Versione in Italiano QUI

Genesis

In May 2023, my faithful Nikon D850, after six invaluable years of service, was forced to retirement. I say forced because, in reality, since that date, I no longer considered it reliable for field photography, though if I could, I probably would have. Old and sturdy, for landscape photography even today (January 2024 as I write) it remains an excellent camera, not surpassed by many of the younger and enticing mirrorless cameras.

Unfortunately, I began experiencing issues well before its replacement (about a year prior). Whether it was due to the poor support and assistance I received or because I was eagerly awaiting Nikon’s worthy successor, who never arrived, I decided to turn the page and search for the best technical solution for my specific needs.

Since I’ve been asked several times, in this (longer than expected) article, I want to share with you the reasons that led me to switch to the Fujifilm GFX system and how I feel after the first six months of intensive use of the Fujifilm GFX 100S.

Premise

As this article is likely to capture the attention of brand enthusiasts and fervent followers, I want to provide some preliminary clarifications:

  • I am not interested (nor have I ever been) in the brand of the camera I use. What matters to me are the specific features of the camera that I need to capture my images. It’s all subjective, as always. Here, you will find only my personal opinion and not the absolute truth.
  • This article has not been sponsored or supported in any form or manner by any brand, just as the use of my previous camera was not.
  • All cameras mentioned or tried during the transition come from the kind support of friends and participants in my courses or from equipment rental services.
  • This is an article, not a review: a thousand online reviews are already discussing the camera’s build and features. Here, I want to share my personal experience of using it in the real world.
Fujifilm GFX 100S

From Nikon D850 to Fujifilm GFX 100S

When it became clear that my Nikon D850’s days were numbered, my initial thoughts naturally turned to Nikon’s roadmap. At that time, the Z8 was still a rumor, and while I held onto the hope that it could be the successor to the D850, various service-related issues had already swayed me away from purchasing (or renting) another Nikon D850 during the interim, which I honestly considered a great idea.

The announcement of the Nikon Z8 was a turning point for me. Despite seeing (and later trying) a fantastic camera, it was no longer designed with landscape photographers in mind.

This marked the beginning of an extended period of testing alternatives. Specifically, I had the opportunity to evaluate fantastic cameras, including the Sony a7R IV, Nikon Z7II, Nikon Z8, Canon R5, Hasselblad X2D, and, of course, the Fujifilm GFX 100S, which ultimately became my final choice.

I must admit that the seed of Fujifilm had been planted in my mind long before by the talented Elia Locardi. Even when my Nikon D850 was performing flawlessly, he urged me to explore the Fuji GFX system. Significant contributions also came from my dear friends Philip Vandervoort and Alberto Bartolini, who, on several occasions during our travels, allowed me to witness the potential of these cameras.

In this article (and I emphasize ‘article,’ not ‘review’), I will now share with you the key insights from the first six months of using the Fujifilm GFX 100S.

Nikon D850 fEE error

An image of my Nikon D850, returning from (paid) service for the second time, still not functioning.

The Dynamic Range of the Fujifilm GFX 100S

As I mentioned, choosing a camera should be based on the features you need. For me, undoubtedly, one of the most important features is the mythical Dynamic Range, i.e., the sensor’s ability to simultaneously capture details in the brightest and darkest parts of a scene.

To provide you with a scale of values, the dynamic range of the Nikon Z8 was the final blow that definitively pushed me to switch to something else. Let’s take a look at the comparative graph below. To keep it brief regarding Nikon, at low ISOs, the Nikon Z8 has a dynamic range lower than a Nikon D850 released six years earlier. This shattered dream was the reason I mentioned earlier for not having the Nikon Z8 as the successor to the Nikon D850. Don’t think beating the Nikon D850 in dynamic range is easy (many other cameras today fall far behind), but in fact, the Fujifilm GFX 100S is a notch above them all, period.

This is essentially the origin of my final choice.

In six months of field use, I have been fortunate to encounter insane lighting situations. Although sometimes missing the tactile feel and muscle memory I had with the Nikon D850, I must say I always breathed a sigh of relief having my Fuji on the tripod.

