Fujifilm interview: 'We want the X-H1 to be friendly for DSLR users'
Fujifilm's new X-H1 sits above the X-T2 in the company's X-series APS-C lineup. As well as offering several enhancements in its core stills photography feature set, the X-H1 also brings high-end 4K video capture with up to 200Mbps capture and 5-axis in-body stabilization.
At the X-H1's launch in Los Angeles last week, we sat down with the camera's product manager, Jun Watanabe, to get a detailed look at the new camera. The following interview has been edited for clarity and flow.
|Jun Watanabe is the Manager of Product Planning in the Sales & Marketing group of the Optical Device & Electronic Imaging Products Division at Fujifilm.|
Fujifilm has stated previously that IBIS would not be possible in X-series cameras because of the small imaging circle of some XF lenses. What changed?
We have spent the past two or three years developing a system where using both hardware and software, we can cover [the necessary] imaging circle. The most important thing is precision. Because a sensor with IBIS is a floating device, it has to be perfectly centered and perfectly flat. We had already achieved a sensor flatness tolerance down to an order of microns, but the challenge was to maintain this precision with IBIS.
A laser measurement device is used during the process of manufacturing the image stabilization unit, and the assembly process also includes inspection and adjustment of each individual camera. For that reason, a micron order level of sensor parallelism is realized even while IBIS is activated.
Are there some lenses that will deliver better stabilization than others, as a result of having a larger imaging circle?
Yes. The most effective is the 35mm F1.4. But every XF lens without OIS will benefit from five stops of stabilization.
When you were developing the X-H1, how important was the requirement to add high-end video features?
Many videographers gave us input. A lot of them said they needed in-body stabilization, and F-Log in-camera recording. Those were the top requests from video users.
|Compared to the X-T2, the X-H1 is a larger, more DSLR-styled camera which inherits a lot of styling cues from the medium-format GFX 50S. It is also 25% thicker, and better sealed against the elements.|
What kind of feedback have you had from videographers since the X-H1 was announced?
Pretty good. We’ve heard from videographers that they really like the 200Mb/s internal recording and 12 stops of dynamic range with the Eterna film simulation. They’ve told us that this combination is the best solution for quick, high-quality video capture.
We wanted to create a more cinematic look, so we studied ‘Eterna’ – one of our cine film emulsions
We received a lot of feedback after we launched the X-T2, from videographers and DPs who said that our film simulation modes in video were unique, but too still photography oriented, with the narrow dynamic range. They wanted a real cinema look. On the product planning side we wanted to create a more cinematic look, so we studied one of our cine film emulsions – 'Eterna'. That was the starting point.
Velvia is tuned to give you colors as you remembered them. More vivid blue skies, for example. Eterna is tuned in the opposite direction, for moderate saturation, with more cyan and green bias. With Eterna, combined with the X-H1’s dynamic range settings, we have achieved a 12 stop dynamic range.
How did you decide on what video features to include in the camera? Some expected features – like zebra – are missing.
Honestly, we couldn’t add zebra because of hardware constraints. The processor cannot support it. It requires too much processing power. At this time, we’ve achieved the best possible performance for the processor.
Is 8-bit capture enough, for F-Log recording?
There are 10-bit cameras on the market, but we recommend using Eterna to short-cut the recording process. We think 8-bit is enough for good quality.
Do you think the X-H1 will be bought mostly by stills photographers, or videographers?
We are targeting both. We have greatly upgraded the video performance [compared to the X-T2] but we have upgraded the stills performance too, especially autofocus in low light, and subject tracking. We also added flicker reduction and dynamic range priority, and so on. We are targeting both kinds of professional users.
When it comes to autofocus, minimum low light AF response has been improved from 0.5EV to -1EV. We’ve also introduced a new phase-detection autofocus algorithm and parallel data processing. The X-H1 has the same processor as the X-T2 but the algorithms are new. A single autofocus point in the X-T2 was divided into 5 zones. In the X-H1, this has been increased to 20 zones.
