Fujifilm Full Frame Reflections

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Morning Coffee – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm X-T30

As I was sitting on the coach, sipping my morning coffee, with Transatlantic’s epic Kaleidoscope album playing in the background, my thoughts drifted to Fujifilm and sensor sizes. This might seem like a strange line of thought for the environment that I was in, but sometimes that happens. You are probably aware that Fujifilm makes mirrorless cameras with APS-C sized sensors and medium-format sensors, but they skipped right over full-frame. I began to consider why this was and wasn’t a good strategy, and what the consequences might be for it. What should Fujifilm consider for future sensors? What can they do right now?

The reason why I believe Fujifilm jumped into the APS-C market to begin with was because, with the intended market and available technology ten years ago, APS-C made the most sense. There was a demand for high-quality, mid-budget, retro-styled mirrorless cameras intended for advanced enthusiasts. It was an under-tapped market, and Fujifilm even surprised themselves with the success of their X series. Fujifilm made the right products at the right time and sold them at the right price. Full-frame wasn’t practical for them at that time and they wouldn’t have experienced the same success if they had gone that route instead.

A lot of people were surprised when Fujifilm decided to skip full-frame and jump head-long into medium-format. The argument was that the full-frame market was overcrowded, and it was better to be #1 in a small market than #5 or #6 in a large market, because you can always grow the small market. That strategy seems to be working, as not only did Fujifilm quickly set themselves as the leader in the medium-format market, but they’ve been growing it at a rapid pace. By all indications, Fujifilm GFX has been a smashing success.

Should Fujifilm consider making a full-frame line? They’re well established in the APS-C market, they’re currently king of medium-format, so why not go full-frame? Wouldn’t they be successful there, too? There are a lot of questions that can be asked, and surely Fujifilm has asked themselves these questions, yet they insist that they will not make a full-frame camera line.

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Magic Beans – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm X-T30

In my opinion, X-Trans IV (and even X-Trans III) cameras already deliver full-frame image quality, but in a smaller package. For example, the Nikon D700, which is a 10-year-old full-frame camera, doesn’t compare to the modern Fujifilm X camera, which produces better image quality pretty much across the board. If you compare it to a five-year-old full-frame Nikon D610, the two cameras are pretty close in image quality. If you compare it to a new full-frame camera, the full-frame camera wins. The big difference is resolution. There was a time not long ago that conventional wisdom stated 24-megapixels was overkill. Now if you’re not close to 50-megapixels, you don’t have enough. Sony just announced a 61-megapixel camera, and APS-C cannot compete with that. Full-frame also has a dynamic range and high ISO advantage, but that gap has narrowed, and it’s not nearly as big of a difference as it once was. It’s still an advantage for full-frame, but modern Fujifilm X camera aren’t far behind at all. To summarize, Fujifilm’s recent X cameras have better image quality than 10-year-old full-frame, as good as five-year-old full-frame, and not as good as the latest full-frame, which most significantly have a resolution advantage. Remember, it wasn’t very long ago that cameras like the D700 and D610 were touted as pro gear capable of capturing amazing pictures, and modern Fujifilm cameras are just as good as those, if not better.

Unless Fujifilm uncovers a need within full-frame that other brands are overlooking and they believe they can fulfill, I really don’t see them making a new line of cameras and lenses. Fujifilm is going to focus on X and GFX, both of which are doing pretty well. But there is a way that they can close the gap a little between the two systems. This wouldn’t require too much development or expense on Fujifilm’s part to create. What they can do to appease those who want full-frame but won’t go medium-format, without actually creating a new system, is to put a larger sensor, perhaps an APS-H sized sensor, in an already existing APS-C camera. Sigma did something like this with their Quattro cameras, so it’s not completely unheard of.

APS-H sensors are about 15% larger than APS-C. They fit in-between APS-C and full-frame. If Fujifilm took the X-Trans IV sensor and increased the size of it to APS-H, they would suddenly have a 30-megapixel camera with identical image quality to their 26-megapixel cameras. They could put it in an X-H1 or X-T3 body. My guess is that most Fujinon lenses would cover the bigger sensor, and only some of them won’t have full coverage, which isn’t a huge deal. For those lenses that don’t fully cover the sensor, the camera can be programmed to automatically crop it to 26-megapixels. By increasing the sensor size a little, Fujifilm could offer a higher megapixel option without sacrificing image quality and without creating a new system.

