep coming back to the statement “you simply haven’t seen files like this before”. When I first reviewed the GFX 100S, I spoke to Fujifilm technical expert Justin Stalley, and he told me that the jump in low-ISO image quality from really good (Z7/A7r IV) high pixel count full-frame to the GFX 100S should be about the same as the jump from the X-T4 or another top APS-C camera to the best of full-frame. I didn’t completely believe him at first, because I wasn’t sure there was another jump like that to be had (at least not without absurdly large prints).

Dancing in the Fall – part of a project on ancient trees and forests. (GF 23mm)

After 6700 shots on my own GFX 100S, and another 1000+ on the review camera I had in before I bought mine, Justin Stalley was right. He wasn’t merely promoting his company’s camera – it really is that good. The lenses I have used live up to the sensor, delivering detail that makes prints come alive.

Flat on my back capturing the complexity of a forest canopy – GFX 100S detail lets me print large-scale images of trees big enough to encounter the complexity.

Having never worked with film larger than 4×5”, and having limited experience with that, I wondered until a couple of weeks ago “what’s the film format equivalency of the GFX 100S – it’s clearly larger than 4×5”, but by how much?” Is it something like 5×7”, or do I dare to say 8×10”. I recently had the opportunity to examine some 16×20” prints by Ansel Adams at close range – prints made from 8×10” negatives by an acknowledged master printmaker. Very rarely does one get to see an Adams original from less than a foot away, without glass, and with ample time to examine the detail. I had the opportunity to see four of them in a print viewing room at Harvard, not in a public gallery with crowds and security. They are absolutely stunning – but so are GFX 100S prints. The GFX 100S has that same ability to produce nearly infinite detail that really good large-format film photography does. It draws you in with its detail, just like a good print from 8×10” film. I am now confident in the film format equivalence of the GFX 100S – this thing shoots 8×10”.

If you simply divide the number of pixels on the GFX 100S sensor into an 8×10” area, it’s around 1100 ppi at 8×10” (the aspect ratios are slightly different). It’s extremely difficult to expose film that large with more resolution than that – large format lenses aren’t generally better than that, film holders aren’t that flat, bellows focus isn’t more precise than that. Even Ansel Adams almost certainly rarely exceeded 1100 ppi on the film, and the GFX 100S and its lenses have the precision to deliver everything the sensor can provide. Ironically, smaller film formats actually deliver much more resolution per inch, because the film is flatter, the focusing system is more precise and the lenses don’t have to cover as much area. A Zeiss Otus on a Nikon F6 or Canon EOS-1V loaded with Tech Pan will record much more than 1100 ppi, but it will do it on 1.5 square inches of film, not 80 square inches.

What does 8×10” image quality in a modest-sized, easy to use, rugged body with excellent image stabilization mean? It means that truly ultimate image quality is available in a wide range of situations, even handheld. The GFX 100S is a reasonable camera to hike and even backpack with. Anywhere you used to take a film SLR or a DSLR, you can now have an 8×10” field camera.

Every detail of leaf and bark is there – until now, large-format film would have been the only way to this kind of detail.

The journey from film to digital that started just over 20 years ago when Luminous Landscape founder Michael Reichmann found Canon’s EOS-D30 to equal or exceed 35mm film quality in many situations has come to an important milestone as the GFX 100S has come to equal or exceed 8×10” film quality in many situations. 8×10” is the largest film format ever to be used by a substantial number of photographers, and has long represented the pinnacle of image quality. Larger formats exist, but they are almost exclusively in the domain of alternative processes that require contact printing, or they’re used for one-of-a-kind Polaroid images.

Is this the end of film? No – there are still special situations in which film, especially unusual emulsions, will produce if not a technically superior image then a creative effect that is difficult to duplicate. Is this the end of using film for image quality that digital can’t reach? Probably so… Yes, 8×10” Tech Pan shot on an optical bench with vacuum film holders or various emulsions in 11×14” or 16×20” sizes probably have yet more resolving power – but that is reaching deep into ultra-exotic territory.

Most users of film sizes beyond 8×10” that I am aware of aren’t primarily after the resolution – they are contact printing on platinum or palladium papers. They need an ultra-large-format negative to produce the print size they want. At this point, the easiest way to produce that negative may be digital – some platinum/palladium printmakers have taken to printing a high-resolution digital file as an internegative on transparent media, then making the contact print from that. Due to the limitations of printer resolution, the ideal size to make a GFX 100S internegative for contact printing is 16×20” (and going larger is very possible) – inkjet printers are delivering 600 or occasionally 720 dpi, not the 1100+ dpi that would be needed to capture full detail from the GFX sensor in an 8×10” internegative. 11×14” will use ALMOST every pixel. Alternatively, a high-resolution large-format film recorder could deliver an 8×10” internegative at full resolution.

