Of beautiful trees and ambitious cameras and lenses. Part 1 – where we’ve come from.

Camera & Technology

August 19, 2021 ·

Dan Wells

Survivor, Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, Inyo National Forest.

Moon and Joshua Tree, Joshua Tree NP

I was hoping to be on the Pacific Crest Trail at this point in the summer, but a knee injury has left me wandering around California in ways closer to the road. I have been working on portraits of some special trees around the state, and there are so many beautiful ones here… The photographs (other than pictures of gear, which are manufacturer press photos) accompanying this article are from this project, which will hopefully be ongoing and encompass more of the country and perhaps the world.

While wandering in California, I haven’t been paying my usual level of attention to what’s being introduced – but there hasn’t been much from a body perspective, although there have been more lenses. Since the two huge introductions in January (Fujifilm GFX100S and Sony A1), which more or less coincided with the last time I wrote a roundup like this, we’ve seen eleven cameras and 34 lenses introduced.

A Nikon Z fc – looks like an old FM2, but it’s digital (and APS-C)


Of the cameras, two of them are VERY minor revisions of existing bodies – the Sony A7r III and IV each get a new rear screen and an “a” on the end of their names – due to a shortage of the existing rear screens? The Nikon Z fc is a little more differentiated from the existing Z50, but not much – Nikon grafted retro controls that look a lot like an old FM2 onto a Z50. Three are Micro 4/3, of which two (but NOT all three) receive automatic “Not Recommended” ratings for the Same Old Sensor. The Panasonic GH6, which we haven’t really seen yet, features the first new sensor for Micro 4/3 in half a decade.

And a Sony ZV-E10, looking like very little that we’ve seen before

Sony’s actually new camera of the past half-year is the ZV-E10, a camera not only designed for vlogging, but designed specifically for inserting ads in vlogging – one of its big features is a “product focus” button. That odd device focuses on the vlogger’s face until they hold up the product they’re pitching, then automatically switches focus to the product. Two are so specialized or obscure that most of us will never see them – the viewfinderless, shutterless Sigma fp L and the Pentax K3 mk III. The last two are Canon’s and Nikon’s answers to the Sony A1, or alternatively the mirrorless companions/replacements to the EOS-1D and single digit Nikon D lines. Both the Canon EOS-R3 and the Nikon Z9 are pre-announced, but, apart from a few photogs at the Tokyo Olympics, nobody’s seen them yet.

Of these eleven cameras, two and arguably three (certainly the two sports cameras, hopefully the GH6), are real moves forward in some way. Three are minor updates to existing models, with one changing controls. Two are obsolete on introduction due to a market-lagging sensor. Two are obscure, and the last one, the ZV-E10, concerns me (in a negative sense). Have we reached a point where “Instagram product pitches” are a genre of cinema worthy of their own camera (and a camera that is very poorly adapted for any genre of photography or videography APART from Instagram product pitches)?

The lenses, thankfully, are more interesting. One category that has received a lot of attention is very compact primes. Fujifilm really kicked this one off in mirrorless mounts a few years ago with the “Fujicrons” for their APS-C system… Of course, there had been DSLR and Leica M primes of similar size for years – it would be easy to trace the compact prime right back to Oskar Barnack and the first Leicas… We’ve seen at least nine of them this year – from Sony, Nikon, Leica, Pentax and Fujifilm (joining a crop of Sigmas from last December).

A Tamron 11-20mm for APS-C mirrorless

Tamron has been especially active in mirrorless zooms, with no less than five, in focal lengths ranging from 11mm (an APS-C lens) to 500mm. Canon, by contrast, has been unusually quiet, with four introductions, but two of them are existing EF telephotos with permanent RF mount adapters, so only two real new lenses. Sony has been typically busy, with five new lenses, all primes, all 50mm or under (three compact, two fast). Oddly, no less than four lenses each from Leica and Pentax, although one of the Leicas is a PanaLeica and another is a rebranded Sigma lens.

