Behind all metaphors, Fujifilm X-H1 is getting the least of love, attention and publicity among the rest of the models from the Fujifilm range of mirrorless digital cameras. In addition, it is not so easy to explain why. Let me try to understand what could be behind the decision to buy (or refuse considering) a Fujifilm X-H1 as the camera to have in your photo bag.
At first, it was evolutionary (but not necessarily revolutionary, as IBIS is present among all other major players in the industry of mirrorless cameras). The presence of IBIS into a Fujifilm camera that is very eligible for professional demands is still something both useful and remarkable. X-H1 was the first mirrorless Fujifilm X camera to incorporate this feature. The second camera with IBIS arrived much later and costs towards 10.000 dollars.
So, why X-H1 is not getting the deserved attention? For me, the easiest way to answer this question is to look at my attitude towards this model. I remember the moment when Fujifilm announced and launched the X-H1, then I clearly remember when I went to the biggest photography fair in Brussels, Belgium, in 2018, called “Photo Days”. Fujifilm had quite an impressive, large stand for exhibiting their products and among the things that triggered my curiosity, was the X-H1. A Belgium Fujifilm X Photographer was there to show me the camera, presenting its strong points. I took the X-H1 in my hands and wanted to test it without the Vertical Hand-Grip. A beautiful young woman was there as a model, sitting in the ad-hoc portrait-shooting studio and she knew very well how to pose and smile.
The camera had a wireless trigger connected to a set of Profoto lights wrapped in professional soft-boxes. I took the camera and fired a few shots with the never-disappointing, reliable workhorse XF 50-140mm F2.8 OIS WR (which I did not have at that time, but added later to my photo bag).
It was a very short experience and the first, quick impressions where summarized in a few lines, like an inner monologue: “It’s nice, it definitely feels like a typical Fujifilm camera. It is a bit bigger than the X-T series, keeping the same DSLRish style with its design and the central viewfinder. Great ergonomics, especially with big lenses! Hey, the viewfinder is big and comfortable! Too bad, there is no Exposure Compensation metallic dial, as I am used to have, but the top screen could be great for professionals work. Very silent and sexy sound from the mechanical shutter. At last, but not the least, IBIS could be great with longer focal lengths, or in low light situations. This camera body is somewhat nice, but not so attractive. The materials seem rugged, lacking the finesse of my X-Pro2. I cannot say I truly like this camera; definitely it’s not for me”.
That was it! I have handed back the X-H1, grabbed my beloved X-Pro2 and left the Fujifilm stand to meet my friends and visit other interesting stuff at “Photo Days”. That was my short and only encounter with the Fujifilm X-H1 and it almost completely went away from my mind. This was happening during the cold days of spring of the last year.
So, why does H-X1 is still in the shadows of our attention? Maybe because of the initially high price, at first. Then, not so much later, the X-T3 arrived, with a different sensor, a more powerful processor and filled with highly expected performance for video. Those are probably the three main reasons, enough to kill the “attraction” towards the X-H1, because almost all Fujifilm cameras are attractive (besides the performance and IQ they deliver). Moreover, in my opinion, the X-Pro line design is the most beautiful. Nothing could replace my X-Pro2 (on the APS-C level and that is enough for me). So I thought.
Now, not even one year and half later (from the moment when I have tested the X-H1 at “Photo Days” in Brussels, in 2018), at the time of this writing, my beloved X-Pro2 is for sale, while being a happy user of a brand new X-H1. Why is that so? What has changed?
I still love the X-Pro design and my obsession towards beautifully designed products is still alive. However, there are some moments when I realize that functionality and performance are very important decision factors, especially when they are embedded inside a product that seems to be beautifully designed (at least not unattractive, for sure). So, what was the motivation for such a rather radical change, in terms of design?
I will start with the things that did not work out so great for me, while using the gorgeous X-Pro2.
- A small EVF. While the HVF (hybrid viewfinder) is a marvelous piece of engineering and one of the main characteristics of the X-Pro line, I find myself using the OVF (optical viewfinder) less and less, until reaching less than 5% of the time. Nowadays, with bigger, longer, heavier lenses, the EVF is more useful, offering you the WYSIWYG (“what you see is what you get”) perspective of your frames and a lot more. This means I am only using the X-Pro2 in EVF mode and it is small, especially for my eyesight that is not what it used to be, just a few years before.
