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…

Testing the updated Nissin flash system for Fujifilm users in studio

Perception is reality. The last thing you want to do when you are shooting a model is to show up and look like you are struggling with your gear. Even if you know exactly what you are doing but have to fight fiddly controls and menus that make sense from an engineer perspective but not from a user perspective. This sends the wrong signal to your model and impact his/her motivation and performance. This is part of the reason I was looking for a very simple flash system, that does only one thing but does it reliably. Often, less is more. This is especially true when doing without superfluous functionalities will remove the need to have to delve into an over-complicated menu to change a basic setting.

Surely, I did not want to give a bad first impression to Izumi-chan, my model of the day who I was shooting for the first time. Everything went very smoothly though, as the Nissin flash system has proved super easy to use. 3 hours, 3 outfits, 1 i60A flash and 1 Air 1 commander unit mounted on my X-T2. To be complete with the gear picture, I used most of the time a Lastolite softbox that is designed to be used with hotshoe flashes.

The main change from the latest Nissin firmware update was that Fujifilm users can now do wireless radio-triggered HSS flash photography with their Nissin speedlights, so I wanted to illustrate the benefit. When shooting with flash, your shutter speed controls the amount of ambient light that will be visible in the picture. In the picture below, I am using a shutter speed of 1/160th of a second, slower than the max sync speed of the X-T2, which recorded enough ambient light for the black paper background to remain visible in the shot:

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By using a faster shutter speed of 1/800th of second I was able to kill the ambiant light, as if I had turned some switch off. Same ISO and same aperture. However, it did require to use the flash in HSS mode (which it did autonomously as I had autoFP selected in the flash menu), so to keep the flash exposure the same on the model all other things being equal, I needed to increase the flash power output.

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Anyway, not sure which picture is better, just wanted to show an example where HSS would kick in. The point is you have complete creative control. The shoot went on for 3 hours, and while there was no epiphany moment there was no frustration moment either. I simply enjoyed the freedom of being able to use my flash with a reliable radio trigger, sometimes in HSS mode sometimes not, while being able to adjust the power settings from the commander unit directly on the top of my X-T2. Just what I needed to focus on the pleasure of shooting with a great models without  the gear ever getting in the way.

Here are a few more shots from the session:

All in all, what I like about the Nissin flash system is that it is simple, capable and portable. Basically it does only one thing but it does it well without ever getting in the way, so I can focus on all the other stuffs. I think it’s a great system if you like effective gear that goes straight to the point, and/or if you are scared by off-camera flash.

Nissin firmware update for Fujifilm users: wireless HSS made easy

Until recently, Fujifilm users with Nissin speedlights could do:

  • off-camera radio-triggered TTL, with the Air 1 commander unit and a compatible speedlight (Di700 or i60A)
  • on-camera (or off-camera with a cable) High Speed Sync flash photography (Fujifilm calls that mode FP, but it’s exactly the same)


However, Fujifilm users with Nissin flashes could not do radio-triggered HSS. This has now been resolved with the latest firmware update that Nissin has been rolling out: Fujifilm users (X-T2, X-Pro2, GFX…) have now access to radio-controlled off-camera TTL HSS flash with Nissin.

The bad news if you already own an Air 1 commander and Nissin speedlights is that you cannot update these firmwares yourself, so you need to send your units back to Nissin for them to perform the update. However, if you are buying them now, chances are that the units on sale have already been updated. I bought my Air 1 commander and a i60A speedlight this week-end, and both were already rocking the updated Firmware for Fujifilm users, but make sure to check with your retailer beforehand.

My previous wireless flash system with my Fujifilm cameras

35292351220_a3b3456d42_oUntil I got the Nissin flash system, I was using a Yongnuo YN560-III with a couple of RF603C-II transceivers (no TTL, no HSS).

The pros of my Yongnuo system were:

  • Very affordable
  • Small transceivers
  • Easy to use

The cons:

  • Nearby photographers with Yongnuo triggers would trigger my flash when shooting
  • Bulky speedlight compared to my limited needs in terms of flash specs
  • Had to walk to the speedlight to change the flash power levels
  • It worked great for some time… and then suddenly stopped working, apart from the stroboscopic mode, which I never use 😦

Given the last point, I was in need of a new flash system. What I was looking for:

  • Radio-triggered
  • Can adjust the flash power (either in manual or TTL mode, don’t really care about TTL or not) directly from the commander unit
  • Can do HSS
  • A guide number of 50 or more
  • Reliable
  • Simple (no need for stroboscopic mode for example…)
  • Compact
  • Reasonable price
  • Will not die of a premature death like my Yongnuo…

Obviously there are more advanced Yongnuo products including radio triggers + flashes, but since I was not impressed by the durability of my previous Yongnuo experience, I wanted to explore new options.

What about the Fuji EF-X500?

Being invested in the Fujifilm X-Mount system, it would be logical to consider the EF-X500, which finally made it to the market after a bumpy development road between Metz (who is doing this flash despite of it being ultimately branded Fujifilm) filing for insolvency and overheating issues of the early design.