A Leica APO-Summicron M 35mm f2 – brand new, but has the longest heritage in compact lenses

Three new Nikkors, but none of them longer than 105mm – where are the teles, Nikon? Two new affordable long zooms are the major introductions at the long end, a 150-500mm f5-6.7 from Tamron and a brand-new 150-600mm f5-6.3 from Sigma, both for Sony FE, with the Sigma also available in L-mount. Both are trombone zooms, getting much longer as they zoom out – unlike the Sony 200-600mm, which is the only very long internal zoom I know of until you reach the $10,000 exotics. The Sigma is very similar to the Sony in focal length (it gets a little wider), weight and filter size (both are 95mm). The Tamron is a little smaller and nearly a pound lighter, taking 82mm filters, in trade for losing 100mm and 1/3 stop at the long end. Both are cheaper than the Sony, although more expensive than the crop of ~$1000 long trombone zooms.

To my mind, the internal zoom of the Sony is a major plus on a lens this long – while the Sigma is significantly shorter than the Sony at the short end, it is nearly four inches longer than the Sony at 600mm. A 5 lb trombone zoom changes balance disconcertingly, and is at its worst at the long end, precisely where these lenses spend most of their time. I care less about internal zoom on smaller lenses – it’s a worthwhile tradeoff for compactness on lenses below a certain size, where the lens gets really compact at the short end (or even in a stowed position), and the front elements aren’t terribly heavy. To my tastes, fitting in a bag better and being more compact at the short end isn’t worth the balance issues at 600mm, especially on a lens that is sizeable even at its shortest, and where the extension means there will be 95mm elements nearly a foot and a half in front of the camera. Where’s the tipping point between an extending zoom (I wouldn’t really call a little one a “trombone” zoom – I reserve that name for lenses with a ton of extension) being worth it for a more compact lens and causing balance issues? It’s different for each of us, but I don’t react negatively to standard extending zooms smaller than, say an average 24-70 f2.8. I say “standard” extending zooms because some travel zooms have multiple tubes and end up very long, even if they start smaller than a 24-70mm f2.8. In a telephoto zoom, I find the Sigma 100-400mm DG DN Contemporary to be tolerable, both because it’s relatively light, with only a modest amount of weight at the end of the extended barrel, and because it gets quite compact when retracted. Anything much bigger winds up in the trombone class…

The Sigma is an interesting option for L-mount users, and potentially also if Sigma introduces their lenses in Z-mount, where there is a real dearth of telephoto choices. Sigma is now looking at the possibility of making lenses for Fujifilm mounts – this could be useful on X-mount (and what if it actually covers the GFX sensor – telephotos sometimes have surprising coverage – at least one 300mm f2.8 for 35mm covered 4×5” if you removed some baffles). A trombone zoom, especially if it’s both an excellent performer and relatively inexpensive, is far better than no lens at all. Unless the Sigma really surprises me with its performance (e.g. outclassing the excellent Sony), I’d consider the Sony’s internal zoom to be a major, perhaps decisive, advantage. I haven’t seen its Sigma or Tamron lenses in person, although I’d like to take a look at one.

The rest of this article starts with a look back, from the perspective of a Fujifilm GFX 100S (among other things, but the GFX is what I turn to for optimum image quality, shooter) who has used interchangeable lens digital cameras since the original Canon D30, on just how far we’ve come. We’ve gone from 3 MP to over 100 MP, from “creative” color and quite a bit of noise to gorgeous, noiseless images well beyond Adobe RGB. The state of the art has gone from around 7 stops of dynamic range (if that) to well over 12 stops by the most conservative measures (putting Zone “minus-I” and Zone XI in play, with the faintest traces of detail in Zone “minus-II” and Zone XII). The question of film equivalence has gone from “is it better than 35mm film?” to “is it better than 8×10” film?”. From the look back, I’ll then look forward in the second part of this piece, although only for a year or so – my crystal ball is far too cloudy to see what the cameras and lenses of 2041 might be like.

A Leica APO-Summicron M 35mm f2 – brand new, but has the longest heritage in compact lenses

As I look back and forward, industry trends mean there are two new blanket “Not Recommended” ratings joining the longstanding “anything using the Same Old Sensor”. One is “Anything APS-C EXCEPT Fujifilm”. The reason for this is almost exclusively lenses, and the blanket “Not Recommended” could reverse if someone in addition to Fujifilm starts taking APS-C lenses seriously. Fujifilm, with their excellent APS-C lens lineup, is not covered under the “Not Recommended”, and will continue to get recommendations on the merit of individual products.