Gramma Dinamica Nikon Fuji Sony Hasselblad Francesco Gola

The “Medium Format” Sensor Size of the Fujifilm GFX 100S

Every conversation about the Fujifilm GFX 100S usually starts with questions about transitioning to medium format.

While this is a relevant point, as you may have noticed, it’s not the first one I’ve mentioned. In reality, having a medium format is a secondary aspect for me.

That being said, the sensor of the Fujifilm GFX 100S is 43.8mm x 32.9mm with 102 million pixels, commonly classified as “medium format.” Without diving into the fanboy debate of “true medium format,” if we consider the sensor size of the Nikon D850, which is 36mm x 24mm, we immediately understand that we have something significantly larger in our hands, with many more megapixels (the Nikon D850 had 45.7 megapixels).

This comes with both positive and negative aspects.

Starting with the positives, having many more megapixels serves only two purposes in my opinion: having more room for cropping and printing larger.

Thinking about cropping, if I were a wildlife photographer, I would love capturing shots without zooming too much and still having a final high-resolution photo by cropping a significant portion of the scene. But I take pictures of rocks by the sea that usually don’t move, so this advantage doesn’t matter much to me.

Thinking about prints, things change and quite significantly. As you know, I am a passionate advocate of printing, and having 102 megapixels practically means being able to print 98cm on the long side at 300 dpi without the need for upscaling. For those who print and know what I’m talking about, this is something incredibly fantastic.

Actually, more interesting for me than the printing aspect (because, let’s face it, I don’t spend my days making giant prints) is how the sensor is physically constructed. Firstly, each pixel is physically larger and can gather more data than full-frame sensors (for a practical example, it allows me to recover up to five (FIVE) stops in the shadows). This also translates to a stronger signal-to-noise ratio, reducing noise, increasing dynamic range, and producing images with more information per pixel. Also, the physical structure of the sensor includes special microlenses above each photodiode to optimize focus at the individual pixel level, contributing to achieving images with insane details and sharpness.

For me, this is the real advantage of having this medium format sensor, certainly not just the megapixels.

Camera Sensor size comparison

However, not everything that glitters is gold. 102 megapixels also mean one precise thing: gigantic files. Even with maximum compression optimization (selecting lossless compression and utilizing all the wonderful 16 bits available), each shot is 110 MB compared to the average 57 MB I was accustomed to with the Nikon D850. This effectively brings three issues:

  • Storage space: Each photo from the Fuji GFX 100S occupies the space of two photos from the Nikon D850. Therefore, for the same quantity of images taken per session, the necessary storage space on memory cards and hard drives doubles. (It’s not a catastrophic thing, but…)
  • Memory card speed: Writing 110 MB to a memory card is not the same as writing 57 MB. Thus, even just for a quick preview on the camera display of the captured image (not to mention burst shooting, which I’m not interested in), very fast and consequently expensive memory cards are required.
  • Post-production performance: Opening and working on such a large file requires a not-too-dated computer. I have a MacBook Pro M1, and honestly, I don’t have any issues with it. However, older machines might face critical challenges.

In real life the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages, especially considering the quality of the images obtained.

The storage burden is limited since I capture long exposures and don’t take many photos per session. To manage everything effectively, though, I decided to modify my storage strategy by switching to a NAS (and you can find an article with all the details of my experience HERE).

The only problem I encounter, which honestly bothers me quite a bit, is that every time I capture an image, it takes at least 4-5 seconds before it is displayed on the camera display, even when using SDXC UHS-II cards with write speeds of 260 MB/s and read speeds of 300 MB/s (specifically, I am currently using Lexar Professional 2000x).

My Synology DS923+ NAS

Size, Ergonomics, and Weight of the Fujifilm GFX 100S

I am a seascape photographer, so I belong to that fortunate breed of photographers who usually don’t have to take long walks from the parking lot to the shooting location. So, honestly, the weight of the camera has never particularly concerned me.

That being said, if we want to be precise, the Fujifilm GFX 100S weighs slightly less than the Nikon D850 (by a whopping 115 grams..) and also has a slightly smaller volumetric size. So, in short, the Fujifilm GFX 100S is smaller and lighter than my Nikon D850, although by almost nothing.

