Considering the Fujifilm X-H1 Camera with Fujinon XF 16mm f/2.8 R WR and 18mm f/2.0 R Lenses

header_Fujifilm-X-H1_1920

When the folks at Fujifilm Australia’s PR consultancy asked if I wanted to borrow a Fujifilm X-H1 and some lenses I leapt at the chance to put this intriguing camera through its paces and to see how well Fujifilm’s first effort at XF camera in-body image stabilization aka IBIS and increased dedication to video production had turned out. 

fujifilm_x-h1_layout_web_01_1024px
The Fujifilm X-H1 APS-C/Super 35 mirrorless digital camera and accessories. Photograph courtesy of Fujifilm.
fujinon_xf_8-16mm_f2.8_02_1024px_80pc
Big lenses need balancing with big rigs. Fujifilm Fujinon XF 8-16mm f/2.8 R LM WR wideangle zoom lens on Fujifilm X-H1 with VPB-XH1 Vertical Power Booster Grip. Photograph courtesy of Fujifilm.

The loan also provided an opportunity to compare two of Fujifilm’s smaller wide-angle lenses, the Fujicron-style Fujinon XF 16mm f/2.8 R WR and the semi pancake-style Fujinon XF 18mm f/2.0 R.

Since experiencing the many joys of using vertical battery grips on DSLR-style mirrorless cameras with Panasonic’s Lumix DMC-GH4, DC-GH5 and DC-G9, I have been in the habit of always requesting vertical battery grips with loaner cameras that have them.

Unfortunately, a Fujifilm VPB-XH1 Vertical Power Booster Grip wasn’t available so I used the camera ungripped and found, despite that preference for adding hand or battery grips to all Fujifilm cameras, the X-H1 acquits itself well without one when used with smaller lenses.

On the other hand, I suspect a gripped X-H1 with larger, heavier Fujinon lenses attached such as the Fujinon XF 8-16mm f/2.8 R LM WR illustrated above would be easier to carry and operate all day long compared to the same lens on an X-T3 or X-T4, gripped or not.

It is, simply, a matter of balance.

Fujifilm X-H1, Fujinon XF 16mm f/2.8 R WR and XF 18mm f/2.0 R

By the time the loan opportunity arose, there were rumours the Fujifilm X-H1 was about to be listed as discontinued and that soon occurred with heavily discounted camera, vertical battery grip plus lens packages appearing in foreign camera retailer websites shortly followed by similar deals in Australia.

Now the X-H1 and its camera-specific accessories are no longer available on the retail websites that I checked this morning, and I am in two minds about that.

If I were offered longterm loan of an X-H1 with VPB-XH1 Vertical Power Booster Grip, I most certainly would not say “no”!

Fujifilm X-H1

Photographs courtesy of Fujifilm.

The X-H1 is an innovative camera but its release suffered from unfortunate timing, falling as it did between the X-T2 and the X-T3 and thus having the same sensor as the Fujifilm X-T2, the X-Trans CMOS III sensor as well as its own CPU, the X-Processor Pro.

At time of writing, the Fujifilm X-Pro3 and the X-T4 contain the latest generation sensor and processor, the X-Trans CMOS 4 sensor and X-Processor 4.

When I attended the Fujifilm X-Pro3 First Look Touch & Try Event at Ted’s World of Imaging in Sydney on Wednesday November 6 last year, a staff member there was keen for me to share my experience of recent Fujifilm cameras with a female customer.

There are all too few female camera store staff members hereabouts and possibly not so many with my particular background so it is understandable male staffers might point her my way.

She ended up taking advantage of the end-of-production-run X-H1 special offer after I gave her the pros and cons of the X-H1 and X-T3, and I hope she is doing well with her purchase.

fujifilm_x-h1_web_06_1024px
The Fujifilm X-H1’s in-body image stabilization unit aka IBIS, the first iteration of it to appear in Fujifilm XF APS-C/Super 35 cameras. Has its design drawn from the larger IBIS unit of the Fujifilm GFX100? Photograph courtesy of Fujifilm.

She told me she already had a Fujifilm X-Pro2, loved it and relied on it for most of her work but there were occasions when she needed to photograph in low light and at night so was interested in the X-H1’s in-body image stabilization aka IBIS.

I related my experience with the camera’s IBIS and added that I could comfortably carry either the smaller X-Pro2 or the slightly larger X-H1 around in my hand all day long in a way that I found I could not with the X-T2’s and X-T3’s more minimalist and less sculpted body shapes.

fujifilm_x-h1_web_05_1024px
The Fujifilm X-H1’s “firm-hold design allowing the index finger to concentrate on shutter release actions”. Photograph courtesy of Fujifilm.
fujifilm_x-t4_17_1024px
I find that the exposure compensation dials on X-T and X-Pro cameras work faster than the X-H1’s alternative. Fujifilm X-T4 with Fujinon XF 16-80mm f/4.0 R OIS WR zoom lens. Photograph courtesy of Fujifilm.

