Fujifilm is one of the most interesting players in the camera market in early 2020. They always march to their own drum – skipping the popular full-frame sensors entirely, while pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in APS-C and offering relatively affordable medium-format digital as their answer to the upper end of the full-frame world. There have been several hallmarks of Fujifilm’s offerings since the original X100 appeared at Photokina 2010, followed by the interchangeable lens X-Pro 1 in 2012.
They have always recognized the importance of lens quality, and put the money and effort into good to great lenses optimized for the format at hand, even as other manufacturers approach APS-C with a combination of cost-engineered consumer-grade zoom lenses and needlessly large full-frame lenses with inconvenient focal length equivalents. They have developed a beautiful full range of APS-C lenses, ranging from an 8-16mm wide-angle to a 100-400 mm zoom and a 200mm f2.0 that is the APS-C equivalent of a 300mm f2.8. More recently, they have built an excellent range of medium format lenses from 23 to 250 mm. Since the lenses are built for the format they’re used with, they are generally of very reasonable size and weight, their cost tends to be reasonable (sometimes downright inexpensive) when you take their quality into consideration, and their focal lengths are well chosen.
Their APS-C range is the only relatively complete range of APS-C dedicated lenses on the market, and the “missing pieces” are few and exotic. The only three omissions are tilt/shift lenses (no mirrorless mount has a dedicated tilt/shift lens – the best options are Nikon or Canon with their dedicated adapters and a DSLR lens), long, fast telephotos beyond 300mm equivalent (almost all of those are DSLR lenses – Sony has a couple for their mirrorless mount, and both Nikon and Canon’s adapters work well with their own lenses) and, somewhat surprisingly, fisheye lenses. I would not be at all surprised to see Fujifilm put some new lenses into those gaps, but they are hardly everyday lenses for most genres of photography.
Their medium format lens line is as comprehensive as any that has ever existed – the Fujifilm zooms are more mainstream than medium format zooms ever were in the film era, the 23mm is close to as wide as medium format lenses get (digital MF lenses get wider than their film counterparts ever did), while the longest telephoto isn’t as long as a few film exotics. Since the digital sensor is smaller than medium format film, the Fujifilm 250mm has a similar magnification to the 350mm and 360mm lenses that existed in most systems. Many systems had one or two exotic lenses that were longer than that, although they were always rare. Hasselblad’s V-series lenses included a 500mm f8, Mamiya has made various 500mm lenses, with rare versions as fast as f4.5, and Pentax has actually produced a very few medium format 800mm lenses. The longest medium format lens of all time is a Zeiss 1700mm f4, of which one or two were produced in Hasselblad V-mount for a single wealthy customer – it weighs over 500 lbs. When you limit the scope to mass-produced autofocus lenses, the only option longer than Fujifilm’s 250mm is a film-era Pentax 400mm f5.6 that is still available and compatible with Pentax digital bodies. I wouldn’t be terribly surprised to see a Fujinon GF lens around 400mm at some point, nor to see a tilt-shift lens.
Fujifilm cameras have generally had wonderful user interfaces – when some camera makers have built what are basically computers with grips and (usually) viewfinders, Fujifilm has always concentrated on making their bodies feel good as cameras. From the Leica-alike X-Pro series to the more conventionally digital X-H1, they’ve usually succeeded.
Fujifilm image quality and color science has always been among the best in the business – although the X-Trans color filtration used by most of the APS-C cameras can be a pain for raw conversion. There are some image-quality advantages to X-Trans over conventional Bayer filtration, both in sharpness and color rendition, but Lightroom has never handled X-Trans especially well (it’s getting better). Some other raw converters simply won’t even attempt X-Trans files, with one notable issue being DxO Photo Lab. I am presently getting higher quality out of DxO than any other converter, so its non-support of X-Trans is an issue.
Capture One is by far the best choice among commonly used raw converters for X-Trans files, and a very good choice for Bayer-filtered Fujifilm cameras (medium format and a few low-end APS-C models) as well. DxO Photo Lab supports the Bayer models, although sometimes with a couple of months’ delay after their introduction, and is another good choice. Fujifilm and Capture One maker Phase One have collaborated to bundle a limited version of Capture One with Fujifilm cameras, and a full-featured version that handles only Fujifilm files is $129, half the price for a version that works with any camera. Every Fujifilm-loving photographer should have a copy of Capture One, and the full-featured version is generally worth it.
