When the GFX100S was launched last year at Fujifilm’s X Summit Global 2021, I wondered what would happen to the original GFX 50S. Would Fujifilm engineers spend precious time and resources to install the new IBIS mechanism and battery system into the older GFX 50S body? Would Sony, the supplier of the medium format sensor update the 50MP sensor to include BSI and on-sensor phase-detect AF for Fujifilm? Or would 100MP be the new standard resolution for Fujifilm’s GFX digital medium format system? We didn’t have to wait long, as the answer came eight months later at the X Summit Prime event in September 2021 when Fujifilm announced the GFX50S Version II.
This new entry-level GFX camera body is basically a ‘parts bin’ camera, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Instead of creating an all-new body, the engineers used the existing body of GFX100S for the new GFX50S II, which includes the effective IBIS mechanism and power-efficient battery system. The R&D, supply chain, manufacturing, and assembly line were already established and in place for the GFX100S, so it made sense to build the GFX50S II on this same platform. However, when it came to the sensor, Fujifilm had no choice but to use the same sensor from the previous GFX 50S and GFX50R. As previously mentioned, Fujifilm’s supplier for sensors is Sony, so they are at their mercy when it comes to sensor specifications and availability. It makes sense that Sony was not interested in developing an all-new 50MP BSI CMOS medium format sensor when full-frame sensors are already hitting this resolution.
However, using the older sensor does not mean the image quality is going to be the same as the original GFX 50S, since the processor has been upgraded to the latest X Processor 4. This processor was first used in the X-T3, and has proven itself powerful enough to run both the GFX100 and GFX100S. With this new processor in collaboration with the previous 51.4MP sensor, the new GFX50S II can focus quicker and more accurately, has improved face and eye detection, and overall has a boost in performance.
For my style of photography, the biggest improvement is the inclusion of the new IBIS mechanism from the GFX100S. With 6.5 stops of 5-axis calculation and stabilization, I could handhold the GF63mmF2.8 lens down to 1/6th sec, and comfortably shoot at 1/20th sec without worrying about blurry images. Considering the size of the sensor and the ‘slowness’ of shooting with a medium format camera, these shutter speeds are spectacular. I’ve talked about how the shutter cycle on digital medium format is slower in comparison to the X Series cameras. Hand holding 1/6th sec exposure on a GFX camera is more difficult than doing so on the X-T4, since the exposure cycle is actually longer on the GFX. Having IBIS on medium format is one feature I value more than megapixels or autofocus speed.
The majority of my testing was done at night and during inclement weather. I could shoot with confidence with a fully weather-sealed and professional build quality systems camera. The GFX50S II and the GF63mmF2.8 R WR performed well, even at -14°C. At this temperature, I had to shoot with gloves on, and the larger ergonomics of this camera worked out, except for the exposure compensation button. The deep front grip and thumb rest allowed for a comfortable shooting experience. Yes, the GFX50S II is larger and heavier than my X-T4, but with twice the resolution and almost four times the sensor surface area, the GFX50S II is surprisingly small and compact for this ‘More Than Full Frame’ camera system.
Some might argue that many full-frame cameras have close to 50MP or more, but it’s not a fair comparison. The 43.8mm x 32.9mm digital medium format sensor has 1.7 times the surface area of the 36mm x 24mm full-frame sensor. This allows for larger pixels, which collects more data and has a stronger signal-to-noise ratio, which improves higher ISO performance and an increase in dynamic range. In addition, Fujifilm’s specially shaped micro-lenses that are attached to each pixel on this sensor allow for improved detail and clarity. Add the new processor and Fujifilm’s colour science, including their film simulations based on physical emulsions that Fujifilm made for decades, and you have an amazing combination of factors that make for spectacular images.
However, there are some points that need to be addressed. The removal of the D-Pad on the GFX100S and now the GFX50S II is almost unforgivable. There’s enough space to have both the D-Pad and the focus lever (aka joystick), and nobody was complaining about having both, so why remove it? Also, the new joystick is the worst that Fujifilm has ever made. The top feels like sharp sandpaper against the thumb, and the movement doesn’t feel natural. The new multi-directional lever actually gets ‘stuck’ while scrolling through menus unless you are pushing or pulling in the exact direction you are trying to navigate (this can actually be fixed in firmware).
This is a matter of personal preference, but the removal of two dials and two sub-dials (the smaller dials below the main dial), and replacing it with a large screen with virtual dials is laggy, slower than real dials and not intuitive. The only dial that remains on the top is a PSAM dial. This is something that most Fujifilm users can proudly live without since we know how to use the physical aperture ring and shutter speed dial, or just custom set the front and rear dials. Instead of a PSAM dial, this should have been an ISO main dial with a DRIVE sub-dial. Instead, we have to dig into the menus, use the Q button or waste an Fn button to change ISO, and press a DRIVE button instead of intuitively seeing and changing what drive setting we’re in, even with the camera turned off.
Moreover, we lost three dials and two sub-dials on the GFX50S II and GFX100S. Those new to Fujifilm won’t know what they’re missing, but those of us who have been here from the start will have to learn to shoot differently with these new cameras with fewer ‘pro’ ergonomics. Ok, I’m finished with my rant. Actually one more: don’t get the kit GF35-70mm zoom lens unless you’re new to the GFX system, and buy it bundled with the camera. The collapsible lens design only makes the lens compact when transporting (see opening image) and the image quality is just okay, especially at minimum focus distance. The whole point in upgrading to the GFX system isn’t just about the larger sensor, but also the improved optics.
In conclusion, the GFX50S II makes a lot of sense for Fujifilm, but it also makes a lot of sense for those of us thinking of getting into digital medium format. This is truly a gateway camera. For $4000 USD, we can now enter into the previously unattainable eco-system of digital medium format, or for $4500 USD with the aforementioned kit lens. However, I recommend getting the GF50mmF3.5 R LM WR instead of the kit lens. As a gateway camera, the GFX50S II will allow us to capture images at a whole new level. We will immediately see a difference in our images, especially if we’re coming from the X Series. There will be a learning curve of course (the 4:3 aspect ratio, slower shutter cycle, different button-dial layout) but we will be rewarded with images from a sensor that is almost four times the sensor surface of our beloved X Series cameras. There are some things that the X Series can do better than the GFX system, so I wouldn’t sell off all your gear to ‘upgrade’ to medium format. However, having the GFX50S II in the line-up makes it a bit easier to justify dabbling in medium format photography without completely breaking the bank or selling off all our other gear. Thanks for reading and happy shooting!!