Fujifilm has once again revolutionized the X-series with its latest release, the Fujifilm X-H1. Since its humble beginnings with the original X100 and X-Pro1, Fuji has taken aim at the professional content creators market. The quality of still images coming from Fujifilm X cameras has always been spectacular, but their video capabilities have always lagged behind offerings from other manufacturers. This is where the Fujifilm X-H1 comes in, but it’s not only video that sets it apart.
The X-H1 brings about so many small changes along with the addition of some huge enhancements like In-Body Image Stabilization (IBIS). In a single review, it is impossible to detail all the small features and what they'll mean for users. So, I will take this review from the personal perspective of someone who primarily shoots stills, occasionally shoots some video, and shoots exclusively with Fujifilm equipment. What is the X-H1? Is it a worthwhile upgrade from the X-T2? Should I wait for the next generation of cameras?
Size and Weight
When I picked up the X-H1 for the first time, I was struck by how large and heavy it was compared to the Fujifilm X-T2 I was holding moments earlier. While 166 grams may not seem like much, that’s a full 32-percent heavier than Fujifilm’s previous flagship. The weight is instantly noticeable, as is the extra size. I felt like I had just picked up my old Nikon D750 again. In fact, the X-H1 falls almost exactly between the X-T2 and the D750 in terms of weight and size.
The X-H1 has an approximately 25-percent thicker magnesium alloy frame and a hardened coating over the whole body to reduce its susceptibility to scratches. This, coupled with the physically larger grip makes it feel a lot more like the GFX than the X-T2. I was ready to dismiss it as being too big and heavy for the Fujfilm X system, but then I turned the camera on and spent a few moments exploring the autofocus improvements and IBIS.
The viewfinder of the X-H1 protrudes significantly more than any other X camera. This is also quite reminiscent of the GFX. Presumably, this is to prevent noses and cheeks from activating the added touchscreen functionality, but for me, it just makes it difficult to put the camera into a couple of the bags I have. The eyecup also dislodges quite often, which activates the eye-sensor, stopping the rear screen from showing up. This needs a stronger clip to hold it in place.
Overall the buttons and dials on the X-H1 feel of a higher quality than those on the X-T2. There is a definite tactile response for each of the buttons that many will appreciate. The doors that cover the ports are also of a much higher quality again. This is reassuring, as I was always worried about water getting inside those during rain.
Some major improvements in the handling department include the feather-touch shutter and the eye sensor’s responsiveness. The shutter took me a few days to get used to, and even now I find myself accidentally releasing the shutter from time to time because the difference between focus and shooting is so minimal. No doubt back-button-focus users will absolutely love this, but for those of us who still use the shutter button to focus, it has a significant learning curve. As for the eye sensor, Fuji quotes its responsiveness at 0.15 s as opposed to the 0.4 s quoted for the X-T2. I didn’t realize just how much of an improvement this would actually be until I used the two together. The X-H1 is so much quicker when you raise it to your eye. I hope that part of this is firmware so the X-T2 can also be improved.
The new grip is certainly larger. For people who don't appreciate the diminutive size of the X-T2 grip, this is likely to be a welcome change. However, I feel that it could have more of an indent like some of Nikon's grips (think D750/D850). These bodies have enough of a recess for your fingers that you can dangle them off a couple of sweaty digits and have no fear of dropping the camera. Despite the increase in physical size, I still find myself gripping the X-H1 with white knuckles.
The sub-monitor is a bewildering addition for me. It doesn't give me anything that the LCD can't and takes away one of my favorite features of the Fujifilm cameras. I'm likely to be in the minority in saying this, but I'd like the exposure compensation dial back, just as I wanted for the GFX 50s. The push-button exposure compensation inherited from the GFX and most DSLR designs doesn’t fit in with the rest of the X system cameras and makes using other bodies together with the X-H1 cumbersome. Shooting a fast-paced event with my X-T2 and X-H1 side by side really exposed this for me. I felt very conscious of which camera was which and where the controls were.
Another issue that was exposed for me was the placement of the Q button. I use the Q button frequently with the camera to my eye, and the placement of it on the X-T2 is perfect: right next to the focus lever. However, the X-H1 moves it onto the thumb grip, as with the GFX, which makes it difficult to press without losing your grip on the camera.
It is what it is and does what it says. Well done, Fujifilm. That’s the simple take on it.
When you pick up the camera the first time, you’ll notice right away that it has an IBIS system inside. The clunking noises before the camera is turned on sound like a muffled version of the floating elements in lenses like the XF 50-140mm f/2.8. Once the camera is switched on, if you have the IBIS in continuous mode, you’ll hear a constant hiss that sounds like a low-volume computer cooling fan. This constant reminder at least reassures you that the camera is doing something about your caffeine hands.
In still photography, the IBIS is really quite special. I’ve been using it mostly at corporate events in dimly lit rooms for the past week, and it has performed extremely well. In order to really test the capabilities of it in normal shooting, I went two stops lower in ISO than I did with my X-T2 for these sessions to see how the system would perform. For example, this meant shooting my X-T2 at 1/250 and ISO 3200, while the X-H1 was at 1/60 and ISO 800. The resulting files were much cleaner, and I really only noticed a difference in sharpness when subjects were moving quickly, which of course is due to subject movement and not camera movement.
