Originally published here.
It was in 2017 when I held a Fujifilm GFX for the first time. Fujifilm had just released the GFX 50S and it was at a workshop with the opportunity to test it with different lenses and under different conditions. At the time I published a blog entry on my homepage (https://joergkemminer.zenfolio.com/blog/2017/10/gfx-workshop-in-berchtesgaden) and made a very detailed comparison to the X-T2, the Fujifilm camera I owned at the time.
In the meantime, more than four years have passed and a lot has happened. Fujifilm has consistently expanded its medium format segment, both in terms of cameras and lenses. Most importantly, a crucial feature has been added: The latest models GFX100, GFX100S and GFX50S II all have an in-body image stabilization (IBIS).
Back when I tested the GFX 50S, despite the very convincing image quality, I didn’t let myself get carried away with buying one, but things have changed for me too. A year ago, I bought a young second-hand GFX50R and in the meantime I have also bought one or two GF lenses.
When using the GFX 50R, I feel that everything I wrote back in 2017 has been confirmed. The image quality is outstanding, but the camera requires a very special approach. As it is an ‘older’ model without IBIS, the use of a tripod is advisable in many cases. As soon as the shutter speeds become slower or the lens used does not have an image stabilizer, the risk of blurry images is very real. In addition, the camera is not particularly fast at 3 fps. This makes it clearly inferior to the APS-C models with X-Trans sensor for certain purposes, such as wildlife or sports photography. Consequently, I have not sold either the X-T3 (which has since then replaced my X-T2) or my X-H1. And as I use the GFX 50R mainly for landscape photography, where the camera is usually on a tripod anyway, the restrictions are less relevant for me. I knew what I was getting into and I look at it optimistically – the camera slows me down in a very pleasant way.
In June 2021, I left on business for South Africa, where I’m now working for a few years. Besides the professional challenge, South Africa is a dream destination for me as a landscape photographer. The whole world in one country, that’s how you could describe South Africa. It has everything, from lively cities to diverse coastal landscapes, wine-growing areas, mountains, steppes and of course lots of wildlife. In early September, for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic started, I had the opportunity to go on a short photography trip. Out of the multitude of possibilities and due to limited time, I chose the Western Cape to photograph the coastal landscapes there. Consequently, I had planned to take my GFX 50R with me. However, as I like to have a second body with me, I asked Fujifilm South Africa if I could borrow a GFX 100S for the duration of the trip. Fujifilm was very open to my request and so I was given the camera and an additional GF 100-200mm on a trial basis. Thanks a lot again to all of you at Fujifilm South Africa!
This allowed me the opportunity to compare the GFX 100S and the GFX 50R in practical use and summarise my findings in a personal and therefore completely subjective review. The fact that the GFX 100S was made available to me free of charge in no way influenced my independent conclusions.
As in my report from 2017, the aim is not to compare facts and figures or resolution charts. For these purposes, there is a whole range of professional and elaborate test reports on the internet or on YouTube. I am only interested in how the two cameras feel to me personally in a direct comparison.
I wanted to answer the following questions with the practical use of the Fujifilm GFX 100S:
- Handling and operating concept: How does the camera feel compared to the GFX 50R?
- Image stabilizer: How does the handling of a medium format camera change when it has IBIS?
- Resolution and consequences in post processing: What is the advantage of the 100 megapixels of the GFX 100S compared to the 50 megapixels of the GFX 50R and how do you deal with such large image files in post processing?
Handling and operating concept
I would like to start with a size comparison. As you can see in the pictures below, the GFX 100S is significantly shorter than the GFX 50R. And even though the GFX 100S is the slightly heavier camera, it actually feels rather lighter. This may be because it simply feels better in the hand due to the larger handgrip.
Otherwise, it is clear from the pictures that the GFX 100S is an amazingly compact camera given its specs. And to be honest, for me it is also the much prettier camera of the two. What has always bothered me about the GFX 50R is that it has a bit of the look and the size of a brick. Only in combination with an L-angle with attached handgrip does the camera become reasonably “manageable” for me. In a direct comparison of the two cameras, this impression becomes even more obvious.
