Fujifilm Resets the Table (again) with the GFX 100S
First, we should not be surprised that this has happened. It was inevitable. In the name of progress, it was inevitable. We also should not be surprised that Fuji is responsible. Fuji has a rich tradition of medium format cameras, with historically relevant cameras ranging from 645 bodies to 6×9 rangefinders, 6×17 panoramic cameras, 6×8 tilt/shift cameras and more. Their lenses have always been highly regarded, and they also collaborated on the Hasselblad H system. And they are a huge company. They dwarf the size of most of their competitors.
But with digital came a comeuppance. Before the GFX 50S was launched in November 2016, digital medium format was dominated by Phase One and Hasselblad. Fuji was nowhere to be found. Before the launch of the X100 APS-C digital rangefinder camera in 2011, the future of Fuji’s continuing presence as a photographic innovator was a question mark in the minds of the photographic consumer market. Seriously – I didn’t even think of Fuji, they didn’t matter.
The GFX 50S splashed all that water out of the pool. In 2017, what the GFX 50S brought to market was digital medium format cameras at a price point that was eminently approachable at $6,499. Hasselblad had pre-launched their own 50mp mirrorless solution (the beautiful X1D camera) in 2016 at $8,995. And here was Fuji launching their own mirrorless version of that same venerable 50mp, 44mm x 33mm sensor for $2,500 less. Hasselblad eventually moved closer to the GFX 50S line in the sand price with the X1D II at $5,750. But by then Fuji had moved the goalposts again with the GFX 50R coming in at $4,490. Now, before we go too much further, let’s make it clear, while the cameras from Fuji and Hasselblad share the same 50mp sensor, the camera systems take quite a different approach, and both have their pros and cons. Hasselblad will be heard from. But Fuji is the one moving the price bar.
Move to May 2019, and Fuji drops the GFX 100, a 102mp camera at a then unheard of price point of $9,999. Before this, no one offered 100+mp solutions other than Hasselblad and Phase One, and nothing lower than $20,000. The GFX 100 sported a smaller sensor than the 54mm x 40mm sensor solutions from Hasselblad and Phase One, but still larger than 35mm. And starting at less than half the price of Hasselblad and Phase One out of the box, it got people’s attention. The marketplace for digital camera formats has now evolved into 23mm x 18mm, 36mm x 24mm, 44mm x 33mm, 54mm x 40mm. And at 44mm x 33mm, pricing has become substantially desirable, considering the historically high price points of the past.
But Fuji is not done, and we now have, as of today, the $5,999 Fuji GFX 100S, a smaller camera than the GFX 100 (no built-in vertical grip), but sporting the same 102mp sensor and most of the same specifications as the more expensive (by $4,000) GFX 100. Indeed, if the GFX 100 and the GFX 100S were the same price, I don’t know how many would still choose the original GFX 100. It is a larger, heavier camera. It has a menu organizational structure that some of my clients have referred to as …. maddening. Early word on the GFX 100S user interface points to at least a bit of improvement. The GFX 100 slippery vertical grip hasn’t many fans, other than for the 2 battery capacity it offers. Meanwhile the GFX 100S has no built-in vertical grip, though I’m told a vertical grip is an option – and for $149, I wonder what kind of grip this can be? Probably sans battery capacity, and vertical grip in name only. It has a fixed EVF, so no interchangeable option for the EVF Tilt Adapter, which is perhaps the favorite Fuji GFX accessory for our clients.
So, I’m still looking …. ok, what else? There must be something that would make one spend $4,000 more for a GFX 100… AH HA! EVF rez is 3.69 vs 5.7 million dots. That’s …. a pretty big deal. Lack of EVF resolution is one of the most common gripes with mirrorless cameras. They’re much better than the early EVF days, and eventually we’ll have truly Hi Def EVF, but we’re nnnnot quite there yet, so every pixel does matter. It’s smaller and lighter, it has a new smaller shutter and a smaller IBIS system (which is similar, though not exact in spec). The new IBIS actually claims more stops (6 vs 5.5).
So … let me see if I have this straight. Here is a camera that costs $4,000 less than the original GFX 100 (nearly half the price!) uses the same sensor, sacrifices some EVF rez and versatility, but has a brand new design shutter, and a new IBIS (with an extra half stop), a new, longer life battery (465 shots vs 400 per charge), and… and … Oh! the auto focus, that’s where they get you! But no! They don’t get you, it is the same as the GFX 100 Hybrid Phase detect. And this was when I realized that Fuji is not really adding a hampered 102mp camera at a lower price to slot in, they are officially resetting the table. In medium format, Fuji sets the pricing. Fuji is dictating the terms. Hasselblad will be heard from with a 100mp version of an X1D and/or a 907X, Phase One will continue their unique path of modularity with significantly more expensive and significantly larger and higher rez sensor options. But Fuji is dictating the pricing terms for the market. Do you want to shoot medium format? Well, here you go, you can, with solutions starting at 50mp for $4,499 and 100mp for $5,999.
I’ve had quite a few conversations with photographers who have invested into Fuji and who told me – if the rumors were true about this camera – that they may rely on Fuji as their primary system and maybe they will continue to utilize a smaller format system as well, but … this price point seems to be defining a turning point for a lot of photographers in terms of their gear choices. They want to separate themselves from other photographers (or from their own past) who shoot 35mm or smaller formats. They want to be paid more, they want to produce more, for many of them, this desire has always been there, it has just been difficult to attain. Well, Fuji just made it easier. They’re going to sell a lot of these. The original GFX 100 at $10,000 was still for a different client than most mainstream Canon/Nikon/Sony shooters. This camera is positioned so that this will happen:
- Some GFX 100 prospects that have been saving up will stop that and buy now.
- Some GFX 50 users (many, I think) will upgrade.
- Some 35mm shooters (many, I think) will move into medium format
So, in a way, Fuji may be responsible for bringing medium format back. Medium format never went away, but it did shrink. It did become more exclusive. And as much as I love what the amazing Phase One IQ/XF and Hasselblad H camera systems offer photographers, my regret over the years has been that thousands of photographers who wanted more than 35mm could offer were left out. And now, they aren’t.