It’s a different story when comparing it to other cameras tested during this period, where the Fujifilm GFX 100S can become significantly heavier and bulkier, as I rightly expect since it has to accommodate a larger sensor and related electronics. The only exception to this is the Nikon Z8, which is unjustifiably bulkier and more ponderous.

As absurd as it may seem, the not-so-compact size is actually an advantage for me, and the fact that mirrorless cameras have become increasingly compact compared to DSLRs has paradoxically been one of the main reasons why I didn’t switch to the mirrorless world a while back.

Why? Let’s see it right away.

Nikon Z8 and Fujifilm GFX 100S Comparison

Romantic date between Fujifilm GFX 100S and Nikon Z8

Long Exposures, Hot Pixels, and Stuck Pixels

Yes, I only capture long exposures, and by long exposures, I mean anything under a minute is action photography for me 🙂

How does this relate to the size of the camera?

Trying to simplify and trivialize a response that would otherwise be long and complicated, one of the fundamental reasons hot pixels form during long exposures is related to sensor overheating. When you take a photo, the sensor is electrically powered. This flow of current generates heat, and this heat, in turn, produces hot pixels – those randomly placed white or colored pixels.

In a “regular” exposure (fraction of a second or a few seconds), the issue doesn’t arise (and any hot pixels present are generated for other reasons). However, as we extend exposure times to minutes, the sensor remains powered for an extended period, heating up significantly. With the Nikon D850, the problem didn’t exist, both due to the quality of the sensor and the fact that the large camera body allowed for excellent heat dissipation.

Mirrorless cameras, on the other hand, are naturally more compact, and in the world of long exposures, this is a problem: they don’t dissipate heat well. This is why the “early” mirrorless cameras (like the initial Sony a7r, Canon R, and Nikon Z models) were absolutely unusable for me: hot pixels even at low ISO with exposure times of just one minute.

Things have improved with the latest generations of cameras, and I must say I was impressed, for example, by the Canon R5, which performed much better than all the other professional full-frame mirrorless cameras in this specific aspect.

And the Fujifilm GFX 100S? As you may have guessed, the fact that it’s more voluminous than traditional full-frame mirrorless cameras helps a lot, and indeed, to date, I think it’s the camera that comes closest to the Nikon D850 in this regard, which, however, still remains unbeaten in my opinion.

What frustrates me about the Fujifilm GFX 100S is the issue of stuck pixels. Again, simplifying to the maximum, a stuck pixel (unlike a hot pixel) is a pixel that, when the sensor is powered, cannot acquire a valid signal. The result is very similar to hot pixels, but while the latter appear and disappear randomly for various reasons, stuck pixels are present at any ISO, any shutter speed, and are always in the same place.

When I noticed their presence, I immediately thought I had the usual luck of purchasing a defective camera. Instead, to my great surprise, I learned that it’s considered normal to have a few stuck pixels in the sea of 102 million pixels available on the sensor. Apparently, Fujifilm considers it so normal that the manual immediately encourages users to map these pixels to improve the situation. What does mapping mean? In simple terms, the camera memorizes where these stuck pixels are, and every time we shoot, it replaces the data of these stuck pixels with data from the adjacent pixels (hyper-simplified explanation).

In the real world, this problem is quite nonexistent because we’re talking about truly a handful of pixels in ONE HUNDRED TWO MILLION pixels, and the pixel mapping, if not completely resolving the problem, helps dramatically. But come on…

You, bastard. (800% magnification of a Stuck Pixel)

Display and Live Histogram of the Fujifilm GFX 100S

In general, I haven’t been particularly interested in camera displays because, in essence, I consider them useful only for checking composition before taking a shot (I make extensive use of live view) and reading the histogram after capturing an image. They are completely useless during the actual shot when I have ND filters attached.

This belief held true for almost all alternatives to the Nikon D850 I’ve tried so far, but the story changes entirely with the Fujifilm GFX 100S.

Specifically, and to keep it brief, with the Fujifilm GFX 100S, once I attach a dense ND filter (for example, ND1000, which would make a Nikon Z8 blind), the exposure meter works correctly, and I can see the live view preview as if no ND filter were mounted!

