REVIEW : Fujifilm GFX 50S A New Look for Medium Format

The Fujifilm GFX 50S body.  Much less enormous than it looks in the image

The Fujifilm GFX 50S body.  Much less enormous than it looks in the image

This review is about the GFX 50S.  It's the first digital medium format camera from Fujifilm, but certainly not the company's first foray into medium format.  For a very long time, Fujifilm delivered some truly marvelous medium format film cameras.  The camera was supplied to me with two lenses, the 63mm/2.8 and the 120/4 Macro.  For those more accustomed to full frame 35mm focal lengths these behave like a 50mm and a 95mm (approximately) respectively. 

The sensor of the GFX 50S measures 43.8mm x 32.9mm.  I'm getting this out of the way quickly so I can focus on using the camera and to avoid getting into sensor size warfare as other reviewers have done, to no value add.  It's larger than a full frame DSLR sensor by about 1.66 times.  This means that at 50MP, the light gathering pixels are larger than on a similar resolution Canon 5Ds, and the depth of field at equivalent focal lengths and apertures will be narrower.

Unboxing

The GFX 50S comes in a shiny white box that is very simple.  Inside is well laid out packaging in black, consistent with Fujifilm's packaging messaging that you have purchased something special.  The lenses come in similar white boxes, with fewer fancy packaging accoutrements.

The first thing that you notice is how light the body feels.  If you've ever touched an X-T2, you already know the top deck, the only difference being reverse LCD panel that looks like a very interesting cross between the panel on a Leica SL and a Phase One.  The camera fits my hand like a glove.  It comes with an EVF that is packaged separately.  There is the ability to shoot the camera using the rear LCD only.  I cannot imagine why one would, but that's immaterial.  There is a cover in place that slides to the rear to remove.  Discovering how to take it off took more time than I would have liked, because there are no indicators on what to do to remove it, and my evaluation camera shipped without any documentation.  I downloaded the PDF of the manual, as I always do, and as I have commented before about Fujifilm documentation, found that it will benefit from more attention to detail.  It's not useless, but it is rather sparse.

It took a couple of hours to charge the battery to full power.  Once installed, I prepared a card and started setting up the camera.  I found this easy because I know the Fujifilm menu structure from the X-Pro2 and the X-T2, but it's not going to be difficult for the average user because the layout is clean and straightforward with only minor awkward language choices.

The strap comes with locking ends that look to be quick release, but they are not.  The strap is black nylon with a apparent anti-slip pad and while the Fujifilm logo is embroidered on it, the whole thing is black so it's not a flashing light to thieves to come rip you off.  You have to mount the clips and then attach the strap to them.  While this is very stable, it means no quick release option exists and the post that the clips lock to do not allow for simple use with other strap locks.  As a medium format camera could be used in the studio as much as in the field, I found the time required to remove and attach the strap inconvenient.

The 63mm f/2.8 is quite compact, about the same size as a Sigma ART 50/1.4.  The LCD unit protrudes from the back of the camera by about 3/4 of an inch, otherwise I could say that the GFX and 63mm would be about the same size as a Canon 5Ds with Sigma 50/1.4.  The back makes the camera thicker, and it's about 1/2 inch taller.  This still makes the camera quite compact given that it is medium format.  The GFX 50S is wider and taller than the other new mirrorless medium format, the Hasselblad X1D.

Fit and finish is really nice, with positive knobs that have push locks, a front and rear control dial and the top LCD.  The wheels under the knobs found on the X-T2 are not present and I like the GFX 50S design better, although it means using a button to activate a choice and a control dial to manipulate it.

In my setup, I did not have to make many changes to customize the camera to my preferred layout.  I changed the default file format to RAW, and reprogrammed the AF lock button to be AF-On for back button focus.  I also raised the minimum shutter speed setting in AUTO ISO to 1/100 from 1/60 more to address my coffee intake than any other issue.

The eyepiece is big and round.  Since I had a neuropathy in my right eye a few years back, I switched to being a left eye shooter.  Ordinarily this makes LCD screens a catch-all for skin oils off my nose.  The GFX is a non-partisan grease catcher.  You will grease up the LCD no matter which eye you use.  Note to self to put a micro fibre cloth in my pocket.  For my first getting started shots I was working in my studio without any big lights on, just the ceiling fluorescents.  This is my crappy light test.  I turned the camera on, put it in Aperture preferred, because these Fujinon lenses have actual numbered aperture rings <hoorah> and set the ISO to AUTO3 that will climb to 3200.  Autofocus is smooth but not screaming fast.  This is medium format AF, not DSLR or Mirrorless autofocus.  Accurate but slower.  I find it about as quick as the AF on my Hasselblad H4D-40.  The EVF is nice and bright, but unlike the EVF on the X-T2, I will need to tweak it a bit.  It's a bit too punchy for my liking right out of the box.  This is, of course, a highly subjective thing, so is not meant as a criticism, more a reminder how awesome the out of box experience with the X-T2 is.

