Yesterday, I received the Fujifilm X-H1. It has been a while since I got a brand new camera and I was fairly excited. However, I was also cautious with my expectations, as getting gear right when it hits the market does have it’s disadvantages. Overall, I’m quite happy with the camera and I’d like to share my initial impressions and first shoot with it.
Choosing the X-H1
IBIS, or in-body image stabilization is obviously the biggest selling point of this camera. I shoot a lot of portrait sessions, editorial work, and events in low light, and my usual lens of choice for work is the 16-55mm f/2.8. I love fast primes, but the versatility of the 16-55 fits better with the way I work. With it’s 5-stop in-body image stabilization, the X-H1 and 16-55 seem to be a match made in heaven for fast-paced documentary photography. I’m also looking forward to using the camera with my numerous vintage lenses.
This camera is a partner for my X-T2 and my other main lens, the 50-140mm f/2.8. Since the 50-140 is already stabilized and the X-T2 internals are very similar to the X-H1, they should make for a good pair with similar capabilities. The two bodies mounted on my Holdfast Moneymaker dual camera strap will be great for most of the work I do. Also, since my previous second body was an X-T1, the upgrade is quite substantial.
The video functions of this camera have received quite a boost as well, but admittedly, they are secondary to me. It’s nice to have a range of quality and resolution options for video though, especially for the occasional video project that comes along. And the IBIS makes for some really nice handheld video.
Apprehensions and First Impressions
- Size and Weight – I’ve been a Fuji user since 2013, and since then the size of the bodies and a lot of the lenses seems to have been increasing. The X-H1 is the biggest and chunkiest X mount body thus far, and I was afraid at the rate things are going, I’d be back to the weight of my old Canon full frame kit soon. I’ll admit that I chuckled a few times after pulling the camera out of the box. With the larger handgrip, the size and dimensions feel to be in the same ballpark with the Canon Rebel DSLR line, but the the X-H1 definitely has more heft and feels more solid. After experiencing the camera first-hand, I can’t say I’m a huge fan of the larger body. However, it’s not bad overall. The setup is still relatively compact for the performance it offers. Still, I’d love to see Fuji shrink down the IBIS mechanism and other parts in the future and go back to the compact X camera size we’ve come to love.
- Exposure Compensation Dial – this was admittedly the first thing that initially turned me off about the X-H1. I shoot in Aperture Priority mode a lot (because Fuji’s AV mode is so spot-on). When I first saw the leaked pictures of it, the first reaction was “Oh no!”. It seemed like Fuji took away one of my favorite things about the X cameras. After a day of using it, I can say it’s actually not as bad as I expected. You do get used to pressing the EV button and turning the dial. The visual feedback from the sub monitor also helps. Speaking of the sub monitor, the e-ink display is pretty damn cool. Whether or not it’s a necessity for me remains to be seen.
- Battery Life – with IBIS, touch screen, faster processors, etc, battery life was another concern for me. I also have a lot of NP-126 batteries from my previous X cameras, and upgrading them all to NP-126S batteries would be a bit costly. See below for my initial battery life test results.
The First “Test”
During my first few hours with the X-H1, I did a very non-scientific test. Totally subjective, but a reflection of how I would use the camera in the real world.
Upon receiving the camera, the top 2 things I wanted to test out were IBIS and battery life. So I put on a Variable ND filter so I could use slow shutter speeds even in afternoon light. I also wanted to test out the battery performance with third-party non-S batteries. So I used a 4-year-old third party NP-W126 battery during the first test.
- Fujifilm X-H1, no vertical grip
- Fujinon XF 16-55mm f/2.8
- Sandisk Extreme Pro SD cards (Slot 1 RAW, Slot 2 JPEG backup)
- Variable ND Filter
- 3rd party NP-126 battery (JT-one seems to be the East Asian equivalent of the Wasabi batteries)
Various other notable settings based on what I’d use in real-world shooting:
- Disabled touch screen totally (no interest in this function at the moment)
- IBIS – shooting only
- EVF only + eye Sensor 95%, LCD display 5% of the time
- Bluetooth off
For the first part of the test, I took to the streets with the aim to drag the shutter. I kept the ISO at around 200 and the shutter speed from 1/4 to 1 full second, depending on the situation. I adjusted aperture and the variable ND filter depending on the lighting situation. Here are some of my favorite shots:
I found that you could really push the IBIS and get some nice slow shutter effects handheld. I wouldn’t use IBIS like this too often. You definitely have to take multiple frames and prop your arms up on support like walls and railings to get sharp images at around 1/4 and slower. Nevertheless, it’s nice to have slow shutter capability even without a tripod. In more practical applications, I could definitely see using shutter speeds of down to 1/15 sec fairly confidently during event/documentary shoots. Being able to shoot at cleaner ISO’s will be great for client work. Overall, IBIS seems to be worth the money for stills shooting.
