Kaiman Wong (Kai W) calls it a beast. An acknowledged street photographer true, but jizzing around in the rain outside a new(ish) building at 1 New Change in the City of London is hardly a decent test.
There are now three X-H1s in the hands of our contributors and a triple header road test seems like a much better plan. No specs, no test methodologies, just three photographers, their images and their opinions:
Bob Hamilton – a DS regular, known for his fine landscapes and more recently, some outstanding wildlife photography. He was the first amongst us to get his X-H1.
Chris Gibbons – a new DS recruit, Chris shoots events and conferences for clients in Johannesburg but for pleasure it’s all about wildlife – mainly birds. He’s learned from some of the greats and here debuts his new camera accompanied by some fine shots of our feathered wildlife. Chris’ X-H1 arrived just two days after mine.
Paul Perton – me. If you’re a DS regular, you’ll know I shoot on on the street and am equally at home in the landscape. My approach and finished images often fall outside the norm. The X-H1 promises to be a fine companion for the kind of photographic subjects I like.
My take on the X-H1, after some 20,000 images taken, is that it is a meaningful improvement over the X-T2 in many ways but still some way off the mark in several others….at least compared to the Sony competition I also own.
The EVF is excellent – deeper, better and more pleasant to use than that of the A9 or A7R3 for non magnified viewing but not nearly as good as those of the 2 Sony cameras for magnified, manual focusing. The Sony EVF appears to be more contrasty than that of the Fuji which is probably why manual focusing is easier with the Sony cameras but standard viewing not so pleasant.
The IBIS is excellent and I would say at least 2 stops better than the IBIS in the Sony cameras. It makes the use of certain lenses, such as the 16-55mm f2.8, much less problematic that they were when used on the IBIS less X-T2.
The body is much more robust than that of the X-T2 and the deeper handgrip is a major improvement.
Image quality seems better than that of the X-T2 which I find surprising given that I understand that both sensor and processor are exactly the same as those in the X-T2; perhaps it’s due to the noticeably improved autofocusing of the X-H1? The X-H1’s auto white balance is definitely more accurate than that of the X-T2.
The implementation of the exposure compensation button and dial is, to my mind, inferior to the simple dial of the X-T2, being much more cumbersome and clumsy to use for fast action photography – for example, for birds in flight moving from a dark background, such as the ground, into the air which necessitates more exposure. The top LCD is useful and I’m sure more so for video photography than for stills but its introduction, forcing the change from the exposure compensation implementation of the X-T2, is a negative aspect for me and one with which I still have difficulty even after 20,000 frames, more often than not necessitating the removal of my eye from the viewfinder to see what I am doing.
The shutter button is far, far too sensitive and results in many images taken by mistake which can be an issue if tracking birds in flight using the high speed continuous drive mode in particular, meaning that the comparatively meagre buffer is used up with unintentional images. The Sony cameras have the sensitivity just right.
The autofocus is, as I said, noticeably improved over the X-T2’s and is very reliable and accurate for what I would describe as “normal photography”. However, it’s not a patch on the autofocus of the Sony A9 for fast action photography, such as tracking birds in flight, where the total lack of blackout in the EVF, the fast frame rate of up to 20fps, the comparatively huge processor buffer and the limpet like, rabid pit bull nature of its zone autofocus system makes a 90%+ hit rate in tracking fast moving birds a reality. Sadly, the X-H1 simply cannot compete in my opinion. The A9 has to be tried to be believed.
All in all, the X-H1 is a lovely camera which gives great image quality and is, for the most part, a pleasure to use. However, as you can probably gather from the above, it is not my go to system for wildlife photography where the attributes of the Sony A9, detailed above, more than compensate for the relatively short reach of the Sony G Master 100-400mm lens compared to the Fuji equivalent.
The one thing I should say is that the battery life of the X-H1 is now very poor compared to the new type battery in the Sony cameras which has been transformed completely from being a relative disgrace to being utterly superb. I can get well over 2,000 images from the new Sony battery in normal use, by which I mean a mixture of continuous and single drive shooting.
Fuji needs to address this issue even if it means users of future and existing cameras needing 2 battery systems and the inconvenience that would cause.
Can Fuji do BIF? Specifically, the Fuji X-H1 + 100-400?
For the uninitiated, BIF stands for Birds In Flight. As opposed to bird on twig, bird on stick, telegraph pole, garden feeder, fence post or any other stationary object.
Fuji does all of the latter extremely well, but since the introduction of Fuji’s X-T1 in 2014, whether it does BIF and, if so, how successfully, has been a matter of intense debate.
For bird photographers, BIF is a sine qua non. After all, flight is what birds do – it’s what makes them….well, birds.
I had an X-T1 for a couple of years and came to the conclusion that the answer was no, it could not do BIF. In fact, it couldn’t much of anything moving at speed as far as I could tell. Not even my Airedale terrier, Ben, running straight at the camera.
