Fujifilm’s X-H1 is, for X-system users, a groundbreaking new camera. I have been privileged to spend a fair bit of time with two different preproduction bodies, through several iterations of beta firmware, finally to production level v.1.0.0 firmware, which may or may not be the very final version the camera actually ships with on March 1st. The X-H1 body will sell for $2,449, and it will also be available as a bundle with the new vertical battery grip for $2,799. This preview will cover some of the major differences between the X-H1 and previous bodies like the X-T2 and X-Pro2, how the camera handles during real world use, and I will show some image samples as well. However I won’t be detailing absolutely every feature and difference, since there are very thorough review websites out there that will do a better job of that than I could!
One area in which the X-H1 is hugely improved over previous bodies, is for professional video use. While I will go over some of the major new video features, there are people better suited to reviewing that aspect of the camera since I am not at all a video guy. One such person is a good client of ours, a photographer and videographer by the name of David Strongman (http://www.davidstrongman.com). Since he is already shoots with an X-system and had provided us with some useful feedback on the X-T2 previously, we approached him earlier this year and got him involved in evaluating the X-H1, and he’s been providing feedback to us, as well as Fujifilm Canada. He has prepared a video review on how the X-H1 was to use during several different video projects of his, and he has also created some music videos and other content which will showcase the camera’s key features. Links to those videos will follow at the end of this blog posting. During my own time with the camera, I basically recorded some 4K video, as well as some in-camera 1080p slow-motion and apart from “…yep, it works and looks great”, well I haven’t really a lot else to offer up as personal experience on that front!
(Click on any thumbnail for a larger view)
One of the X-H1’s headline features, and this may benefit photographers even more than videographers, is the new 5-axis In-Body Image-Stabilization. Yes indeed, the X-H1 is the first interchangeable lens Fujifilm body to offer IBIS! For those people who like shooting with Fujifilm’s many superb prime lenses, most of which do not have OIS (apart from the new 80mm macro), this will be a very welcome new feature. I spent most of my time shooting the preproduction X-H1 at night in the dark, not only to thoroughly test out its IBIS, since I am definitely one who loves shooting with Fujinon primes, but I also didn’t want to this secret new camera to be noticed by anyone in public who may be a Fujifilm aficionado. It is actually surprising how many people have seen my X-Pro2 in public and walked up to me, asking how I liked my Fujifilm gear! So how well did the IBIS work? Most of the time, spectacularly well actually. Once the IBIS “locked”, I could deliberately shake the camera and the EVF image looked so rock steady that the camera appeared to be in image playback mode! I say “most of the time” only because there were some instances where I actually had a reasonably fast shutter speed relative to the lens focal length, and for some reason I struggled to get a tack sharp image and had to take multiple frames before I got one I was happy with. However most of the time, it was almost “magically” effective. The handheld image below was shot with my XF 50mm f/2 at a mere 1/5 second and if you click the image, you’ll see that apart from the traffic, it is razor sharp, so that is about 4-stops of effective stabilization…
(Click for larger 3000×2000 pixel image)
Keep in mind that some of the IBIS inconsistency I saw was quite likely due to the firmware and hardware in my test camera not being final yet. Regardless, even those few times when it appeared to be struggling, it still offered a definite improvement over not having any IBIS at all. While I haven’t spent as much time with the X-H1 as I would have liked, especially with some of my wider lenses like my XF 14mm and XF 16mm primes, I will say that I have not noticed any IBIS induced corner softness on my 23mm, 50mm and 90mm f/2 primes, the main lenses I was testing it with. In other words, there is always a concern that if you happen to fire at just the “wrong time”, if a sensor with IBIS is near one extreme of its deflection and thus close to the very edge of a lens’ projected image circle, that you may end up seeing some softness along one edge or at one corner of the image. The same concern would apply to an image stabilized lens too, but in either case, if you were to see this happening, then for the most consistent image quality, the solution is to use a tripod and switch off stabilization. However basically all my shots with IBIS were fine. David should have some feedback on how the IBIS worked for him while filming, in his more video-centric review.