I have used Fujifilm APS-C for most of the past 8 years, often alongside of Nikon – my present personal camera collection includes a well-loved Fujifilm X-T2 and a Nikon Z7. The combination of lens lineup and color science has always biased me in Fujifilm’s direction as far as APS-C is concerned. The two cameras I have had in from Fujifilm USA for review over the past few months are an X-Pro 3 and a medium-format GFX 100 with an amazing 100 megapixel sensor. I decided to write about them in a two part series as I started using the X-Pro 3, the second to arrive, and realized that they are oddly opposite. The remainder of this first piece will focus on the GFX 100 which is, as of this writing, the only one-piece camera in the world to offer a truly modern digital sensor in a size above full-frame. Fujifilm’s own 50 megapixel GFX series and the Hasselblad X1D use a much older sensor, and the Phase One body and back systems are much bulkier and best sited for studio use.
The GFX 100 is all about image quality! It is the only Fujifilm camera I have ever found confusing to use, with an inscrutable control scheme that makes everything from changing modes to adjusting exposure compensation more difficult than it has to be. It is incredibly programmable, and, because of that, almost all the buttons and dials are unmarked. A change in one parameter can affect many others, and three weeks with it were not enough to really figure it out. It’s also big and heavy – easily as large as a D5 or a 1Dx Mark II, with larger lenses that make it seem even heavier still. None of these characteristics are typically Fujifilm. If I had had the camera for longer, I am sure I would have figured out the controls and programmed them to my needs, and one of the big frustrations would have gone away.
The enormous positive to the big GFX – its reason to exist – is that its image quality is literally unmatched by any one-piece camera in the world. The only digital systems that offer comparable image quality are body and back combinations from Phase One and Hasselblad that are substantially larger, heavier and less convenient, as well as being multiple times the GFX’s price. A Phase One IQ4 150 that uses a very similar sensor in a larger size, offering ~150 megapixels, is close to $50,000, which makes the $10,000 GFX look like a bargain.
Both the GFX 100 body and all of Fujifilm’s lenses are weather sealed, while no part of the Phase One system is. The GFX offers highly usable autofocus that, while not as fast as most smaller-format mirrorless cameras (there is a huge amount of glass to move), would have been considered fast only a few years ago. Fujifilm’s AF points cover essentially the entire frame, while the Phase offers a small area of much slower AF points at the center of the frame.
The GFX 100 even offers several stops of in-body image stabilization – it’s certainly not as effective as the best smaller-format cameras like the Olympus E-M1 series that can shoot ¼ second or slower handheld, nor is it even as effective as something like my Nikon Z7, which I can handhold down to somewhere between 1/15 and 1/30 second with the 24-70mm f4 Nikkor (1/15, sometimes even 1/10 at 24mm, 1/20 or 1/30 at 70mm). The GFX 100’s lower limit for full sharpness with the 32-64mm zoom is around 1/60 second in my hands. On the other hand, a Phase One offers no image stabilization at all. Between the weight, the resolution and the mirror slap (which can best be described as “recoil” rather than mere mirror slap), my very limited experience with Phase One IQ-series cameras is that they aren’t really handholdable at any speed. On a tripod, using mirror lockup, the results are remarkable – but the Phase One is really a tripod-only camera. The GFX 100 is the first truly handholdable camera to offer anything close to 100 megapixels.
I didn’t try it, but the GFX 100 actually has a reasonably specified 4K movie mode. It uses line skipping and pixel binning, which serious filmmakers are going to laugh at, but it will put out 400 Mbps 4K at 29.97, 25, 24 and 23.97 fps. If you are primarily making film, spend the same money or less on something like a Blackmagic, Sony or Canon cinema camera (or a Panasonic S1H for less than half the price) – the price of a GFX 100 is not that far off a modest RED setup. On the other hand, the occasional film clip is perfectly doable, which cannot be said of anything else that offers this kind of still-image resolution.
The files are quite literally amazing – they look a great deal like any modern Sony-sensor file (Sony, Nikon, Fujifilm, etc.) in terms of resolution and dynamic range – with many more pixels than most of us are used to. A GFX 100 file offers about 30% more pixels on the long axis than a typical ~50 MP file, and somewhat more than that on the shorter axis (the sensor has a 4:3 aspect ratio instead of the more usual 3:2). Without a scientific way of measuring dynamic range, I can say that it is in very much the same range as the best contemporary full-frame sensors, but not a great deal better. The GFX 100 is capable of outputting a 16-bit file, which could theoretically support 16 stops of dynamic range, but there isn’t photographically usable information in the deepest shadows of that file. Realistically, there is a tiny difference between a 14-bit and a 16-bit image of a step wedge dynamic range test chart on the GFX 100, and no difference at all on a real-world image.
Really good modern full-frame sensors and the GFX 100 have something over 12 stops of photographically usable dynamic range (they can capture some detail in Zone -I and Zone XI, neither of which existed in the original conception of the Zone System). There IS at least some photographically useful information beyond the 12thstop, so there is a reason to use 14-bit capture instead of 12-bit on modern high-end cameras including the GFX 100. No combination of printer, paper and ink can render 12 stops or more, so a major part of the photographer’s job in image editing is to fit the data captured by the sensor into the range offered by the final output. This has always been true – contrast control in silver gelatin enlarging papers served the same function – the tonal range of the negative was often more than the paper could hold, so paper grade or variable contrast offered the photographer a choice of how to express those tones .
