The Fuji GFX 100 is an amazing camera. But one simple fix could greatly improve its usefulness in my workflow.
My Fuji GFX 100 and I have reached a really good place in our relationship. Having been paired for almost two years now, we’ve long since left the honeymoon in the rearview mirror. We’ve worked through that difficult period post-honeymoon where you start to realize that your partner is not so perfect after all. Rather than waste time wishing they were something they’re not, you instead choose to focus on the things about them that you love. This doesn’t make things all roses. There are still lots of times you find yourself wishing your partner and you shared more hobbies. You’d love to take them everywhere with you. But, in reality, you have learned it’s best to simply bring them into situations where they will perform the best.
Such is a description of my current relationship with my Fuji GFX 100. I’ve written about it a lot, so I’m not going to give a full review here. A short 30-second review would be that it provides second-to-none image quality under controlled conditions but becomes increasingly less useful as the speed of your subject or shooting process increases. The 102-megapixel files will blow your mind. But, they will also take a toll on your hard drive if you are not careful with file management. I, for one, have become far more considerate of which files I keep following shoots. My trash bin in Capture One has never been so busy, as I now make a practice of only keeping the absolute best images and deleting the clear rejects altogether, rather than saving them to reconsider later.
Also, like any functional relationship, I have learned to work with both the GFX’s strengths and its limitations. In areas where it struggles, I have found a few new techniques and workarounds that minimize the obstacles to success. After two years, I’ve also learned more about the system. And I feel that now, it is a very effective tool in my workflow, even if that means that it can’t be part of my entire workflow.
For those areas where the GFX 100 is not best suited, I still return to my tried and true Nikon D850. Actually, I’d describe the D850 as the undisputed starter, with the GFX 100 coming in to play more of an impact sub. Originally, my plan was to phase out of that camera and move completely to the GFX 100, but by this point, I can confirm that the two cameras are two very different machines. They do very different things and serve very different purposes. I still maintain that the D850 is one of the best stills cameras ever made, if not the very best. While the D850 has limitations in the video, when it comes to still photography, there is quite simply nothing you can’t do with this camera. It kind of excels at everything. So, despite my original intention, these past years have only bonded me more with the D850, so much so that I even started to dig into the manual for that camera a little more to figure out what I might be missing. And, in the process, I learned about a whole host of capabilities that were available in the camera that I had quite honestly never even considered.
There are too many hidden Easter egg features on the D850 to mention here, but I do want to focus on one of the more obvious ones — so obvious, in fact, that most of you will respond to the following sentences with an audible “duh,” followed by a firm slap of your palm to your forehead. Nonetheless, it’s a feature that I never really had a need to explore, and thus, never paid a great deal of attention to. So what is this groundbreaking feature? Simple. DX mode.
Ever since graduating from APS-C sized sensors to full-frame with the advent of the first full frame digital cameras, I’ll admit that I hadn’t given DX (the Nikon lens format meant for APS-C sized sensors) much thought. Sure, if I wanted to mount an old DX lens to my FX (full frame) body, I could switch into DX mode. But I had long since sold off all my DX glass. Also, using DX mode reduced the megapixels of the image to just the DX area. And since I am nothing if not a megapixel snob, the idea of willingly reducing the number of megapixels wouldn’t have readily occurred to me. I was overlooking a great many benefits of DX mode, which we will get to momentarily, but it was simply an option that I never felt the need to explore.
Now, even though I like to hoard megapixels, there is simply no escaping the fact that many photographic applications truly don’t require as many megapixels as I like to use. As much of last year was spent at home during pandemic-related quarantine, I spent just as much time shooting personal projects around the house as I did running around Los Angeles in search of billboard-worthy images. In order to spice things up and maintain my sanity, I made a habit of flipping back and forth between cameras for personal projects, allowing the different cameras to help in aiding my inspiration. In addition to the D850 and GFX 100, both the 24-megapixel D750 and Z 6 got plenty of playing time. And while these files aren’t nearly as fun to zoom into 400% in Capture One, when viewed at a real-world size and distance, the files were still amazing. Just a reminder that the quality of an image is about the photography, the light, the shadow, the subject, and the artistry. Not the number of megapixels.
Of course, shooting a lot more with 24 MP also had an unintended benefit. Exhausted from processing 102 MP and 45 MP files all day, my hard drive would jump for joy at the sight of these 24 MP files flying through. And, while I may not be willing to crop in quite as much as with my larger megapixel files, I found the 24 MP range to be pretty ideal for a number of situations.
With that being said, there was one area where that inability to crop deep did prove to be less than ideal. As one of the few things I could actually safely leave the house to shoot during the pandemic, I really found myself getting into wildlife photography over the course of the year. Cute animals. Easy to social distance. A great way to practice your autofocusing skills. What’s not to love? But since when it comes to wildlife photography, I am purely a hobbyist, I don’t necessarily have a huge collection of long lenses that allow me to get really close to the birds in the distance. Situations like this are where I started to realize just how versatile the 45 MP files of the D850 really were as they gave me plenty of room to crop in post and still retain lots of detail.