The GFX 100S is even a surprising movie camera. It inherits many of its codecs and frame rates from the X-T4, one of the most capable still/video hybrids around. It loses some of the slow-motion modes from the X-T4 because the big sensor can’t read out as fast as its APS-C stablemate. It’ll still shoot 4K30P and 1080P60, both at high bitrates. It shoots Cinema 4K as well as UHD. Quite a few cameras will shoot 4K30P at 400 Mbps, although it’s an impressive spec. Some of them will even shoot Cinema 4K at 400 Mbps, although that eliminates many contenders. Only four cameras in the world will shoot Cinema 4K at 400 Mbps or above on an oversized sensor that allows some unique depth of field effects (it has almost the frame area of 65mm movie film). Two of them are Fujifilm’s GFX 100 and 100S – the other two are RED cameras featuring their MONSTRO VistaVision sized sensor and Arri’s Alexa 65. A RED or Arri with an oversized sensor is approaching $100,000 once it’s fully ready to shoot (the Alexa 65 is rental-only), and they really want multiple professional camera operators. The GFX 100S offers a big taste of oversize sensor video in a camera that shoots a lot like an X-T4.

An X mount family portrail – just about everything except fast supertele primes is there (there’s a 200mm f2 that’s equivalent to a 300mm f2.8 in full-frame, but nothing longer except zooms).

In addition to the Camera of the Year award for the GFX 100S, Fujifilm is also our Manufacturer of the Year for the breadth and depth of the X and GFX lines. For photographers looking for a complete system with image quality that stands out from the pack, the GFX system is by far the most reasonably priced alternative above full frame, as well as offering the best image quality short of Phase One. It is also the sole system above full-frame whose long-term viability is assured. The X system offers a compelling alternative to midrange full-frame, with similar image quality and a different set of body choices. An X system can be quite a bit smaller than a similarly capable full-frame system. It can be faster and offer better video capabilities than any comparably priced full-frame system, while leaving surprisingly little on the table to systems twice the price. To exceed an X-T4 with a good lens in speed, video capability and still image quality simultaneously, one would need to look to a Sony A1 or a Nikon Z9 at triple the cost. Both the X and GFX lens lines are extensive for their format (long medium format telephotos don’t make a lot of sense), well thought out and of uniformly high quality. Finally, for a certain type of photographer, an X/GFX combination system, blending the capabilities of the two systems, makes a lot of sense.

Here’s the GF roadmap – as comprehensive as any medium format line has ever been, with several unique lenses.

Fujifilm supports the GFX system with 12 available lenses, with four more announced (one almost available, three forthcoming). It’s certainly the most complete of the modern autofocus medium-format systems, and is close to the breadth of classic manual-focus systems, while exceeding them in some areas. The widest presently available lens is a 23mm f4, equivalent to about a 19mm on full-frame or a 120mm on 8×10” (a very rare lens, but it actually existed – Nikon once made one). A forthcoming 20-35mm zoom will get down to approximately 15 mm on full-frame and close to 90mm on 8×10” (90mm large-format lenses were generally made for 4×5”, although one or two covered 5×7” – no 90mm lens ever covered 8×10” satisfactorily).

The longest lens is a 250mm f4, and there are no plans for anything longer that I am aware of. While that’s only equivalent to just under 200mm on full-frame, it’s something like a 1200mm lens on 8×10” (again, Nikon once made such a lens, but very rare). There are three zooms currently available (32-64mm, 45-100mm and 100-200mm), with a very compact 35-70mm just about to reach the market and the 20-35mm coming next year. There are two very fast portrait lenses (80mm f1.7 and 110mm f2) with a 55mm 1.7 coming in 2023. Due to the large sensor, the f1.7 lenses are equivalent to something like f1.3 on full-frame from a DOF perspective, while the 110mm is about f1.5 or f1.6. Thinking of a 65mm f1.2 and a 90mm slightly slower than f1.4 with a 45mm f1.2 on the way wouldn’t be far off. A tilt-shift lens of unknown (but probably wider than normal) focal length is on the roadmap.

The choices in zooms and fast lenses exceed anything that has ever been available for any system above full-frame, especially including the upcoming 20-35mm zoom and 55mm lens. Medium format lenses faster than f2.0 are very rare – Hasselblad has an 80mm f1.9 for the X system, which is the only non-Fujinon of that speed in current production. There were a couple of f2.0 lenses in the film era, most famously the Zeiss Planar 110mm f2.0 for focal-plane shutter (only) Hasselblads. Similarly, no other system has more than a zoom or two, mostly very large and heavy.

