Disclaimers & What Matters To Me
Let me start this off with a few disclaimers. First off, this post is not meant to persuade you in any way, or to keep you from throughly enjoying your camera of choice. In fact, I think it is ridiculous that other people are so concerned with what equipment OTHER people choose to use. Secondly, I am admittedly not the most technical guy. In fact, when people really geek out on technical stuff, the inside of my head starts to sound like the dial up connection to America Online. Lastly, (as I put tactical protective gear on) I have also never shot film a single day in my life. Now that I have given all of you more than enough ammunition to discredit me and my authority to write about these two cameras... let's get started!
I am a Canon shooter and have been since I began my adventure with photography. I started off with a Canon 40D, then a 50D, a 5D2, a 5D3 and finally a 5DSR. Over the last decade I have built an extremely successful business selling large, high end landscape photography prints to collectors around the world. I regularly (every week) have 60" to 108" prints produced of my work for me. I do not photograph people, (except my own children) animals, sporting events or astronomy.
I am strictly a landscape photographer. Because of this fact, the things that matter to me may not be the same things that matter to you. I care about image quality, resolution, dynamic range and internal tools that help me create the images I enjoy with as little frustration as possible. I do not care about bokeh, skin tones, 400% pixel peeping or cat photography. If you do, that's great! I hope you continue to find pleasure capturing images that make you happy with whatever works for you.
The Curse Of Canon & Watching The Pot Boil
Like many others, I sat back and waited for Canon to catch up with the rest of the industry and release a high resolution mirrorless camera coupled with large dynamic range and the latest features that this technology had to offer. Today we are all still waiting. It feels like it has been a really long time because it has been. The Canon 5DSR was released in February 2015.
In contrast, A few short months later, Sony announced its 42.4MP mirrorless powerhouse, the a7rII. Since then they have gone on to release the a7rIII and just last week announced the 61MP mirrorless a7riV, continuing to build feature packed mirrorless cameras for their customers around the world. While I was certainly intrigued by what the a7rII and III had to offer and wished my Canon had the same features that they both held, I was stuck in my ways and my 51MP Canon was chugging along so I continued to hold my breath and take jabs from the other kids on the playground about my low dynamic range. :)
Along Came The Beast: FujiFilm GFX100
In late May, FujiFilm announced the 102MP Medium Format GFX100. This ground breaking camera, with many features never seen previously in a medium format digital body looked like the camera I had been waiting for. I never jumped on a Phase One or Hasselblad due to the extremely high prices and the lack of usability for my style of shooting. I have friends who own these cameras who warned me that I would not enjoy using them in the field. The GFX100 appeared to finally be the answer, promising to deliver astounding image quality in a camera that could be used outside of a controlled environment, all with the ease of a full frame DSLR.
After watching the official FujiFilm announcement, with great excitement, I pre-ordered the camera. I then donated immeasurable amounts plasma and bone marrow under various aliases, pulled off a smash and grab of my daughters piggy bank and begged my wife's forgiveness continually for the next four weeks to pay for it before one day it finally arrived!
The Thrill Of Victory And The Agony Of Defeat
I am not going to go into all the details but I was VERY excited to receive and to start using this camera. Once I finally had it in my hands though, my excitement unfortunately began to turn to regret. My first challenge came right away just attempting to set this camera up to use for the first time. If you enjoy buttons and scroll wheels you should strongly consider this camera. In a pinch I am confident that MacGyver could easily turn this camera into a laptop, microwave or a missile defense system. As if there weren't enough buttons and wheels you can actually click some of them to perform second and even third functions!
I packed up my bag with the collection of GFX lenses I had purchased, that together didn't even cover the entire range I was used to shooting from 16 to 400mm, but I was determined to make it work. With 6 lenses, a 1.4 teleconverter and an extension tube, my lightweight backpack tipped the scales at 26 pounds and covered a range of the full frame equivalent of 18 - 280mm.
This camera really started to weigh on me (pun intended) about a mile into my first hike on the trails of Mt. Rainier while scouting for my upcoming workshops in the park. By the time I had hiked four miles there was some decent shoulder & back pain setting in. Is that my leg going numb? ;) Sure, I could buy a "real" backpack to hike in but that would add even more weight and reduce my enjoyment of staying fast and light on my feet while shooting. This was the first nail in the coffin.
The second nail was general usability and a combination of frustrations ranging from the size and weight of the camera, to its standard operation, to the partial disassembly needed removing the EVF every time I went to return it to my bag and more than anything else the incredibly shallow depth of field.
The depth of field with medium format is more shallow than a full frame DSLR. I was aware of this fact prior to receiving it. With the usual reduced forgiveness that a high res sensor commands it became even more challenging. Shooting at f/9, I couldn't even shoot across a 10' wide stream and achieve a sharp image across the entire frame. I photographed a field of wildflowers at f/16 that were 10' in front of me and even then they weren't all in focus. I left the mountain and came home to ask my new friends, the Fuji GFX group on facebook, what I was doing wrong. Was I crazy? Too dumb for this camera? Can it only photograph cats!?? Inquiring minds wanted to know.
The answers I received back from the group were mind-blowing. They let me know that I was basically going to have to focus stack everything. This was just the way it was with a medium format with this type of resolution. Focus stacking everything while in the field is a pain and in many cases puts you at odds with wind..something often found in nature. ;) Some suggested that I may need to shoot at f/32 to get an entire scene in focus but diffraction starts at f/8 or so. Stopping down your lens in this way also introduces issues with movement in your scene and possible camera shake. You can increase your ISO, but this degrades image quality.
Those who seemed to have greater levels of experience told me that across the frame sharpness was very difficult to achieve and provided technical examples, theories and reports that continued to make my head spin. If you think part of your landscape image being out of focus looks bad on your computer, imagine how it looks in a 60" wide print. This just wasn't going to work for me.
The simple fact for me personally (no, I'm not telling you what to do) is that the Fuji GFX100 is not the landscape photography powerhouse that I hoped it would be. I want to enjoy my time out in nature, not feel burdened by my equipment. I want to capture as many successful images as I can while chasing the changing light, not be forced to create 7 frame focus stacks of a dynamic scene, praying I can make it work in post when I get back home. To sum it all up, this incredible and history making camera, for all that it is, was not enjoyable to use and not the camera for me so I packed it all up and shipped it back.
The Sony A7R IV.......You Will Be Assimilated. Resistance Is Futile.
Even before I decided to return the GFX100, I knew the Sony A7R IV was about to be announced. In fact, my initial plan was to order the A7R IV and use it with my existing Canon lenses as a 2nd camera. After deciding against the GFX100, the Sony will now be taking the lead with my Canon DSLR as my second body. I have no concerns about the Sony, as I am already aware of what it is and what it is capable of. I have many friends who currently use the Alpha series cameras who are welcoming me with open arms in hearing the news. I look forward to the joys of mirrorless technology and the high resolution image files that I need, without the frustrations, technical struggles and the back pain from the GFX100 that I don't.
If you want to learn more about the new A7R IV from Sony, there is a wealth of information, image samples and more to be found here.
If you want to learn more about what it takes to create and maintain a successful landscape photography business online, you can learn about the Mentoring Program that I offer here as well as the rest of the Nature photography services that I offer.