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Essay and Reader Comments: Sony A1 vs Fujifilm GFX100S: Real Achievable Capture Resolution, Effort Level, Enjoyment (UPDATED, v2)

re: The medium format 'Look'
re: Maximize Image Quality with Shot Discipline, Part 1: Introduction, Focusing
re: Medium Format Magazine articles

The 60MP Sony A7R IV and the 100MP Fujifilm GFX100S have identical pixel sizes. The differences is that the GFX100S has a much large sensor—more pixels of the same size. The 50MP Sony A1 has slightly large pixels than the Sony A7R IV, and from what I see takes images every bit as detailed in all practical senses.

My statement in yesterday’s post was not a statement that you can capture as much detail on the Sony A1/A7R IV as the Fujifilm GFX100s—you can’t.

“I have to say—when extreme corner sharpness at f/2 matches or beats the best I see in the center at any aperture on the Fujifilm GFX100S, I wonder just how much you really get for real total detail on that larger sensor—nowhere close to twice as much.”

But the real difference on real scenes with real lenses when taking into account total capture detail corner-to-corner and near to far—that’s an interesting question. In the central 2/3 to 3/4 of the frame, you are absolutely going to get more detail from the GFX100S with all the lenses (entire frame with a few like the 250/4), albeit with shallower DoF or more diffraction dulling because of stopping down 2/3 of a stop more for equivalent DoF.

The main thing is how well the lenses perform in the “outer zones”—about 44% of the sensor (area beyond central 3/4 or so [1 - (.75^2)] = 44%). These area are also most impacted by distortion correction, which is mandatory for most of the Fujifilm GF lenses.

Enjoyment of the shooting experience

I know that many Fujifilm GFX100s users out there love their cameras, and for good reasons (to them, which I fully acknowledge).

I wanted to love it too. I am not loving it, because (1) the shooting experience feels too outdated and kludgey compared to the Sony A1, and (2) the crucial focal length of the 30mm f/3.5 is not exactly impressing me over the whole frame. And it’s not like you have lens choices with the GF system (adapting lenses sucks for several reasons, so no real choice).

So I now have enough shooting-experience disappointment to re-evaluate my assumption of buying the GFX100S outright for its own sake. [All this aside, I am still likely to buy it because I have to be able to cover the platform. But I set that aside for this discussion.]

How much am I willing to “pay” for more resolution?

I mean “pay” mainly by the unenjoyable shooting experience (compared to the Sony A1). The money is a one-time thing, but the shooting goes on forever. My time and my enjoyment of it matter to me. It has to be worth it, somehow, to justify the inferior experience.

The 100MP GFX100S sensor has twice the pixels, but it does not capture 2X the detail of the 50MP Sony A1—see the quote at top. It’s something in-between, and how much depends on (1) lenses and (2) making the capture without errors/gotchas/optical shortcomings.

To put up with a much less enjoyable shooting experience, the camera had better deliver substantially superior results in the finished images.

Does it? Comparison images in the field (landscape) can settle that question. But it’s not just about pixel count; it’s also total image excellence including bokeh and secondary color correction. For example, GF 30mm f/3.5 outer-zone sharpness is clearly not up to sensor resolution. For landscape stills and for stitching it’s not making me happy.

Claude F writes:

So is the Fujifilm GFX100s a bust? Given the Sony and Voigtlander FE 35mm f/2 APO-Lanthar.

DIGLLOYD: the GFX100S should take the same images as the Fujifilm GFX100—lots to like in GFX100S images, even if the capture resolution doesn’t live up to the 100MP brag with lenses like the Fujifilm GF 30mm f/3.5. (Claude is a 35mm focal length guy, and so I’d say the 50/3.5 would suit him better, but I had wanted two standouts, not just the 50/3.5).

OTOH, the Voigtlander FE 35mm f/2 APO-Lanthar is a world-class optic whose performance at wide open at f/2 has few if any peers. As close to a flawless optic in the 35/40/50mm space as exists. With superb APO correction, no field curvature, no focus shift—nothing to impede your efforts—if it’s not sharp blame your own shot discipline.

Roy P writes:

I’m still waiting for my CV 35 for the Sony, but judging from your early reactions, it looks like the CV 35 is a CV 50 on steroids. Your comment that caught my eye the most:

“I have to say—when extreme corner sharpness at f/2 matches or beats the best I see in the center at any aperture on the Fujifilm GFX100S, I wonder just how much you really get for real total detail on that larger sensor—nowhere close to twice as much.”

So that begs the question: does it even make sense to buy the Fujifilm GFX system at all?! The same money could be used to buy another A1 camera or an A7R IVa or V that is dedicated to using with the best CV lenses (35/2, 50/2, 65/2, etc.)

Obviously, if Voigtlander were to offer a scaled up version of its 35/2 APO Lanthar (~44mm f/2.5) for the Fuji GFX, presumably the GFX100S would deliver similarly spectacular results, but at 2x the resolution vs. the Sony A1, notwithstanding its inferior EVF and live view.

(Who knows, that might indeed happen – CV already offers these lenses for the Sony E and Leica M mounts, and if they sense the Fuji market is big enough, they could potentially go after it!)

So far, I’ve been quite pleased with the results from the GFX100S, other than the usability issues and the one faulty lens I had to return. But the Sony A1 is a formidable camera with all the stellar lenses available to it.

If you had to downsize the GFX100S images to normalize them the IQ of the CV35 or CV50 on a Sony A1, what resolution would you have to come down to? 80MP? 90MP? 70MP? 60MP?