Long – a 500mm Zeiss Tele-Apotessar for Hasselblad V
Longer – an 800mm f4 for Pentax 67
And the longest of them all – the one (two?) of a kind Carl Zeiss 1700mm f4

Longer telephotos have existed from time to time in medium format – the 350mm Superachromat for Hasselblad V isn’t much longer than the 250mm Fujinon once you account for the sensor (or film) diagonal – but the rare 500mm Tele-Apotessar is (it’s a f8 lens, though). There are a few very long, very rare Pentax 67 lenses, up to a 17 kg 800mm f4 – all manual focus lenses from the 1980s and 1990s, if not earlier. Nothing in the Mamiya/Phase One or Hasselblad autofocus lineups gets beyond 300mm – again, very close to the Fujinon 250mm f4 once sensor size is included in the calculation. The only medium format autofocus lens ever to get notably longer than the 250mm Fujinon is an older 400mm f5.6 for Pentax 645. Of course there’s the Zeiss 1700mm f4 Apo-Sonnar – only one was ever sold (probably to a high-ranking member of the Qatari royal family) , although a second may have been built and kept by Carl Zeiss, and it weighs a couple of hundred kilograms.

The three GF lenses I have used are all among the best lenses I have used in any format or mount. The 32-64mm f4 is quite simply the finest zoom lens I’ve ever used. Of course, it’s an expensive modest-aperture zoom with a 2x range, which is a lot easier to correct than a zoom with a 5x range or a very fast zoom, and there’s more budget than on an inexpensive lens. It is a distinctly better lens than either of the excellent 24-70mm S-line Nikkors or the Sigma Art 24-70mm f2.8 for E-mount (the best normal zooms I have used prior to the Fujinon)– but those are 3x lenses and don’t have a 102 MP sensor behind them. A lens that can keep up with this sensor would have to be superb.

Looking Up (at one of the largest Eastern White Pines left anywhere) GF 23mm, of course.

The 23mm is, similarly, the best wide-angle lens I’ve used. It has almost no distortion, even in difficult images, is critically sharp even in the corners, and is a pleasingly contrasty lens when many wide-angle lenses can lack contrast. Of course, it’s not as wide as some full-frame lenses (mostly zooms), and there have been a few images where I wished it was wider. Fujifilm’s upcoming 20-35mm zoom will be closer to that angle of view (at full wide) – will it be as good a lens? The 20-35mm is the only other Fujifilm choice in an ultrawide, and we don’t know what it can do yet. There aren’t even a lot of choices in medium-format ultrawides in general – the closest is Hasselblad’s 21mm XCD., which is a bit wider. Going with a Hasselblad system to use the 21mm would mean losing substantial resolution, other lens options and numerous body features including image stabilization.

What Depth of Field? This is the kind of thing the 120mm macro excels at (in addition to middle-distance images). It has very nice bokeh, too.

The 120mm macro is not quite a macro lens in smaller-format terms. It goes to half life-size (1:2), not 1:1. The combination of 1:2 macro and the unusually large sensor can surprise a photographer used to working with a 1:1 lens on a smaller sensor. It takes something about 3.5” across to fill the frame with this lens. If you think of a good “macro” zoom on full-frame, many of which are about 1:3, you’ll have a good idea of how close this lens gets (but not of its performance). With that limitation, it’s the sharpest macro lens I’ve used, and not by any small margin. It’s deliciously contrasty, too. Jim Kasson reports that it isn’t as sharp, especially in the corners, if it’s used with enough extension tubes to get it to 1:1. I haven’t tried that, using it with natural subjects between 1:5 and 1:2, and also as a portrait lens and for longer distance images in the natural world. For those jobs, it is an exceptional lens.

This shadow-laden image is taken with the 120mm – it’s a nice landscape lens to compress distances modestly, as well as a semi-macro lens.

Think of the 120mm as a portrait/slight telephoto lens that happens to focus close, and you’ll have a great idea of its capabilities. The most interesting lens to compare it to is the GF 110mm f2. It’s a little lighter, a little cheaper, and if focuses a lot closer at around the same focal length. Of course it’s two stops slower. I haven’t used the 110mm (although I’ve heard that it’s a great lens), but I’d tend to gravitate towards the 120mm for most of what I do, since I rarely need the speed and I do appreciate the close focusing. The other choice in the same range is the 100-200mm f5.6. The zoom is actually in the same size and weight range as the primes (not usual for medium format). It’s a stop slower and you lose the close focusing ability, but it offers a significantly longer focal length, while also covering the portrait range.

Jim Kasson’s tests suggest that it is not a perfect lens for “scanning” film smaller than 6×7 cm, and film scanning is one common use for a macro lens. If you photograph a 35mm negative or transparency with a 1:2 lens on a 33x44mm sensor, you’ll only fill about 1/5 of the frame, leaving a 20 MP scan. That should scan right into the grain much of the time, getting all the detail out of many films, but it’s closer than I’d like to cut it, especially on slow transparency or black and white films that can resolve above 10 MP at 35mm. It works out to about a 3000 dpi scan, which is adequate for most purposes, but film scanners went higher than that. Using a 1:1 macro lens on a full-frame pixel monster (say the 105mm S-line Nikkor on a Z7 (either I or II) or the 90mm f2.8 Sony G on an A7r IV) will put a LOT more pixels on the film (5000-6000 dpi), and will comfortably outresolve any possible film.

