Writing for Explora can be a bit like using a dating app for cameras. No matter how happy you are with your current situation, you are subjected to a nonstop parade of attractive alternatives—tempting you, teasing you, mocking your convictions. The urge to run off with a hot new body can be overwhelming. At least it has been for me since I hooked up with FUJIFILM’s GFX 100 Medium Format Mirrorless Camera. Is it love? Is it lust? Whatever it is, for the past month the sensors of my usual partners, the Sony Alpha a7R IV and Hasselblad H6D-50c, have been collecting dust while I creep around town with FUJIFILM’s flagship medium format camera. Before condemning my transgressions, allow me to explain.
The GFX 100 embodies many of the qualities that I love most in Sony’s a7R-series and Hasselblad’s H-series cameras. It combines some of the most desirable features of a mirrorless camera with the jaw-dropping color and detail of medium format sensors. Like any camera, it has its flaws—but every time I look back at the images we’ve made together, I know that this is going to be a hard camera to quit.
I’m no stranger to high-resolution cameras, hard-drive–devouring files, or insincere colleagues asking if it is necessary to be able to zoom into a photo that much? Yes, it is, Todd. These cameras make for a costly vice, but one I can’t seem to quit. The heart and soul of the GFX 100 is its 102MP 43.8 x 32.9mm BSI CMOS sensor and X-Processor 4; the images that they produce can quicken any photographer’s pulse. With a native ISO range of 100-12800 (expandable to 50-102400) and 16-bit raw image files, it relays brilliant color with minimal noise, even in lighting environments that make many cameras beg for mercy.
While shooting photographer George Holz for an upcoming series on Explora, I was able to achieve images under overcast skies that simultaneously rendered the texture of his solid black shirt and jeans while preserving detail in the snow in which he and his dog were standing. If you plan on using this camera to shoot clothes, you had better make sure you have a lint roller on hand. I photograph people primarily, so a camera’s ability to relay the subtleties of skin tones is an important quality. The GFX 100’s performance in this area blows any Sony camera I have used out of the water while giving Hasselblad’s illustrious Natural Colour Solution a run for its money. Pray for my bank account.
I have only used the GFX 100 handheld and have yet to blame my jittery, over-caffeinated hands for ruining an image. Thank you, 5.5 stops of stabilization. The autofocus has been responsive and accurate when I’ve needed it to be. Face- and eye-detection capabilities have also proven reliable, even under moderately challenging situations. Overall performance is decent as long as you take into account the fact that each exposure produces a 200+ MB file (if you are shooting raw). While capturing photographer Joseph Michael Lopez chasing pigeons around Union Square, AF was consistent, although I could feel the weight of the large file sizes slowing the camera after firing off consecutive shots.
That doesn’t bother me much because most of my work takes place in a studio, and that is where I find this camera to thrive the most. I’m neurotic about focus and defer to manual mode any chance I can get. The GFX 100 has a 5.76m-dot OLED electronic viewfinder that can zoom in about as close as you could ever need when manual focusing. For a more tactile user experience, it has a 3.2" 2.36m-dot touchscreen LCD that you can use while shooting, but I only really use it for reviewing images and changing settings.
Speaking of camera settings, if you know me, you will be shocked by my next confession. While I don’t consider myself to be a purist by any means, FUJIFILM’s film simulation modes always struck me as superfluous. For years I scoffed at advocates of this popular feature. Then, one day while shooting model tests with the GFX 100, I tried it. I knew my images were destined to be black-and-white and I was recording jpeg + raw so I figured, why not? And… I… liked it. I was as shocked as you. Being able to view rough approximations of what my edits would look like in-camera without having to tether was a refreshing experience. Don’t tell my old self.
Back outside of the studio, the GFX 100’s magnesium-alloy body is weather sealed for protection against the elements, and the camera is freeze-proof to 14 degrees Fahrenheit. It has a vertical grip built into the body of the camera, with two battery slots for extended shooting. My attraction to this camera, however, is anything but physical. The ergonomics of the GFX 100 leave a lot to be desired. The camera is entirely too boxy and shockingly awkward to hold. For some (aesthetic?) reason, the vertical grip lacks texture along its length, making no practical sense for working photographers. If you do try to use it in sub-freezing temperatures, you had better wear gloves—with grip on them. This design blunder makes the sub LCD screen on the grip come across as even more out of touch with the priorities of professional users than a third screen initially appears. These should be easy fixes on the next iteration of this camera, but it is surprising to encounter such oversights on the flagship model from a company widely respected for its camera design.
My relationship with the GFX 100 is built upon the qualities that matter most to me. There are many things that this camera can do that fall outside of my needs. Videographers should know that it can record UHD and DCI 4K 30p video up to 4:2:0 10-bit internally or 4K 30p 4:2:2 10-bit via HDMI. F-Log recording is available for more complex grading applications. A 3.5mm microphone jack and 3.5mm headphone jack round out its audio-recording abilities. You can also shoot 999 consecutive frames when the camera is in Interval mode, and multiple exposures can be created in-camera. There is a seemingly endless supply of customizable buttons on this camera, which, while daunting at first, should serve long-term users well.
If you would like to see more images from FUJIFILM’s GFX 100, keep an eye out on Explora in the coming weeks as John Harris and I use it when we interview and photograph artists in their studios to learn about their creative processes.