Key TakeawaysFujifilm's new GFX100S packs 100 megapixels into its oversized sensor.Sony, Nikon, and Canon all have mirrorless cameras that pack more than 45MP.These specialized cameras aren't for everyone.
Thought the megapixel race was over? Well, a new camera from Fujifilm packs 100MP, and its pre-orders have already outsold all three preceding models combined.
Fujifilm's new GFX100S is a 102 megapixel monster compared to Sony's A7RIV, which packs “just” 61MP, and Nikon, Panasonic, and Canon's cameras, with around 45MP. Mounting megapixel counts had been ditched in favor of bigger pixels and higher sensitivity, but now pixels are back. These cameras aren't for most people, but if you're in pursuit of quality above all else, then they're your best bet. Still, even these high-end, high-cost cameras have their downsides.
“It's cool if you have still subjects,” tech journalist and camera reviewer Andrea Nepori told Ach5 via direct message. “Even with 50MP, it's impossible to avoid a little micro-blur when shooting without a tripod.”
What Does This Mean for You?
Even if you're not a specialist photographer, this is great news. Keeping separate ranges of cameras for different purposes lets each range be itself. The 100MP beast that is the GFX100S means that Fujifilm's X-series can happily keep trucking along at 26MP, on a small APS-C-sized (23.5 mm x 15.6 mm) sensor. Instead of being forced to buy a camera whose files are over 100MB each just to get top-of-the-range performance, you can mix and match quality and quantity. Everyone's a winner.
The first hint that you won't be buying Fujifilm's GFX100S is its price: $5,999. And this is considered a bargain. The model it's replacing was bigger, heavier, and $10,000. That's without a lens (sample lens price: $2,299). Of these megapixel monsters, Nikon's Z7 II is the bargain-basement model, at a few bucks under $3,000. And that's because they're meant for specialized pro use.Fujifilm
But this has always been the way. Back in the film era, there were two common sizes of film: 35mm, which is what most cameras used, from cheap plastic pocket cameras to professional SLRs; and the medium format using 120/220 film, which was quite a lot bigger (220 is just a longer roll of 120).
These bigger negatives offered better-quality images, for a price. The tradeoff was a bigger camera and heavier lenses, and the actual cost. Back in 1990, a Hasselblad with a lens and film holder would cost you $1,995. That's around $4,100 in today's dollars. For comparison, Nikon's flagship F3 35mm SLR cost around $550 with a lens in 1986 ($1,130 today).
Bigger Can Sometimes Be Better
Some photos just need more resolution. If you're punishing the pixels while photoshopping a fashion shoot, more pixels means more leeway for manipulation before things start to break. Landscape photographers like to be able to see as much detail as possible, presumably to stave off the boredom of looking at landscape photos.
“Even with 50MP it's impossible to avoid a little micro-blur when shooting without a tripod.”
Fujifilm's approach is to make a digital medium-format camera, complete with a bigger sensor, which can fit on more pixels. In digital terms, a “full-frame” sensor is the same size as a frame of 35mm film, which is itself considered a small format, in film terms. It's 36mm × 24mm, and is the size used by all the cameras mentioned at the top of this post, apart from the Fujifilm. The GFX100S' sensor measures 43.8 × 32.9 mm.
Camera makers used to outdo themselves with ever higher pixel counts, year after year. At the dawn of the digital camera age, this was justified. Then manufacturers started to emphasize low-light performance, and pixels got as small as was practical.
Technology moved on, and today's sensors manage a high pixel count (for great resolution), coupled with frankly incredible see-in-the-dark low-light performance. Nikon's current flagship DSLR—the D6—has only 20.8 megapixels, and Fujifilm's X series cameras have around 26MP.
These days, unless you're looking for a camera to take to the moon, your camera-buying decisions are unlikely to be dominated by pixel counts. Fujifilm's X-Series lineup is a great example of this. The latest models all share the exact same sensor. The differences are mostly ergonomic and stylistic. You pick based on the features you need, not the quality of the photographs.