Here is one more image, handheld of course and shot with my XF 23mm f/2 at 1/12 second. If you click the image to open the larger version, you can see that the posters in the window are tack sharp…
(Click for larger 3000×2000 pixel image)
As far as its enhanced video features, the X-H1 allows for a very high 200 Mb/sec recording, 4:2:0 8-bit internal (to SD card) F-Log recording, or 4:2:2 8-bit F-Log to an external recorder. Lower data-rate 100 Mb/sec and 50 Mb/sec settings are also offered in 4K mode for smaller file sizes when the highest quality is not needed. Recording resolution is up to DCI 4K (4096×2160 to 24p) in 17:9, or 4K (3840×2160) 16:9 and there are other video aspect ratios and resolutions as well. Slow-motion can be recorded in-camera in Full-HD (1920×1080) with multiple options, up to a 5x slowdown factor (120 fps -> 24 fps), and you see the effect when playing-back the footage in-camera. Very cool and I really should have experimented with that more myself! The functionality of continuous AF and Face-Detect during video recording has apparently been enhanced too and you can tap the rear screen to pull-focus (YES, the X-H1 has a fully-functional rear touchscreen LCD) and according to David, that tap to pull-focus feature was actually surprisingly effective. Sure, for the best and most consistent full-on professional work, pulling focus manually would still be preferred, but the smooth and steady tap-to-focus-pull could work in a lot of slightly less demanding situations.
During video recording sessions, there is now a silent operation feature, where you can use the rear LCD touchscreen to make aperture adjustments and such, so you avoid the click-click-click of adjusting either the lens aperture ring or the scroll wheels on the body. There are timecode settings, a movie tally light and microphone input is now a standard 3.5mm jack, although headphone audio monitoring still requires adding the new VPB-XH1 battery grip. I will end my quick video features overview by mentioning that there are now 4 pages of video-specific parameters in the menu system, and many settings that on previous Fujifilm bodies used to be global, film simulation type, dynamic range, shadow/highlight tonality, sharpness, noise-reduction and more, have separate settings banks for stills and video in the X-H1. This allows for optimal setup in each mode. Nice!
(Click on any thumbnail for a larger view)
As far as using the X-H1 as a regular camera, for stills and not video, I was honestly not expecting to like it all that much. I knew that the IBIS and the significantly improved EVF (even compared to the X-T2) would be a big draw, but still… l prefer the rangefinder style layout of my X-Pro2 and a dedicated exposure-compensation dial is missing from the X-H1, as it is on the GFX too! I use that dial all the time since I almost always shoot in aperture priority mode, and losing that wonderful mechanical control-point seemed a big step backward. However much to my surprise, once I tweaked all the camera settings to my liking, I really started to enjoy shooting with the X-H1. It is the most customizable camera from Fujifilm yet and I did some “crazy” stuff with the settings. For example, I assigned the exposure compensation button to instead activate the self timer, since it is right near the shutter release, and I use the function button near the shutter release on my X-Pro2 for the same thing. One thing I have always missed from my DSLR days, on all the Fujifilm bodies I’ve owned, is a dedicated AF-ON button. The Fujifilm bodies I have owned (X100, X-E1, X-E2, X-Pro2) have an AF-L button and its operation isn’t quite the same. The X-H1 has a “proper” AF-ON button (yay!) but sadly, I found it a bit of a stretch to reach with my thumb when holding the camera comfortably. However, in another crazy button assignment, I set the rear-control-wheel click action to be AF-ON, rather than its usual zoom-in focus check, and then redefined the AF-ON as the focus-check in its place. The rear control wheel falls right under my thumb and is the perfect position to be used for AF-ON, and it has a nice click as well. Very customizable and very nice!
The other thing I like about the X-H1 is that you can set the exposure compensation button (which I’ve assigned to the front function button) to optionally toggle on and off the function, allowing either the front or rear control wheel to change the compensation setting, rather than the awkward “push-and-hold button and turn scroll wheel” that the camera defaults to. In addition, you can optionally set both control wheels to then allow changing your exposure compensation, and once the function is locked on, it’s retained even when power cycling the camera. So… in effect, this allows the X-H1 to have two dedicated exposure compensation wheels, and I can then use whichever one is in the most comfortable position at the time. What a great feature!
(X-H1 strengthened magnesium structure – Click for a larger view)
To bring my perhaps overly enthusiastic tone down a notch, why don’t I mention a few things I don’t like about the camera now. Hmm… Hmm…. Okay, how about the fact that it is bigger and heavier than the X-T2. Not all that much, but it is. Why? Well apparently the magnesium alloy body structure is 25% thicker and the lens mount structure has been revised and strengthened (see above), so the entire body should be more durable and more resistant to shock and damage. I imagine a bit more room for IBIS functionality was needed inside as well. The difference isn’t huge but if you were to compare it to the incredibly slim and lightweight X-E3 for example, the X-H1 appears rather huge and heavy. Compared to my X-Pro2 with the added metal handgrip I use, if the X-H1 was actually heavier, I can’t say I noticed it.
