FroKnowsPhoto, but FroDoesNotKnowFuji: Debunking Jared Polin’s misinformed X-H1 review [UPDATE: he has done it again]

Would a professional photographer ever show up to a job with a camera he does not know how to use?

I have warned in the past about the intrinsic limits of previews done by photographers – turned online influencers – due to their affiliation to Fujifilm (to various extents), but, on the flip side, there are even more obvious limits to the opinion of someone who discovers a new camera without any sort of interest to understand how to actually use it (aka “that’s how we do it with our Sony”). I don’t doubt the honesty of Jared’s X-H1 review, however it is so misguided that it gets misleading for the unaware viewer. Sure, you can’t expect every reviewer to be a master of the Fujifilm system, but if you keep on piling up user errors then every comment you make is totally worthless.

And in this instance Jared’s review misses the mark so widely that it is real painful to watch. If you are not faint-hearted, have a look for yourself:

Let’s bring back some facts to correct some uninformed opinions that were inspired by a mix of misconceptions and user errors.

Camera lock-ups

On a couple of occasions, Jared’s X-H1 freezes and he has no idea what is going on. In fact, at the time Jared released his video, the firmware bug behind those freezes had already been fixed. In follow-up comments to his video to answer the backlash triggered by his video, Jared pointed that at the time of recording the video, the bug-fix had not been released yet. Fair enough… however the CH shooting lockup bug itself was already well known and documented with a fix in the pipeline. Goes to character Your Honor (I might have watched too many episodes of The Good Wife lately), as it shows the reviewer was not familiar with the version of the product he was testing, and did not try reach out to Fujifilm for help about the issue (otherwise he would have been told about the bug).

Don’t get me wrong. Releasing a firmware version that will let the camera freeze on not-so-rare occasions, despite a very normal usage, is simply UNACCEPTABLE. While Fujifilm should be praised for firmware updates that go above and beyond, they should be held accountable when such a blocking issue (not only would the camera freeze, but on top,of that none of the images part of this burst would be recorded when that happened) goes through quality tests. We are not talking here about a bug that only happens on leap years if the user was standing on his left leg only when turning his camera ON on a Friday the 13th night with full moon… And that’s the point that Jared should have actually made instead of being dumbfounded.

Battery life

The Sony A7 iii has a much bigger battery, so yes the X-H1’s battery life compares poorly against it in that regards. Clearly, for a long time battery life has not been the forte of mirrorless cameras, and there is a reason why Fujifilm regularly updates their battery design, and why Sony decided to completely change the size of their batteries, instantly making all the spares of previous models’ owners obsolete for the newer versions. However, with that in mind, the X-H1’s battery life is not as horrendous as portrayed.

For casual shooters, if you go out shooting like a normal person instead of shooting and praying in CH mode all day long, you’re always better off with a spare battery in your pocket for safety, but chances are you probably won’t need it.

Now, if you are someone who shoots 1,000 images with the camera in boost mode every time you go out (or for the cases when you will need to do so), then you will need the battery grip, which will cost you extra cash (which may or may not be a no-no to you). While Jared mentions that the X-H1’s battery grip enables you to use 3 batteries in total (rather than 2 in total with most DSLR battery grips, as they are slotted into the camera’s battery compartment), he fails to explain that if you indeed get the battery grip, then you are all good and battery life is not an issue anymore. You can also use the battery grip as a charger to charge more batteries at the same time after a day of shooting, which is a side benefit.

Autofocus

There is so much to say here…

The focus points don’t go to the edges of the frame

The X-H1 has 325 AF points that basically cover the whole frame. However, Jared is causing himself to be confused by the combination of shooting mode and AF mode he is using. With the modes he chose when making this complain, the camera will only be using the phase detection area, which indeed does not cover the whole frame but 50% side to side and 75% top to bottom. Sure, 100% coverage would be ideal, and I would bet you get closer to that with the X-T3 that will be released before the end of the year with a new sensor. Nonetheless, you already have a nice phase detection area to work with with the X-H1, as far as real life usage goes.