- The lack of a tilting-swivel touchscreen. X-H1 has it, X-T3 has it, a lot other cameras have the mobility of the LCD screen, or the touch sensitivity, or both. Of course, I have happily lived without such a screen on my X-Pro2, but not only once, I have felt the need for such versatility in capturing my shots in more difficult conditions.
- The dual dial ISO / Shutter Speed on top of the X-Pro2. It is a very cool design feature, but it can be a bit uncomfortable, when you need to change both settings more often. I have always wished the top metallic dedicated dials of the X-T line, available for the X-Pro line as well.
- The lack of ETERNA film simulation. It is not a deal breaker, but this simulation is getting a lot of love and it is still not inside my X-Pro2, after so many firmware updates.
There are not many things, which I do not like at the X-Pro line. Nevertheless, where there is a problem, there is a solution (normally). And here comes the Fujifilm X-H1, bringing some features to fill the gaps that I have noticed while shooting with my X-Pro2 for two years. I will keep the order of aspects from the list above.
- A great, large, high resolution EVF. Even if it is built in the center of the camera, making you squeeze your nose against the LCD screen, this EVF delivers anything you need. Compared to the one in the X-Pro2, it is really “another world”.
- The flexibility of the LCD screen, in terms of touch sensitivity and mobility is a very welcome addition. I will not need to climb a fence, or lay on the dirty sidewalk for a more special composition.
- I have a dedicated top dial for each of the most used settings: ISO sensitivity and Shutter Speed, with the possibility to lock the dial by pressing the center button. Each dial has, underneath, a circular switch for Drive Modes and another for Metering. Quick, intuitive, without digging in the menu.
- ETERNA film simulation is a gorgeous thing, available for both photos and videos. It quickly became my favorite choice for JPEG photography.
The list of improvements and new features can go on:
- a more serious, solid door to the SD cards compartment;
- the vertical power grip for more performance and longevity;
- a big, very legible top LCD screen with useful information about the actual settings, like shutter speed, aperture, white balance, etc. (while still displaying relevant info, when the camera is switched off, about the number of SD cards used, how many shots available, according to the remaining space on the SD cards, the value of the Exposure Compensation). Even if there is not a dedicated metallic dial for Exposure Compensation, like in the X-Pro series, you can easily change it using the small front dial and you can always see it without looking through the viewfinder. The top LCD illuminated screen is a very useful addition.
- The most silent mechanical shutter I have ever heard;
- The very sensible shutter button (you can hate it, or appreciate it);
- The very robust body and the most seriously weather sealed Fujifilm camera, even if the touching sensation and some buttons might give you the impression of lack of finesse.
- The last in this list, but not the least, the 5-axis IBIS. I always thought that I do not need it and I usually manage to get my shots in low light situations. But if I don’t need it, I can always turn it off, but when it’s needed, it is fantastic to have it, especially for those who love manual focus lenses and shooting in dark environments, while leaving the tripod at home. It is a luxury!
This is not a review, but more of a comparison of my personal impressions, while putting a spotlight on a Fujifilm camera model that deserves a lot more attention. However, impressions are so individual and we are so different; we have different needs, different tastes, different styles of making photography and different levels of proficiency. Nevertheless, there is one thing that makes us all care while choosing a Fujifilm camera: the budget / price.
It is worth ending this short, personal story with the notice that if X-H1 may have discouraged you, in the past, with its initial price, things have changed, now. I have found my X-H1 significantly cheaper than an X-Pro2, while getting (practically for free) the VPB-XH1 Vertical Power Grip (it is worth reading about what Boost Mode can do to your X-H1!), together with two new NP-W126S Fujifilm batteries.
There are also other interesting and useful features. You can check online the full spec sheet of this camera and while it certainly is not as gorgeous as an X-Pro2, it does an excellent job at the professional level, in any conditions and it convinced me that sometimes, there is more to (photography) life than just pure attachment to beautiful things. Even now, with the X-T3 as the Star of the “X Mount” Show, I keep reading online, opinions of other Fujifilm users, stating that the X-H1 can be a better choice, over the popular X-T3. In addition, I just feel I am on the right path with my decision. X-H1 is now a found, powerful and ready to deliver musketeer.
Exclusive content, previously published in July 2019 on FUJI X PASSION – Inspirational Photography Magazine (Premium Area) – www.fujixpassion.com
© Sebastian Boatca 2020 / www.sebastianboatca.com