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 😉

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 ¥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.

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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 😉