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83

There's a lot to like about this in spite of a few flaws.

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Image credit: Steve Dent / Engadget

Fujifilm X-H1 review: Beautiful photos, but lacking X-series allure

At $1,900, it has formidable competition like the Sony A7 III.

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    Image credit: Steve Dent / Engadget

    Fujifilm has an impressively loyal fan base for good reason. Its X-Series mirrorless APS-C cameras are compact, feature-packed, easy to use, produce excellent images, come with top-flight lenses and look great -- all at a reasonable price. So, when Fujifilm unveiled the flagship X-H1, there was excitement, but also consternation among Fujifilm fans.

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    from $1,899.00
    83
    Pros
    • Great RAW and JPEG image quality Sharp DCI 4K video with little moire or aliasing
    • Solid weather-resistant build
    • Good autofocus for both video and photos
    • 5-axis image stabilization works well for still and video shooting
    Cons
    • Big heavy body that Fujifilm fans might not like
    • Lacks exposure compensation dial
    • Autofocus doesn’t work well outside the phase-detect zone
    • Limited battery life
    • Video shooting times limited to 15 minutes
    • No built-in headphone jack

    Summary

    The X-H1 is Fujifilm’s most advanced camera, thanks to the brand new 5-axis stabilization, high-resolution EVF, quiet electronic front curtain shutter and DCI 4K video. However, it’s a lot bigger and heavier than other X-series cameras, which may give Fujifilm fans pause. At the same time, it’s not as good at video as the Panasonic GH5, and serious photographers may prefer similar priced, but more feature-rich offerings from Sony or Nikon. Nevertheless, the X-H1 offers stellar performance and consistently delivers excellent photos and video.

    The X-Series lineup is rich and deep, with a mirrorless rangefinder (the $1,700 X-Pro), the high-end $1,600 X-T2, $900 mid-range XT20, compact $900 mirrorless X-E3, $600 selfie-friendly X-A5 and the compact, fixed-lens X-100F. Then there is the $1,900 X-H1, which opens up a new category for video specialists and serious amateur or pro photographers.

    It's the company's most advanced mirrorless camera yet, packing in 5-axis stabilization, DCI 4K video, a new shutter and improved autofocus. But the X-H1 is also quite un-Fujifilm-like. It's much heavier than Fujifilm's previous top model, the X-T2, and while it has gained some advanced video functions, can't stand up to video-centric models like the Panasonic GH5s.

    As I learned while testing it for a week, the X-H1 is a powerful, relatively easy-to-use camera that takes great shots. But it suffers from an identity crisis: It may not lure users away from other brands, and at the same time, the high price and heavy weight may turn off Fujifilm fans. Luckily, it performs where it counts by producing great images.

    Body and handling

    The Fujifilm X-H1 is pretty large for an APS-C sensor camera. It weighs a good 30 percent more than the X-T2, and is even heavier than Sony's full-frame A7R III. It's nearly as heavy as some small DSLR's. The problem is that many shooters use Fujifilm cameras specifically because they're not clunky DSLRs.

    Gallery: Fujifilm X-H1 review | 21 Photos

    To be fair, part of the reason for that is the thicker, scratch-resistant magnesium body that makes it more weather- and dust-resistant. The new, five-axis in-body stabilization also adds weight, and it's got a much larger grip, another nod to working photographers that wield large, heavy lenses. That does help with handling, as unlike the X-T2, you can haul the X-H1 around by the grip with little fear of dropping it.

    The electronic viewfinder (EVF) on the X-H1 is the best you can get on any APS-C sensor camera. It's incredibly responsive, activating in a third of the time as the one on the X-T2 when you raise it to your eye. It's also bulkier than on other Fujifilm models, though.

    Fujifilm has cloned the top dual-dials from the X-T2, and they're a pleasure to use on the X-H1 and feel incredibly solid. On the left, the upper dial controls ISO, and the lower one lets you change shooting settings (continuous, single, etc.). On the right, you can set shutter speed on the upper dial and autofocus settings (zone, single-point, tracking, etc.) on the lower one.

    There's no longer a top dial for exposure compensation like on the X-T2. That has been replaced by an LCD display, like the one on Fujifilm's medium-format GFX-50S, so exposure compensation is now controlled via a button and dial combo. The LCD is handy to see key settings at a glance, but you can see that info on the rear display and I'd rather have the exposure compensation dial back, to be honest.

