Fujifilm GFX 50S Gordon Laing, January 2017

Fujifilm GFX 50S preview

NEW: Fujifilm GFX 50S sample images

The Fujifilm GFX 50S is a medium format mirrorless camera with a 51.4 Megapixel sensor that's 1.7 times larger than the full-frame 35mm format. Announced in September 2016, it's the first model in Fujifilm's new GFX system, aimed at photographers who want the ultimate in image quality. It also represents Fujifilm's solution for resolutions higher than 24 Megapixels which it believes is the practical limit for the APS-C sensors employed in its X-series.

GFX is the first medium format mirrorless system with a focal plane shutter. This eliminates the need for leaf shutters to be built-into lenses, allowing more compact models to be designed, although it can still also work with lenses featuring leaf shutters - adapters for other systems are likely to come. The GFX system introduces a new G-mount which, thanks to the mirrorless design, supports very short flange-back and rear-focus distances; these in turn allow optical designs that deliver wide coverage with minimal distortion and sharp details into the corners at all apertures. Fujifilm promises six new lenses in 2017, the standard 63mm f2.8 (50mm equivalent) prime and 36-64mm f4 (25-51mm equiv) zoom at launch in early 2017, followed by the 120mm f4 OIS Macro by mid 2017, then the 45mm f2.8 (35mm equiv), 110mm f2 (87mm equiv) and 23mm f4 (18mm equiv) by the end of the year. All are weather-sealed and employ fly-by-wire electronic focusing like X-mount lenses.

The first GFX body is the 50S: it's fairly compact for a medium format camera, sharing a similar profile to a full-frame DSLR and weighing 920g with battery and electronic viewfinder. The viewfinder can be removed to further reduce the form factor and weight if desired, while also allowing accessories to be mounted inbetween - including a neat platform which can tilt or rotate it. The 3.2in touchscreen shares the same articulation as the XT2, allowing it to tilt vertically, or hinge out to the side for easier composing in the portrait orientation. The GFX 50S also features a weatherproof body with twin SD card slots, built-in Wifi, 1080p video, 3fps continuous shooting, HDMI output, mic and headphone jacks. I've had the chance to shoot with a pre-production body and my first impressions are below. Also check out my Fujifilm GFX 50S sample images!

Fujifilm GFX 50S video overview

Fujifilm GFX 50S sample video: handheld with 63mm / 1080 / 25p
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Sample movie filmed with a pre-production Fujifilm GFX 50S medium format body and 63mm f2.8 lens handheld at 1080 / 25p. I don't recall the exact ISO, but it was fairly high, in the order of 3200 ISO.

Fujifilm GFX 50S hands-on first impressions

I had the chance to shoot with a pre-production GFX 50S at a Fujifilm event. Fujifilm was keen to stress it was a pre-production sample, but the bodies and lenses I used behaved well on the day and the output was very impressive. You can see my full resolution samples and a comparison of the noise throughout the sensitivity range. I'll continue here with my first impressions based on shooting with it for a day.

First, who is it for? Fujifilm is aiming the GFX at photographers who demand the highest quality, typically shooting for billboards or high-end magazines. It also addresses the question of where Fujifilm can go with X-series beyond 24 Megapixels as the company stated this resolution is already close to practical limits of optics when using an APS-C sensor. The jump to full-frame wouldn't have provided significant benefits over APS-C, so since any new system would require a new mount and new lenses anyway, the additional leap to medium format made more sense - especially with the company's heritage in this market.

Indeed the GFX aesthetic shares the DNA of both the recent X-series and the distant medium format film cameras of the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties. You can see elements of both in the new format, although equally it has a style of its own. In terms of size, the debut GFX 50S is fairly compact for a medium format camera and from the front shares a similar profile to a full-frame DSLR like a Canon EOS 5D or Nikon D810. With the viewfinder mounted and battery inserted, you're looking at a weight of 920g, but slide the viewfinder off for screen or tethered based composition and it'll reduce to 825g and present a surprisingly small flat-topped profile measuring 148x94mm and 91mm thick.

In your hands the GFX 50S feels solid and comfortable with a very generous grip featuring a deep dent for your middle finger. Coupled with a very pronounced thumb rest and sloping corner, it fits comfortably and securely into your hands, allowing you to hold it very steady. It needs to though, as the lenses are obviously much larger and heavier than the X-series. I'm also pleased to report the body and lenses are weather-proof, so it's equally at home outside as it is in the studio.

The top surface is very reminiscent of X-bodies like the XT2 with the dedicated ISO dial and shutter dial flanking the left and right sides of the viewfinder; indeed if you're familiar with X-series bodies, you'll be immediately at home with the controls and menus. Like the XT2, both dials feature locking buttons, although the dials themselves are a little taller. There isn't an exposure compensation dial on the GFX 50S, instead you can use the front command dial to make these adjustments.

In the upper right corner of the GFX 50S you'll also find a small LCD display panel which shows basic shooting information - shutter, aperture, exposure compensation, ISO, drive, film simulation etc - and remains visible even when the camera is turned off. It provides a very handy reminder at a glance.