Speaking of grips, the handgrip on the X-H1 is very deep and comfortable, certainly adding to its apparent bulk, and it is the first Fujifilm body this side of the much larger GFX where I don’t feel the need to add an optional grip. The good news though is that if you put the body in your camera bag with a lens mounted, the added depth of the handgrip doesn’t really make any difference since it still protrudes less than all but the smallest lenses, like the 27mm pancake. One thing I don’t like, is the position of the front, index-finger operated control wheel, the one under the shutter release. In fact, when I’m holding the camera normally, with index finger poised on the shutter release, then want to move my finger to the control wheel, my middle finger gets in the way and I have to awkwardly reposition my hand. However, if I use my middle finger for the control wheel, and leave my index finger on the shutter release, that works… but I find that unnatural, although I probably could get used to it. I had the same problem with many older Nikon bodies, but on the latest models, they changed to contouring of the grip, allowing for more separation between the index and middle fingers, which works a lot better. I find both Canon and Panasonic’s front control wheel to be better positioned, where it sits above the shutter release, instead of below. That said, for exposure compensation, I will usually use the rear wheel, so I didn’t actually need to use the front wheel very often.
(X-H1 versus X-T2 – pardon the dust and lens-cap propping up the X-T2! – Click for a larger view)
Another thing I don’t like is something that hasn’t changed: the X-H1 still uses the same NP-W126S battery pack. Fujifilm could have taken the opportunity to introduce a new, higher capacity battery for this and future pro-level Fujifilm bodies. Of course for those with many NP-W126S batteries, this lack of change is actually be a good thing. For me, one additional annoyance was how often the camera warned me that I was using an older, reduced capacity NP-W126 battery (not the ’S’ variant) but honestly, the battery life seemed about what I’d expect and not particularly short, even with the older style battery packs. There isn’t really all that much else I can think of to complain about right now, so onward…
The X-H1’s shutter has a new, fantastically effective shock-absorbing mechanism. It is by far the smoothest and quietest mechanical shutter of any camera I have ever used and has been designed to minimize shutter shock and vibration from affecting its floating sensor IBIS system. The well damped shutter will also be a boon for wildlife photographers or anyone trying to be unobtrusive while shooting, for example at press conferences or events, photographing in quiet venues like museums or even photographing on film sets. I wouldn’t be too surprised if the bare noise levels from the X-H1 weren’t about the same as a pro-level DSLR in a large and bulky sound blimp. The shutter now also has a first-curtain electronic option, so when using that, there is zero shutter vibration at the critical start of the exposure. At the end of the exposure, the second curtain is mechanical, blocking light from reaching the sensor during readout and mitigating all the potential CMOS sensor readout issues that fully electronic shutters can exhibit, such as image distortion or banding when shooting under flickering light sources. Sadly, I totally forgot this option existed when I did all my handheld night shots, where I just used the default fully mechanical shutter setting. I may have had even better results at really slow shutter speeds, had I used the first-curtain E-Shutter…
(More X-H1 / X-T2 comparisons – click thumbnails for full-size images)
The sensor in the X-H1 is still the superb APS-C X-Trans CMOS III 24.3MP unit that most recent Fujifilm bodies are graced with, and it has proven to have excellent colour rendition, great dynamic range and good low-light performance, indeed better overall image quality even than a fair number of competing full-frame sensor equipped cameras. Couple that with Fujifilm’s superb lineup of primes and zooms, and you have a camera system capable of truly exceptional image quality. The X-H1’s AF system has been improved as well, to ensure you can capture those exceptional images sharply! The sensor’s phase-detect AF range has been expanded by 1.5 stops, from working down to +0.5 EV in the older cameras, to now operating down to -1.0 EV in the X-H1. In addition, instead of just working to f/8, the phase-detect AF system will now work all the way down to f/11. The AF-C performance has been further enhanced as well, now working better for subjects with erratic movement, or when shooting and zooming at the same time. I will say that none of this is anything I personally observed though, since I was mainly shooting non-moving still subjects, so in this case I am merely relaying the improvements that Fujifilm has remarked on. That said, Jason here at Beau Photo had a brief opportunity to do some wildlife shooting with the XH-1 and XF 100-400mm zoom, and I believe he did come away impressed with his keeper rates on some flying raptors. You may want to call and speak to him to find out what he thought, if fast action shooting is your thing…