As above, Fujifilm describes the shutter release button and grip area of the X-H1 as a “firm-release design”, having the same configuration as other mirrorless and DSLR cameras which is more often described as a “trigger” or “pistol” grip by aficionados of the latter types of cameras.

My first digital camera, the Canon EOS 5D Mark II, has the same configuration and, despite that camera’s bulk and weight with the Canon EF 24-105mm f/4.0 L USM kit zoom lens attached, its “pistol grip” and soft-touch shutter release button made carrying and using it in the field on documentary projects easier than one might think.

It was, simply, a matter of balance. And then the kit zoom’s notoriously poor manufacturing quality control left me without a lens for it altogether until I adapted a couple of vintage manual focus M42-mount lenses via a Gobe M42 Lens Mount to Canon EF & EF-S Camera Mount adapter.

The X-H1’s shutter release button is more sensitive than that of previous cameras like the X-Pro2, X-T2 and the like, the increased sensitivity apparently being aimed at professional photographers needing minimal lag between hitting the button and making the image.

In practice I found this lag minimalization to be very effective for portraiture, photojournalism and urban documentary photography, ensuring a higher percentage of selects than usual, as well as reducing subtle camera shake at the start of clips when shooting video.

fujifilm_x-h1_web_04_1024px
The leaf spring switch of the Fujifilm X-H1’s feather-touch shutter button. Photograph courtesy of Fujifilm.

Having now experienced both types of shutter release button, I much prefer the one on the X-H1 and hope to see it used in more Fujifilm cameras for its speed gains, boosted stability and lack of a threaded cable release hole that can attract dirt.

fujifilm_x-t2_black_graphite_01_1024px_80pc
Fujifilm X-T2 in black and graphite versions, with their prominent exposure compensation dials falling under the right hand’s thumb. Photograph by Jonas Rask, courtesy of Fujifilm.

In contrast, the lack of an exposure compensation dial on the X-H1 slowed down my shooting speed and efficiency somewhat compared to the ease and speed with which I can set exposure changes on X-Pro and X-T cameras.

Pros and cons where you gain speed in one aspect of the X-H1’s design yet lose speed in another.

The X-H1’s IBIS bestows two overlapping advantages, being able to shoot at shutter speeds slower than can usually be handheld, and having the confidence that one can resort to it if one must.

As anti-IBIS pundits are always keen to tell us, shooting moving objects while stabilized at shutter speeds too slow to handhold unstabilized will result in at least something being blurred through movement.

But the contrast between unblurred and blurred through movement can be a wonderful creative device to draw attention to the main and unmoving object in the picture.

Other advantages of the Fujifilm X-H1’s design and manufacture

Photographs courtesy of Fujifilm.

_1060674_aurorahdr2018
With the exception of the Fujifilm X-H1, all Fujifilm cameras need hand grips or vertical battery grips. Fujifilm Finepix X100 with hand grip. Photograph by Karin Gottschalk.

Four more features of the Fujifilm X-H1’s design stand out: the black 8H coating making it more scratch resistant than its predecessors, its magnesium body that is thicker than its predecessors and its stronger lens mount that takes the strain off the body when mounting large, weighty lenses such as the Fujinon XF 8-16mm f/2.8 R LM WR, XF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR and XF 200mm f/2 R LM OIS WR Lens with XF 1.4x TC F2 WR.

Although I have yet to experience any of them, I suspect that the Fujinon XF 16-55mm f/2.8 R LM WR and XF 50-140mm f/2.8 R LM OIS WR professional red badge zoom lenses would also benefit from the X-H1’s strengthened lens mount as well as its stronger body and better balance achieved by attaching the VPB-XH1 Vertical Power Booster Grip.

I have focused here on the X-H1’s design and manufacturing qualities because the DSLR style is not my first choice when it comes to cameras for documentary photography and yet many aspects of the X-H1’s body design work for me in a way I have not experienced with Fujifilm’s X-T series cameras.

I have used the X-H1 alongside my X-Pro2 on day-long documentary projects and not once have my hands been fatigued in the way I have experienced with the Fujifilm X-T1, X-T2 and X-T3 cameras whether equipped with vertical battery grips or not.

Fujifilm has got the design of the X-H1 body closer to perfect for me, at least, than that of the X-T series.

