Now a year old in the camera market, Fujifilm’s X-H1 still holds its own as a solid choice for anyone looking for a mirrorless interchangable lens camera. With 24.3 megapixels from its cropped sensor, X-Processor Pro Engine, 4K video and F-LOG recording, plus being the first Fujifilm X series camera to offer 5-Axis in-body image stabilisation, the X-H1 is not lacking in features – it’s just a little tricky to get the hang of. Actually, it’s a lot tricky.
I have a lot to say about the physical design of this camera so please bear with me – it’s my first time shooting with a Fujifilm so it was a learning curve! I tested out the X-H1 with an 18-55mm XF lens.
The X-H1 was built with adventure in mind – the body is made from magnesium alloy that is 25% thicker than previous Fujifilm models, is dust-, scratch- and moisture-resistant and can work at -10 degrees Celsius. They’ve even revised the lens mount to be more resistant to shock or damage than other X series models, so it should be sturdy enough to hold up to whatever you like to shoot. There are two SD memory card slots – handy for those who like an in-camera backup, and just as handy for those who don’t to keep a second card ready to go and reduce the need to change memory cards on the go.
I’ve never had a chance to test out a Fujifilm body before and It took me a little while to get a feel for the X-H1’s settings. The body has a wheel for specific shutter speed values to the right of the viewfinder, with a button that clicks in to lock the wheel in place, and a secondary wheel below for metering modes. There’s another wheel to the left of the viewfinder for specific ISO values, with a secondary wheel below for miscellaneous shooting like exposure bracketing, continuous or single shot servo and panoramic modes, and like in the good old days, the aperture is controlled by a ring on the lens. I’m accustomed to changing settings without taking the viewfinder away from my eye, so I was glad there were still front and rear wheels that can be programmed to control aperture and shutter speed the way – especially since some settings (like a 1/400 of a second shutter speed) aren’t available on the dials. It can get disorienting when your shutter speed doesn’t match the speed the wheel is showing, but it’s not enough of an issue to make this a reason not to use this camera.
I can see the benefits and flexibility of this system, but it has its drawbacks too. if you want to quickly throw the camera on a fully automatic mode, rather than having one mode dial to change you’ll have to set the shutter to auto, separately set the ISO to auto, and separately again switch the aperture to auto with the switch on the lens. Likewise for semi-automatic modes – say you wanted to shoot on aperture priority, you’d need to set the ISO and shutter speed settings to auto on their respective wheels and then select your aperture accordingly. I also found, because of their click-to-lock functions, the wheels on top of the camera were pretty awkward to operate, and I had to move my (admittedly pretty small) hands off the grip to use them properly. I ended up giving up on clicking them in to lock in the settings, and just leaving them unlocked to make them easier to control.
That said, I think this body layout would be fantastic for anyone learning to shoot with manual or semi-automatic settings. Having all the exposure elements very obviously separated would help differentiate what changes when each setting is adjusted, and while the X-H1 is definitely aimed at the enthusiast-to-pro markets and not at beginners at all, with a $2199.95 body-only price tag to boot, other cameras in Fuji’s X Series range like the X-T30 clock in a little cheaper ($1499.95 for the body only) and still offer a similar design.
Despite all these wheels, the X-H1’s Quick Menu or “Q” button, positioned on the rear grip for easy access with your thumb knuckle, opens up a host of commonly required settings that aren’t quite required commonly enough to have their own button – image size and quality options, AF mode, white balance, timers, flash, face/eye detection settings and more all exist here, and with the touch screen functionality you’ll waste no time setting everything up how you like it and getting back to shooting. Plus, despite its unusual placement I never once hit this button by accident.