I cannot move the focus point

Jared complains about that on couple occasions. Pure user error, his camera feed clearly shows that he is in face detection mode and a face has been correctly detected. To the unfamiliar viewer, this sounds like the camera’s joystick is not working, while in reality it all comes down to the user’s lack of understanding of the particular system he is using.

The focus jumps from one subject to another

Again, would suggest a potential user error but we don’t know the full extent of the custom AF settings he is using. In fact, since Jared does not mention those custom settings, it looks like he ignores their existence (or purposely decided to use the wrong one for his shooting scenario, which would not make any sense).

The eye AF focuses on the nose

Currently, Fujifilm’s eye AF is only available is single AF mode. It looks like Jared expects it to continuously focus after he has actually locked the focus. As a consequence, when Jared’s subject turns the head to the side, the image focus is on the plan of the nose, rather than on the eye. To be honest, on top of Jared’s lack of understanding of the AF modes of the camera, I am not even sure he realizes when he half-presses because the X-H1’s shutter button is very soft and sensitive compared to his usual cameras to reduce camera shake.

Ergonomics

To be honest I am speechless about that one. I am not sure how a sane person can claim that turning a dedicated dial is slower than changing a setting in a menu. At the end of the day, if you prefer going into a menu rather than use the dedicated dials, more power to you, that’s user preference (and you can actually set up your X-H1 to operate like that if you so prefer!), but you can’t defy the laws of physics. In all honesty, given the fact that you get manual dedicated dial for ISO, Shutter Speed (on the body) and and Aperture (on the lens), any photographer not completely obtuse should be able to pick up a Fujifilm body and shoot with it without even having to think. Looking at Jared’s demise, it seems that this does not apply to people who have constrained their mind to the sub menus of a specific brand and want to shoot the same way with other brands to justify their mastery of one manufacturer’s secret handshake.

Also, Jared complains that the aperture ring on the lens is a negative because it could be inadvertently moved when taking the lens out of the bag… but it is actually a positive: you don’t even need to turn ON your camera to see your setting, it’s right there in front of your nose when you grab it. When you grab from your bag a camera with a lens that does not have an aperture ring, you don’t even know what the setting is, so you need to check it and adjust it anyway…

Cropped sensor is the end of the world

No it’s not, especially when you shoot on such a bright sunny day as he did in his video. This used to be relevant in the past, when graduating to full frame felt like riding the Tardis to a new space and time, but technology evolves faster than people can let go of old beliefs.

It’s one thing to pretend not to be able to multiply a focal length by 1.5x (even if you suck at maths you can still add half of the number without calculator…) for comical effect, but sitting at the feet of a skater to do a wide angle shot with a 90mm lens is beyond ridiculous, even if you are using a full frame camera. There would have been a great shot to take from this point of view with Fujifilm’s amazing 16mm f1.4 prime by the way. To the surprise of no one, he ends taking a standard portrait.

As far as noise is concerned, the size of the sensor is only one parameter. You still need to see how many pixels you cram on it, and even more importantly how efficient your signal processing is. In that sense, the fact that the Sony A7 III uses a backside illuminated sensor is of much more importance than just the larger size of its sensor, and I can’t wait to see this architecture being implemented in the next generation of Fujifilm X cameras, starting with the X-T3 this year. Beyond that, you should also consider how many readily available fast primes are available for each system – and at what price – so that you might not need to crank your ISO to the same level depending on the lens you actually have in your bag when shooting.

Moreover, even if you are blindly in love with a specific size of sensor, as far as the final output is concerned, you need to consider the fact that the Sony A7 III still has a low pass filter.

So, Fujifilm X-H1 or Sony A7 III?

For all the errors and flows within Jared’s review, I have to say that the most jarring aspect of it is that he frames it as a comparison to the Sony A7 III… without taking any shot with the Sony for comparison! At the end of the review, he seems more than happy with the results he got with the Fujifilm, isn’t it what should actually matter?

I will be honest with you, every time a new Sony camera is announced, it actually gets me interested… they must be some kind of wizards of the specs sheets! They put in all the exciting buzzwords you did not know you wanted to hear. On paper, the Sony A7 III at its price point sounds like great value… but then you need to factor in the price of the lenses, the quality of the customer support, the ergonomics designed with computer engineers in mind, etc.

