Finding Goldilocks Pt II–On The Road with the Fujifilm X-H1
Ahua, Geikie Snowfield, Franz Josef Glacier
Fujifilm X-H1, XF 16-55/2.8 LM WR
ISO 200, 1/1600s @ f9
For a long time, I have heard the “wisdom” that the photography gear you use does not matter, and that it is the 150mm behind the camera which makes the difference. To a degree that is true, however gear does matter, and gear that works with you rather than against you is very important. The picture we make is shaped and affected by the tools we use, for making an image involves three things; the subject, us, and the tools we use. Our choice of tool will have a powerful impact on what we see, what we choose to photograph, how we photograph it, and what result we will get. That is, of course, a different thing for each of us. One man’s Linhof is another man’s 5D MK IV. More importantly, that may well change as we grow in the knowledge of our process and our path as artists.
In a previous post, I began to contemplate joining the 21st Century and moving from a DSLR to a mirrorless system, specifically the Fujifilm X-system. I discussed the features of the Fujifilm X-H1, and why I saw it as the logical step to take in consolidating my equipment and my process. For now.
Then I went and traded all my Nikon Gear on the H1, going Full Fuji. It was a leap of faith. Would the Fuji be able to deliver the results I wanted? Would it be able to keep up with the demands of professional work, shooting under pressure from a helicopter? Would it work with me or against me?
Only one way to find out.
Now, after a month on the road and 10 000 frames, I feel I can comment on this camera as a tool for professionals. There are bouquets and brickbats to award.
In no particular order…
I have big hands, so I purchased the VPB‑XH1 vertical power-booster grip. This gives a total of three batteries (I use the w126S batteries). With 2@ 64Gb memory cards loaded to fill sequentially, and the grip in Boost mode, I can fill both (around 2400 frames RAW uncompressed), without cutting into the third battery. I have Pre-AF set to ‘ON’, shoot on CL, have IBIS set to continuous, and Chimp a lot. There is still ample power left for a full day’s shooting. Works for me. Using the XF 16-55/2.8 lens, there is a nice balance to the rig, that makes operation easy. The deeper grip feels more reassuring and somehow sits better in my hand. The overall impression is a camera somewhere between the petite elegance of the X-T2 and the brick-like massiveness of my D801/grip combo. Goldilocks.
Incidentally, the H1 has a heavier, wider, more comfortable neck strap than the other Fujifilm X cameras. While it is a small thing, it makes a world of difference, especially at the end of a day’s shooting when the camera is starting to put on weight.
Charging batteries can be an issue, especially when you need to charge several of them at once. It can take a while with the single charger supplied with the camera. A useful answer to this problem is to invest in a Hähnel ProCube2, which charges two batteries simultaneously, then shuts down when finished. It also includes a 12V cable for using the accessory socket in your car. You can pick one up in New Zealand from most good camera suppliers. Of course, if you use the grip, it come supplied with a mains charger, enabling you to plug in to the power and charge the grip batteries directly.
Being larger (technically only marginally, although it feels much bigger), the camera has a greater inertial mass, and there is a lower risk of shutter stab, where, in my excitement to get the shot, I stab and not gently depress the shutter. This can make the difference between a file that has fine detail at 200% magnification and one where it cannot make it past 100%.
The lens/body mount is substantially stronger than that of the other X-series cameras, and this is obvious when changing lenses. There is no play whatsoever once a lens is mounted. It feels solid. There are other simple indicators that this camera is built to take the rigors of professional work. The memory card door is more solid and rugged than the X-t2.