Somewhere along the way, I added the 100-400 to my collection of Fuji lenses, but its performance was so bad on the X-T1, it went back to the shop on the day I bought it.
From there to an X-T20 – better AF-C than the X-T1, to be sure, but still nowhere close to my Nikon D500 + 200-500 f5.6, which I’ll simply call ‘the Nikon’ from here on.
Perhaps the X-T3 would do the trick, I thought, waiting patiently for its rumoured release towards year-end.
However, my business has seen an increased demand from clients for video, which the X-H1 apparently does very well and the Nikon D500 does only adequately. So I’ve been watching reviews and reading reports about the X-H1 with interest. Among them are two bird photographers whose work I respect and they are beginning to speak very highly of the Fuji combination. So, one Saturday recently, I decided to take the plunge – camera, grip and lens – and set off to find some birds. (For brevity, if you‘ll allow me, I’ll use the same shorthand – X-H1 + VPB + 100-400 = ‘the Fuji’.)
At first sight, the combination looks as hefty as the Nikon. But don’t be fooled. It’s not and it’s a good kilogram lighter. Towards the end of a day’s shooting, it makes a big difference. On that score alone, the Fuji wins.
With power set to ‘Boost’ on the grip, and OIS to ‘on’ and limiter to ‘5m-∞’ on the lens, AF to CH and 8fps on the camera, it was time to set off.
Both of the bird photographers I mention above stress the importance of using the AF-C Custom setting – although both use it slightly differently and both also recommend the 3×3 Zone setting.
With all of that dialled in, and Auto ISO enabled (max 1600, min shutter speed 1/1,000), off I went.
The Western Cape region of South Africa, where I live, is heading into winter. The light can be very poor at this time of year and many of the birds which visit in summer went north a couple of months ago. But there are still enough residents around – certainly enough to test my limited skills on!
That first session, I’m afraid, yielded nothing spectacular at all. My heart sank – was this to be a repeat of the X-T1 experience?
I needed better light and more birds. A day or two later, with the sun shining, I found myself at Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront, one of the city’s major attractions, and a place thronged with gulls. With a convenient railing to lean on, the Fuji and I were in business.
It’s OK – quite heavily cropped in Capture One 11 – usable, but I wouldn’t want to print it in any kind of large.
Not the greatest composition, but like the first one – cropped and usable.
At the point, it’s worth noting that I had about a dozen or so shots in this category, from around 400 overall. Not a very high keeper rate at all, IMHO.
Back to the drawing-board.
Out again the following day, tinkering with the settings in poor light. No gulls this time, but close to my house there’s a vineyard which is home to several pairs of Spotted Thick-knees.
That’s more like it, I feel. Good feather detail, a sharp eye with a hint of catchlight. I’d print this one happily and I’m starting to feel more confident about the Fuji’s ability to do BIF.
For the sake of comparison, here’s a similar one, shot on the same day with the Nikon:
It’s a slightly different crop, but perhaps the key difference is that I had managed to lock the Fuji’s ISO at 1600 – whereas the Nikon’s was working as Auto-ISO is supposed to between 100 and 1600. This came in at ISO 280. Operator error – nothing to do with the H-T1.
One observation at this stage – the Nikon, at 500mm, is getting me closer to the birds, as you would expect. The Nikon’s OVF is also allowing me to pick the bird up faster than the Fuji’s EVF, but the difference is very slight.
I’m still not getting enough keepers, though. Time for some more homework and more fiddling with the settings.
What followed was the breakthrough session. Good evening light, clear blue skies, and a large tree which is a roost for White-breasted cormorant, Sacred Ibis and Hadeda Ibis.
I had also noticed, as I processed the images from the previous batch, that parts of the birds’ bodies were in focus, while other parts, especially eyes, were not. Could it be that the 3×3 Zone focus was allowing the camera to lock on to any old body part?
So I switched from 3×3 Zone to Single Point – choosing the second-smallest of the five options.
That was promising, and I could immediately see better results as I chimped images on the X-H1’s screen.
But what made the real difference, especially in terms of keeper rate, was switching from half-shutter focus to AF-On. The X-H1, with its slightly deeper grip, fits my rather square and not-very-big hand perfectly and suddenly the AF-On button is just where I need it to be.
Again, not a very inspired image, but the important thing to note is that the Fuji is holding focus and not latching on to the background (as the X-T1 would certainly have done).
Again, holding focus admirably.
Good wing position, but perhaps not as much feather detail on the neck as I would like?
Plenty of feather detail here, sharp eye with catchlight. I’m happy.
