Fujifilm North America sent me a GFX-50S medium-format camera and Fujinon 23mm lens to go with it. The camera and lens aren’t mine; I get to use them for a few weeks, then return them to Fujifilm. The camera is $5,500 (it was $6,500 when it came out four years ago), and the lens is $2,600, so just over $8,000 altogether. This is the most expensive camera and lens that I’ve ever put my hands on!
There are two questions that I want to answer: how much better is medium-format GFX over the APS-C X cameras, and which film simulation recipes, if any, are compatible with GFX. By the way, this isn’t my review of the camera. I’ll write that after I’ve had it for longer. This article is the first step towards a review. I’m simply trying to answer a couple of questions about the GFX-50S camera.
Yesterday I did a little survey on my Instagram account: can you tell the difference between pictures captured on my Fujifilm X-T30 with a Rokinon 12mm lens (a $1,200 combo) and those captured on a GFX-50S with a Fujinon 23mm lens? By far, most photographs are viewed on social media. People post their pictures on Instagram and Facebook and other platforms, and that’s how we see them. Printed photographs are far less common. That’s just the way it is. I wanted to know: on social media, is it even possible to tell the difference between pictures captured using $1,200 gear and $8,000 gear?
Before I get into the responses to that survey, I want to briefly talk about the technical stuff—the why. The reason that I chose the X-T30 is because its JPEG settings are very similar to the GFX-50S’ JPEG settings. I used the same film simulation recipes, Kodak Ultramax for color and Kodak Tri-X 400 for black-and-white, on both cameras (this also allowed me to see how similar or dissimilar recipes are rendered on these cameras). I chose the Rokinon 12mm lens because it has the same 18mm full-frame-equivalent focal length as the 23mm lens on the GFX camera. I used f/8 on the Rokinon and f/16 on the Fujinon (to better match the depth-of-field) and adjusted the shutter speed to compensate; otherwise, the settings on both cameras were identical.
Here are the pictures that I posted to Instagram, in the same order:
Now to that survey! The majority of the comments were something to the effect of, “I can’t tell which camera took which pictures.” There were 10 people who took a guess, and five got it right and five wrong. I was actually surprised that five people figured it out—some of you have very keen eyes! There were three sets of two pictures to allow for direct comparisons, but the final two pictures weren’t a set, and those two pictures tripped up a few people who otherwise figured out the rest. Even a couple of those who guessed correctly said that they weren’t certain on those last two. The takeaway is that, on social media, if you study the pictures carefully and can side-by-side compare, there is a barely noticeable difference between images captured on GFX cameras and those captured on X cameras, but otherwise you can’t tell.
Of course, you’re not spending $8,000 for good-looking social media pictures, but for good-looking prints. So I printed the pictures! All of the prints were 8″ x 12″, but I made some crops that would be about 16″ x 24″, 24″ x 36″, and 40″ x 60″ if the rest of the picture was there. Here are a few of those crops:
I studied the prints, then I had my wife, Amanda, look at them. We both came to the same conclusion: printed at 8″ x 12″ it’s really difficult to tell which camera captured which picture; at 16″ x 24″ it’s a little easier to tell but still very tough; at 24″ x 36″ it’s more obvious, but the X-T30 still looks pretty good; and at 40″ x 60″ the GFX is the clear winner, but the X-T30 image isn’t awful.
The Fujifilm GFX-50S costs six times as much as the Fujifilm X-T30. Does it produce six times better image quality? No. Does it produce twice as good image quality? No. Is it a pixel-peeper’s dream? Yes! If you like to zoom into your images and admire the fine details that can only be noticed when you look closely, the GFX-50S is a great option. If you need to crop deeply and still have good-looking pictures, the GFX-50S will deliver. If you print really, really big, the GFX-50S is indeed a fine photographic tool. Outside of that, there’s not a big advantage to the medium-format camera. In fact, there might be as many disadvantages as there are advantages, but that’s a discussion for another time. Did I mention that those files look really nice when you look really close?
I have seven different film simulation recipes programmed into the GFX-50S right now, and here’s my probably-too-soon opinion: X-Trans III recipes and X-Trans IV recipes that are compatible with the X-T3 and X-T30 are usable on the GFX-50S… but they don’t look exactly the same. One difference is that the JPEGs from the GFX-50S are slightly less saturated and a hair less warm; it’s very minor but noticeable when side-by-side comparing. The GFX-50S has a larger dynamic range, which not only gives you more latitude for highlight and shadow recovery, but also produces a more flat picture; that’s not necessarily bad, just different. The GFX-50S has Classic Negative—yea!—but not the other JPEG options, such as Clarity and Color Chrome FX Blue, that the newer X-Trans IV cameras have.