The last thing I did before getting ready to head out for Roll #1 was mount a dovetail plate on the camera, so I could use it on my RRS ballheads.

Roll #1

I took a drive out to a conservation area with my friend Bryan Weiss, owner/operator of Daytripper Photo.  It was a very pleasant day and a nice location.  I was overloaded with gear carrying a 1D Mark IV and 500/4 L lens as well as the GFX 50S but I wasn't going to miss an opportunity to shoot the new camera.  It handles like a slightly larger DSLR.  In the field, I found that the autofocus spent more time hunting than I would typically like, and fared poorly in lower light levels such as found walking through the forest.  As this was the first day shooting, I take on plenty of responsibility myself, because while I had read the downloaded manual first, I had only been through it once and was missing some things.

Switching up to single point autofocus made a difference.  I do wish that Fujifilm would show me the small focus point all the time instead of the larger one that appears in normal focus mode.  The larger frame limited my confidence that I was dropping the point where I wanted it to actually be. 

Continuous drive has never been a hallmark feature of any medium format camera.  The GFX 50S has continuous shooting mode, but for those coming from a DSLR or mirrorless, it will seem glacial in performance.  Where I might get fifteen images of a chickadee landing, feeding and lifting off Bryan's hand with the Canon, I got at best four with the GFX-50S.  Not surprising, no one claimed that this was a sports / action camera.

Shooting over the course of the day, I found the GFX 50S easy to handle, quick to get the settings where I wanted them and I really appreciated the dials for shutter speed and aperture.  I confess that I missed the physical compensation dial from the X-T2 and the X-Pro2.  That's not to say that dialing in compensation was difficult, I just prefer the manual control layout.  Then again, I am one of a small group of people who loved the layout of Nikon's Df.

The EVF is large and bright, even in the sun, and the LCD is reasonably visible in bright light.  The overhang at the rear means that the EVF partially shields the delete image button.  Some may dislike this, I don't delete images in camera and so could not care less, preferring to do my culling on a larger screen.  I came to very much appreciate that the body is not festooned with all manner of buttons, and that those that do exist are sized for adult fingers.  Usability is a prime driver for me, not the ability to customize the user interface as much.  The camera has two card slots, although I used only one, equipping the camera with a single Lexar UHS II 128GB card.  I did not come close to filling it, but with RAW images running about 135MB per, there's no such thing as too much space.  The GFX-50S does shoot video, but I didn't go there on roll #1.  I did find some significant lag in having the EVF keep up with camera movement in continuous shooting.  By this I mean the the EVF image "tears" with quick pans.  

I determined that not only do I dislike the speed of strap mounting, the 360 degree swivel meant I spent an inordinate amount of time untwisting the strap.  Despite my hopes that the strap would be grippy, it's not and slides all over the place, bad for an on shoulder carry as is my habit.  I would either go to a Think Tank narrow strap instead or use a BlackRapid with an Arca Plate clamp from Really Right Stuff.  The factory strap would end up in the box unopened like all the other factory straps.  I'm not angry with Fujifilm, I just wonder why OEMs who make such fine cameras continue to ship such lousy straps.  And I confess, I really came to dislike the strap mounting post model.

Roll #1 Samples

The Camera

Front and rear views

Front and rear views

The GFX 50S departs from Fujifilm's X-Trans III sensors and goes with a traditional Bayer design.  The sensor is rated at 51.4 megapixels.  The native ISO is 100.  The sensor is rated at delivering 14 stops of dynamic range and stores images in a 14 bit RAW file. 

The CPU is the X-Processor Pro and is designed to maximize the output of the sensor as well as providing the capability to produce 8bit TIFF files in camera, fast startup, low shutter lag and quick autofocus.  The mount is unique to the family and is called a G mount.  It is a bayonet style mount supporting up to 12 communication contacts depending on the lens being mounted.  It is designed to keep a small flange back distance to maximize the image circle (no vignetting) while keeping the body relatively narrow.

