Tuesday, October 20

Chillout TGIF: Fujifilm GFX 100

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We come to the big mamma from Fujifilm. The GFX 100. Perhaps the most full featured camera in the medium format digital field. We had the camera and three lenses – the 23mm, the 50mm and the 120mm Macro on a review loaner, and because of the lockdown situation, enjoyed its use for the 3 months. Which enabled us to this in-depth review.

As mentioned, the I was assigned the GFX 100 with the lenses for a typical 2 week media review on March 31, but almost immediately after the loan was issued, Singapore went into Circuit Breaker on April 7- a lockdown mode where non-essential businesses were not allowed to open. The Circuit Breaker was further tightened on May 21, and partially lifted on June 2 and further relaxed on June 19. Fujifilm released a new firmware on June 30, so I kept the camera for a further two weeks and returned the system on July 18. I had the camera and lenses at my disposal for a total of about 3.5 months.

Fujifilm GFX 100

The Fujifilm GFX 100 was announced in Photokina 2018, along with the GFX 50R. Both announcements made waves. The GFX 50R for being the least expensive entry into the world of medium format digital, and the GFX 100 for its slew of technological advances, only previously seen in smaller formats. While the GFX 50R was delivered quite quickly, the initial market response to the GFX 100 overwhelmed the Fujifilm pipeline, and they were only able to begin consistent delivery from mid 2019, and even today, supply is still rather limited in many stores around the world. Though a quick search at mega stores like B&H, the GFX 100 could be found at full retail ex-stock.

The Fujifilm GFX 100 with the GF 23mm mounted.

The GFX boasts of a Sony sourced Back Side Illuminated (BSI) sensor with phase detection pixels. The GFX 100’s autofocus is a hybrid system using both phase and contrast detection. The phase detection autofocus system is the first in a mirrorless digital camera, as the competition like the Hasselblad X1D and X1DII, including Fujifilm’s own GFX 50R and 50S offer only contrast detection. Contrast detection is typically very accurate, but much slower than phase detect autofocus, though the latter requires more hardware to implement and thus more complicated. Medium Format DSLRs with mirror boxes like even the early H1D offer phase detect autofocus.

The Fujifilm GFX 100 with the lens removed, showing the 44mm x 33mm sensor. The sensor is suspended in its own servo controlled floating platform which is part of the IBIS system. Being able to provide 5.5 stops of stabilization is quite impressive, and when used with Optical Image Stablization lenses, this extends to 6.5 stops.

We have previously seen the BSI sensor in the Phase One IQ4 150 and Sony’s own full frame A7RmkIV. This is probably the same sensor wafer, but cut to different sizes for the current three commercial realizations – with Sony being full frame 36mm x 24mm, the Fujifilm GFX being a “crop” medium format at 44mm x 33mm (though Fujifilm calls the format Large Format, it is smaller than even the smallest medium format frame on 120 rollfilm – the so called 645 format which measures 56mm × 41.5mm) and the Phase One being a full 645 frame at 56mm x 40mm. This yields 63Mpix for the A7RmkIV, 101Mpix for the GFX 100 and 150Mpix for the IQ4 150.

Comparisons between FSI and BSI sensors. Image from Sony.

The camera is also the first medium format camera to feature In Body Image Stabilization (IBIS) offering a 5 axis stabilization for up to 5.5 stops. It has also the capability to do 4K/30P video recording with the full sensor without crop. The body also feature twin battery packs on the built in vertical grip (like the professional Canon 1dxmk3 and Nikon D4X cameras), dual SD slots, triple LCD displays including a tiltable high resolution main LCD, USB charging and power over USB C and a removable electronic viewfinder with a 5.76 Million dot OLED panel and 0.86x magnification. Very feature rich! And perhaps the most of any currently available medium format camera.

Lens ecosystem

The Fujinon series of GF lenses are shared across the GFX system, as all the GFX cameras use a 44mm x 33mm sensor size, the lens requirements are the same. The GF lens series are fully capable of resolving the 100Mpix sensor in the GFX100. The range currently comprise of 7 prime lenses offering focal lengths of 23mm, 45mm, 50mm, 63mm, 110mm, 120mm and 250mm. And three zooms 32-64mm, 45-100mm, 100-200mm. A 1.4X teleconverter and two macro extension tubes complete the package. The roadmap up to 2021 is as shown in the chart below, and in the current form, there does not seem to be a plan for a full 1:1 Macro lens or a tilt shift lens. The fastest lens is F2, though in the roadmap for 2021, there is a GF80 F1.7. But until then, the fastest is the GF110 F2, while quite fast for a medium format lens, is bested by the XCD 90/F1.9 from Hasselblad, and vintage lens from Mamiya, also 90mm F1.9. I also note that Fujifilm has filed a patent for the GF 90mm F1.4 lens, though we do not yet see it in the development plan!