I must confess that this has opened the doors to my heart because, for those who do long exposures, it means avoiding conversion calculations and hoping not to make a mistake when the moment is truly perfect.

For the record, it has been pointed out to me that this feature is not unique to the Fujifilm GFX 100S but is a general characteristic of all Fujifilm cameras. Good to know for those who love long exposures and are looking for a new camera, not necessarily a medium format one!

For this magic to work, there must have been an incredible job of engineering and optimization between hardware and software. Indeed, to be precise, this visualization and exposure calculation work very well only when the Natural Live View mode is set to OFF (bypassing all in-camera processing intended for display on Live View and Electronic View Finder). Recommendation: Leaving it OFF works perfectly fine, so don’t worry.

Speaking of display, nowadays, most cameras have a small display on the top that summarizes all shooting parameters. With the Fujifilm GFX 100S, this small display becomes even more useful because I can set various views, including the live histogram! Of course, it works even with ND filters inserted, and you can’t imagine how useful it is to adjust the exposure time with ND filters inserted by just looking at it! Truly fantastic, I couldn’t do without it anymore.

Fujifilm GFX 100S Live View with an ND1000 filter mounted

Setting the Shutter Speed

Since we’ve talked about how easy it is to find the correct exposure time without calculations, thanks to the display that allows me to view Live View even with an ND filter attached and the live histogram, I want to discuss how little optimized the shutter speed selector is.

Like most DSLRs, the Nikon D850 had a limit of 30 seconds of exposure. After 30 seconds, you entered the magical world of Bulb mode, where the exposure meter went on strike, and to control the exposure time, you needed a more or less advanced remote shutter release.

When I started trying some of the mentioned alternatives (especially the Nikon Z), I immediately fell in love with the fact that it was finally possible to select exposure times beyond 30 seconds directly on the camera without necessarily using the remote.

With Nikon Z, it’s very easy to do, with Canon R a bit more cumbersome but still possible (with Sony, I believe I forgot to try, to be honest).

I expected the same with the Fujifilm GFX 100S, but the satisfaction was only partial. While it is possible to select exposure times beyond 30 seconds up to a whopping 60 minutes (!), you can only do so through a perverse and approximate doubling of the exposure time. So after one minute, I can select 2 minutes, 4 minutes, 8 minutes, and so on… but I can’t select 3 minutes, for example, or 2 minutes and 30 seconds.

Is it a big issue? No, not at all, because even this way, I can avoid using a remote shutter release by setting a higher exposure time and interrupting the exposure when I need (yes, there’s a timer displaying the remaining time). The problem is that if I select a longer exposure time, the exposure calculation is done with that time, and I end up looking at an overexposed histogram.

Understanding that this aspect interests just a niche of photographers, I believe the solution would be quite simple: just include a new function in the firmware that allows users to decide how the camera should behave after 30 seconds. Perhaps allowing the choice to maintain the doubling of time or choose to increase in steps of one minute, half a minute, or something else (similar to stops).

I tried suggesting this to Fujifilm, but as expected, it ended with a ‘thank you, we’ll let you know’.

Why?

Lenses for the Fujifilm GFX System

When good old Elia Locardi suggested considering Fujifilm many years ago, I remember one of the concerns was the lens lineup.

My photographic style led me to work with wide-angle focal lengths, and as many know, for years, I exclusively shot with ZEISS fixed lenses of 18mm and 21mm.

At the time the first GFX cameras were introduced, the available lenses were truly limited, and no brand other than Fujifilm had any plans to create something compatible (because a medium format truly requires excellent optics). Therefore, for a landscaper like me, the only option for a long time was the Fujinon GF23mmF4 R LM WR: a fantastic lens that, when translated to Full Frame, would be equivalent to 18mm. Perfect for me, but not quite enough because the closest thing to my 21mm was the Fujinon GF30mmF3.5 R WR, equivalent to 24mm: a telephoto lens by my standards.

When the Nikon D850 decided it was time for retirement, fortunately, things had changed. In fact, my good friend Philip Vandervoort immediately said, “The Fujinon GF20-35mmF4 R WR is out, you have no more excuses.” And indeed, he was right.

