First Impressions

Richard Butler

It's slightly unfortunate for Fujifilm that I end up writing about the X-H1 immediately after writing about the Panasonic GH5S, the most capable video camera we've ever tested. As a result, it means I'm acutely aware of the limitations of shooting Log in 8-bit video and I miss not just the advanced features such as the Panasonic's waveform display but also more mundane ones, like the zebra warnings I'd usually use to set exposure.

As I say, though, this comparison is rather unfair, given how single-minded the GH5S is in achieving its video prowess. As well as video the X-H1 promises to offer the same stills image quality of the X-Pro2, which is still one of the best-performing APS-C cameras on the market more than a year after its launch. And promises of further AF improvements mean the X-H1 should be a much more capable all-rounder than the video-centric Panasonic.

The X-H1 promises to offer the same stills image quality as one of the best-performing APS-C cameras on the market

And Fujifilm clearly has done some work on making the camera genuinely videographer friendly: switch to video mode and you'll find speeds such as 1/48th of a second as an option. It may not explicitly be called 180 degree shutter angle (for 24p shooting), but it's there.

Stills, video or both?

However, you don't have to use the X-H1 for very much video shooting before you hit the quandary at the heart of its design: how are you supposed to use it? It's a question I'm not sure Fujifilm knows the answer to.

You essentially have two choices: use all the camera's direct settings dials or enable Movie Silent Control mode, which disables all the dials and controls everything onscreen, using the touchscreen, joystick and four-way controller. There are advantages and disadvantages to both approaches.

Don't get your hopes up: those greyed-out options for 29.97 and 59.94P don't ever become available on the X-H1.

Using the dials has same advantages as it does for stills shooting: you can easily see how everything is configured and change it very quickly. The downsides are that any changes during shooting risk shaking the camera and, equally, it takes quite a lot of adjustment to switch from sensible stills shutter speeds to more movie-friendly settings. This process is slowed still further by the absence from the shutter speed dial of the movie-optimized shutter speeds: if you want to use 1/48th of a second to shoot 24p, it means turning the shutter dial to 1/60th and then turning the rear command dial two clicks to engage it.

The alternative is to engage Movie Silent Shooting mode, which switches you to an onscreen interface. I've only used it a little so far, but I found it rather slow to operate. All the settings are arranged in a long list, with no option to remove the settings you don't want to change, so there's a lot of scrolling and clicking to be done to configure all your settings. At the end of this process you end up in a state where switching from stills to movie shooting is as simple as engaging the movie drive mode: something no other manufacturer has really managed yet. The downside is that it's not especially easy to adjust settings on-the-fly and it'll take me a while to remember that many of the control points are rendered inactive.

Control overload

Between the dedicated dials and the two clickable command dials, the X-H1 has a lot of control points, yet it's probably quickest to jump back and forth between stills and video shooting if you disable most of them in video mode.

This dichotomous behavior and quirks such as the provision of two clickable dials that are seldom used was jokingly described as "Nikon Df syndrome" by one wag in the office. And I can see his point: I'm not sure the number and style of control points necessarily reflects the needs of the user interface, now it's trying to accommodate both stills and video. It's something we'll pay attention to when we get more time to shoot with the camera.

I also have concerns about the leaf spring shutter button that Fujifilm says photographers asked for. Even once I'd become aware of the problem, I kept accidentally starting movie recording when I was intending to half-press to perform a focus acquisition. It's almost certainly a benefit, in the sense that press the button doesn't shake the camera when you initiate recording, but I found myself with a lot of video of my feet and none of the footage I'd intended, since the camera was already rolling when I went to hit record and all I'd done is stop recording at exactly the moment I wanted the opposite.

The X-H1 has the same rear LCD cradle as the X-T2 that tilts in two axes.

Everywhere I look I find details that make the camera feel like its not been fully thought through. For instance, you can configure the top LCD to report the settings you care about, with different displays for still and video shooting. Yet the 'Movie Mode' display doesn't distinguish between DCI and UHD 4K, so you still have to delve into the menus to check which you're shooting.

That said, for stills shooting, the Fujifilm setup is still amongst my favorites, and the addition of an AF-On button will please many, even if it is essentially a larger, re-branded AF-L button. Similarly, the move to make the Q Menu touch-responsive (and finally provide some insight into what settings are available) is a small but significant improvement to the camera's interface.

A linear response option for focus-by-wire lenses is something we've long been calling for, but Fujifilm is the first manufacturer to listen

In addition to finding inconsistencies, I also found several clever details. Buried in the Setup menu of the X-H1 is an option that had me running round the office, excitedly telling my colleagues: the choice over whether focus-by-wire lenses respond in a linear or speed-sensitive manner. This may sound esoteric but it means that video shooters can mark out positions on the focus ring to allow controlled focus pulling. With a linear response you know that turning the lens by x degrees will result in the same change in focus, regardless of how fast or slow you turn the ring. It's a simple-sounding addition and one we've long been calling for, but Fujifilm is the first manufacturer to listen.

Overall, the more I thought about the X-H1, the more I was reminded of the Sony a6500 (and not just because they're likely to be using the same underlying sensor). With the a6500, Sony caused a degree of angst (among Internet commenters, at least), as it was interpreted by some as a replacement for the then recent a6300, but with stabilization and a touchscreen. I can't imagine Fujifilm having the same problem. The more distinct naming (I'm going to guess the 'H' stands for Hybrid), the larger body and the significantly wider range of video features make it much easier to recognize the two cameras as sister models, rather than competing for the same users. That said, I'm sure there'll be some non-video-shooters who'll be interested solely for the addition of stabilization.

Stabilization rated at 5EV is competitive with the best of its rivals

Stabilization rated at 5EV (and the promise of up to 5.5 with non-IS lenses) is competitive with the best of its rivals, so that in itself will be a significant addition for many stills shooters. We'll check how well this works with some long and wide lenses, but we've seen no reason to doubt the ratings so far. Between that and the more substantial hand grip, I suspect many X-T1 owners and some X-T2 shooters would find the upgrade worthwhile, even if they never shift the mode dial to movie mode.

Impressive output

As a stills and video shooting machine, the X-H1 looks exceedingly promising, as does its output. However, more so than any other Fujifilm camera in some time, I have my concerns about the coherence of its user interface. There's a risk I'm being slightly unfair again, though. My experiences so far suggest the X-H1 is good for shooting stills and for shooting video, it's just trying to switch between the two that complicates things. And, with the provision of Movie Silent Control and distinct settings for movie and stills parameters, Fujifilm has come closer to offering a solution than any other maker I can think of.

So, while I have my concerns, I'm still going to reserve judgement until I've spent more time trying to shoot video and stills back-to-back because, as I say, the output look very promising.