The h1 is a brand-new model, and just like a new car, there are bugs, which will hopefully be fixed in the next firmware release. Fujifilm’s Kaizen Philosophy means that we can only expect a great camera to get greater, as bugs are sorted, and new functionality added. While shooting on CL (4fps), I found that the camera was locking up, and suffering screen blackout. Turning off and then on seemed to fix it. I could not figure out why. FaceBook to the rescue. Other photographers on the X-h1 group I belong to were having the same issue, also with the same cards I was using (SanDisk Extreme Pro 95 MB/s). These cards are UHS-I, but the camera can use UHS-II cards in both slots. When I purchased several Adata V90 UHS-II 290MB/s cards, the problem went away. A landscape photographer probably would not find this an issue, as the buffer can keep up. Wedding/sports pros need to take note. There is a good blog article on the subject here.
The shutter is very quiet. Much quieter, in fact, than the X-T2. A fellow photographer came out with us, using his Sony A7RII, and he commented on how quiet the shutter is (his is not quiet). It gets better. The shutter can be further quietened in the user settings, to the point where it is almost inaudible, a thing I imagine would be invaluable for a wedding or wildlife photographer.
Startup is near enough to instantaneous. I am not one of those who use the AF-ON button, so I expect things to happen quickly when I frame and depress the shutter. And they do. Any lag is so minimal in focus acquisition to make it worth wondering why you would use the AF-ON button at all. And the shutter release? Instant. Gone is the sense of… press the shutter> go for a cup of coffee>chat to the neighbours>wait for something to happen… which plagued early X cameras. Shutter release is instantaneous and much more…intuitive than the X-T2. More 5D/D801 in its feel, somehow.
The LCD is a touch screen, and it is possible to use it for focusing and zooming. While this may be perfect for people working off the screen (think: astrophotography and landscape), I found that working continuously with the viewfinder, the focus point seemed to hop around and when I took it away from my eye and then went back, its position had often changed. Turning it off seemed to fix the issue. Lesson#302a: when working continuously with the viewfinder, disable the AF function on the LCD. I blame my nose…
Major brickbats for the Fujifilm Remote app. It is a dog. Curious. When you light up the H1 for the first time, it asks if you want to use Bluetooth to pair with your smartphone and use that to set Date and Time (in my case, a Samsung Galaxy S8+, running Android 8 Oreo). So far, so good. That works. It suggests you download and install the app, supplying a QR code to make it easier to do so. So far, so also good. However, when you try to use the app with the camera, to transfer RAW files for processing in-phone with say, Snapseed, it all goes pear-shaped. As far as I can tell, it then switches to using Wi-Fi to transfer files. In practice, it didn’t work at all. Only once was I able to get the app to see the files on the camera. Chatter on the FB group suggests others are having similar issues. Not only that, but the geotagging does not work so far. In theory the camera should be recording geolocation from the phone. In practice, nada. Zip. If anyone has a solution (and don’t bother suggesting I switch to Sony), then please leave a comment -or essay- in the comments section at the end of this post.
The FB chatter groups have a lot of people wondering whether to buy the X-T2, spend the extra $$$ on an H1, or wait for the T-3, rumoured to be out later this year.
If you are an amateur/ hobby photographer, who isn’t shooting for a living, or a surgeon, able to own an H1 just because he/she can, then the X-T2/3 will do just fine. (Note that neither the T-2 nor T-3 have/will have IBIS, which makes all lenses (including off-brand) stabilised. All lenses used on the H1 are stabilised. And the h1 will handhold down to 1/2s). If size matters, and you went to mirrorless to cut weight and bulk, so you could carry a small kit with you on that dream trip to Ethiopia, then the T-2 is for you.
If, however, you shoot for a living (esp. Weddings, Events and Sports) and need a camera built to take it, one which will shoot day after day, that you can treat with a certain amount of disrespect, with a shutter rated to >200 000 cycles, then spend the extra $$$ and buy an H-1. If you need operational spontaneity in the same league as a DSLR, without the noise and shutter shock, get the H1. If the XF 16-55/2.8 is your go-to lens, and you like to work handheld, think H1. And buy fast cards.
And if you want to make superb prints up to A0, then either the X-T2 or X-H1 will do the job just fine.
Footnote: After a month with both the T2 and H1, last week I traded my XT-2/grip combo on a second H-1 body and grip.