Canon, Sony and Nikon all make some APS-C bodies capable of excellent images, but they have almost completely failed to support them with lenses. Both Canon and Nikon have a few good APS-C DSLR lenses mixed in with a bunch of poor performers – but both are discontinuing DSLRs and their lenses at a rapid clip. Canon’s APS-C mirrorless lenses are uniformly unambitious, and their APS-C bodies won’t even take their excellent full-frame lenses. Nikon’s APS-C mirrorless bodies DO take their full-frame lenses, but they have only a couple of APS-C dedicated lenses and there’s an image-stabilization conundrum using the full-frame lenses on APS-C bodies. Sony has more decent lenses mixed in with the junk, but there is so much overlap between the pricing of their APS-C and full-frame lines (and staying well under the price of full-frame means poor lenses) that it almost never makes sense not to go full-frame. Fujifilm is alone in putting out a fully supported APS-C system with excellent lenses.

The second blanket “Not Recommended” is a very sad one. Any DSLR, from any maker, is now “Not Recommended” as a new system. This doesn’t apply to adding a body or especially a lens to an existing system (which could still make sense), although we should all be thinking about if, how and when we might transition to mirrorless. There are two reasons for this blanket rating. The first, and most important, is the increasing pace of discontinuation of DSLR bodies and lenses. I’m very suspicious that there are probably only a few DSLRs left in active production (if I had to guess, the Nikon D850, D780 and maybe D3500 plus the Canon 5D IV and a Rebel or two are in sustained production, with the D6 and EOS-1Dx mk III being made in small quantities as needed – as has always been true of the big sports cameras). Many of the models currently available are probably actually discontinued, although their manufacturers won’t admit it until they’ve sold through their stocks. Both Nikon and Canon have been discontinuing lenses at a fast pace, and neither has released a DSLR lens (other than a few limited-production exotic telephotos) in over three years.

The second reason is the performance of first-party lens adapters. With the exception of older autofocus Nikkors and Pentax lenses, it’s possible to get an adapter to make most DSLR lenses work on a same-brand mirrorless system (Sony for Minolta lenses) as well as they do on DSLRs. The third reason is the breadth of (mostly full-frame) mirrorless options now available. Until now, there had been things DSLRs did better than any mirrorless camera. With the introduction of the current trio of mirrorless sports cameras (A1, Z9, R3), that’s no longer true. It’s still possible to get into a DSLR system more cheaply than anything mirrorless, but that will probably change soon, and the inexpensive DSLRs are losing support at a rapid clip. If you want to add a D850 to your extensive Nikon system, go ahead – and the same for a 5D mk IV to your Canon system, especially if you’ve ruled out a Z7 II or an EOS-R5 and an adapter. Adding a lens or two can make even more sense, because lenses benefit from the adapters. What no longer makes sense is starting a DSLR system at any level.

The GFX 100S reaches heights of image quality rarely seen from anything digital -Sequoia NP


I’ve been working extensively this summer with the GFX 100S, a system I purchased after having one in for review this spring. All of the non-gear images are with the GFX (with the 23mm and the 32-64mm), although there is no way to see the true quality of a 102 MP camera in a 1 MP web image… The image quality continues to impress me enormously – the additional detail over the best of full-frame is not only noticeable, but also seems to be quite a bit more than the math would lead one to expect. With no scientific basis, but with thousands of images on the GFX now, and with tens of thousands on the Z7 and the A7r IV, I would say that the GFX 100S has roughly twice the overall image quality potential of the best of full-frame. It’s comparable per-pixel to a Nikon Z7 (which is significantly better per pixel than an A7r IV due to the low minimum ISO and the color, although the A7r IV of course has more pixels), with more than twice the resolution of a Z7. This thing delivers, and it delivers in bucketfuls.

Peaceful Giants, Redwoods National and State Parks. GFX 100S and 23mm f4

Barring a spectacular introduction in the final third of the year (that reaches my hands for testing in time), the GFX 100S is a very likely candidate for Camera of the Year 2021. Unless there’s something really unexpected, I suspect the Camera of the Year awards across the photographic press this year will split between the GFX and the Sony A1. Most of us are unlikely to have enough experience with the R3 or the Z9 to really consider them – and the specs on them don’t suggest that they will be SO groundbreaking that a lot of journalists will go out on a limb to give them an award based on a brief hands-on.

