So many dials! My first 72 hours with a Fuji

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RecklessCoding Regular Member • Posts: 273
So many dials! My first 72 hours with a Fuji
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After last week’s post at deciding between the Fujifilm X-H1 and the X-T3, I went ahead and purchased the X-H1 a few days ago. Unfortunately, I didn’t get much of a chance to take it out on a dedicated photowalk. Still, that didn’t stop me from playing around with it whenever possible. Thankfully, on my way to the office I pass through a national park and on Friday morning I managed to move a meeting up an hour, allowing me to time my commute in time for the sunrise.

This is a short preview after spending a few hours with it. I don’t consider my time with it enough to warrant a review with ratings, but I wanted to share some of my thoughts and photos. Ideally, the so-far amazingly helpful Fuji community could correct me if I am wrong any of minor criticisms and obviously provide tips and feedback.

As this is turned out to be much longer than expected, I think signposting is a good idea here. I start with a general discussion on how I ended up purchasing the X-H1, then look into the ergonomics and handling of the camera. I continue with a brief discussion of the AF system and a more extensive one about the image quality. I discuss other features, lenses, and then conclude with a short section on the software outside the camera.

Ending up with the X-H1

Back in 2014 I was looking into switching to mirrorless. Not as much to save weight and size, as much for its other benefits. EVFs had come a long way since then, but the prospect of “you get what you see” meant less time in post-process. In addition, in mirrorless systems you do need to calibrate the AF for each lens (you can in some PDAF systems, but even if you don’t, you won’t get backfocusing issues), the inclusion of a touchscreen UI, etc. In general, I felt like mirrorless would had been the future and the few drawbacks (slower AF and laggy EVFs) would be lessened, if not completely solved, over time.

I was looking at the E-M5 and the X-PRO1. The former had the IBIS and in general the most bells and whistles, e.g. a touchscreen, the later had well-praised lenses and a somewhat tempting control system. Moreover, I had previous experience with Olympus 4/3 E-line; I learned photography in 4/3 cameras (yes, I am that young), but I got annoyed with the constant rehash of the same sensors and lack of performance. Back then, members of the DPreview forums phrased it as a choice between a “fast responsible machine and a system that slows you down and forces you more to be artistic” (a quote I remember to this day). The later sounded appealing. Yet, when I went to the local shop to try both, the experience was disappointing. There was no comparison; the X-PRO (at least with FW the store’s camera had) felt very sluggish to operate and AF awful at best after testing the Olympus. Even the assistant at the clerk suggested to look into the Olympus, as it is a more mature system that was selling well (at the time). My first experience with Fuji left me discard them as pretentious Leica-like cameras for a long time appealing just to nostalgia and the ongoing “hipsters” culture. Oh boy, I was so wrong to generalised!

Fast forward, the X-H1 was the first Fuji camera that actually turned my head to look at Fuji’s offerings again. While it shares the same internals as the X-T2, the addition of IBIS, a better EVF, and higher build quality made it more appealing camera. While I didn’t get an X-H1 when it first came out, I did briefly have it in my basket. The lack of a significant difference in image quality between the Fuji and the Olympus, prompted me to reason against such a purchase. Still, this camera put Fujifilm back to the map for me.

A bit prior to the X-T3 release, I started thinking into trying a second system. I have been with Olympus long enough. Sure, Olympus has some amazing features, but I started getting disappointed with the ever longer release cycles and ever-fewer FW updates. That and the fact that I wanted to try something new, made me consider to buy into and try another system. I borrowed and tried a Sony A7 III. A brilliant camera on its output, but dreadful to use. Maybe, I did not give it enough time, but at the time it just felt odd in my hand. Then I thought of Canon and until a few days ago, I was tempted with an EOS R and the RF system. The high cost made me revaluate and rationalise my choice. The Canon system is fantastic, and I could get me amazing results out of it, but do I really need full-frame-level ISO handling? Or 2K lenses sharpness? I don’t sell photos nor print them. FIAP competitions use 4K monitors, anything more is an overkill. Afterall, something us gearheads forget is that there is a point of diminishing returns. The Canon RF 24-70mm f/2.8 is probably sharper than e.g. the Fuji 16-55mm, but do we really need that extra sharpness? At least at this point of time, I don’t.