But, of course, that means cropping in after the fact. And, as a stubborn photographer, my goal is always to get the final product in-camera. There’s nothing wrong with cropping. I just love the challenge of going home knowing that only the minimum amount of cleanup will be required before exporting your files.
But since my photography business is not centered around wildlife, investing in the longer glass didn’t seem like the most prudent option. Enter, you guessed it, DX mode. It finally dawned on me that by switching the D850 into DX mode, I could extend the reach of my lens. So my FX 70-300mm zoom would now essentially have a reach somewhere in the range of 105-450mm. It kind of works like a digital zoom, focusing only on the middle portion of the frame. That does scale my effective sensor size from 36×24 mm down to 24×16 mm and reduce the megapixels in the process. In the case of the D850, the resulting image is 19.4 MP. But for my particular application, it was more than enough and comparable to the native 20.9 MP of the wildlife specialist Nikon D500. I even started applying this process to more areas of my walkaround photography. Sometimes, I want to travel light with just a prime, but need a wee bit extra reach in limited circumstances. This FX/DX switch is a quick solution that can really come in handy. Naturally, the idea would be to have another lens with me and stay in FX mode all the time. But, in a practical real-world sense, this method has proven very effective in a pinch for my just-for-fun shooting, which isn’t necessarily going to require an excess of megapixels.
All of this brings me full circle back to Fuji and the headline of this article. Recently, they just added the ability to use pixel shift with your GFX 100 to produce an unfathomable 400 MP image. I have still yet to practice with this, but can only imagine that the results can be nothing short of extraordinary. For landscape or still life shooters especially, this could be a massive game-changer — an awesome feature for sure.
But for my applications, centered around living, breathing, and quickly moving subjects not really suited to pixel shift, what I’d like to see added to the GFX 100 via firmware would be a full frame mode. Similar to the D850 flipping into DX mode and giving you extra reach in exchange for megapixels and file size, being able to switch the GFX 100 from medium format mode to full frame mode could have a multitude of benefits. Yes, you buy a 102 MP camera to shoot with 102 MP, but there are definitely times — a lot of times — when you will not need nearly that many. In fact, one of the biggest strengths of the camera is the ability to produce images that my clients will be able to crop in a gazillion different ways based on their needs. I regularly can crop down to only about a quarter of the full frame and still be able to deliver a 25-megapizel image, which is ample to print in most situations. So, shooting in a cropped full frame mode might reduce megapixels, but when you are starting with 102, you would still have plenty to play with.
As a working photographer, having that option would allow me to use the camera in even more situations. Believe it or not, there are circumstances when you can provide clients with too much resolution. So, for gigs where I know the client’s usage will only be digital or I get the sense that the client will have no idea how to resize or use a huge 102-megapixel file, I generally just opt for using a different camera. But, if I could easily flip my GFX into shooting a smaller file format, it would give me another reason to stay with that system.
The other potential benefit would be performance. The main issues I’ve had about the system since I got it have all been centered around operating speed. Because my business is built around shooting fast-moving subjects, viewfinder blackout, file write speeds, and autofocus tracking performance has proved to be the biggest obstacles for me with the camera. To be fair, it was never going to be as nimble or fast as the D850. And some performance issues could be predicted when needing to push 102 MP through the camera with every press of the shutter button. But the extended viewfinder blackout between frames nearly rendered the camera useless in my own workflow simply because my subjects move so quickly. It took me a long time to realize a few tweaks, such as changing the file compression and shooting at 14-bit instead of 16-bit, that would provide adequate performance boosts that would allow me to move the camera rapidly enough to keep up with the speed of my subjects and my shooting style. I’m no technician, but I assume the performance boost is due to the alterations I made that reduced the file size of each image. That reduction in file size allows the camera to both write the file faster and refresh the viewfinder faster, which are both critical when tracking a moving subject.
With that in mind, I would have to think that being able to shoot in a full frame mode, which would only produce maybe an approximately 50-megapixel image would allow the camera to refresh and shoot even faster. I may be wrong about that. And perhaps I’m even wrong that this is a feature that could be added via firmware. But, if they could add that option, that additional functionality would add significant value to the camera. Even if you did shoot at 102 MP and 16-bit 95% of the time, having the option to switch to a smaller file for faster performance when you need it would be the difference between the camera being a pinch hitter versus a full-time starter.
At the end of the day, this is the main reason why my D850 persists as my team captain. It can simply do anything I ask it to do. 45 MP is plenty for the vast majority of jobs. And the small customization options, like flipping into DX mode or shooting smaller RAW files, extend its applications and essentially gives you multiple cameras in one body.
Because the GFX 100 is starting with so many megapixels to begin with, adding the ability to switch your frame size might just be the key to making it all the more invaluable as an everyday player. It might just be wishful thinking, but the start of a new year is the time for wishful thinking. So, on the off chance that the Fuji tech team happens to be reading this article, allow me to add this feature to my public wish list.