Fuji GFX100

I have migrated from my trusted Hasselblad H3DII39 to the Fuji GFX100 system; it was not an easy transition. My H3DII39 camera still works incredibly well and it is transparent while I work in the landscape, it performs as if it were an extension of my body. Nonetheless, my Hasselblad is over thirteen years old, I worry about its longevity and it has substantial sensor dust that requires extensive removal in Photoshop (a minor inconvenience). Worse, occasionally it suffers from a sensor problem that can create a vertical line down the center of the image (Hasselblad never resolved this issue). I considered upgrading to Hasselblad’s newest H body, unfortunately, the cost was prohibitive and the company is primarily focused on its new camera system, a mirrorless body that requires the purchase of a whole new set of lenses. Worse, it would only be an eleven megapixel increase from my H3DII39, hardly worth it.

Over the past year there has been substantial news about the new Fuji GFX system and it caught my interest. Most exciting to me was the ability to use my Hasselblad lenses with an adapter, thus preserving my investment in incredible glass. Further, the GFX100 upgrades my photographs from 39 to 100 megapixels, it offers a medium format style sensor and delivers technology that is fourteen years newer. Another plus, my ancient Canon L lenses work on the GFX100 (also with an adapter). I pulled the trigger and made an investment in the GFX100, along with prime lenses from 23mm to 110mm.

I anticipated a learning curve; I did not expect it to be very steep. After reading the entire manual I realized the GFX100 was plagued with too many buttons and countless features – maybe a dream come true for some photographers – a nightmare for me. I needed to figure out a starting point, a way of using the camera so I could learn, however, its default configuration was alien to my style of working. Where Hasselblad gave me simplicity and did not mire me down with technology, the GFX100 was complicated and took me away from creativity. I needed to configure the GFX100 to be simple to use and then expand on the features as I needed them. Until I could do that, Hasselblad remained my go to camera.

As I began changing various settings in the menus, I wanted to make sure they were saved. The GFX100 has Custom Memory Locations and I incorrectly assumed they worked like Hasselblad’s Profile feature. On the GFX, only certain settings are saved; worse, if a saved setting is changed, reselecting the Custom Memory Location does not restore the setting. This is the opposite of Profiles on the Hasselblad; in fact, the way the GFX100 works makes no sense to me. To be specific, I work with Aperture Priority. I can set the Shooting Mode on the GFX100 to Aperture and save the configuration to Custom Memory #1. If I change to Shutter Priority, the GFX100 keeps that as the new setting for Custom Memory #1. If I switch to Custom Memory #2 and then back to Custom Memory #1, Shutter Priority remains as the Shooting Mode (with Auto Save off too). On the Hasselblad, when I reselect a saved Profile, the Shooting Mode is restored to Aperture Priority. This is a serious “bug” with the GFX100; for example, I often work in low light and occasionally I will switch to Manual Shooting Mode and change the ISO to 400. When I pick up my camera the next morning or evening (likely also in low light), I should be able to simply select Custom Memory #1 and have all settings restored. On the GFX, if I forget to specifically reset each changed settings i.e. Manual to Aperture and ISO to 100, then the camera is not saving me any time, it is making me work harder. Fuji should fix this bug because the GFX100 needs to make life easier, not more difficult. Perhaps this sounds like a minor issue, it is not; a camera with hundreds of setting combinations, should be resettable easily. Posts in online forums and an email and phone conversation with Fuji directly confirmed this. This bug was disappointing and gave me pause; the GFX100 collected dust.

Many months later I came up with a solution. Since the GFX100 would not restore my settings, I decided to configure all the displays to show the most important settings and make them readily viewable and rapidly changeable. This way I had a better chance of finding a changed setting. Those settings are: Aperture Priority, Spot Metering, RAW, DR100, ISO 100 and film simulation Velvia, among others. I configured the GFX100’s My Menu and Q button to have all of these settings available and in the same sequence. I hope Fuji fixes this bug so I can focus more on creativity and less on camera settings.

Even after all the above, the GFX100 sat unused next to my ancient and trusted Hasselblad; the H3DII39 was easier to use. Until one morning many months later, while working along the shore, my Hasselblad 300mm and 1.7x converter (together 500mm) did not click right. When I looked through the viewfinder it was blurry; I could not manually focus the pair. On the verge of surrender, I glanced at the GFX100 and muttered, “time to shine dude!” I attached my Canon 400mm, turned it on, confirmed all the settings and began making a series of exposures. I had to mentally think through each button press, but that did not bother me, I knew in time it would be second nature. The GFX100 saved the day! When I finished the session and returned to my truck to put the gear away, I took a closer look at the Hasselblad blur issue. I immediately realized the problem; the diopter dial on the viewfinder had been turned; how fortunate for me! From that fortuitous day onward, I used the GFX100 over the H3DII39 and it gets increasingly more comfortable and transparent.

There are many aspects of the GFX100 that I appreciate. The image quality is truly outstanding. One hundred megapixels is a tremendous amount of data. File sizes are more than double the size from the H3DII39. The dynamic range is incredible; low light areas that may appear black have recoverable information. While the color is slightly different than Hasselblad’s color, I believe that is something only I will notice.

THE GFX100 viewfinder is electronic - a tiny LCD - very different than an SLR camera that uses a mirror to allow the photographer to see the landscape through the lens. I did not know what to expect; nonetheless, it works very well and I have gotten use to it. I love the fold out LCD on the rear of the camera and the level feature does away with the need for a hot shoe bubble level, although sometimes out of habit I still use one. My H3DII39's rear LCD is very old technology, no live view and not fair to make a comparison. On the GFX, I find I am able to work from the viewfinder or the LCD while composing, the camera shines here; it is a very responsive touch screen.

Long exposures at ISO 100 TO 400 are not grainy (maximum 30 seconds in Aperture Priority, anything longer requires Manual Mode). I wish long exposures did not require the same processing time for the black frame i.e. an eight minute exposure is actually sixteen minutes); I know I can turn it off, however, I prefer quality over speed. Incredibly, I was even able to photograph stars (see two photographs below).

40 seconds at F4 ISO 1600
30 seconds at f4 ISO 800

The ability to select the focus point and meter in the same fashion is wonderful. I configured the GFX100 to focus only when I press the AF-ON button, not the shutter release button (same as my H3DII39 setup.) The zoom in focus check is superb and makes manually focusing with a Hasselblad lens very easy.

8 minutes (16 w/black frame) at f26 ISO 100

I licensed a full version of CaptureOne to process GFX100 photographs. It is excellent software; I am still learning how to use it. Color control is powerful and I find certain features easier to use than the same in Photoshop.

In my research about the GFX system, I found many articles about the camera's capabilities, additional accessories and options. I do not want to be duplicative, however, notwithstanding the Custom Memory Location bug I detailed above, I am extremely impressed with the GFX system and I am glad I chose it. I know there are many other aspects of the GFX100 that I like and have failed to mention; I’m sure there will be even more I discover in time. Kudos to Fuji!

Update: It has been over one year since I wrote this post. My camera settings have evolved i.e. I shoot with 50L ISO, among other settings. I have also added the GFX100S to my kit as a backup, however, I use both bodies interchangeably. I have grown accustomed to the GFX camera system and it is increasingly closer to how I feel about the Hasselblad system. As an artist photographer, my use of cameras may differ than other types of photographers i.e. architecture or portraiture. My use of a camera must be fluid, it must not be about the technology, my art is about my creativity, not a camera's performance. Therefore, this review is more about my experience in adapting [to] the GFX as opposed to a technical review, of which there are thousands.

What do you think?What do you think?