Here, I need to make it clear: this is my decision-making process. I don’t mean to generalise it to the rest of you nor to bash any system. Some photographers may want or even need that extra sharpness/noise/DR; I don’t. In fact, I think that in the hands of a somewhat competent photographer, all modern can take usable (if not great) photos. The difference between systems is, in my view, the minor details in performance, how they handle, and other features they have.

Out of all APC-S systems, Fuji has the most complete lens lineup. The release of the X-H1 with its non-retro design and X-PRO3 with its erm unique layout made me feel like Fuji is not afraid of trying different form factors and approaches. Moreover, the release of the X-T3 shows how Fuji is trying, at last, not trying to keep up, but rather to lead in terms of features. Overall, Fuji felt like a good compromise over FF. This and an encouragement by my partner to finally make up my mind, prompted me to last week’s post to get advice on purchasing either a Fuji X-H1 or an X-T3. After reading with care all the responses (thank you all who contributed) and considering IBIS, the better grip for larger lenses, and the better price of the X-H1 for this somewhat “experiment” purchase, I went with the X-H1. I got the camera with its battery grip and two extra batteries for our 1K Euros. Not bad, not bad at all!

Ergonomics & Handling

Overall ergonomics

The camera balances well with the 16-55mm; those two pieces of equipment are meant for each other. Did I mention that the camera works with gloves? Even if I did, I need to stress it again. The grip, buttons, and dials are all easily usable by gloves. The joystick is still useable, just not as easy as the rest.

Fujifilm’s “retro” exposure controls

You can easily spot a Fujifilm camera in the crowd; it is always the one with extra dials at the top. These dials control exposure settings, e.g. ISO, Shutter Speed (SS), and Exposure Compensation (EC), and right below them there might be addition dials handling shooting modes (e.g. “normal”, panorama, bracketing, and others) and metering. In addition, at least to their primes and premium zooms, there is an extra ring for Aperture. While for many, this is a retro design aimed to induce nostalgia as I have found it, it has a few ergonomic benefits.

The X-H1 has these dials, minus the exposure compensation. Today it was the first time I shoot with such a setup. Needs to be said, one of the reasons I like the Voigtländer 25mm f/0.95 on my m4/3 setup, is that the aperture ring gives you a better feeling of control. In case of the X-H1, where every exposure parameter is on a different dial, makes you not only to keep thinking of your exposure, but also gives you a weird satisfaction.

Something that Fujifilm does like Olympus is that you can customise the whole camera. If you, for whatever reason, don’t like this top dial approach it seems to me that you can setup the two command dials to work like your regular Nikon/Olympus/Sony/…. Not sure why someone would; having the exposure settings on individual dials with clear physical markings also makes it easier to keep track of them. Instead of having to rely to the screen you can just look at the camera ---the X-H1 is even better at this, as the top LCD is discreet enough but useful. I bet this is handy when shooting from the hip or at cold nights while trying to do astrophotography. The later was something I kept thinking when I was using the E-M1 MkII. Another benefit is that frees up the front and rear command dials to be used for other shortcuts. While both dials worked good with gloves today, the bulkiness of the dials and the aperture ring were just right for me not to have to remove my gloves at all. If you have never shot at temperatures below 0c, trust me, it is a major plus.

One thing I haven’t figured out is how to use the front command dial to switch between the 3 auto-ISO presents, as I understood you can. It doesn’t seem to work with me. A complain I have is the “A” (auto) is before the minimum aperture (e.g. f/22 for the 16-55mm) and not after the maximum aperture (f/2.8 for the 16-55mm) as such as you will reach that first and not the f/22

I still have quite a bit to learn and haven’t tested the X-H1 under any conditions that require fast changes. Overall, I found it, to my surprise, a very intuitive approach.