While I haven’t tested the A1 (and I very much hope to in the fall – I’m thinking fall migration with the 200-600mm), my own priorities as a reviewer would tend to go to the spectacular but specialized GFX over the good at everything A1. The fact that I sold a lot of other gear to buy a GFX 100S after reviewing it shows what I think of it for my style of photography. I bought it only partially to review lenses – a lot of it was for the fit with my personal work.

There are several other reviewers with personal GFX 100S systems, and quite a few with A1s – reading between the lines, both are what the people who follow the industry and make it our business to know what’s coming are buying… My suspicion is that Camera of the Year this year at most sites will go to a camera that the reviewer owns and has tens of thousands of images on, and that that camera will often be a GFX 100S or an A1. Which one the reviewer bought probably shows something about the orientation of the site (although iconoclastic landscape photographer Lloyd Chambers chose an A1)…

Patriarch Grove, Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, Inyo National Forest

Fujifilm color is (as usual) the best I’ve seen, both out of camera and in terms of potential for editing. Dynamic range is just as Photons to Photos says it is – no matter what you’ve got now (unless it’s made by Phase One), the GFX has an extra half stop or more – and unless you’ve got something that’s already excellent, that’s more like an extra stop and a half… Picking up the GFX is the biggest change in image quality in one jump I have experienced since I first used a Nikon D3x a decade or more ago. Not only was the D3x significantly higher resolution than what came before it, those of us who were lucky enough to use one will remember that it had really beautiful dynamic range and tonality for its day.

Redwood and Rhododendron, Redwood State and National Parks.

The GFX 100S is a lovely camera in today’s world, a special camera that offers the photographer something extra, just as the D3x was back then. Yes, the D800e came along, and it offered everything the D3x did in a smaller body for a more reasonable price, with more resolution – including similarly lovely tonalities. Those of us who shot the D3x got a preview of much of what the D800e could do – three years early. Now that 24 MP full-framers with 14-bit raw and 10+ stops of dynamic range are common enough that we have a couple of choices under $1000, it’s hard to remember that the first of them was a revolution.

Sunrays, Redwood State and National Parks

A digital camera that offers better image quality than essentially all reasonable film sizes (no, 11×14” is not a reasonable size – it’s an ultra-specialized format used by a few tens or hundreds of people worldwide) is an important milestone. The GFX 100 was the first such camera accessible to anyone beyond the rarefied Phase One market, and the 100S is the second – 60% of the price and much easier to use.

Compared to everything else I’ve used in 30 years of photography, the 102 MP sensor is a similar revolution to that first 24 MP sensor, which outdid all film short of sheet film. The GFX 100S removes the “short of sheet film” from that statement (it’s well beyond any 4×5” scan I’ve seen, and it has a significant amount of the magic of 8×10” in prints – I’ve never shot, scanned or printed 8×10”, only admired the results). Of course, it doesn’t have the movements of a view camera – note to Fujifilm : tilt/shift lenses would be naturals on a camera like this.

Sunset, Ancient Bristlecone Pines.

It’s a new level of image quality I haven’t worked with before, and a new level of quality is an interesting time to look back at the history that got us there. The history below is mine, and involves what I was shooting at the time. In most cases, there were plenty of other cameras and lenses around the same time from different makers that did pretty much the same thing.

Remember the Microdrive? It was expensive and temperamental, but it held 300 shots or so…

The very early days of digital photography were full of tradeoffs with 35mm film. Digital allowed many more variations on an image than film did, both because of the much longer “roll of film” where a 1 GB IBM Microdrive (remember those?) could store a few hundred images, and because film and processing cost went away. Even a 3 MP image from an old Canon D30 was also much less grainy than most film (although slow films ultimately had more detail).

The granddaddy of them all? The Canon EOS-D30 may have been the first modern DSLR. Some would say Nikon D1 a year earlier (and there were Kodak/Nikon and Kodak/Canon chimeras even earlier if you were OK with the price and weight), but my vote goes to the D30 for its CMOS sensor and lower price. Thankfully Canon has a camera museum online, where I got this picture…

The noise in a D30 image was more or less similar in degree to a decent 35mm film a stop or two slower than the camera ISO (although it was different in character). While the D30 got very noisy above ISO 800 or so, we often forget how grainy fast 35mm film was! ISO 1600 and even 3200 film existed, but the grain was the size of golf balls.