In our loan kit, I had the 23mm which is a superb ultra wide angle lens, the 50mm which is the smallest and fastest in autofocus in the lineup, and the rather large but essential 120mm Macro. As mentioned before, this lens is not a true macro as it only goes to a maximum magnification of 0.5X, but can reach 1.04X with the use of the MCEX-45G extension tube. Our kit also included both extension tubes, the MCEX-45G and MCEX-18G.

In the review of the GFX 50R, I had the use of the 45mm together the the 120mm, and in the GFX 50S, the 32-64mm zoom lens as well as the 120mm. And this have used most of the primes and the wide zoom.

The entire Fujinon GF lens ecosystem is shared among all the GFX cameras. Shown here from LR is the 23mm, the 50mm and the 120mm.

The 23mm is a very wide angle lens, superb for interiors and architecture, and for crowded places…interesting of course, as during lockdown, there are no crowds anywhere, and the lens was put to good use to show expanse of space in malls and eateries. The 23mm has superb optics, the center of the image is very sharp even wide open, with very minor softness creeping in at the corners. The entire field is rather rectilinear, meaning straight lines remain straight and undistorted whether in the center or the frame sides, with only very slight aberrations in the very corners. Aberrations are to be expected in ultra wide lens with a huge 99.9° angle of view (full frame equivalent of 18mm), and the GF23 handles it very well.

Fujinon GF23mmF4 R LM WR

The 50mm is not only the smallest, and fastest to autofocus, but it is also the least expensive medium format lens in the market, retailing for S$1,499 with the US retail a mere US$999, but often discounted to US$499. It is a very nifty lens, and at 50mm, the field of view equivalent in full frame of about 35mm, making it a good all round lens. It is very versatile and is capable for macro use as when coupled with the MCEX45G extension tube, it projects an image 1.09X, a magnification even higher than the 1.04X achieved by the 120mm with MCEX45G. I also found that with the MCEX18G tube, it is ideal for taking self wrist shots – watch on left wrist being photographed by camera held be there right hand. The working distance is shorter, and require less cocking of the wrist to do a self wrist shot. The lens is very sharp, even wide open at F3.5, with sharpness improving from F5.6 till the diffraction limit.

Technical side note: Interestingly diffraction limit for the GFX 100 is one stop lower than for the GFX 50. By calculation, the diffraction limit of the GFX 100 with a pixel pitch of 3.76µ is at F12 (similar to the 3.48µ on my Panasonic GH-2) vs the GFX 50’s 5.31µ which places it at F17. Interestingly my Hasselblad H3D-39 has a pixel pitch of 6.8µ (F22). Note that the calculation is based on a formula that assumes perfect glass, and thus is a theoretical upper limit. In reality, resolving limits will be lower than calculated. However, I find that this matches my practice, and I shoot the GH-2 at F11 and the H3D at F22 with great results.

Fujinon GF50mmF3.5 R LM WR

In terms of balance with the camera body, I think the 50mm is perhaps particularly well suited as a part of an all round package with the GFX 50R.

I have already discussed the GF 120mm macro in detail in earlier GFX 50R and GFX 50S reviews. It remains a superbly sharp lens with little distortion. And will double up as a portrait lens for the tight head shot.

Usage notes

Bells and whistles

The GFX 100 is a major technological leap for medium format digital cameras, and it packs a wallop in the vast number of functions, and many have called it a game changer. The IBIS performs well, allowing hand held shots to be sharp at much lower shutter speeds than customary.

Autofocus performance is very good for a medium format camera. The dual mode system employing both phase detect and contrast detect is fast and accurate. The face and eye detection autofocus, while not state of the art when compared to say the Sony A7RIV works quite well. The GUI for choosing the between the 6 different modes, which include a workable continuous tracking mode is intuitive to use. Of course, due to the nature of medium format and the need to move massive glass, speed of autofocus is not comparable to smaller formats. For my use, in portraits and landscape/architecture/interiors, it is good enough. I rather like the slower work mode that a medium format camera forces one to be more zen like, contemplative and deliberate. So its horses for courses, as the GFX 100 is certainly not the tool for fast moving, energetic subjects like for sports or children.

