My recent switch to Nikon Z full-frame camera has taken my thoughts off from Fujifilm cameras, but I wrote part of this text before the switch so I thought why not share it. This is a long term review of the X-H1.
I am a hobby photographer. I admit that technology and gear interests me at least as much as the process of photography. I have no real clear goals with photography. For me photography means mostly getting rid of the surroundings and other thoughts and I can concentrate, almost meditate, around the subjects and photo taking process. What I would like to photograph is tabletop still life, but building a home studio has been delayed because of the COVID. I have photographed and taken videos of my daughter riding a horse. Maybe that has been the biggest deciding factor to which gear I have at the moment.
Taking photos in dark maneges of a fast moving horse and having to do that quietly is maybe THE MOST CHALLENGING scenario you ever give your camera. Requiring a shutter speed of at least 1/500s, you certainly aren’t getting enough light to use low ISOs. I was constantly at 12800 ISO with the XF50-140 at F2.8. Also the camera HAS TO BE QUIET. Some, or actually quite many, horses do jump to the walls when you suddenly take a series of shots with a noisy camera. And still you need mechanical “noisy” shutter with moving subjects to avoid distorted images.
I bought my sample of the X-H1 as one of the first buyers in my country. I knew I wanted to get into the Fujifilm world but no other camera of their’s seemed to fit my hand. Having read rumors of the camera made me wait for this particular body. And I wasn’t disappointed with the wait.
Compared with the retro models the ergonomics of this model was clearly better. It had new high resolution viewfinder, and of course it had IBIS. That time Sony’s mirrorless cameras sounded like machine guns even without slapping mirrors, there were no choices available from Canon or Nikon and Fuji made a real winner package with X-H1. Having quiet mechanical shutter, high resolution no-black-out viewfinder, fast aperture lenses and very good ergonomics right out of the package, there were no other choice available, period.
Positive experiences with the camera
The camera was what I expected. It was quite fast in operation. It had usable autofocus speed and experience. It was quiet, very quiet compared to the competition. It felt high quality product with it’s excellent ergonomics, wonderfully made shutter button and sturdy body. And it gave at least partly a feeling of control of variables like aperture and ISO with dials.
The top display replaced the exposure compensation dial with very useful information and I have got used to having a top display during some twenty years of using different cameras. I really don’t see myself buying a camera without, if possible.
But even after the recent X-T4 having better IBIS the old X-H1 has one clear advantage, the ergonomics. I personally hope that Fuji would make more modern models at the level of X-T4 as the retro models just aren’t for my type of photographers. Having better handle, better located shutter button, stronger body and the top display there is no question this camera sets itself still above the others in Fuji X ecosystem. Only after the replacement, if one can expect a real replacement for X-H1 after seeing what Fuji did for the X-E -line, can we see a better camera from Fuji.
Using the camera was a breeze. I didn’t hate that I didn’t have exposure compensation dial on top of the camera as I could quickly compensate with the back thumb wheel. And, having set it so, just one press of the back thumb wheel and I could scroll through my film simulation settings with the same wheel. Very intuitive, and I miss this kind of finishing touches in my Nikon camera.
And the IBIS, wow. It really gave clear advantage over the bodies without one. I could use primes at night time getting at least one sharp photo out of three hand held. I have heard so many comments saying that with high shutter speeds you don’t need IBIS and the need for it is only marginal. Pure nonsense if you don’t have OIS in the lens. I do take a lot of photos of fast moving horses indoors and don’t need image stabilization there, but for any other purposes the IBIS is very useful to have and should be part of ANY Fuji cameras in the future.
Issues with the camera
Biggest, the really biggest issue I have experienced with the camera had nothing to do with the camera’s abilities or usability, or specs, so to say. The biggest issues I experienced from the very beginning and still did ’till I sold the camera, was the SD-card writer/reader’s faults. My camera got sudden lock-ups with different SD-cards. It really made me mad at first as I could not understand what caused these lock-ups. This was a common issue with X-H1’s and different cameraforums’ bright-heads told everyone that the problem was because the camera was too fast and it needed faster cards. Wrong. The fault was in the card-reader. It just purely didn’t work with SD-cards that had one row of contacts. Ok, the one’s that have two rows are faster cards, but it had nothing to do with the speed of the card but with the layout of the card’s contacs. Think about it, I use my slower old SD-cards succesfully with my over two years newer Nikon body. Either many many card readers were accidentally broken or it just wasn’t properly tested to work with older non-UHS SD-cards. After I acknowledged the problem I had no issues anymore, but when ever I introduced some older SD-card into the camera it just got error, even without firing the shutter. I believe Fuji didn’t test the camera properly and I believe it was a rush decision to get the camera out as the sad release of X-T3 with better specs right after the X-H1 required fast action to get “old tech” into sales before it. All this is purely speculation, of course, but I really believe I am right here.
The second biggest issue was the X-T3. I never have liked the “ergonomics” of X-T -series, or probably any other Fujifilm X-series camera models’. So I had never wanted to own any of them, other than this model which has good grip, top display, and sturdy body with quiet shutter and logically placed shutter button. No, X-T3 didn’t entice me at all. But X-T3 showed very fast that the X-H1 used old technology and it’s processor lacked power to drive all the camera’s functions, including autofocus system, at “modern” level, and that X-H1 has dated video specs even though it was supposed to be “the crown jewel” for video usage for Fuji ecosystem. To put this into perspective, I was happy with X-H1, it’s video capabilities and mostly with it’s autofocus, but one just cannot get over the fact that X-H1 was some ways outdated at the time of it’s release. And the age shows right at the moment as Fuji has released many many cheaper cameras with better specs.
