Fujifilm recently sent me a GFX-50S and Fujinon 23mm f/4 lens to borrow for a few weeks. I’ve been wanting to try GFX ever since it came out, but it’s expensive and well outside of my budget, so I never had the chance. Now, thanks to Fujifilm North America, I was able to give the GFX-50S a try—a dream come true! It was very difficult to mail the camera and lens back because I really wanted to keep it.
The Fujifilm GFX-50S is not a new camera. In fact, it’s four-years-old now. The model sent to me has been circulated to many other photographers and countless reviewers, and you’ve likely seen this exact camera before. So much has already been said about it. I want this review to be different than all the others, which will be a difficult accomplishment; I won’t go into all the technical details that are easily found online. Also, with the release of the GFX100S, I believe that the GFX-50S will likely be discontinued soon.
My perspective for this review is that I’m a JPEG-shooter who uses Fujifilm’s APS-C X-series cameras, something regular readers of this blog are well aware of. Shooting JPEGs on GFX might seem strange, but you might be surprised by the number of people who are doing just that. I’m quite happy by the image quality produced by Fujifilm’s smaller sensors, but I’ve been fascinated by Fujifilm’s medium-format line since this camera was announced. I was curious what the differences are between Fujifilm X and GFX, and whether the advantages are worth the significantly steeper sticker price that comes with the larger sensor.
In this review I want to cover are some myths regarding medium-format photography. There are some things circulating around the internet that are not true or are only partially true, so I think it’s important to discuss these and set the record straight.
Myth #1: You get a much more shallow depth-of-field with medium-format than APS-C. There actually is some truth to this myth, but it’s not completely correct. It’s a mathematical calculation related to crop factor, but essentially, all things being, um, equivalently equal, medium-format will have a more shallow depth-of-field than APS-C with the same aperture. But things aren’t always equal. Lets look at a couple examples. The GF 80mm f/1.7, which is full-frame equivalent to 63mm, cannot produce quite as small of a depth-of-field as the XF 50mm f/1, which is full-frame equivalent to 75mm; but if you compare that same GF 80mm lens to the XF 35mm f/1.4, which is full-frame equivalent to 52mm, the GF lens is capable of a smaller depth-of-field. So, yes, it is possible to achieve a more shallow depth-of-field with GFX, and, yes, it is possible to achieve a more shallow depth-of-field with X-Trans, just depending on the lenses being used; however, most GF lenses have a maximum aperture of f/2.8, f/3.5 or f/4, so if you’re trying to take advantage of the potential shallow depth-of-field advantage of medium-format, your lens choices are the GF 80mm f/1.7 or the GF 110mm f/2. I think, otherwise, the advantage disappears because there are number of XF lenses that have larger maximum apertures than their GFX counterparts, and can produce a similar or even sometimes smaller depth-of-field.
Myth #2: GFX is better for low-light photography. There definitely is a clear high-ISO advantage that the GFX-50S has over X-Trans. It’s at least one stop, probably more. But, as was discussed in Myth #1, GF lenses often have smaller maximum apertures than XF lenses, which means that you’re often going to be using higher ISOs with GFX cameras than X-Trans cameras in the same situation. In other words, it’s a good thing that high-ISO is better, because you’re going to need it.
Myth #3: The resolution advantage of GFX over X-Trans is massive. I’ve never used either of the 100MP cameras; however, the 50MP sensor on the GFX-50S is fantastic—full of fine, crisp details—and is basically double the resolution of X-Trans III and IV. It’s a pixel-peeper’s dream! But is there a practical advantage to all that resolution? I printed some pictures captured with the GFX-50S and some identical pictures captured with an X-T30 to see what differences there might be. What I discovered is that you need to print 24” x 36” to really notice, and even then it’s not a night-and-day difference, and without closely comparing the prints side-by-side it’s not obvious, as the X-T30 images held up pretty well. If you aren’t printing at least that big, or cropping deeply, the resolution advantage is essentially meaningless. Those who need 50MP know who they are, so if you’re not sure, it most likely means that you don’t.
This isn’t a myth, but worth noting nonetheless: the GFX-50S isn’t quick. There’s a pause, similar to using Clarity on newer X-Trans IV cameras, after capturing an exposure. It takes a moment for the camera to write an image to the card. The GFX-50S is a camera to take your time with. Despite the pause similar to using Clarity, the JPEG options on this camera are more similar to the X-T3 and X-T30, except that it does have the Classic Negative film simulation.
Something that I did really appreciate about the GFX-50S is the dynamic range. Highlights don’t look much different than X-Trans, but there’s a noticeable difference in the shadows. Shadows in X-Trans JPEGs are a little more like slide film, while shadows in GFX-50S JPEGs are a little more like print film. I very much enjoyed how the GFX camera renders pictures, even though it’s only subtly different than X-Trans.
I did mention that this was a review of both the GFX-50S camera and the GF 23mm F/4 R LM WR lens. This lens is ultra-wide, with a full-frame equivalent focal-length of 18mm. There’s some distortion, so don’t expect straight lines to be straight, especially toward the edges of the frame. It’s super sharp, as you’d expect it to be, and a great option for dramatic landscapes. I don’t imagine that this would be very many people’s choice for a first lens, but it definitely would be an excellent addition to the landscape photographer’s bag.
The GFX-50S is an excellent camera that I would love to own. The body retails for $5,500, and the 23mm lens retails for $2,600, bringing the total for this kit to $8,100, which is a lot. That’s well outside of my budget. If I often made large prints and my income came from those prints, this would likely be money well spent. Otherwise, my opinion is that the GFX-50S is overkill for most people and most purposes. Those who would benefit from this camera already know who they are. If I had thousands of dollars in my pocket to spend on gear and affording the GFX-50S was no problem, I still wouldn’t buy it, because I’d rather use that money on experiences than cameras. But if I did own the GFX-50S, I’d be very happy with it, because the images that it produces are so nice. I’m grateful that Fujifilm loaned me the camera and lens, and, while it was difficult to send back because I enjoyed it so much, it did make me appreciate even more just how good X-Trans cameras are. GFX is capable of better image quality, no doubt, but Fujifilm X is still quite excellent—almost as good as the GFX-50S—which is nothing short of amazing.
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Example photographs, captured with the Fujifilm GFX-50S and Fujinon GF 23mm F/4 R LM WR lens:
See also: GFX Film Simulation Recipes
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