So can the Fuji X-H1 and 100-400 do BIF? On the evidence above, no question. As my familiarity with the camera-lens combination grows, I’m sure the images will also improve. Will it replace my D500 + 200-500, though? That’s a different matter: where weight is not an issue – driving my own vehicle to a shoot, for example – I think the Nikon still has the edge for BIF and will make the trip. But when I’m flying to a destination with restricted baggage, especially carry-on, or if I’m walking anywhere for any length of time, I’ll have the Fuji and be safe in the knowledge that if I do need BIF, it won’t let me down.
One final thought. The Nikon D500 is a very fine camera. With any of Nikon’s big telephoto primes attached, it’s formidable. But Nikon has ignored the shorter distances for its APS-C range (DX, in Nikon-speak). There is simply nothing carrying a Nikon badge that comes remotely close to Fuji’s 16-55mm or 50-140mm, leave alone any of the remarkable primes, like the 23mm 1.4 or 90mm f2.0.
Those lenses, allied to the excellent X-H1, are why, for both my business and pleasure, Fuji is now my go-to system.
I’ve havered for weeks over the X-H1. I’ve had an X-Pro as a constant companion for the last three years, supported on long journeys by the pocketable X100F. It’s been faultless and racked up 28,000 images during that time, despite its close-to-pathetic battery life. Why would I want to change it?
As I wrote in an e-mail to Pascal a couple of weeks ago about the IBIS in the X-H1; “I’m reaching an age where image stabilisation is increasingly important. My hands don’t shake, but the rest of me does.”
A joke at my own expense, but nonetheless, IBIS is now a need-to-have.
The mirrorless X-Pros have also been a route to carrying less and less on my travels, but as I’ve bought a couple of additional primes, my camera bag mass has grown accordingly. To quote Northcote Parkinson; “The work expands to fill the time available.” Change as appropriate.
So, the X-H1 is destined to be a travel solution. Paired with Fuji’s 16-55 zoom, it’s quite a handful, but not a monster like the Nikon D800/24-70 zoom duo. Performance-wise, it gives up very little to the Nikon set up and does reduce the bag mass quite considerably.
The Fuji primes will get either get used for specific travel excursions, or (along with the X-Pro) when my camera bag is in the back of the Landy and I don’t need to be much concerned with how much they weigh.
So, what’s to like about the X-H1?
Clearly for me, the IBIS is a given – wish I had it in Japan last year for all of those evening/after dark shots I took. In my immediate post-purchase shooting tests, I’ve found I can hand hold the X-H1, with 90mm prime at f16 for a 1/15th. That’s a real win and means less dragging a tripod around in my suitcase.
Next is the shutter, which is soft and seductive enough to make you want to shoot more and more, just to enjoy its feel. It does take a bit if getting used to, however. For a press the shutter halfway shooter like me, you’ll find lots of pictures you didn’t mean to take, as you learn just how little encouragement the button needs.
The articulating screen is also a massive step forward, but I’m not so sure about its touch facilities – I need to spend more time fiddling with it, before I’m even halfway convinced.
Viewfinder? Brilliant. ‘nuff said?
An added bonus – The X-H1 can be charged via a standard USB cable. I usually carry several spare batteries when travelling and share them between the X-Pro and X100. Now, I’ll substitute the X-Pro and leave the charger at home – the X-H1 can charge batteries for its own use and I can swap them, for the X100. It’ll even charge off a cigarette lighter USB connection and cable in the car. Another win.
Just about everything else works like all the other Fuji cameras; reliable, predicable and generally, a joy to use.
So it’s great. There are a couple of downsides and I do have a few grumps, two that are quite serious.
Firstly, the 16-55 zoom I’ve paired with the X-H1 body is a real dust pump, with the result that I need to clean the sensor far more than I’ve become used to with my X-Pros and prime lenses. That means more, rather than less kit to carry. I know that’s not a specific X-H1 issue, but Fuji do need to find a solution for their flagship APS-C product.
The second, I’ve since solved, but caused me some serious Googling and a lot of head scratching; the Fuji remote cable/release is small and light. It travels with me and has been hugely useful over the years. Like the batteries, it’s the same remote for both the X-Pro and X-H1. Provided you can find where to plug it in that is. The obvious port is where you’d expect, under a flap on the opposite side of the body to the twin SD card slots. Except that that’s a micro HDMI port and the micro USB connector doesn’t fit.
Several searches and a few e-mails tracked the solution down – the manual is completely useless on this point – the micro USB plugs in to one section of the full size USB port. It works fine and is a really clever solution. I just wish Fuji had made it clearer in the manual.
Final grump (so far) – I use exposure compensation a lot in my photography and find the button to activate the command wheel used to change these settings way too small and awkward, especially when the camera is on a tripod at eye level.
Aside from the dust – not really the X-H1’s problem – it’s all good.
This is a fine camera. A firmware update arrived a few days ago and has made a significant improvement to the camera’s AF performance, making me even happier that I’d bought it.
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