Hands-on with the GFX 50S, Fujifilm’s First Digital Medium Format Camera
June 8, 2017
When we sat down with Fujifilm executives at PhotoPlus Expo in New York City last year, they said they took a hard look at the photography market and passed on building a full-frame mirrorless camera. The reasoning: Fuji’s APS-C camera line was close enough in image quality and features to a full-frame camera that the move wasn’t justified. What was justified, they said, was a bigger leap: from APS-C to medium format.
And so the GFX 50S was born. At a price of $6,500 for the body alone, the camera marks an aggressive entry into a category that had been almost exclusively dominated by pricey back-and-camera systems (the Pentax 645Z and more recent Hasselblad X1D being notable exceptions). Does Fuji have a winner on its hands? We turned the GFX 50S over to N.J. photographer and director David Patino to find out.
Unlike other 50-megapixel medium-format cameras on the market, the GFX 50S uses a sensor of Fuji’s own design. It delivers 14 stops of dynamic range and 14-bit RAW files—slightly lower than the 16-bit files pumped out by the 50-megapixel Sony sensor used in its rivals. Where it trails in bit depth, it leads in ISO. The camera has a native ISO of 100-12,800 with extension settings pushing the range from 50-102,400.
Another eye-opener is the number of AF points. Where medium-format cameras are parsimonious with AF points, the 50S has them in abundance. There are 425 available in AF-S mode and 117 in one of the zone modes. The camera supports continuous autofocusing and also offers face and eye detection.
You’ll enjoy a maximum shutter speed of 1/4000 sec. with an electronic shutter option to boost speeds to 1/16,000 sec. Unlike the X1D, however, flash sync speeds are capped at 1/125th sec.
And, this being a Fuji camera, there are 15 film simulation modes. These modes can be modified with a “grain effect” setting that mimics film grain and is available in either “strong” or “weak” intensities. There are several bracketing modes, too, including AE, film simulation, dynamic range, ISO sensitivity and white-balance bracketing.
There’s built-in Wi-Fi and a pair of SD card slots. The camera supports full HD recording at 30p. Film simulation modes are also available when filming.
There are three GF mount lenses available as of this writing: a 63mm F2.8, the GF 120mm f/4 OIS WR Macro, and the GF33-64mm f/4 R LM WR. We tested ours with the 63mm f/2.8.
The GFX 50S is physically bulky, but surprisingly lightweight despite generous weather-sealing (it’s sealed in 58 places against the elements). While larger than Hasselblad’s X1D, it’s lighter and handles like a full-frame DSLR. It’s very comfortable to shoot with, Patiño tells us. “I really loved the form factor.”
The exterior of the 50S places most of the core functions within easy reach. There are dedicated dials for shutter speed and ISO (aperture can be manually set via a lens ring). There’s a convenient backlit monochrome LCD monitor on the top plate for camera status, which Patiño really appreciated. By default, it displays information like shutter speed and aperture, but you can customize what’s displayed there, choosing up to eight different items.
The viewfinder isn’t built in, which is too bad, but one is provided in the box and it does slide securely into the hot shoe. It’s extremely high resolution, at 3.69-million pixels, and refreshes quite quickly.
The camera has a 3.2-inch tilting touch screen display. You can touch to select focus points or use the convenient built-in joystick to chose an AF point. The touch display supports a few gesture-based controls too, such as swiping up to bring up a histogram and highlight alert and double-tapping to enlarge an image. There are other thoughtful design touches, such as a side-loading battery so you can swap it out while still mounted to a tripod and a quick menu button within easy reach of your thumb.
Patiño used the GFX 50S for two product shots and tells us he was very impressed by the camera’s image quality. Shooting mostly with the Standard film setting, the GFX 50S produced sharply detailed, color rich photos. Patiño, who purchased a Canon 5DS for the extra resolution for studio and product work, said the GFX 50S was a camera he would be sorely tempted to buy in its place, even though it costs twice as much.
Patiño was particularly struck with the high ISO performance. “This camera excels in low light,” he tells us. He saw incredible JPEG images at ISO 8000. Even at ISO 12,000 the camera was producing images relatively free from ungainly grain. At 100 percent there was very little evident image noise in JPEGs at ISO 8000. That is excellent performance, he says, given the state of ISO in medium format. “You can use this as an event camera,” he notes.
The dynamic range was similarly excellent, though perhaps not as flexible as the X1D. We were able to push a completely under-exposed file up 5 stops in Lightroom, but noticed a little bit more noise in the Fuji than in the Hasselblad.
The focus system on the GFX 50S mirrors those in place on Fuji’s X-T2 and X-Pro 2 and while it’s not quite as fast as those models, it’s class-leading for the medium-format category. “This focuses like a DSLR,” Patiño says. The camera can focus fairly quickly in a range of lighting situations and selecting focus points is quick and intuitive. You’ll have the option to use continuous AF in movie recording, though we’d avoid it. The camera will struggle with any strong backlighting and will noisily hunt for focus. Single point AF is available but stays fixed during recording—we wish you could touch-to-focus during video recording.
You’re able to hit 3fps in continuous shooting mode for an unlimited number of JPEGs but only up to 13 RAW images. That’s fairly brisk by the unhurried standards of medium format cameras.
Live view proved reliably responsive, though there were times, particularly when adjusting exposure or moving into areas of high contrast where the feed struggled to keep up.
You’ll enjoy about 400 shots per battery charge, which isn’t half bad by mirrorless standards.
To answer the question posed at the beginning: yes. The GFX 50S is unambiguously a winner. It delivers stunning image quality, tremendous high ISO performance and a user-friendliness that will likely tempt many photographers into medium format. While it’s not as well designed as Hasselblad’s X1D and lacks the speedy flash sync, it functions as a more natural bridge between a conventional mirrorless camera and a medium-format body thanks to its plentiful AF points, robust feature set and very attractive price point.
PROS: Beautiful image quality; excellent low light/high ISO capability; easy AF operation; competitively priced; tilting display; comfortable ergonomics; weather-sealed build; generous feature set.
CONS: Bulky design; EVF not built in; no 4K video; slow flash sync speed.