When the Hasselblad X1D was announced it didn’t take long for the rumors to start flying about Fuji’s medium format offerings. Given the relationship between Fuji and Hasselblad, with Fuji having a hand in creating Hasselblad‘s H-series of medium format cameras, the GFX 50S was always going to be a possible eventuality. The GFX exceeded photographers’ dreams of a full frame by offering a medium format digital camera for an ‘affordable’ price, but is the hype-train already derailed? Here are my three reasons why Fuji failed with the GFX 50s.
One of the main reasons photographers shoot Fuji mirrorless cameras – despite the lack of third-party support – is the dynamic range and level of detail that the X-Trans sensor can produce. When developing the GFX, Fuji could have gone with their X-Trans Sensor or a more traditional Bayer CMOS. In my opinion, I think they went with the more cost-effective solution to keep around the proposed under $10K price point (no word yet on the actual shelf price). The same reason why their entry level systems like the X-A3 have a CMOS – to keep cost down over the more expensive X-Trans Sensor.
Back in the heydays of film, photographers had a choice of sizes from 110 to 8×10 and various formats in-between. Any professional photographer worth their salt was shooting medium format or larger. Formats like 35mm were considered small formats and synonymous with amateurs. Fast forward to today, the 135 standard reigns supreme and carries the “Full Fame” crown; with any format smaller considered to be “amateur”. Coincidentally, anything larger than the 24x36mm border is considered Medium Format.
The sensors both in the Fuji GFX and the Hasselblad X1D are not medium format in the absolute traditional sense, but more akin to 127 roll film (a small format), whereas the smallest medium format, in the traditional sense, is 645 (5.6 × 4.15cm). By the same definition, there are no true medium format digital cameras, only slightly larger than “full frame” cameras; but that doesn’t have the same connotation as Medium Format. The closest thing to true 645 that is on the market is Phase One’s 100MP XF camera at 5.37×4.04 cm, or Hasselblad‘s sensor in the H6D-100c.
Besides providing a shallower depth of field, medium format cameras benefit from leaf-shutter lenses. Focal plane shutters have two curtains that chase each other to expose the sensor whereas leaf-shutters expose the whole frame at once by opening a series of blades (leaves).
The GFX has focal plane shutter with a flash sync speed of 1/125 of a second, which is laughable. Some would argue that leaf-shutter lenses are not necessary for this day and age, as they are expensive to produce and the lack of high shutter speeds like 1/4000 of a second. The benefits of leaf-shutter lenses are the ability to sync flash at 1/500 of a second or more without relying on high-speed sync strobes or ND filters.
With the rise of small, battery-powered strobes like the Phottix Indra and the Profoto B2, high-speed sync (HSS) has come to the forefront of the industry. As many photographers have already learned from our Lighting 101 and 102 courses, HSS can allow you to go beyond the 1/200 of a second (or similar) flash sync that a focal plane shutter provides (at the cost of battery life and inconstancy in the quality of light).
The argument is that leaf-shutter cameras are expensive, but Fuji has had experience creating an affordable fixed lens leaf-shutter cameras with their GW690 or more recently with their fantastic X100 series. A fixed lens rangefinder style medium format would have been better than the awkward DSLR-esque body of the GFX 50S.
I will be the first one to admit that the Fuji GFX looks like a dog, like a bad combination of the X-T2 and the Phase One XF. There have been pictures floating around comparing to the GFX 50s to the 5D Mark IV and the Nikon D810. For a medium format camera, it is about the same size of these flagship DSLRs, and this is where Fuji missed the boat.
One of the benefits of a mirrorless camera come from its size and weight benefits over their DSLR counterparts. The Fuji GFX doesn’t benefit when it is the size and weight of a flagship DSLR. The GFX has the drawbacks of a mirrorless camera (slower AF & EVF) with the added drawback of a DSLR (size and weight). Hasselblad’s first mirrorless, the X1D, on the other hand, can fit in the same volume of the body of Pentax 645Z with the 45mm f/3.5 lens attached. It looks like a camera you can walk around with and hand hold.
There are rumors that Fuji is coming out with and adapter for legacy lenses and leaf-shutter lenses, but at this point, it is only hearsay. Fuji’s first venture in the
slightly larger than full frame medium format digital realm could give a stagnate niche a second life, but it could prove difficult when they start with a slightly gimped product.