3) Design, Ergonomics and Build Quality
While Fuji is known to make stylish retro-style cameras, I cannot describe the GFX 50S as one. In fact, compared to the Hasselblad X1D-50c, one could argue that it is a pretty ugly camera and I would not disagree. The “edgy” retro look of the camera, along with the extruded LCD just don’t look good on such a large camera body in my opinion. Unlike the X-series cameras, the GFX 50S has way too many ridges and protruding elements all over its body and with an attached EVF (see additional notes on the EVF further down in the review) plus a boatload of buttons, it looks like a complex and possibly even an intimidating camera. While the Hasselblad X1D-50c is made to appeal photographers of any level, the GFX 50S prioritizes functionality over design, so it’s aimed at enthusiasts and professionals who know what they are doing. It would have been definitely wrong if Fuji made the GFX 50S with such a large sensor and high price tag less functional than its premium camera offerings like the X-Pro2 and the X-T2 – its existing fan base would not have taken the camera seriously. Still, I wish Fuji engineers came up with a slightly cleaner design that made the camera a little bit more attractive, so that it feels a bit more “premium” when compared to other medium format cameras on the market. Perhaps Fuji can focus on that in the next iterations of the GFX camera line…
Let’s go over the camera body in more detail. We will first start with the front of the camera. Here, Fuji kept things rather simple. Aside from the lens release button, there is only a single function button (set to AE Bracketing by default), along with the sync port and the front dial. The bulk of the space is occupied by the massive lens throat, which has an impressive diameter of 65mm (slightly larger than that of the Hasselblad X1D-50c). Fuji left very little space on the top and the bottom of the camera, which shows that the engineers wanted to make the camera as compact as possible, obviously without any serious compromises.
Moving on to the camera top, we can see that there is very little free space available, thanks to a number of dials, buttons and a large LCD. To the left of the EVF there is an ISO dial that is made in the same style as we are used to seeing on other modern X-series cameras, minus the drive modes. To the right of the EVF there is again the standard shutter speed dial. Both are large and tall, which is particularly useful when using the camera with gloves in cold temperatures. The “Drive” modes on the GFX 50S are moved to a small button to the right of the shutter speed dial, while a tiny button on the bottom left of the top LCD is there to reverse the colors of the LCD when shooting in dark conditions.
Speaking of the top LCD, Fuji did a great job with it, since it is very functional and has plenty of space for all the relevant information. Unlike standard LCDs on other cameras that have information “burned” into them, the top LCD on the GFX 50S is very flexible, so you can fully customize the presentation information from the camera menu if you would like (Setup -> Screen Set-Up -> Sub Monitor Setting). Now this is a really cool and useful feature that I have never seen on any other camera before! When customizing the top LCD, there are a total of 8 slots that you can set up in 5 lines and there are plenty of options for each slot. I was a bit worried about higher power consumption with such an LCD, but it turned out to be a non-issue, as explained in the Battery Life section of this review.
On the top of the LCD you will find the camera on / off switch with the shutter release button on top, along with a tiny exposure compensation (EC) button. I am definitely not a big fan of such a tiny EC button, which makes it practically impossible to use it with gloves on. I wish Fuji made it bigger and moved it away from the shutter release a little, so that it is much easier to access.
Aside from these, you will also find a focus switch with two other buttons on the protruded area of the camera rear. These are a bit awkward to access when shooting, but I cannot see a better place to put them. I am not sure exactly why Fuji decided to extend the back of the camera, but based on the layout, it probably had to do with the size of the battery and space limitations. Initially, I thought that perhaps Fuji wanted to reduce sensor heat, but that theory does not make sense for one main reason – the battery sits directly behind the camera sensor. So if anything, it only potentially adds to heating concerns (although I never experienced the camera overheating, even with heavy use). I think the simpler explanation is that the massive battery, which is almost twice the width of the NP-W126 battery used on X-series cameras, could not fit anywhere else in the camera. And since Fuji did not want to make the camera any taller than a DSLR, the decision was made to extend the back of the camera. Personally, I would prefer that Fuji engineers instead found a way to work out the battery size issue by perhaps making the camera grip a little larger and moving it there. This would have removed the necessity to make the camera appear so bulky when compared to the Hasselblad X1D-50c. Take a look at the below comparison and you will see exactly what I mean:
That’s a massive difference in camera width between the two, with Hasselblad X1D-50c looking much slimmer and sleeker in comparison. If Fuji found a way to relocate the battery to the grip area, as in the case of the X1D-50c, all that extra bulk from the back of the camera could have been cut off. This obviously would require Fuji to redesign the EVF to be shorter in length and possibly increase the vertical size of the camera (since the EVF would have to be made a bit taller), but I would rather have a slightly taller, but slim camera, than one that is even deeper than my Nikon DSLRs. This would also eliminate the awkward-to-access switches and buttons in this area and make the GFX 50S appear like the X-series cameras.
