Fujifilm GFX100S | Pushing the Limits
Note: This is a hands-on first impression and initial thoughts review of the brand-new Fujifilm GFX100S. More in-depth reviews will surely follow… stay tuned!
My history with the Fujifilm GFX system is an emotional one, but also quite short and not very intense so far. Here I described about two years ago how I got my GFX50S – it actually happened because of a sad and tragic story. This story is the main reason why I really wanted to start something great with this amazing camera. Only – the plan didn’t really work out. As a wise person once said: If you want to make God laugh, tell him you have a plan.
Now, of course, I could say the plan didn’t work out because I changed jobs and had little time, because I had to support my family during a very difficult time, because the pandemic came,… but when I think about it, the truth is much simpler: the GFX50S was never really “my“ camera. It is and remains a sensational workhorse camera and has certainly made digital medium format accessible to so many amateurs.
However, if you, like me, don’t shoot landscapes or architecture (with a tripod) or work in a studio, the everyday benefits of the GFX50S are more limited than I initially wanted to believe. Without IBIS and with the small apertures needed in many cases for a bit more depth of field, it’s not so easy to use this camera handheld in available light conditions (for my purposes!). Especially since the high resolution of the sensor requires even faster shutter speeds than using e.g. the smaller X cameras.
I even tried to solve the problem by swapping the otherwise great GF45mm F2.8 for the GF45-100mm F4.0 OIS (by the way, one hell of a lens!) – but that also made the size and weight explode again. The end of the story: I hardly used the GFX50S and thus didn’t value it. Then I read the first rumours of an upcoming GFX100S with IBIS, which should be even smaller than… wow! Guess what happened then…
I did it!
Without any reasonable (economic) justification I bought the GFX100S – together with the new GF80mm F1.7, the GF50mm F3.5 and the GF30mm F3.5. No one who doesn’t make a living from photography and is otherwise clear-headed needs such a camera. But needing is not the point here… it’s all about dreams and all about limits. Of course, I parted with all my previous GFX equipment for this – and even additionally with my X-H1 and my trusty and beloved X-Pro2. Somehow, I wanted to be less a collector and more a photographer. And here I am with a camera that has the potential to change everything… especially the limits.
What is the GFX100S?
It’s a high-resolution monster! It’s a mind-boggling photographic tool that dwarfs any other camera I’ve personally ever held in my hands. I think from a big picture point of view, it’s the most fascinating camera money can buy at the moment.
Is it also the fastest and the most advanced? Nope. This title should probably – or quite certainly even – go to the Sony α1 (which I never had in my hands). This seems to be the machine that can, in principle, do almost everything better than any other – that’s the class nerd. Fascination, on the other hand, is far more than the sum of its functions. And, by the way, who likes the class nerd? 😉
Is it the most versatile and usable? Again, a clear no – for me and certainly for most users. Hey, it is and remains a medium format camera – with all the associated characteristics (more on that later). For me, this title would rather go to the Fujifilm X-T4 – which is a jack of all trades in the best sense of the word.
OK, what are we dealing with here? A 102mp 44x33mm medium format sensor! 16bit RAW! IBIS! 400MP Pixel Shift! Phase-detection autofocus! Weather resistance! Dual memory card slot! Apart from that, all this is packed into a body that is basically no bigger or heavier than my old Nikon D700 and that immediately exudes incredible aesthetics as well. You don’t think that’s important? I do.
If the GFX50S was a game changer, then the GFX100S starts a whole new game!
Why I think the GFX100S starts a new game
Anyone who has ever had to deal with medium format will understand this immediately. Medium format was always something special, even in analogue times. It was big, it was heavy, it was expensive, and therefore almost exclusively for professionals. OK, there were exceptions in terms of “expensive” – such as the Pentacon Six TL from the former GDR. However, these were only niche products. Hasselblad or Rolleiflex were mostly out of the reach of amateurs – analogous to the Leica in 35mm format.
That hasn’t changed much in the digital world. Most cameras and lenses are still very large, very heavy and some are even more absurdly expensive than the ones in the analogue era. Check out the price for a Phase One XF IQ4 150MP body and you know what I am talking about. Besides the price and the size, however, there is a difference that is more decisive in practice. Medium format cameras are – well – I’ll say cumbersome to handle. Their autofocus system is usually nowhere near to that of smaller format cameras. And I really mean: it’s not even close! The sensor’s high resolution is very challenging in terms of shake-free shutter speeds, and if you want a little more depth of field, working indoors in ambient light is often nearly impossible.
There is a reason why these cameras are mostly found on a tripod of a studio or landscape photographer.
Cameras like the Pentax 645Z or especially the Fujifilm GFX50S have already changed things to a certain amount. Nevertheless – see my prologue – depending on the working method and photographic focus, they didn’t change things far enough. Now, with the Fujifilm GFX100S, a camera comes into play that really changes almost everything. Literally everything! OK, apart from physics of course… otherwise it’s a different world now.