However the EF-X500 does not make it for me. In the absence of a remote trigger being developed and released at the same time, you need to buy 2 EF-X500’s in order to trigger one remotely (the other bulky unit being mounted on top of your camera), so the entry cost is already 2 times the cost of one speedlight. Moreover, the trigger is optical and not radio, so you need “line of sight” between the commander flash on top of your camera and the receiver flash. You might think it’s not a big deal, but a lot of time when you light up a scene, you will be looking for ways to do so while hiding the flash behind some elements of the scene or walls, hence breaking the “line of sight”.

The one small advantage that the EF-X500 gets is that the flash has a light that can be used to assist the AF in the dark. Other brands also have this AF-assist light on their flash units, but Fujifilm is currently preventing them from being used.

The Nissin flash system

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While I also considered options such as Cactus or Godox, I decided to go with Nissin, because it is a Japanese company (while the other 2 are from Hong Kong and Shenzhen), hoping for better quality control, but more importantly for good local support if needed after my Yongnuo experience. In fact, the shop where I bought my Air 1 and i60A has very close ties to Nissin, as Nissin has shot test images in this shop’s studio, and their stock was already upgraded to the newest firmware for Fujifilm users.

In any case, please note that I never used any Cactus or Godox products, so I can’t speak to their quality and they could very well be awesome products. I am just sharing my personal decision process.

Di700 or i60A?

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If you decide to go Nissin and buy an Air 1 commander, the first question to ask yourself is should you get the Di700 or i60A flash (the i40A does not have a radio receiver to pair it with the Air 1 commander)?

While slightly less powerful than the i60A (GN54 vs GN60), the Di700 is more than powerful enough for my and most people’s need, costs less than the i60A (especially if you get it in bundle with the Air 1), but has the same radio transmission system… and also a super cute and stylish screen with bright color icons. I think it is great value.

However, it is markedly bigger than the i60A, and for me having a flash small enough that I will be carrying it in my bag – rather than leaving it gathering dust in a closet -, was a very important factor, which is why I personally went with the i60A. Also, the Di700 has a weird compartment supposed to make loading the 4 AA batteries easier, but it just looks more cumbersome to me.

Using the Nissin Air 1 commander + i60A speedlight with the Fujifilm X-T2

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Pairing the commander unit with the flash

Pairing the Air 1 commander with an i60A flash is very easy as long as you know the secret handshake:

  • Hold simultaneously the Lock button and Power button on the flash unit for 3 sec until you hear the beeping sound
  • Hold simultaneously the S button and Power button on the Air 1 commander for 3 sec until the screen is flashing

Pairing

That’s all there is to it, the pairing is done. The beeping of the flash unit and the flashing of the commander unit will then stop.

What is HSS?

In standard mode (not HSS), the flash fires one flash of light, so you can choose between front curtain sync (the flash fires immediately after the shutter opens) or rear curtain sync (the flash waits before firing just before the second curtain is about to start closing).

If the shutter speed is to fast (faster than 1/250th of a second in the case of the X-T2), the second curtain has already started to close when that flash of lights happens, creating a black band at the bottom or top of the picture (depending on your sync mode). In HSS mode however, the speedlight does not fire just one single flash of light, but simulates some sort of almost continuous lighting to avoid the black band by firing several very fast bursts of lights close to each other.

While HSS will enable you to use a fast shutter speed with your flash, it will also take a much bigger toll on your flash as you are asking your speedlight to fire several bursts in super quick succession, while pushing the power up for the same exposure as with a standard speed sync. With great power comes great responsibility, I guess (or something like that).

Fujifilm camera settings for HSS


To enable HSS on your Fujifilm camera:

  • Press the Menu button, go into the flash setting tab and select the flash function setting submenu
  • Move the cursor to the sync setting, and set the value to FP

That’s all for there is to it, so if you are using a fast shutter speed with your flash and getting a black band, make sure you have selected the setting above.

What does this look like in real life?

You want to use a wide aperture for shallow depth-of-field during sunset?

First, meter for a good exposure of the sky. In this example, the X-T2 gave me 1/8000th of a sec at ISO 200 and f1.4.

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This will likely leave the subject completely underexposed, as in the example above, hence the need to bring in a flash. The shutter speed being faster than 1/250th of a sec, HSS comes to the rescue.

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Another example, again the X-T2 reading of the sky gives me 1/8000th of a sec at ISO 200 and f1.4:

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Adding the flash in HSS mode:

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All these images are JPEGs straight out of the camera. Setting up the flash exposure was very easy. I paired the commander and the flash unit, put the flash where I wanted the light to come from, and then I just used the wheel on the commander to dial the flash power up or down. Since this was in HSS mode, I had to use the flash at almost full power.

Keep in mind though, it’s not because Fujifilm cameras can now handle wireless HSS with Nissin that you should always be using it. If I had wanted more depth-of-field, I could have stoped down my aperture, leading to a slower shutter speed that does not require HSS. For example, 1/60th of a sec at ISO 200 and f16, + flash at a lower power setting than previously:

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So far, very sweet. I was mainly looking for something simple but that works consistently, and I think this is exactly what Nissin has delivered. Next step, I am taking the Air 1 commander and i60A flash unit to the studio, but that’s a story for another post 😉

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