I’ll admit I was seduced by digital medium format, with its ridiculous resolution and that “medium format look.” It has been two years of full-time use. Do I still think it was worth it? Better yet, should you drop $10K+ for a medium format digital camera kit?
As a wedding and portrait photographer who loves medium format film, I jumped on the Fujifilm GFX 100S as soon as it came out because I thought it checked the boxes of both being a modern camera and that it would give me at least some of that medium format goodness that I love. Spoiler alert: the Fujifilm GFX system isn’t perfect, but it doesn’t disappoint in either regard. It’s not the same magic as my Mamiya RZ and 110mm film kit, but the GFX has its own look and the quality of the images it produces are absolutely incredible. Let’s take a bit of a deeper look at some of the ins and outs of using this camera for wedding, portrait, and events work.
Just a short bit of background: I’ve been a wedding and portrait photographer for a little less than half my life, meaning for the past 21 years, I’ve spent the majority of my Saturdays burning up my shutters and trying to make incredible wedding images. I’ve used a huge assortment of gear from Canon, Nikon, Olympus, Fujifilm, and even Phase One on hundreds and hundreds of weddings, portraits, and family sessions. Yes, I even bought a Phase One IQ160 medium format system years ago that I dearly loved, but always had a hard time fitting into my wedding and portrait workflow. My currently kit includes both X Series cameras and the Fujifilm GFX 100S along with the GFX 32-64mm f/4 lens and the GFX 110mm f/2.
What Are The Positives of Using the GFX for Weddings, Events, and Portraits?
1. Image Quality
The is really the reason to choose this camera. Surprising no one, 100 megapixels is pure overkill, except when it’s not. Please note that image quality is not image content. The technical quality of an image is what we’re talking about here, and that’s fun to discuss, but as the saying goes, there’s nothing worse than a sharp picture of a fuzzy idea.
When I shoot family portraits, engagements, wedding parties, and couples portraits, I love to sell wall prints often 4-6 feet across. For that, the 100 megapixels of the GFX 100S make for prints that are simply breathtaking in a way that other cameras I’ve used simply cannot. Let me be clear, however, that without a side-by-side comparison, you’d probably never know what you were missing. In my experience, clients won’t dislike a print from a lower-resolution camera. That aside, I do think the comments I get from the GFX prints are different and set my work slightly apart. Almost everyone that sees a big print from the GFX 100S will be immersed in the amount to detail that a really high-resolution print provides. Not every image will benefit, but images with faces, especially when those faces are smaller in the overall image, it can make a massive difference.
I also I love that my 100-megapixel group portraits of large wedding parties and extended families are sharp and detailed edge to edge, even if I have to shoot at ISO 1600 and with a wide angle lens.
2. Different Style of Shooting
One of the biggest mental changes I’ve had to make with this camera is that it’s frequently more advantageous to shoot with room to crop than it is to fill the frame. Even if you had to crop out 50% of the pixels, you’d still have 50 megapixels to make a print, which I really had to beat into my mind for a while. Need a vertical? Easy. Need to crop to super panoramic? Piece of cake. Leaving yourself room for creative cropping is a huge win for album design, wall prints etc. The 100-megapixel raw file is so flexible and sharp that it really can expand your creativity in both composition and post-production.
3. Easier Compositing
As a wedding and portrait photographer, I try to limit the amount of heavy editing that I do via compositing because it can really slow down my workflow. But for every project, it seems these days, there are images where I need to do a composite because something was out of my control or I want to create something I planned for by shooting supporting frames and combining them in post-production.
When I have tons of detail to work when making selections, I can change and warp pixels to fit and still have a great composite in the end that hasn’t turned to mush. If you’ve ever taken part of an image, faces are my most frequent need, and what you grabbed wasn’t made of enough pixels, you’ll know that making any edits and warps, etc. to that face will can make it unusable. The GFX 100S resolution can always be downscaled on either the base frame or supporting image to help make things match up more seamlessly.
4. Aspect Ratio
The GFX is different than 35mm full frame cameras in that it captures images in a 4:3 ratio, which I love. The 3:2 aspect ratio images that come from all full frame cameras are longer and more panoramic than the frame of a GFX camera, which is closer to square. That difference leads to different compositions and use of space. Just like when I first picked up a 6×6 Hasselblad and started learning to see in square, the change will make you think and see differently. Some people love it, others don’t, but it’s definitely something to be aware of if you’re jumping into medium format, as nearly every medium format (and Micro 4/3) camera has the 4:3 aspect ratio.
That’s it, really: image resolution, printing and cropping, and editing are my main reasons for why anyone should choose GFX. If resolution as a superpower doesn’t tickle your fancy, I’d stop here, because in my opinion, any other reasons to drop your hard-earned money on a GFX camera aren’t likely to be worth it. Yes, it has all the modern features (IBIS, Wi-Fi, tilt screen, etc.), but mostly, those are found in almost all cameras these days. What makes it special is really about the sensor.
What Are the Limitations to the Fujifilm GFX System?
1. Sync Speed
First the native synch speed for flash with the GFX 100S is 1/125 s, so you lose a stop of flash sync speed compared to many pro cameras. This can be a problem in bright light or if subjects are moving. However, I rarely like to use strobes at mid-day, and in low-light situations, I can usually make high-speed sync (HSS) work in a pinch.
I would dearly love Fujifilm to develop some leaf shutter lenses like those I had for my Phase One camera that allow for full synchronization of strobes at any shutter speed, but to date, I haven’t seen anything along those lines.
