Fire Aftermath. Fuji X-H1, 90mm @ F2, ISO 400
This is a short-ish blog with some musings about my latest acquisition – the Fuji X-H1. I must have read and listened to just about every blog and VLog online, in relation to the purchase of a X-H1. I heard/read everything from rave reviews to comments like ‘…..Fuji should never have released this camera’. Many said Fuji should have waited and not released the X-T3 so close to the X-H1, or even the other way around. All I know is that sales for this camera have waned to the extent that Fuji had to drastically reduce the current price – even though in theory it is still Fuji’s top of the line camera and a current model.
I ended up buying mine from Camera Electronic in Perth, WA. They are a huge camera store and carry stock of everything – even very expensive Leica and other not so common models. However, I bought the last X-H1 in stock and I see they have not replaced it – it is only available now by special order, WTH?? Hence the title of this Blog – this seems a very funny and obscure camera that seems to not fully fit in anywhere.
Removing the 'patient' from wrecked car. Fuji X-T2, 16-55 mm, 55 @ 2.8, ISO 3200
My system needed ‘tweaking’
For those who have followed my other blogs you will remember my journey with Fuji over the years. I will not bore you by repeating it here, but suffice to say I ended up with two Fuji X-T2’s, one with a 16-55mm glued onto it and the gorgeous 90mm F2 glued onto the other. I have my old X-T1 with a 23mm F2 glued onto that – it is my fun light camera that I take out when I’m not photographing anything too serious. I have a real aversion to changing lenses, so that is why each of my cameras has a WR lens glued onto it that never comes off. This way I’ve never had to clean a sensor and my sensors are still dust free after thousands of images.
After thousands of wasted dollars and hours of trialling different camera/lens combinations over the years, I am truly delighted with the 90mm F2 and magical FX 16-55. I only got grief and crappy images from the abysmal 18-55 Fuji kit lens, and even though the 18-135 was much better, not being of fixed aperture meant that by the time I got to around 90mm focal length, it was on 5.6. At this aperture it was impossible to separate my subject from the background or get any type of nice bokeh in the distance. That is where the 90mm came in and it has transformed my images. Not only is it bitingly sharp, corner to corner and wide open, it is separating my subjects from backgrounds just like I could on my Nikon D3X system. I only ever shoot people/street/travel and have zero interest in landscape or scenery - all of my images are shot wide open on maximum aperture. That is why I am exceedingly critical of my lenses’ performance. I have copped a lot of anger for criticising Fuji’s kit lens, but for what I do and needed it for, it fell far short of my expectations.
So if I am so happy now with my current choice of equipment, where is/was the problem? I feel a bit hypocritical now because I wrote in one or two of my last posts (when the X-H1 and X-T3 were released) that people should be content with what gear they have and stop hankering over new equipment to try and improve their photography. I still basically believe this but I think there is a time when a new piece of kit can improve your photography, and most importantly, your enjoyment of the process. I also preached that IBIS was not necessary and my two lenses did not need it (oh boy).
Removing gas mask. Fuji X-T2, 16-55mm @ 30mm, F2.8, ISO 400
I spent over a month this year in Malaysia and photographed the marvellous celebrations at Batu Caves for the Thaipusam Ceremony in January. There was close to a Million people there over the 3 days - it was one of my most memorable shoots. However, because of the very low light and dark conditions (I shot through both of the nights to around 3am), many of the images on my 90mm were unusable. The shots from the 16-55 were mostly OK, because hand holding a wide angle lens to medium telephoto is much more doable that a telephoto lens. My 90mm is equal to around 135mm in 35 mm speak – so even at shutter speeds of around 250th sec, I was noticing a lot of my images were not pin sharp like they were on the 16-55.
After much reading and contemplating my alternatives, I came to the conclusion that I did need some kind of stabilisation for the 90mm. The only real fix for this on the Fuji system is the X-H1 (IBIS). Fortunately and miraculously (still not sure why), I got an excellent price for one of my X-T2’s on ‘Fleabay’. This is the ridiculous situation here in Australia. When I look on the website of my camera store in Perth a brand new (still sold as a current model) X-T2 body is $1,600 AUD, and the newer X-H1 is only $200 more expensive – WTH?. I got $1,000 for my used X-T2 (with over two years of hard work on the clock), and it was not too much more to part out to get the new X-H1.
