Just Spending Some Time Reminding Myself What It Was I Really Liked About Medium Format....

 ©Kirk Tuck.

A Few Thoughts About Fuji's GFX100 and Why I Think This Product Will Change the Commercial Photography Industry (while blunting the sale of high end 35mm sensor cameras).

If the GFX100 performs close to its specifications and features list this camera has the potential to change the higher end of mass photography. It's less expensive, in inflation adjusted dollars, than previous flagship cameras from both Nikon and Canon and it also promises a return to greater control over depth of field, focus ramping and other optical signatures that professionals enjoyed when photographing with medium format cameras in the days of film. While it's true that Leica (S series) and Phase One have continued to offer cameras with the same sensor size they've been priced high enough to be out of reach for a vast number of photographers who still struggle to recover from the downturn ten years ago and the more recent collapse of parts of the overall market for images. Getting a camera down into this price point, along with an accessible selection of good lenses, means that photographers who are able to stretch a bit, financially, will have a system that helps to differentiate them from the majority of practitioners.

There are a number of features that make the GFX100 more desirable to more users than the more expensive offerings from Phase One and Leica. These include in body image stabilization that promises up to 5.5 stops of anti-shake improvement. It's the first of the medium format cameras to offer truly useful focus tracking and it also provides a feature that I think has been the "missing link" for current medium format digital cameras; a great EVF. The camera features Fuji's really good color profiles and, while some people might disparage the use of a 100MP camera to shoot Jpegs (in order to use the DR expansion and color profiles) I would say that they are blinded by the megapixel count and overlooking the fact that the real strength of the larger sensor, for most people, is the different look the longer focal lengths give for the same angle of view.

My first question, when looking at the camera specs was, "Is there a reduced raw file size?" I'd love to shoot raw files at half the camera's maximum resolution while maintaining the potential to blow a client's mind with the full 100 MP resolution for highly detailed shots (not portraits) that would be used at very large sizes.

I'm seriously considering scraping together the cash to get this camera to use as a dedicated portrait camera. I would acquire the camera body and one lens; the 110 mm f2.0. With this sensor size that lens is the equivalent (angle of view) of an 85 to 90mm lens on a smaller format camera, like a Sony A7xx.
With a system like this I'd be able to get back to the look I shot for well over a decade when using Hasselblad and Rollei cameras with lenses from 110mm f2.0 (Zeiss Planar) to the 180mm f4.0 (Zeiss Planar) as well as the more esoteric lenses created for the focal plane series of the Hasselblads, like the 150mm f2.8. I'd spend something like $13,000 for the combination but it would put me right into the sweet spot of the style I made a living with for many years.

I'd continue to use the Fuji X series APS-C cameras for all the things that require fast, light cameras with a wide and high quality selection of lenses.

I applaud Fuji for design touches like the virtual control wheels in the top LCD and the permanent base with room for two higher capacity batteries. There are a few things that I'd change; especially if I were to buy the camera in order to do video. The biggest of these would be to make the HDMI socket a full sized one instead of a micro-HDMI. But all in all, from what I've seen and read, Fuji seems to have gotten a lot of stuff right.

We can argue forever about the price but if the camera allows one to market their imaging business as a top line supplier instead of an interchangeable commodity then the camera investment should pay back the photographer in a handful of bigger production projects.

My company had one project last year that would have paid for the camera, a selection of lenses and still yielded enough profit to also pay the mortgage and all the bills.

Will I rush out to buy one the minute the GFX100 becomes available? Naw. I have too much other stuff on my plate right now. I'm spending a lot of time with my father (hospice is great) and dealing with the extended family's business and financial stuff. But once the camera has been out for a while, in the real world, I'm sure I'll stumble into the spiderweb of desire that Fuji is effectively weaving and end up with one on the top of my favorite tripod. In the meantime I'm still trying to become perfectly comfortable with my 90mm f2.0 on the X-H1.

This is a turning point for working photographers. While the GFX has all the gingerbread people want (phase detect AF, Face AF, AF points across the frame, Super High resolution, and IBIS) the reality is that if your real rationale for owning a camera with this sensor size (geometry, not MP) you can dip down in the Fuji line up of three cameras (all using the same lens mount and batteries) and grab a 50R and a great lens for a little over $5,000 and get the same look for portrait work. All of a sudden medium format digital is accessible to a lot more people than it was two years ago. And it may shine a guiding light forward for camera makers like Nikon who desperately need to regain their old position (branding) as tools made for professionals.

The bittersweet part of all this is that the profit in the business has almost been completely sucked out by changes in media, the economy, crowdsourcing, and ever changing advertising and marketing. I guess the real question is, "Will there continue to be a place in paid work of ever higher quality or would we be better off learning how to make decent work with our phones."

Since I'm past the mid-point in my career I'll vote for optimism. Perhaps recklessly exuberant image quality will be the next big trend. It would certainly be novel across most of today's media.

To the last point in my headline: How will this affect Sony, Nikon, Canon and Panasonic with their lines of high resolution, full frame cameras? If the mantra we always hear when full frame users slag smaller formats ("Clients deserve the very best image quality you can deliver!") holds true and the internet is suddenly full of great work from the larger format cameras, more and more aspiring professionals will want to acquire the bigger format cameras to assuage their own self-doubts. Why invest in a format that anyone can own if you can differentiate yourself with a larger format which would prove the point you've been trying to make to APS-C and Micro4:3 users all the time on the forums? (Not that I think this rationale holds water...).

All kidding aside I think people will see a difference in quality and style. Not necessarily driven by more megapixels but by the different optical effects of larger lenses for the same angles of view. That, and with the 50 megapixel MF cameras, a larger pixel size per overall resolution. Being about to buy a 50 megapixel MF camera for the same or a bit more than a Sony A7Riii or a Nikon D850 AND having a clear upgrade path to the higher resolution/ higher performance body should encourage a lot of photographers to make some hard decisions about what might help them drive their businesses forward. I can tell you right this minute that if my choice was between a high res 35mm style camera or a camera with the same res and a bigger sensor for nearly the same outlay I would not hesitate to go with the bigger sensor.

Am I suggesting that VSL readers rush out and acquire one of these new GFX cameras? Only if you want one. I still firmly believe that most stuff can be well photographed with a one inch super zoom camera from Sony. Can be done even better with a good APS-C system and can be done almost as well with a full frame camera (compared to an MF). Technique, vision and creativity continue to be the defining metrics of success. A new camera might give you new ways to express yourself but it's not going to suddenly make everything you currently point a camera at look magically better. That's down to you and your skills.