Another handheld night shot, with my XF 50mm f/2 at 1/12 second. These two certainly weren’t moving particularly fast…
(Click for larger 3000×2000 pixel image)
The EVF in the X-H1 warrants mentioning since it is wonderfully sharp, and despite having excellent eye-relief, it provides a huge image to look at too with a magnification level near that of the X-T2. There are a few things about the EVF in the X-H1 that I particularly like, which in all fairness the X-T2 also has, but my X-Pro2 does not. One is the ability to slightly shrink down the displayed image, which ensures that absolutely all exposure and status data in the EVF is displayed outside of the image area. Another is the option of having the image area outlined by a thin grey line, allowing for easier and more accurate composition of night shots or images with dark areas near the edge of the frame. These features really enhance one’s ability to frame shots with far fewer distractions, and I do wish all Fujifilm bodies had those options! Fujifilm, are you listening? The EVF resolution of the X-H1 is the highest of any X-body to date, boasting a 3.69 million dot OLED with an extremely short image lag time of 0.005 seconds and a 100 fps refresh rate. In addition, it can also get up to 1.6x brighter than previous Fujifilm EVFs, something that could be very useful in very bright daylight conditions. Along with Fujfilm’s new “Natural Live-View” feature (another feature I wish my X-Pro2 had), which reduces contrast and significantly increases visible shadow detail, this new EVF comes the closest I’ve seen to mimicking the big optical viewfinders of pro-level DSLRs, but with the added benefit of being able to judge exposure, white-balance and highlight clipping in real time. In “Boost Mode” with burst shooting, at certain frame-rates the camera also has a near zero EVF blackout between shots.
Speaking of bursts, one thing that surprised me a little is that the raw buffer size has not really increased when compared to the X-T2 or X-Pro2, at least on the preproduction cameras I was testing. Shooting lossless compressed .RAF + fine JPEG images, I was able to shoot 29 frames with my fastest personal SD card, a Lexar Pro 32GB 2000x SDHC. Once the buffer filled, it took only 5 seconds to dump all the images and finish writing to the card. Those numbers are essentially the same as what I get with my X-Pro2 with the same test. Note that the fastest Sandisk Extreme Pro UHS-II should perform about the same as the Lexar 2000x I used, however the slower Sandisk Extreme Pro UHS-I card I tested only managed 23 shots before the buffer filled and took 22 seconds to flush the buffer. A Lexar Pro 1000x card also only managed 23 shots before slowing, but then the buffer dumped in only 12 seconds. If you are a fast action shooter, it pays to get the very fastest cards! Following are a few other observations about the new camera’s ergonomics…
The front and rear scroll wheels on the X-H1 have a very nice, firm tactile click, not at all mushy. However, I find both the front wheel (due to the proximity to the shutter release as mentioned) and the rear wheel, due to the large thumb-ridge to its immediate right, are a bit more awkward to turn than those on the X-T2 or X-Pro2. However the firmer detents mean you can push on them a bit harder to improve friction and that can make turning them easier, without worrying about clicking them by accident. Pros and cons. The big thumb-ridge that somewhat gets in the way of the turning the rear scroll wheel does provide an extremely solid purchase for your thumb, making the camera very secure feeling in the hand. However the prominently placed Q button (Quick-Menu) on this thumb-ridge will also likely mean that some people will be frustrated and activate the Q-Menu by accident, something that didn’t happen to me, but did happen to David on occasion. Fujifilm should allow one to optionally require a double-click to activate the Quick-Menu since that would more than likely solve almost all of the accidental activation complaints. As before, pros and cons.
