May brings the annual Cannes Film Festival, it’s a tough job (no really, it is!) but someone has to do it!
Last year I was just switching to the X-T2’s and shot the festival on a mixture of X-T1’s and X-T2’s, sometimes teamed with a borrowed 90mm/F2. This year I was offered the chance of the X-H1 and I thought that the un-stabilised 90mm would be the perfect partner for testing.
That left me traveling to the south of France for 2 weeks with 2 X-T2’s, an X-H1, a 16-55, 50-140, 100-400, 56 and 90mm, plus the usual collection of flashes, batteries, cards and laptop. It’s a wonder there was room for clothes (don’t worry – there was!).
Unpacking the X-H for the first time, it feels bigger, more chunky and heavier than the X-T but putting them alongside each other shows that the actual size difference is quite small. At first the shape is quite alien; the grips are more pronounced, there is a top LCD, the shutter button is quite a way forward (and has a very light touch).
The menus are *mostly* the same however it took me quite a time to set up the buttons how I like them. The main issue was with the front dial, I usually have this set to switch between ISO selection and exposure compensation but the compensation is handled in a totally different way now – having no dial (the LCD is in the same location as this dial is on the X-T), instead exposure compensation is adjusted with its own button a-la DSLR. Pressing this button allows the compensation to be adjusted on the rear dial. The front dial can be assigned multiple functions (I think the idea is that you press down to switch), but the only way I could get it working how I like was to assign both functions to ISO.
Whilst on the subject of menus, the connection set-up is also very different with the camera also supporting Bluetooth. In the end I did not use the WiFi connections at all as I just did not have time to “play” and understand them.
Apart from that I was able to configure the camera the same as my X-T’s (it would be so nice to be able to use SD cards to transfer settings between cameras). Film simulations, white balance etc etc are all handled the same and as the sensor / processor are the same as the X-T, image look, feel and quality is identical.
Once in Cannes it started to become apparent the real difference with this camera compared to the X-T’s is speed! It is much more like how I remember a DSLR to be. Mounting the 100-400 to shoot tight headshots the focusing felt far more snappy, in fact with all the lenses, just in general, the camera felt quicker to use… The bigger, heavier lenses I tend to use felt more balanced on it, it was nicer to hold – especially when not shooting (I know, that sounds silly but I have a habit of hanging my cameras from my finger tips when walking or waiting – the bigger grips made this easier and more comfortable). The lighter shutter is nice but when using in conjunction with an X-T I did find I was making accidental shots.
In use on the first day, being unused to the button layout, somehow I managed to switch the image size down from max to 2000×2000 px. I can’t remember the size on the menu but the pixel size is ingrained on my brain after the panic when I got back to edit. Now no doubt this was my inexperience with the camera, but, I have been using Fuji’s for a long-long time, in high pressure situations, using both new and old cameras together and I have never managed this before. I was shooting jpg/jpg so there was even no going back to the raw. Luckily this was only one of three cameras I was using at the time, it had the 90mm mounted and I was shooting the “arty” stuff so it was the camera with the least important images (in theory). It also meant on this camera I was being very particular with composition etc. Luckily every image I liked did not need any cropping and could be sent out as it was shot (well, probably with some exposure tweaks and curves).
The rest of the time it did everything I asked. I shot slow with rear-sync to use the in-body stabilisation, I tried all of the lenses I had with me. It just worked. As the festival carried on I found myself reaching for this body before either of my X-T’s, it did feel better in the hand (despite my initial worries).
The add-on battery grip also has the more pronounced shape and with it’s two batteries I found it lasted most of the day, although it still suffers from what seems like inaccurate battery condition indicators. Having these on the top panel LCD though is a huge improvement, being able to see the (supposed) battery condition without turning the camera on and either looking at the LCD or EVF is much better. I still find the grip on this (and most other grips) poorly designed. Hanging it just off of the tripod mount screw without any other mechanical lock (apart from alignment spigots) just seems inadequate. They always work loose over the day, especially if the camera is being used in the portrait orientation. Why a small hook type spigot (I.e. push in and slide along to align) cannot be designed in to aid the screw I do not know.
Whilst mentioning the EVF I should mention the new Natural Live View. For the first day or so I was trying to understand why the X-H1 was not showing me the full film simulation as well as the exposure and white balance, it was previewing the exposure but the display looked very natural, far more natural than I was used to. DOH! Once I remembered about and disabled the Natural Live View, the EVF matched the X-T. This new mode is great but being able to see exactly what I am about to record to the memory card is one of my main loves about the Fuji. Undoubtedly the new mode gives a great view, being very natural and flowing and much more like an optical finder but once I had realised, I disabled it and did not go back. If I was using just the X-H1 or not trying to match the look and feel of what I was shooting between cameras maybe I would have stuck with it. I’m sure those switching to mirrorless from SLR’s will find this much easier to get used to.
This camera is another great step forward. The more I think about it the more impressed I am with it. Mixing it with X-T’s is a bit of an issue, so if I were to change I would need to change all three cameras at once.
From an X-T1 it’s a huge step forward and I think the transition to mirrorless from DSLR will be far easier if the mirrorless is the X-H.
For me? trading up from the X-T2’s? For the sort of work I do there is no doubt it is a great step forward again but I’m not sure its worth the financial hit this year. As I have said before I work carefully within a cycle where every new piece of kit and upgrade has to justify itself financially. The X-H will do everything I am doing now, faster but it won’t do anything new, I can’t see it enabling me to get shots I would not get without it. If I did video however, it would be a totally different matter!
That said, I am feeling really good about the (what was a risky) choice a few years ago when I made the switch to Fuji. This camera is very very good and there may well be something better when my next upgrade cycle comes around. In the meantime the lens roadmap looks great also.
Here is a small selection of monochrome images that I produced at the festival.