2016 is turning out to be the year of medium format. This year has seen the introduction of two mirrorless medium format cameras – first came the Hasselblad X1D in June, then Fujifilm dropped the mic at Photokina with the GFX 50S.
While Hasselblad has a long history in the medium format world, Fujifilm’s entry has seemingly come out of the blue. Look back a little further, though, to before the advent of digital, and you'll discover that Fuji has a rich heritage in medium format film photography.
The Fujifilm GFX 50S pairs the best features of Fujifilm’s X-series cameras with a dramatically larger 51.4MP sensor, while putting everything into a camera that, surprisingly, is smaller than a DSLR.
Going on appearances, the Fujifilm GFX 50S has a lot in common with a DSLR, with a viewfinder directly behind the lens, a sizable right hand-grip and even a top-mounted LCD displaying settings. But beyond aesthetics, this mirrorless medium format camera is remarkably small.
That said, weighing in at 800g, the GFX 50S is noticeably heavier than this year's other medium format camera, the Hasselblad X1D. It’s also larger, thanks to the sizeable rump on the back, whereas the Hasselblad X1D’s body is essentially a thick tablet with an EVF and large grip attached.
Despite the larger proportions, the Fujifilm GFX 50S feels comfortable and balanced in hand. The grip is large, deep and sculpted to the contours of your fingers. It also feels really natural to cradle the camera from beneath, despite its boxy shape.
Thankfully the GFX 50S inherits some of the best features from Fujifilm’s X-series cameras, including weatherproofing. And, just as with the , the display tilts on both vertical and horizontal axes. Fujifilm’s classic physical controls have also been integrated into the GFX 50S.
Shutter speed and ISO sensitivity adjustments are both in easy reach thanks to physical dials, while an aperture ring will appear on most of Fujifilm’s new G-series lenses – more on those in a moment.
The camera isn't exactly bristling with dials, with only one knob to select AF, modes while Drive Mode selection has been relegated to a button, but compared to the Hasselblad X1D and most other digital cameras, Fujifilm once again does a much better job of putting controls in direct reach.
As with any preproduction lens or camera, it’s hard to gauge how accurate the autofocus speed is as of this writing. Fujifilm is also keeping the details of the GFX 50S’s autofocus system under wraps for the time being.
Of course, the real star of the GFX 50S is Fujifilm’s new medium format sensor, which is not only 1.7 times larger than a full-frame sensor, but also its highest-resolution chip yet at 51.4MP (8,256 x 6,192).
When you remove the lens, a giant gaping hole in the camera body appears, making it abundantly clear just how large the sensor is.
Disappointingly, though, this isn’t an X-Trans sensor, but a new AA filter-less bayer chip engineered and built by Fujifilm. We weren’t allowed to pop in an SD card or save any image samples, but based on pictures as seen on the rear LCD there’s plenty of dynamic range to play with here, while colors look natural, if a tiny bit muted compared to what we’re used to see with Fujifilm’s cameras.
Modularity comes back in a big way
The EVF on most Fujifilm cameras is amazing, but looking through the viewfinder on the GFX 50S is a whole other level of astounding; we'd liken it to looking through a peep hole and seeing a whole other world.
With the new viewfinder, Fujifilm is also introducing some modularity. The 2.36K-dot electronic viewfinder is attached to the camera through a hotshoe connection, so it's removable when users want a smaller body.
With an added attachment, the EVF can also pivot up and swivel to the sides like the rear LCD, and beyond this Fujifilm has plans to introduce a large video monitor accessory that could be mounted in the same hotshoe.
Of course, there will also be an optional grip accessory that adds longevity and additional camera controls – although Fujifilm tells us this won’t offer enhanced burst rate or autofocus performance, as seen with the X-T2.
Beyond the camera
In the interest of keeping the sizes of both the camera and lenses down, Fujifilm has opted for a focal-plane shutter on the camera that supports a maximum shutter speed of 1/4000 of a second.
Fujifilm has also managed to reduce the flange distance (the space between the sensor and back of the lens) to a scant 26.7mm, which helps minimize the camera’s size, and should make it more compatible with third-party lenses as well.
Typically, medium format lenses have come with a built-in leaf shutter mechanism, but the focal plane shutter removes the need for this. This in turn has helped Fujifilm create a series of compact G-series lenses. In fact, one of the company’s first 63mm f/2.8 lens is nearly the same size as the X-series XF 23mm f/1.4.
A camera is only as good as its lens lineup, and Fujifilm has big plans for its new medium format star. The GF32-64mm f/4 and the GF120mm f/4 Macro will launch alongside the camera, along with the 63mm prime, and the GF45mm f/2.8 and GF23mm f/4 primes will soon follow. By mid-2017 we should also see a 110mm f/2 rounding out the new ecosystem.
Before the digital age, medium-format cameras were very popular with working pros and enthusiast photographers because of their ease of use and incredible image quality. With the GFX 50S, Fujifilm is attempting to recapture some of that spirit by introducing a camera with more physical controls, and offering image quality that's claimed to rival that of Pentax and Hasselblad cameras.
If the image quality lives up to the task, and if Fujifilm can deliver a camera that’s far less than $10,000 (around £8,000, AU$13,000), this could be a truly amazing camera when it releases next year.
Fujifilm fans have been clamoring for a camera with a larger sensor for years, and while it’s not the full frame sensor we’ve all been waiting for, the Fujifilm GFX 50S is something even bigger than any of us anticipated.