Build quality

It feels as if it was built to last. The build quality is a notch higher than Olympus. Especially, when the vertical grip is added as Fuji did an amazing job with the grip. It fits the camera very well and if it was not for the locking screw knob, one could assume that it is one with the main body.

The 16-55mm f/2.8 is also built like a tank with its all-metal construction. While it is significantly larger than say my Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8, the 16-55mm is feels solid.

At -10c, the camera, the grip, and the lens worked as they should.

In-Body User Interface

I think, other manufacturers should take notes from Fujifilm on-screen UI, especially, on that virtual horizon. Quick question: Is there a way to move the position of the virtual horizon?

While various things have been said about Olympus main menus, I always found them easy to use. Fuji is more or less the same. Fuji has a “MyMenu” option. There are, however, a few things I can’t get my head around:

  • Wireless Communication option is under the “SHOOTING SETTING” menu, but that is only for the WiFi. Bluetooth connection is found on the “CONNECTION SETTING” option.
  • There is no way to move the Bluetooth on/off nor the “Performance Mode” on the “MyMenu” menu.
  • While you can assign the “Performance Mode” and the “Bluetooth On/Off” to dedicated Fn buttons, you can’t do the same on the Q menu.
  • There is no way to prioritise which battery to use first, when a grip is attached.

Focusing System

There is very little to say, as I only took pictures of landscapes. There were some ducks, which at some point they flew over my head. When they did, I pointed the camera at them and the camera managed to focus accurately. On the other hand, to my disappointment, I found some photos taken at a low light street situation to be completely out of focus. I think, I better reserve judgement on this until I run more experiments as I lack any major evidence in favour or against of the AF system.

Fuji packs 3 distinct means to check your focus (zoom, peaking, and split image), when using manual focus. However, to my knowledge, there is no way to use the focus check methods when AF is used. Olympus allows you to trigger focus peaking (after assigning it to a Fn button) at any point. I hope that I am wrong and that someone can point out how to do this!

Image Quality

If you are moving or sidestepping from m4/3, like I do, don’t expect major differences in the image quality. I think, both systems can deliver very similar results. Having said that, I found Fuji able to get me there faster with significant less tinkering time.

Sharpness and Resolution

I feel spoiled by having the 16-55mm f/2.8 as my first Fuji lens. It is exceptional sharp. Probably sharper than my copy of the Olympus 12-40mm. Again, I will like to stress that the difference between the X-H1 and the E-M1 MkII is minimal. The extra resolution helps with cropping, but I would pick one over the other just by pixel peeping over very minor details.

Colours & Film Simulator

Olympus has a great JPEG engine able to produce pleasant lifelike-yet-vivid colours. Nevertheless, Fuji is simply a notch better (again) —Fuji’s colours are exceptional. Instead of the commonly found colour modes natural, portrait, vivid, and others, Fuji has their well-received film simulation modes. For example, do you want a vivid colour profile? You can use Velvia. This made me feel daunted at first, as I was unsure which film mode works best where. Thankfully, there is a brilliant B&H article that explains some of the earlier films. Even better, these profiles are saved on the final RAW file. Capture One will, by default, not only load the film simulator selected at the time, but also allow you to switch to a different one. I believe that I will be taking advantage of this over the next months to familiarise myself with the different film simulator modes.

PRO Neg Hi works great for out of the camera shots of snowy landscapes. I only had to tweak a bit the white balance and adjust the exposure (increase Exp, but decrease highlights). Happy how the fast picture looks like in terms of colours. Can you get the same from an Olympus/other brand camera? Yes, but I feel like you will need to rely on third-party presets and spend significantly more time on post process.