The behavior of the GFX 100 sensor is only to be expected, as the sensor is a version of Sony’s latest. Sony released four sizes of what is essentially the same sensor in late 2018 – 26 mp APS-C (several Fujifilm cameras including the X-Pro 3), 61 mp full-frame (Sony’s own A7r mk IV), 102 mp 33x44mm (GFX 100) and 150 mp 53x40mm (Phase One IQ4 150). Dynamic range and noise characteristics are inherent to the sensor (although a larger sensor will, of course, have a significant advantage at the same print size), and are excellent. The only real competitor to the latest generation Sony sensor is the (Sony-derived) Nikon sensor in the D850 and Z7 – previous-generation Sony sensors also aren’t far behind.
The colors are typically Fujifilm, both in the JPEGs and as a starting point for raw conversion – bright and punchy, with beautiful greens and accurate skin tones. Colors are largely determined by color filtration and in-camera processing, as well as the defaults the camera tells the raw converter to start with, so two cameras that use closely related sensors can have quite different colors. Color is also affected by features like Fujifilm’s film simulations, which are widely regarded as the best in the business. I personally prefer Fujifilm (and Nikon) “house colors” to Sony’s own, finding that both Fujifilm and Nikon add value to the basic Sony sensor package by tuning the colors (and, especially in Fujifilm’s case, offering several options).
The only film format that offers this level of image quality is 8×10” (which is certainly much heavier and clunkier than the GFX). 8×10” color transparency film costs $15-20 per sheet, with processing roughly $10 additional. At those prices, a $10,000 GFX 100 becomes economical relatively quickly. It makes 8×10” very difficult to justify in color (black and white for certain fine-art uses, especially when platinum printing is involved, is a different story). When Fujifilm releases a tilt-shift lens or two for this beast, 8×10” color film will be nearly entirely superseded except for artistic choices where the unique look of film is worth the price and inconvenience. There will no longer be any reason to use any color film format for image quality by a conventional definition – those reasons are now limited to perspective correction.
The native print size of the GFX 100, printing without resizing at 300 DPI, is nearly 30×40”. Any print smaller than that will be throwing away data! Especially for large prints which tend to be viewed from farther away, resizing up to print size is not a problem with any modern camera. Allowing for a 2x resize (150 dpi native, using something like Perfect Resize to create a 300 dpi file), the GFX 100 will make a 60×80 inch print that withstands inspection from a few inches away! If you have occasion to make prints substantially larger than 40×60” on a frequent basis, the GFX 100 may well be your dream camera.
Fujifilm has just announced that the GFX 100 will receive pixel-shift capability via firmware update. It will almost certainly be tripod-only, but it will provide an output resolution of 400 megapixels. This was a brief mention during their X Summit marketing event in London, with no details on how it will work. We don’t yet know how much motion the pixel shift will tolerate, which varies in similar systems from other manufacturers. Other unknowns include whether the camera will be capable of stitching the files together internally – or will it require a proprietary piece of software on the computer – if so, what will the compatibility and stability of that software be like. Finally, will it be 4-shot multishot only, or will there be a 16-shot mode? 16 shots on a 100 mp sensor not only brings resolution to 400 mp, it also undoes the effect of the Bayer filter – every pixel is exposed through every color filter, so there is full color information at each pixel. A 16 shot mode would almost certainly tolerate very little or no motion (primarily restricted to studio applications) – but it would be an extremely high-quality file. Art museums, take note…
The challenge facing the GFX 100 is the capability level of the cameras just below it on the totem pole. The Sony A7r mk IV uses essentially the same sensor in a smaller size. With a full-frame sensor (24x36mm as compared to the Fujifilm’s 33x44mm) of exactly the same technology and pixel pitch, it offers 60% of the pixels of the GFX 100, albeit without Fujifilm’s color science, in a much smaller package for 35% of the price. The Nikon Z7 and D850 both use a slightly less dense sensor that offers 46 mp in a full-frame package instead of the Sony’s 61 mp, but it offers ISO 64 (both Sony and Fujifilm offer a lowest true ISO of 100). The Z7’s files at very low ISO offer utter noiselessness and a particular tonality I haven’t seen in another camera. Both Sony and Nikon offer longer lenses that compensate for some of the additional cropping flexibility from Fujifilm’s higher resolution (in Nikon’s case, by using either a D850 or the FTZ adapter on a Z7). Fujifilm does argue that they offer the ability to crop a vertical print from a horizontal file, or a square print from any file, in a way that other cameras do not.