Images can be set to different aspect ratios in camera.  To maximize use of the sensor, the default is 4:3, similar to many M43 sensors.  Not exactly 8x10 5:4 but pretty close.  Other options include 5:4, 7:6, 1:1, 3:2, 16:9 and 65:24.  All aspect ratios other than 4:3 discard some pixels.  Standard ISO range is 100-12800 in one third EV increments with a pull to 50 and a push to 102400.  In addition to RAW, you can convert to TIFF in camera, or shoot in JPEG.  The JPEG picture styles are Fujifilm's respected film emulations.  White Balance options are Auto, Preset, Custom or Colour Temperature.

The body frame is magnesium alloy, feeling very solid but not overly heavy.  The body is weather sealed, a requirement for serious field work.  If you don't like using the dials for shutter speed or aperture, both the lenses and the body have a selector (T and C respectively) so you can use command wheels to control these settings.  The body contains two identical UHS II SD sized slots, with configuration options on how the slots will be used.  Exposure compensation is activated by a function button and then rotating the rear command wheel.

The EVF has 3.69M dots with 100% coverage and a magnification factor of 0.85x.  Dioptric adjustment is from -4 to +2.  You can purchase the EVF-TL1 adapter that fits between the body and the EVF to allow for vertical tilt up to 90 degrees and horizontal rotation up to 45 degrees.  I did not have one for my testing.  The rear LCD is 3.2 inches diagonally and tilts up to 90 degrees, 45 degrees down and 60 degrees right.  There is no selfie mode.  You can zoom in up to 16.7x to check focus and alignment.  The LCD also incorporates a touch screen.  It works but I am not a fan in general of touch screens and so did not use it other than for function tests.

Top deck LCD

Top deck LCD

On top of the grip is the monochrome LCD that I mentioned at the outset.  It can be set for white on black or black on light grey to suit the viewer.  It provides all critical exposure information, consistent with similar displays on other medium format cameras.

An option is the VG-GFX1 vertical battery grip, which adds additional controls when shooting in the portrait orientation.  This adds the capacity for a second battery and also includes a 15V AC adapter.  While it adds size and bulk, I can see it being very useful.

Battery Grip

Battery Grip

The shutter is of a mechanical / electronic combinative variant.  The base shutter has speeds from 1/4000 to 60m.  The electronic front curtain has the same options.  The electronic rear curtain shutter offers speeds from 1/16000 to 60m and combined operation with the mechanical can also provide 1/16000 to 60m.

The camera offers single shot, continuous and tracking autofocus.  You can choose from two grid layouts 9x13 for 117 points and 17x25 for 425 points and then select single point, or six focus area options.  There is a joystick to allow easy repositioning of the selected zone or focus point.  Autofocus also has eye and face detection capabilities.  A very nice to have capability is an on-screen depth of field scale that I personally found very useful.  If in manual focus, which is very smooth, you can enable Peaking indicators to help you be sure.

Exposure control is what we should expect.  Program, Aperture Preferred, Shutter Preferred and Manual.  Metering is available in multi (matrix style), spot, average and centre weighted.  Burst mode maxes out at 3fps.

Flash sync is 1/125 and can be triggered via hotshoe or PC terminal connection.  Sync modes are front curtain, rear curtain or Auto FP (HSS) but to get all functionality you will need to be using a Fujifilm electronic flash such as the EF-X500.  Flash modes include TTL along with slow sync, manual and no flash.  A suitable Fujifilm flash is required for some modes.  There are no leaf shutter lenses at time of writing.

Auto bracketing is available for exposure, white balance, ISO, dynamic range and film emulation.  Exposure bracketing is selectable for 2, 3, 5, 7, 9 frames in a range of plus or minus 3 EV at 1/3EV intervals.  The built in timer offers 2s and 10s delay and there is an interval timer offering intervals between 1s and 24 hours, up to 999 shots and delay of up to 24 hours.  For long time work, you will need the AC adapter as I would not spend on being able to have the camera operate for 24 hours on battery.

Fujifilm is using smart batteries in this camera, so no clones are usable.  Batteries communicate charge, remaining life and other information.  You can, as in other pro gear, record a voice memo for each frame if you wish, and also encode EXIF information such as copyright data right into the camera.

The GFX 50S shoots Full HD video at up to 29.97p1080 at 36MB/s bandwidth.  You can apply film simulations to your video.  Like other Fujifilm products, you can control the camera from your smartphone with the Fujifilm app.

The Lenses

At the time of writing there are three lenses available and I had two to work with.  All lenses have a robust brass lens mount.  All lenses are dust and weather resistant and freezeproof to-10C.  Both lenses I received included lens hoods in the box that easily mount via front bayonet.  The hood for the 120 macro also had a sliding window to allow simple rotation of polarizing filters or variable NDs.