Maybe it’s not for those in the Nikon, Canon, Sony or Panasonic full-frame universe. But for people like me who have moved away from full frame for main work and are looking for a complement for special work, it is 100% that. A medium format camera that is actually easy to transport, pretty fast and comparatively small and light is simply unique on the market. Period.
Size and weight
That’s certainly the first thing you notice right away: Oh my god, how small is this one? Is that really a medium format camera? Many 35mm DSLR cameras out there are at least that big – often bigger. And I don’t just mean the calibres like the Nikon D6 or Canon EOS-1D X. Even an APS-C camera like the Fujifilm X-T4 is not much smaller in direct comparison – that’s insane! For the weight, however, this statement only applies in comparison to really large medium format cameras – at around 900 grams, it pretty much stayed in the range of the GFX50S.
When the Fujifilm GFX50R came out I wanted to like it, I really wanted to. Great, I thought, here comes a rangefinder style medium format camera, relatively light and… unfortunately not so small. Furthermore, it was not very ergonomic for my liking, rather just the opposite. In terms of shape, it reminded me of a brick; in terms of haptics, it reminded me more of a plastic box. Yes, I know this comparison is way, way over the top and unfair – but it reflects my previous (to high?) expectations. My enthusiasm had already disappeared after trying it out twice. This new GFX100S is a completely different story.
It is smaller than anything in this field before is, while being ergonomically excellent and a technological and aesthetic highlight.
Build and feel
Some will say that is a point that could be quietly saved. Yes, I agree with that in part. Fujifilm cameras are definitely not known for poor workmanship or cheap looks. However, sometimes you have to look at things a bit more in detail here. And this is where I come back to the GFX50R, which was rather disappointing to me. It wasn’t just the, in my view, poor ergonomics and size that put me off – it was also the feel. It just didn’t feel as refined as I’m used to with my other Fujifilm cameras: rock solid. Yes, I know, the price of the GFX50R was also more than tightly calculated, but still.
Fortunately, Fujifilm has managed to lower the price here (compared to the GFX100 and even the GFX50S of course) and still maintain that rock solid feel. When I first picked up the camera, I had a satisfied grin on my face right here.
As I wrote before, this is probably the most important point of all for me. Even with the clearly slower AF of the GFX50S I’d be fine – that’s OK for my purposes. However, the IBIS increases the usability of this camera for me to a crucial degree. Is the IBIS any good? Heck, yes! From my point of view, it‘s sensational for a camera with such a huge sensor, even though I have never understood how the camera manufacturers come up with such high values. In this case they are talking about six f-stops for the compensation of camera shake according to the CIPA standard. Be that as it may, this is similarly exaggerated everywhere. The fact is, however, that the IBIS works extremely well – I would say it’s an advantage somewhere between three and four f-stops – maybe rather four.
Do you notice anything? In practice I can use a shutter speed of up to let’s say 1/15s in extreme cases – with an 80mm lens on a 102MP 44x33mm sensor medium format camera. That’s insane! (Note: You definitely can’t just use the old 1/focal length rule for reasonable shutter speeds like you used to with lower resolution 35mm cameras in former days- it’s a totally different story)
I am blown away by the performance of the IBIS in the GFX100S. It’s nothing short of incredible! After Fujifilm had almost missed the boat here, they have fortunately really caught up…. maybe they even overtook one or the other competitor here.
A few lines above I wrote that I could handle the autofocus of the GFX50S. Yes, OK, I can cope with it, but of course it doesn’t blow you away – especially depending on the lens. For sure, faster would have been better. And that’s exactly what the autofocus on the new GFX100S is: much better, much faster. And much more powerful in low light. The first impression is already very stunning. But that’s certainly something I’ll have to take a longer look at in practice.
A small further side note: Here, however, the lenses are still very decisive. Especially the linear motor in the GF50mm makes the difference here. With this lens it almost feels like – let’s say – the AF in the Fujifilm XT-3 or X-Pro3. It’s far from the usual feeling of a medium format camera.
When it comes to autofocus, you also have to pay a lot of attention to a photographer’s personal way of working. Many reviewers forget this and only do some comparative tests that have no meaning for my practical use. Don’t be too influenced by videos that show how long the lens takes to focus from the closest focusing distance to infinity – that has nothing to do with real-life photography. I will come back to this point in detail in my upcoming review of the GF80mm.
How well does the AF-C mode of the GFX100S work? I have no idea – I never use it, on any camera. When I want to film, I just switch the camera to movie mode. 😉
General speed in use
This is another interesting point, though certainly not the most important one in such a system. However, especially photographers who frequently switch between the X and GFX systems (or another smaller to medium format systems) will of course notice very clearly the lower speed of the medium format system right away. The shutter release alone feels like it takes so much longer – it certainly does overall.
On a GFX50S, everything feels comparatively slow at first, until you get used to it again after a while. That has now changed considerably. The GFX100S is so responsive that the transition between systems is – shall we say – somewhat minimized. Sure, it’s still different, and we also have the different 4:3 format. But in comparison, the general feel is already impressive. It no longer has anything to do with the “old” medium format in this respect.