After initial skepticism related to a zoom lens (remember my ‘go prime or go home’ T-shirt), I gave the benefit of the doubt to its enticing focal range (full-frame equivalent) of 16-28mm. I have to admit: I was amazed. The Fujinon GF20-35mmF4 R WR is simply divine, remaining sharp even at f/4, and you can stop it down significantly without experiencing significant diffraction effects.

It literally left me in awe, and combined with the versatility of having a zoom, this lens played a crucial role in the decision-making process for which system to invest in.

The amazing Fujinon GF20-35mmF4 R WR

Depth of Field and Medium Format

One of my biggest concerns when transitioning to medium format was related to the shallower depth of field compared to a full-frame camera.

Skipping all the mathematical explanations, for those who may not know, the reality is that if we capture the same image with a full-frame and a medium-format camera at the same focal length (equivalent), using the same aperture and focusing on the same point, the image taken with the full frame camera will have greater depth of field.

I considered this a significant issue and one of the fundamental reasons not to switch to medium format because my compositional style often involves foreground elements, and I never perform focus stacking (especially now with such large files).

Even from the tests conducted before purchasing the Fujifilm GFX 100S, I realized it wasn’t as impactful as often portrayed in some YouTube videos chasing views. Now, after months of continuous use, I can only confirm the manageability of the “issue.”

The depth of field is indeed shallower, and there’s no denying the math behind it. However, in the real world, the difference is about one stop. Just one. This means that, on average, to achieve the same depth I had when shooting at f/8, I need to go to f/11. That’s it.

The situation can further improve depending on the lens you use. In my case, using the Fujinon GF20-35mmF4 R WR, which is razor-sharp even at f/4, using an aperture of f/16 is absolutely not a problem.

And if anxiety kicks in and I have the opportunity, I’ve noticed that simply taking half a step back to distance myself from the foreground element is often enough to return to a more comfortable aperture.

f/4
f/16

From f/4 to f/16, the loss of sharpness is negligible (crop 1:1). The Fujinon GF20-35mmF4 R WR is exceptional.

Semi-manual focusing

I don’t think this term officially exists, and I hope it doesn’t so I can coin a new term: semi-manual focusing.

In my Nikon D850 (and in the cameras I used during the trial period), essentially focusing can be either automatic or manual. Using primarily manual ZEISS lenses (first the Distagon and then the Milvus, 18mm and 21mm), manual focusing has always been the norm for me and is particularly easy to perform when you know your lenses well and can use hyperfocal marks on the lenses themselves.

However, things change with a zoom lens because I can’t utilize marks on the lens (not good) and because I can use autofocus (good).

But as we know, once dense filters are mounted, autofocus no longer works (in fact, it can cause us to lose focus if activated by mistake), and so the usual shooting technique involves focusing with autofocus without filters (with or without focus peaking), then switching to manual focus before inserting the ND filters. It’s straightforward and works perfectly fine.

However, the Fujifilm GFX 100S allows the use of a hybrid focusing mode that I have fallen madly in love with and find perfect for landscape photography: even by immediately switching the focus switch to manual (effectively locking an autofocus focus or going to focus manually directly), I can press the back focus button at any time to activate autofocus. Once done, it will remain automatically locked because the switch is set to manual focus!

If I’m not satisfied, perhaps because we’re in critical lighting conditions (for example, before dawn), I can improve the focus with a manual action, and if I mess up, I just need to press the back focus button again to re-engage autofocus.

In short, I can always keep manual focus activated to avoid losing focus during hectic shooting phases and call on autofocus whenever I need it without changing any settings, simply by pressing the back focus button.

Of course, all of this works even with a very dense ND filter inserted: for me, a colossal breakthrough and a reason for absolute love towards the Fujifilm GFX 100S.

Focus Switch Fujifilm GFX 100S

Focus switch and back-focus button

The 4:3 Aspect Ratio

The sensor of the Fujifilm GFX 100S measures 43.8mm x 32.9mm, making it a 4:3 aspect ratio sensor compared to the 3:2 sensors I was accustomed to.

