Michael Clark explains how the smaller, lighter styling of GFX100S makes its 100-megapixel sensor even more useful in his outdoor and action photography
“If you’re hanging out the back of a pickup truck that’s doing 60mph, and photographing downhill skaters racing just a few feet from the fender, then yeah,” laughs Michael Clark, “a smaller, lighter camera is going to give you some advantages!”
Combine that portability with the unrivalled image quality of a 100-megapixel larger format sensor, and you get a package that’s as versatile as it is powerful. We gave Michael the new FUJIFILM GFX100S to test on location and see how it matches up to its predecessor.
An internationally published outdoor photographer with decades of experience in adventure sports, Michael clearly puts himself in conditions as intense as those faced by the athletes he’s photographing. Starting as a climbing specialist, he now contributes editorially to the likes of National Geographic and Sports Illustrated, as well as creating for commercial clients including Nike, Apple, and Red Bull.
Moving to GFX100 with the launch of the camera in 2018, Michael says he was “at a stage in my career where I was up against the best photographers on the planet.” He adds: “Though I make a lot of action images, my peers on the portrait side of things are all shooting with medium format, and I wanted to up my game in the portraiture world to that level – something that would set me apart in my own genre pretty seriously. GFX100 has become my main camera, and I probably do 80% of my work with it at least.”
So what were his first impressions of GFX100S? “The size was a shock, for sure,” he says. “GFX100S is way smaller. Compared to the power it has, it’s tiny. So much closer to the size of a FUJIFILM X-T4. It’s going to be a revelation.”
Deciding to test the camera photographing downhill skaters in the vertiginous hills above Malibu, Michael’s short time with the new camera showed its versatility as he created a striking range of images, including studied portraits typical of a larger format approach, but also shutter-dragged action photos that you wouldn’t normally consider this kind of camera producing. “The real driving design concept of GFX100S,” says Michael, “is that it can be used in any situation where a DSLR would, so we wanted something action-based.”
And that brings us back to the pickup truck. Dialing a shutter speed that would pick up motion blur, then using a burst of flash to freeze the skater’s motion, this shutter-dragging technique is something Michael has done “throughout my career to add a sense of speed to these kinds of sports.” He explains: “With a really fast shutter speed, they’ll just be frozen, and it doesn’t necessarily convey the energy you feel in person. Technically it’s something you can do with any camera, but it’s certainly a rarity with a larger format body kicking out 100-megapixel images.”
In practice, explains Michael, “the skater would be on the other side of the road, and we’d be right next to them, going the same speed. I had an assistant holding a boom arm out in the front and angled back at the skater with a big strobe on it. Everybody had a climbing harness on, and we were all clipped in, and so was the camera, but I was literally hanging out of the truck, holding the camera as low as possible and using the little LCD screen flipped out. It’s definitely somewhere that a bigger, heavier camera might have been harder to stabilize and certainly been more painful on my arm!”
Backing up those kinds of situations and allowing the huge reduction in the size of the camera is GFX100S’s new In-Body Image Stabilization (IBIS) system. A smaller unit than GFX100 and with an upgraded gyro sensor, it syncs with GF OIS lenses to give up to six stops of stabilization. And more importantly, the IBIS allows every one of those 102 million pixels to deliver the maximum resolution – even when the camera is being held out of a moving car.
“The IBIS was amazing,” says Michael, “and definitely came in handy for those motion blurred images where we were down below 1/10 sec, because even though you have the intentional movement to create the blur in the background, it still needs to be a stable motion for them to look smooth. It’s a huge deal for a camera of this resolution. I mean, to be able to use 1/10 sec handheld with a 100-megapixel camera… That’s just, you know, science fiction really.”
This was particularly clear in some of the images where the skaters got right up close to the truck. “Some of the images, where the skater is dead center and full of detail, really show what the camera can do,” says Michael. “In those, we had them holding on to the back of the truck and launching off just as we got to a part of the road where the strobes were set up. The timing was ridiculous to get them right between the lights, but I’m so happy that some of them worked out and were so full of detail.”
So, will GFX100S change the way Michael creates? “It’ll certainly mean I get to take a 100-megapixel camera with me on a wider variety of assignments,” he says. “Like, last year, I did a climb in the Himalayas and I took a FUJIFILM X-Pro3 with me because it’s tiny and light. But now I can do the same with GX100S and a couple small lenses, hiking hours into the back country and not really feeling like it’s a big deal.
“With those kind of crossover outdoor climbing and trekking situations, it’s all about how the ounces add up, and this feels like a very streamlined kit to me. And the battery life is looking great, too. So if you’re going somewhere where it’s going to be epically beautiful, having 100 megapixels is a huge difference in terms of final image quality. For sure, this will be my new main camera and GFX100 will be the backup from now on.”
Watch our exclusive video to go behind the scenes and discover how Michael used GFX100S to create these awesome images!