On the other hand, the color rendition of that first generation of digital SLRs could best be described as “creative”, and we forget how primitive the bodies were. While the D30 was a $3000 body, almost all of that was the groundbreaking CMOS image sensor. The AF system, controls and body durability were all taken from low-end consumer SLRs (it was a hybrid of film Rebel and EOS IX APS film SLR parts in a body somewhere between a Rebel and a one step up EOS Elan) – it had three (really slow) AF points, at a time when there were film SLRs with as many as 45 much faster points. It shot 3 fps for 8 frames (less than that if you dared to use raw files), then needed many seconds to clear the buffer. The metering was decent – much better than the AF or the speed, and, for the first time, the photographer could see whether they got the shot (admittedly on a low resolution 1.8” display). The other challenge was that the D30 was an APS-C camera, but there was no such thing as an APS-C lens yet (it didn’t take the very few IX lenses). The kit lens was a relatively nice 28-105mm that had no problem outresolving the sensor – but, after accounting for the crop factor, the wide end of the lens was equivalent to 42mm. Lenses wider than about 20mm were rare and expensive, and 20mm was only a 32mm equivalent.

The next step was when I first used a good 6-8 megapixel camera and there was no going back to 35mm film for me. 6 to 8 MP APS-C was at least as good as slow 35mm slide film, and it had huge workflow advantages. I was getting things out of the Nikon D70 (6 MP) and D200 (10 MP) that I couldn’t get out of any 35mm color film, print or slide, that I knew of. The D70’s color was still on the creative side, while the D200 covered most of Adobe RGB with relatively neutral casts and decent white balance. Even the D70 was significantly better than 35mm film at a comparable speed, using either chemical printing or any scanner I had access to, up to and including Nikon’s Super Coolscans – the best consumer scanners of the time. I even had a few slides scanned on an Imacon (although I never used one myself) – and D200 images were clearly superior to Imacon scans of Velvia 50. The bodies had gotten better, too – the D200 in particular felt like at least a semi-pro body, and was as fast and responsive as the F100 film SLR, a $1000+ camera, rather than feeling like a $300 camera, as the EOS-D30 often did.

When I shot 35mm film, I used to print Ilfochrome – nasty, smelly stuff with too much contrast and not enough control, although it could be gorgeous on exactly the right image (for the images where the Ilfochrome look is right, I now use Moab Slickrock Metallic Pearl instead of my usual Canson Infinity Platine and other fiber-gloss papers).Printing on good luster paper on the first generation of really good photo inkjets like the Epson Stylus Pro 4000 was significantly better than Ilfochrome for most images, and a heck of a lot easier.

A later candidate for first modern DSLR. The Nikon D3x was the first camera with a 24 MP CMOS sensor, and among the first with 14-bit RAW. A breakthrough in image quality in 2008-09, its specs form the basis for many cameras today.

By the time I was shooting a 24 MP D3x, I was printing on a Canon iPF 6100, using the first of the “fiber-gloss” papers, and that combination easily overshadowed any scanned medium format film I was familiar with. I never printed much medium format chemically, but I’ve scanned a lot of it, 6×6 cm from a Hasselblad, 6×7 Mamiya and a little bit of 6×9 Horseman. Much of what I scanned over the years was Velvia 50… Cropping the D3x square always felt a lot like the 6×6 Hasselblad frame (suggesting the D3x uncropped is roughly equivalent to 6×9 cm Velvia, which also feels about right) – if anything, the D3x stood up just a little better and might take a print size larger. It certainly had dynamic range and color flexibility that scanned medium format film did not – a D3x file was one of the first raw files that could be edited in the modern sense, with modern flexibility. I made a lot of the medium format scans I am comparing myself, on the Super Coolscan 9000. I also had a fair number of medium format scans made, mostly on high end Fujitsu Finescan flatbeds and occasionally on Imacons. The $10,000+ scanners did make a difference, but not enough to overtake the D3x.