The second limitation is with continuous autofocus or C-AF, face tracking, etc. The GFX 100S camera can track a couple walking at a normal pace, but it won’t do well with anything moving faster than that pace or in low light, like reception dancing. You can get around some of these AF problems with zone focusing, planing your shots, etc., but it’s never going to be as easy as with some other systems. Trying to shoot the 110mm f/2 lens wide open with a moving subject is going to lead to a lot of focus misses as you might expect, and they’re very easy to see when reviewing with that much resolution.
First, the good news is that the GFX lenses I have used are more than capable of giving you world-class results from the sensor. My 32-64mm lens is sharper out to the edges of the frame than any than midrange zoom I’ve ever owned, and the 110mm f/2 prime lens is pretty flawless at creating stunning separation and outstanding sharpness for portraits.
For those of you that aren’t fully versed in Fuji GFX specs, the sensors in these cameras are larger than a 35mm full frame system and give a “reverse crop factor” of 0.79x compared to full frame 35mm. Therefore, GFX lenses will give a field of view that is wider at a given focal length, and the depth of field at a given aperture will effectively be shallower when compared to a full frame 35mm camera when normalizing the field of view. It’s also worth noting that the sensor size of the GFX is much smaller than 6 cm x 4.5 cm medium format film, so it sits in the middle between 120 film sizes and 35mm.
Another wrinkle is that GFX cameras create images in 4:3 ratio, while your standard full frame camera is 3:2. This has some implications when cropping and printing, in that one of the two sensor ratios will more closely match a given print size and therefore retain more of its pixels than the other. You know when you’re trying to make an 8×10 print and you’re annoyed that the crop isn’t how you shot the image? A 4:3 ratio camera will likely fix that, at least a bit.
The downside to the lens system on the whole is that the equivalent lenses for full fame that a wedding and portrait photographer would want really don’t exist. Take, for example, the 70-200mm f/2.8 that most wedding photographers carry. The best fit in the GFX lineup would be the GFX 100-200mm f/5.6. The equivalent field of view and depth of field specs would be 79-158mm f/4.4. Another example would be my 110mm f/2 lens, which, when multiplied by the conversion factor, is an 87mm f/1.5, which is fine, but does not exceed what is possible with full frame.
If Fujifilm could give us lenses with the same field of view and maximum aperture as the best of full frame, then the larger sensor would create an advantage, but currently, the specs on most of the lenses either tie or lose to full frame options.
Is there a medium format look that makes the 110mm different than a full frame 85mm, for example? I am pretty sure blind testing would say no, as someone who drank the Kool-Aid, I sometimes feel like the rendering of that 110mm is special. You’ll have to be the judge, and your mileage may vary because that whole conversation seems to vary from person to person.
If you do want to push the shallow depth of field and love soft and creamy renderings, there are a number of third-party lenses that can be adapted to the GFX that are not only extremely fast but also add a lot of character to the images. The Mitakon 65mm f/1.4 comes to mind, but I’ve even seen some old cine lenses being used to great effect. Of course, most of that can be done with other cameras as well.
The card space needed for every image to be a 100-megapixel raw file is substantial. and when you know that you won’t need that quality, it seems wasteful to store all that data. Every raw file from my GFX 100S hovers around 127 MB. It’s adds up fast on SD cards and on hard drives.
5. Slowing Down
One positive “limitation” for those that are looking to slow down. This camera helps my heavy trigger finger in a great way. I just seem to take more time with the GFX, and the images seem a bit more intentional. Yes, you can speed up, and you don’t have to worry about each image costing $4-5 as with film. I love that the camera can do that, but I don’t need it often. If you’re looking to augment your Contax, Mamiya, or Hasselblad, this camera might be something to try. I typically shoot about 30-50% of images in a portrait session with the GFX compared to what I did with Canon, but the number of keepers has stayed steady.
Can the GFX Cameras Be Your Only System for Wedding Photography?
The answer is, of course, yes, the GFX could and probably is a great primary system for some wedding photographers. It will all depend on your shooting style and the types of weddings you do. Honestly, if the lenses you love are available and the autofocus works for you, I’m confident the image quality won’t disappoint.
For me, however, and I think this will be true for most photographers, the pros and cons led me to use the GFX alongside a second system so I could maximize its benefits and fill any gaps in performance that might arise on my gigs. Because I rarely print anything from the preparation, ceremony, or reception at sizes that would benefit from the GFX, it makes more sense for me to carry both the Fujifilm X series cameras for those parts of the day and the GFX for when I can make use of that quality. The bonus is also that carrying both systems solves any potential downsides because the X-series cameras have the AF, sync speed, and lenses that the GFX does not. I could have picked another system to run alongside the GFX, but I love the fact that the controls and menus on the cameras are similar between my bodies, the batteries are interchangeable, and post-processing for color is very similar.
Would I Buy Into the GFX System Again?
It’s not for everyone, but yes, I would do it again. The GFX is exactly what I thought it would be, a modern camera with an ace up its sleeve of having ultimate image quality. Do I use it for everything? No. I try to use the GFX where its benefits do the images and prints the most good. Instead of running just one camera model, I opt for a dual system, which I know isn’t for everyone. Muscle memory with your camera body is important, but for those of us who want something like this as a specialized tool, the compromises are few, and if you stay within the Fuji family, the similarities between bodies work well. Of course, there are lots of options for wedding photographers out there, and many are seemingly more practical. So, in the end, use what you have, what inspires you, and what you can afford because every camera I’ve used for at least the last 10 years is capable of profession results.
Let me know you think about digital medium format for weddings, portraits and events in the comments. Remember, image content is 98% of the game, and technical image quality is just that remaining 2%. Use what makes you feel confident and creative. The truth is, every camera I’ve used for at least the last 10 years would hold up for professional use today.