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 😉

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 30º 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 voilà!

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 😉

Product shots of the Fujifilm X-T2 and the X-Series family (and a few sample shots)

After 2 months of intense hype, the X-T2 has now officially joined the Fujifilm X-Series family on the 8th of September, as it finally shipped across the globe. I received mine on Thursday, along with its battery grip. I won’t do any unboxing video this time, as there are already plenty to be found on the net. I will also take the required time to put the X-T2 through its paces, especially the new autofocus system (rethought algorithms + Canon-like customizable settings), so I will not rush any review. Meanwhile, here are some pictures of the X-T2 (mine), which kept a similar design as its predecessor, although just a tiny tiny bit fatter. Anyways, I still would like to share some pictures OF the X-T2 along with its siblings, because it still looks gorgeous. So, without further ado, here is… the Fuji X-T2!

 

And the battery grip (or Vertical Power Booster Grip VPB-XT2 as Fujifilm calls it) that comes back on steroids:

  • 2 extra battery slots instead of 1 (for a total of 3 batteries including the one in the X-T2)
  • can be used to charge 2 batteries at the same time thanks to the AC adapter that comes with it in the box
  • includes a headphone jack for video shooting
  • has its own AF joystick for shooting vertically
  • also improves the grip when shooting horizontally

When compared to the X-T1, you can see that the X-T2 is a little bit bigger, although the difference is barely visible. The main difference in design visible from the front is the taller ISO and shutter speed dials:

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Comparing the X-T1 and X-T2’s grips, the size difference is more obvious given the additional functionalities of the XT2’s grip:

However, the X-T2 (without battery grip) still feels more compact than the other X-Series camera sharing the same sensor and image processor, the X-PRO2:

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And here are the first few sample images I took with the X-T2 (JPEGs from the camera with the Velvia film simulation):

The ACROS film simulation

A little over 2 years ago, I wrote a post in which I compared all the film simulations available at the time for the Fujifilm X-Series cameras. Since then, Fujifilm has come up with the classic chrome film simulation, and more recently with the ACROS film simulation. For whatever reason, the latter is only available for the cameras from the X-Pro2 and onwards, but it is quickly becoming one of my favorite film simulations.

If I want to shoot in black and white, I now just set my camera to ACROS instead of converting the picture to black and white later during post-processing. Here are a few examples:

Field test: X-Pro2 + XF 100-400mm F4.5-5.6 – Birdwatching in Tokyo

For my second visit to the bird sanctuary of the Kasai Rinkai park in Eastern Tokyo, I brought with me an X-Pro2with the XF 100-400mmF4.5-5.6 “super telephoto zoom lens” to put them to the test. Below is a summary of my thoughts on the newest and most expensive lens for X-mount cameras. All the sample images used in this post are straight-out-of-the-camera JPEGs (Velvia film simulation), without any additional processing. You can click on them for full size images.

The FUJINON XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR is the long awaited super telephoto zoom lens for X-Series cameras. One of the reason behind the delay of the release of this lens, compared to its first appareance on the official Fuji roadmap, seems to have been a complete redesign of the lens somewhere along the development cycle. As a reminder, the first time I saw a prototype of the “super telephoto zoom lens”, as it was dubbed on the roadmap, it was supposed to be a XF140-400mm f4-5.6 lens, with a shorter size but a wider diameter (86mm). It looked like that (the lens on the right side):

The final design is slimmer but longer, and covers a longer focal range but is slightly slower when zoomed out. I cannot know for sure, but I would bet that the final design is probably lighter than the initial version too.

While the lens got longer, the tripod foot that comes with it became shorter, which seems like a odd decision to me, although arguably I am no lens engineer, as one would think that  a bigger tripod foot would offer a better stabilization once attached to a tripod head. If you don’t have any, Fujifilm sells a lens plate (MLP-75XF) that you can attach to the tripod foot to make it compatible with ARCA SWISS tripods. Personally, I also don’t see the point of having included the 100-140mm focal range compared to the initial design, as this part of the focal range is already covered by so many XF lenses.

Beyond those small reservations, there are mostly positive things to say in terms of design and handling. The smaller filter thread of the final version (77mm) will enable you to use common filters you might already own (I personally buy all my filters in the 77mm size, with a set of cheap step-up rings to use them on smaller lenses). The built quality feels good, with attention to details. There is a lock button to avoid any zoom creep, but the small feature that makes a big difference to me is the lens hood that clips on the lens. The last thing you want when you are on the side of a race track or a football field is for your lens hood to fall over every time you knock something or someone runs into you.

Coupled with the XF 1.4x teleconverter, the lens become a 140-560mm f8 equivalent lens. I shot the sample pictures in this post using an X-Pro2, with the XF 100-400mmF4.5-5.6 mounted on the 1.4x teleconverter, as I was trying to get as tight and as far as possible. All these shots were taken in very good lighting conditions (although between 6-9AM, so still in somewhat soft light), and in these ideal conditions the combo camera + teleconverter + lens was very responsive. The autofocus in particular did a perfect job on relatively still or slow moving subjects, despite of the addition of the teleconverter theoretically making it harder for the autofocus to work (it was much slower and hunted back and forth when I tested it indoor in poor lighting conditions, which is a totally normal thing). The autofocus struggled much more on flying birds, which was mainly due to my sheer inability to keep flying birds for an extended period of time in a tight composition when using such a long lens.

Here is what both extremes of the focal range look like when using the X-Pro2 + XF 100-400mmF4.5-5.6 + XF1.4x teleconverter:

Zoomed out:


Zoomed-in:

When shooting at 560mm with f8 maximum aperture, it can be difficult to obtain a shutter speed fast enough for handholding without raising the ISO setting higher than one might want to. This is when the image stabilisation of the lens kicks in. The image stabilisation of the XF 100-400mmF4.5-5.6 is to be commended for its effiency, in effect improving the quality of the images by allowing to use lower ISOs while still taking sharp pictures. The quality of the image stabilisation can also be seen in action in the video clips included in the video at the top of this post, inbetween still samples.

Additional samples gallery:

In conclusion, I really enjoyed my time with this lens. I usually don’t go birdwatching, so it gave me a good excuse to do so. With the addition of the XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6, X-mount lenses can now cover a huge focal length, and even more when you add the 1.4x teleconverter. It’s a great lens to handle with efficient image stabilisation for handholding and nice finishing touches such as the clipping hood with a small trap to adjust your filter if you are using a polariser. I personally don’t need to own such a long lens for 99% of what I shoot, but for the few times I would need it I will be absolutely confident to rent it – apart for indoor sports for which the faster XF50-140mmF2.8 will be a better option if you don’t want to focus manually.