Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Fujifilm X-H1: Hybrid GFX/XT Inspired Excellence

Fujifilm X-H1: Hybrid GFX/XT Inspired Excellence
February 2021, Carl Garrard

When I returned my loaner X-H1 to Fujifilm back in February 2019, it didn't occur to me then that I just sent back my favorite X mount camera ever. And I certainly had no intention to wait two years to write a review about it either. For reasons I still can't explain, the timing to complete a review just didn't feel right. I guess I just wasn't ready to decide what to think about the X-H1 at that time. I knew it's design was a blend of stills and video of sorts, and I knew how Fujifilm were marketing it. Nearly two years on from the day I originally sent the X-H1 back, I know exactly what I want to say about it.
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Back then, I couldn't figure out just how I wanted to approach the X-H1. I needed more time to figure out why that was before beginning to attempt a review. Shortly after it's return to Fujifilm HQ, my attention was drawn further away from doing a review as I had been sent a slew of other loaner cameras from Fujifilm over the next year to evaluate. This included XT cameras, GFX cameras, and even entry level models.
Today, I own my own X-H1. There are other reasons besides doing other reviews that I'm just now getting around to writing my opinion of it. But that was then, and now I'll explain why I think it is the best all-round X mount camera that Fujifilm offers, even compared to the new models today. Keep in mind a lot has changed with the X-H1 since it was introduced in 2018. Now that Fujifilm has a more expanded lineup of cameras and lenses, the X-H1 makes more sense than it did in that year. And people have been buying them up. Factor in the point of diminishing returns with new cameras, and it looks even more appealing. The X-H1 is near future proof.
In short, it's awesome.
Spine Cloud (Cirrus Vertebratus), Raw image Acros preset, Capture One


Fujifilm X-H1 Review

First I must address the X-H1's overall reputation. Obviously, where the X-H1 stands now is in a much different place than when it was originally introduced to the market. Fujifilm's X-H1 just makes more sense in the X-mount lineup, plus X-mount users' fears of Fujifilm abandoning the popular lines of cameras like the XT/XPRO/XE cameras have also been put well to rest (more on that in a bit). 
The truth is, the X-H1 is Fujifilm's highest level APS-C camera. It is a professional tool by all standards and metrics. Pictures do not do this camera justice. Hold a new one, and you know right away what I'm talking about. Shoot one, well, it's unique. Classy, refined. Different. 
At the heart of the X-H1 is an overbuilt magnesium chassis, similar to GFX medium format cameras.

I've found that it's design and handling share more in common with the professional GFX line than it does with its X mount brethren. In addition, firmware updates, X-Mount lineup expansions (cameras and lenses both), and price drops have all contributed to its increased popularity. As a result, the X-H1 has been gaining more fans than ever before. But this certainly wasn't always the case.

With the X-H1's introduction, many fans felt that Fujfilm had possibly betrayed them, fearing Fujifilm would only offer DSLR styled cameras like the X-H1 in the future. Those misconceptions spread by word of mouth, fueled additionally by rushed and ignorant reviews. Combined, both contributed to the X-H1's slow start in the market, not because of the actual camera itself. All in all, way too many ill informed opinions and fears about the X-H1 in 2018. It happens.
But since its introduction, a new X-PRO camera, multiple XT/GFX, and even one X-E camera have been added, completely alleviating Fujifilm fans' anxiety and concerns of Fujifilm abandoning their core designs. General performance has improved greatly because of its many firmware updates, and its menu options have also been refined and expanded. There's even a supplemental manual online for all the feature updates.
Simply put, the X-H1 today makes much more sense in Fujifilm's lineup than it did when it was first introduced, it really got a bad rap for pretty much no reason at all. So we're starting here with a fresh opinion of the X-H1 in its final form, putting the past behind us.
I lichen the X-H1.


I've spent a good amount of time in the last year making images with my Nikon DSLR system, most recently using the D810 for landscapes and the D500 for action. In my opinion, those are the best two cameras you can get in that system for the dollar for those duties (arguably in any system). However, lugging both cameras and lenses around on a trip up the mountain or even on vacation sometimes isn't practical. I've ended up having to choose which set of compromises I'm willing to give up by taking only one Nikon body and respective lenses.