Apple Store, Changi Airport Jewel.
A diptych made with two GFX 100 hand held frames pivoting the camera around my foot. GF 23 lens. Alignment is rather good, even though this was not taken on a tripod as images like these usually are
.

For macro work with watches, all these technical enhancements are somewhat less important, though still good to have. I shoot with a flash which freezes motion or on a tripod, especially for a heavy body/lens combination, so IBIS is not essential. And manual focus the norm for most macro photography, though I do occasionally use autofocus, and its great when I do.

Form factor

The body is a typical DSLR form factor, with a bulge for the Electronic Viewfinder (EVF), which is removable. The camera can function without the EVF, and framing is done with the main rear LCD. It can also be equipped with a Tilting Adapter to allow the viewfinder which allows it to be tilted vertically and horizontally. I did not get to try the EVF-T11 adapter. The included EVF is large covering 100% of the frame, and is very high resolution 5.67M dots. I found the EVF to be bright, detailed and excellent to compose. For macro work, I frequently use the magnify to 100%, available at the push of a button, for critical focus. This is an great feature which works a treat. This is not possible with an optical viewfinder like those in DSLRs.

The GFX 100 is rather large and heavy. The body alone weighs 1,400g inclusive of both batteries, EVF and SD cards. This makes it almost as heavy as the Hasselblad H6D-100c which comes in at 1633g. The H6D has a detachable digital back while the GFX 100’s is fixed.

The GFX 100 is blessed (or cursed, depending on your perspective) with a plethora of buttons everywhere on the body. Almost all the buttons are customizable by the user using the menu system. I find the menu to be rather familiar, after using the GFX 50S and GFX 50R, and it is easy to navigate.

The vertical grip, so called because it becomes the grip when the camera is oriented vertically is a smooth block of plastic, which does not feel as good as the regular grip. I understand it is needed to House all the electronics and also act as a heat sink, but would much have preferred if it was designed to look and feel like the regular grip. Like the integrated vertical grips of the Canon and Nikon professional cameras.

The vertical grip is seen as the smooth grey slab below the lens mount. This is contrasting to the ergonomically designed, textured horizontal (standard) grip on the right of the bayonet mount. Image source: Fujifilm.

The GFX 100 form factor means that it has a rather small footprint, and this makes it a bit off balanced. The camera is not able to sit on a tabletop with a lens attached on its own without tipping over. This is true for any of the lenses mounted, but particularly so with the 50mm.

Top of the GFX 100 showing the removable EVF in the centre, and a bw sub-monitor LCD screen. The screen can toggle between 4 information display modes.

Ver 2.0 Firmware update

And with the latest firmware update to Ver 2.0, the GFX 100 is updated to support more film simulation modes, improved low light autofocus, added video functionality and for us the all imporant automated focus stacking tool, which Fujifilm calls Focus Bracketing.

Official Fujifilm Firmware Update video.

However, the ease of use of this tool in the first generation leaves quite a bit to be desired, as it is not intuitive to use. The menu is overly fussy to use, with seemingly randomly assigned buttons to set the near and far points. To make matters worse, once you enter the Automated Focus Bracketing tool, pushing the wrong button exits the tool. I found this to be frustrating to use, even though I am already very familiar with the manual Focus Bracketing Tool in the GFX. We covered the manual Focus Stacking in our GFX 50R review. And I have taught a class on GFX Focus Stacking in 2019.

The main rear LCD. The GFX 100 also has a rear sub-monitor which can be used for stationary data. The data fields are user programmable.

In contrast, the Phase One XF Focus Stacking tool is intuitive, easy to use, and allows for manual over ride. The manual over ride is important because the system optimizes its calculation for the number of frames needed using the smallest Circle of Confusion (CoC) for the sharpest and maximum sized prints (which given that these are 100Mpix and 150Mpix sensors, are really large!). This yields a very large number of frames (often 100 frames or above), which is good for large prints, but overkill for others. Especially for magazine work, smaller art prints and web when typically 20 frames will do the trick. The XF provides a manual over ride. The GFX system (the update is applicable to all the 3 GFX cameras) is automatic only or manual only. And the setup is so complicated, that I gave up, and shot Focus Bracketing only in Manual Mode.

I am hopeful that a later firmware release will fix this ease to use issue with Focus Bracketing.

