Fujifilm X-H1: first impressions and who is it for?

When the Fujifilm X-H1 was announced, most of the specifications were already known thanks to rumor websites such as fujirumors. However, while the specs were exactly correct, there has been one major misconception that has prevailed since the first leaks: the X-H1 was supposed to be Fujifilm’s first real attempt at penetrating into the world of mirrorless cameras used for video.

Where did this idea come from?

From the get go, the Fujifilm X-H1 was rumored as being the first body of the X-Series with In Body Image Stabilization. Although IBIS can be useful for still photographers in some cases, the technology comes with trade-offs in terms of image quality that could cause concerns to photographers, but at the same time it is a must to shoot video handheld without the use of a gimbal (in particular with all the lenses without optical image stabilization), hence it is a feature firstly geared towards videographers. On top of that, the X-H1 benefits from other improvements as far as video is concerned, including higher bit rates, internal “F-Log” recording, slow motion in full HD, DCI 4K recording, or a full-fledged dedicated submenu. Finally, the X-H1 will be the first camera from the X-Series proposing the “ETERNA” film simulation that is especially suitable for video recording. That is a long list of video features on top of te X-T2 indeed! However, these features make the X-H1 able to do serious video work, but they still don’t make the X-H1 a camera for videographers…

Fujifilm GFX50s shot with the Fujifilm X-H1
A Fujifilm GFX50s shot with the Fujifilm X-H1 who inherited from its body design

Is the Fujifilm X-H1 indeed aimed at professional videographers?

Note here that the question I am asking here is not “can you create serious video work of high quality with the X-H1?”. The answer to this question is yes, of course you can. For example, look at The Camera Store TV crew and their video savvy friends beautifully re-enact an iconic scene from Michael Mann’s Collateral:

However the correct question to ask when you wonder if this camera is for videographers is rather “would someone who shoots primarily video be more likely than not to choose this camera over a Panasonic GH5?” (or any other mirrorless camera currently popular among videographers). The answer to that question was no as far as the X-T2 was concerned, and is still no for the X-H1 despite of all the aforementioned improvements. More accurately, I should even say X-H1 + extra-grip, because any videographer will need the headphone jack, which somehow is still only available on the grip despite of the larger body, in order to check the audio recording. But even with the extra grip, the X-H1 falls short against the GH5. For example, the GH5 offers unlimited recording time, while the X-H1 has a hard limit set at 30min (with the grip). Moreover, the GH5 is able to record internally in 4:2:2 10-bit, while the X-H1 is still a 4:2:0 8-bit system. The X-H1 also lacks the waveform monitor of the GH5. Overall, this means that someone who primarily shoots video is still more likely to pick up a GH5 over a X-H1. On the other hand, because the X-H1 shares so much DNA with the X-T2 it is before all an amazing camera for still photography, only now it is even better for video.

In fact, if you look at the official X-H1 brochure, while you do get a double page about video, it is still far from overwhelming.

What about the special case of Vloggers?

The X-H1 does not have a flippy screen, so Fujifilm was definitely not thinking about you when they designed this camera. Of course you could always use the remote app on your phone or a small external monitor to frame your shot, but then you also need to plug your microphone, so you are already looking at building some rig that would enable you to put your mic on the hotshoe mount while mounting your phone or monitor on bracket… or vice versa. But honestly, why would you bother…

So who is the X-H1 for?

If you are primarily a still shooter, but sometimes need to create video content as well (something that many clients seem to take more and more as a given…), then the X-H1 is perfect for you. For example if you shoot events, content for websites, or if you are a blogger using both pictures and movies to illustrate your articles (rather than a pure Vlogger).

Then comes also comes personal preference with regards to the beefier body. Personally, I never had any problem with the smaller grip of the X-T2, but if it has been an issue for you, if you are usually working in a fully-packed pit shoulder to shoulder with other pushing photographers or if you are always running and gunning like crazy, then you will appreciate the bigger grip of the X-H1. If you always shoot with the bigger zooms, you will also probably find a better balance between the lens and body.