As noted earlier, the viewfinder can be detached to present a smaller form factor. The decision to make the viewfinder removeable isn't unusual for medium format bodies, but as an electronic viewfinder, it provides intriguing possibilities in a digital mirrorless system. Most obviously it hints at possible upgraded finders in the future, although Fuji wouldn't be drawn on that. They did however show an optional accessory that slides inbetween the viewfinder and the camera and allows the viewfinder to tilt up and also rotate from side to side - particularly handy if you're in a tight spot. I also like that you can remove the viewfinder altogether and shoot with the screen alone if you want to reduce the size and weight.

In terms of the viewfinder panel itself, Fujifilm has pulled out the stops with a very high resolution 0.5in OLED panel sporting 3.69 Million dots and a generous 0.85x magnification (35mm equivalent). This means the viewfinder image is both larger and more detailed than the already fabulous experience delivered by the XT2 - it's an absolute joy to use, enhanced further by the fact the camera's native 4:3 aspect ratio matches the shape of the panel, allowing images in composition and playback to fill the view.

In another nod to the XT2, the GFX 50S inherits the same screen mounting, allowing it to tilt vertically up or down, or hinge out to the side for easier framing in the portrait orientation. In an upgrade over the XT2 though, the panel is larger at 3.2in and now touch-sensitive. Touch capabilities not only allow you to reposition the AF area quickly and easily, but Fujifilm's also supported a number of gesture-based options: in playback you can swipe through images as well as pinching to zoom, but during composition, a flick up or down will present live histograms and highlight alerts, a double-tap presents an enlarged view, and you can also use it to navigate the Q-menu as well as input characters. I know there's been some resistance to touch-screens by Fujifilm in the past, but I'm delighted to find it here and the extended implementation works well.

On the left side you'll find a number of flaps covering a plethora of ports. The GFX 50S features USB-3, HDMI, microphone and headphone jacks and a DC power input, while behind a hatch on the same side you'll find the battery compartment for the NP-T125 Lithium Ion pack, rated at 400 stills or over an hour of 1080p video.

On the right side you'll find twin SD memory card slots, and there's also built-in Wifi with the same remote control, geo-tagging and image transfer capabilities as the recent X-bodies. Wired-tethering is also possible with a Lightroom Plug-in that will be available at launch.

Inside is the brand new CMOS sensor designed by Fujifilm with specially shaped micro-lenses and an optimized silicon process; due to the size it employs a traditional Bayer colour filter array rather than the company's own X-Trans design. The GFX format defines a sensor size of 43.8x32.9mm and the first model delivers 51.4 Megapixel images with 8256x6192 pixels. Numerically this is essentially the same as the full-frame Canon EOS 5DS(r), and it's also not a huge leap on from the 42 Megapixels of the Sony A7r Mark II, but thanks to the larger sensor area, the pixels are larger (so lower noise and higher dynamic range), the pressure on the resolving power of the lenses is lessened, and of course there's a different perspective for the same field of view.

The native aspect ratio is 4:3, but multiple alternatives are available, albeit with cropping. There's 45.4 Megapixels at 3:2, 38.6 Megapixels at 16:9, 25.2 Megapixels at 65:24, 48 Megapixels at 5:4, and 38.3 Megapixels at 1:1. Processing is handled by an X-Processor Pro which offers the usual Film Simulations I've grown to love on the X-series including ACROS and a new Chrome option. The maximum burst speed is 3fps and the camera will also film video, albeit at a maximum of 1080 / 30p.

In front of the sensor is a focal plane shutter, the first time one has been deployed on a medium format mirrorless. This means no need for leaf shutters in the lenses, which in turn makes them simpler and smaller. It also allows the body to offer shutter speeds up to 1/4000, and the mechanical shutter sound is pretty quiet. That said, it will be possible to use the GFX 50S with leaf-shutter lenses and while I didn't get the impression there'd be any native ones anytime soon, there are lots of opportunities to adapt other models. There's also an electronic shutter option up to 1/16000.

The GFX format has a very short flange-back distance of 26.7mm and can accommodate an even shorter minimum back-focus distance of 16.7mm. This means the rear element of lenses can be just 16.7mm from the sensor's surface, allowing flexible optical designs, that are especially beneficial for wide-angle lenses.

Fujifilm promises six lenses in 2017, the standard 63mm f2.8 prime (50mm equivalent) and 36-64mm f4 zoom (25-51mm equiv) at launch in early 2017, followed by the 120mm f4 OIS Macro by mid 2017, then the 45mm f2.8 (35mm equiv), 110mm f2 (87mm equiv) and 23mm f4 (18mm equiv) by the end of the year. All are weather-sealed and employ fly-by-wire electronic focusing like X-mount lenses. Fujifilm also claims they are designed to deliver sufficient resolution for 100 Megapixel sensors in the future.

There's no embedded phase-detect AF on the sensor, so autofocus is entirely contrast-based. That said, it still felt quite snappy on the pre-production sample I tried, with the handling experience feeling similar to many X-series bodies. Indeed with many controls, menus and composition inherited from the X-series, any existing owners will feel right at home - as a long-term XT1 and now XT2 owner, I got straight to work with the 50S with no delay and I can certainly see many X-series owners considering the 50S as a high-end complement to an existing system.

That's it for now, but check out my Fujifilm GFX 50S sample images!

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