Fujifilm XH-1 review: Fujifilm’s contentious contender

Fujifilm XH-1
  • Fujifilm XH-1
  • Fujifilm XH-1
  • Expert Rating

    3.75 / 5

Pros

  • Great autofocus
  • Solid, tough build
  • Great photos in JPEG
  • Very good touchscreen LCD
  • Good operating system
  • Top LCD screen

Cons

  • Too big and heavy for a mirrorless camera
  • Doesn’t sit well in the hand
  • Pricey (1): For what it offers, the XH-1 is just a little too expensive
  • Pricey (2): Needs the Vertical Power Booster Grip + extra batteries
  • Rendering of RAW photos at higher ISOs is questionable
  • The APS-C X-Trans CMOS III sensor is already two years old
  • Battery life is pretty average with image stabilisation and Bluetooth on

Bottom Line

This X-Series flagship feels like a transitional step in the range. There are some excellent features but it also needs some tweaking.

Would you buy this?

The Fujifilm XH-1, the latest incarnation in the popular X-series, isn’t the successor to the popular X-T2 but it is the new X-series flagship. That said, the XH-1 is a somewhat confusing mirrorless beast.  

The Pitch

At first, I was tempted to be quite critical of the XH-1 (for reasons I’ll talk about below), and then I changed my mind a little as I spent a few weeks with it; it is a nice camera – but, and there always ‘buts’ when it comes to the XH-1, I can’t escape the feeling that this is not the camera Fujifilm fans are waiting for. I can also say it is definitely not the camera that will make me sell my Canon 6D Mark II and associated lens and move to a mirrorless set up.

This DSLR comparison is reasonable and necessary because the XH-1 starts at $2899 for just the body and comes packaged with the VB-XH1 vertical power booster grip for $3399 (you need the grip!). That makes it more expensive than the Canon 6D MKII, just under the highly-recommended Canon 5D Mark IV, and more expensive than Nikon’s excellent D500.

And then you need to buy two extra batteries and lenses.  

We are talking about three top-line cameras that take no prisoners and the Fujifilm just isn’t quite up to that battle. But wait, you say, surely weight and size play in its favour. Not so. The XH-1 with its new grip is actually larger than a DSLR without a grip – and not nearly as easy to operate externally.  

When buying cameras at this level you are looking for pros and cons – and one of them isn’t quality of picture. Nearly every camera over $2000 will take a photo that is good enough for serious amateurs and semi-pros. If it doesn’t it won’t last in what is a very competitive market. Only professional and semi-pro photographers and very serious hobbyists really need a $3500-plus camera.  

Yes, the Fujifilm XH-1 does take great photos (especially JPEGs), as you will see in this article. But so do most other cameras in this price range (there would be something wrong if they didn’t!). And we haven’t even mentioned its most direct competitors the mirrorless Sony a7 III (and, for a lot more, the a7R III) with 35mm full-frame sensor or the Panasonic GH-5 which is both cheaper and has better video features. That isn’t good for the XH-1 which seems pointed towards the professional videographer.  

That said, I have nothing but praise for the macro lens here – the Fujinon XF 80mm f/2.8 R LM OIS WR – that the XH-1 test camera came with. It is very impressive indeed. I’m not a macro photographer but I might add a macro lens to my outfit based on the experience with this five-star piece of glass. Great focus and strong definition in the images it throws.  

Specs

But let’s get back to the basics. Here’s what Fujifilm lists as the XH-1’s key features:

  • 24.3 megapixel APS-C X-Trans CMOS III sensor
  • X Processor Pro
  • Integrated 5-axis image stabilization (IBIS)
  • Vibration-free closure
  • Professional video features (including Cinema 4K)
  • Large electronic viewfinder with 3.69 million pixels
  • Folding and swivelling 7.6 cm (3-inch) touchscreen LCD with 1.04 million pixels
  • 3.25 cm (1.8 inch) shoulder display
  • Particularly robust housing 
  • Splash-proof and dustproof
  • Cold-resistant to minus 10-degrees
  • Improved AF algorithm
  • Dual memory card slot
  • Wi-Fi function
  • Film simulation modes (including ETERNA)
  • Creative filter effects

Design

So here’s the first doubt I have. Nothing on that list, superficially funky as it may appear, says this is the replacement for the Fujifilm X-T2. It feels just a tad transitional. The 24.3 megapixel APS-C sensor (not full frame) is a couple of years old and standard on several Fujifilm cameras and the image stabilisation is good but also a standard feature (or at least it should be) for any camera in this price range.

I’m not going to review the video capabilities as I’m not a videographer and very rarely shoot video – not my bag!. However, scanning reviews across the Web I’d conclude that while the video functionality is good, it isn’t outstanding.

Sure, it gets a tick for 4K (15 minutes maximum length) and 1080p@120fps (20 minutes maximum) but it isn’t groundbreaking and those lengths are nothing to brag about. This where the Vertical Power Booster grip comes in and why it is a must have: it allows the camera to draw on three batteries simultaneously, which increases the maximum number of frames per charge to about 900 in Normal mode, extends the maximum period for shooting movies in 4K to about 30 minutes, boosts burst speed to 11fps and also offers a headphone jack and AC input.

But the batteries are extra on top of the grip. Again, a part of me rebels against the idea of having  to buy a battery grip and batteries to get the functionality needed in a camera at this price level. And that extra battery power is a big plus for general use because the XH-1 chews up battery power with IBIS and Bluetooth on.  

Landscape shows the versatility of the lens and the quality colour out of the cameraCredit: Mike Gee
Landscape shows the versatility of the lens and the quality colour out of the camera

What is good is the touchscreen LCD – it’s easy to use and much better than that on the Sony a7R MK III which is a bit of a nightmare. In fact, I like the overall operating system. It doesn’t require rocket science to get around (unlike that of some of its competitors) and will suit semi-professionals and professionals as much as it will amateurs. I didn’t have to refer to the operating manual very often and, given the variety of operating systems a photographer now faces, that’s a blessing.  

Next Page: Performance, The Bottom Line and Image Gallery

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