Ironically, when the first rumors about the X-H1 being a camera for video users leaked, I thought it was not a camera for me and did not really paid attention. Turns out I am exactly the target for this camera… and the only reason I am not pre-ordering one is because the body is completely overpriced in Japan in my opinion. I will probably wait for the unavoidable discounts when the X-T3 is announced later this year…

A few first impressions in no particular order

  • When Fujifilm says they have reworked the shutter mechanism, they are not kidding. They call it “feather-like”, and I find this an acute description. At first when I tried it I was totally disoriented by the sensitivity and softness of the shutter button and it will take some time to get used to it
  • I will miss my exposure compensation dial 😦 You can still adjust the exposure compensation by pressing a dedicated button on the top of the camera while rotating the command dial (similar to the way you typically do it on DSLRs), but I felt like I could not rotate the command dial as much with one thumb swipe than I could turn the top exposure dial in one go, so I find this new system more cumbersome
  • While autofocus has again been improved and remains very fast, when you pull focus in video a smoother (even though slower) change in focus would be more pleasing to the viewer’s eye. Fujifilm has done tremendous work in terms of autofocus speed, I think that it would now make sense for them to put their effort on autofocus smoothness when recording video, they way Canon does it with their Dual Pixel AF.

Conclusion

  • If you shoot primarily video, you might still be better off looking at other brands given the limitations and missing features of the X-H1, despite of all the improvements in the video compartment compared to the X-T2
  • If you only shoot stills, why compromise image quality for the sake of IBIS and pay a premium? Get a cheaper X-T2, or if you already have one wait for the X-T3 to upgrade later this year
  • If you primarily shoot stills but sometimes need to shoot high quality ol video, then the Fujifilm X-H1 might very well be the ideal camera for you
  • If you primarily shoot with the bigger zoom lenses, then you might also prefer the balance using the bigger body of the X-H1 compared to the X-T2

Did Fujifilm get the price of the X-H1 completely wrong?!

Just a few days ago, Fujifilm officially revealed the X-H1. According to them, H stands for hyper, and indeed the X-H1 is almost some sort of super X-T2: same sensor and processor, but a bigger grip, a stronger weather-sealing, a touchscreen, and of course the main difference between the two: In-Body Image Stabilization (IBIS). We are now all used to the well orchestrated hype machine of Fuji announcements, with a well curated list of amazing photographers from various genres explaining that this is the best camera they have ever used, in some beautifully produced short films shot around the globe. Keep in mind if you decide to pre-order that real reviews are still under embargo… but I digress. Let’s get back to the point of this article: the price of the X-H1, and in particular its price in Japan, where I live.

Not only Fujifilm is a Japanese company, but they also proud themselves in producing their top-of-the-line cameras in Japan, therefore it makes sense to use the Yen as the base currency here, as the value of the Yen will directly impact their bottom line: for example, the stronger the Yen, the cheaper it will be for them to import the raw materials and components used to build each camera body, but the less money they will make on each camera sold abroad, once repatriated in Yen, all other things being equal. So, let’s take a look at the price of the X-H1 in Japan. As of today, you can pre-order the body only on Amazon Japan for ¥232,794. This compares to ¥144,980 currently for a brand new X-T2. Given the fact that the sensor and processor they share (with the X-T20) have been well amortized already, that’s a stiff premium for IBIS.

Meanwhile, on Amazon US, American X-Series users can pre-order the X-H1 body only for $1,899… which is a much smaller premium over the $1,599 for an X-T2.

If we do the math “stupidly”, the ratio between the Japanese price of the X-H1 over the American price implies a USDJPY exchange rate of around 122.50… which compares to a current exchange rate just above 106, and a range over the past year between 105 and 115 (source Bloomberg):

If you are not used to traveling or you don’t know anything about FX markets, in a nutshell this basically means that either the X-H1 is way too expensive in Japan, or it is too cheap in the US…

Quite frankly, I feel like it’s a bit of both. If I were living in the US, for me the X-H1 would be an insta-buy: it comes at a premium for the IBIS technology, but the overall price remains reasonable given the fact it is using the old sensor and processor of the X-T2. On the other hand, the premium you pay for the X-H1 over the X-T2 in Japan seems way too steep to me: you can more or less buy the XF90mmF2 with the price difference!