Normally, the 4:3 aspect ratio is either love or hate, and for me, it’s definitely the latter. It’s an entirely subjective and aesthetic preference, but I find 4:3 unattractive. Not to mention that I developed my entire photographic vision around 3:2, and “seeing” in 4:3 doesn’t come naturally to me at all.

For this reason, one of the first settings on the Fujifilm GFX 100S was to set the 3:2 aspect ratio. This setting ensures that both on the EVF and in Live View, the image is displayed directly in 3:2, much to my satisfaction.

The price for this is, of course, giving up a few pixels, but in the sea of 102 megapixels, it’s absolutely inconsequential as far as I’m concerned.

The interesting thing is that even if we tell the camera to shoot in 3:2, the file is actually captured in 4:3! This means that when I download the file to the computer and open it in Lightroom, the image will be immediately displayed in 3:2 and in the precise composition I chose in the field. However, if I open Lightroom’s Crop tool, I see the entire image in 4:3.

For me, this is simply great because during the shooting, I can focus on the 3:2 composition, but then my file includes everything, both for future reconsideration and for small compositional adjustments.

Fujifilm-GFX-100S-4.3-3-2-ratio

The image was saved as 4:3 even if I correctly see it in 3:2 

Fujifilm Color Science

Color Science commonly refers to the distinctive chromatic aspect of a brand. In less romantic terms, it’s how a brand transforms analog signals into digital ones to create images through the integration of hardware and software.

In my humble opinion, there is still nothing comparable to Canon’s Color Science. Not surprisingly, when I switched from Canon to Nikon, I immediately felt the impact in this specific aspect, and I still experience it with Fujifilm.

Taking Canon as a reference (if you’ve never tried shooting with Canon, I would recommend doing it just for the pleasure of color), deviations are generally noticeable in tint values (with some exceptions). With Nikon, for example, there is always a certain greenish cast in every shot, regardless of lighting conditions.

With Fujifilm, it’s exactly the opposite, tending towards magenta, and this tendency is more pronounced under less than ideal metering conditions (for example, in low-light conditions).

It’s nothing that can’t be adjusted in post-production with a small white balance correction without having to involve individual color channels. However, in general, Canon’s Color Science, I believe, remains the benchmark for everyone to aspire to.

Battery duration in the Fujifilm GFX 100S

On this topic, I had little hope, and it seems for a good reason.

In short, the battery life of my beloved Nikon D850 compared to that of the Fujifilm GFX 100S was like the battery of a Nokia 3310: I could almost forget the charger at home and not even notice.

I knew that, in general, mirrorless cameras tend to consume more power, even just because there is always the EVF to power. However, the battery life is really poor in my opinion: if before, one battery lasted me about 4 or 5 outings, with the Fujifilm GFX 100S, I need one battery per outing (by outing, I mean a “decent” shooting session, where I shoot quite a bit) at sunrise or sunset.

There’s not much to be done here: I immediately got extra batteries and educated myself to recharge them as soon as I returned from a shooting session.

Fujifilm-GFX-100S-test-Francesco Gola

Final Thoughts

I don’t write conclusions because after six months, I’m only at the beginning of this new journey with the Fujifilm GFX 100S, and I hope to update this article or write another in the future.

That said, if shortly after purchasing the Fujifilm GFX 100S, I had more than a few doubts about whether I made the right choice, today I can say that I am fully satisfied with this camera.

The Fujifilm GFX 100S is well-built and sturdy, providing a sense of security typical of DSLRs even when taken into the field in adverse weather conditions. It’s not particularly lightweight, but that’s not a parameter that concerns me.

The perceived image quality is evident in the field and is confirmed when the images are downloaded onto the computer. The sensor’s dynamic range is impressive, and its ability to recover shadows is incredible (up to 5 stops), allowing me to look beyond my beloved Nikon D850.

The autofocus mode simplifies my work in the field, and the ability to measure exposure with ND filters inserted is invaluable. The optical quality of the lens I am using is the icing on the cake, truly allowing me to make the most of every pixel on the sensor.

The downloaded files are huge, and the battery life is significantly shorter compared to the DSLRs I was accustomed to, but if this is the price to pay for all the benefits introduced by this camera for my photography, I’m more than happy to pay it!