I look forward to shooting more with the GFX-50S, and I know it will be difficult to send back. Using it reaffirms that X series cameras are fantastic and that the gap between APS-C and medium-format isn’t as big as what one might think. There are people who would benefit from the larger sensor and higher resolution that the GFX-50S offers, and those people likely know who they are. If I could, I would definitely own this camera, but it’s not a big deal that I don’t because my other Fujifilm cameras are pretty darn good, too.
Pure coincidence that this came in just now on a day when the medium format and large format topic came up. This isn’t definitive, but is interesting.
Definitely not definitive! Thanks for the comment!
Very cool. This is what people are interested in e.g. should I buy a new car or a GFX lol. Obviously regardless of what you have it wont make you a better photographer. I aspired towards an X-T3 and got one and it was fab, but then the X-T4 came out and I had to have it (I ommited to consider the new screen orientation and was gutted) the X-T3 was gone doh but then after not using the X-T4 for a while I picked it up and looked at its output. Its a monster (screen aside) but your article is very interesting. Thanks.
I appreciate your input! The X-T4 mechanical shutter sound is amazing. I could listen to it all day long.
I suppose low light performance much more better than APC format cameras especially at higher ISO s.
Can you make a comparison in this regard.
I plan to make this comparison, but I haven’t done so yet. It’s clear that ISO 12800 is better on the GFX, but I’m not sure by how much or about other ISOs. The flip side to this is that GFX lenses aren’t (typically) as fast as X lenses.
Good to see this review and those pics. I’ll stick with my XT30 camera then. Maybe I’ll get an XT3 as well some time in the future for the weather proofing. I couldn’t ever afford the medium format camera and now I know it just wouldn’t be worth it. I’m sure there are those that will want it though and that it is a great camera if you have the funds.
I think, for many people, GFX isn’t worth the price, as X cameras are plenty good enough, but for some, it’s worth it, and I think those people know exactly who they are. I appreciate the comment!
Great review dude. only medium format i have ever used was the PENTAX 6X7 Wooden Handle Film Camera, that and some Ilford FP4 film got some great results. what was even nicer was the dev times for the film never really changed which made it easy to dev groups of films shot on the same day at the same time… (i used to use a Dev tank that could house 2 medium formats and a 35mm lol)
I think for the price to performance of Digital medium formats these days is still a bit much.
I’m envious! I used to drool over that Pentax camera. Digital medium format is barely medium format, and very expensive.
Indeed. when i was unable to do my own prints in the Darkroom anymore i grabbed myself a decent Film Scanner (Epson Perfection) and a Dark Bag to load my Films into its canister. then the Pentax 67 i got for a steal at £600in total i paid less than £1500 for everything i needed for B&W Film work.
If you took you time with the scans you could EASILY print a medium format film neg at A2 and it be acceptable. a friend who had a similar setup with 5×4 was able to print at A0 pretty much using the same method i was using.
selling my 67 was one of my biggest mistakes to date lol. got a very good deal for it but still….
That’s very interesting, I’d love to see some of those pictures of yours. I have a few photographic regrets, so I know how that feels.
I agree completely, I think increases in sensor size begin to suffer from diminishing returns after the micro 4/3rds size. Although I’ve never subscribed to the pixel-peeping school of thought, so maybe my needs are just different to others.
I think there are indeed “returns” but they’re definitely “diminishing returns” for sure! The gaps between M43, APS-C, FF and MF aren’t very big at all.
You lucky dog! Getting to try out such an expensive piece of equipment!
I could have told you the results in advance, though. I fact I have covered it in several of my posts.
Aside from certain specialized applications, either in presentation or application, you won’t see any difference in large MP vs. small MP when both are shrunk down to average Internet viewing or even print presentation dimensions.
Exactly, well put! I think that those who print really large are the ones who would benefit from the higher MP count, and for most it’s just overkill. It’s fun to use, and I’m thankful for the opportunity to use it.
I don’t think that’s what he meant. What he wrote was “… you won’t see any difference in large MP vs. small MP when both are shrunk down to average Internet viewing”.
No, I understood, and that’s exactly right. When internet viewing, it’s nearly impossible to tell the difference. If you’re not significantly cropping, pixel-peeping, or printing large, the difference is pretty minor.