For scanning larger film formats where the reproduction ratio isn’t an issue, the large, high resolution sensor and the sharp lens should make the GFX with the 120mm a very good combination. A 6x7cm image will just about fill the frame, and anything bigger will not even be using the lens’s maximum magnification. Dedicated large-format scanners are so rare and expensive that a GFX “scan” is probably one of the best ways to turn a 4×5” or 8×10” original into a digital file (unless you have access to a drum scanner). The camera is enough sharper than most 4×5” film that it is likely to gather most of the detail in the film. The camera is able to capture a 4×5” transparency at around 2200ppi, and most view cameras aren’t resolving that, most of the time (a monorail camera locked down really carefully with absolutely flat high-resolution film, no diffraction and a great lens could). 8×10” is too close – the camera and the film are of relatively similar resolution, so the combination won’t be as sharp as either one. Grain won’t land precisely on a pixel, and unsharpnesses in the two lenses may add. It’s unlikely to be a perfect scan of 8×10”, but it’s probably going to be better than an Epson flatbed if you use a decent light source – and that’s the other practical way to scan large format without a drum scanner. The flatbed will claim more pixels, but the GFX will have much better optics.

Unless you understand the care and feeding of drum scanners, photographing large-format negatives and slides at high resolution may be the best way of “scanning” them. Fujifilm is by far the most likely player to continue in the market beyond full-frame. Pentax is at risk of pulling out of the camera market entirely, and the 645Z hasn’t been updated or seen a new lens in years (since 2015). Leica still occasionally releases a body or lens for their medium-format S system, but they seem to be focused on full-frame SL. S prices are about three times what you’d pay for Fujifilm, or even Hasselblad X, gear. Yes, Leica is always expensive – but three times the price of HASSELBLAD?

I’ve never understood the economics of Phase One, especially since first Pentax, then Fujifilm and Hasselblad introduced more affordable medium format digital. Is Phase One effectively a software company that makes a few cameras on the side? Do extremely high prices make up for tiny volume? Is that a viable business model? How does the availability of a relatively affordable 102 MP camera affect sales of a 150 MP back at eight or nine times the price? I don’t question that Phase One can get another little bit of image quality – not only the larger sensor, but extremely high-end color filtration seem like they are at least reasonable claims. I’ve never really used one, but I’ve seen huge, stunning prints. On the other hand, an 8x price premium is huge. Is there a market in high-end fashion and advertising where the cost of the camera is irrelevant?

For the price of the latest Phase One IQ4150 back and an XF body to go with it, one could have a full GFX system (GFX 100S body plus all twelve lenses)
Plus a fairly complete X system with an X-T4 body and five to eight lenses for the things GFX doesn’t do (all “lineup” images from Fujifilm websites)

Hasselblad has two (or even three, depending how you count the 907X) systems with limited compatibility, and is largely owned by drone maker DJI. Will DJi continue to support the limited-production (by their standards) but prestigious medium format lines, or will Hasselblad become only a name applied to drone and gimbal cameras to denote DJI’s best quality? If one Hasselblad system survives, which will it be? My bet is on the mirrorless X system and probably the mostly-compatible 907x, but that’s also in direct competition with Fujifilm’s much greater resources. Hasselblad released no bodies or lenses in 2021, one lens in 2020, a slightly modified body and no lenses in 2019. They put out four lenses in 2018, but those were almost certainly under development prior to the DJI acquisition in 2017. The slow pace is why I suspect DJI bought Hasselblad mostly for the name, and perhaps for some color science.

This 907X/CFV II 50C combo is classically Hasselblad, but will DJI be interested?

Unlike any other manufacturer, Fujifilm pretty reliably introduces a medium format body and a couple of lenses (or more) every year. There seems to be a real commitment to GFX as an important part of their two system strategy – and Fujifilm as a company is strongly committed to cameras. Like Canon and Nikon, photography is a big part of what Fujifilm does, of management’s conception of the company.

Fujifilm has the huge advantage of being the only major medium-format player who also makes smaller-format cameras. A lot of the processor, firmware and software work is shared between the X and GFX series, spreading the cost among many more cameras. Pentax does the same thing, but there’s a catch. Pentax 645 DSLR cameras not only share programming, but also use focusing sensors from APS-C cameras, concentrating all the focusing points in the center of the frame. Since Fujifilm’s cameras are mirrorless and focus directly on the image sensor, the points are properly distributed.

Fujifilm sells about 500,000 interchangeable lens cameras annually (to Pentax’s 40,000), which gives them a lot of development resources. Are about 10% of those cameras GFX? That’s a guess, but seems like a decent one. If B&H’s best-seller list for Fujifilm cameras is accurate, the GFX 100S is the third best-selling Fujifilm camera (behind the X100V compact and one Instax model) and the GFX 50SII joins it in the top 10, although this is distorted by multiple configurations and colors of the APS-C cameras. That might even suggest that Fujifilm could be selling MORE than 10% GFX?

