Since Nikon and Canon both revealed their hands before Photokina 2016, we were afraid that the convention would be a rather lacklustre affair – just a venue for us to test out the numerous third-party lenses and new M4/3 bodies.
Not that we are complaining, or that trying those cameras and lenses would be boring – just that an expo isn’t really a spectacle until something mindblowing arrives.
Something like the GFX 50S.
Now I do apologise if our constant coverage of this machine has been a little overwhelming; after all, it’s hardly the first mirrorless medium format (hello Hasselblad), and this isn’t exactly going to be a camera that even 1% of us will own.
But this is clearly one of the biggest releases of the year, and right now it’s the camera on the tips of everyones’ tongues. We managed to bribe some Fujifilm executives into giving us a sneak peek of the camera, and we were promised exactly 15 minutes to speak to Fujifilm Europe – and more importantly, to try out the camera (we are joking about the bribe part).
We had seen the size of the camera on stage yesterday, but handling and using the camera was a whole different scenario. It didn’t blow us away with its size – the Hasselblad X1D already prepared us on how small and compact a medium format camera could be – but our whole team was rendered speechless for a second on just how usable the camera is.
It’s only a little larger than the X-T2, and easily smaller and lighter than a full-frame DSLR. It’s not the most elegant or seamless camera, and the back does bulge out. But Toshihisa Iida, General Manager of Sales & Marketing for Fujifilm, explained that it was to accomodate the large battery. Because ultimately their goal for this camera is to provide a camera for the professional market.
Even though it does have the new Fujifilm aesthetic, slotting in perfectly between a X-Pro 2 and X-T2, it’s bulkier and the new G-mount lenses are appropiately huge. When we mean that the system is compact, it’s more like a medium format camera sized like a DSLR, rather than Hasselblad, who made their X-1D truly flat.
Neither approach is necessarily better, and we won’t want to make any judgements until we’ve tried them both properly. But there are clear differences in both the philosophy of the design, and the purpose of the camera.
To put it simply, the GFX 50S feels like a camera that was meant to be used out in the field. It has a fantastic grip, and it is remarkably light and balanced. The first time anyone picks it up, they can expect the camera to work exactly like any other Fuji camera.
The body and all the lenses are weather resistant, meaning that this is really not intended to be a studio camera.
The menu is the same, and the EVF is slightly modified from the X-T2, providing more magnification at the cost of a slower refresh rate. There’s no way that the GFX 50S will operate as fast as the X-T2 or X-Pro 2, but it’s not that far off – and it’s far more powerful.
Fujifilm have had the advantage of watching the reaction to Hasselblad’s X1D, and one aspect in particular that we didn’t like about the X1D was how simple the menu was. They wanted to make the camera sleek and simple, which is admirable, but to be honest it did seem to lack a few elements of control that photographers shelling out US$8,995 will need to access.
The X1D was unashamedly promoted for the luxury market, although Hasselblad were keen to stress that many of their own professional customers were using it as a portable, back-up camera.
We could see that in the beautiful, sleek aesthetic and sheer elegance of the camera. But whereas Hasselblad don’t want to sabotage their flagship professional H-series, Fujifilm don’t have to hold back since they only have the GFX 50S.
Fujifilm, like Sony and Canon, is indeed a strange company. Imaging only represents 15% of their annual revenue, so they operate a little different from Hasselblad. Whereas Hasselblad might possibly live or die based on their next few releases (and the success of the X1D), Fujifilm as a company seem to treat photography like a hobby.
This is evidenced by Iida’s response when I asked him how many models they expected to shift over the next year. All he did was look at me without a smile on his face, and said calmly, “We don’t know.”
“We don’t know how many people [currently] are compromising on image quality because of price, size, and weight. So this GFX is available as an option – we actually don’t know how many customers will be looking for it.
However, that’s not just blind optimism speaking. A Fuji rep told us that when they introduced the X-T1, sales were 2.3x more than Fuji originally expected. Each time a new marquee product has been released, the demand seems to come out of the blue.
The X-mount for example came at a time when APS-C wasn’t exactly all the rage, but customers still came for the retro aesthetics, excellent colour, and thoughtful ergonomics.
Fujifilm are hoping, but not assuming, that a lot of people have the money to shell out for what is essentially a souped-up X-T2. Going full-frame seems like it would have been a more sure bet, but Iida said that the reason they went for medium format was because “APS-C is fully capable of good image quality and response speed…and can do 70% of the job.” Full-frame also would have required a massive investment in terms of new lenses, since Fuji would have to compete with Sony, Canon, and Nikon.
Medium format makes a bit more sense because historically Fujifilm have dabbled in the format, there are less competitors, and less lenses need to be designed.
Stay tuned for Kai and Lok’s video on the GFX 50S, which will be coming out soon on YouTube.