Phase-detection autofocus will be possible with our 100-400mm lens in combination with a 2X teleconverter
Data from each zone is processed in three ways, for horizontal detail, vertical detail, and fine, natural detail like foliage or a bird’s feathers. This processing happens simultaneously, rather than in series, which is a big advantage over the X-T2. We’ve also achieved phase-detection performance down to F11, which means that phase-detection autofocus will be possible with our 100-400mm lens in combination with a 2X teleconverter, with a much higher hit-rate compared to the X-T2.
During shooting, the predictive AF algorithm now generates information from captured images in a sequence, for more reliable subject tracking while zooming.
Now that you have a powerful 4K-capable video camera with IBIS, how will this change how you develop lenses, in the future?
For stills lenses, our approach will stay the same. But we’ve also announced two cinema lenses. These both work with IBIS and the MKX 18-55mm zoom will deliver 5 stops of correction. This is a unique selling point.
We have had requests from some of our professional users for a bigger camera
The X-H1 is considerably larger than its predecessors. Is there a point when the size advantage of APS-C compared to full-frame gets lost?
Professionals are generally more accepting of larger cameras, and [compared to DSLRs] the X-H1 isn’t that big. And we have had requests from some of our professional users for a bigger camera, especially those photographers that use our longer lenses. A bigger grip and more solid body were both requested.
|Here's that deeper handgrip, in action.|
When the camera gets bigger, does it make some aspects of design easier? Like heat management?
Yes, the increased camera volume gives us some advantages when it comes to heat and cooling systems. In fact the X-H1’s 4K recording time is 50% longer than the X-T2, thanks to a new cooling system and two large copper heat sinks.
How much technology from the GFX 50S has made it into the X-H1?
Some of the operation and operability improvements have made their way into this camera. We hope that some DSLRs users will come over to the X-series, thanks to things like the top LCD, and twin control dials and so on. We wanted the X-H1 to be ‘friendly’ to photographers who are used to DSLRs.
I always enjoy talking to engineers, even with the caveat that some of what they say occasionally goes completely over my head. I was very surprised, for instance, after hearing Mr. Watanabe detail all of the clever ways in which the X-H1 processes AF information, to be told that the new camera has the same processor as the X-T2.
It's not impossible to imagine that the X-T2 might yet benefit from some of these advances.
Quite how Fujifilm has managed to eke such increased efficiency from essentially the same amount of computing power is beyond my intellect, but if the claimed increase in performance holds up in our testing, the company deserves a lot of credit. And given Fujifilm's excellent track record of updating older models, it's not impossible to imagine that the X-T2 might yet benefit from some of these advances.
Apparently there were internal discussions about including a dual, or even a completely new processor in the X-H1, but this would have added to development time, as well as cost. It's possible too that some of the heat-management benefits of the X-H1's larger internal volume compared to the X-T2 might have been nullified.
|'Silent control' in movie shooting allows you to adjust exposure settings by touching the rear LCD - avoiding the noise and vibration of clicky buttons and dials making its way into your footage.|
And in these days of 4K video capture, heat matters. The X-H1 isn't a perfect video camera by any means (Fujifilm hasn't quite figured out the hybrid ergonomics, for one thing) but it's the most convincing X-series model yet. It should compare well against most of its competitors, too, barring perhaps only the more specialized Panasonic GH5/S. In-camera 5-axis stabilization is a big part of that (involving 10,000 calculations per second, if you can believe it), but features like 12EV of video dynamic range (Eterna + DR400%), internal F-log recording and a maximum quality of 200 Mbps are sure to attract the attention of professional, as well as casual videographers.
One of the most requested features from Fujifilm's X-series customers was a bigger grip
Even for people with little or no interest in video, the X-H1's enhanced feature set might still be enough to justify the extra cost over the X-T2. And possibly also its ergonomics. According to Mr. Watanabe, one of the most requested features from Fujifilm's X-series customers was a bigger grip. The X-H1 gets bigger everythings, just about. Obviously this means that the camera is bigger as a result, but Fujifilm is hoping that this will make the X-H1 appeal to more traditional DSLR users.
Will the X-H1 prove a hit? I hope so. It's an impressive camera, and a bold move by Fujifilm. I can't see the company creating a dedicated video camera any time soon (and Mr. Watanabe would not be drawn on this question when I asked him) but however it gets there, one thing is clear: Fujifilm really wants to be taken seriously by filmmakers, as well as traditional stills photographers.
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