This mid-priced Godox V1 is one of many flash options compatible with Fujifilm. Cross-brand TTL transmitters offer even more options.

In addition to all the programming labor saved by sharing code with the X system, most accessories other than lenses are compatible. In particular, there is a large flash ecosystem for Fujifilm X/GFX. Looking at B&H’s listings for each system, Canon and Nikon each have around 80 compatible TTL flashes (everything from the cheapest clones on up to Profoto), then Fujifilm, Sony and Micro 4/3 have around 40 each. The situation is probably actually closer than that, because some of those Canon/Nikon exclusives are multiple brandings of the same cheap clone flash. Cheap clone flashes are useful for certain jobs, but which one you use matters little and there are plenty of choices for Fujifilm (or Sony or Micro 4/3). All major types of flash capability, from tiny clip-ons to TTL studio lighting, are available for all four major camera brands (plus Micro 4/3). There are cross-brand wireless transmitters that allow flashes compatible with one camera brand to be used on another with full TTL. This is a significant change from a few years ago, when Canon and Nikon (and to a lesser extent Sony) had much more extensive accessory lines than Fujifilm and others.

Another advantage Fujifilm has in keeping the GFX system going is that the sensors are relatively standard and should continue to be available. The 50 MP sensor in their first two GFX models and the new GFX 50SII was produced by Sony in huge quantities. It has shown up in everything from the Pentax 645Z to at least six Hasselblad products (H5D-50c,H6D-50c, CFV 50C, CFV II 50C, X1D, X1D II)and a couple of Phase One backs, in addition to the two popular Fujifilm bodies (and one brand new one). Overall sales since 2014 are almost certainly well into the hundreds of thousands of sensors – half Fujifilm and half everything else (largely Hasselblad)? There are still large stocks of those sensors around or Fujifilm wouldn’t have (very recently) put it in the GFX 100S body and called it a GFX 50SII.

The newer 102 MP sensor is close to a Fujifilm exclusive – Phase One uses it in one aerial imaging product, but no conventional cameras. Why hasn’t Hasselblad used it? Did Fujifilm strike a deal with Sony Semiconductor to buy all of Sony’s production of that sensor? Fujifilm is an important customer for Sony’s sensor business – important enough that they were the launch customer for both the 26 MP APS-C sensor and the 102 MP medium format sensor. Alternatively, DJI isn’t willing to pay to update the X1D series or the CFV backs to use the newer sensor? The biggest worry I have about Hasselblad’s continuing viability is that there is no 102 MP ‘Blad well over two years after the sensor first appeared.

The Hasselblad X1D (versions I and II) is a really nice design – but not much news since DJI bought Hasselblad.

The fact that there has been essentially no conversation about a 102 MP Hasselblad is a big part of why I’m so much more optimistic about Fujifilm’s future in medium format than Hasselblad’s (along with the lack of either an image stabilized Hasselblad or even conversation about one – although that is probably a much bigger engineering challenge than simply swapping sensors). Both 102 MP Fujifilm bodies are actually new cameras – neither one was just a sensor swap. What makes me think that a sensor swap is probably not too difficult is that Fujifilm managed to BACK swap the 50 MP sensor into the GFX 100S body to create the GFX 50S II. Maybe it’s harder to swap the 102 MP sensor into a 50 MP body than the other way around, because the 102 MP sensor needs a higher data rate – is the X1D not fast enough?

The 102 MP sensor is a close relative of the A7r IV sensor and the 26 MP APS-C sensor. Since its pixel and much of its other circuitry already exist for those smaller sensors, it’s worth it for Sony to make tens of thousands of oversize versions for Fujifilm when they’re already making many hundreds of thousands of them in APS-C and full-frame. Actual GFX sales figures are almost impossible to come by, but several thousand 102 MP bodies (mostly GFX 100S with a few GFX 100 thrown in) per month makes sense from known sales of other cameras. If Fujifilm is selling something like 20,000-60,000 102 MP bodies per year, the total run will certainly be in the high tens of thousands, and could easily reach 100,000 or more at the higher end of production estimates. That’s certainly worth a semi-custom oversize sensor based on existing technology.

