The BIGGEST issue with the Nikon Z6 and Z7… and NOBODY is talking about it! (SPOILER alert: NOT the single memory card slot!)

What happened to the art of photography? People have become so hung up on specifications. I call this phenomenon the “Sonyfication” of the minds…

Nikon just announced their first full-frame mirrorless cameras, the Z6 and Z7, and it has not been long until the pundits of the web have thrown these 1st-gen cameras under the bus. The reason? Lengthy tables of spec sheets opposing the various camera manufacturers. Suddenly, the lack of a dual memory card slot is the biggest dealbreaker of all time, which is quite funny when some of these previews are shot on a camera that has only one slot (Canon 6D mk2)… Anyway, it is true that, for what we have seen so far from the previews that have surfaced on the web, the performances of the Nikon Z6 and Z7 in terms of EVF blackout and auto-focus remind more of the past generation of mirrorless cameras than the current state-of-the-art.

But everyone is missing out the most important. When you buy into a system, it is a long term decision. What matters, is that the camera you buy makes you want to go out and shoot, and even though the manufacturer might have a little bit of catch-up to do with the competition, you trust they will keep on improving their bodies after each iteration. When I bought the Fujifilm X-E1, it was one of the slowest AF camera available, and the video output was unusable. I reported all that and yet I got into the Fujifilm ecosystem, because I could see Fujifilm’s vision and I adhered to it. I bought a camera that renewed my joy to go out and shoot, not the most advanced camera on the market technically speaking.

Unfortunately, Nikon is also missing this bar. Clearly, the design of their bodies is more aimed at enthusiasts than hardcore pros or even the so-called prosumers. The top-left dial on the left was inspired by the one of the D750 with a PASM dial and an auto-mode, rather than the one of the D850. While it makes sense that the Z6’s ergonomics are close to the D750’s, it is more surprising that the Z7’s ergonomics are not closer to the D850’s. Nikon has preferred to save money on the production cost, by using the same body for the Z6 and Z7. However what does not make any sense at all is that they have left this top-left dial without a sub-dial, while both the D750 and the D850 have one. The D610 has one. You have to go down to lower-end models such as the D3400 not to find a sub-dial. This unfathomable decision is undoubtedly going to cripple the shooting experience. Some programmable buttons will have to be used for functions that wan usually be found in this sub-dial, while they could have been used for something else. This means that the Z-shooters will need to dig into their menus to change more settings than what should have been the case. And a camera that forces you to go into its menu system more often than not, is not a camera that makes you want to take it and go shoot with it… and that’s the biggest flaw of the Z6 and Z7. Hopefully is Nikon is planning higher-end models of their Z-series, not necessarily in terms of specs to shine in comparison tables, but in terms of ergonomics to shine in the hands of those who are actually using these cameras.

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

Dear Peter, don’t click on this link if you are looking for a review of the Fuji X-T2

This post is in response to a comment posted by a reader called Peter on my previous article. I could have replied in the comments section too, but I have a feeling this might be a long paragraph, so I figured I might as well make it into its own blog post…


Dear Peter,

First, I would like to thank you for leaving a comment on my latest blog post. As you can see, I don’t get that many. I don’t get that much traffic either, even though you seem to find my titles similar to clickbait honeypots. I am truly sorry if you felt misguided by the title of my previous article. It looks like you got onto this page several days after I published it, which could explain why. Note that I published this article a week BEFORE the X-T2 was officially released (or even shipped), so I never intended for this article to look like a review (in which case this article would have probably been called “Exclusive X-T2 review one week before the launch!!!!”, the likes of which you can find on the net by the way, and that you can call clickbaits if you so desire).

Like hundreds of people I had some hands-on time with the X-T2 many weeks before it was released (there were many opportunities to do so in many countries, nothing out of the ordinary), and yet I did not spam glorious definitive opinions like others did after shooting at cars “zipping from around the corner” from a parking lot. In fact, I did not even talk about it actually. That would have made for many “clicks” though, as Fujifilm had not yet started to tour the US photo clubs and camera stores, so I probably should have.

