A medium format camera for pros and mere mortals alike? Hands On with the Fuji GFX!
posted Wednesday, September 21, 2016 at 2:07 PM EDT
Who needs full-frame? That's certainly the attitude from the folks over at Fujifilm as they unveiled their brand new medium format mirrorless system camera, the Fuji GFX. The X-T2 and X-Pro2 serve as the dual flagship models for the X-Series, with the X-T2, in particular, expanding Fuji's capabilities into the world of sports, wildlife and bird photography as well as cinema production. However, there's another group of high-end pros -- portrait, commercial and architectural, to name a few -- who haven't yet been fully catered to by Fuji's current lineup of cameras.
In a rather bold move, Fuji is skipping right over the increasingly crowded space of full-frame cameras because, as they see it, their APS-C cameras can compete quite well regarding image quality against full-frame cameras. There is still room for image quality improvements, especially when it comes to sheer detail, and that's where Fuji comes in with their larger G-Format sensor and GFX camera.
During Photokina, members of the press were given some hands-on time with very early, but working, 51-megapixel GFX 50S prototype cameras, along with all the cool accessories and the initial six GF-mount lenses. My initial impression upon picking up the standard GFX 50S kit, with 63mm f/2.8 lens and attached EVF, is that wow, this camera is much lighter that I had anticipated! Despite being roughly the size of Canon 5D-series, the Fuji GFX is really nothing like a typical medium format camera. In fact, its' even lighter than a full-frame DSLR. The GFX feels extremely user-friendly to hold and operate and much more portable and comfortable in the hand than, say, the Phase One XF 100MP.
The design of the camera feels very familiar to Fuji other's high-end X-series cameras. The iconic twin-dial-and-lens-ring-based exposure mode selection is still there. However, users are given the option now to lock-down (literally) the lens' aperture ring as well as the two dials into a "C" position for Command mode, this, in turn, lets you adjust exposure settings via the front and rear control dials -- similar to a DSLR.
Standing back, the new Fuji GFX looks like an enlarged X-T2. There's a center-mounted electronic viewfinder, with exposure setting dials on either side. The body thickness is significantly greater to account for the large 43.8 x 32.9mm Bayer array sensor, internal electronics and massive battery pack. The rear controls, in both feel and design, are very similar to those on the X-T2. The GFX also gains the X-T2's unique dual-directional tilting LCD panel, for easier low-angle shooting in both landscape and portrait orientations.
In a first for a Fuji camera, the GFX sports a top-deck LCD panel for easy, glanceable shooting and exposure information. Interestingly, while Fuji states the screen is just an LCD, it's an always-on screen. Even with the camera powered off, information is still displayed on the screen.
The GFX's electronic viewfinder is detachable, which lets you shoot without it should you choose, or add in this rather unique optional swiveling accessory. Slip this swivel base onto the camera and reattach the EVF, and you now have a fully articulating, vari-angle viewfinder. You can use it straight-on in landscape orientation, or flip it up a full 90 degrees for true top-down shooting. You can then also rotate and tilt the EVF to nearly any direction you need while you're out shooting. Pretty handy for multiple reasons!
The GFX features a substantial handgrip with a nice contour, allowing it to fit in my hand very well. The camera felt very balanced and secure. In fact, this might be one of the few medium format cameras you can shoot one-handed if you want! The GFX also gains an optional portrait/battery grip, but unlike the traditional DSLR grip that repositions your hand and the location of controls, the Fuji GFX battery grip is designed to keep your hands in the same position regardless of how you have the camera oriented.
Build quality-wise, the Fuji GFX feels great. The camera shares the sturdy weather-sealed construction seen on the X-T2, and all of the so-far announced GF-mount lenses sport the "WR" weather-sealed designation as well. So, like the X-T2, this rig certainly seems quite ready for the elements.
Regarding performance, given the prototype nature of the units we had in-hand, it's tough to make any judgment call at this point. We were not allowed to shoot any photographs and examine the image quality on a computer, nor take any images back with us. For autofocus, the GFX supports contrast-detect only, as the 51MP medium format sensor does not have on-chip phase detect. The camera did not feel very quick at focusing, but again, it's hard to really make a call on this at this early a stage. The camera does have both single-shot and continuous AF modes, as well as burst shooting capabilities, but Fuji would not yet comment on what the available frame rate will be.
The camera supports video shooting, as well, up to 1080p resolution, and I did happen to notice two unmarked ports on the left side of the camera, which I was told is for a microphone input and headphone jack.
Given the success of the Fuji's X-series camera lines, this new venture into a larger sensor market is a very interesting one. With the addition of the GFX, Fuji is now pretty much covering all the bases from entry-level shooters, street and portrait photographers, sports and wildlife enthusiasts, and now high-end professionals that require increased image detail and resolution. Plus, the camera feels amazingly compact for the huge sensor it houses, and the design and weight make it a less intimidating endeavor for those new to the medium format world. Indeed, if you're familiar with Fuji already, you'll feel right at home on the GFX.
Stay tuned as we eagerly await a production sample to someday arrive. (And then the carnage, as we tussle over who gets to shoot with it first!)