Flash sync

The big negative often quoted by photographers is that flash sync is only up to a maximum of 1/125s, as the GFX 100 uses a focal plane shutter over the massive sensor. This is particularly so because the competition from Hasselblad, Phase One, or Leica offerings which offer leaf shutters which can sync at all speeds. This is a very useful feature for portraiture, especially outdoors in bright sunlight, but also for throwing backgrounds into darkness when used with strobes in a studio. However, I can live with 1/125s, so that is not really a major disadvantage.

Fujifilm GFX 100 horizontal grip is contoured and feels comfortable on the hand, affording a good purchase over the textured finish that there is little fear of the heavy camera slipping away. The same cannot be said for the vertical grip (not shown), which is a cuboid slab attached to the bottom of the body.

Dynamic range and ISO

Dynamic range and ISO performance is excellent. The BSI CMOS sensor being superbly capable. I will feature more images made with the GFX 100 next week, but will leave you with this image. Taken at ISO 51,200. The image as shot was much darker, but the dynamic range of the sensor has a large enough latitude to pull up the shadows while preserving colour detail and accuracy. The dark areas do show some chroma noise, but this is not severe, and Capture One is able to handle it well. At web sizes, it is difficult to discern the noise from under exposing at high ISO.

Next week: more sample images from the GFX 100 and lenses.

File sizes

Curiously, at 100Mpix, the raw Fujifilm files in .RAF format is quite large, hovering around 200MB each, similar to the .3FR files from the Hasselblad H6D-100c. In comparison, the 150Mpix files from the Phase One IQ4 150 .IIQ files are specified at about 190MB (more pixels but smaller file), and in practice, I usually find the files even smaller than 140MB. This is a major consideration when crossing over to the 100Mpix sensor range as one will need to consider computer storage and processing power.

Competitive landscape

The only competition in the 100Mpix sweepstakes are the Hasselblad H6D-100c and the Phase One XF IQ4 100 Trichromatic. Both of these bodies are at least 3 times more expensive than the GFX 100. Hasselblad HC/HCD and Schneider Kreuznach lenses used in the respective systems are also much more expensive than comparable GF counterparts. So a GFX 100 system quickly becomes much less expensive than the competition. The GFX 100 has the added ability to use a myriad of adapted lenses from vintage medium to modern and vintage full frame lenses due to the short flange distance of the mirrorless design. More two paragraphs below.

The IQ4 100 features a rather special trichromatic sensor which is claimed to offer better colour acuity. Neither have BSI sensors, dual mode autofocus, nor IBIS. However, both are DSLRs with optical finders and both offer leaf shutter lenses, with flash sync at all shutter speeds, while the GFX 100 only sync at 1/125s.

The GFX 100 body is also rather heavy, almost as heavy as the H6D-100c and XF IQ4 100, so the advantage of being mirrorless is perhaps less apparent. And while the form factors of these camera bodies are different as they are bulkier, they do sit rather better balanced in my hands than the GFX 100.

Although in defense of mirrorless systems, it must be argued that the flange distance on mirrorless bodies is smaller as it does not need to accommodate a mirror assembly needed for the DSLR. With this, lens design is less compromised. This is seen in the excellent GF lenses, although HC/HCD lenses and Schneider Kreuznach lenses are also in the same league, though at a much higher price point.

Flange distances of the GFX system. Both the H6D and XF need an additional 50mm or so of flange.

In practice, the GFX 100, the H6D-100c, and the XF IQ4 100 and their associated lens ecosystems are top flight cameras, and performance differences in image quality are very small. One cannot go wrong with any. The choice is a matter of budget (major factor. GFX is the least expensive option), feature set needed and more personal ones like form factor, handling comfort and the all important X factor which makes you want to bring the camera out to shoot. And of course, support from the dealer and manufacturer. Fujifilm is perhaps the best supported in Singapore, with a whole team at hand.

Concluding thoughts

The Fujifilm GFX 100 is a mixed bag for me. The camera is obviously very capable and technologically full featured. The IBIS, autofocus are leaps and bounds beyond what is offered by the competition. ISO performance and dynamic range is stupendous, though not extraordinary and mostly in line with the competition.

The image quality is certainly superbly excellent. The 100Mpix files are clean and detailed and can be printed to enormous sizes without degradation. But as noted in the diffraction technical notes, the small pixel pitch of the sensor reaches its limit earlier than sensors with larger pixel pitch.

And in the final analysis, the GFX 100 is very modestly priced at S$14,999 for body only, and it comes with excellent support of the Fujifilm Singapore team.

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