What I personally don’t like so much about Fujifilm’s more modern housings is the fact that physical dials are dispensed with in favour of shoulder displays. In addition, the remaining switches and dials offer functions (e.g. photo/video or PASM plus custom presets) that I personally select once at the beginning of a photo shoot and do not change again afterwards. Only in the rarest of cases would I want to switch, for example, between presets “Portrait”, “Landscape” and “Night Shot” from photo to photo. Not to be misunderstood, I think it’s good that there is the possibility to save presets. But I thought this functionality was well placed in the Q menu. For me personally, it does not necessarily have to be on a fixed control wheel. In return, the classic settings of speed, exposure compensation or ISO, which in case of doubt really change from photo to photo, were relegated to the multifunctional scroll wheels. Since there are only two wheels for three variables (ISO, exposure time, exposure compensation), I have to consider each time whether I’m changing ISO or exposure time when I turn the dial. Personally, I think this is the wrong way to go and a step backwards compared to the operating concept of the older models.
Whereas in 2017 I had written that the GFX 50S is a “high-precision measuring instrument” that also wants to be treated accordingly, this impression has become invalid with the GFX 100S. To cut a long story short, the image stabilizer is excellent. Sharp images can be produced even with slow handheld shutter speeds, and the GFX100S is therefore a camera that you can shoot handheld. And since Fujifilm mostly does fixed focal length lenses without an image stabilizer, this feature becomes all the more important. You can also hand over the camera to someone and ask them to take a picture of you. This is not to say that touristic snapshots are the preferred use of this camera, but the fact that it is possible shows what a huge step forward IBIS has made in handling and usability, especially for medium format.
When I’m out with my GFX 50R and the GF 30 mm, I’ll check the focus briefly after every shot because even at shutter speeds of 1/60s I can never be sure that I haven’t produced minimal blur. When using the GFX 100S, you can simply dispense with this control. The images are crisp as long as – as with every camera in this world – the shutter speed does not get too slow. In extreme cases, I managed to take sharp pictures even with a 1/8 second handheld shutter speed. This is simply not possible with the GFX 50R.
Resolution and consequences in post processing
Let’s move on to the exciting question of resolution. What are the photographic benefits of 100 megapixels, or are the large image files too much of a burden?
To cut a long story short, the resolution and the richness of detail in the images are simply phenomenal. It is enormous fun to surf around in the 100% view and enjoy the tiniest details that are razor-sharp. You discover subtleties in the pictures that you simply didn’t notice in the respective situation and in the picture composition. With some of the images I felt reminded of the so-called “hidden object pictures” in children’s books, which you can look at for a long time and always discover something new. Of course, it is always the interaction between the camera and the respective lens that determines the actual resolution. But the Fujifilm GF lenses I used were all capable of producing excellent image results in combination with this sensor.
Here’s an example of a 100% crop of a handheld shot at Arniston harbour:
GFX 100S, GF 45-100mm, 83mm, f/13, 1/120s, ISO100
There is a lot of talk in the reviews about the advantage of the medium format in general, but also that of a 100-megapixel sensor, especially for large prints. I can’t say anything about this myself since I haven’t made a print yet. But what I have experienced in practice as a further advantage over the 50-megapixel sensor is the fact that there is an increased “crop potential”. Even if I crop an image to 25% of its original size in post-processing, I still have a photo with 25 megapixels of resolution. For comparison: the APS-C sensor of the current X-series has approximately the same resolution. Now, one can justifiably argue that it shouldn’t be the point to crop the high-resolution images this much. That is certainly true, but in practice this option is nevertheless of great advantage, as the following example shows:
Handheld Shot: GFX100S, GF100-200mm, 109,3mm, f/5.6, 1/500s, ISO100
The photo was taken with the GFX 100S and the GF 100-200mm telephoto zoom lens. Converted to large format, the focal length of this lens is roughly 80mm to 160mm. That’s not exactly a lot when you’re out at sea and a whale suddenly appears in the distance. If I crop this image to 25% of its original size, I would have to use a telephoto lens of around 350mm (full format) to achieve a comparable resolution when using a camera with an APS-C sensor. And anyone who has ever photographed with a telephoto lens of this focal length knows how difficult it is to produce sharp images on a swaying ship, despite having image stabilization. The second problem is that when you see the whale at the surface and then bring the camera up to your eye, the field of view is so small with a long lens that it is difficult to even find the whale in the camera’s viewfinder before it has disappeared again. This is much easier with a shorter lens because the angle of view is larger. In this certainly unique, but for me real use case, I learned to appreciate the 100 megapixel sensor and its resolution. And as you can see in the example above, I cropped the image quite heavily.