When it comes to the EVF, many Fuji GFX 50S owners love its flexibility and modularity. Ability to attach / detach EVF and other accessories using the flash socket is a great idea, especially if Fuji is planning to release additional accessories and offer future EVF upgrades. However, I did come across a potential problem with the modular EVF – out of the two GFX 50S cameras that I used in the past 6 months, one EVF started to malfunction after just two months of use. Once the camera powered up and EVF turned on, it would display white horizontal blocks. If I banged the EVF with my hand, the blocks sometimes went away and EVF went back to normal. Unfortunately, this good old trick did not work every time and it certainly did not make me look from the side, beating up an expensive medium format camera! I am not sure if I just got unlucky with one of the sample units, but it could definitely be a concern for a potential owner.
Many seem to prefer a tilt adapter that allows the EVF to be used in different angles. Personally, I did not bother with getting one, because I found the tiltable LCD on the back of the camera to give me enough flexibility when shooting from the top. In fact, when doing discreet street photography, using a tiltable EVF would have definitely let my subjects know that I am pointing the camera at them, whereas using the tiltable LCD allowed me to remain more or less unnoticed, since I appeared as if I was just looking down at the camera.
Without a doubt, the EVF on the Fuji GFX 50S is noticeably better than the one on the Hasselblad X1D-50c. When comparing the EVF performance between the two, I can tell you that the EVF on the GFX 50S is far superior – not just in terms of detail due to higher resolution, but also in terms of refresh rate. When shooting in low-light conditions, the EVF on the X1D-50c feels very jumpy and if you have any vertical lines, you will notice the effect of the rolling shutter. The same cannot be said about the EVF on the GFX 50S – it feels much smoother and responsive in comparison.
Let’s now move on to the back of the camera, which looks like the following:
I definitely have a few ergonomic complaints here. First of all, the grip on the right side of the camera back is anything but comfortable. The grip protrudes way too much in my opinion, and its a bit too edgy, which made it somewhat painful to use in the field – my thumb kept getting sore on one side. That’s because Fuji decided to place two buttons on this back grip (function button + “Q” button), so it had to come out a bit to prevent people from accidentally pressing those buttons. I wish Fuji kept the grip area smaller and smoother, similar to what Hasselblad has done on the X1D-50c. Second, Fuji decided not to put any labels on the three function buttons, which is not something I would like to see on any camera. One has to either press the buttons and experiment with them to see what they do, or dig in the camera menu to find the answers. In my opinion, even if camera buttons are fully customizable, the default labels for buttons should always be there. Lastly, it feels like Fuji simply copy-pasted some of the components from the X-series cameras into the GFX 50S. For example, the size of the joystick on the GFX 50S is the same size as on the X-T2, which to me does not make sense, given that the GFX 50S is much larger in comparison. The same goes with the rear dial – it just feels too small for this camera.
On the positive note, the back LCD screen on the GFX 50S is wonderful, not just because of its large size and high resolution, but also because it is a tilting type. And we are not just talking about half-useful vertical tilting, but also side tilting (similar to what we have previously seen on other X-series cameras like the X-T2), which can be very handy when shooting in vertical orientation hand-held or off a tripod. To make sure that the LCD matches the image sensor, Fuji made the LCD screen in 4:3 aspect ratio, so there is no dead space on either side of the frame.
Aside from the above, the rest of the functionality on the GFX 50S is very similar to that of X-series cameras.
On the left side of the camera you will see a battery door, along with two extra compartments for connectivity options. The left compartment houses a USB 3.0 port, an HDMI micro port, remote shutter release terminal and a DC input terminal to feed external power to the camera. The right compartment is for video – it contains a microphone input and a headphone jack. To be honest, I do not know why Fuji even bothered providing audio ports, since the camera is crippled to 1080p video recording anyway. I doubt anyone who is serious about video would even consider a medium format camera, since the readout speed is simply insufficient to be able to push so much bandwidth through. Again, additional space could have been saved by excluding audio ports completely.
The right side of the camera hosts a single door to access the dual SD ports. This is another area where the GFX 50S stands above the Hasselblad X1D-50c – both ports are UHS-II compatible. Considering that UHS-II SD cards are much faster compared to UHS-I cards and they will soon become the standard, Hasselblad definitely goofed up by limiting both ports to UHS-I on the high-end X1D-50c.