Fujifilm, please seek inspiration from Olympus for lens design

panasonic_lumix_dc_gh5_top_panasonic_leica_12-60mm_f2.8-4.0_aspheric_square_01_1024px_60%
Panasonic Lumix DC-GH5 with Panasonic Leica DG Vario-Elmarit 12-60mm f/2.8-4.0 Aspheric zoom lens. Photograph courtesy of Panasonic.

Which is not to say that Fujifilm does not have some way to go with its X-H, X-T and X-Pro series cameras.

The Fujifilm x100 camera radically improved digital photography for me but its poor video quality and that of subsequent cameras meant I had to look elsewhere for a while  and I settled (solely) on Panasonic’s Micro Four Thirds cameras for their great stills and video quality and (mostly) Olympus’ M. Zuiko Pro lenses for their manual clutch focus and excellent optical and mechanical qualities.

https://creativityinnovationsuccess.files.wordpress.com/2017/11/
Panasonic Lumix DC-G9 with Panasonic Leica DG Vario-Elmarit 12-60mm f/2.8-4.0 Aspheric zoom lens. Photograph courtesy of Panasonic.

As good as they already are, the M.Zuiko Pro professional lenses for video and stills would be even better with the addition of an aperture ring that can be used clicked or declicked at the flick of a switch.

I chose the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-40mm f/2.8 Pro over the Panasonic Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm f/2.8 Aspheric Power OIS kit zoom lens due to the former’s manual clutch focus mechanism, its all-black metal barrel and smoothly operating zoom and focus rings and its slightly longer focal range, forgoing the optical image stabilization of Panasonic’s standard zoom alternative.

The Lumix zoom’s OIS would have been useful for the IBIS-less Lumix DMC-GH4, but optical quality and excellent manual focusing comes first in my opinion.

Nowadays, I probably would have chosen the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-100mm f/4.0 IS Pro as my first Micro Four Thirds zoom lens for the non-IBIS cameras in my collection, or the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-45mm f/4.0 Pro plus the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 17mm f/1.2 Pro for my available darkness work with IBIS-equipped cameras.

olympus_m.zuiko_primes_square_17_25_45_1024px_60%
Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 17mm f/1.2 Pro, Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 25mm f/1.2 Pro and Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 45mm f/1.2 Pro professional prime lenses with manual clutch focusing, brilliant for shooting video or stills where accurate focus is absolutely critical. Photograph courtesy of Olympus.

When Fujifilm released the X-Pro2 and I discovered I could use it due to its built-in diopter correction, I looked for the closest to my ideal lens design amongst then-current Fujinon lenses: manual clutch focus, all-black metal body and aperture ring.

I was hoping to find three lenses to cover my most immediate documentary stills and video needs, but compromises and cost narrowed my choice down to two, and I ended up with a Fujinon XF 23mm f/1.4 R and XF 56mm f/1.2 R.

The first lens is manual clutch focusing and the second is focus-by-wire only.

My preferred extended focal length set for documentary work is:

  • 14mm = 21mm in 35mm
  • 18mm = 28mm in 35mm
  • 23mm = 35mm in 35mm
  • 27mm = 40mm in 35mm
  • 50mm = 75mm in 35mm
leica_summilux+_lineup_21-90mm_square_1920px_80pc
Leica worked out the best prime lens focal length line-up for documentary photography and photojournalism in 35mm years ago and it remains the benchmark and role model for other lens makers to this very day. The only focal length missing from this lens collection is 40mm, which Leica made for the Leica CL rangefinder camera that was later taken over by Minolta as the Minolta CLE with 40mm standard lens as well as a 28mm and 90mm lens. Too many contemporary lens makers leave out 28mm and 75mm lenses and their equivalents for other sensor formats. Why? Both these focal lengths are the most essential for documentary photography and photojournalism. Photographs courtesy of Leica.
sigma_105mm_f1.4_dg_hsm_art_l-mount_35mm_1024px
Sigma 105mm f/1.4 DG HSM | Art prime lens with L-mount. Fujifilm needs to make an APS-C equivalent to this lens for portrait photographers missing the 105mm-equivalent 70mm focal length. Photograph courtesy of Sigma.

My preferred focal length for portraiture is 70mm, equivalent to 105mm, but the closest XF prime lens is the longer and non-manual-clutch-focus XF 80mm f/2.8 R LM OIS WR Macro, equivalent to 120mm in 35mm sensor format.

I prefer prime lenses but might have considered the red badge Fujinon XF 16-55mm f/2.8 R LM WR had it been available at the time, though it is sadly not a manual clutch focus lens.