Rolling out the hose. Fuji X-H1, 90mm @ F2.2, ISO 200
What do we have here?
It was more out of fear and trepidation than excitement, that I unboxed my new acquisition. I had read so many negative things about the X-H1, I really wasn’t sure what I had got myself into. Many people said the shutter was too quiet, the buttons were in all the wrong places, the thing hogged batteries like they were going out of fashion, and had woeful autofocus. Fortunately for me, the one thing that separated me from at least 50% of the pack, was that I have worse than zero interest in video - to the point where I literally would not even know how to turn it on with any of my cameras and could care less. I am 100% a stills photographer. This gave me some hope because many of the gripes I read were about its video performance (no mike jack – who cares).
The first thing I noticed was the wonderful grip – oh what a lovely grip. With my X-T2 and T1, I had to buy those expensive Fuji grips that screw on and give more beef to the handle and protect the bottom of the camera. The wonderful thing is because I did not have to put one on the X-H1, but the X-T2’s copped the extra weight of the grip, it ended up that the X-H1 was around the same weight as my X-T2 was with the grip on. This was a win straight up because I really didn’t want to lug any extra weight around. I think the shutter is marvellous too and now it makes my X-T1 sound very horrible. The autofocus is heaps fast enough for what I shoot and even the loss of the +_ dial that everybody complained about, has now turned out a bonus for me. I just programmed the rear wheel to push in to turn +_ on, rotate to the setting you need, and push to turn off. I can do this in a second, without ever taking my eye out of the viewfinder – not something I can do with my X-T2.
I like the way the eye piece sticks out proud from the LCD, now my greasy nose marks are not spread all over the screen as on my X-T2. I love the increased definition of the EVF – so clear and lovely to look through.
Probably the one thing I gleaned from all the threads I read about the X-H1, and something that was a common theme through all of them was that the X-H1 is a camera that is a stepping-stone to something better. In other words this is the first iteration that was disappointing in many ways, but gave hints of brilliance that the X-H2 will surely fix - then we will have a magical camera that will be a game changer. I am afraid that I don’t see it this way at all.
I believe that Fuji thought this camera through thoroughly before they released it. It was only a very few short years before this that their head executives were saying it was impossible to fit an IBIS system into their small mirrorless cameras. For the fact that they actually did this, and did it well means to me that this was a well-engineered piece of equipment. I am not hankering or waiting for the next model before I can glory in the capabilities of this camera. For me and for what I do it is absolutely fantastic. Of course if I were a videographer or a motor sport shooter, then things may be different. However, I only ever shoot people in street settings, in the studio and of course travel images of people. The autofocus system, the handling and the images are absolutely brilliant.
Dragging accident 'victim' to safety. Fuji X-H1, 90mm @ F2, ISO 400
A definite Winner
At the beginning of my post I said I had not used this camera a lot. However I was able to shoot some pictures in ‘anger’ on the weekend and truly put the X-H1 through its paces. I live and work in a gold mining town deep in the Western Australian desert. We have the biggest open-cut gold mine in the world – it is called the Super Pit (look it up). It is so big that small aircraft cannot fly low over it, because the pit creates its own weather system or vortex and can suck little planes in. Everything in this town revolves around gold mining!!
Notwithstanding the Super Pit we also have many other small and large underground gold mines in the surrounding desert. Each year my town has a large competition where people come from all over Western Australia to compete. It is called the Surface Mine Emergency Response Competition. Thousands of dollars of expensive equipment and highly trained experts converge on our town to battle it out in the rescue wars. This was a fantastic opportunity to put my gear through its paces. I was able to get access to the areas close to the dangerous action – areas where the general public were not allowed.
