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.
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”!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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.)
- B&H Explora – WPPI 2018: Fujifilm Launches Stabilized X-H1 Camera and MKX Series Cine Lenses
- British Journal of Photography – The story behind Yasuyoshi Chiba’s World Press Photo of the Year – the award-winning photograph was made with a Fujifilm X-H1.
- Fuji Rumors – Fujifilm X-H1 Snaps Top Winning Image at the World Press Photo Awards, but Canon is Still Top
- Fujifilm X – X-H1
- Instagram – Yasuyoshi Chiba
- Olympus – M.Zuiko Pro professional Micro Four Thirds lenses
- World Press Photo 2020 – World Press Photo of the Year, Yasuyoshi Chiba – made with Fujifilm X-H1 and unspecified 16mm lens.