These mice weren’t moving very quickly either, yet another subject that I couldn’t test the tracking AF on – fail! Shot with my XF 14mm f/2.8 at 1/30 second, so not particularly demanding of the IBIS system…
(Click for larger 3000×2000 pixel image)
One feature that will likely be a little polarizing is the new “Feather Touch” shutter release. It took me quite a while to get used to it and the first preproduction body I had was almost comically sensitive! I kept taking shot after accidental shot when I was just trying to half press to AF, and I also managed to get numerous useless shots of my feet and the sidewalk. Thankfully, the body I have been using recently requires a slightly firmer action to take a photo, but it is still a whole lot lighter than any other Fujifilm body. Once you get used to this light-touch shutter release, it will indeed help you to take more stable shots at slow shutter speeds, especially in conjunction with the large new handgrip. Fujifilm also suggests that capturing a decisive moment might be easier with the quick acting shutter. Pros and cons, but in this case I’d suggest that once you are used to the lighter shutter, it will largely be a good thing, a pro. I just hope that final productions cameras won’t be as sensitive as that first body I tested! That said, despite some advantages, I do suspect there might be some people who will really dislike the very light action shutter, so who knows… some wishful thinking here… but maybe Fujifilm could allow X-H1 owners to send their cameras in to have the shutter release firmness adjusted in the future?
Another positive change to the X-H1 when compared to the X-T2, is the relative position of the focus-point joystick; I feel it is in a much better position on the X-H1. With my X-Pro2 and now the X-H1, I can simply pivot my right thumb to the left, and it will more or less land right on the top of the joystick. When I use an X-T2, I always find I have to stretch my thumb downward in a slightly awkward manner to reach the joystick, so this is, for my hands at least, another step in the right direction.
There are other things I could talk about, like the new cinematic ETERNA film simulation mode, the comfortable new MHG-XH1 battery grip, the optional “wraparound” eyecup that should really help block bright ambient light when using the EVF or the new Flicker-Reduction mode that will sense the rapid brightness changes in, for example, fluorescent lights and make sure the camera always fires its shutter during the brightest point of the flicker. I could also talk about the now higher quality in-camera audio recording, the many touch-screen LCD capabilities, the myriad video settings screens and much more, but this preview is getting pretty long and there will be other websites providing comprehensive feature lists and in-depth reviews.
I will end this preview by saying that I truly enjoyed using the X-H1. The increased size and weight was not really noticeable, maybe due to the much improved handgrip? The new EVF is fantastic and despite a few minor complaints, the overall ergonomics are very good, and the camera is extremely snappy and responsive to use in every respect. The Natural Live-View feature makes it easier to see into high contrast scenes, the live, blinking highlight clipping warning makes it quick and easy to adjust your exposure while shooting (as it does on my X-Pro2 thankfully), and the bright framing line around the image in the EVF made night-shot compositions far easier than with my X-Pro2. Lastly, while the camera’s image quality is not really noticeably different from my X-Pro2, the X-H1’s IBIS means I could often shoot at ridiculously slow shutter speeds with all those wonderful Fujinon prime lenses I love using. The extra weight of the X-H1 body is more than offset by the weight savings of not having to carry a tripod as much, and being freed from a tripod means one can be more agile and shoot in positions that might otherwise be tedious or awkward.
While the older X-T2 is a very competent camera, and clearly outperforms my X-Pro2 in many ways, I never felt totally comfortable using one, always greatly preferring the ergonomics of my rangefinder-style X-Pro2, not that everyone would agree with me on that of course. However, this X-H1… as much as I wasn’t all that impressed with the first preproduction camera and its very early firmware, this last one I’ve been using is really drawing me in, especially after comprehensively customizing its user-interface to my liking. A well designed camera makes shooting a truly rewarding and pleasant experience, especially since the camera can become intuitive and “invisible”, not distracting from one’s creativity. The cameras I’ve used over the years that have provided me with the most fluid and least distracting shooting experience include a Nikon F3HP, a Canon T90, a Pentax 67II, and far more recently the Fujifilm X-E2 and X-Pro2. Well, I can now add the new X-H1 to that list… except that I’ve personally owned all those other cameras. So, while I still inherently prefer the ergonomics of my X-Pro2, the X-H1 is so good that it’s going to be a real struggle not to buy one for myself…
Image Gallery and Video Samples
The full gallery of sample images from the X-H1: Fujifilm X-H1 Samples (IBIS)
David Strongman’s overview of the X-H1: Field Testing Fuji’s new video machine – the X-H1
Please Note: Sample images in this review were taken with preproduction X-H1 bodies and some with preproduction firmware. Photos were all shot as uncompressed .RAF and only processed in Adobe Lightroom Classic CC. I was able to open the X-H1 raw files in Lightroom already by temporarily changing the EXIF camera name to “X-T2”.