I am very happy to say that for me the X-H1 was a true game changer. In some of the more dangerous situations I was unable to get really close so I used the 90mm. Some of the mock accidents were held indoors, in a huge warehouse type building. This situation simulated a car crash at night, so the lighting was only a few spot lights that the rescuers set up. I was shooting with the 90mm down as low as 1/15 sec. Even the best and brightest shots were taken at only 1/100th sec or something. All of these shots would have been impossible were it not for the IBIS. I was OK with my X-T2 and the 16-55. I was able to hold that steady enough or lean it on something to get my shots. I can resoundingly say that without the X-H1 I would certainly have never got some of the brilliant images that I did. I actually found too that even out in the bright light at say around 1/200th or 1/350th that my images were sharper than they would have been on my X-T2. It was so good on the X-H1 that I just kept IBIS on all of the time.
Coming in from 'Battle'. Fuji X-H1, 90mm @ F2, ISO 400
What now for the X-T2
Does this now mean that my X-T2 is about to meet its demise on ‘Fleabay’ as did its other sibling? I’m happy to say no. To me the X-T2 is still a great camera and it performs side by side with my X-H1. As mentioned, I don’t need the IBIS with the X-T2 setup, so to have to sell another camera then part out more hard earned dollars, it’s not really necessary. Comparing the images, naturally I really can’t tell any difference in them. This is to be expected because the engine in both cameras and the sensors apparently are identical. However, the X-H1 stands alone in Fuji’s line-up as the one camera that can give you stabilised images, no matter which lens you are using.
Plan of attack. Fuji X-H1, 90mm @ F2, ISO 1,600
Things should just get better
I recently read a very interesting blog about an Australian photographer who shoots advertising and editorial stills for the film industry for over 30yrs (John Platt). I know it’s not Hollywood, but Australia does have quite an active and competitive movie and TV series industry. He has to keep up with the frantic schedule of directors, crappy changing lighting and Prima Dona actors (my words). John said in his article that he uses an X-H1 and the latest Fuji X-T3. You can read the article because I will put the link below. He makes some comparisons between the two cameras in his blog. I wrote a comment at the bottom and a few days later John got back to me. It was very interesting because he said he has now sold his X-T3 and bought another X-H1. The two X-H1’s are now his main stable of cameras. That spoke volumes, because here is somebody who would use the very best tools for this demanding job (he makes his livelihood and feeds his family by selling these images), and he has chosen the X-H1, above the newer model with supposedly better autofocus and image quality.
Why do I mention this? Perhaps to say that the X-H1 may not have received the accolades from camera-phobes and reviewers alike, and I know that the unit sales for this model have been very disappointing for Fuji. However, for those of us who need a camera that is extremely well made, weather sealed to the hilt, has a very comfortable grip and quiet shutter, produces beautiful images and all of our lenses can now be stabilised – the X-H1 is your camera. Fuji has slotted into a niche that perhaps not many other mirrorless camera manufacturers have dared to tread. I do hope that Fuji will continue with this beautiful camera and release new variants in the future.
Finding the pulse. Fuji X-T2, 90mm @ F2, ISO 400
Addendum - I just wish to say at this juncture one word about my images here. I am not totally happy with the look of any of the images on this blog. This is not because there is something lacking with the new camera or anything. It is in relation to the software used for post processing. I have spent over 12 years learning and using Lightroom. I have hundreds of my own presets that I could grab, and in a flash I would get the look that I was after in a few minutes. All I would then do is tweak. However, after many hours of pondering what to do, I recently, and sadly had to drop using Lightroom. Their prohibitive new pricing structure and the abysmal speed that CC now operates with on my Imac - it has become totally unusable. I ended up settling on and buying Capture One. My initial thoughts are that I think straight out of the gate the images are better than on L/R. However the learning curve is brutal. I have spent days and days on these images and still can't really get the look that I want. There seems to be no decent presets around for CO, or anything without having to spend hundreds of dollars. I will hang in there because I think one day it will all gel for me. I just wanted to mention this because some may wonder why the different look to my images, or even think they could perhaps be disappointing.
Hauling the hose. Fuji X-H1, 90mm @ F2, ISO 200