To my surprise, unlike Olympus’ ART filters, you can tweak the profile of each film further, e.g. highlights, shadows, saturation, sharpness, etc. This additional customisation opens the possibility for the Fuji community to share their own “film recipes”, i.e. user-made profiles. I only found out about them and the Custom Modes (you can save up to 7 of them) last night —I am looking forward playing with them! When I first read about them, people where complaining that Fuji does not let its users label the different profiles in camera. At least since FW 2.01 of the X-H1, you can. A good example how Fuji listen to its community.

Classic Chrome. Slightly reduced the contrast and adjusted the WB on One Capture. I finished off the image on Luminar 4, by using gradient masks to restore a bit of the sky back from being total white. Again, a very short workflow.

One thing that I need to keep an eye on is the white balance. While it is expected that Auto-WB won’t work in the snow, it also produced overwarmed results in high-contrast/low-light situation. In the these quick snapshots I took in the city, I had the opposite effect, with the camera producing overcooled photos. Obviously, not so much of an issue as I am shooting RAW + JPEG, but something I need to keep an eye for.

Velvia! Great to get those bright colours on the trees from the sunrise. Not sure if the show looks fine, as it is bit blue.

Overall, I am very happy with how much better output I can get right out of the camera. It makes post-processing as easy as doing minor <5min fixes. I already spend ~10 hours a day writing papers, code, and answering emails for my job (I am an academic researcher). The less time I have to spend adjusting sliders on Lightroom/PS/Luminar, the more likely it is that I will have time to take and share photos.

The lens has a good control of lens flares. There was a bit only when it was pointing directly to the sun. Tilting the camera down a bit instantly removed any.
PS: I need to start using my heavy-duty boots more. The snow was well above my business boots.

Fuji has the best B&W profile I have ever seen: Acros.

Another test of the Acros. I love how contrasty the B&W conversion is with high clarity that brings out texture even on this snowy field. Cropped to 1x1 ration on Capture One.

Dynamic Range

A fear I had is how to handle Fuji’s raw files. I kept reading posts from people complaining about the X-Trans RAW being hard to work with. I moved to Capture One Express as Fuji provides it for free, hence, I assumed good compatibility. In my (limited) experience, Fuji’s raw files are easy to work with, at least in Capture One. They definitely store plenty of info and surprised me how fast I could, with little noise, pull out details from the shadows. For example:

Handheld photo taken at relatively low light. Cropped and rotated, but no exposure adjustments were made.
PS: A good test for IBIS, as with one hand I was holding a suit carrier and the camera on the other. Maybe, taking photos while holding suits should become the new IS test! The X-H1 can definitely hold one suit, next week I will try with two.

The same photo as above, but with very minor adjustments in the exposure. Less than 10seconds to reduce highlights, increase exposure, and pull up shadows. Not the best shot in terms of composition, but it shows how much data Fuji stores into its very workable RAW files.

While going to the cinema, we had an amazing sunset at 3pm! Thankfully, I had my camera with me and I took the shot shown below. It is pointing at towards the sun, with snow on the floor, and already dark sky behind me. In other words, great conditions to test the DR of the camera! The attached image is shot Velvia profile. The foreground exposure was lifted up in Luminar. I have also desaturated it and adjusted the WB to get a bit whiter snow.

Handheld snapshot while walking to the cinema. I love how Velvia and the 16-55mm renders the sunset. The whole thing was plenty of sharp to the point that there was (and still is) noise in the snow. I had to lift the foreground from shadows on Luminar 4 with a gradient mask. I am not 100% convince how the foreground turn out to be. Any feedback suggestions?

Noise Reduction

So far, I have the camera’s NR set to 0. In a few shots, taken at 6400, I noticed that the camera definitely starts losing details but produces an acceptable level of noise. I got the same feeling from shots taken as early as ISO 1600. I feel like the Olympus system would probably keep more details, but also produce more noise

Other Features

EVF and Rear Screen

The EVF works great once set to brightness 0. Otherwise, I found it unreliable to get a good estimation of the exposure. For my uses at least, it is lag free. It is big and sharp enough for you to see the picture and all of its details.