This is where the X-H1 really fits a niche in the middle of both, and almost entirely solves that problem of indecision or compromise. It can shoot exceptionally good landscape images (its raw files are to die for, and very close to full frame quality), and it's got the speed and autofocus chops to be reliable "enough" for bird in flight and other action circumstances. It's excellent in low light too (see the last image of this review). Choosing the right lenses of course really helps matters, as it always does.
If you want to adapt lenses to your X-H1 you can. There's even an autofocusing adapter for Canon lenses. There are other X-mount direct lens options appearing as well, as pictured here.
Personally, I chose to own it because of its well rounded, do-it-all design. Somehow it seamlessly merges many of the best traits from the GFX and X cameras into one body. It's designed as a true stills/video hybrid to perform above average in a wide range of photographic/videocentric assignments. I tend to look at the X-H1 as an entire toolbox in your hand, versus the other X models being the individual tools. 
And it performs this task tremendously well. Better than I remember in 2018.
"The Peaks" via Sunset Crater route. Had to stop and soak up this gorgeous view.


Handling and Ergonomics

The X-H1 from an ergonomic standpoint is the best handling and most comfortable X camera from Fujifilm yet. No it's not the prettiest (and by no means the ugliest), but I definitely tend to prefer camera designs that prioritize ergonomics and control placement over appearance. And the X-H1 does this better than any other APS-C X mount camera to date. Much better too than most of the mirrorless competition out there (Panasonic G5/G9 which are good but not great, any and all of Sony's cameras for example, which have atrocious handling, menu's, and ergonomics).

It mostly looks and handles like a mini GFX 50S. So for those who can't afford a medium format system, squint your eyes a bit and pretend. I'm a big fan of the GFX cameras and lenses (all of them). I'm not a fan of how large the system is when I need to go light, otherwise it's awesome. Although, the GFX 100S is making everyone rethink this...(more on that later).

GFX 50s back view, see similarities?

And again with the top view, very similar traits to the X-H1

Also lets eliminate another misconception. The X-H1 isn't a large camera as I've heard stated several times, it's only large-er compared to Fujifilm's other offerings. My D810, my D3s, well those are big cameras. The lenses? Oh those are even bigger still! In fact, it's almost identical to Panasonic's m4/3 camera, the G9 (both size and weight). Think Canon Rebel size, not very big. So if you think it's large, you're either misled, or, you have no experience with it.
X-H1 Top view, a 50S with no fanny

X-H1 Rear view, looks like a 50S after a 30 day fast

One design decision though makes it the best X mount camera of all: the ability to use the command dials for aperture/ISO/e.v/shutter speed even with lenses that have an aperture ring (set to A). This allows me to use the X-H1 like I do my Nikon and Canon DSLRs. Since this is my shooting style, I prefer it this way. With the X-T2, I can only shoot with it this way if the lens doesn't have an aperture ring (grrr!). I set up the X-H1 with Aperture/E.V comp for the rear dial, and ISO/Shutter Speed for the front dial. Pushing in the command dial (with a nice click) changes each. It's fantastic.

This set up gives me an exposure triangle at my fingertips, never having to readjust the position of my shooting hand or even shoot with both hands. And who would want to move their hand off of the X-H1's fantastic grip?

So  the X-H1 is a fusion of both GFX and XT worlds into one body that eliminates a lot of handling issues with XT cameras. Then factor in those impressive video chops sprinkled on top and you have one hell of a good camera.

Campsite sunrise, fingernail moon and high clouds. Dynamic range is impressive in the raw files. ISO-less sensor, shoot base ISO and enjoy.

Shooting With the X-H1
Beyond handling and ergonomics, the buttery quiet shutter, IBIS, delicious feather touch shutter release, large detailed viewfinder, and the massive dynamic range also are all DNA from the GFX line. It's delicious and wonderfully unique to shoot with. Its comfort, class, and refinement are reminiscent of a fast luxury car. 
And it's build quality, oh the build. 

I'm reminded of the durability, weather resistance, comfort, ergonomics, and layout of the professional tier GFX cameras (grip, controls, gorgeous top mounted OLED sub-display), which are far superior to the XT series. It even looks like a GFX camera. But it has the speed and responsiveness of the XT series cameras in every other respect, and in some ways faster and more responsive.
Beyond that, some of its external controls and general operation also remind me of the XT series. The ISO dial and Shutter Speed dial placement are a perfect example, the AF joystick, and large soft eyecup, are all indeed reminiscent of the XT series. The thing is, the X-H1 makes better use of those top dials, the drive/photometry switches underneath, and the front/rear control dials too. Eliminating all of my frustrations with the XT 1/2 cameras. 