Another question was regarding dynamic range and noise behaviour, since pixel size and spacing are of course much smaller with the 100MP sensor than with the 50MP sensor. Large pixels are generally more sensitive to light, which in principle should have a positive effect on dynamic range. I used both cameras side by side and did not notice any difference in the development of the images. For those interested in the technical details, I recommend the comparison charts from “Photons to Photos” (https://www.photonstophotos.net/Charts/PDR.htm), which confirm my gut feeling that the pixel pitch on the GFX 100S is identical to that of the X-T3, but delivers the expected higher dynamic range. Interestingly, the GFX 100S even delivers slightly better values than the GFX 50R in the relevant range up to around 3200 ISO. If the Fujifilm GFX 50R with its larger pixel pitch does not perform better, my guess would be that the more modern and newer sensor of the GFX 100S compensates for this disadvantage.
Another decisive factor for me personally was the question of how the post-processing of the images on the computer would turn out. If the considerable investment in a new camera were to be joined by an equally considerable investment in a new computer to deal with the files’ size, this would probably be a reason for me not to make such a purchase. In order not to let the image size grow to infinity, I photographed with the setting “lossless compressed” throughout my entire trip. The RAW files have a file size of around 100 MB per image. The image processing was done with Capture One 21 on a MacBook Pro from 2015 with 16 GB RAM. The import of the images was surprisingly quick. I didn’t sit next to the computer with a stopwatch and measure how quickly 50 images from the GFX 50R could be imported compared to 50 images from the GFX100S, but it felt similarly fast. When processing the images by operating the sliders in Capture One, I noticed a slightly delayed adjustment in the images now and then. I didn’t notice it as annoying, maybe as I had expected something worse, especially as my computer is not the newest. Using uncompressed RAW files in 16-bit, this may look different, as the file size is then over 200 MB per image.
Before making a purchasing decision, there is always one question left, how much does the fun cost? The list price of the GFX 100S is R105,000 for the body, which is only slightly above the level of the GFX 50S from 2017 (new list price at the time: R95,500 for the body). This means that you can now get a camera with IBIS, double the number of pixels, a significantly improved autofocus and an increased continuous shooting speed of 5 fps (which is remarkable, just imagine the amount of data to be processed per second) for only R9,000 more than in 2017. This is competitive pricing, as the sensor is 70% larger than the classic full-frame sensor.
And there is an alternative. In September last year, the GFX 50S II, a successor to the GFX 50S, was presented. It has the “old” 50-megapixel sensor of its predecessor or the GFX 50R (thus without improved autofocus and with a continuous shooting speed of 3 fps), but in the body of a GFX 100S and thus with IBIS. The list price is R74,000 for the body, which is about a third less than the price of the GFX 100S. With this, Fujifilm is not only challenging its medium format competitors, but also the high-resolution 35mm full-frame competition and is finally taking aim at the dedicated hobby photographers, like me, who have so far been using a smaller sensor size camera. It’s still undeniably a hell of a lot of money for both options, so everyone has to ask themselves whether the image quality is worth such an investment, not to mention the lenses, which are also a considerable burden on the budget.
What is my personal conclusion? The biggest advantage in handling the GFX 100S, apart from the ergonomically better housing, is clearly the built-in image stabilizer. In this respect, both the brand new GFX 50S II and the GFX100S should be a very good choice.
Since ambitious hobby photographers will probably only rarely produce high-resolution prints on a regular basis, the resolution of the 50-megapixel sensor should be completely sufficient in most cases. However, if you are willing to spend R31,000 more, you will get a more modern sensor with better autofocus, and, despite twice the number of pixels (and thus twice the amount of data to be processed), a significantly increased shooting speed.
I’m simply thrilled with the GFX 100S and only gave it back with a heavy heart. I like the body and the way the camera feels in the hand, although I’m not 100% convinced of the shoulder display operating concept. But my X-H1 has more or less the same concept and I got used to it. The image stabilizer is a blast and makes the camera a tool that feels almost light on its feet compared to my GFX 50R.
While I was still hesitant in 2017 about a potential purchase, the conclusion in 2021 is clear: If the wallet allows it and the performance of the “peripherals” (i.e., computer, image editing program and storage space) is up to it, then the GFX 100S is probably one of the best cameras you can currently buy in terms of price-performance ratio. Personally, having already owned the GFX 50R, a camera with the equally excellent 50-megapixel sensor, I prefer the GFX 100S to the GFX 50S II. I had the opportunity to also use the GFX 50S II for a weekend and take pictures with it. The GFX 50S II is undoubtedly an excellent camera, but if I am prepared to spend several thousand Rands on a camera body anyway, then the advantages of the GFX 100S mentioned above are personally worth the extra cash. I was already fascinated by the specs on paper, and it delivered. For me the Fujifilm GFX 100S is the ultimate tool for landscape photography.
PS: I purchased a GFX 100S shortly after the trip.
Find more of Joerg’s work on his blog: https://joergkemminer.zenfolio.com/blog