But you are right, there is a conspiracy theory behind this article, so let me share it with you. To tell you all the details, this article initially had a different “working title”, because, when I started to write it, the point I wanted to make was different: I wanted to reply to X-Pro2 owners who were crying like babies because the X-T2 had better specs, by writing a post reducing the X-T2 to a beautiful dream, as opposed to the good time I was having shooting with the X-Pro2 during the time  those people were spending complaining from behind their keyboards. However, there was actually more than a month between the moment I started to write the article and the moment I actually finished it. The reason for that is that – when I was not busy working – I was indeed outside enjoying my X-Pro2, instead of typing the blog post as I had originally intended. I even filmed an entire VLOG episode about the initial topic with the X-Pro2, to show that it could also shoot good video footages even though not in 4K (I was eventually too lazy to edit all my footages, while I realised I was speaking too much in the video and I would have bored every potential viewer with my French accent, so I came back to the idea of writing a blog post instead).

As time passed though, the topic on which I wanted to write also evolved, as getting to roughly a week before the release I had gotten fed up with almost 2 months of publi-advertisement without any contradiction allowed, since only people chosen by Fujifilm had the camera.

Now here comes the dreadful truth. The dirty secret. At the same time as I was getting back to finishing this article, I was actually (re-)watching Sergio Leone’s the Good, the Bad and the Ugly for the umpteenth time. Just love this movie. It’s one of my favourite movies of all times! And that’s how I got to structuring my article the way I did and choosing this title. It’s as simple as that. But it’s true that the Internet can some time be wilder than the far west, I will agree on that.

By the way Peter, I received the X-T2 and its battery grips on Thursday this week. I have used it for a few hours since, hence the time it took me to reply to you. Don’t expect to read any review about the X-T2 here anytime soon, as I don’t think that a few hours are enough time to do so (I used to try to create content quicker in the beginning of the X-Series, with the X-E1 for example, because at the time nobody else would care doing it, so writing about them was useful for the people looking for information, but nowadays there are hundreds of Fuji blogs). When I finally put up a review on this blog, I can guarantee you I will call it “Fujifilm X-T2 review”, so that you will know exactly what you will get when you follow the link. To be sure not to missed it, make sure to subscribe to this blog and to follow me on Twitter @balbo42 😉

Sincerely yours.

CP+ 2016 in a nutshell

Visiting CP+ is a little yearly tradition for me, so, while I was not overly excited by anything before going there this year, I headed to the show floor in Yokohama this week-end. It is a good way to get the pulse of the photography industry, at least as far as Japan is concerned. As 2016 is a Photokina year, most camera manufacturers have probably kept a few cards up their sleeves for later this year.

25033277470_3afed30312_c

In terms of attendance, there was as usual a huge crowd of visitors. While we crawl under statistics telling us that the vast majority of photos are taken with smartphones nowadays, the general public’s interest in camera gear is still highly elevated. On the other hand, the number of babes continues to drop through the year, which is quite telling in a country like Japan… The Canon and Nikon booths were again the most popular. Canon had an original stage with gymnasts instead of regular models to test their brand new cameras. Nikon on the other hand were seeing good interest for the just announced DL cameras, as well as the D5 and D500. Elsewhere, the X-Pro2 was very popular, while to my surprise the queue for the new Olympus Pen-F was meager, though the Olympus 4/3 cameras are very popular in Japan from my experience. Sony had once again a miniature train and a popular stage with several models to test their new cameras and lenses, though I noticed that while the crowd as compressed around the models, people were mostly shooting with their own cameras while some of Sony’s demo products were left sadly untouched on the side of the table. Meanwhile, Sigma had a huge booth this year, testimony of their success with their ART series. Here is a quick gallery of the show floor:

First look at all the upcoming Fujifilm XF lenses

While I could not make it to Photokina this year, I was still able to have a quick look at the XF lenses already on the Fuji roadmap, as the company also started to put them on display on their exhibition showroom in Tokyo Midtown at the same time as the German photoshow started.