What else is on the back of the camera? Very little. It’s an extremely minimal area – there’s the screen, delete and play buttons, AE-L and AF ON, a joystick, menu/OK and directional buttons around it, a display button by the bottom right of the screen and the aforementioned Q, and that’s it. The directional buttons around the menu button actually all have a function, but they’re unlabelled so they’re very easy to miss – up opens AF mode, left opens film simulation options, down toggles between normal and performance boost modes, and right opens white balance settings – it would have been nice to know those settings were there with some sort of visual indication, but we’re left to work it out on our own or go through the Q menu. There’s also nothing customisable like a function button, but with so many options available IN that Q menu I never found myself missing having a programmable button anyway.
The X-H1’s rear LCD screen is bright and clear enough for my liking, and it pops out and rotates just enough to help you get those high and low angle shots, but won’t flip out to face you. It does have a novel feature though – as well as popping out in landscape mode, you can also pop the screen out in portrait mode. At first it totally bewildered me – why the heck would you need to pop the screen out like that?! – but when shooting a backlit portrait from a low angle it suddenly all fell into place for me. Is it something I wish every other camera had and will suddenly miss now I know it’s an option? No, but it’s definitely an interesting concept.
The X-H1 is the first Fujifilm camera to offer in-body stabilisation, claiming up to 5.5 stops – and it definitely does make a difference. I was able to capture a relatively sharp shot at 1/5 second when I was even shooting one-handed over a puddle, which means it does its job well. It was a little less effective in video than in other cameras I’ve used, but a welcome addition nonetheless and effective enough to still be helpful.
It seems a little odd to me that, despite offering 4K video up to 30fps, digital cinema 17:9 aspect ratio, high speed video recording in full HD, silent video operation and F-LOG recording, the X-H1 body seems to unintentionally discourage shooting video. There’s a tiny video icon at the front of the mode dial underneath the ISO wheel, and from there the shutter speed starts and stops recording, but there’s no dedicated little red button to start and stop recording with whatever settings you happen to have on right now. Unless you’ve got that little video icon selected, thou shall not have video.
With so much flexibility in settings-changing, it’s incredibly handy to have the secondary LCD settings review screen mounted on the top of the body offering a definitive look at what you’re shooting on. There isn’t always room for one of these in a body, but Fujifilm have opted for an almost-square panel rather than the more commonly seen long rectangular LCD, and when it comes down to it I’d rather have this secondary LCD than a dedicated video record button anyway. Those who shoot primarily video may disagree!
With their design aesthetic still firmly rooted in the beautiful film cameras of days gone by, Fujifilm have added a range of film simulation filters – available in-camera both for your still images and as LUTs for your videos. The most prominent of these is the Eterna film simulation, designed to emulate the look of cinematic film, but there are several others – including a black and white and a sepia option, and other colour filters for various looks – some with more or less contrast, more vibrant or muted colours or soft gradations in skin tones.
I prefer to shoot in RAW and add my own flair to my images later in Lightroom, but for those who both hate editing and would love a little extra OOMF, or just miss the straight-out-of-camera beauty of film, these film simulations could be a lot of fun. As for video, I had fun playing with the Eterna preset, but for those who, again, prefer to do their colour grading in post, then F-LOG recording with no film simulation added in-camera would be a better way to go.
Unfortunately, when shooting 4K video the X-H1 is limited to recording only 15 minute chunks at a time. You can up that if you’re using a battery grip, which is probably a great idea because I felt like the battery ran out much quicker than I anticipated on more than one occasion, probably because of the image stabilisation. There’s also no option to shoot 4K video at 60fps, so if you want to shoot slowmo you’ll have to stick to 1080. The electronic viewfinder looks less than great – like a photo you shot at a really high ISO and then used a bit too much noise reduction on. And while there is a mic input (and a hotshoe you could mount a shotgun mic on), there’s no headphone jack to monitor your audio.
With enough time invested on learning your way around the X-H1, it would be possible to overcome most of the issues I found with the layout and get fantastic results from the camera – but you REALLY need to spend that time with it and learn its nuances to get the best results. Everything it does, it does very well – you just need to know how to set it up for success.
THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Highlights: In-body stabilisation, good quality images & video
Lowlights: Hard to use
Price: $2199.95 body only
Review conducted using a retail unit provided by the manufacturer.