System Accessories

Fujifilm has a TTL flash in the EF-X500. 

You can connect the camera to the computer via USB3 and the camera supports tethering so long as your software can talk to it.  There is HS-V5 software normally in the box for connection to Windows machines, but Macs are ignored.  You can also purchase the Tether Shooting Plugin Pro from Adobe to tether to Lightroom. 

There is an HDMI Mini output jack to connect a display or external recorder, a remote shutter release jack, a microphone jack and a headphone jack.  You can connect an optional AC adapter, and there is a cable locking system in the box with the camera.

The accessory that I most wanted to try was not available, which would allow mounting the GFX-50S to my Sinar view camera in place of the film holder.  It specifies old format Fujinon large format lenses, but I would have liked to try it regardless.

Roll #2

By roll #2, I had been through the manual a few times and had the camera in the studio in what I like to call poking around mode.  That's basically trying new things, or making work what I had done wrong before.  It was at this time that I figured out how to get a nice small single focus point and the image sharpness picked up.  I had also learned that Lightroom worked just fine with the RAW images natively and while the files are large, it does a Lightroomish job on them.  Rendition is good, unlike the Lightroom rendition of X-Trans III images that I do not care for as much.  I did some strobe tests using my Profoto strobes and they fired fine, everything looked as expected.  It was at this point that I determined that the EVF tilt adapter would be a must have accessory for me.

The 1/125 flash sync speed is perfectly usable, although I am spoiled by leaf shutter lenses for maximum control on other medium formats.

I had to put together a tutorial on how to light and shoot wine bottles so I decided to use the GFX 50S for the sample shots.  I mounted the 120/4 macro and placed the unit on a Really Right Stuff medium tripod with BH-55 ball head.  If I owned this camera, I would be ordering an L bracket right away.  The camera was easy to use and I used the self timer as the shutter release mechanism although I could have used a remote had I wished to.  I appreciate Fujifilm using some standardization and not requiring me to purchase a proprietary basic release cable.  In order to make the BTS stuff work, I was using continuous lights instead of strobes.  Even though the lights were one for an extended period of time, the white balance in the GFX was completely consistent and once I had my custom balance set, it held through the entire series of shots.  Metering was accurate, and even with bracketing, I found that the in camera metering was very accurate.  When I went to full white and full black backgrounds, that did throw the meter off, as it will in any camera.

EVF Tilt Swivel Adapter

EVF Tilt Swivel Adapter

Detail and sharpness were excellent.  I used both auto and manual focus.   Manual was the best choice here because of the zoom in and focus peaking functionality because I wanted to use as tight a depth of field as possible.  Acrylic and glass pull dust out of the air, and I did not want to spend days retouching it out, shallow DoF can help with this.

In addition to using Lightroom to import and convert the RAW files, I also tried the Silkypix RAW Converter that Fujifilm makes available.  It's free, and that's about all I care to say on the subject.

It was in the studio that I missed the tethering capability.  When in the studio, I tether.  It's the rare time that I don't and I find it disappointing that on a camera of this level and price point that the buyer must spend another $80USD to do what pretty much any other pro camera can do right out of the box.  PhaseONE have stated that it is unlikely that they will support the GFX-50S as a tether target as it competes with their own medium format cameras.  This is also disappointing because the use cases for a Fujifilm and a PhaseONE are different.  I encourage Fujifilm to rethink the nickel and diming of GFX-50S customers for tether support.

Roll #2 Samples

Roll #3

I headed out for my typical canal walk with the camera and two lenses in a Peak Design Everyday Messenger.  The camera and lenses fit just fine in this usually too narrow bag and there was space for a flash if I had one.  I also took my RRS travel tripod, partly to keep the transport weight down, but also to see how such a large camera would fare on such a lightweight tripod.  Expectations were high, because I have shot my Hasselblad off the little RRS a lot without issue.

As has been for the last few months, the weather was a charming flat grey overcast crap.  Someday there will be sun.  I did get the opportunity a couple of miles in to test the weather sealing when the skies decided to make sure I was not just cold but damp as well.  I keep a clear rain cover in the camera bag, but in the time when the camera was getting rained on, it handled it just fine.  I'm not minimizing this in any way.  A field camera needs to be able to handle a bit of snow and rain otherwise it's less useful.

