22 October 2019
Last Tuesday was the first day in living memory not dominated by the presence of torrential rain, so – armed with a Fujifilm GFX100, GF110mm and GF32-64mm zoom, as well as some rather nice Lee filters all in a trusty Domke messenger bag – I left the office and headed to Sheffield Park.
Sheffield Park, known for its annual displays of brilliant autumnal colours, would I thought make the ideal location to try out the new 100 megapixel medium-format beast that is the GFX100. I was however filled with a degree of trepidation about expressing my opinions on this camera, mainly because it is obviously designed to bring that Nth degree of sharpness to ‘proper photographers’ at the top of their game – think landscapes, architecture, portraiture. This was daunting because I am certainly not a professional, at most I’m a professional amateur! Nevertheless, I thought I would channel my inner Thomas Heaton and get out there, seeing if Fujifilm have managed to make this kind of format accessible, even to a novice like me.
The headlines with the GFX100 are that it has 102 megapixels (GFX102 obviously not sleek enough), has a medium format sensor (1.7x larger than its full frame competitors) and costs in the region of £10,000. 10K is a lot of money, there’s no escaping that. You could get a tidy used VW Golf for this kind of money but that’s not really the point. The only other camera that immediately comes to mind when I think of 100 megapixels is the Hasselblad H6D-etc which goes for around £31,000, so with this in mind, the Fujifilm doesn’t look so bad.
Back to Sheffield Park and I had found a secluded lake, free from prying eyes in case I made a fool of myself and dropped something. I set up tripod, camera, filters and snapped a photo. Although I didn’t know what I was doing, I was thoroughly enjoying the process of slotting the filters in, rotating the polariser, checking the focus and clicking the little remote trigger.
A few photos in and I was finding the big Fujifilm surprisingly easy to use. Having used an X-T3 before, I was familiar with the menu systems which are quite logically laid out in comparison to some of the competition. This meant that it was a quick process to get everything set up how I wanted it with regards to focus and quality settings as well as custom controls. After reading some other articles I was not expecting much from the autofocus but I was impressed with its speed and sure-footedness. Sure, it wasn’t the snappiest system I have used – and I wouldn’t want to bet on its tracking capability – but for a big, medium format camera it was really rather good. Of course, being locked-off on a tripod meant that I was manually focusing, which was also nice and easy as a quick press of the rear control dial punched the image in to a point at which you could make sure things were pin sharp. Another feature not needed in the park but that made this camera so much easier to use everywhere else was the in-body stabilisation. I think Fujifilm have done a great job in including these creature comforts in a camera of this level as they are what help to make this feel like a far more mainstream camera. Good stuff.
Physical controls are where the GFX100 slightly lets the side down... Slightly. As many are saying, if you are used to using other models in the Fujifilm line up you are used to lovely analogue controls for shutter speed, ISO, aperture etc but these are sadly omitted here. Instead, we have two assignable dials, and a selection of function buttons on the front, top and rear of the body alongside the standard issue focus point nubbin. On the GFX100 however, this focus nubbin is the sole means of navigating the menus with no D-pad present. While these things are no real hardship, I can’t help but feel Fujifilm could have done a better job with the ergonomics. While other Fujifilm cameras such as the XT3 and X100F are a pleasure to hold and use, the GFX100 is merely ‘fine’. It does the job, that’s for sure, but it doesn’t spark nerdy joy like others can.
This leads on to the other slight issue I have with the GFX100. For £10,000 it doesn’t feel particularly premium or tank-like to use – despite the magnesium body. A 1DX feels sturdier and it cannot match an old Pentax K3 for delightfully logical design. Some of the switchgear on the Fujifilm feels a little on the spongey side and like a slightly rushed job. Don’t get me wrong though, you get used to these things and it did little to counteract the good points of this camera’s shooting experience.
On the flipside (pardon the pun) the tilt-flip screen offered a good degree of articulation and felt positive to use. I also really liked the ability to display a histogram on the top-panel screen, meaning it didn’t have to clutter up the main LCD.
Image quality is really what this camera is all about and it does not disappoint. To put it simply, I have yet to experience better images straight out of a camera than this. You have a good selection of quality settings, with RAW compressed and un-compressed options and the ability to choose between 14bit and 16bit colour. To my amateur eye, I could not see the difference between the two settings on my 5K iMac screen in the office so I would probably just stick with 14bit for the smaller file sizes. You also have the ability to convert files to TIFF in-camera, which is handy and, if you really are in a hurry, then the JPEGS this thing kicks out are brilliant, using one of Fuji’s famous film simulation settings.
Once back at the office, I dumped everything into Lightroom and began to have a play. I was really pleased with the amount of detail you could pull out of the shadows without the image looking tired.
And of course the massive resolution meant you could do some quite serious cropping, free from anxiety – should you feel the need; In the original image you can see there are some blurred folk on the bridge (resulting from my incompetence), hence why I ended up cropping in on the Willow.
Worth a mention at this point is that despite the physical size of the GFX100 and the accompanying GF lenses and Lee filters, I had no problems carrying this load around on my shoulder for the good 3-4 hours I spent wandering the conifers. I was genuinely surprised by this and think that – had my feet not had other ideas – I could have easily wandered for the rest of the afternoon. Yes, I’m 21 and sound like an old man.
I really enjoyed trying my hand at some ‘proper’ photography, choosing to put a little thought into each shot rather than just snapping away and ending up with hundreds of files. There was an almost ritualistic satisfaction in finding a spot, getting out the tripod, clipping on the filter holder and sliding the filters in before attaching the remote release and fine tuning the focus. I had gone with a Gitzo tripod, as we had one available, and took a Lee 105mm landscape polariser and ProGlass 10 stop IRND. We didn’t have a Fuji-specific shutter release, however I found the basic Canon 2.5mm remote (linked below) did the job of triggering the shutter just fine, so worth bearing in mind.
So, have Fujifilm managed to make 100 megapixels and medium format friendly to us normal folk? I would say yes. The GFX100 felt much like any other mirrorless camera (albeit a bit larger in the hand) and that in itself is an achievement. The autofocus was strong given the context, there were plenty of creature comforts to aid the familiar feel of the camera and of course the image quality was pretty much peerless. There is certainly the argument that the pixel-shift feature found in other cameras can match, even outperform, the GFX100 for absolute detail but these features are only really useful in some situations (e.g. perfectly static subjects) whereas here you have 102 megapixels on tap at any moment, it’s easy. The main negative factor for many is the price. At £10,000, no matter how straightforward you make the camera to use, it means close to nothing if you price the camera out of the reach of most of the people who would benefit from that. As a hire camera however – which is of course what we are interested in – the GFX100 makes a great deal more sense. By renting one, you can finally experience this level of performance in a familiar package but without the outlay. I can totally see this camera getting booked by people who either want to try one first hand before deciding to part with such a large sum of cash, or those that have an especially big job in the pipeline which justifies the step up in resolution but who won’t need it for every shoot. Perhaps lastly, there will be those who, like me, are simply curious to try out a camera they may never own themselves and have an enjoyable morning of pretending to be something they are not.
Full resolution, sample images can be downloaded, HERE.