I like Fuji's approach at tilting the screen instead of rotating like the E-M1 MkII. It is more photo-centric, but allows you to be slightly more discreet. However, to my disappointment, there is plenty of lag.

IBIS

I am aware that there multiple discussions debates and I hope I won’t start another one. Having said that, I found Fuji’s implementation very good for its first attempt. Not as good as Olympus’ market-leading IBIS system, but it is definitely usable and makes a difference.

Other Bells & Whistles

I love the inclusion of Bluetooth instead of just WiFi. In general, there is plenty of good staff going on around connectivity; e.g. the ability to geotag images. Combined with Fuji’s excellent JPEG engine, which I covered in the previous section, makes shooting and sharing on social media a very easy task.

Here, I need to give lots of praise to Olympus for its Live modes. Unfortunately, Fuji lacks them. At least, there is a built-in intervalometer. Focus and exposure bracketing are also there, but I don’t think the camera can do the processing for you (unlikely Olympus’).

Lenses

I honestly find it hard to understand Fuji’s logic behind its lenses system. I do not doubt that they have very good glass. What I do not get is how Fuji decides which lenses to make WR and which not to.

While I applaud Fuji for producing a small f/2 line with WR (Olympus should take notes…), I don’t get why the albeit older f/1.4 lacks WR. Shouldn’t Fuji update that line? My wishful thinking says they are waiting to improve the AF motors too. At the time though, I find it hard to pick between the two lines of primes.

At the same time, I don’t get why the 10-24mm lacks WR. I just received a used copy of the lens —after hearing much praised about it, especially by our mode Jerry-astro, I decided to pick up a used copy for around 550eur. I haven’t had a chance to try it yet, but the lens screams quality. Maybe, not as much as the 16-55mm f/2.8, but it is still crazy how good it is for <1K lens. Yet, I can’t stop wondering why this XF lens UWA lacks WR...

Most manufacturers tend to put WR to all constant-aperture zooms, but Fuji decided against that for the 10-24mm, which as a lens may be used for seascapes will need it. So this pushes me to the more expensive 8-18mm, which lacks native filter support, has no OIS, and costs significantly more (note, I find all three criticisms to be completely understandable for a lens of that focal-length range).

Software

I feel that needs to be said, I wish the Fujifilm App was on par with the body’s high software quality. The app is dreadful to use; takes ages to connect and the UI lives things to desire. No wonder why it has such a poor rating on Google Play (2.3 out of 5 stars).

Here, I will also like to give lots of kudos to Fujifilm for making Capture One available for free to its users. The express version lacks local adjustments, but it works great Fuji’s RAW files. In fact, this might be the time to ditch Lightroom. If people complain about Fuji’s RAWs, then they either have outdated info or are using the wrong tools.

Astia (Soft). I am glad that Fuji saves the film simulation settings inside the RAW files. I selected Astia in the post-process, as it was originally shot with Provia.

Conclusions

If you made it this far, you can see that I am happy with the X-H1. There are some issues to iron down mostly related to getting some out-of-focused shots and getting used to the controls, but I am definitely looking forward spending more time with Fuji. It might be the new camera honeymoon period, but the X-H1 definitely gives me a feeling of “must go out and shoot more”.

If you made it this far, you can see that I am happy with the X-H1. There are some issues to iron down mostly related to getting some out-of-focused shots and getting used to the controls, but I am definitely looking forward spending more time with Fuji. It might be the new camera honeymoon period, but the X-H1 definitely gives me a feeling of “must go out and shoot more”.

Also need to give credits to my bicycle that takes me back and forth work every day albeit the snow.

 RecklessCoding's gear list:RecklessCoding's gear list
Olympus E-M1 II Fujifilm X-H1 Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 75mm F1.8 Olympus 12-40mm F2.8 Pro Fujifilm XF 10-24mm F4 R OIS +4 more
Fujifilm X-H1 Fujifilm X-Pro1 Fujifilm X-T2 Fujifilm X-T3 Olympus E-M1 II
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