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Fujifilm's new GFX is a giant camera sensor wrapped in an accessible body

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The GFX 50S leapfrogs full-frame cameras and jumps right into the professional fray

Fujifilm GFX 50 S photos Dan Seifert

The most interesting piece of photographic equipment announced at the biennial Photokina trade show this week is Fujifilm’s GFX 50S. A brand-new medium-format camera system, the GFX 50S takes the best attributes of Fujifilm’s smaller X-series camera and pairs them with a massive sensor capable of much higher resolution and image quality.

Fujifilm says the new camera, which will launch early next year for "a price well below $10,000," satisfies the needs of professional commercial and portrait photographers that the X-series and its smaller sensor can’t match. Essentially, Fujifilm skipped right over full-frame cameras from Canon, Sony, Nikon, and Pentax and jumped right into the territory of Hasselblad and PhaseOne.

Fujifilm GFX 50 S photos
The image sensor in the GFX 50S is 1.7 times larger than a full-frame 35mm sensor.
Dan Seifert / The Verge

But all the slide decks and pitch presentations don’t mean much unless you can get your hands on the camera, and today we were able to do just that. We got to spend some time using a prototype of the GFX 50S to get an idea of what the handling and shooting experience will be like. We were not able to take photos with it — image quality comparisons will have to wait until Fujifilm releases the final version of the camera — but we can give you an idea of what it's like to shoot with the camera.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about the GFX 50S is just how light it is. It's certainly a large camera, but if you’ve ever handled a medium-format camera before, you’d be surprised at just how small and maneuverable it is. It’s much closer to the size and weight of a Canon 5D than a Hasselblad H6D, for example. It is not as compact as Hasselblad's X1D, however, but it is more expandable.

The light weight translates to the lenses, too; Fujifilm’s lenses do not have an integrated leaf-shutter system like other medium-format systems. (The camera has a focal plane shutter instead; Fujifilm says this allows it to use both leaf-shutter lenses and shutterless lenses.) The company plans to have half a dozen lenses available for the GFX system covering a range of focal lengths from ultra-wide angle to medium-telephoto, including a macro lens and a zoom.

Fujifilm GFX 50 S photos Dan Seifert / The Verge

Fujifilm has managed to take its X-series style of controls — dedicated shutter and ISO dials, a joystick for focus points, and Q button for quick settings access — and scale them up to the GFX 50S. Virtually anyone who has shot with an X-series camera before can pick up the GFX 50S and be comfortable with it right away. But if you want a more DSLR-like control scheme with front and rear command dials, the camera can be set up for that, as well.

In fact, this camera is very modular for different photographic disciplines. The electronic viewfinder can be swapped for one that tilts, or it can be removed entirely to make the camera more compact. A battery grip provides more shots away from a charger and adds a vertical set of controls. The rear LCD doesn’t detach, but to does tilt on two axes for waist-level shooting. It’s not as modular as a Hasselblad, but it does offer a good number of customization options.

Those features will make the GFX 50S appeal to studio-bound commercial and portrait photographers, as will the 51.4-megapixel resolution afforded by the massive sensor. (For reference, the chip in the GFX 50S is 1.7 times larger than a "full-frame" 35mm sensor.) But sports or event photographers will likely be let down by the camera’s speed — its contrast detect autofocus is best described as pokey, and it won’t come anywhere close to the frames-per-second speed that even average mirrorless or DSLR cameras can achieve.

Still, Fujifilm fans have been clamoring for the company to get into larger sensor cameras for years, and it's doing so in a big way with the GFX 50S. If the image quality lives up to expectations — and Fujifilm’s claims — the GFX system could give Hasselblad and PhaseOne a serious run for their money when it launches next year.