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6 minute read

How the GFX Sensor Helps Create a Unique Look

Discover how the GFX system’s larger format sensor helps to give your location portraits a unique and professional look

If you’re a portrait photographer who works on location, you’ll know there are lots of challenges to overcome if you want to achieve striking images. Backgrounds and available light can be unpredictable, and against these variables you still need to ensure the best detail and color, as well as applying your own style to the storytelling. With the right technology, though, all this is possible, and GFX cameras make it easy.

At the heart of the GFX system is a large format imaging sensor, which is the key to making successful images on location. For example, since the sensor is 1.7x larger than a 35mm chip, the photo sites on the sensor are larger, which allows for more data to be recorded in one place before it is processed. This results in significant improvements in exposure, resolution, dynamic range, and in separating subjects from backgrounds. Here, we’ll go into detail on some of these advantages and see how they combine to create the unique portrait look achieved by these powerful cameras.

The Larger Format Look

What makes portraits created on GFX cameras stand out from the crowd? Let’s first look at what a physically larger sensor does to the look of an image. As experienced photographers know, photography is full of variables: sensor or film size, aspect ratio, focal length, aperture… they all contribute to give a particular look to an image, and small changes can define one camera system from another.

The larger a sensor is physically, the longer the lens’s focal length needs to be to get an equivalent field of view. In the case of the GFX sensor, lenses therefore need to be longer in focal length than on a 35mm camera body. This change in focal length obviously affects how perspective is rendered, how you compose the image, and how you work with the subject. It also has a knock-on effect on how apertures influence depth-of-field and light-gathering potential.

Comparatively, the same aperture setting will give a shallower depth of field on a larger sensor. And while you can address this by using wider apertures on smaller sensors, thinking of ‘a larger format look’ simply in terms of shallow depth of field alone is really missing the point. After all, many portraits on large format cameras are made at smaller apertures, such as F8, which still allow great subject separation, but also maximize sharpness.

So really the larger format look is about the convergence of all sorts of factors. For example you can roughly approximate the depth of field generated by a GFX camera by using very fast lenses on a 35mm camera, but you don’t get the same tonality, resolution or sharpness along with it. And because of the 4:3 sensor format you compose in a different way, too. Basically, GFX makes you work differently.

Photo © Kara Mercer | FUJIFILM GFX 50R camera and GF32-64mmF4 R LM WR lens, 1/80 sec at F5.6, ISO 250

Bring this into the real world of location portrait photography, and what you get is the power of subject separation described in a natural fashion – one of the ideal features for any camera and lens combination. These combinations of focal length and aperture give images a distinctively different look that other formats can’t deliver, and when creating portraits, many GFX users describe the results as having an almost three-dimensional quality, where focus falls away abruptly, but the subject stays clearly defined amid more natural-looking surroundings and with less distortion. Working on-location, it means that you separate the different planes of your composition more easily, with your portrait subject standing out in a striking but subtle way in almost any surroundings.

Cleaner, Brighter Pictures

Making portraits on-location, you’ll face all sorts of different lighting, from harsh and powerful naked sunlight to the gentle flicker of a candlelit interior. So how can the GFX sensor help with both of those? Again, it’s a benefit of size.

For starters, let’s look at the latter end of the scale, and making portraits in low-light conditions. The larger a sensor becomes, and the greater its physical area, the more light it can receive during an exposure. More light means a cleaner signal, therefore portrait images that are less affected by noise than they would be on a smaller sensor at equivalent exposure settings. And less noise means truer color and clearer details, especially when working at higher ISO settings.

Photo © Alison Conklin | FUJIFILM GFX 50R camera and GF50mmF3.5 R LM WR lens, 1/125 sec at F4, ISO 2000

At the other end of the scale, where you’re working in bright light with lots of highlights and shadows, for instance trying to balance backlit portraits with lots of contrast, G Format sensors win out thanks to their superb ability to tackle dynamic range. Typically in high-dynamic range situations, where there’s greater contrast in intensity between light and shade, things may look normal to the naked eye, but when exposed by the camera, some details of the subject may be lost in the highlights or shadows.

At its lowest ISO settings, the GFX sensor can deliver up to 14 stops of dynamic range, wherein its photosites can register greater intensities of light before reaching their maximum compared to similar sensors. So you can expect images to look a lot closer to nature straight out of the camera than smaller sensors can provide.

Maybe the biggest advantage of this superb high- and low-ISO performance is that, with a GFX sensor at your side, you’re more likely to photograph with confidence, tackling new and varied subjects, no matter what the lighting conditions.

GFX System

Dimensions
43.8x32.9mm
Aspect Ratio
4:3

Full Frame

Dimensions
36.0x24.0mm
Aspect Ratio
3:2

APS-C

Dimensions
23.5x15.6mm
Aspect Ratio
3:2

 

Sharper Portrait Details

Whether it’s the subtle texture of skin tones, woven strands of hair, or the delicate flecks of color in a frame-filling iris, detail helps draw the viewer into portraits. It makes them relatable. And detail also contributes to the large format look of the GFX system cameras, combining with these cameras’ ability to offer superb subject separation in a way that makes portraits seem to come alive in a three-dimensional fashion.

Photo © Alison Conklin | FUJIFILM GFX 50R camera and GF50mmF3.5 R LM WR lens, 1/125 sec at F5.6, ISO 500

It’s not just about megapixels here, either. One of the most important aspects in image sharpness is the physical size of the sensor. At the same pixel count, and using the same quality lenses, physically larger sensors like GFX’s produce sharper looking pictures, because they are recording fewer pixels across an equivalent area. GFX sensors also use a gapless design with a conventional Bayer pixel array and there is no optical low-pass filter in front, so critical sharpness is preserved.

Turning back to pixel count, the 51.4 and 102-megapixel files produced by current GFX sensors don’t only mean great detail at the point of creation, but also the ability to crop with more freedom, dealing with tricky or chaotic portrait locations where you might not get the composition you want, or changing the framing of the subject from half-length to head and shoulders, and still ending up with very high-resolution files.

Perfect Color and Tonality

Finally, let’s not forget the effect that true-to-life color and tonality can have on a location portrait. And perhaps this is the most defining factor of the large format look. Natural-looking tones and hues can set the mood of the story, captivating the view with more lifelike results and drawing them into the frame, and here, once again, the larger sensors of GFX system cameras can give better results, creating its distinctive look.

Based on more than 85 years of color science and engineering, Fujifilm has tuned the G Format sensor to perfection, producing perfect colors with no need for post-processing. This is ultra-important for portraits, where images showing false color can make subjects look unhealthy or artificial.

Photo © Kara Mercer | FUJIFILM GFX 50R camera and GF32-64mmF4 R LM WR lens, 1/125 sec at F6.4, ISO 50

Smooth tonality is also vital, especially in portrait skin tones and gradations from highlights to shadows. Any roughness in these areas can make pictures seem less than lifelike, or give a false impression of the subject, spoiling a portrait’s impact. In this way, a physically larger sensor allows you to record smoother transitions from one shade to another at the point of capture.

Backing this up, the sensor in GFX system cameras outputs 14-bit and 16-bit files that contain literally trillions of colors and shades. The benefit here is in how abruptly one color or shade turns into another. When working with regular 8-bit files, 256 shades of red, green and blue are available, so the smooth tones of a subject’s face can end up looking blocky, but in 16-bit mode you get 65,536 shades for each color, and so gradations are invisible to the human eye.

Learn more about FUJIFILM GFX 50S and GFX 100, or explore the whole GFX system here. Contact your nearest FUJIFILM Authorized Dealer for more information.