Fujifilm X-H1 Field Test Part II

Putting the X-H1's improved autofocus and performance to the test

by Jeremy Gray | Posted 04/10/2018

Recap of Field Test Part I

In my first Fujifilm X-H1 Field Test, I discussed the new camera's design and its overall handling before diving into its image quality. If you haven't yet read Part I, head over there now. To recap, the camera is my favorite X Series camera to use in the field due to its revised design and ergonomics. However, the internals of the camera aren't as fresh and exciting, as the X-H1 uses the same imaging pipeline as the X-Pro2 and X-T2, which produces good, but not groundbreaking, image quality.

In this second Field Test, I will be discussing the X-H1's shooting experience, modes, Film Simulations, wireless functionality, autofocus and performance.

XF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR: 400mm (600mm eq.), f/5.6, 1/500s, ISO 640
This image has been cropped. Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image.

Shooting Experience

The Fujifilm X-H1 offers a pleasing overall shooting experience, thanks in part to the redesigned and very nice, ergonomic body, but I am also a big fan of the overall user experience with the camera. If you are unfamiliar with Fujifilm X Series cameras, they typically rely upon a combination of camera dials and dials on the lenses for setting the shooting mode rather than using a simple PASM mode dial. For example, to shoot in manual mode on the X-H1, you can set the shutter speed dial to a specific exposure time or you can set it to "T" and dial in a manual shutter speed using a command dial. You then set aperture using a dedicated dial on the lens itself or by using a separate command dial. This method of working with a specific shutter speed dial and then an aperture ring on a lens is distinct in this day and age, and I find it to be an enjoyable way to shoot.

Moving on to metering, the X-H1 does a pretty good job in many lighting conditions, although I have found it -- and other Fujifilm cameras -- to come up a bit short with its low-light metering, particularly with respect to auto white balance. The X-H1 tends to underexpose and produce cooler images in dim light. Fortunately, it's quite consistent, so you can predictably rely upon exposure compensation, which is accessed by a dedicated exposure compensation button on the top of the camera, right near the shutter release.

XF 10-24mm f/4 R OIS: 10mm (15mm eq.), f/4.0, 8s, ISO 200, +1.33EV
Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image.
While the scene needed +1.33 exposure compensation (+1 would have likely worked okay too) the X-H1 didn't do a great job with the white balance in the dim scene.

Accessible via a dedicated button, the Quick Menu (Q Menu) is very useful when shooting. The menu, which is touch-friendly, has sixteen rectangular panels that can be customized and changed both in terms of order and content. The default arrangement works quite well and includes: custom setting, AF mode, dynamic range, white balance, noise reduction, image size, image quality, film simulation, highlight tone, shadow tone, color, sharpness, self-timer, face/eye detection, flash function and EVF/LCD brightness. Some of the other items you can put in the Q Menu include mic level adjustments, shutter type, MF assist, flash function setting, AF-C custom setting and much more.

XF 10-24mm f/4 R OIS: 10mm (15mm eq.), f/7.1, 1/500s, ISO 200
In-camera panorama. Click for full-size image.
The X-H1's in-camera panorama mode is easy to use and works fairly well, although you can see some evidence of stitching if you look near the sun in the sky.

Film Simulations: New Film Simulation is meant for video but the overall suite remains excellent

Film Simulations are one of my favorite features of Fujifilm cameras. While not wholly different from something like a picture style or some other image quality profile in non-Fuji cameras, there seems to be a special quality to the implementation of Film Simulation in Fujifilm cameras. The X-H1 includes the current standard assortment: Provia, Velvia, Astia, Classic Chrome, PRO Neg. Hi, PRO Neg. Std, Acros, Monochrome and Sepia with a new addition, Eterna/Cinema, which as is alluded to by its name, is aimed at video. Eterna includes subdued colors and deep shadows, and rather than enhancing the standard memory colors, such as blue and green, it makes them less saturated and more natural, while most cameras tend to do the opposite.

Wireless

The X-H1 includes built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity. However, I could not get the Bluetooth to work with my iPhone X and the Fujifilm iOS app. I'm not sure if it was user error or something wrong with the app or camera, but in any case, I could not get the issue sorted out before I needed to return the camera. Nonetheless, I was able to connect over Wi-Fi and the functionality was fine, but not overly impressive.

As is standard with connected Fujifilm cameras, the app offers remote transfer and remote capture options. The remote capture functionality is okay provided that you have the camera in the correct shooting mode before you connect the camera. Once connected, you must disconnect for the app to recognize any changes you make on the camera itself. Fortunately, you can control a fair bit through the app itself, including ISO, Film Simulation, white balance, flash mode, self-timer, shutter speed, aperture and more.

The X-H1's wireless functionality is serviceable, but the live view quality and overall list of features is not particularly impressive.

The touch autofocus proved somewhat sluggish, requiring a second or two to move once you tapped the display, and the live view quality itself is not excellent, even when the camera was only a few feet away from my connected device. Overall, the connectivity features are good but not outstanding.

Autofocus: Same overall system, but revisions lead to improved performance

XF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR: 400mm (600mm eq.), f/5.6, 1/500s, ISO 1250
This image has been cropped. Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image.

While the hybrid phase/contrast detect autofocus system in the X-H1 is basically the same as the one found in the X-T2, including the same total number of autofocus points (325) and zone focusing areas (91), there are important improvements to overall performance.

