Medium Format vs Crop Sensor: How Much Better is Fujifilm GFX than Fujifilm X?
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.