When Fujifilm announced at Photokina 2016 it was to launch a mirrorless medium format camera - that is, a camera with a sensor larger than even a pro-spec DSLR - there was explosive excitement.
The company hasn't been mucking around either, for the GFX 50S's quick turnaround has been quite astonishing: it'll hit the shelves on 23 February 2017, priced £6,199 body-only, as a final production camera.
We know what you're thinking: “six grand?!”. But that's a small price for what is a big deal - it undercuts Pentax, Hasselblad, et al, in this specialist market - and the viewfinder is included in the box, adding further value for money.
A full month ahead of release date we got to test out the GFX 50S in a variety of settings. And we're already convinced that it's medium format made easy. Maybe you don't want that full-frame DSLR any more after all.
Fuji GFX 50S preview: New beginnings
- 51.4-megapixels (sensor measures 43.8 x 32.9mm)
- New Fujinon GF lenses (G-mount)
- Weighs 825g body-only (sub-1.2kg with lens)
- Built-in 2.36m-dot tilt-angle LCD touchscreen
- 3.69m-dot electronic viewfinder included
The most striking thing about the GFX 50S is how small it is. Well, how small it is for a medium format camera anyway. The body alone is just 825g, making it lighter than some pro DSLR cameras. For something that's sturdy and weather-sealed, that's quite an achievement.
Older medium format systems tend to be rather rigid in their arrangement, with features like waist-level finders a staple. The GFX offers a tilt-angle LCD screen to make looking down on the camera easy, which even offers touchscreen functionality to further ease.
We were surprised that a camera such as this offers touchscreen. Fuji doesn't even put that in its X100F high-end compact camera. However, whereas plenty of touch-controlled cameras are too easy to accidentally adjust, the GFX 50S needs to be firmly addressed before touch will register. A proper tap on the screen will see the focus point move though.
Not that everyone will use touch. And that's where the included electronic viewfinder comes into the equation. It slips onto of the camera with ease and given the size and weight it feels just like using a mirrorless system camera or DSLR really. The 3.69m-dot resolution is huge, so things look excellent. And if you don't want it attached, simply take it off.
Interestingly Fuji has excluded the EVF-TL1 adapter from the box, which enables the viewfinder to be rotated any which way. It's ideal for top-down view for portrait orientation work, or as a top-down 90-degree vertical for landscape work. Thing is, the adapter costs £579. Ouch. That's one expensive hinge.
Fuji GFX 50S preview: What lenses are there?
- Three launch lenses, six by end of 2017
- Fujinon GF 63mm f/2.8 R WR
- Fujinon GF 32-64mm f/4 R LM WR
- Fujinon GF 120mm f/4 R LM OIS WR Macro
- H-mount adapter for Super EBC Fujinon HC lenses
Part of the GFX's scale is thanks to the new G-mount lens system, which accepts the new Fujinon GF lens range. The flange back distance is short (26.7mm) which helps keep the overall body size down.
At launch lenses aren't particularly plentiful - there's a 63mm f/2.8, 32-64mm f/4 and 120mm f/4, all of which are weather sealed - but Fuji promises an additional three optics by the end of 2017. Plus, with the H-mount adapter available to buy to use select Fujinon HC lenses (part of the GX645 film system) there's additional scope. Lenses have 0.85x magnification to equate to their 35mm equivalent, so the 63mm is around a 54mm equivalent (the ideal standard lens).
We used all three lenses and found the 63mm was every bit as quick as it needed to be; the 120mm was a little slow to focus and would sometimes not quite lock-on; while the 32-64mm zoom worked well and had a solid motion to its zoom movement. All the lenses have aperture control rings or you can set them to “C” which allows for front thumbwheel aperture control - which feels like using a DSLR than a typically beastly medium format.
Fuji GFX 50S preview: What's it like to use?
- 425 point contrast-detection autofocus system
- Manual, continue and single autofocus switch
- Dedicated ISO and shutter speed dials
- 1/4000th sec max; 125x shutter sync; 1/16,000th sec electronic shutter
- 1.28-inch sub LCD display
As we've eluded to, the GFX makes medium format easy. As this is a mirrorless camera the rear screen display and viewfinder show an accurate preview, including white balance and in-camera effects - there are film, sharpness, contrast and all manner of other real-time adjustments - with minimal black-out affecting use.
The sheer number of autofocus points is impressive too: there are 425 of them when miniaturised from the standard 117-point setting. Compared to Hasselblads of old that's heaps more control, with the focus spread wide across the sensor for even focus adjustment to the outer edges of the frame. It's reasonably quick, too, just don't expect the very best continuous AF from a contrast-detection setup.
If you don't want to use the touchscreen controls then the focus lever on the rear of the camera is well positioned for quick adjustment. This little joystick resembles what you'll find on Fuji's other cameras, such as the X-Pro2 and X-T2, which gives a familiar family feel and avoids excessive menu digging.
The dedicated ISO sensitivity and shutter speed dials, in combination with the lens aperture ring, also make for a traditional control method. It's easy to quickly adjust, or lock these dials into place as you please using the individual locks. There's no exposure compensation dial, though, which is a bit of a shame.
On the shutter dial you'll notice the 125x speed, which is the maximum sync possible with the GFX 50S. No surprise as the focal-plane shutter would otherwise get in the way of an exposure. But you can be clever with leaf-shutter lenses - if you can find any HC lenses! - and sync at up to 1/800th sec for that true “medium format special” of a darkened background. We didn't get a chance to explore that, but know certain photographers will see it as an essential.
Fuji GFX 50S preview: How good is image quality?
- 51.4-megapixels (sensor measures 43.8 x 32.9mm)
- Range of crop formats: from 6:17 to 5:4 and more
- ISO 100-12,800 sensitivity
- Dual SD card slots
- 4K 30p video
Medium format is all about resolution and depth-of-field control. The huge sensor inside the GFX 50S hits 50-million pixels, making it the highest-resolution sensor ever from the company. Sure, it's made by Sony, but it's entirely specified by Fuji for the optimum quality.
And the quality really is astounding. We shot a model, Charlotte, on an old staircase at Althorp House, Northants, and the precision detail in the eyelashes, skin texture and hair is quite incredible. We were shooting at f/8.0, though, to avoid the depth of field being too exaggerated.
That's the thing with medium format: if you want to be ultra precise an operate at f/2.8 (using the 64mm only for now) then you can. The potential for melty backgrounds is huge, but be slightly off and it'll ruin your images.
The quality isn't just astounding because of the lenses, the sensor is mighty capable. The wide ISO sensitivity range holds up well even at higher sensitivities: we went off piste from the photo shoot to snap some antique vases in a low-lit room and at ISO 12,800 they still look exceptional.
Most are going to be using the staple low ISO sensitivities where possible, of course, but that you can handheld shoot at ISO 1600 with zero fear of disruptive colour or image noise is a great thing. That never used to be the case with Hasselblad medium format cameras, so Fuji has found that leap pad point to entice in not only studio photographers, but those working in the field too.
We do think a tilt-shift lens and a much wider-angle optic will be the signed and sealed deal for architectural photographers though. But that should be in the bag by the end of the year.
Medium format might be specialist, but Fuji has made it easy and accessible in the GFX 50S. The camera avoids fussy features, comes fully equipped straight out of the box and, pending a conclusive lens line-up, stands a strong change of drawing some photographers away from full-frame DSLR.
Sure, its £6,199 price point is far from small, but it’s a game-changing price in terms of the medium format world. All without cutting any corners and delivering exceptional quality. The GFX 50S is one unexpected and special camera indeed.