I would have added an XF 14mm f/2.8 R and an XF 23mm f/1.4 R  for available darkness work, making a set of three covering 14mm through to 82.5mm with two lenses having manual clutch focusing.

These three lenses have filter diameters of 58mm, 62mm and 77mm, allowing easy attachment of industry-standard 82mm circular neutral density filters via step-up rings.

fujinon_xf16mmf2.8_r_wr_04_1024px
Fujifilm’s “Fujicron” fast, compact prime lens collection as of February 2019 comprising the Fujinon XF 16mm f/2.8 R WR, Fujinon XF 23mm f/2.0 R WR, Fujinon XF 35mm f/2.0 R WR and Fujinon XF 50mm f/2.0 R WR lenses. Photographs courtesy of Fujifilm.

I understand some Fujifilm moviemakers use Fujicron-style lenses,  but

Fujicron lens filter diameters:

  • XF 16mm f/2.8 R WR = 49mm
  • XF 23mm f/2.0 R WR = 43mm
  • XF 35mm f/2.0 R WR = 43mm
  • XF 50mm f/2.0 R WR = 46mm

These lenses present a problem for moviemaking in that step-up rings for these smaller diameters are rare.

Stepping up to industry standard 82mm (or 77mm for that matter) neutral density filters demands stacking multiple step-up rings.

Knurled brass step-up rings are the best option, being stronger than aluminium and less prone to binding.

aurora-aperture_powerxnd-ii-128-2000_02_1024px_60pc
Aurora Aperture PowerXND II VND: “The PowerXND-II 128 is a 1-7 stop variable ND filter while the PowerXND-II 2000 is a 5-11 stop variable ND filter. With both filters users can control light reduction from 1 to 11 stops, making them highly versatile tools for general photography and videography applications.” Photograph courtesy of Aurora Aperture, Inc.

Due to gaps in step-up ring sizing by all manufacturers, one ends up with a mixture of aluminium and brass, knurled and unknurled, mixing and matching brands and hoping for the best.

Brands I currently use include Breakthrough Photography, Heliopan, Sensei and some no-name aluminium rings that came from who knows where, but I note that Polar Pro makes some great-looking knurled brass step-up rings as well as fixed and variable neutral density filters.

None of them supplies the full set of diameters needed to step the Fujicron lenses up to, say, 52mm, 58mm or 62mm.

Stepping up from 43mm to 82mm requires a stack of rings so one may be better investing in a set of smaller diameter fixed or variable NDs such as those made by Aurora Aperture, Inc. which lists 43mm, 46mm and 49mm diameter NDs as well as sizes down to 37mm and up to 105mm.

Then there is the question of attaching focus-pulling devices, gears and matte boxes.

smallrig_lightweight_matte_box_01_1024px
Matte boxes are also invaluable for video production. SmallRig Lightweight Matte Box (95mm, Clamp-on) VB2660, undergoing the co-design process at time of writing. Final design may vary. Photograph courtesy of SmallRig.

Fujicron lenses may be best suited for more casual video projects that demand discretion and that may be shot with the X-Pro3 or X-T4 as a B-camera.

A rumour is circulating that Fujifilm has finally taken onboard the reportedly constant barrage of requests for the Fujinon XF 18mm f/2.0 R to be updated but so far we don’t know whether that will take the form of the current lens’ semi-pancake design, that of the Fujicron lenses above or of the Fujilux manual clutch focus design of the Fujinon XF 14mm f/2.8, 16mm f/1.4 and 23mm f/1.4 lenses.

I vote for a Fujilux-style XF 18mm f/1.4 R WR as the best possible default documentary stills and video lens, though I suspect that an 18mm Fujicron may be appearing sometime soon instead.

Pity, but let’s see what comes down the turnpike soon.

Fujifilm, please seek inspiration from Panasonic for camera design

panasonic_lumix_dc-s1h_press_02_1024px
The Panasonic Lumix S1H’s “tilt free-angle touchscreen LCD” is possibly the most versatile LCD monitor I have seen so far, one step beyond the fully-articulated LCD monitors of other S-Series as well as Lumix Micro Four Thirds cameras such as the G9, GH5, GH5S and GX8. Photograph courtesy of Panasonic.
panasonic_lumix_gh5s_square_12_1024px
Flipping the Panasonic Lumix DC-GH5S’ fully-articulated LCD monitor and rotating it is crucial when shooting in tight spaces. Photograph courtesy of Panasonic.

Despite a torrent of comments against fully-articulated LCD monitors like the one in the coming Fujifilm X-T4 by pundits opining that photographers would refuse to buy any camera so equipped, I love and enjoy the LCDs on my Panasonic cameras for stills photography and video.