It's a  more pleasant camera to shoot with than the XT series almost all of the time because it eliminated two major frustrations- by improving the fiddly drive/photometry switches of the XT cameras, and giving full control over exposure adjustments with the command dials. Boom.

The shutter release is class, pure class. It's a leaf spring design unlike the typical design in other cameras. Think of it more of a departure from the 'norm' than a feather touch shutter. I've become used to it and have learned to like it quite a lot in fact. But, when I use other cameras and then go back to the X-H1, yep I have to get used to it again. But man, if you allow yourself get used to one, you'll be spoiled.
It doesn't have that two stage defined "break", but you can prefocus just fine without accidentally making an exposure. It's definitely not near as sensitive as the Panasonic G9's which I truly hated. It was so sensitive all I could concentrate on is whether or not I was going to accidentally take a picture when prefocusing, totally distracting. Annoying too, and I lost count how many accidental images I made with it. 
Not with the X-H1, this one, I love. 
The damped shutter mechanism with suspension (yes it has actual suspension) is one of the most beautifully sounding shutter cycles I've heard. It doesn't take long to get used too at all, a few images and you'll get the feel for it. It's truly beautiful engineering. Okay enough gushing on the shutter release now.

Another mention is the Sub Monitor on top of the camera. This is a modern OLED screen, and not only is it customizable to show what type of settings you prefer, but you can also change the appearance of it from a black background with white letters, to a white background with dark letters. It's a beautiful addition to the camera, and the same kind found on the GFX models. The illumination button has a satisfying click when you want it to be brighter too. It's a bit of a stretch for the finger gripping the camera, but not terrible by any respect.

It has a touch screen too, which is good in two ways;  it helps to future proof the camera, and allows additional versatility to camera operation if you prefer. I'm not not a big fan of using a touch screen for camera operation, but I definitely like having it for image review and magnification, etc. For those that do like to use it for operation, you won't be disappointed. It can be configured multiple ways and even adds 4 directional and customizable "swipe buttons" if you wish. Tiling up and down, and sideways, just like the X-T2/3 but only easier to grab and pull out in any direction.

The X-H1 is a Toolbox

When I think of using a camera for a task, I first envision the details of the task and create a checklist in my head that I need a camera to check off. It doesn't seem to matter what job list I create either, the X-H1 checks off a lot of those boxes in almost every single category. It has few weaknesses, like, I can't fit it in my pocket for example. I joke, but one camera is never going to be ideal for every category of photography.
Essentially, this is the X-H1. Or at least, how you should think of it.
Yet the X-H1 is certainly a better all rounder than many many other cameras.

For backpacking, road trips, or daily hikes, I can pack the X-H1, 1-3 batteries, and two high quality zoom lenses (and maybe the 27mm pancake too, done).. I know that for almost every circumstance I'm pretty much covered. And the entire system is pretty light, weather sealed, cold proof. It's liberating to have so much capability with such a compact combination.

What I find most helpful about X-H1 though, is just how little sacrifice there is using an X-H1 and a couple lenses vs. having to choose a combination from my larger and smaller systems. When I need one camera to fulfill a singular role, this is the one I bring.
Of course GFX cameras blow the X-H1 away in the image quality segment, but the X-H1's sensor is no slouch either. It's remarkably close to full frame systems in terms of detail and noise, and especially so in dynamic range. And I definitely prefer the 24mp sensor's output more than I do the newer 26mp unit found in several cameras now. 
Sunset Crater National Park, I love the X-H1's raw files with all the detail an dynamic range.
It's just that good.
And although the PDAF system isn't as sophisticated as my D500's, several iterations of firmware updates have brought it to a very competent level in terms of autofocus performance (choose the right lens!). I find it to be more sufficient as an action camera in good light than I'd ever expect it to be.
Customize, Customize, Customize

I cannot stress enough to a new buyer of an X-H1 to take the time to customize the camera to your needs. Be patient, take as much time as you need to tweak it. The menus may be a bit quirky in comparison to other cameras, and it may take a little time to get everything right, but it's so worth it. Do not short cut this step, no matter how daunting the menu may seem. If you do so, you will be supremely rewarded with a camera that feels customized to how you shoot.

Remember, this is not an entry level camera. It is for advanced shooters. Set it up to work your way. Tweak the controls, the menu items, and the autofocus. It's all in there, and likely you'll find a combination of everything to make the X-H1 work for you. In a way, the X-H1 is like a Transformer, it can be manipulated to do several things very well.

