• Brian Wells

[Gear] A week with the X-H1

When the X-H1 was released, it was billed as the flagship X series camera and marketed as a camera that was designed for the professional.

Recently it has come to my attention that my old friend, my Fuji X-T1, was due for retirement. It started to show it’s age, both cosmetically and mechanically. Sometimes when the camera would go to sleep, the only way I could wake it up was by turning the power switch off and back on. Increasingly, I’d have to remove the grip and pull the battery from the body and reassemble it to get it to turn back on.

Being a photojournalist and working in fast-paced environments, it should be evident why this was a problem for me.

After doing my research, I narrowed it down between the X-T2 and the X-H1. The two cameras are nearly identical in specs, but there were several features that made me lean towards the latter. Firstly, I really liked the idea of a larger grip. In my profession we’ve been focusing on video lately, which is something I’ve been wanting to improve in my personal work as well. Lastly, I was really drawn to the top screen. It’s one of those features I’ve never realized I needed until I had one.

So with that, it was decided. I ordered a used X-H1 from KEH.com. The camera arrived several days later and even though it was used, it shows absolutely no wear whatsoever.

The insides

I won’t go into detail about the guts of the camera, since they’re available on a million other review sites. I will just say that it has Fuji’s 24.3 megapixel X-Trans III APS-C sensor, in-body image stabilization, a 3-inch tilting touchscreen display. It can shoot up to 8fps using the mechanical shutter, or 14fps with the electronic shutter. When using the battery grip (sold separately), the mechanical shutter is pushed to 11fps.

When it comes to video, the X-H1 is capable of 4K and Cinema 4K up to 60fps.

Two changes made to the X-H1 is the addition of a screen on the top of the body in place of the exposure compensation dial, and the addition of a larger grip.

The outsides

Looking around the camera, I found the ergonomics to be fine. As I said earlier I like the larger grip, and the top-down screen that was installed where the exposure comp. dial used to be. It was a feature I rarely used on my X-T1 (it was actually locked down with gaffer tape) so I won’t miss it. The front and rear command dials are easy to find as well. In addition, the af-on button is much easier to find on this camera than on my X-T1.

But I will say that on the top-down screen, the meter is shown using the exposure compensation icon and a value next to it. When I first started using the camera this confused me, making me think it was on some kind of auto exposure comp (I didn’t get the manual with the camera, since it was used). It didn’t take me long to figure it out, but it was a bit confusing at first.

Secondly, the added focus point selection joystick is a bit hard to use. First, to unlock it, you have to click it. Then, the sensitivity of it throws me off. Sometimes it feels like I push it and it won’t move, while other times it’ll jump across the entire field with the same pressure.

First impressions

To my surprise, the battery arrived fully charged. I loaded it into the camera and set to work on configuring the custom buttons. Satisfied with my configuration I set the camera down for a while and worked on unpacking myself (I’d just gotten back from several days in New York).

When I went to power the camera back on, I was met with the initialization menus again. I set the date and time, skipped setting up my cell phone connection, and dove back into the menus. All of my custom settings had been lost. Some Google research said this was a common issue with some of the earlier firmware, so I gave it an update and it seems fine since (knock on wood).

I figured my first assignment with the camera would be a good way for me to really get a feel for its performance. I was assigned to photograph basketball in a high school gymnasium with terrible, terrible lighting. As an added bonus, the team played more like college kids than high schoolers. I put my settings around ISO 6400 and 1/500 and went to work.

While photographing the game, one of the first things I noticed was the shutter. This brings me to my next issue with the camera -- one that is admittedly a little nitpicky. It’s incredibly quiet, which is great - but the actuation of the button feels very soft, and the actual shutter actuation doesn’t have that satisfying crunch my X-T1 had, or the nice slap of my Nikon D750. Fuji calls this their “feather-touch” shutter.

