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

Fujifilm X RAW STUDIO: does it suck? (Spoiler: yes it sucks)

Important disclaimer:I’ll go straight to the point, in my humble the X RAW STUDIO sucks real bad… HOWEVER, keep in mind that it is a FREE software, so see no bitterness/angriness/saltiness or anything of the likes in what follows. This post is just a mix of facts on the current state of the software and thoughts on what could be done to make it better. Since it is a free software, it’s still unbeatable in terms of value for money even though it is, as far as I am concerned, unusable in a workflow in its current state.

What software should I use to retouch my X-Trans pictures? How can I easily recreate the look of the various film simulations from the RAW file? For a long time, these questions have haunted users who would jump into the Fujifilm’s ship. Not so much nowadays I feel, as the issue has now been well documented and many viable options are now available. As far as I am concerned, nowadays I tend to use the following workflow:

  • Lightroom to import and organize my images
  • Drag and drop the image I want to process directly from Lightroom onto the Iridient icon
  • Start the developing process in Iridient by selecting one of the film simulation preset, then a few tweaks to taste
  • Easily re-import back the image into Lightroom as a TIFF via the option of the saving menu in Iridient
  • Local brushes and final touches such as Vignette on the TIFF file in Lightroom

If it sounds complicated to you, fear not for it isn’t. However wouldn’t be awesome if you could easily and exactly re-obtain the wonderful Fujifilm film simulations from your RAW files? Here comes the X RAW STUDIO, a free software offered by Fujifilm seemingly to fill this need…

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What is the X RAW STUDIO?

The X RAW STUDIO is a software that enables you to use the RAW processor on your compatible Fujifilm camera (at the moment the GFX 50 S, X-T2, X-Pro2 and X100F) to convert your Fujifilm RAW files at high speed, with exactly the same film simulations and settings possibilities that you would have when doing it via the menu in-camera. In a nutshell. Instead of selecting the settings on the back of your camera, you select them via the software’s interface on your computer screen… but the conversion is still ultimately done by the processor of your camera, which means that to use the software you need to connect the camera to your computer, even if you have already imported your RAW files on your computer’s hard drive or an external drive. As you are using the processing engine of the camera, you get access to the same options as via the menu, no more, no less. On the plus side, you can save several profiles as presets and do some batch processing. Since your camera is in charge of generating the output file, the result you get with the software is exactly the same as in-camera.

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What it is NOT

Maybe I am hammering a point I already made clear, but the one thing to understand to avoid unnecessary frustration (real frustration will come later) is that the X RAW STUDIO is not a RAW conversion software designed to compete with Lightroom, CaptureOne, OnOne, Iridient, etc… it is designed to do one job and one job only: give you the possibility to use your camera processing engine via a computer interface rather than from the camera menu. Don’t expect to be using the X RAW STUDIO to do a full post-processing workflow, it is NOT the point of the software. The point is to get your camera to convert as quickly as possible Fujifilm RAW files into output files using the same list of settings and associated values (e.g. you can choose between -1, 0, 1, 2… don’t expect any slider to adjust “to taste”) that you can find in the camera menu. Also, don’t expect to export your X-T2 files into .TIFF files. Since the X-T2 exports JPEG, you only have this option available. On the other hand the GFX can export in .TIFF, so if you plug your GFX to your computer and try to export a GFX file, the .TIFF option is this time available.

Why do I need to connect my camera to my computer?

The software is just an interface, the conversion from RAW is still performed by the processor of the camera, hence the camera needs to be connected to your computer. Sounds cumbersome? Well, it is, and as far as I know there is no cable in the box (at least for the X-T2 and X-Pro2), so why would Fujifilm do that… let’s look at the answer from 2 different types of people:

  1. The engineer: “The chip inside your camera has been specifically designed to perform this task, hence it is the fastest and most efficient way to do it, this is beautiful!”
  2. Any other photographer: “I have no idea. I wish I did not need to connect my camera with an additional wire to my computer, I’m sure my computer’s processor can handle this task fast enough compared to my average usage”

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Do little but do it well?

The Fujifilm X RAW STUDIO was designed to do one very specific (niche?) task, which could be a very good if that it means that what it does it does it very well.

Unfortunately, I don’t think that is the case. When it works, it works well, however during my own experience i had the impression to be using a software in beta stage (if not alpha), based on performance issues and UI shenanigans.

Performance and stability issues

The software crashed 2 times on me during the first 15min of usage, and another time when I got to 30min of usage. That’s not the best way to be introduced to a new software. However, it’s not like you are writing a document or doing a complex retouching with multiple layers and suddenly losing all your work, so I could still have looked beyond this inconvenience. Unfortunately, things just continue to go downhill from here.

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Even though you though you have to plus your camera to the computer, it does not mean that you are reading the images on the memory card inside your camera. You actually select the folder where your store your images on your hard drive (does not matter whether internal or external), and the software will read the folder. Now here is the thing, while I organize my pictures in collections in Lightroom and attach keywords to them to find them easily at a software level, at the files level I import them on my computer by Year/Month. This means that the folders I have on my hard drive contain on average around 5,000 images. This is a big problem when using the X RAW STUDIO, because when you select a folder with that many pictures the software suffers from a panic attack and is never able to load previews in the filmstrip at the bottom of the window. Switch folders to a smaller one, and suddenly a couple pictures of the first folder appear in the filmstrip but none of the newly selected folder. The kind of things that can drive you crazy if you start switching from one folder to another and again and again… Sometimes, when all the stars are aligned, it suddenly works. In any case, if you are using folders with a lot of pictures, good luck to you…

Unfortunately there are even more issues. Let’s say you manage to select an image, chose a profile and exported it. And that for the sake of comparison you try to select a different film simulation on the same image you already exported. Well, you just threw your computer into never ending limbo. If you want to re-edit an image you just exported the safe way is to first select a different image and then select back the image you want to re-edit. Of course selecting an image takes longer than it should, so again you are wasting some time.

Weird UI choices

Let’s say that somehow you were luckily spared from all these performance and stability bugs, or that you have a lot of time to lose and decide to use the software anyway. You now have to deal with weird UI choices. The biggest problem I have with the UI is that you can only select a picture by browsing through the filmstrip at the bottom of the window. If you have a lot of pictures within the folder you have selected, in the best case it’s a nightmare to find the picture you want, and in the worst case it’s simply mission impossible. A grid view would go a long way improving the UI.

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Among the other issues with the UI, there are some weird ones, such as the info on the file not showing at what ISO the image was taken. I don’t understand why they would tell you every other setting but not the ISO.

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Conclusion

The main positive feature of the Fujifilm X RAW STUDIO is that it is free. The rest of the experience is a sum of bugs, crashes and cumbersome wires to connect your camera to your computer. I would have been much more understanding if Fujifilm had come out and say this is a beta (if not alpha) version that will be refined before a final version is released. Then it would have made sense. But right now, I regret to say that I don’t understand how Fujifilm could value so little the time of their everyday users to have them go through such a terrible experience without any sort of warning (something along the lines of “Hey guys, this is a very rough beta of something we are working on, lots of bugs and instability issues but if you have time to test it we’d like to hear your feedback” would have clearly been necessary). Hopefully, the X RAW STUDIO get some Kaizen love of its own in the near future, but in the meantime consider yourself warned…

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.

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):