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A Fujifilm Full Frame Killer Is Imminent

Image — author’s own

Ever since the Fujifilm XT 2 came out, a number of professional photographers have been switching from Nikon and Canon to Fujifilm. In fact a number of professionals who shoot Canon, Nikon, or Sony for work own an X100 series point and shoot or other Fuji as a weekend camera. Apart from the professionals, enthusiasts who shoot vintage lenses — enthralled by their “character” also appear to prefer Fujifilm because the system’s film simulations give you a finished product “straight out of camera” if you’re proficient enough to get the exposure right. Though the Fujifilm zealots on social media hailed the XT3, XT4, XH1, X Pro 2, and Xpro 3 as “full frame killers” these have not been precisely so for two specific reasons:

First, regardless of what the Fuji fanatics on social media repeat ad nauseum, there are situations faced by professional photographers when the additional light gathering capabilities of a full-frame sensor have a decisive advantage over Fuji’s APSC sensors. Furthermore lenses capture different angles of view on different sensors. A 50mm full frame lens behaves like a 75mm lens on an APSC camera, capturing a narrower angle of view and making the subject seem closer. This affects the look and “compression” of the images shot on APSC.

Second, the RAW files from Fuji’s X-Trans sensors are challenging to work with on conventional image editing suites such as Lightroom and Photoshop. Importing a Fuji RAW directly to common image editors results in “worm” artifacts that render the images useless for most purposes. At the time of writing, Fuji shooters need to use an X-trans friendly converter to make their Fuji raw files usable in other editing suites. This adds an additional step to the workflow — tedious if you need to batch process a large number of images.

A Fujifilm Full Frame Killer is coming, but it’s not going to be an X Series camera.

In 2017, Fujifilm unveiled the GFX range — marketed as “medium format” digital cameras. GFX sensors measuring 44mm by 33mm are 60 per cent smaller than the typical medium format film size of 60mm by 45mm or the 53mm by 44mm sensors used by actual medium format digital cameras manufactured by Phase One and Hasselblad. However, this “cropped medium format” sensor gathers 40% more light than a 35 mm full-frame sensor. Furthermore, the GFX lens lineup now extends from the 18mm wide angle equivalent to the 200 mm telephoto. With other lens manufacturers such as Mitakon and Laowa jumping on the bandwagon, the company’s lens lineup represents a rapidly maturing system. However, at USD 4,999 for the GFX-R; USD 5,499 for the GFX-S, and USD 9,999 for the 100 megapixel GFX 100, price remains a serious obstacle to migration from a full-frame system. Furthermore, the heft of the GFXs make them more suited to a studio environment and put them at a major disadvantage to full frame mirrorless options from Sony and Canon from a portability perspective.

But:

In a recent interview, Fujifilm General Manager Toshi Lida emphasised that the company was looking to make the GFX a mainstream product. Specifically, Lida claimed that Fujifilm is working to make a lighter and more cost effective GFX camera. Competitors would better take note. Let’s be mindful that it took the company less than 18 months to design a pioneering In Body Image Stabilization (“IBIS”) system and a new mechanical shutter for the XT-4. Users broadly agree that IBIS puts the XT4 head and shoulders above the competition. Judging by the “Body Only” prices range on B&H’s website, mid-point for full frame DSLR and mirrorless bodies is about USD 2,500. If Fujifilm floats a GFX for about USD 3,000 — a 30% reduction from the current base, it will make a compelling case for Sony, Nikon, or Canon users to migrate — especially since they’ll be able to capitalize on healthy used gear prices to fund their transition.

There are a few caveats here though.

Globally, the photography industry is going through intense price competition and with an ever increasing number of photographers going pro as a “side hustle” the financial aspects of a shift from Canon/Nikon/Sony to GFX may become a challenge.

With COVID 19 likely to cause a prolonged economic crisis and most “developed” economies expected to contract, demand from amateur equipment hoarders is sure to suffer, and adversely impact the business case for Fujifilm.

There still is the problem with the X-Trans sensor. Until Fujifilm finds a way to get Photoshop and Lightroom to behave with their RAW files, photographers with an established workflow will be reluctant to switch.

Don’t discount the Fujifilm Magic though. The Fujifilm X100S seduced the faithful away from Canon’s GX and Powershot S lines as well as from Nikon and Lumix premium compacts; the X-T series has taken a big bite out of Canon and Nikon’s APSC DSLR market. Nikon’s mirrorless range is a non-starter. With the announcement of Canon’s EOS R5, it’s clear that these manufacturers are pivoting to video to compete — fielding absurdities such as 8K video when more content is being consumed on pocket-sized screens and analog is seeing a resurgence.

I’m betting that we’ll have a full frame killer by fall of 2021. Fujifilm will come out with a compelling G series body at around $3000. They’ll also release a low cost 63mm prime rather like the XC35mm; and a kit lens that’s not really a kit lens just like the XF 18–55 that proficient Fuji X users adore.