    The X-H1 has a new, hair-trigger shutter that I still hadn't quite figured out when I gave the loaner back to Fujifilm. It was easy to set it off by accident, especially when half-pressing for focus, so I have a lot of pictures of the ground (protip: use the back focus button). I'm sure I'd get used to it with time. Otherwise, handling is by and large the same as other Fujifilm models, apart from a few oddities. The "Q" button to change common settings is located in a slightly different, more awkward-to-reach spot, for instance.

    Performance

    The larger body and odd handling might not please all Fujifilm fans. Although the in-body stabilization does add bulk to the camera, it really does work well, however. To best sample the new feature, I requested a test lens (the 35mm f/1.4) without any built-in stabilization.

    For still photography, I was able to get sharp shots with shutter speeds as low as 1/8th to 1/15th of a second or so. Without a stabilized body, I wouldn't usually shoot below 1/30th, so this really helps out in low light situations. It worked just as well for video, smoothing out small movements like handshakes better than other models, including Sony's A7R III. Unfortunately, unlike most other cameras with built-in 5-axis in-body stabilization (IBS), you can't assign the setting to a button but have to scroll through menus to turn it on and off.

    The electronic front curtain shutter -- which starts the photo electronically and ends it with the mechanical shutter (after the exposure is complete) -- is another cool new feature. There's no EVF blackout while shooting with it at up to 1/8000th of a second, and a built-in shock absorber prevents image-blurring vibrations. That makes it a lot quieter than the X-T2, but purists still get a light clicking sound. If you'd rather do things the traditional way, the X-H1 also has a mechanical shutter (1/8000th max), and a silent electronic shutter (1/32,000th).

    The hybrid autofocus system, with both phase- and contrast-detection, is nearly identical to the one on the X-T2. However, Fujifilm did tweak its algorithms to increase the speed and improve low-light performance. There are five AF-C presets accessible by the lower-left dial, depending on whether you want to track faces and static subjects or action scenes. You can also fine-tune each of those settings depending on the situation.

    For moving subjects, like our bull terrier dog who loves to randomly tear around the yard, I found that focus-tracking worked best when I kept him within the phase-detect pixel area. Outside of that, it tended to lose focus.

    On most subjects, though, the AF system was rock solid: At the end of the day I had very few out-of-focus shots, even when I shot quickly. While the X-H1 has Fujifilm's best autofocus to date, it's not quite as good as the systems on comparably priced Sony and Nikon cameras. The TTL 256-zone metering is also excellent, but in low light, white balance tends to be on the blue side.

    As for shooting speeds, the X-H1 can only handle short bursts of 31 RAW frames when shooting at its maximum 8 fps speed with the mechanical shutter. In electronic shutter mode, it can handle 14 fps for 27 RAW frames before the buffer fills (it has dual high-speed UHS-II card slots, so that helps). That's not too bad for its intended market, but Sony's A7R III, which has double the resolution, can handle 78 RAW frames at 10 fps.

    Gallery: Fujifilm X-H1 sample images | 36 Photos

    The X-H1 offers NFC, WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity, letting you share photos easily on social media. You can also remotely control the camera for video or photos using a smartphone, but as with other camera makers, Fujifilm's Camera Remote app is pretty clunky.

    The 3.69 million dot OLED EVF gave me a beautiful-looking, bright and rock-solid image even though I wear eyeglasses. As mentioned, it activates nearly instantly when you raise it to your eye, which is ideal for quick street shooting, for instance. The X-H1 has a touchscreen like the X-T20, but it can do more with it. It works as a focus touchpad, and you can use it to control the Q menu and change movie settings while shooting to avoid the dials, which can bump the camera and make noise.

    The X-H1 uses the same battery as the X-T2, but that big EVF and image stabilizer eat more into its life, limiting shots to 310 compared to 340 for the X-T2. That reduces weight, but it's not great compared to DSLRs, and the battery drains particularly quickly when filming. If you need more endurance, consider buying the VPB-XH1 battery grip or investing in a some spare batteries, which are actually pretty cheap. On top of that, you can charge the battery directly via the USB-C port or with the included external charger, giving you plenty of options on the road.

    Image Quality

    Image quality is a big selling point of X-series cameras and the X-H1 doesn't disappoint. Color accuracy is beyond reproach, detail is excellent, and the X-trans sensor significantly reduces aliasing artifacts common to CMOS sensors. If you shoot JPEGs, Fujifilm has one of the best engines out there, with fine detail and rich colors. Fujifilm also provides artistic JPEG color modes inspired by its analog film types like Provia, Velvia and Sepia that are non-cheesy and fun to shoot with.