My primary personal camera is a Nikon Z7, and I have printed gallery-quality images up to 40×60” from Z7 files. I have three high-detail 40×60” prints from Z7 files in a show as of this writing, and they stand up to very close inspection, including by expert photographers. I have absolutely no qualms about using the Z7 as large as 40×60”, including high-detail landscape subjects. Are there applications where a Z7 file (or a similar Sony, Panasonic, etc. file) just isn’t sufficient? Sure – but they’re limited. If 40×60” is the limit (I haven’t printed bigger because I haven’t tracked down a 60” printer), the Z7 offers 40×40” from a square crop and 27×40” in a vertical crop from a horizontal file.
Prints larger than that are the domain of the GFX 100. There are places where they’re needed – large institutional installations where it is possible to approach the print closely come to mind. If you are placing 60×80” images in the hallways of hospitals, banks or similar clients, the GFX 100 is the perfect camera for that task. There are almost certainly situations in high-end fashion where very large images are subject to close inspection and day rates are high enough to pay for the GFX easily. Automotive photography also comes to mind – life-sized images of cars are used in promotional capacities at auto shows. There is a small market for landscape images greater than 40×60”, and the GFX 100 provides the ultimate in resolution in a camera that will survive the rigors of outdoor use. The maximum print size from a GFX 100 is effectively unlimited, because the larger the image, the greater the viewing distance to take in the whole image. The GFX is either very close to or right at the limit, even with “perfect” vision, where there is no distance where you can see the entire image and resolve the detail. There are different numbers circulating, but 100 megapixels is in that range.
Is the GFX 100 the right camera for your style of photography? It didn’t turn out to be for me during a relatively short test. The size and weight restricted where I could carry it, since it is too heavy to backpack with, and I don’t have a market for prints larger than 40×60”. I’d rather have 5×7” film quality with compact bodies and lenses that are backpacking friendly than the final step to 8×10” in something that stays much closer to the car. I will be hiking hundreds of miles of the Pacific Crest Trail this summer with my Z7 and a couple of lenses – a relatively compact system that still offers large-format film quality.
The Z7 (D850, A7rIV, S1r, etc., as well as Fujifilm’s own 50 MP medium format options and Hasselblad’s X1D series) can fully saturate a 44” printer’s capabilities, and the jump from 24” or even 44” to 60”/64” to grand format (72” and above) is significant. Even among photographers who print seriously, most of us own 17”, 24” or perhaps 44” printers – 60”/64” and grand format are restricted to a relatively small number of print shops. Canon makes the 60” Pro-6100, which is significantly more expensive than its smaller stablemates, but uses exactly the same inks and technologies, so a smaller Canon inkjet (down to the 17” Pro-1000) can actually proof prints for the Pro-6100.
Epson makes the 64” P20000, with a slightly different inkset from their smaller printers (10 colors, five of which are black/gray). The P20000 is still a photo-oriented aqueous ink printer like its smaller cousins, although its color gamut will be somewhat different since it has an extra gray ink and is missing orange and green compared to the current P7000/P9000 series (the brand-new 7570/9570 series add violet as well).
Once you get wider than these two machines, the printers become radically more expensive, often over $100,000 (no photographer would own one – they exist in a few shops in major cities), and generally do not use aqueous ink like photographers are used to. A six or eight color solvent or latex ink printer is a radically different machine from a twelve color aqueous printer, and will require very different file preparation. Most shops with grand format printers cater largely to the signage industry, and they may not be used to working with photographers. The printers use different papers from the photographic and art papers we are used to – all of your favorites from Canson Infinity, Moab, Hahnemuhle, etc. are available up to 44”, many to 60” and a small number up to 64”, but once you get beyond that, the choices are few – B&H lists one cotton rag paper from Innova in 72”, along with several signage-oriented papers. At 87”, there is one backlit film, and one backlit polyester fabric is available at 116”. Distributors catering to the sign industry surely offer more choices, but perhaps not the choices photographers are looking for.
The GFX 100 is Highly Recommended for a very small niche market. If you have a market for the images it can produce, it offers a unique set of capabilities. Nothing else offers effectively unlimited print size with weather sealing, working autofocus and even image stabilization. The Fujifilm colors are beautiful, much like all of their other cameras, and lenses are excellent as we would expect from this manufacturer. The reason for the very small niche market caveat is that the next step down (40-60 mp full frame or medium format) prints as wide as most of us will ever print. Unless you have a need for images above 40×60”, or for cropped prints larger than 40”, its extra resolution offers little real benefit – and it comes with twice the weight and three times the price of cameras whose capabilities are sufficient for almost all tasks. If you do have the need for huge images and the capability to get them on paper, the GFX 100 is the way to get there.