Clearly, something does not make any sense here… I don’t expect any of these prices to change meaningfully in the near future (export companies incorporate some margin when they fix their prices abroad to withstand FX fluctuations, and they can buy some protections), but, if the Yen continues to strengthen against the dollar, someone from the finance department will eventually raise the question of a price increase in the US. I would rather see a price decrease in Japan, trust me, and I would really like to hear someone from Fujifilm Japan explain this price difference… but as we all know it’s not the way things usually go… So if you are in the US, beware of potential price hikes in the future (even though there is no plan at the moment), and if you visit Japan anytime soon, do let me know… I might ask you to get a cheap X-H1 for me…

Happy 2018, the Year of the Dog

You might also want to check:
2013, the year of the Snake
2016, the year of the Monkey
2017, the year of the Rooster

In Japan, every year starts with a visit to the shrine, in order to get some blessings, buy some lucky charms, or ask what the future might have for you. As per my own little tradition, I headed as usual to the Hie Jinja not far from where I live and work, which hopefully will bring me good luck for the year to come.

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Expect to see a lot of people queuing at the most popular shrines during the new year period.

After having prayed, write your wish for the year on a Ema (wooden tablet). As you can see on these Ema, 2018 is the year of the Dog.

Probably the part that Japanese people are looking forward the most is to get their fortune for the year to come be told by an omikuji (fortune-telling paper strip). There are various degrees of luck ranging from great blessing to great curse (although I feel like most of the time you can summarize the message by “work hard if you want to succeed”), but no panic if you had an unlucky pick: just attach it with the other bad fortunes on the shrine ground, and you will be protected from the bad omen.

You can also get a Hamaya (an arrow that will protect you from evil spirits) and get it blessed by a Miko (shrine maiden).

Before you leave, sip a cup of sake, and why not get something to eat from the various stalls around the shrine ground.

And as usual, eating some special new year’s food in the evening to finish the first day of the year:

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I hope you all had a good time over the holiday period, and wish you all a happy 2018 🙂

2017, a Year in Review

2107 for the blog

Let’s start with a 2017 retrospective for the blog. Not a great year in terms of number of articles. A question of priorities. My work left me little free time this year, when I was not spending my weekends trying to catch up with some sleep, so I had to prioritize and focused on growing my Instagram account rather than this blog. Not because of any sort of satanic social media grand strategy, but because you only need a few seconds to upload a picture on Instagram. Meanwhile you need to find long blocks of time to write blog articles from start to finish, and in fact I still have several unfinished draft articles that I thought I would have published in 2017 but will only come out next year (if even), once I can allocate the time and concentration they deserve.

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I also never got to write about my amazing trip to Tsuwano last summer, although there would be so much to say about the story of the Hidden Christians in Japan. It’s definitively the kind of topic that I keep in the back of my mind for when i can take the time to write about a more complex subject that requires a decent amount of research.

Similarly, on the gear side of things, I never got to edit all the video footages I took during this year’s CP+ camera and photo imaging show in Yokohama, because I am still so little proficient with the video editing tools that I require exponentially more time than what would normally be required.

I feel like video content is more and more expected by the internet audience, so while I am working on mastering the tools I have been shooting more video in the background, and hopefully this content will someday makes its way into more coherent projects.

What we did talk about

While it has been a slow year in terms of number of articles, we did get to talk about a few things.

On the Fujifilm side, we talked in particular about the Fujifilm GFX 50s after I went to Fujikina 2017 in Kyoto.

We also looked at how remote flash can be easy with the Nissin speedlight and remote.

Overall Fujifilm had an amazing year, in terms of products they released (GFX body and lenses, X-E3, 80mm macro) and financial results (Instax prints For The Win). The best part of it was that none of what they released this year was for me, so I did not have to buy anything and just enjoyed another round of free Kaizen firmware update for my X-T2. On the other hand, I found that they released the FUJIFILM X RAW STUDIO application in a buggy  state that should have been a public beta version rather than a final release.
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Beyond the gear talk, we had a look at an old tradition in Asakusa involving geishas and hina dolls: Edo Nagashibana. A must-read if you like the japanese culture but missed it.

I also finally got to finish and publish an article on which I had been working for a long time, giving tips about how to differentiate a shinto shrine from a buddhist temple in Japan.