DIGLLOYD: yes it makes total sense to buy the Fujifilm GFX100S—for the right reasons. Ditto for the Sony A7R IV, but I now strongly prefer the Sony A1—no better shooting experience ever.

In general, I’d pin the effective capture resolution of the GFX100S/100 at 75 to 85 megapixels for most lenses when all factors are accounted for (optical performance, field curvature, distortion correction, diffraction), better for a few standouts like the Fujifilm GF 250mm f/4 (and 120mm) which can deliver full sharpness across the frame.

The decision is a complex sum of one’s own priorities/preferences:

  • Overall look and feel of the images, the primary factor being the lens.
  • Support for features like focus stacking and usable pixel shift
  • Total capture resolution including edge to edge and real depth of field the lens can actually deliver.
  • Clarity of the imagery (color correction, aberrations, bokeh)
  • Shooting envelope (f/1.4 and f/2 much more usable than f/2.8 or f/3.5), top-notch Eye AF, etc.
  • Enjoyment while using— EVF, responsiveness, ease of focusing, etc.
  • Ease of execution / getting consistently high-grade results speaks against a lens with AF errors and/or focus shift and field curvature.
  • Size/weight/cost

I think it comes down to one and only one thing: does the GFX100S deliver enough additional resolution for your use case that it’s worth it to you, in every sense?

Peter F writes:

I read and understood the implications of your Blog’s content today with great interest with my impending purchase of a GFX 100S + 50mm f3.5 lens, and can easily appreciate your pleasure in using the Sony A1 as you express it so well.

I think having owned a Sony A7R III and a Fujifilm GFX-50S + 63mm f2.8 lens, the thing that I could never get enough of was the terrific smoothness of the files tonality with the GFX 50S, as opposed to a frequent brittleness with the admittedly very sharp Sony files.

Given that a major thrust of your reservations in todays blog for the Fuji is the poor performance with the 30mm lens, and you have praised the 50mm f3.5 previously, even wide open, I am so very interested in your findings with that combination, in terms of overall image quality.

DIGLLOYD: the Fujifilm GF 30mm f/3.5 is a very good lens; I would not call it 'poor'. But when adding up its barely adequate outer-zone sharpness and its focus shift, it gives me no excitement as did the Fujfilm GF 50mm f/3.5.

I don't see brittleness in the Sony A1, or the A7R IV. I did see it in the A7R III and previous. Moreover, the A1 files just look better to me than the A7R IV. And the A7R IV uses the same sensor technology as the GFX100S/100 (but electronics around the sensor matter also).

The dark tone histogram for the Sony A1 is very smooth, just like a medium format camera. With a newer sensor technology, it could actually be better. I am not sure, but I cannot rule out that the Sony A1 could have better per-pixel image quality than the Fujifilm GFX100S/100. For example, the blatant horizontal stripes with the GFX100S. Field shooting under varied conditions can prove this out, but my prediction is that it will prove inconclusive, with both cameras delivering superb per-pixel image quality. That said, at some point oversampling nails it in favor of the larger sensor.

CLICK TO VIEW: Fujifilm GFX100S Essentials

Roy P writes:

I have to keep reminding myself that cameras and lenses don’t take pictures, people do!

I briefly considered returning all of the Fujifilm system back to B&H, but then decided against it. The GFX100S has the same Sony sensor technology as in the A1, and so far, I like what I’ve gotten out of it, notwithstanding all the warts of the camera. I really like the way the Fujifilm consistently handles exposure, colors and skin tones in mixed lighting, and especially with flash (e.g., see attached – this is pretty much SOOC, shot with the 45-100). The A1 usually takes a little more tweaking in post, but pretty much matches the IQ from the Fuji. At the end of the day, I’m getting very nice images from both, but with a bigger payload from the Fuji.

For my intended use cases with the Fuji, I also think I have the right mix of lenses – the 50/3.5, 32-64, 45-100, and 110/2. I’ve decided against the Fuji lenses wider than the 50/3.5 and also pass on the 80/1.7. I know the 80/1.7 has excellent sharpness, so if there’s a $500 off deal down the road, I might be tempted. But for the most part, whatever I might use it for is covered by either the 50/3.5 (walkaround / street photography), 110/2 (portraits / bokeh), or the 32-64 or 45-100 (people / events). In set theory terms, the intersection of the 80/1.7 with the union of the other four lenses is close to 100% of the 80/1.7, and what remains outside is close to a null set.

I will almost certainly get the 250/4 + the 1.4x when the lens goes on sale. It should be very good for tight head shots, and also an interesting macro / close focusing tool with the extension tubes + focus stepping.

I like how well the extension tubes have worked with autofocusing and focus stepping on the GFX. I also like that I can use my Schneider 120/5.6 Tilt-Shift lens with the GFX100S, and I’m experimenting using it with a macro extender and tilt-shift for product / macro photography.

Bottom line, the GFX100S is a tool that I can put to work. Some overlap with the Sony A1 is inevitable, given how incredibly versatile the A1 is. But I do have specific use cases for each, and I plan to use them both extensively.

DIGLLOYD: I agree with what is said here.

Fair questions remain however, ones that each person has to answer for themselves, boiling down to “what brings you joy?”. The shooting experience and resulting images are most relevant there, but two quite different things. Ideally, one camera would have both a superior shooting experience and superior imagery.

That isn’t the case here—Sony A1 is a superior shooting experience and might have just as good per pixels quality along with better lenses. I do not think it a valid assumption that the GFX100S/100 have inherently better image quality than the Sony A1. For example, the blatant horizontal stripes with the GFX100S.

I myself cannot yet puzzle out where things fall, so I’m going to not make a call until I have some field experience with both for landscapes.

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