For the next test, I wanted to test the new Eterna film simulation and street shooting from the hip using the rear LCD. For added ‘cinematic’ effect, I set the aspect ratio to 16:9.
Overall, I think the Eterna simulation is alright for still photos. It’s much flatter than what I’m typically used to in my images. I usually edit contrast, highlights and shadows in Lightroom anyway. I definitely see myself using it more for video, which it seems to be originally intended for.
The real pleasant surprise was how responsive the camera was in the street. Autofocus was fast and accurate and I was able to nail shots more shots even while shooting from the hip with the LCD. I’m very impressed with the speed of this camera. If you’re happy with the X-T2’s performance, then you’ll be even happier with the X-H1’s.
In terms of battery life, I’m pretty happy with the performance. The 4-year-old non-Fuji battery was able to provide 354 shots before it died. The old battery performed better than stated in the manual. Aside from the settings mentioned above, this was done with a minimal amount of checking the shots on the screen and one transfer of images via Wi-Fi. One thing I didn’t like though was the accuracy of the battery meter in this case. It was still at 3 bars when it suddenly ran out and started blinking red. I will do further tests with the newer NP-W126S batteries, but I feel they will likely do better.
Overall, I’m quite happy with the X-H1. Here are the things I love most about the camera:
- IBIS – this alone is worth the upgrade, in my opinion. It’ll give non-stabilized lenses a whole new lease on life and a whole lot more flexibility for shutter speed settings.
- Responsiveness and handling – this is the quickest X camera to date. The AF is lightning fast and accurate, and the camera just inspires confidence while using it.
- Shutter – it’s so nice. ‘Nuff said. 😀 Seriously, the mechanical shutter is so quiet and smooth. You won’t even need the electronic shutter anymore in some situations.
- Video features – I’m more of a stills shooter, but the availability of IBIS, Eterna, wide range of quality options, face tracking AF, and 120FPS slow motion give me some good tools for the occasional video request from clients, as well as casual filming.
And some stuff I’m not a huge fan of at the moment (some of them could change with more time with the camera):
- Size and weight – I already talked about this above, but overall, if Fuji could pack the X-H1’s features into a smaller, lighter package in the future, I’d be very happy.
- Exposure compensation dial – the sub monitor is lovely, but I’d rather have the EV dial back.
- Placement of the Q button – I’ve pressed it wrongly on several occasions and I feel like it would be better placed somewhere under the AF joystick.
- Placement of the AF-On button – it feels like it’s a little bit too far to the left and too close to the AE-L button. It’s also a bit recessed relative to the surrounding area. I find it hard to press when moving quickly and I’ve wrongly hit the AE-L button several times.
- NP-W126 warning message – I understand that Fuji wants us to use the NP-W126S batteries for best performance, but I wish there were some way to turn off the warning message that flashes every time you turn on the camera when using non-S batteries. I’ve checked the manual and menus and unless I’m missing something, I couldn’t see any way (please let me know if you know of one). I think the yellow battery icon is enough warning. The message is distracting when you need to shoot quickly.
- Jerky video IBIS in some situations – though video was not a main focus of my initial tests, I did give it a try and think it’s worth mentioning it here. I know it’s no replacement for a gimbal, but it seems like the IBIS movement could be still improved during certain movements (like walking). It actually works okay overall for hand holding and panning, but will sometimes suddenly jerk/jitter in random directions when doing tracking shots.
I hope my initial thoughts are helpful to some of you who are interested in this camera. I’ve just started my journey with the X-H1, but I can already see that it will be a good one! I’ll be sure to post any updates here.
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