Firstly, the X-H1 has an improved low-light limit for phase detect autofocus. In fact, it's said to be 1.5 stops better than the X-T2. I can safely say that the X-H1's low-light autofocus is the best of any Fujifilm camera I've used, and it's noticeably faster and more accurate in dim lighting conditions. Further, the autofocus algorithms have been improved for better continuous autofocus performance and autofocus accuracy while zooming a lens. When used with the 100-400mm telephoto zoom, the X-H1 was excellent in not only finding focus, but maintaining it as the subject moved or I zoomed the lens.

While I was unable to test it, the X-H1 also has an improved minimum usable aperture, which has gone from f/8 to f/11, meaning that it can be used with the 100-400mm lens even with a 2x teleconverter.

XF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR: 400mm (600mm eq.), f/5.6, 1/500s, ISO 2000
This image has been cropped. Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image.
XF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR: 400mm (600mm eq.), f/5.6, 1/500s, ISO 2000
100% crop from the above image. Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image.
Not only is the high ISO image quality pretty good here, the X-H1's ability to focus accurately on a small portion of an already small subject is quite impressive. The scene was made more challenging by the snowfall, but that didn't slow the X-H1 down at all.

When I had the chance to talk to the product manager for the X-H1, I was told that the X-H1 performed better in internal testing with respect to focus success rate than the X-T2. It showed particular improvement in low-light autofocus testing. I certainly found this to be the case in my own time with the camera. This is due not only to improved algorithms, but also due to changes in how the camera reads and processes focusing information from phase-detect pixels. Whereas the X-T2 reads from the three different types of pixels (horizontal, vertical and independent) in different orders depending upon the situation, the X-H1 gathers and uses information from the three channels concurrently, leading to better performance in low contrast and low light situations and also when the subject features fine textures. With respect to the latter situation, the X-H1 did very well when focusing on birds, whose feathers, of course, feature very fine textures.

The X-H1 also offers Face Detection and Eye Autofocus and even lets you select between the left and right eye. In my experience, the X-H1 came up a bit short here, at least when compared to high-end Sony mirrorless cameras. The Face Detection was okay, although it did tend to focus on the nose, and the Eye Detect was spotty during stills shooting. I don't think I'd rely upon this mode for critical applications or when using a lens with a shallow depth of field.

XF 56mm f/1.2 R APD: f/1.2, 1/250s, ISO 320
Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image.
The Face Detect AF and Eye AF features on the X-H1 work fairly well, but they aren't as fast or as consistent as using a small single point and keeping it over your subject's eye.

A usability feature that is much better in the real world, however, is the autofocus joystick control. This joystick works really well at offering quick, direct access to autofocus points and zones. It's nice to be able to control the autofocus area using a dedicated control.

Overall, the X-H1 certainly delivers the promised improved autofocus performance, particularly when shooting in low-light situations. I was impressed with the camera's AF joystick control, and its overall ability to focus quickly and accurately.

Performance

Driven by its X-Processor Pro image processor, the X-H1 delivers good performance that is comparable to that of the X-T2. The X-H1 can shoot at up to 14 frames per second when using its electronic shutter and 8 frames per second when using the mechanical shutter. The electronic shutter tops out at 1/32,000s, and the mechanical shutter goes to a still-impressive (and more typical) 1/8,000s.

XF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR: 400mm (600mm eq.), f/5.6, 1/500s, ISO 320
This image has been modified. Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image.

The X-H1 feels snappy in real-world use, and its buffer depths proved sufficient for my shooting, although some sports or wildlife photographers may find the depths a bit lacking. The X-H1's buffer is rated for 80, 31 and 26 frames when using the mechanical shutter to record JPEG, lossless compressed RAW and uncompressed RAW images, respectively.

An area of some weakness for the X-H1, at least when it isn't paired with the optional Vertical Power Booster Grip, is battery life. With a single battery, the X-H1 is rated for around 310 shots, and you will certainly want an extra battery for any extended shooting. The grip doesn't just add two batteries and increase battery life to around 900 frames, it also increases the continuous shooting speeds to 11 fps when using the mechanical shutter -- provided you enable "Boost" mode on the battery grip. (Note: you can shoot at 11 fps without the grip if you switch to electronic shutter.) Considering these two positives, as I mentioned in my first Field Test, the X-H1 kit with the vertical grip and pair of extra batteries is well worth the price of admission. The X-H1 is designed to provide the best performance in the X Series lineup, so why not make it be even better with the grip?

Field Test Part II Summary

The Fujifilm X-H1 is a fast and capable flagship camera

What I like so far:

  • Excellent Film Simulations
  • Improved low-light autofocus speed and accuracy
  • Impressive continuous shooting speeds
  • "Boost" mode is great all-around
XF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR: 400mm (600mm eq.), f/5.6, 1/500s, ISO 640
This image has been cropped. Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image.

What I don't like so far:

  • Eye AF isn't very fast
  • Buffer depths are not quite as good as some competitors

Using the Fujifilm X-H1 in the real world is an enjoyable experience. The camera provides a good user experience, a nice menu design and plenty of shooting modes. Further, the camera has very good autofocus performance and shooting speeds. While the camera's buffer depth is not amazing, its overall speed and responsiveness is certainly impressive. Add in Fujifilm's excellent Film Simulation modes and you have yourself a high-performance camera that is versatile and fun to use.

In my final upcoming Field Test, I will be discussing the camera's video features and performance before wrapping up with my overall thoughts on the X-H1.



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