Get in a store, and see how the camera feels in your hand. Rent the camera for a week. See if your friends are invested into one system, so that perhaps they could lend you some lenses you don’t own yourself when you need them… There are so many things that enter into account to choose your camera. Don’t discard Micro Four-Thirds camera for the wrong reasons either. Size does matter until it doesn’t. * insert here a “that’s what she said” joke*

Anyway, have fun or make a living with whatever camera you have at your disposal.

X-H1 or X-T2?

This is a far more interesting question for the people shooting Fujifilm, and one one that I have more authority to answer, owning both cameras while I never owned any Sony A7 camera. If you never shoot any handheld video, the X-T2 is the best value for you, especially with the discounts that will keep popping ahead of the X-T3’s announcement.

If you parse the net, the X-H1 is often described as Fujifilm’s camera for videographers. As I have explained in another post, I completely disagree with that, and even more so after the latest firmware of the X-T2 that upgraded its video capabilities. In my opinion, the X-H1 is still a camera for people who are primarily photographers, but also need to shoot some videos on occasions, more often than not handheld. If you are primarily a videographer, then what would lure you to the Fujifilm would rather be the cine lenses rather than any of their bodies.

Looking at Jared’s review, I would probably would have grabbed the smaller and lighter X-T2 to shoot his skateboard scenario, since he did not shoot any video. On a side note, i did not get what he said about the interview series he could not film with the X-H1 due to audio issues. I never had any issue using an external mic with my X-H1. If he had been more thorough in his approach to the review, he would have tested the camera earlier to get up to speed with a system he is not familiar with… while also checking that some gear he wants to use professionally works fine.

A cautionary tale

All in all, Jared completely dropped the ball with the review, but this is more an opportunity to take a step back and ponder about the reviews from the top photography channels on YouTube than a reason to throw him under the bus. I subscribe to his channel and I watch a good amount of the videos he puts out.

The takeaway here is that you should always consider the experience of who you are getting your advice from with a particular product/system/brand. Most of these people spend a ridiculously short amount of time with each product, so if they are too obtuse and unfamiliar with some brand they will miss all the marks. It should be obvious that if someone has been primarily shooting with a X-T2 over the past year, their opinion of the X-H1 will be much more informed after the same short amount of time. Unfortunately we live in an era ruled by algorithms trained in ranking cringy faces on video thumbnails rather than judge the interest of the content.

Meanwhile, if you see any other mistake in Jared’s review, leave a comment below to add to the grieving list…

FroDoesNotKnowFuji Dot Com, see ya!

UPDATE: Ooops Jared has done it again! Less than 24 hours after I published this article, the Fro uploaded his review of the XF90mm F2 prime lens. While Jared does give credit to the lens for the quality of its output – and if you ignore half of the video running a not funny bit about the fact that you cannot zoom with this prime lens – he keeps on hammering the idea that this lens is super slow. The only problem is… that this lens is actually one of the fastest lens Fujifilm has ever made for the X-series, if not the fastest! That’s the first lens I put in my bag when I know I will need some speed…

Unsurprisingly, this created another wave of discontent from Fujifilm users who knew that Jared got his fact completely wrong about the speed of this lens. His X-H1 review already has a huge number of downvotes (compared to his other videos):

And after having dropped the Fujifilm ball so evidently again, it is likely that his XF90mm video will take the same route…

Sadly, Jared is taking the community’s constructive feedback as fanboyism, saying that people are ignoring the positive things he said about the lens and focusing on the negative. He clearly misses the point that the community backlash was not triggered by a mix of pros and cons, but by the fact that what he states is factually WRONG. Jared is entitled to his opinions, and I could not care less what type of cameras he prefers to use for his personal taste, however fact-checking is about pure hardcore truth, not about one’s opinion.

As a result of his misperception of the community’s feedback (because of hubris kicking in?), Jared is now considering not reviewing Fujifilm products anymore. Keep in mind that while this could look like an emotional reaction, this is actually a purely commercially-driven thought, as the negative votes his Fujifilm reviews have received weigh in how much algorithms will rank them.