I have never shot much 4×5” film myself, but a close friend does, and I do much of her digital printing for her. 4×5” Velvia or Provia feels like it has just about the same level of detail as a full-frame pixel monster – the two I know best are the A7r IV and the Z7, although the others are going to be in the same range. Many of her scans are made on the $1000 class Epson flatbeds, which are decent scanners for film that big (you probably don’t want to use them for critical work on 35mm if you have something else available). She’s also had a few drum scans made, which do capture more detail, but they also show that the Epson is doing a pretty decent job everywhere except the deep shadows – there isn’t THAT much more detail (although the drum scanner sees noticeably deeper into the shadows). The digital cameras have substantially more dynamic range than even a drum scanner can get out of transparency film (I’ve only seen a couple of really good scans from large format negative film, and my impression is that the pixel monsters still win).

A very large image sensor
But actually small by the standards of comparable image quality – and you get more than two shots per memory card (and without turning the card over).

The big GFX sensor is in a class beyond anything I’ve worked with directly, film or digital. The only prints I’ve seen that give a similar overall feel have been chemical prints from large format film, generally larger than 4×5”. If you’ve seen an original Ansel Adams print or a VERY good reproduction, part of the magic is the way there’s always more detail to see. Your eye never stops being drawn farther in. The only digital sensor I’ve personally worked with that can do that is the 102 MP Sony at the heart of the big GFX cameras. Its magic is right at the border of the seen and the unseen, since it is capturing things at the edge of perception.

Embrace, Patriarch Grove.

Since the whole month I have owned my GFX 100S has been spent in the field, capturing portraits of trees, I have not had a real chance to make fine-art prints from it. I did make a few from the review loaner camera, with results suggestive of extraordinary printing quality. Much of my printing from the loaner camera was exploring the detail it is capable of in particular, rather than going for the best overall image quality I could print. This fall is the time for learning what kind of prints I can make from this extraordinary machine. I’ll be using my personal Canon PRO-2000 and other printers, hopefully including some 44” and perhaps even 60” machines.

Megapixels aren’t everything – this crowd of 108 MP phones does NOT offer medium format image quality.


Image quality is certainly NOT just a function of pure resolution. The GFX sensor offers exceptional resolution, but that is backed up by very high quality sensor filtration, decent sized pixels (which make the sensor physically large) and great lenses. There have been cell phone sensors that claim over 100 MP. They have tiny pixels, lousy lenses intended to keep the phone flat, and perhaps compromised filtration. As an iPhone user, I’ve never personally used one, but I’ve seen output from them. Under absolutely perfect conditions in broad daylight, they can MAYBE produce an image that rivals the popular 20 MP 1” sensor. As soon as the light goes down even a little bit, they’re no better than a recent 12 MP iPhone sensor, and often worse than that.

Another case where pure resolution is wasted is most (non-Fujifilm) APS-C cameras in the 24 MP range. The 24 MP Sony sensor at the heart of many of them is an excellent performer. DxOMark ranks it within a couple of points of the D3x sensor, which I’ve just spent a couple of paragraphs singing the praises of as the first sensor that exceeded the performance of most medium format film most of the time. An inexpensive APS-C body is capable of the performance of really good medium format film plus a little – with the right lens!

The sensor in a lowly Nikon D3500 is essentially as good a performer as the old but standout D3x sensor that once graced an $8000 camera. Why, then, don’t D3500 images tend to look like that? The answer (apart from photographer skill) is kit lenses… D3x shooters tended to insist on only the best, while most D3500s never see anything but the (junk) kit lens.

Everyone except Fujifilm sells terrible lenses with their lower-end APS-C bodies and, often, even with expensive APS-C bodies. Sony’s little 16-50mm power zoom is the worst offender, but neither Nikon’s nor Canon’s 18-55mm DSLR lenses are much better. Some of the newer mirrorless kit lenses are better – the Z50 kit lens is not a standout, but it isn’t terrible, either. Fujifilm has a completely different strategy – they charge much more for their APS-C kit lenses, but they are very good lenses (both the 18-55mm f2.8-4 and the 16-80mm f4). Fujifilm does bundle a 15-45mm XC that is much more of a standard APS-C kit lens with some of their cheapest cameras, and every comment I make on Canon, Nikon and Sony strategies applies to that lens as well.