2017, the year of the rooster Instagram

2017 was the year of the rooster in the japanese calendar. For me it was the year I focused on my Instagram account. Through the year, I posted more than 500 times on my Instagram account, and more than quadruple my number of followers compared to the start of the year. What I like about Instagram is that the community is much nicer and positive than on something like Twitter, where snarky comments and political trolls are the norm. Although my number of followers will look tiny to some of you, for me it’s the highest number I have reached on any platform, and the simplicity to upload a picture allow me to be consistent in posting even while not being immersed full-time in the social media sphere.2017 best nine on InstagramAs you can see from my “2017 best nine on Instagram” recap above, 2017 was also the year I fully delved into the Geiko and Maiko world. To some extent, it was a perfect storm, because it is also when I started to post more pictures from my trips to Kyoto that I started to gain more followers. I learned a lot about the lives of Geiko and Maiko this year, a lot of it at the complete opposite of Western pre-/misconceptions, and i was fortunate enough to meet a few of them. Hopefully I get to write about that in 2018.

Business Cards

No doubt in my mind that 2018 will be filled with many trips to Kyoto again for me. Meanwhile, I am going to end 2017 by watching Star Wars: The Last Jedi in the theater tonight, after having successfully avoided most spoilers over the past couple of weeks. Have fun tonight and talk to you again in 2018 😉

Fujifilm X RAW STUDIO: does it suck? (Spoiler: yes it sucks)

Important disclaimer:I’ll go straight to the point, in my humble the X RAW STUDIO sucks real bad… HOWEVER, keep in mind that it is a FREE software, so see no bitterness/angriness/saltiness or anything of the likes in what follows. This post is just a mix of facts on the current state of the software and thoughts on what could be done to make it better. Since it is a free software, it’s still unbeatable in terms of value for money even though it is, as far as I am concerned, unusable in a workflow in its current state.

What software should I use to retouch my X-Trans pictures? How can I easily recreate the look of the various film simulations from the RAW file? For a long time, these questions have haunted users who would jump into the Fujifilm’s ship. Not so much nowadays I feel, as the issue has now been well documented and many viable options are now available. As far as I am concerned, nowadays I tend to use the following workflow:

  • Lightroom to import and organize my images
  • Drag and drop the image I want to process directly from Lightroom onto the Iridient icon
  • Start the developing process in Iridient by selecting one of the film simulation preset, then a few tweaks to taste
  • Easily re-import back the image into Lightroom as a TIFF via the option of the saving menu in Iridient
  • Local brushes and final touches such as Vignette on the TIFF file in Lightroom

If it sounds complicated to you, fear not for it isn’t. However wouldn’t be awesome if you could easily and exactly re-obtain the wonderful Fujifilm film simulations from your RAW files? Here comes the X RAW STUDIO, a free software offered by Fujifilm seemingly to fill this need…

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What is the X RAW STUDIO?

The X RAW STUDIO is a software that enables you to use the RAW processor on your compatible Fujifilm camera (at the moment the GFX 50 S, X-T2, X-Pro2 and X100F) to convert your Fujifilm RAW files at high speed, with exactly the same film simulations and settings possibilities that you would have when doing it via the menu in-camera. In a nutshell. Instead of selecting the settings on the back of your camera, you select them via the software’s interface on your computer screen… but the conversion is still ultimately done by the processor of your camera, which means that to use the software you need to connect the camera to your computer, even if you have already imported your RAW files on your computer’s hard drive or an external drive. As you are using the processing engine of the camera, you get access to the same options as via the menu, no more, no less. On the plus side, you can save several profiles as presets and do some batch processing. Since your camera is in charge of generating the output file, the result you get with the software is exactly the same as in-camera.

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What it is NOT

Maybe I am hammering a point I already made clear, but the one thing to understand to avoid unnecessary frustration (real frustration will come later) is that the X RAW STUDIO is not a RAW conversion software designed to compete with Lightroom, CaptureOne, OnOne, Iridient, etc… it is designed to do one job and one job only: give you the possibility to use your camera processing engine via a computer interface rather than from the camera menu. Don’t expect to be using the X RAW STUDIO to do a full post-processing workflow, it is NOT the point of the software. The point is to get your camera to convert as quickly as possible Fujifilm RAW files into output files using the same list of settings and associated values (e.g. you can choose between -1, 0, 1, 2… don’t expect any slider to adjust “to taste”) that you can find in the camera menu. Also, don’t expect to export your X-T2 files into .TIFF files. Since the X-T2 exports JPEG, you only have this option available. On the other hand the GFX can export in .TIFF, so if you plug your GFX to your computer and try to export a GFX file, the .TIFF option is this time available.