The other advantage to the sensor being related to several smaller sensors is that, when Sony releases a new standard pixel size for the A7r V (or VI) and APS-C cameras, Fujifilm gets a nearly automatic option for a new medium-format sensor. Just as an example, what if a 40 MP Sony APS-C sensor shows up in some camera in mid-2022 and the A7r V turns up at 100 MP in late 2022? The chances of a GFX 170S appearing in 2023 are excellent if those two cameras appear, since it would be the same pixel as the two smaller sensors. Whatever technological upgrades are in those sensors are also available for the GFX. While the same logic applies to Phase One (their 150 MP sensor uses the same pixel as the GFX 100S, A7r IV and various (mostly Fujifilm) 26 MP APS-C cameras), they are looking not at tens of thousands of sensors per year, but at something like a couple of thousand. Is that worth Sony’s time, even at a high price? Does something else (possibly some activity performed by people in trenchcoats who mumble when asked who they work for???) also use the 150 MP sensor?

The medium format market probably has room for two volume producers selling several tens of thousands of cameras annually, even in a contracting camera market – especially if it can stay comfortably ahead of full-frame image quality. The contraction caused by smartphones is mostly at the bottom of the market – pros, artists and serious hobbyists aren’t moving to phones like family snappers are.

Medium format is a sliver at the top of the market (is it 100,000 bodies/year out of 6 million total)? It’s a sliver that’s actually growing as medium format bodies and lenses become more affordable. Until the introduction of the original GFX 50S, medium format digital was a $20,000+ proposition. The GFX 50S II has now set the entry price for a body and lens at $4500, and the GFX 100S with the superb 32-64mm zoom sits around $8500 for image quality that full-frame can’t touch. The relatively affordable entry provided by the GFX 50SII should grow the market substantially – comparably priced full-frame choices offers their manufacturer’s best image quality, while entering the GFX system offers similar quality, but leaves room to grow (if the system meets an individual’s needs – there won’t ever be sports cameras or ultra-tele lenses in GFX).

Medium format film supported Hasselblad, Mamiya and Bronica comfortably (with both Mamiya and Bronica producing multiple lines), and the digital market now is larger than the film camera market was then. There’s less need for multiple lines, because there aren’t sensors in the bewildering variety of aspect ratios people used on 120 film. There’s always a market for the best quality, and there will continue to be genres of photography where the loss of speed doesn’t matter.

Whatever happens to a second manufacturer, Fujifilm will occupy one of the two slots. They’re in the position in the medium format market that Sony was in full-frame mirrorless in mid-2017 – someone else could jump in, but they’d have a lot of catch-up to play. The most obvious second maker is that DJI keeps Hasselblad viable, updating the X1D body, the CFV 50 back that goes with the 907C or both and introducing a few more lenses, especially zooms. Hasselblad was in a strong second place to Fujifilm a few years ago, but we’ve seen nothing new from them in quite a while.

Some rumors about Sony medium format have suggested a fixed-lens “compact” camera – this is a full-frame Rx1r.

Nikon, Canon and Sony have all been the subject of medium format rumors, and people claim to have seen prototypes from one or another at different times. Beyond the major Japanese makers, there’s always the “Phase One introduces a less expensive line using 33x44mm sensors” rumor. Any of the above might jump in, although it seems a lot less likely than it did in the early days of full-frame since all the big manufacturers are so committed to FF systems. Most of the rumors were probably “somebody else does what Fujifilm actually did, jumping above full-frame”, not one manufacturer maintaining three sensor sizes. At least some of the “smaller/cheaper/mirrorless Phase One” rumors are probably explained by the XT tech camera.

Right now, the GFX 100S is offering about twice the overall image quality (however you want to quantify that) of anything in full-frame. It’s about as good per pixel as the Nikon sensors with ISO 64, and has a little over twice the pixels. I like each pixel a little better than an individual pixel on the A7r IV, due to differences in dynamic range and color science, and there are 1 2/3 times as many of them. Yes, the basic pixel is the same as the A7r IV, but Fujifilm is processing them a little better, has an ISO 50 mode without losing dynamic range, and has a color filter that is more to my taste (this seems to be in the filter layer itself, since it’s apparent in raw files). Most importantly, there is no technical reason why Fujifilm won’t keep that lead, since the current 102 MP medium format sensor is an oversize variant on the A7r IV sensor. When Sony introduces their next high-resolution sensor, it, too should come in 33x44mm.

Fujifilm is, in general, one of the most interesting of today’s camera companies. They’ve been on a good run lately, with a lot of interesting cameras and a unique strategy. Their 26 MP APS-C sensor (almost certainly a Sony sensor, but Sony, inexplicably, doesn’t use it in their own cameras) and color science offer imaging performance comparable to ~24 MP full-frame. The smallest and lightest cameras to use that sensor are about 2/3 the size and weight of the smallest and lightest full-frame cameras excluding the Sigma fp and fp L – and they offer shutters and viewfinders that the Sigmas do not. Their APS-C lens line is more comprehensive than anything in mirrorless except Sony FF, which is more or less equivalent – both have all standard possibilities well-covered, with a number of exotics, although which exotics are and are not covered differs. Both Canon and Nikon FF DSLR lens lines are even more comprehensive with additional exotics, although neither is really under active development and bread-and-butter lenses are likely to be older and sometimes inferior, since the replacements are in RF or Z mount.