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Coffee Beans – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm X-T30

While 30-megapixels doesn’t sound like a huge jump (because it’s not), it would allow slightly bigger prints or deeper crops. It’s not a large leap, but it is a leap nonetheless. Looking ahead to future sensors, which are likely to have more resolution while maintaining or improving image quality, it’s not improbable to think that a future X-Trans V APS-H sensor might have 36-megapixels, and that 40+ megapixels aren’t out of the question within the next five years. In this way those who are attracted to the high resolution offerings of full-frame, who can’t afford medium-format, might consider staying with Fujifilm instead of switching brands.

I’m not suggesting in the least that Fujifilm should abandon APS-C for APS-H. I’m merely suggesting that to close the gap a little (and it would definitely be a little) between APS-C and medium-format, where they hypothetically could have a full-frame camera but don’t, they should consider offering one or maybe a few camera models with a little larger sensor. It seems like they could add them to already existing models, such as the X-H1, X-T3, X-Pro3, X100V (the latter two cameras are coming soon), without too many modifications, and without increasing the cost all that much. Whatever would be the easiest camera to put it in, they should give it a try and see how it does. Heck, do it to the X-H1 and call it the X-H2. I think it would attract some who like the idea of Fujifilm X but wish the sensor was larger, and it might keep those itching for full-frame Fujifilm from jumping ship because it’s not happening.

The coffee was good but soon the cup was empty. The music ended with what’s probably the best Nights in White Satin cover I’ve had the pleasure to hear. I’m very happy with the Fujifilm X system as it stands today, yet I know that it will only get better as technology advances. Fujifilm has a history of making good business decisions, and whatever they decide to do or not do is probably going to work out well for them. As for me, I will be using the tools that I have to the best of my ability to create my art.

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14 comments

  1. Khürt Williams · July 26

    In my opinion, Fuji intentionally did not enter the full-frame market, and the original decision had nothing to do with crowding or technology. From a branding perspective, Fujifilm would never be able to compete with Canon and Nikon in full-frame. Those two brands are established well known professional brands. Sony is winning with many professionals because Sony makes the best quality full-frame sensors and is a supplier for Nikon. More players have now entered the full-frame mirrorless market.

    Fujifilm established themselves at the high-end of the APS-C market. Again, it was not about technology but a nice product – a nostalgic retro-styled camera. Canon and Nikon were producing commodity cameras in this space. By pricing the X cameras at the higher end and using better materials to raise the build quality, introducing a line of the quality lenses, Fuji established themselves as premium APS-C mirrorless brand.

    Fujifilm entered medium format leaving Sony, Canon and Nikon to fight over market share in the full-frame market. Fujifilm’s medium format camera is a combination of technology and styling. Industry research also shows an interesting trend. Camera prices are rising. Soon full-frame will seem “low-end”, and the gear snobs will move to medium-format.

    Do you read Thom Hogan?

    http://www.sansmirror.com/newsviews/2019-mirrorless-camera/july-september-2019-mirrorl/the-full-frame-game-is.html

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ritchie Roesch · July 26

      I fully agree with all of your points. I haven’t read Thom Hogan until just now via the link you shared, which was a good read. Thank you for sharing, and for the thoughtful input!

      Like

  2. tim matson · July 27

    have you ever worked up a tungsten film recipe, perhaps a Kodak negative or transparency?
    I used to like the weird effect of shooting tungsten in daylight.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Eric Manten · July 27

    Ritchie,
    As you mentioned: the quality current Fuji APS-C x-trans sensors deliver is better than a 10-year-old full-frame Nikon and comparable to a 5-year-old full-frame Nikon.
    The ‘only’ that would be gained to go from APS-C to full-frame is….pixels.
    Yes, you can print bigger with more pixels, but:
    1. look at the current quality of the Fujifilm images (!)
    2. bigger prints are usually viewed from a larger distance
    From that perspective, the current quality of the APS-C is more than sufficient for the average photographer. And when you want to go big with printing, then better go BIG: and that’s where we move into medium format (although the huge prints possible from medium format also will be viewed from a quite larger distance).
    So basically what I am saying: with the current quality of APS-C sensors, why would we ‘need’ more pixels?
    Am I missing something??
    Eric