Optimus Prime forever.

I guess if the X-H1 has any I should start with battery life. Although overall it's average to good, it's definitely not the worst and certainly not the best I've experienced. If you wish, you can increase battery life/offset battery life in several ways. First by being able to charge the camera via USB is huge, you can always keep the X-H1 topped off. Secondly the batteries are very small and affordable, so it's easy to bring extras. Lastly, you can change menu items in the camera to save power if needed (this works). 
I'm not an add on grip type, but for those that are, obviously you can double the battery life by adding one as it takes two of the newer NP-126S batteries.
Further on this subject, I recently went on a trip to Northern Arizona for 3 days of camping (tent camping, outdoors) and didn't drain one battery completely. Night temps were down to 23 degrees and never got above 50. I shot well over 400 shots and still had half of my original battery (I had two spares I never had to use). I mixed in video as well (3 video files over 5 min each). So 600-800 shots per battery should be your mixed real life usage, and that includes viewing your images on the LCD. 

The lack of a threaded shutter release bugs me a bit. I do like having the ability to add a soft touch to my cameras, or threaded cable release. But I have a list of Nikon DSLRs that don't have that feature either, so it is not by any means a deal breaker. It just surprised me that Fujifilm didn't include one (maybe the weight alone of a soft shutter release would accidentally trigger an exposure? Part kidding, part  not).
Fujfilms 24mp sensor handles reds/sunsets so well. Superior even to my Nikon D610 full frame camera.
Otherwise I have no complaints really, no deal breakers of course. But it can be improved upon.
A Future X-H2?
Ah the inevitable part of the review where I wish upon a star, and pontificate my idea of a perfect X-H1 successor. I have to say though, it would be hard to improve upon the X-H1, but I have some very reasonable refinement suggestions to share with the good peoples of Fujifilm (this is for them).
  •  Starting with the shutter release... I like it, but having the option to adjust it's tension yourself with a small allen wrench would be stellar. Add a threaded shutter release to it as well.
  •  Definitely go with the new X-T4 battery, it has the space in the grip. You could still use the older batteries for the original battery grip so that a new redesign isn't necessary. Improve the magnification of the viewfinder to .80x, and increase the resolution to a 5+ mp unit.
  •  Add backlit buttons, and a "night mode" to the rear LCD/EVF.
  •  Update the AF system to focus well in those very low light levels confidently (like the PDAF systems of good DSLRS), and improve focus tracking further.
  •  Expand the ISO range so that ISO 100 is base, add a low 50 as an expanded option. If you must use the 26mp (or more, ugh) fine, but I prefer the 24mp unit's output personally. It's currently more resolution than most ever need, and has comparably better ISO noise performance through the entire range than the 26mp unit.
  •  Button shuffles: Move the Q button above and left to the D-pad, and move the joystick up a bit. While you are at it, move the focus switch on the front as a ring switch around the joystick. This way it can be quickly manipulated with the thumb one handed and it takes up almost no extra space on the rear. Make the old Q button a dedicated video button or better yet, a FN button to customize yourself.
  •  Update the port types in the left side of the camera to more commonly used types, and add a dedicated headphone jack.
  • Add a hard rubber foot to the bottom of the camera near the tripod mount, so the bottom doesn't get all scratched up.
  • Tilt and swivel LCD, some won't like that, but remember this is also a video centric camera. 
  • Aesthetically, a gunmetal option (with black lettering vs. white) in addition to black w/white lettering would be so fricken delicious how can you not take this advice?
  • Further organize the menu system.


There's room for a future X-H2, and a new found "X-H" fan base to buy them up.

It's important to remember that what I've written about the X-H1 comes from experience. I've owned or evaluated much of what digital has to offer from multiple camera makers, in mirrorless and DSLR.  So it's with full confidence then when I say the X-H1 is at the top with the best of modern offerings. To make matters even sweeter, it's also at a killer price point now. It's a better camera now than when it was introduced, but it's about 1/3rd of the original price.  That's amazing. 
This is a top tier APS-C pro level camera for well under $1,000.00. Two years on has only improved my perspective and opinion of the X-H1, and price has nothing to do with that.  Panasonic's G95 was my favorite do-almost-everything well camera (for the buck), but the X-H1 takes it yet another level better (in nearly all respects). 
More Sunset Crater beauty. Glad I chose the X-H1. Only brought one lens, the Fujinon16-80mm f/4, and never regretted that decision. Fantastic landscape lens at f/8.