Yes, I know… there were already first reports about too slow writing to the memory cards in the net of unlimited grumblings. Yes, without the latest and fastest memory cards (see also the next chapter), the camera will be slowed down. And yes, features like 16-bit uncompressed RAW output, “Color Chrome Effect” and especially “Clarity” require so much computing power that processing takes even longer than it already does with the X cameras. You have to live with that or not use it. Could this have been prevented? Certainly, but probably only at a high price – and I mean both money and battery power. For me, this is OK. If you’re looking for a machine gun camera, Sony is probably the manufacturer to look to again.
Some further thoughts on real life use
You don’t have to be an expert to immediately foresee some consequences from buying such a camera – you just have to put one and one together. Running a Formula 1 race car is also more expensive and more elaborate than running a go-kart. Even if this comparison is fortunately a bit wrong (see my comment about the Sony α1) and exaggerated, this camera still changes a lot. 16-bit uncompressed RAW means: 200 megabytes of data – at least. And per shot, of course! With a 32-megabyte SD card, you won’t get very far. What that means for your hard drive space is something you have to calculate for yourself.
In my case, fortunately, it’s not really that crucial. My style of photography is very analogue. I usually shoot very deliberately and often need only one or two shots for the final image – it’s not so much more than I used to with film. In addition, 16-bit RAW files compressed with lossless compression are more than sufficient for me – I can’t see any difference to the uncompressed ones. And since I don’t use the medium format system solely either, but only for certain tasks, the consequences for my storage space are manageable. For someone who really shoots on set, for example, that can look very different very quickly – 1000 images a day means a whopping 200 gigabytes of RAW files on the hard drive.
As far as the performance of the computers used is concerned, the whole thing is also easily bearable for me. I use an iPad Pro 2020 and a 2017 iMac with a 3.5 GHz processor. Even an uncompressed 16-bit RAW file don’t cause the iPad problems and Lightroom Classic (Note: Version 10.2 has become much faster!) on the iMac can also process the files decently fast (by Lightroom standards). The difference to the X-Trans files of the X-T4 is surprisingly small here – or at least OK. Nevertheless, I’m already looking forward to the new iMacs or MacBooks with M1(X)/M2 processors.
Again, everyone has to know what their own hardware at home can still do. Especially some older laptops will have a hard time keeping up.
Are there any negatives?
Sure, nothing is perfect. I’ll get to that in the next part of the review of the GFX100S. We shouldn’t always cloud the moment of joy and fascination by looking for the fly in the ointment… 😉
Preliminary conclusion on the GFX100S
I’ll leave it here at a very preliminary conclusion for understandable reasons – I simply haven’t had the camera long enough. Nevertheless, I can already say that I am downright enthusiastic. I’m not sure if I ever had this feeling with the GFX50S. OK, I was already completely fascinated when I looked at the pictures – whether on the iMac or even more so in the large printout on paper. No question, the quality leap not only in resolution was totally intoxicating even then – but my feeling when working with the camera itself never was.
With the Fujifilm GFX100S, it’s quite different. I unpacked it, configured it and went out on the street. Especially with the GF50mm, to my great astonishment, it is what the GFX50R was meant to be: a camera to take with you. I’ll say it again: a medium format camera to take with you! Actually, at least for me, a contradiction in terms. Nevertheless, it works and if I want this and have pictures in mind that should have this medium format look, then I will do this in the future – take it with me. This camera just feels right in my hands.
Is this the end of my love to the APS-C format and the X system? No way! The GFX system will always remain a complement, never a replacement for the X system (and vice versa). First, in real use there are still differences in size and weight that matters… just look at the size comparison between the GFX100S and the X100V.
In addition, you have to keep in mind, that the size of the GF50mm is still the exception in the GF lens line-up, rather than the rule. A quick look on the „kit zoom lenses“ (a label that does not do justice to both lenses!) of the different systems and… I know that I never, never would take the GFX system with me on vacation – let alone on a hiking tour.
But that’s not the point, because that’s not what I wanted anyway. The point is to push the limits and offer possibilities. Now comes something that pushes those limits into a sphere I can hardly ever reach… the sky.
As an aside, did you notice that I actually wrote almost nothing – not even a separate section – about image quality? That’s because of two things: First, technical image quality on the GFX100S is absurdly high anyway, and second, I want to dedicate a separate post to this point. The number of pixels is only one side of the coin, more important to me is the quality of the pixels. Just this: I would have easily coped with the camera having “only” 50 megapixel resolution – assuming a modern sensor with phase detection pixels, of course.
Perhaps a last note to those of you using the latest and fastest full frame cameras. If you are used to shooting extremely fast on set (fashion, beauty, etc..) and speed is the most important thing to you, forget this camera. Despite all my praise for speed and responsiveness of the GFX100S, there is still a very noticeable difference here compared to, say, a Sony α7R IV. It’s not the speed, it’s this “More than Full Frame” thing that makes the magic of the camera…
There is always light somewhere – go out and shoot!