Two-way, three-way and fixed LCD monitors, not so much.

Panasonic has gone one step beyond its usual fully-articulated LCD monitor with the “tilt free-angle touchscreen LCD” on its DSLR-style camera best suited for feature documentary production, the Lumix DC-S1H.

I tried out Panasonic’s Lumix DC-S1 and DC-S1R 35mm sensor cameras at touch-and-try events and was pleasantly surprised at how easy to handle they were despite their much larger size and weight than their smaller siblings, Panasonic’s G-Series Micro Four Thirds cameras.

panasonic_lumix_dc-s1h_b&h_05_1024px
Panasonic Lumix DC-S1H with Panasonic Lumix S 24-105mm f/4 Macro OIS standard zoom lens. Photograph courtesy of Panasonic.

I have ruled out considering the Lumix S-Series cameras and lenses for now as they would be a huge investment for not enough gain in stills quality and not a lot in video quality as I would be shooting Super 35 rather than so-called “full frame” video with them.

On the other hand, I already have a foot in Fujifilm’s Super 35/APS-C camera system and would rather see Fujifilm lift its video game well beyond what it has gained in the X-H1 into the realm of Panasonic’s many moviemaking achievements.

The other thing I really like about Panasonic’s S-Series and DC-G9 body designs are their big, hefty and easy-to-hold “pistol grips”.

I prefer fully-articulated over fixed, two-way or three-way LCD monitors

smallrig_lcd_screen_sunhood_1972_01_1024px
Smallrig LCD Screen Protector Sunhood 1972 on fully-articulated aka vari-angle LCD monitor screen of Panasonic Lumix DC-GH5. Photograph courtesy of SmallRig.

One of the many advantages of fully-articulated or vary-angle LCD screens is that they can be used with detachable sun hoods like those made by Smallrig for cameras and monitor/recorders, as above.

Try staring at an LCD in bright light when shooting stills or video then compare that to using a shaded LCD.

Hoods are invaluable when needing to forgo heavily-rigged cameras for video production but wanting to use the camera away from one’s eyeball on tripods, monopods or gimbals.

I hope that Smallrig will make a hood for the Fujifilm X-T4 if the Smallrig LCD Screen Protector Sunhood 1972 does not fit.

Accordingly I hope that the Fujifilm X-H1 will have some form of fully-articulating or vari-angle LCD monitor screen suitable for mounting a sun hood.

The Fujifilm X-H1 for Super 35 moviemaking

fujifilm_x-h1_web_07_1024px
Fujifilm’s Super APS-C camera system is one of the most affordable Super 35 platforms for professional moviemaking including feature-quality documentaries and narrative feature films. The two MKX cinema zoom lenses are amongst the most affordable of their kind, though Fujifilm needs to upgrade its prime lenses for serious video production. Photograph courtesy of Fujifilm.

Panasonic must be doing something right given its Lumix DC-S1H is the first and only DSLR-style stills/video hybrid camera to be approved by Netflix.

Many hybrid shooters have apparently been investing in the camera and its rather large and pricey L-System zoom and prime lenses.

Did Netflix approve it for its Super 35 video or for the fact that it also shoots 35mm video?

Super 35 has been a standard format for high-end feature-quality moviemaking for many years now but can Fujifilm offer a high-end Super 35 alternative?

Even one that will tickle Netflix’s fancy?

(Further commentary coming soon.)

Fujifilm cameras, photojournalists and World Press Photo 2020

fujifilm_gfx100_04_1024px
Fujifilm GFX100 medium format digital camera with Fujinon GF 63mm f/2.8 R WR prime lens. Photograph courtesy of Fujifilm.

I first spotted a Fujifilm X-H1 in use by an expatriate Australian photojournalist, Jack Picone, alongside an X-T2 when shooting in available darkness, and events like World Press Photo show that more and more photojournalists are relying on Fujifilm cameras for their daily work.

Fujifilm first used former Leica aficionado National Geographic photographer David Alan Harvey to promote the X-Pro2 and he is now using the X-Pro3 in his magazine work.

I and others in the magazine and newspaper spheres have also relied on non-rangefinder-style cameras to supplement our rangefinder cameras over the years and it is interesting to note how many World Press Photo award-winners this year are Fujifilm users.

Yasuyoshi Chiba uses Fujifilm X-H1 and GFX100 in-body image stabilized cameras for his available light photojournalism work, testimony to the cameras’ capacity to handle challenging environments and poor available light.

Fujinon XF 16mm f/2.8 R WR and Fujinon XF 18mm f/2.0 R

What I want to see in the Fujifilm X-H2

(Commentary coming soon.)

Links