Fujifilm GFX 50S

Entering the photography world in earnest in 2006 when the Nikon D40 was the new hotness, I never experienced the glory days of Fujifilm’s mechanical bodies and films. My taste of Provia, Velvia, and Superia would come in 2009 when I had a flirtation with film and Leica.

I vaguely knew of the FinePix S3 Pro and S5 and its vaunted Super CCD SR producing rave skin tones and dynamic range.

“Why buy an off brand that uses Nikon lenses? A Nikon camera for Nikon lenses made more sense.” [Me, 2006]

My first taste of Fujifilm cameras was the X-Pro1. An early adopter, I got one of the first bodies to be released in 2012 in Korea. The unique “X-Trans” CMOS sensor, the hybrid viewfinder, and the rangefinder styling were all very attractive.

The quality of the files gave my Canon EOS 5D Mark II a run for it’s money.

Even in the rapture of G.A.S. I couldn’t help but notice the camera’s less than stellar autofocus and a pechance for total system freeze which only a hard battery reset would fix.

A yearning for better camera operational speed, reliability, and video would make me sell it. But there was a je ne sais quoi about my experience with the X-Pro1 that I’d only ever experienced with Leica. In the years to follow I kept an eye on Fujifilm.

A remarkable thing happened in the intervening years. As technology pushed camera bodies into disposable commodities, Fujifilm’s brand of kaizen made their cameras feel like investments. Older models weren’t discarded or unsupported. New features became the normal, while other manufacturers begrudgingly released by far and large only bug fixes.

I came back to Fujifilm in 2016 with the X-T2.

Like the X-Pro1 there is a lot of excitement and hype behind the GFX 50S. The X-Pro1 was the return of the rangefinder remixed for the digital era. It was the camera for mortal pocket books. *cough* Leica *cough*

Does this sound familiar?

The GFX 50S is being marketed as medium format photography remixed for the digital era. It is the camera for mortal pocket books. *cough* Hasselblad. PhaseOne *cough*

I can’t claim I’m completely immune to Fujifilm’s Kool-Aid. Fujifilm X-Photographers + Fujifilm’s marketing materials feel like an army of pied pipers. But I’m 10+ years in the photography game now.

I’m more cynical.

I’ve got my own style and needs.

And sweet Jesus I’ve got more disposable income…

Even with the teething problems that plague most product v1.0 product, I am cautiously optimistic the GFX 50S will be remembered like the Canon EOS 5D“classic”. Let’s all forget about the mirror box falling out.

Reasons to be optimistic:

  • a version of the 43.8 x 32.9mm sensor in Hasselblad/PhaseOne

  • X-Processor Pro, used in X-Pro2 and X-T2

  • Fujifilm’s track record of excellent X Mount lenses.

  • Fujifilm’s track record of kaizen firmware updates.

I think this video by Kaiman Wong of DigitalRev fame speaks volumes. He’s not one to be easily impressed anymore by iterative camera updates. But he seems genuinely at a loss to what Fujifilm has delivered vs. what they promise.

The energy ‘for’ and ‘against’ the GFX 50S is manic. The ‘for’ camp want to believe the GFX will make their cat photos art and obsolete 35mm/APSC.The ‘against’ either jealousy deny or downplay the GFX’s advantages much like:

  • manual focus vs. *newfangled* autofocus

  • APSC vs. the suddenly *affordable* “full frame” Canon EOS 5D

  • Olympus’s gimmicky “Live View” and on sensor cleaning

  • the not “pro” grade articulating screens, touch screen, Wi-Fi

The smart phone has changed the game. Photography for the masses has arrived, and it is surprisingly good. To the average consumer the quality jump from a smart phone to an interchangeable lens system is noticeable and even that is under threat with the likes of the iPhone 7 Plus “portrait” mode and the Android equivalents.

The caveat…

The average consumer is less affected by the differences between m43, APSC, FF, and medium format unless you show them near identical side by sides. It’s only the hobbyist and working professional that will truly appreciate the differences in hardware.

I’ve only ever had 3 unicorns in my G.A.S. wishlist.

leica noctilux f/1.0 : I can be honest; I just wanted it because it was a super fast f/1.0 lens and it said Leica.

200mm f/2 : I love EVERYTHING about this focal length except the required working distance. I don’t even mind the weight. It is a lens I love that is impractical about 80% of the time for me (environmental portraits). It’s the ex-girlfriend I keep trying to date again thinking it’ll work this time.

medium format : Ever since the Canon 5D Mark II days, I’ve loved the look of medium format prints. There is a je ne sais quoi to the image.

  • It’s not the shallow depth of field.

  • It’s not just compression vs. field of view.

  • It’s not just tonality

At the risk of sounding like an apostle from the cult of Leica or Zeiss, there is a magic to the image. But I disliked the film post shooting gestalt. I hated film development, scanning (I always got dust on my scans), and my overly fussy nature despised the lack of metadata and geotagging.

Digital medium format has NEVER been in my budget. Not even my car has ever equaled the value of a medium format camera + lens (pre-introduction of the Pentax 645D).

The aforementioned Pentax 645 was just too chunky and I was never convinced Pentax had the resources or committment to the system.

The GFX 50S is roughly the size of a full frame DSLR and mirrorless. I’m firmly in the camp of mirrorless cameras now. I love the WYSIWYG workflow. I chimp less. I shoot more.

Is it weird that I trust Fujifilm?

I like that Fujifilm makes most of their profits elsewhere. I like that Fujifilm cameras and lenses are made by passionate photographers as almost a side business. I feel like a valued customer.

So technical reasons aside I’m going to trust Fujifilm’s track record. Aside from a bumpy start to the digital era, they’ve done their customers right.

Oh and I get to cross off the last unicorn on my list.