My response:

Using color gels on your flash to dramatically change the look and feel of a scene

I have a portrait shoot with a rare talent coming up in a couple of weeks, so I have been working on building a mood board. To do that, I have been combing the internet and magazines for looks that would fit well for the type of shoot that I have planned. This is not only a source of inspiration, but it also enables a more straightforward creative discussion with the model, stripped off the jargon of photographers. I’m also experimenting with my gear in order to refresh my technique or try new styles for me. That’s when Chopper comes in. Chopper is the most patient and understanding model I have ever known. Even when I waste time trying to figure out my settings rather than shooting, I have never heard Chopper complain. Last but not least, Chopper is always on time too, all I need to do is… open my closet! Ah, what would I do without my Chopper plastic figurine πŸ˜‰

Anyway, I get Chopper from its closet, and on we go with the topic of the day: using color gels with 2 flashes. This is what the scene looked like without flash:

The shallow depth of field gets rid of the clutter in my living room, but overall a pretty boring result so I decided to give a bit of kick to the scene by using some colored lights. You could go for only one color gel on the rim light for something a bit more interesting (usually something in the orange-red spectrum works well), but since I was experimenting for myself in my living room with a silent model I decided to go all the way and use some color gel on the main light too. As I was going to paint the scene with 2 colors coming from 2 different flash units, the first thing I did was to kill any ambient light by using a faster shutter speed, so that I started from a black canvass so-to-speak. From there, I find that the best way to work is by working on each light separately.

For my rim light, I positioned a flash unit with a pink gel to the side and slightly behind Chopper.

For the main light, I used another flash unit, to the camera right at around a 30ΒΊ angle to the subject, but this time with a blue color gel. Again, I worked out my settings on this light independently, turning off the rim light.

Finally, once I was happy with the settings on each light, I combined them for the final result. Both flash units were triggered remotely using a commander unit mounted on the camera. Et voilΓ !

All the images in this article are JPEGs straight out of the camera. The Pink & Blue look is quite popular on social media at the moment (those colors go well together), but most of the images you will see like that on social media are the result of some tweaks of the hue and saturation sliders coupled with split-toning during post-processing. It is a different type of technique.

Anyway, on my end I will continue to play and experiment with lights, and I’m getting super stoked about my upcoming shoot… I hope you enjoyed this article, and I’ll talk to you again soon πŸ˜‰

How to make the difference between a trustworthy and a not trustworthy Fujifilm X-H1 review

Fujifilm has become a master at launching new cameras from a marketing point of view. The days of the underrated X-100 or X-E1 seem far away. The now well-known hype machine is already under way at full-speed. Send pre-production models of the camera to talented artists across the world to see what they will create with it, and invite selected so-called influencers of the net at a well-catered event with stylized models and pre-arranges lighting setups at the ready, with an NDA that expires at the time of the release announcement. Of course, with so many people in the know, all the specifications of your new body will be rapidly leaked, but who cares if that means that potential customers get something to look forward to, rather than buy into another brand.

So here we are with the internet being flooded with a bazillion hands-on first looks, but which one can you really trust? Who should you listen to when trying to forge your opinion and contain your Gear Acquisition Syndrome before it empties your pockets? How long did they have with the camera? Did they push it to its limits or did they just follow the comfort zone detailed in the press release?

Well, fear not, for there is a guaranteed way to know if you can trust someone’s take on any Fujifilm camera. Longtime and hardcore users would already know what I am talking about, because that’s how we recognize each other from casual users. Yes, I am talking about the cover of the Sync terminal on the front of the camera! Anyone who has used a Fujifilm camera knows that you are doomed to lose it on your first day of shooting in the wild. If you don’t know what I am talking about, you probably already lost it.

So the rule is pretty simple and it works all the time: only trust reviewers who have lost the cover of their Sync terminal! If the cover is still there, the reviewer clearly just put the camera on the table while getting a cup of tea… although admittedly even so the cap might have fallen if the window was open and it was windy outside.

OK, so now that you know the trick, you will only made informed purchases to maximize your satisfaction… you’re welcome!

PS: if you are a member of the Team First Degree, you can ignore this article in its entirety πŸ˜‰

PPS: if you are also always losing this stupid tiny cap, leave a comment below!

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 Β₯232,794. This compares to Β₯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…