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Is the Fujifilm GFX Suitable as a Digital Back?

I have my doubts that adapting 35mm lenses to the Fujifilm GFX is more than an awkward kludge (because it sure feels that way with adapters on Sony), but given the non-deterministic focusing problems affecting all the GF lenses and the uncertainty of whether a forthcoming Fujifilm firmware update will fix the problems, it is at least worth thinking about.

Nikon and Canon have given no sign that they take the high-end market seriously (I’m talking about high-end as in Nikon D810 and Canon 5DS R, not sports shooters). How long will CaNikon fecklessly ignore the market opportunity by sticking to hopeless dinosaur products, ones that force me to use a loupe instead of an EVF and deal with the needless bulk of a mirror box? I never want to buy another DSLR myself. Maybe CaNikon are not ignoring the market and have some awesome rabbit under the hat, but the natives (like me) are getting very restless.

Is the Fujifilm GFX in effect a digital back that will save the day for CaNikon users who look increasingly abandoned at the (non sports) high end?

Suppose that one has (like me) a large collection of Zeiss and Canon and Nikon lenses. An adapter is awkward, but might it be worth the trouble if Nikon cannot get its hapless and inept act together with a D850 with serious advancements, before it implodes from market pressures from Sony. Ditto for Canon, though Canon has far more leeway due to its vastly larger product lines (much more than Nikon), so show us something already, CaNikon!

The old saying that the easiest way to make a small fortune is to start with a large one seems to hit the mark for Nikon: shrinking a solid business into a moribund one.

Adapting lenses is not elegant but it might be better than spending for yet another dinosaur DSLR—let’s see what happens this year.

FotodioX Nikon F to Fujifilm G-Mount Lens Adapter

I for one think that Nikon and Canon must deliver (or at least promise delivery) of some new exciting full frame camera by end of 2017. Better yet, deliver a GFX-like camera with large sensor that not only takes a new mirrorless lens line, but comes with a high quality adapter for compatibility with existing DSLR lenses. Otherwise, hang up the jock strap.

Nikon and Canon are NOT going to survive selling to sports and wildlife shooters, even if sports shooters decide that the Sony A9 remains a less good choice than a traditional DSLR. And if even a significant percentage of sports/wildlife/action shooters go with the A9 (consider the implications of even a 20% switchover to Sony A9), the pressure on CaNikon will go from high to existential. So anyone with a collection of high-grade lenses might start thinking about a different digital back for those lenses, such as the Fujifilm GFX.

While we’re at it, what if Sony produces a medium format body, one compatible in some way with the existing E mount lens lineup. That would be a death blow to CaNikon IMO.

Reader coments follow.

Not having used these GFX lens adapters (yet), I am merely showing the options that might be viable.

Reader comments

Roy P writes:

Just read your comments about possibly Fuji GFX as a digital back for Canon/Nikon lenses. While the large sensor size maybe appealing, I expect a Sony A9R coming up, maybe by year end, that will have the same large battery cavity, EVF, etc. in the A9, but perhaps with a 60-70MP sensor and 5fps (fast enough for bracketing, but not for action). That would give you the digital back.

But if you wanted a medium format body, the Hasselblad X1D is likely a better fit – it’s about the same size as the A7x and A9 bodies, with a bigger sensor. Perhaps a 35mm crop size could be displayed as a bright white rectangle in the EVF. That would take away the one last bragging rights the Leica rangefinder apologists have: with an M camera, you can look at a larger scene, compose, focus by distance, and wait for the lady in red to step into the frame lines, so can click to capture the perfect moment! Yawn.

For the moment, Nikon / Canon don’t have to fear an immediate exodus of the pro sports photographers, although I fully expect some of that to begin to happen gradually as these photographers realize four very compelling benefits the A9 gives them over the 1DX II or D5: no mirror blackouts, 20 fps (which will at least double their throughput of keepers in sharp focus), silent shooting (especially valuable for golf, tennis, etc.), and 693 AF points with 93% frame coverage, which should also hugely improve their yield with less work. But their investment in their existing glass, lack of equivalent Sony glass, unproven field reliability and ruggedness of the new A9, and untested pro support will dampen the rate of switching. My guess is, every new pro lens Sony announces for the E mount will erode some of the Nikon / Canon pro base.

The bigger and more immediate risk for Nikon / Canon is, an en masse defection of wedding and event photographers. They carry three bodies, one with a 24-70 f/2.8, one with a70-200 f/2.8, and a third, which is typically on a tripod, dedicated to video. For the video, these pros have been steadily migrating to mirrorless over the past 3-4 years, with the Sony A7S one of the major beneficiaries. I have now seen an A7 or A7S with the Sony 70-200 f/4 on a tripod at least at three weddings in the past year, and one with a Panasonic GH4. Now, between the A7, A7S, A7R (all in their 2nd generations), and with the A9, there is a full line of price / performance bodies and lenses in place, as well as an impressive wireless flash system. The Sigma CEO has also said there will be a major commitment to the E mount, and new, native Sigma E mount lenses are coming. That will give the wedding / event photographers less expensive 24-70 and 70-200 f/2.8 lenses, too. We could see a much faster switch to Sony from this segment. This is a very big market for Nikon and Canon, and it will be a body blow if they lose it.