The next lens that will be released by Fuji is the XF 50-140mm f2.8 R LM OIS WR. This lens should start shipping in Japan on the 30th of November (according to Amazon Japan), so we are getting pretty close to the launch and it is therefore already possible to try a close-to-final prototype. It is not allowed to save the images to an SD card though. At close to 1kg (995g for the purists), it is the heaviest of the XF lenses, and mounted on a X-T1 it makes the camera look tiny. Just like with any other 70-200mm (equivalent) f2.8 lens, you grab the barrel of the lens with your left hand to support the total weigh and that way you can find the right balance for the combo (I did not try, but obviously i would not recommend anyone to handhold the camera with both hands and let the mount support the weigh of the lens – once again, this is standard, not a Fuji specificity).
XF Lenses-3
I will review the image quality when i can play with a production version and transfer the files to my computer. For the moment I can only say that the images and bokeh area looked pleasing on the screen on the back of the camera. Auto-focusing using the center point was quick and accurate, which will enable Fuji to draw some advantageous charts on their marketing brochures. However, get out of the 9 focus points with phase detection, and you get a slower and more hesitating, just like with the other XF lenses. Hopefully the next X-camera will boast an expanded coverage of phase detection pixels… As far as manual focus is concern, in the short period of time with the lens it felt to me as if the focus ring was to far on the lens, compared to where you would put your left hand on the lens to get the best balance. However, in this position, you have access to the aperture ring with your thumb without having to do extend your fingers an unnatural way, which is more important for me as most of the time I would be using the auto-focus anyway.

The other lenses on the Fuji roadmap are also on display on the showroom. However, because their release date is still far away and the design is not 100% finalized they are for “eyes only” (some of them like the “super tele-photo zoom” are likely mockups anyway), but at least it gives a good idea of the relative sizes to expect. You can see below the XF 16mm f1.4 R, the XF 90mm f2 R and the “super tele-photo zoom”, and behind them in the back the XF 16-55mm f2.8 R WR zoom. As revealed by the roadmap released on the 24th of July, the latter lens is not stabilized. When i asked a Fuji representative why that was the case, he replied to me it was to preserve the image quality. I thought i misunderstood what he said since I am (very) far from fluent in Japanese, but i have now seen people getting the exact same answer to this question at Photokina, so indeed it was a compromise they had to make to balance image quality, price, size, weight, etc… As long as the lens is not officially announced, there is still a slight chance that it might change, but since this 16-55mm will be launched very early in 2015 i believe that the probability that they add image stabilization to this lens is very low. At which point i hope they would not release another version of the lens with stabilization a couple months later (unless they say it before anyone can buy the standard version) like they did when they release the unexpected APD version of the 56mm f1.2 prime… To be frank, I am not sure I will let myself be tempted by the 16-55mm without OIS, and I might prefer sticking to the 18-55mm f2.8-4 kit lens because of all those times when I will tell myself “what if I shoot some videos, I will need the OIS”. Although it is a kit lens it is quite a good performer and I find myself using it more often than not. Well, we’ll see the final version (and more importantly the price) of the 16-55mm f2.8 in due course.

XF Lenses

Another interesting thing from these mock-ups is that we got more information about the lens that Fuji has only been calling the “super tele-photo zoom” on its roadmap. According to the model that was exposed, the lens will in fact be called the XF 140-400mm f4-5.6 R LM OIS WR. The length of this lens actually looks pretty close to the one of the 50-140mm (however, note that the zoom does not look internal on the “super tele-photo zoom” while it is totally internal on the 50-140mm), but on the other hand it is much fatter, with a filter thread shown as 86mm (but my guess is that there will be a hole for drop-in filters). Anyway, keep in mind that the “super tele-photo zoom” is still very far away on the roadmap (not to mention that the release of several lenses was postponed compared to the first roadmaps), which means that all those specs are subject to change (as we’ve seen when the OIS was dropped from the 16-55mm).

XF Lenses-2

Personally, I am looking forward to the 50-140mm f2.8 and potentially the 90mm f2 (in APD version?). And you, what lens are you most waiting for?