The intangible and unique charm the X-H1 possesses is something worth reiterating. After you set one up your way, it becomes a very personal and highly rewarding stills camera to shoot with. You don't want to put it down. Mixing in personal customization with an already excellently engineered and crafted design is rather, well, intoxicating. It's just so comfortable to hold, so seamless to operate, and so capable at many different tasks. It is truly a gem, and at current prices a camera you probably don't want to pass up.
All of it adds up to a personal admiration of the X-H1 that I can't convey in text, but mostly I want to congratulate Fujifilm on paying attention to so many important details. It's a camera that has grown on me significantly. It's not only a camera that I can shoot much like my DSLR's, but one I can shoot like my XT-2 or Leica M8. 
What a treat.

Tijeras Creek Ridge at sunset, Sepia
And although it doesn't have an optical viewfinder, it makes the best use of the EVF to simulate the benefits of optical finders that I've seen to date. Black out time when using electronic first curtain during continuous shooting is nearly non existent. Using natural live view mode though is the key to the simulation, nearly merging the best of both evf/ovf worlds together. It's an endearing design touch that truly respects photographers whom prefer optical finders. 
Props to all behind the X-H1's design.

To get the most image quality out of the X-H1, I highly recommend downloading Capture One, and using that raw converter (with all its loaded presets and profiles specifically for Fujifilm X/GFX cameras). Ditch Adobe products for Fujifilm raw files. Capture One is tailored to Fujifilm cameras and all their film simulations, and it actually sharpens them properly if you feel the need to do that (no worms or halos like Adobe). It's X-Trans III sensor has  no AA filter, so detail is already highly present especially with a sharp lens.
Best of all, it's free.
So If you can live with the relatively limited lens lineup (only compared to Canon/Nikon DSLR lineups), the X-H1 is probably the best dollar for dollar mirrorless camera you can buy right now. Get one, update the firmware, customize its controls/menu, and enjoy!

Stay focused,


*P.S- I must share a video I found after I completed this review. It was entirely written and titled before I watched this review. This is very important to remember before you watch it.
Know first that my experience of researching the X-H1 online before and after my trial period with Fujfilm in 2019, was limited only to reading basic specifications on the camera. I purposely did not watch videos or read other reviews because I find that whether I want them too or not, others opinions will have some sort of effect of my own. Doing this on purpose maintains my integrity and honesty in my opinions on camera design when I write reviews.

When I watched this video, I smiled at certain part because of what David Flores and Justin Stailey at Fujifilm say about the design of the X-H1. But what is so great, is that the entire theme of my review (including the title) was based on my own singular impressions that mirror Fujifilm's intent with the design. This not only confirms what I have written, but also what Fujifilm intended to do with the X-H1.  Talk about  additional confirmation of my own impressions of it's design!

Enjoy the video, which starts right at the point I started smiling. The entire video is worth watching however. Listen closely to what they say about the design of the X-H1, sound similar to my review?

First Look Fujifilm X-H1 With Justin Stailey *
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Gratuitous feline shot, ISO 12,800. Ranger watching crows in the window.


  1. A very thorough and accurate review of an extremely under appreciated work horse camera. I have a pair of XH1s and together with my GFX50s I can see no logical or emotional reason to change anything; all my photography needs are more than satisfied with my current system and as you have already mentioned, the diminishing returns of the latest and greatest cameras, make it more logical to enjoy the tools that are familiar and consistently produce the desired results. If it ain't broke why fix it.

  2. Thank you! :) Yes it is definitely under appreciated. You have two of my favorite Fuji's! 50s is so remarkable, it's on a completely different level of IQ, scary good IQ! Another thing I like about the XH1 so much- JUST FUN TO USE! No irritating quirks or deal breakers. Paired with the 16-80 f/4, it's a great general use duo that balances and feels so nice together.

  3. I hope Fuji will not screw next edition with fully articulated LCD. Another thing is that I`d prefer have AF-L surrounded by MCS switch and joystick next to thumb rest ( bit like Panasonic S5 solution) This is from still use viewpoint but unfortunately rumors are talking about 8K video orientated machine which is really confusing and typical recent Fuji philosophy.

  4. Since you and I both recommended the MCS switch, it needs to happen. ;) haha
    Fujifilm are in an interesting spot, they've grown big enough to appeal to larger crowds and many of them aren't necessarily into Fujifilm's style that got them there. They have big choices to make on future designs.