Why do I need to connect my camera to my computer?

The software is just an interface, the conversion from RAW is still performed by the processor of the camera, hence the camera needs to be connected to your computer. Sounds cumbersome? Well, it is, and as far as I know there is no cable in the box (at least for the X-T2 and X-Pro2), so why would Fujifilm do that… let’s look at the answer from 2 different types of people:

  1. The engineer: “The chip inside your camera has been specifically designed to perform this task, hence it is the fastest and most efficient way to do it, this is beautiful!”
  2. Any other photographer: “I have no idea. I wish I did not need to connect my camera with an additional wire to my computer, I’m sure my computer’s processor can handle this task fast enough compared to my average usage”

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Do little but do it well?

The Fujifilm X RAW STUDIO was designed to do one very specific (niche?) task, which could be a very good if that it means that what it does it does it very well.

Unfortunately, I don’t think that is the case. When it works, it works well, however during my own experience i had the impression to be using a software in beta stage (if not alpha), based on performance issues and UI shenanigans.

Performance and stability issues

The software crashed 2 times on me during the first 15min of usage, and another time when I got to 30min of usage. That’s not the best way to be introduced to a new software. However, it’s not like you are writing a document or doing a complex retouching with multiple layers and suddenly losing all your work, so I could still have looked beyond this inconvenience. Unfortunately, things just continue to go downhill from here.

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Even though you though you have to plus your camera to the computer, it does not mean that you are reading the images on the memory card inside your camera. You actually select the folder where your store your images on your hard drive (does not matter whether internal or external), and the software will read the folder. Now here is the thing, while I organize my pictures in collections in Lightroom and attach keywords to them to find them easily at a software level, at the files level I import them on my computer by Year/Month. This means that the folders I have on my hard drive contain on average around 5,000 images. This is a big problem when using the X RAW STUDIO, because when you select a folder with that many pictures the software suffers from a panic attack and is never able to load previews in the filmstrip at the bottom of the window. Switch folders to a smaller one, and suddenly a couple pictures of the first folder appear in the filmstrip but none of the newly selected folder. The kind of things that can drive you crazy if you start switching from one folder to another and again and again… Sometimes, when all the stars are aligned, it suddenly works. In any case, if you are using folders with a lot of pictures, good luck to you…

Unfortunately there are even more issues. Let’s say you manage to select an image, chose a profile and exported it. And that for the sake of comparison you try to select a different film simulation on the same image you already exported. Well, you just threw your computer into never ending limbo. If you want to re-edit an image you just exported the safe way is to first select a different image and then select back the image you want to re-edit. Of course selecting an image takes longer than it should, so again you are wasting some time.

Weird UI choices

Let’s say that somehow you were luckily spared from all these performance and stability bugs, or that you have a lot of time to lose and decide to use the software anyway. You now have to deal with weird UI choices. The biggest problem I have with the UI is that you can only select a picture by browsing through the filmstrip at the bottom of the window. If you have a lot of pictures within the folder you have selected, in the best case it’s a nightmare to find the picture you want, and in the worst case it’s simply mission impossible. A grid view would go a long way improving the UI.

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Among the other issues with the UI, there are some weird ones, such as the info on the file not showing at what ISO the image was taken. I don’t understand why they would tell you every other setting but not the ISO.

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Conclusion

The main positive feature of the Fujifilm X RAW STUDIO is that it is free. The rest of the experience is a sum of bugs, crashes and cumbersome wires to connect your camera to your computer. I would have been much more understanding if Fujifilm had come out and say this is a beta (if not alpha) version that will be refined before a final version is released. Then it would have made sense. But right now, I regret to say that I don’t understand how Fujifilm could value so little the time of their everyday users to have them go through such a terrible experience without any sort of warning (something along the lines of “Hey guys, this is a very rough beta of something we are working on, lots of bugs and instability issues but if you have time to test it we’d like to hear your feedback” would have clearly been necessary). Hopefully, the X RAW STUDIO get some Kaizen love of its own in the near future, but in the meantime consider yourself warned…