VF Blackout on the Fuji GFX vis-à-vis the X-Pro 2

Over on the Fujifilm GFX Facebook group, there's been a lot of talk about VF blackout and what to expect from the GFX. I recently came across an excellent article from 2014 over on "Promit's Ventspace" (you can read it here) that tested the VF blackout on a Sony A77 Mark II. This immediately prompted me to test the VF blackout on my X-Pro 2 using the same method, and applying what I found to what we might expect from the new Medium Format GFX.

For your convenience, here are important excerpts on his methodology, but I encourage you to click on over and read over the entire article (it's a short read).

How do we test the lag? Well, the A77 II’s rear screen shows exactly the same display as the viewfinder, presumably with very similar lag. So all we have to do is point the camera at an external timer, and photograph both the camera and the timer simultaneously.

Next up: EVF blackout. What is it? Running the viewfinder is essentially a continuous video processing job for the camera, using the sensor feed. In order to take a photo, the video feed needs to be stopped, the sensor needs to be blanked, the exposure needs to be taken, the shutter needs to be closed, the image downloaded off the sensor into memory, then the shutter must open again and the video feed must be resumed. The view of the camera goes black during this entire process, which can take quite a long time. To test this, I simply took a video of the camera while clicking off a few shots (1/60 shutter) in single shot mode.

The rear LCD, and my monitor, are running at a 60 Hz refresh rate, which means that a new value appears on screen every ~16.67 ms. By stepping through the video, I can see how long the screen is black [in 60Hz video frames].

I used to test the "input lag" for various monitors for use in competitive gaming, so the methodology used in the above referenced article isn't foreign to me. Since there had been so much talk about EVF/VF blackout on the GFX Facebook group, I decided to test the VF blackout on my X-Pro 2 to illustrate and give some sort of idea what people can expect from the GFX.

Now, when I first got my hands on the GFX, the EVF blackout was immediately something I noticed. From the very first shot I took, it seemed like an eternity. Granted, I am used to next to no blackout from my Canon 1DX Mark II (rated at somewhere < 50ms), so it's not the most fair comparison. Also, as most DSLRs, it has an OVF versus the EVF of the GFX.

What I'm unsure of is if the blackout time on the rear LCD and the EVF are equal — it could be better or worse, but currently I don't have a GFX to test, nor — at the time of this test in my office at work, did I have another camera that I could use to peer through the EVF and make that comparison. From what I've seen in preliminary videos, it seems like the blackout on the rear LCD of the GFX is slightly shorter than that which I experienced through the EVF.

To test the LCD (and presumably, EVF) blackout on the X-Pro 2, I used the same methodology as in the article above — I setup a timer on a 60Hz LCD and took I took 50 test shots while recording a video @ 1080p/60 on my iPhone. The results follow: 

Fujifilm X-Pro 2 Rear LCD blackout results, over 50 test shots.

From the above, we can see that about 14 frames @ 60fps (or 233ms) of blackout is experienced when shooting on the X-Pro 2. While these results are fairly good, you can almost certainly expect a longer blackout on the GFX against the X-Pro 2 due to the larger sensor size and the increased time to read that sensor out, and that has been my experience thus far. In fact, it seemed at least two or three times as long as on the X-Pro 2. But I consider the X-Pro 2 to be quite quick and, we're talking milliseconds here, so it's all relative.

This is a far cry, though, from DSLRs with OVFs that have blackout times of anywhere from less than 50ms in the top-end pro bodies, to about 80-100ms on slower, consumer DSLRs. Even very old DSLRs such as the original Canon 5D had a VF blackout of about 145ms — still much faster than the current crop of EVFs. In continuous shooting where these cameras tend to "slideshow" the previous shot in the EVF/LCD, a long blackout makes it difficult to track moving subjects.

With the above results in mind, I remembered that I recently saw a few videos on YouTube that had been posted in the GFX Facebook group, and was curious about what we might expect from the GFX in terms of VF blackout, so I downloaded the below videos:

After viewing the videos at first glance, In the instances where you can get a feel for the time it takes between single shots, I felt that it seemed much faster than the demo unit I got to try at Samy's Camera recently, so I downloaded the videos and stepped through them to get some rough timings, based on the pre-production model.

In each instance I could observe, there were about 16-18 frames of blackout between the screen or EVF beginning to go black and when the view was restored. Keep in mind that these videos are at 30fps on YouTube, so each frame is equivalent to about 33.33 ms. 16-18 frames of blackout @ 30fps ≈ 522.28 – 599.94ms, or just over half a second — about 2.5x as long as the X-Pro2 and XT-2. The videos made it seem much faster than the unit I had a chance to use, but the results confirm my experience in it being about 2-3x longer than that of the X-Pro 2. Note that my frame of reference at the time was that I was shooting photos of the GFX side-by-side my 1DX2, whose OVF blackout is less than 1/10th the observed estimate of the GFX noted above, so that would have been why it seemed like forever to me on the GFX.

The long blackout time of the EVF on the coming GFX may not be an issue, though. Medium Format is a slow and deliberate format, and not one for action or continuous shooting. As such, even if the blackout between shots is two or three times longer than on an X-Pro 2 or XT-2, it may not make a difference to you. Besides, the GFX is only capable of 3.0 fps, anyway (which is actually quite fast for the format).

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