Another area worth discussing is the camera strap. Putting on the straps is an interesting process – there is a metal piece that you need to slide in on the camera pins first, then the strap goes through it. The bad thing is, the metal ears get in the way of the side doors – both for accessory and memory card doors. So if you wear a strap, you would be OK changing memory cards as long as the camera is hanging off your neck or shoulder. However, if the strap is down, you will need to move it upwards to access the side doors. Despite this one inconvenience, I love the fact that Fuji made the strap easily removable, which is a great benefit in situations where it needs to be quickly detached and put away, such as when shooting on a tripod in windy conditions.
Lastly, the GFX 50S also allows attaching a battery grip, something you cannot do on the Hasselblad X1D-50c. The VG-GFX1 vertical battery grip allows easier shooting in vertical orientation and you can double the battery capacity of the camera by inserting an additional NP-T125 battery into the grip.
When it comes to build quality, the GFX 50S certainly does not feel as well-made as the Hasselblad X1D-50c, but it does not feel cheap either. The camera sports a very durable magnesium alloy shell and it should be able to withstand abuse in the field. The only area I would be worried about is the top LCD – if you drop anything sharp and heavy on it, the glass cover might break and destroy the LCD, which would probably not be cheap to replace.
Overall, the Fuji GFX 50S feels like a very durable camera with fairly good usability and ergonomics. It might not have the sleek design and comfort of the X1D-50c, but given that it is a very functional tool aimed at fairly technical photographers who know what they are doing, I prefer the GFX 50S to the X1D-50c any day. If Fuji addresses some of the concerns I brought up above in the next generation GFX, it will feel much more thought-out and complete in comparison.
4) Menu System and Firmware Updates
The menu system on the GFX 50S is very similar to that of the Fuji X-T2, so if you are already familiar with the Fuji X-series cameras, you will have no problem navigating and customizing the camera through its extensive and easy to use menu system. Personally, I love the way Fuji designed its menu system. As a Nikon shooter, I prefer to have main menus and sub-menus located on the left side of the screen and I really like being able to quickly add and remove important menu options in “My” camera menu. Fuji did a great job organizing its menu system and unlike some cameras out there, things are located exactly where they should be for the most part. I have practically no complaints on the menu system, aside from one bug that has been annoying me forever on all X-series cameras – inability to go back the last state when navigating the setup menu options. If you go to any setup menu or sub-menu, the moment you get out of the menu and go back in, the camera will always default to Image Quality Setting. Also, if the camera was turned off and turned back on, the last menu system selection is never retrieved either. This is something that should be fixed via a firmware update as soon as possible, since it adds to many more steps when one wants to experiment with some of the setup settings.
Speaking of firmware, I am glad that Fuji finally fixed another serious bug – inability to save the Self-Timer state! Previously, if one set a self-timer, then turned the camera off and back on, the self-timer would turn off, forcing one to set it back again. On the GFX 50S, there is now an option called “Save Self-Timer Setting” in the Shooting Menu, which once turned on (off by default), will always save the Self-Timer state. This menu option is currently exclusive to the GFX 50S, but it should be provided in firmware updates to all other X-series cameras!
Without a doubt, the Fuji GFX 50S is way ahead of the Hasselblad X1D-50c in terms of its menu system, by leaps and bounds. While the X1D-50c does not have very basic functionality such as auto exposure bracketing or extended intervalometer / time-lapse features, the GFX 50S is stuffed with all kinds of menu options and features that are expected to be found on a modern camera. You can customize the camera in many ways and there are plenty of other useful options, such as the ability to map out hot / stuck pixels.
The Fuji GFX 50S initially shipped with a few rather serious issues that affected focusing operations. First, since the GF lenses use fly-by-wire focusing, the focusing state would not get saved when playing back images or turning off the camera. This was rather annoying, particularly for landscape and architecture photographers who wanted to evaluate sharpness of their images. Second, when shooting in manual or AF-S focus modes, the camera would occasionally shift lens focus when half-pressing the shutter release, making it appear that lenses have very serious focus shift issues. Both issues have been addressed in the recent v1.1 firmware update and I can confirm that they indeed take care of these problems. Thanks to this update, I have been able to fully complete my Imatest lab evaluation of the three initially launched lenses, the reviews of which will be posted soon. If you are considering the GFX 50S or already own one, I highly recommend updating your camera firmware to v1.1 as soon as possible.