In a few tests I have done in the street here in Seoul, I’ve been using the XF 35mm f/1.4 at shutter speeds as low as 1/8 s and have been able to get tack-sharp results if my technique is good. Even when I’m being a little sloppy, 1/15 s delivers perfectly sharp results. Portraits with the XF 56mm f/1.2 are sharp down to 1/25 s for me as well. This is a huge difference, as I usually don’t shoot that lens below 1/250 s.
Video with the IBIS is also extremely useful. In run-and-gun situations, stable footage is extremely easy to achieve when hand-holding. Slow pans and short tracking movements are smooth and look fantastic. Movements that require you to walk or run are a little more difficult to achieve as footfall tends to jerk the camera too much unless you are extremely careful, resulting in the IBIS system losing its place. A gimbal or Steadicam would still be a more effective solution if you have movement like this in your shots.
One thing I feel is a glaring misstep on Fujifilm's part is allowing the IBIS settings to be assigned to a button. With all of the hype regarding the IBIS, which we have seen works very well, turning it on or off requires digging into a menu. So far, it cannot be assigned to a button. This seems like a strange oversight for an X-series camera.
Another feature I believe could potentially be implemented in firmware that would improve the usability of the IBIS would be automatic on/off switching. If the camera could detect itself being placed on a solid surface like a table or a tripod, perhaps by detecting a few seconds of being perfectly still, and switching the IBIS off automatically, that would mean no forgetting to switch it off and getting blurry images.
Autofocus has seen some major improvements as well. In AF-C tracking and low-light shooting, you will see quite a big difference between the X-H1 and previous X-series cameras.
The AF-C tracking system now works effectively while zooming and shooting. Being able to continue making images while you zoom will be a boon for sports and wildlife shooters. Coupled with the Electronic Front Curtain Shutter, you get zero blackout while shooting. Not to mention that the phase-detect AF sensors now work down to f/11, so the long zooms will now focus quickly with the teleconverter in place. All of these together offer some great advantages over other X-Series cameras.
The PDAF system also now works down to -1 EV. This has been a extremely useful, as I often shoot at the end of the day for my couple and family sessions, and corporate events are always held in rooms that are lit like tombs. So far, the snappiness of the X-H1’s autofocus has been impressive, but I have noticed that it gives up looking for focus more quickly than the X-T2. Where the X-T2 would hunt several times in poor light until it found something to lock in on, the X-H1 tends to look once very quickly and then give up with either a red square saying it couldn’t acquire focus or a green square with a false acquisition. I hope this can be improved in firmware.
Video is the second area where the X-H1 is a complete departure from other X-series bodies. The addition to dedicated image quality settings for video mode, internal F-Log recording, 120 FPS shooting in FHD, Eterna film simulation (and Eterna LUT which can be found here for grading F-Log footage), relay recording, selectable bit rates, and improved face detection (that works in AF-C!) are just some of the features that stand out.
In terms of video quality, there are quite a few changes. F-Log can be recorded internally now, and the new Eterna profile produces beautiful footage straight out of the camera (examples of both can be found my video review below). Although the output is still only 8-bit, internal recording is done at 4:2:0, and 4:2:2 can be output over the HDMI port. Full HD footage can now be recorded at either 50 or 100 Mbps, and 4K can be recorded at up to 200 Mbps.
One thing that is conspicuously missing for me, despite the increase in body size, is a headphone jack. If you wish to check audio levels using the camera, you will still need to purchase the VPB-XH1 battery grip from Fujifilm in order to get this functionality. Of course, this gives you more battery life and longer record times as well. So if these are a concern, the grip should be on your list.
Despite the reduction in expected battery life, I haven’t noticed a huge drop in the number of frames I have been able to shoot on the newer NP-W126S batteries. When not using the IBIS, I have been able to get approximately 800 frames off each battery. This reduces to around 650 when IBIS is turned on in continuous mode. Non-S batteries seem to run out quite a bit quicker, and the accuracy of the battery meter is reduced. The camera drops from 30 percent to nothing over just a couple of additional photos when using the older or third-party batteries. As someone who has been invested in the Fujifilm system for several years now, I have more of the older batteries, so this is quite annoying.
What I Liked
- Battery life almost as good as X-T2
- Improved autofocus
- Overall improved performance
- Internal F-Log
- Slow-motion video
What I Didn’t Like
- Included eye cup dislodges often
- Too large and heavy to fit in with X-series
- Sub-monitor (and lack of exposure compensation dial)
- Lack of indent in grip
- Still need the battery grip for a headphone jack
- Camera complaining every time you turn it on with a “non-S” battery inside
- No ability to assign the IBIS on/off to a button or quick menu
- Occasionally misses focus (more frequently than other Fuji bodies)
It may seem like my list of dislikes is rather long, but don't let that deter you from this camera. Those are small nitpicks with regards to an otherwise spectacular camera. If, like I was, you aren't sure about the size and weight, I recommend testing out the camera first. For me, the IBIS and added video features were what convinced me. The IBIS is worth it alone for the type of work that I do, so if this would be a benefit to you, I can't recommend the X-H1 highly enough. The increases in overall performance also take this camera a step above the X-T2 and make it a great upgrade. When you do decide to get one, pick it up here!