Take any of those cameras that come with a Really Lousy Lens and throw something decent on it, and you’ll be really surprised what the sensor can do. The exception to this is Canon’s EOS-M series, which have few or no decent native lenses, and cannot be adapted to anything except Canon DSLR lenses (plenty of choices, but no longer actively under development – Canon is focusing on RF lenses)… Anything else has quite a few good options, both from the camera manufacturer and the likes of Sigma. In many cases, the better lenses available are actually full-frame lenses, which raises the question of why any given manufacturer wants people to bother with APS-C bodies if most of the better lenses are made for full-frame.

A big part of the perceived difference in image quality between 24 MP full-frame and 24 MP APS-C is the kit lenses. Full-frame kit lenses vary, from the excellent 24-70 f4 Z Nikkor to the mediocre 28-70mm f3.5-5.6 Sony, but even the worst of them are much better than most of the (non-Fujifillm) APS-C kit lenses. It’s also much less likely for an owner of a full-frame camera to only have the kit lens (or the kit lens plus an equally lousy short tele zoom). With a comparable lens, the performance difference between a modern 24 MP APS-C camera and its full-frame equivalent is marginal.

Fujifilm gets that, both in their APS-C lens line and in their GF lineup. With the exception of the inexpensive (and clearly marked) XC lenses, few Fujifilm lenses shortchange the sensor badly. To their credit, most of the others are offering primarily very good to excellent lenses in their full-frame lineups, especially their full-frame mirrorless lineups, which get a lot of new lens designs. it’s APS-C where the garbage shows up. Sony has a bunch of older full-frame mirrorless lenses, some of which could use replacement – but Sony also has a much broader line that includes quite a few great lenses. Hint: Sony, modest aperture 24-70 and 28-70 zooms are popular, and both of yours are old and not up to your latest standards…

Silhouette, Joshua Tree NP.

I’m sure that, looking back from 2034, there will be cameras that offer everything the GFX 100S does, and they will be much faster, and they’ll be a dime a dozen. They may well even make phone calls (although I’d choose a D3x over any phone today for any relatively static subject). What camera released in 2009 (actually announced in late 2008), other than a D3x, would offer competitive image quality today? I’d far rather have a D3x to shoot landscape today than anything Micro 4/3 using the Same Old Sensor, for example. Of course the much faster Micro 4/3 camera is a hands-down choice for anything that moves – and the D3x had no video modes.

If there’s a D3x still running somewhere, it will stand up well to all of its 24 MP grandchildren, although it will be heavy and slow (it was only 1.5 fps with 14-bit raw on). Its autofocus won’t compete with even a $1000 camera today, but it’ll still make a print that looks like it came from something current. If the GFX 100S follows the same trajectory, it’ll make images that compete with moderately priced mainstream cameras – in 2034!

Sentinels, Sequoia NP. This and many other images here are with the 23mm f4.

I have been working with my own 32-64mm lens, purchased with the camera body, and with a 23mm f4 borrowed from Fujifilm for the wider images. Both are among the best lenses I’ve used, although both are also larger, heavier and slower than typical full-frame mirrorless lenses of similar capabilities (although the reverse crop factor means that the lenses are capable of shallower depth of field than one might think). Medium format lenses have always been bigger, heavier and slower than 35mm equivalents – these are actually very moderately sized for medium format…

The GFX 100S is not an “only” camera system for most photographers – it has very limited long lens capabilities, it’s not especially fast, and its video, while spectacular due to the large sensor, doesn’t offer every mode that smaller format cameras do. This has always been true – very few photographers ever owned ONLY medium format at any time in the recent past. Many preferred it, used it as a primary system, and used it whenever it made sense – but everyone had a 35mm system as well.
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Two systems has always been the price of medium format quality, and (unless you never shoot anything that moves), it still is. On the other hand, a GFX 100S is no heavier, bulkier or harder to use than a classic film Hasselblad – but its film equivalent in image quality isn’t 6×6 cm, it’s at least approaching 8×10”! The GFX is part of a trend I have noticed from a variety of manufacturers lately – the release of what I like to call ambitious cameras and lenses.

Dan Wells

August 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.

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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