Their two sensor size strategy makes a lot more sense than APS-C and full-frame, because the differentiation is greater. The jump from APS-C to GFX a much bigger upgrade in image quality than any possible jump within full-frame, or from APS-C to full frame. The only possible jump that would come close without ending up in medium format is from Micro 4/3 to a full-frame pixel monster like the Z7, A7r IV or EOS-R5. That’s roughly the experience of going from 24 -26 MP to 102 MP. All three manufacturers who have APS-C and full-frame lines artificially differentiate them by not making very capable APS-C cameras and especially lenses. Canon is the worst offender, as we search in vain for a decent EOS-M lens while marveling at the lovely RF glass. Fujifilm doesn’t have to do that, because there’s enough space between their lines to support an X-T4, a 16-55mm f2.8 zoom and a 50mm f1.0 lens in APS-C.

A tiny but capable X-S10 may be a great choice as a GFX owners’ second camera.

For photographers with both X and GFX systems, there are X lens and body choices that differentiate the two systems farther. As a GFX 100S owner, I would order an X-T4 with the tiny 18-55mm f2.8-4 zoom, or a couple of the “Fujicron” primes. I’d also consider a long telephoto that makes no sense on GFX. I’d tend to stay away from the 16-55mm f2.8, the 50mm f1.0 and the 80mm f2.8 macro lenses. Not that those aren’t great lenses – I’ve used the 16-55mm extensively and like it a lot – but they are bulkier lenses that do things that GFX lenses also do. Why wouldn’t I use my GFX for those jobs? I might well consider an X-S10 instead of an X-T4, depending on how much I wanted weather sealing and battery compatibility with my GFX.

Fujifilm has several, small, light and capable entry to midrange APS-C cameras like the X-S10, X-E4 and X-T30 (all under $1000 for the body, all under a pound for the body), and then they top their APS-C line with the extremely capable X-T3 and X-T4 and the unusual X-Pro 3. All of these bodies use the relatively new, excellent 26 MP sensor that is the current state of the art below full-frame. I’ve worked with that sensor on both the X-T4 and X-Pro 3, and it’s capable of image quality in the same range as similar-resolution full-frame sensors. The differences in lens quality and color science between these cameras and full-frame models of similar resolution are going to be at least as significant as anything attributable to the sensor (and Fujifilm has excellent lenses and some of the best color science around).

There are also a couple of very inexpensive Fujifilm APS-C cameras (X-A line and X-T200) that use the same older 24 MP sensor that Sony uses in their entire APS-C lineup. These low-end cameras are competitors to something like the Sony A6100, but they don’t seem to be readily available in the US market, since B&H, Adorama and Hunts all don’t stock them – neither do mass retailers like Best Buy. Amazon does carry some of them, but mostly through third-party sellers. I’m not sure Fujifilm is officially bringing them into the US at all – every offer I’ve seen could be gray market.

There isn’t another APS-C roadmap that looks like this. The only other mirrorless mount with comparable choices is Sony full-frame.

The higher end of the Fujifilm X line includes the most capable APS-C camera available today, and the lens lineup as a whole is far better than anything available elsewhere in APS-C. The closest competitor to an X-T4 is a Sony A6600 or a Nikon Z50 or Z fc, all of which are cheaper (the Z50 and Z fc substantially so). The two Nikons both lack in-body image stabilization and have very few native lenses with lens stabilization, and the Sony uses a much older sensor. None of the three come close to the versatility or quality of the video modes on the X-T4. While the Sony has similar image stabilization and many other comparable features, it has two major drawbacks. First, it has a much less comprehensive lens line, many of which are of much lower quality. Yes, it takes Sony full-frame lenses, including a lot of excellent glass from Sony themselves, Sigma and others – but, if you mean to use full-frame glass, why not a Sony full-frame body, too? There are several in the same price range as the A6600, and the size and weight advantage of APS-C is mostly in the lenses. Sony’s best APS-C normal zoom is the expensive 16-55mm f2.8, which puts the price of the package well above an X-T4 kit. Sony’s lesser lenses don’t live up to the Fujifilm options – the most attractive pairing with an A6600 is probably the brand-new Sigma 18-50mm f2.8.

The second is the old sensor – the still quality is significantly behind what the X-T4 can offer, and the video isn’t in the same class. Fujifilm offers 400 Mbps DCI or UHD 4K30P at full sensor width for the X-T4 (plus slightly cropped 4K60P) versus 100 Mbps UHD only, with a crop if you want to go faster than 24P on the Sony. The only cameras on the market right now with X-T4 level video or above are a few full-frame Sonys (A7s III and A1 for sure, possibly the A7 IV), the Canon EOS-R3 and R5, the Panasonic S1H and the Nikon Z9. Where’s the GH5 II? Almost as capable (with some extra video tools), but the hit in stills quality from the Same Old Sensor is huge. All of the full-frame cameras except the A7 IV are well over twice the price of an X-T4.