But on the other hand, I noticed how much faster and accurate the autofocus was over my X-T1. The X-H1 uses a hybrid autofocus system that has 91 points on a 13x7 grid, which is behind the new X-T3. At the end of the game, I was ending up with more motion blur in my photos than missed focus.

My other big complaint about this camera is that the battery life sucks. There’s no way around it, it’s terrible. It wasn’t great on my X-T1 either, but it seems significantly worse on the X-H1. The X-H1 uses Fuji’s new NP-W126S battery, which is supposed to dissipate heat better, which would come in handy when you're using more power-hungry features such as 4K recording. I’m struggling to make it through an entire basketball game on a fully charged battery (around 200 images).

Yesterday morning I was doing a project on a miniature horse farm. I was doing both photos and some short B-roll clips (around 15-20 seconds each). My battery was dead before I was even at 150 images. I swapped in one of the older batteries from my X-T1, and it died in about 100 photos. The camera gives you a warning about decreased battery life when you use these so I didn’t have high hopes regardless.

In the X-H1’s defense, we were working in a barn in temperatures hovering around 10 degrees, which I’m sure wasn’t doing us any favors.

The X-H1 with Fujinon XF10-24mm F4 R OIS attached

The images

I’m sure this is what most people are looking for in this review.

Overall, the X-H1 has pretty excellent image quality. The colors are great and the dynamic range is fantastic. Even the JPEG’s that come out of this camera are fantastic, which is handy if you’re using the body’s available BlueTooth or WiFi options to send cameras to your phone to email to an editor (guilty).

As I said in the previous section, my complaint does fall into low light and high ISO performance. And even at that, it really isn’t terrible. The high ISO performance is leaps and bounds ahead of my X-T1, but it still isn’t quite on the same level as my D750. When using comparable settings, the D750 appears to have significantly less grain. The X-H1 also seems to lose a bit of detail in the shadows. I’m not going to hold much against the camera on this mark though, because nothing looks particularly pretty at ISO 6400, in my opinion, and it didn’t take much to make the images useable.

Besides, it doesn’t make much sense to compare these two cameras (even though I continue to do so), as one is a full-frame system and the other is an APS-C mirrorless.

I’ve since photographed several more basketball games at lower ISO’s (It’s playoff season) and I’ve been happier with the grain. I don’t think I’d ever print anything taken above a 3200 ISO, but it looks fine enough for web.

Anyways, here’s a few sample images I’ve taken with the X-H1 during my first week of ownership.

ISO 6400, 1/500, f/4. Photographed on assignment for The Times Herald.

ISO 4000, 1/500, f/2.8. Photographed on assignment for The Times Herald.

ISO 200, f/5.6, 1/640. Photographed on assignment for The Times Herald.

ISO 200, 1/1600, f/5.6. Photographed on assignment for The Times Herald.

To learn more about the Saving Grace Miniature Horse Rescue, click here.

I’ve only done one video assignment with it, which I haven’t even edited yet, so I don’t know what there is to say about it yet. Once I’ve done more, I’ll likely write a separate review for it.

Overall impressions

Overall, I think I’m okay with this camera. Even if I wasn’t, I’m stubborn and I paid for it so I’d be making myself like it, or I’d turn around and sell it and buy something else. But right now, I don’t have plans to do either of these.

Does it have its drawbacks? Sure, it does. The battery life is terrible, which I guess might be fixed by a grip, but right now I don’t own one so I can’t say for sure. The controls will take some getting used to, but I also don’t hate them. It has a lot of nice upgrades and features that have been added to the X-series since my X-T1, but some of these are found on some of the other bodies, too.

In the end, I think this was definitely a nice move from my X-T1.

My final thought on the camera. When the X-H1 was released, it was billed as the flagship X series camera and marketed as a camera that was designed for the professional, but weren’t the X Pro 2, X-T1 and GFX50s already?

All images (C) Brian Wells and The Times Herald 2019. All rights reserved.

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