We will almost certainly see all the reportage / media photographers switch to the A9. You look at any White House press coverage, debates, etc. on TV, and you can’t but help hearing all the annoying shutter clicks every time someone blinks. Ditto for people who cover concerts, events at churches, etc., where silence is highly desired. This is probably another segment that has been switching to mirrorless, and that will only accelerate with the A9.

If Canon / Nikon haven’t been working on their own A9-like cameras, and don’t at least announce something very credible and very soon, enough to persuade their customers to wait, they will find themselves in serious trouble.

DIGLLOYD: for those of us short $20K, an X1D system is not so appealing, and a complete system change. For now at least the X1D cannot do other lenses, since it lacks an EFC or mechanical shutter option.

The crop option is a big plus, and the GFX has it, and the GFX is substantially less expensive than the X1D and with 3X (at least) the battery life. But I’m not arguing against the X1D if the shutter issue could be resolved.

Wedding and event: I think this has already happened in spades, but I entirely agree that the Sony A9 kicks the crap out of a DSLR solution and with the 100/2.8 STF GM and similar lenses and the bread and butter 24-70 and eye (iris) spot-on focusing plus 4K video—game over.

Shutter noise and frame rate are HUGE for some types of photography (including wildlife!), where disturbing the situation is a problem (startle effect, obnoxiousness, etc).

John G writes:

If Sony were to introduce a medium format lineup, it would be a very good thing for the serious amateur and professional photographer. My sense is that it would be a technically superior product; they’ve demonstrated their ability to engineer products that offer unique performance capabilities and excellent image quality.

Most recently, Sony has demonstrated their prowess for serious lens design. Lens designs that, while different in drawing style, challenge Zeiss’s best efforts in the category. On that topic—Sony’s innovations and success in the FF mirrorless category have persuaded Zeiss and others to design some pretty great optics for Sony’s system, simply because the market is big enough to justify their efforts. Serious photographers in this category now have a wide-ranging buffet of great optics from which to build their kits.

My sense is that, while perhaps it would be on a smaller scale, Sony could bring all this to medium format. Among several other factors, It would further pave the way for MF to truly evolve downward out of its current rarefied, unobtainium market position where it would be an actual viable choice for the serious amateur or professional. This was a trend first started by Pentax and continued recently with Fuji, but neither have the marketing or technological chops to turn the category into a truly viable system choice. They are uber niche products by definition. My hope is that Sony’s entry would encourage Zeiss and others to develop high-end options for serious glass in the MF category. I was encouraged by this announcement of 65mm f/1.4 and 85mm f/1.4 lenses for the Fujifilm GFX by Mitakon Zhongyi. While I’m not sure I’d be interested in these particular lenses if I were to purchase a GFX, I am excited by and attracted to the idea of a good array of lens choices in the category.

My sense is that the industry has hit a wall of diminishing technological and IQ returns in the development of the FF category. In reality, there have been no categorical advancements in IQ since the introduction of the three-year-old Nikon D810, which itself was an evolution and update of the D800E. It could be logically argued, based on the current empirical (albeit anecdotal) evidence, that, for overall IQ, 36MP represents a sort of critical image-quality mass for FF. Neither the 42MP Sony nor the 50M Canon perform as well, in overall IQ terms, when compared critically to the D810. Certainly more pixels have an advantage when consider in isolation, but it has yet to be demonstrated in an actual product that more pixels beyond 36 can deliver as good, let alone better, overall IQ.

Obviously, I realize that this is a conclusion reached by the current state of affairs, which are limited, and may ultimately suggest any veracity as to the possibility of a higher megapixel, full-frame product outperforming the D810 in overall image quality. It just hasn’t happened yet. But I think the fact that it hasn’t happened yet cannot be ignored. And clearly the FujiFilm GFX sensor/processing engine does offer IQ that is in most critical ways truly better than any of the current offerings in FF, including the D810. Indeed, in some areas of image performance, it breaks new ground. I contend that the next frontier in ultra-high IQ for the serious amateur and professional will be relatively affordable MF systems.

We just need Sony to do it.

DIGLOYD: I agree on all points here. As well, there is no size impediment standing in the way; both the Hasselblad X1D and Fujifilm GFX show that medium format camera sizes are not particularly large and I’m sure that Sony could cut the size down to that of a Nikon D810, or smaller.
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