The Fujifilm GFX 50R uses the same medium format chip as its 50S predecessor, pictured above.

The GFX 50R has a sensor 68% larger than 'full-frame' (sensors the same size as 35mm film). This greater size means any given pixel count is less demanding on the lens (which has to resolve fewer pixels per mm). But the main advantage of that extra silicon is the light it can capture: that's the primary source of medium format's image quality advantage.

Talk of better gradation, tonality or 'magic' of medium format are essentially just ways of expressing that larger sensors can capture more light, which then gives every tone in the image a better signal-to-noise ratio (assuming the sensor technology isn't significantly outdated).

Key takeaways:

  • GFX 50R offers greater IQ potential thanks to larger sensor and less resolution demand on lenses
  • The best full-frame sensors can offer very similar image quality, thanks to a similar number of pixels and lower base ISO allowing comparable levels of light capture

Despite the size difference, the full-frame sensors in the Nikon D850 and Z7 offer very similar resolution to the Fujifilm and have the ability to shoot at ISO 64, which allows them to capture 2/3EV (56%) more light per unit area than the 50R. Lenses will make a difference, of course, but, in theory, the Nikons should be very close in terms of underlying image quality. So we shot them two side-by-side.

Side-by-side comparison

Here we've shot the Fujifilm GFX 50R directly alongside the Nikon Z7. We've used the 45mm F2.8 lens on the Fujifilm and the Nikkor S 35mm F1.8 Z on the Nikon to give the same angle of view.

We've set the Fujifilm to F10 and the Nikon to F8, meaning both are shooting with a roughly 4.5mm aperture diameter, giving the same depth-of-field. This 2/3 of a stop difference in F-number lets us use the same exposure time for both, since it's equal to the difference in ISO ratings.

When compared at their native pixel counts, the two images look similarly noisy. Scale the Z7's shot up and correct for the rotation and the Nikon Z7 looks a tiny fraction noisier, and a touch softer, despite more sharpening being applied.

But, despite the Nikon being put at a disadvantage by the additional processing, there's still very little to differentiate between the two cameras. Thanks to its lens (and its microlens design), the Fujifilm appears a fraction sharper overall, but the differences are difficult to recognize unless compared side-by-side at pixel-level.

Given that these images cover dynamic range that extends across at least 12EV, this should give an idea of the difference the way the cameras handle tone and gradation across most of the range that their sensors are capable of.

Overall, this comparison isn't supposed to show which format is better (Fujifilm has already announced the development of a 100MP GFX camera with a BSI sensor, which it'll be hard for the smaller format to match), but it does give an idea of how the GFX 50R compares with the best of its current peers.