Fujifilm X-H1 Hands-On -- Deep dive into the new features

We had the chance to learn more about the X-H1 at an exclusive Fujifilm event in Los Angeles

by | Posted 02/22/2018

Last week I headed west to Los Angeles for a Fujifilm event centered around their new X-H1 camera. You can read our preview below for the full list of new features and specifications. This section will be focused on the nitty-gritty details and offer some additional insight into the camera's design and what separates it from Fujifilm's other X Series cameras, with the X-T2 in particular.

The event kicked off with a meeting with Jun Watanabe, who is part of Fujifilm's Optical Device and Electronic Imaging Products department. Watanabe was the product planner for the X-H1, so there is no better source for the inside scoop on the new flagship camera. Speaking of "flagship," the presentation was started by conveying that the "H" in the X-H1 model name stands for "high performance" and that the camera is aimed at professional still and video shooters.

The first section of the presentation was focused on the new camera body, which has been designed to be more reliable and durable. The camera has a 25% thicker magnesium alloy than the X-T2, and Watanabe pointed out that the camera is twice as strong as the X-T2. Further, the X-H1 is handmade in Japan, something which is becoming rarer as companies work to keep manufacturing costs down. Regarding weather sealing, the body itself has 68 points of weather sealing, and the optional power grip has 26 itself.

We previously knew that the X-H1 has a stronger lens mount, but we learned that it has reinforced ribs around the mount and that this is due in large part to the upcoming XF 200mm f/2 lens, which will be heavier than previous Fujinon X Series lenses. In addition to the stronger mount, the camera is coated with a more durable material too. In terms of hardness, the X-H1 has an 8H rating, while the X-T2 is a 5H (a car's clear coat is typically around 4H). The X-H1 should certainly be more scratch resistant than other Fujifilm X Series cameras. The coating has larger particles, which is not only readily apparent when looking at the camera but it also feels different, much more like the GFX 50S than the X-T2. It wasn't as simple as just changing the paint during the manufacturing process, however, the larger particles for the coating required different painting methods in order to achieve an even coating on the X-H1.

The similarities between the medium-format GFX and the X-H1 don't end there. The X-H1 has the same style of top display as the GFX, although users can now select between light and dark backgrounds on the customizable display. Further, the X-H1 has a much larger grip than the X-T2 and has a shape not unlike the GFX. When looking at the X-H1 and GFX side by side, they have many similarities in shape and styling, including a wide thumb grip and relocated Q button. If you've read my Field Tests for the GFX, you'd know that I am a huge fan of how that camera feels in the hands, so any borrowing of ergonomic design on the part of the X-H1 is a big win in my book.

While I was unable, due to the nature of the event, to test out the X-H1's imaging performance, I was able to hold it and shoot with it a bit. (If you want image samples, don't worry, we will be receiving the camera at our lab shortly). The new shutter release features a leaf spring switch that was described by Watanabe as "more delicate." He hit the nail on the head there, it's certainly delicate. Too delicate, in my opinion. The travel distance from focusing to shooting is very short and while this allows for slightly faster shooting, it also leads to accidental shooting when you're trying to acquire focus. This issue can be alleviated by utilizing the new AF-ON button on the rear of the camera for back button focus.

Speaking of the rear of the camera, the AE-L and AF-ON buttons are both to the left of the rear command dial. On the X-T2, the command dial is situated between two buttons. By putting the two buttons next to each other, they can be pressed simultaneously. This is a nice design change and good attention to detail. Attention to detail is prevalent throughout the design of the camera and its overall functionality. The buttons are larger and more convex, and there's a dedicated menu system now just for video shooting.

Further, the top dials have been made larger and have a different shape than the X-T2's dials. The dials feel good, by the way. The new higher-resolution electronic viewfinder now sits 3 millimeters further back too, which means your nose is less likely to inadvertently press against the rear touchscreen. The eye sensor now automatically disables when you tilt the rear LCD, eliminating one of the biggest frustrations I have with cameras with tilting displays and eye sensors. The corners of the camera body have been rounded off to allow for more comfortable handholding. Even one of the strap holes has been moved to allow for a more enjoyable shooting experience. Now that's getting into the nitty gritty of camera design!