Below the X-T4 (and the similar, but non image-stabilized X-T3), I haven’t used the X-S10, X-E4 and X-T30. Image quality should be identical to the impressive X-T4, since it’s the same sensor, color science and imaging pipeline. I’m trying to get an X-S10 (the only one of the three to feature in-body image stabilization, a great feature in a carry-around camera) in for review around the holidays – a time when small, light, easy to use cameras play a big role in making memories. The differences between these cameras and the X-T4 are mostly in user interface and more advanced features (higher end video modes, dual UHS-II SD slots, weather sealing and the X-T4’s lovely viewfinder all disappear when stepping down to the X-S10). Removing those features has made the X-S10 a tiny, light camera with in-body image stabilization, impressive image quality and a great lens line.

It’s substantially less expensive than an A6600, has access to Fujifilm’s lenses, and really doesn’t lack anything that the Sony has. For around the same price as a Z 50 or Z fc, it offers in-body image stabilization and a much more comprehensive lens line. The X-T30 (I or II) and X-E4 offer similar capabilities in slightly different body styles. All of these bodies share one sensor – while it’s a good one, it’s also the X-series’ weakness. There’s no way to upgrade your image quality at a body level (there are plenty of lens choices that will make a difference). This has been true ever since the original X-Pro 1 and its 16-MP sensor. Fujifilm released a whole line with that sensor, then moved to 24 MP four years later with the X-Pro 2, relatively quickly refreshing the whole line to the 24 MP sensor. Two and a half years after that, the X-T3 debuted the 26 MP sensor, which spread quickly to all except a few low-end cameras. At any given time, Fujifilm is offering one primary sensor below GFX. Except for a year or two at the end of the 16 MP sensor’s run, Fujifilm’s standard sensor has always been an excellent choice, but other manufacturers offer far more sensor options.

The fast and versatile A1 sits at the top of Sony’s huge collection of bodies with different sensors.

The opposite extreme is Sony full-frame. An A7 III is a close competitor to the X-T4 (despite the full-frame vs APS-C difference, I’d prefer the X-T4 for most uses). If you have an A7 III, and want to add a body, though, you can choose from no less than six sensors. You can upgrade what you have with an all-around A7 IV, or you can spend much more to get a versatile, top of the line A1 that is also an all-arounder. To emphasize one aspect of performance, you can choose a fast A9 (I or II), a video-centric A7s III or a resolution-focused A7r III or A7r IV. Of the six choices, only the A7r III and A7r IV are different generations of the same design philosophy – everything else is different priorities. No other manufacturer offers as wide a range of sensor choices as Sony, but Canon and Nikon offer three quite distinct sensors apiece in their full-frame lines.

Being fair to Fujifilm, nobody has a wide range of sensor choices in APS-C. With the exception of the (arguably) speed-focused sensor in the Nikon D500, all APS-C sensors focus on balanced performance. Similarly sized, video focused Super 35 sensors show up in dedicated movie cameras – but nobody has released one in a still-camera body with even as much stills capability as an A7s III. It could be done, but it hasn’t.

Fujifilm is very worth highlighting as a manufacturer who has followed their own path, offering a real alternative to Canon, Nikon and Sony’s similar visions. It won’t be for everyone, but it’s one of the best thought out systems in the industry, and it offers some unique choices. For an awful lot of photographers, a tiny X-S10, a fast, affordable X-T4 or a GFX 100S with 8×10” image quality serve a need that nothing else does. Any of the three are supported by exceptional lenses and color science by a manufacturer whose commitment to photography is apparent in everything they do. Congratulations to Fujifilm on a great 2021 led by the GFX 100S, bolstered by cameras and lenses released in 2020 (including the X-T4 and the 50mm f1.0) that launched into a pandemic and may not have gotten the attention they deserved.

Dan Wells

November 2021

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Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

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Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Dan Wells, "Shuttterbug" on the trail, is a landscape photographer, long-distance hiker and student in the Master of Divinity program at Harvard Divinity School. He lives in Cambridge, MA when not in wild places photographing and contemplating our connection to the natural world. Dan's images try to capture the spirit he finds in places where, in the worlds of the Wilderness Act of 1964, "Man himself is but a visitor". He has hiked 230 miles of Vermont's Long Trail and 450 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail with his cameras, as well as photographing in numerous National Parks, Seashores and Forests over the years - often in the offseason when few people think to be there. In the summer of 2020, Dan plans to hike a stretch of hundreds of miles on the Pacific Crest Trail, focusing on his own and others' spiritual connection to these special places, and making images that document these connections. Over years of personal work and teaching photography, Dan has used a variety of equipment (presently Nikon Z7 and Fujifilm APS-C). He is looking for the perfect combination of light weight, ruggedness and superb image quality.

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