    Like

    • Ritchie Roesch · July 27

      You don’t need more pixels, other than to brag, or if you sell really large fine art prints. I recently printed some 2’x3’ prints from my X-T30. If you look really close (like eyeballs a few inches from the print), you can see a little softness from the enlargement. In other words, the pictures look amazing! If you regularly print larger than 2’x3’, then maybe more resolution is a good idea, but it’s still far from necessary, because of normal viewing distances (most people don’t put their eyeballs a few inches from the print). And how many are really printing that large, anyway? I think that those who need lots of megapixels know who they are. Most people don’t, but it “feels good” to have more, even though more is probably completely unnecessary. I think people have a tendency to be envious, and when someone brags that their camera has 50 or 60 or however many megapixels, and yours “only” has 26 or 24 or 16, it creates the desire to also have more, even though you and the other guy have no real reason to have that much resolution. So you aren’t missing anything. In fact, it sounds like you have contentment, which is much more valuable than camera resolution could ever hope to be worth. Thank you for the comment!

      Like

    • JK · July 28

      There’s a lot genres of photography, like sports/action/nature/news, that benefits from greater resolution by increased cropping capabilities. You can’t compose every frame perfectly when shooting, and you still need to get frontpage quality. You won’t see many photographer s with less than most megapixels in Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ritchie Roesch · July 28

        I remember talking to a photojournalist many years ago who told me (among other things) that he used medium format (film) when he covered sporting events, because he could crop the images significantly and still have a good picture. I took some pictures at my daughter’s track meet recently with my X-T30, and cropped many of the images by 25%-40%, yet the images could still be printed pretty large, as big as 16” x 24” prints, and still look good. I can imagine, though, for an event as big as the Olympics one would want as much resolution as possible.

        Like

  4. JK · July 28

    APS-H is interesting and viable idea. Wonder how XF lenses could handle it?

    I was secretly hoping for a full-frame X100 successor. “X100V” will not be such, when “X200” might have been. Having briefly used Leica Q2 I greatly appreciate the cropping capabilities of it’s huge sensor.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ritchie Roesch · July 28

      I think it would be interesting if Fujifilm made a camera similar to the X100 but with a full frame sensor.

      Like

  5. Jeff Sinon · August 1

    IMHO the only reason full frame is “better” for the majority of people is to satisfy someone’s ego and for bragging rights. For those who don’t pixel peep at 300%, or view 24”x36” prints from 3” away the increased resolution is meaningless. All I can think about when reading about 50-60mp cameras is that my computer would have a stroke dealing with the huge files, and I’d be filling hard drives faster that I could afford to buy more.

    Yes, I believe there is a small(dare I say minute?) percentage of photographers who may actually benefit from what full frame has to offer. But for the vast majority they’re spending too much money on way more camera than they’ll ever need.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ritchie Roesch · August 1

      I completely agree with this. Unfortunately, ego and envy are tough to deal with, especially when you don’t realize those are problems. Funny thing, I was noting to myself today that the 26 MP files from the X-T30 fill up the memory card noticeably quicker than the 24 MP files from X-Trans III cameras. Each file isn’t much bigger, but when you add up hundreds of them, it makes a difference. I can’t imagine 50 MP. More resolution sometimes means more problems. Most people don’t see it that way, though.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Jeff Sinon · August 2

        More megapixels is about the only thing that the manufactures can use to entice people to upgrade. More is better, bigger is better, so I must spend more! So I can share tiny photos on Instagram 🙄

        I’ve noticed the same thing. The same size card goes a lot further in my XT2 than it does in my XT3. Can you imagine how fast the GFX 100 must fill up cards? And hard drives, and slow down processing… Yikes! It hurts my bank account just thinking about the hardware upgrades to handle those massive files.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Ritchie Roesch · August 2

        Lol! That’s pretty funny. I would definitely need a much bigger SD card to go with a GFX100, or even the 50 MP model for that matter.

        Liked by 1 person

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