Interesting post, I thought the difference would be more apparent in large prints but it’s reassuring to know that I don’t need to spend thousands more on medium format to get decent quality prints! I’ve never had any problems printing up to A1 size with my Fuji XT3 but I’ve always wondered if the digital medium format would give a significant increase in quality. Thanks for the review!
At A1 size, the GFX will be sharper and more detailed, but just by a little, not a significant amount. From three feet away you won’t notice, from three inches you will.
I am doing the same test and my conclusions are the same. I’ve compared the XH1 with the GFX 50R using the X 27mm and the GF 50mm respectively to match the 40mm equiv. focal length. Besides the fact that the GF lens FOV is a bit wider (and of course, the aspect ratio), the difference between images is negligible. Even after processing in LR.
During doing the test I placed the cameras on tripod to match the view. The images from both cameras are crisp. However, when I took images handheld a big disadvantage of the GFX emerged. Many images were blurry due to camera movement. One would think that 1/125 would be enough to keep the GF 50mm steady. Well, that’s not the case. If you add the IS in the XH1, the X system takes the lead by convenience easily.
I wonder why so many people swear by the MF cameras. Yes, they are excellent, but not substantially better than their cheaper, smaller, and lighter counterparts.
Thanks so much for the input! I don’t think this is a knock on GFX, which is clearly wonderful. I think it’s a testament to Fujifilm X. The resolution difference matters if you print super large or crop especially deeply, but most people don’t, which is GFX’s biggest advantage in my opinion. I would love to own a GFX camera (maybe the GFX 50R II when it comes out) and use it as a specialized tool to put on a tripod and use in very specific scenarios.
Ritchie, I may be wrong, but I don’t think these images are representative of what the GFX-50 can do. I’ve long followed Jonas Rask and his GFX images showcase the power of the much larger medium format sensor over the tiny APS-C sensor. His medium format images are incredible.
I think with GFX, the lens is really an important factor. I was loaned one lens (the 23mm f/4), which is great, but limited in scope. I might try to rent one or two to get a better grasp of the capabilities. I think a large-aperture slightly-telephoto lens might really showcase the benefits of medium-format. Jonas Rask is a great and truly inspirational photographer.
It’s too bad you didn’t have a more “normal” lens. 23mm is wide! I think you’d see a real difference with the 63mm lens.
I think so. If I can do it for cheap enough, I’ll see if I can’t try a different lens for a weekend.
Of all social media, I would suggest that the reduced-to-about-1-megapixel world of Instagram is, shall we say, the great equalizer– everything looks bad! Of course, Instagram is intended for phone screens only… even viewing on a desktop monitor is out of its element. One reason smartphones have caught on as cameras: if you’re posting to Instagram, just about any camera is overkill.
As well, I think you miss some real benefits of MF if you’re shooting in JPEG. What kind of editing latitude to you get versus the APS-C camera?
I don’t edit much at all anymore (mostly just straight-out-of-camera; I used to be a RAW only guy once upon a time). JPEGs have a larger latitude for editing than many believe, not as much as RAW, but if you’re not doing wild edits, there’s likely enough latitude in there. However, I can get the results that I want without editing, so it doesn’t matter much to me how much latitude there is or isn’t in the JPEGs or RAW. I appreciate the comment!
Thanks for that article.
According to Fujifilm, X-Trans APS-C sensors have the same resolution (not size) as medium format film 6×4,5. Which at the time enabled to do large prints.
GFX series have the same resolution as large format film. (I don’t remember which size) even if their sensor size are smaller than 6×4,5. So they are able to make huge exhibition prints.
I don’t really buy that, as I have (in the past) some high-quality scans (high-quality being the keyword) of 35mm film that is noticeably more detailed/higher-resolution than 26mp X-Trans IV files. I have some medium-quality scans of 120 film (6×4.5 and 6×6) that are similar resolution to 50mp GFX files. So maybe Fujifilm APS-C is similar (in details/resolution) to low-quality medium-format scans, but I think overall Fujifilm is overstating this. As far as printing from negatives/slides vs printing from digital files, it’s not even close, but at least you don’t have to worry about dust on your digital files… 🙂
With all of that said, Fujifilm’s 26mp X-Trans IV (and 24mp X-Trans III) are very excellent for printing large when the pictures are seen from a “normal viewing distance” and GFX is excellent for printing large when the pictures are seen from a very close distance.
I appreciate your comment!