I bought a used GFX 50s and it got me thinking. If I took the plunge because of the lower price point of used copies, then many others must be thinking the same thing. Has medium format hit a tipping point?
tip·ping point (noun): The point at which a series of small changes or incidents becomes significant enough to cause a larger, more important change.
I’ll admit it — I always wanted to photograph with a medium format sensor, but they were always out of my reach. Until now.
I’m one of those photographers who’s always obsessed with bokeh in his portraiture. With my GFX 50S I also purchased the Fujifilm 110mm f/2 lens and I can confirm, the bokeh is astounding. It’s everything I hoped it would be. That medium format look is something I believe will separate me from my competition.
Recognizing that such an opinion is subjective, I’m doing what I believe works for me. Should you consider a medium format camera for your photography?
The second generation of the Fuji medium format camera has arrived!
Fuji announced the GFX 100S on January 27, 2021. With that announcement, used prices of the first generation of Fujifilm GFX’s dropped precipitously. Almost overnight, first generation medium format cameras became more affordable.
I’ll admit that “affordable” is a relative term. However, when I compare the latest full-frame camera releases from the likes of Canon (EOS R5) and Sony (a1), then the price of a used GFX 50S begins to look downright reasonable.
Photographers are obsessed with the size of a camera’s sensor
Sensor size envy in the photography world is nothing new. If you’ve been around the block a few times like me, you may recall that in and around 2012, there was a bit of buzz over used Canon 5D’s (the “classic” version that came out in 2005).
Why? Because at the time, the 5D represented an affordable full-frame camera body. So, in spite of clunky ergonomics and the overall lack of haste (the 5D is very slow by today’s standards), photographers put up with the camera’s shortcomings for one reason. That was because the 5D had a full frame sensor and with it, the image quality it could deliver in the hands of a skilled photographer.
Medium format sensors — like the one found in the GFX 50s — have the ability to offer even more subject separation, even at a distance and that directly correlates to sensor size. It’s a magical look that many photographers crave in their imagery. The kind of look medium format can deliver.
Medium format cameras have long been out of reach financially for the majority of photographers — even working professionals. They’re usually reserved for elite photographers and wealthy enthusiasts who could afford such luxury. Digital backs from the likes of Hasselblad, Phase One and Mamiya had massive megapixel counts and price tags to match, often running into the tens of thousands of dollars.
The GFX line of medium format cameras ushered in a new era of — relatively — affordable medium format cameras. With the introduction of the second generation of the medium format GFX, a used GFX 50S is now more economical than the majority of current flagship full-frame cameras. These price points have to raise the eyebrows of a photographer or two.
Fuji entering the medium format marketplace forced some of the legacy manufacturers to compete. In particular, Hasselblad has come out with a couple of medium format cameras priced to compete with Fuji’s latest offerings. Specifically the 907X 50C and the X1D 50C, which are both highly capable cameras at historically low price points for the brand. Better products at lower prices, it’s the nature of competition!
Not without shortcomings
Even though we may lust after a larger medium format camera sensors and their respective image quality, there are definitely some things you need to understand about these camera’s limitations.
Specifically with the GFX 50S:
- Slow autofocus: The lenses are bigger, meaning the lens elements are bigger. The majority of the GFX lenses are slow to focus — especially when compared to FE, RF and Z mount lenses. If you shoot portraiture, landscape and architecture, or other static subjects, then no problem. But if you shoot sports or weddings, then look elsewhere.
- Slow flash sync speeds: The max shutter sync speed of the GFX 50S is 1/125s. That’s a deal breaker for a lot of photographers — especially if you shoot outdoors. You’ll need to bring ND filters to the shoot if you plan on keeping the shutter speed at the max sync. Just more gear to bring to a shoot.
- Size and weight penalty: Though the new GFX 100S is more or less the same size as a traditional mirrorless or DSLR camera, the lenses are bigger and heavier. The GFX 50S and the 110mm, for example, is literally like carrying a cinder block around on a shoot. Bottom line, if you’re interested in a portable kit, medium format is likely not your best choice.
- Fuji’s retro interface: If you’re used to a traditional DSLR or mirrorless camera from the other manufacturers, then getting used to Fuji’s unique interface can be a bit of a hurdle. I would classify the Fuji as a thinking man’s camera. I often have to stop a shoot and take a moment to configure the camera the way I want it for the situation I’m in. Fine for a portrait, but potentially career ending for a wedding photographer.
In 2017 Fuji took the unusual step of leapfrogging full-frame and embracing medium format by introducing the GFX 50S.
This move further confirmed the notion that Fuji dances to the beat of its own drum. Whether it’s their retro design and control layout or their insistence on staying in the APS-C and medium format markets — completely bypassing full frame in the process. Fuji does its own thing and has created an army of devout loyalists. Hipsters everywhere have embraced Fuji and I believe it’s because Fuji runs counter to other manufacturers.
Should you buy a medium format camera?
Ultimately, you have to decide what’s in your best interest in your photography. However, given the prices of new full frame cameras, you have to ask yourself why would you pay for a new Sony A1, when you can get a new GFX 100S at a similar price point?
Obviously more goes into a decision than just the price of the camera. There’s much more to consider — lenses, lighting, support, etc. But at these prices, medium format is now competing with full frame … and that is a bit of a game changer.
Dare I say a tipping point?