    The X-H1 does not have the crazy low-light capability as full-frame cameras from Sony and Nikon. However, it handles noise better than most APS-C cameras, cannily sharpening detail and killing noise when appropriate. Images at up to 3,200 ISO are virtually free of grain, and only at ISOs around 6,400 or even 12,800 did I notice any noise or desaturated colors. Dynamic range is also superb, as I was able to find invisible detail in highlights and shadows when shooting RAW, again without seeing excessive noise.

    Video

    With the X-H1, Fujifilm reached has greatly elevated its video capability. The camera is much more capable than ever with DCI 4K resolution (4,096 x 2,160), a 200 Mbps bit rate that's twice that of the X-T2, and a nearly full sensor readout with super-sampling. It also offers several modes for video autofocus, which I found worked well, but weren't as smooth as Sony's A7R III, for instance. Continuous shooting is limited to 15 minutes in DCI 4K or Ultra HD modes, but you can double that with the optional power booster grip.

    Fujifilm also launched a two new lightweight and compact Fujinon Cine lenses for videographers, the MKX 18-55mm T.29 and MKX 50-135 T2.9 models. While they'll work just fine with any X-series camera, Fujifilm said they'll "fit like a glove" with the X-H1. Most importantly, they show that Fujifilm is committed to video, and likely to release more interesting cinema products down the road.

    To maximize dynamic range, Fujifilm's F-Log setting now works with internal recording, and new Eterna video profiles produce lovely results straight out of the camera. Internal recording is done with a limited 4:2:0 color gamut, but you can record externally from the HDMI port at 4:2:2 8-bit. It has a 3.5mm microphone input, but there's no headphone jack unless you buy the battery grip.

    The X-H1 produces sharp, rich video with little aliasing and artifacts. But the GH5 and the slightly more expensive GH5s also offer DCI video (the de facto standard of the film and video production industry), but at higher bit rates with 10-bit, 4:2:2 quality. That provides more dynamic range and color information for later tweaking. The A7 III, meanwhile, lacks DCI and tops out at 100Mbps, but offers a full-frame, 4K sensor readout and has a superior autofocus system.

    Wrap-up

    The X-H1 is Fujifilm's most technically advanced mirrorless camera yet and makes it easier than ever to produce stellar images. The new 5-axis stabilization works very well to reduce blurry shots, and the EVF is simply the best you can find on an APS-C camera. The DCI 4K and improved video quality make the X-H1 feasible to use as a video production tool, as well.

    Those features have made the camera bigger and a bit more awkward, though. As such, the X-H1 loses some of the Fujifilm charm. A lot of X-Series cameras have been sold because of their compact size, mechanical dials and good looks. The $1,900 price tag isn't a lot more than the $1,700 X-Pro 2 or $1,600 X-T2, but it's still a lot for an APS-C camera and pushes the X-H1 into professional territory.

    The problem with that is that pro or serious amateurs who shoot video might be more tempted by the $2,000 Panasonic GH5, with its 10-bit video quality and richer feature set. Meanwhile, shooters who do both video and stills will look longingly at the $2,000 Sony A7 III's full-frame sensor, superior autofocus and excellent video. Finally, still photographers might be more inclined to pick Nikon's D500, which has a superior 153-point hybrid AF, 10 fps shooting speed, much larger 200-shot buffer and 1,240-shot battery life.

    For the X-H2 or whatever the next model is, Fujifilm ought to see if it can get the body size down while keeping the existing features and improving performance. It should try to match Panasonic by offering 10-bit, internally-recorded 4:2:2 video, as it doesn't have a professional camcorder lineup to cannibalize.

    Despite those issues, the Fujifilm X-H1 does excel where it counts with solid performance and consistently great images and video, and you won't be disappointed if you buy one -- as long as you know what to expect.

    Update: The article originally said that the X-H1 has a touchscreen like the X-T2, but it's the X-T20 that has a touchscreen -- the X-T2 has no touch functionality.

    Steve should have known that civil engineering was not for him when he spent most of his time at university monkeying with his 8086 clone PC. Although he graduated, a lifelong obsession of wanting the Solitaire win animation to go faster had begun. Always seeking a gadget fix, he dabbles in photography, video, 3D animation and is a licensed private pilot. He followed l'amour de sa vie from Vancouver, BC, to France and now lives in Paris.

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