Maybe my third “biggest” issue was the viewfinder rubber eyecup that got ripped away very easily. After buying the normal priced replacement, then some third party replacements, I gave up using the eyecup at all. It protrudes so much and as it is very grippy rubber it just got ripped off when I put the camera on my shoulder and my down jacket’s fabric “tangles” into the rubber. One single incident and you need a new one. A design error, or just incompatibility with real life scenarios?
Even though I have mentioned the quietness of the camera using mechanical shutter, there was an exception. The camera is quiet when photographing in landscape mode, but when you turn it into portrait mode the shutter is way louder. It actually sounds like the shutter would break this way and at first I really believed the shutter gets broken in use. But having fired the camera over 80.000 times it didn’t, it just isn’t quiet in portrait mode.
One possible future issue might be the fan. I never before thought that one would need a fan inside a camera to cool the processor, and this camera has one with all the possible negative effects the noise might bring along. That actually didn’t affect me, but I always feared that the fan someday starts to keep more noise or even stop working.
My usage of the camera included a lot of usage of the USB-port. And it got broken some months ago before selling it because of the heavy usage. This definitely should be addressed in the design.
Thoughts on the battery capacity
I acknowledged the small battery capacity and from the early days I adapted my camera use to get enough from even one battery. I bought right away a second battery and for the whole time of owning it I didn’t run out of batteries.
First, I never used the camera in boosted mode. Actually that is sad as there definitely would be room for more power with AF, viewfinder update (it sometimes got “stucked” but resolved with pressing halfway the shutter button) and writing on the card. I did not even have experience how much the boost mode affects the camera, but I still managed to get all my videos or high speed bursts in the normal mode.
Second, I kept the camera ‘on’ for the time I took photos and immediately switched it off after taking the photos.
Third point would be that I didn’t have preview on after the shot had been taken. I might have chimped the correct exposure or sharpness of the image every now and then, but otherwise I didn’t spend much time looking at the photos in-camera.
At the time I bought X-H1 I was aware that older X-T2s had quite useful viewfinder with very little blackout-time and that kept the “pace” with shooting. But I thought around 2MP viewfinders were past time and I wanted more pixels. It still seems that Fuji thinks it okay to sell 2MP viewfinder cameras (look at that modern X-S10 or even the X-T30 II!), but it really is not enough for a modern viewfinder. With X-H1 having 3+MP I knew it would not bother me so soon as if I had had a camera with lesser MP viewfinder.
The X-H1 viewfinder was quite fast and had little enough black-out time that it was very useful even when panning. The viewfinder was still quite small and this probably was my biggest reason I bought the full-frame Nikon with is gorgeous large viewfinder as my sight is not as good as it was when I was younger.
Aside of the megapixels and viewfinder size one important factor of the viewfinder is how natural the view is (how accurate the colors are and how good is the immersion compared to a optical viewfinder). Some Sony viewfinders showed totally wrong colors when I tested their cameras (might be some setup in the cameras that I tested in a reputable camera-store, but they could not correct the colors in the shop). Fuji on the other hand showed quite natural colors, but in the long run I have to say that the OLED viewfinder in X-H1 gives totally wrong impression of the contrast. You definitely cannot judge the final contrast through the viewfinder. And that kind of negates the idea of using film-simulation contrast settings in-camera, as I almost always found a need to adjust them afterwards.
Some additional experiences (probably user related)
I have to say that having those retro dials (aperture on the lens, shutter speed and ISO in the body) sounded cool. Like, “now I would be in control”. But when you combine these dials with quite complicated high-tech software for many other settings, one can get lost with what affects to your photo. Even the autofocus lever on the front of the camera sounds nice, and is nice for many situations, but when you forget what you did last time it might cause very long meditating moments to gather how to get your next “snap-shot”. I found myself wondering for example how I could not get the shot, why didn’t it focus on the subject, why was I not getting fast enough shutter speed etc. With my less than perfect near sight (I don’t need glasses for longer distances) I could not judge so well from the monitor if the photo “got right” or even in focus. This caused that I didn’t give the camera to my wife or daughter unless I made every effort to check the settings are “compatible” with the user and the scenario they wanted to photograph. And even if all the settings were there, one accidental turn of aperture ring on the lens ruined the whole setup. And that even happened to myself. You probably are getting my point at the moment? I definitely aren’t recommending the Fuji cameras to anyone who wants the camera make thinking on their behalf. This Nikon managed to do with their retro model Z-fc better as the settings can be overridden easily.
I think the X-H1 is a nice camera taking beautiful pictures with very good and useful IBIS and high end ergonomics. It is sad the line’s production is discontinued for the time being as Fuji does not, at the moment, offer any X-series camera body I could replace my camera with. The replacement for the X-H1 is said to emerge in the year 2022, and that is quite a long time without a good (from my viewpoint) body for the X-system. But even after the X-H2 appears next year I think Fuji is going to ask too much money for it compared to the competition and especially considering the prices full-frame -cameras now have. But I don’t doubt the X-H2 is going to be a high end camera with innovations that aren’t found elsewhere, just like the X-H1.