Looking closer at the new EVF, the eye sensor's reaction time has been reduced from 0.4 seconds on the X-T2 to 0.15 seconds on the X-H1. That's not a huge difference in absolute terms, but it's a relatively large improvement and does matter in real-world use. The new EVF is also 300 cd/m brighter and with the included wide eyecup, you should have no issues getting a good, bright look through the viewfinder.

Another big upgrade is in-body image stabilization, a first for a Fujifilm X Series camera. The 5-axis IBIS works with every Fujinon lens, including ones with OIS built-in. Depending on the OIS lens, the camera uses different axes of its in-body stabilization, ranging from 1 to 4. Currently, only the new XF 80mm Macro lens handles four axes of stabilization via the lens itself. The maximum number of stops of shake correction provided by the X-H1 is 5.5, which is achieved with the XF 35mm f/1.4 R lens. What particularly interested me about Watanabe's section on the IBIS system is that Fujifilm had to concentrate heavily on manufacturing precision. In fact, the sensor mounted surface and the IBIS system need to be parallel within the order of a micron. Every unit is tested for this flatness during manufacturing, and it's an incredibly precise process.

Relying upon the same X-Processor Pro as the X-T2 and other recent Fujifilm cameras, the new in-body image stabilization has some interesting impacts on the camera's overall performance. You may have noticed that the X-H1 has a smaller buffer depth than the X-T2, for example, and Watanabe stated this is due to the processing demands of the IBIS, which makes 10,000 calculations per second. The IBIS system has a pair of dedicated processors, but it still places demands on the rest of the camera's available computing power. The memory map in the X-H1 has been redesigned and this impacts performance. Likely a worthwhile trade-off for most.

In other respects, performance has been improved. Considering autofocus in particular, the X-H1 has a new algorithm and has improved low-light and continuous AF. There are four times as many areas surrounding each autofocus point on the X-H1 than the X-T2, and the camera simultaneously handles data from three types of pixel readings: horizontal, vertical and independent. The first two are good for low contrast and low light autofocus, and the latter pixel reading is good for fine textures -- all areas in which the X-H1 should better than the X-T2, which uses different pixel readings in different orders depending upon the camera's scene recognition system.

During Fujifilm's internal testing, the X-H1 hit focus 75% of the time in low-light AF testing scenario. The X-T2, on the other hand, managed only a 57% success rate. Overall, the X-H1 performed to satisfaction 85% of the time versus 81% of the time for the X-T2. Further, the X-H1 performs better when using AF-C and zooming due to redesigned algorithm curves.

Let's move on to video, which proved to not only be a large area of emphasis for the X-H1 in marketing materials, but also took up a large chunk of Watanabe's presentation. The X-H1 can record DCI 4K video, a first for an X Series camera, and it can do so at a bit rate of 200Mbps with internal log recording (F-log). The camera records 4:2:2 8-bit video via HDMI out and 4:2:0 video internally.

The camera's 15-minute 4K recording limit may seem a bit short when compared to some of the competition, but achieving the 15-minute limit required design changes in the X-H1's heatsink. The new copper heatsink is big, taking up nearly the full height and width of the main body area, which you can see it in the image below:

Another change in the X-H1 is the new Eterna Film Simulation. Whereas cameras often increase the blue tones of memory colors to make things like the sky appear more vibrant, Eterna moves memory colors in the opposite direction, giving the image a more subdued, cinematic and neutral look. Users wanted a Film Simulation that was easier to work with during post-processing but looked good straight from the camera. Whereas in still photography, you need to deliver a message in a single frame and therefore might want more vivid colors and more pop in your photo, Watanabe remarked that for video, the demands on individual frames are different and you don't need to rely on vibrancy and contrast as much to deliver a story or message.

In a sample video we watched, they appear to have hit the mark. Based on Fujicolor Eterna 500, a negative film stock, the Eterna film simulation has soft tones in shadow and highlight areas and can deliver 12 stops of dynamic range when the camera is set to DR 400%. Further, a new LUT based on the Eterna Film Simulation will be available for download when the X-H1 launches.

Autofocus has been improved for video, as well. The wobbling effect that is common with hybrid AF systems that incorporate contrast-detect autofocus has been reduced with the X-H1 as the camera now averages subject positions over time rather than reacting to every small shift when using AF-C. This results in much more natural-looking video. Face Detect is also now possible when recording 4K video, despite the increased processing required, in part due to the new large heatsink.

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