I had my first opportunity to do long shutter speeds as snowmelt was making the creek feeding the canal run fast.  Planted on a the RRS tripod I made exposures as long as 8 seconds with no shake at all.  I would have liked to see if a polarizer would have made a difference, but I did not have one in the correct size, nor did I have a proper mounting ring for my Lee Big Stopper.  Regardless, the images were fine, albeit very flat due to being shot in RAW only and in truly crappy light.  That's what post processing is for.

I also put the remote app through its paces.  Most of the time, I am underwhelmed by these things.  The Fujifilm app is better than most.  You can download images to your smartphone, which in a 50MP camera sounds like a complete waste of time and control the camera remotely, which is excellent.  The camera establishes a WiFi network and you attach to it, then launch the app to control the camera.  Changes made on the camera when the remote is connected do not have any impact.  Whenever I needed to do anything else on the phone, the app would drop the Wifi connection.  I found myself having to kill and restart the app for nearly every clip when I was trying different settings for video.  It was more reliable for stills, so long as I only used the app once it was connected.  I won't judge the camera based on the app.  It achieves a C minus and needs work.

Screenshot from my iPhone of the Fujifilm Remote App.  You have substantial camera control, but the UI is not completely intuitive

Screenshot from my iPhone of the Fujifilm Remote App.  You have substantial camera control, but the UI is not completely intuitive

I found the 120 macro to be the lens that I used the most, doing a beautiful job on textures, and producing nice clean out of focus highlights.  I forced myself to use the 63mm and made the opening image for a Lightroom class I was teaching with it to show the power of the Develop module in less than a minute.  I also used the 63mm for all my test videos.  The videos are fine.  The enormous sensor is wasted on 29.97p1080 which is only 2MP resolution.  I am not aware of whether the video is made using pixel binning or line skipping because the video appears to have the same width as the stills albeit at the 16:9 aspect ratio.  There was no sense of cropping in on the video clips.

Roll #3 Samples

Video Sample

In no way is this short sample meant to impart any significance to the review, but it gives the reader a quick look at the video quality from the GFX 50S shot at 29.97fps and using only the internal microphones for audio.

Conclusions

Medium format is a way to change your perspective.  The GFX-50S is a superb entry to medium format, and will cost you much less than a Hasselblad or PhaseONE product.  There appears to be some concern for the future of Pentax in photography as I write this, which is a shame, because the 645Z is a great camera, but it has not been revised in a while.  I don't think that the GFX-50S is there yet as a studio camera.  Even the much older Hasselblad HD-40D has more studio capability than the GFX-50S.  The current limited options for lenses is also a gating factor, even if temporary.  I wish that the strap system was different, and that the EVF was a lot more like the EVF on the X-T2 in terms of colour, performance, redraw and viewfinder blackout.  Because it is a separate module, I could see Fujifilm doing a better version, or perhaps even improving performance through a firmware update.  Fujifilm, in my opinion, does the most for existing owners by updating firmware rather than just replacing a device.   Native tethering is a missing for a pro level camera.  The user interface on the phone application is quite well done, but making changes to various settings is not intuitive, because the interface is a bit overly simplified.  That said, setting up the connection is easy and it remains fairly reliable.

I understand the need to package to hit a price point, but if it were my choice, I would put the tilt adapter for the EVF in the box, as it vastly enhances the usability index of the camera.  I don't see medium format as a compelling platform for video at this time, so rather than spending a lot of time here, put that effort into better low light autofocus and general AF performance.  The amount of hunting that I experienced, particularly in the zone modes was quite frustrating.  Once I fixed it to a single point, things got better, but I still would like to see a very small focus point in the EVF when shooting.  Maybe that can be done, but I certainly could not find out how to do so in the documentation.  As noted at the beginning, the documentation needs a fair bit of work.  The lenses are superb.  Sharp and with great contrast.  This should not be a surprise, considering the stellar history of Fujinon glass but we are seeing some truly craptastic releases from other vendors so I make the point that the quality of the Fujinon glass is superb.  I don't get into technical lens tests, I shoot real world and am very pleased. 

Two nights before the GFX-50S arrived, I read a review of the camera on a well known review site.  The review, more correctly described as a screed, spent its time explaining why the GFX-50S wasn't real medium format and why one would be better served by a Nikon D810.  I like the D810 very much, but the two have different use cases, and use lifecycles in my opinion.  The writer is also known for taking contrary positions to achieve clicks and while I cannot blame him for doing his job, this is the third time I have seen him attack something from the side, so I now know to ignore such rants in the future.  Others may be inclined to do so as well.  If you are looking to move beyond your current view, and have a need for a physically larger sensor and all that such a thing entails, I think that the GFX-50S deserves you taking a look at it.  And you deserve doing so as well.