UPDATE: the companion YouTube video for this article is now up: Hoping for these Fujifilm X-H2 ergonomic improvements VS the X-H1.
The X-H1 was a great idea and it should have been another great Fujifilm camera. It carried forward Fujifilm’s incredible JPEG engine, colour, and processing. It gained a useful top-plate screen, in-body stabilisation, and a grip. It should have been an epochal product which drew closer the divided camps of mirrorless and DSLR cameras. Unfortunately, its design misses are many, and large, and ultimately it was eclipsed in the action/sports arena by Fujifilm’s X-T3.
ENTER: FUJIFILM X-H1
INSTANT OHMAGE - LEICA SL'S HAPTIC MIRACLE
FUJIFILM GFX-50S - VERSATILE PROFILE
Fujifilm X H1 VS Leica SL Part 1 - basic handling
Fujifilm X-H1 VS Leica SL Part 2 - gloves
Nevertheless, I have high hopes for the X-H2, primarily because screenshots of the GFX-100 show that Fujifilm are listening to pros both from within and without its fanboy base. The following is a list of changes that would make it a better camera for the action photographer that values basic DSLR ergonomics and form factor and who hasn’t a hipster bone in his or her body.
1. Better formed/larger grip (see Nikon D200, Leica SL, Panasonic G9)
The X-H1’s grip juts out perpendicularly from the body. Snap on a fast lens, and it safely balances the camera from a single finger. It also puts enough space between it and the mount to ensure that even the fattest (or gloviest) fingers won’t get pinched between it and a lens.
But it is too narrow, orphaning average length fingers from both sexes. See that? Like grasping a handful of spaghetti, it’s all air from middle to proximal phalanx. It’s also a bit too short for average sized male hands, at the very least orphaning the baby finger. The grips on Canon’s 80D and Fujifilm’s X-H1 are similar in stature and depth. But the 80D’s is thicker, and, lacking a front command dial, leaves enough room for a firmer, five-finger grip.
2 Better/larger battery (see Fujifilm GFX, Canon EOS R)
I have no idea how Fujifilm were able to squeeze 310 frames from the X-H1 under CIPA conditions. I don’t even get half of that in my studio. I’ve used the X-H1 in two magazine shoots in the last year and a number of smaller advertising projects. The following is a list of the mechanistic processes I run through when rote shooting for inexpensive print publications.
Plug in wireless flash trigger
Set shutter speed to between 1/125 - 1/200
Set the lens aperture to F/8
Set optical or other stabilisation to ON when not using a camera stand
Set ISO as low as it will go
Place item (up to 2 minutes but usually less than 30 seconds)
Maybe re-place it (another 2 minutes but usually less than 30 seconds)
Erase if necessary
This I rinse and repeat until finished or until the battery runs out, which in the X-H1’s case, is at least twice in a single session. Under the above conditions, herein dubbed: NATCH (AKA, NAthan’s Take & CHimp) I never squeeze more than 120 images per charge from the X-H1. To be fair, neither the X-T1 nor the X-Pro 1 did better. And, while the Leica SL has horrible battery life, it still cranks out a minimum of 200 NATCH exposures per charge. And NATCHed, the GFX never takes fewer than 300 exposures. My old D800 could finish two such magazine shoots back to back, with enough battery life left to capture a wild family romp in the park afterward.
Running-and-guning, or rat-a-tat-tat-ing away at a football pitch or playground, you can get a thousand or more images per charge with the X-H1. But the same is true for almost every camera out there. What kills battery in normal weather is the slow, deliberate, and careful photography typical to still life. The GFX, with its 3,5x larger sensor can capture nearly treble the number of photos. With the GFX’s battery, an X-H2 could potentially power through still life assignments with as much autonomy as a Nikon D800. And, if installed in the grip, it would also solve much of the ergonomic problems outlined in section 1.
And while we’re at it, why not design the battery to go into the camera only one way? The current cubic design goes in every which way, and has few to no tactile directionally indicators or entry bars of any kind. This makes it a real bugger to properly insert in the dark (TWSS).
3 Properly-sized and shaped directional pad/joystick (see Leica SL and Panasonic G9)
There is plenty of room on the X-H1 for a proper, sizeable, and tactile directional pad or joystick. Something like the Leica SL’s or Panasonic G9’s - both of which are easily felt through gloves - would be optimal. The current one is too easy to accidentally depress. And it is so small that it can disappear under a fingernail. Sadly, it’s not even as reliable as the shorties installed in Canon and Nikon cameras. Perhaps Fujifilm get away with it because Fujifilm fans are too uncritical. Perhaps it is because they think that difference for the sake of difference means progress. Even the massive GFX keeps with the microscopic nipple. Look, I’ve got nothing against nipples. I have a pair myself. But if your camera’s got to have a directional nipple, quit it with baby stuff. Pregnant women have the best, most anatomically utilitarian nipples around. It’s their nipples or bust.
4 Integrated shutter speed dial (see Leica SL, S2/3, Leica M, Leicaflex SL or to a lesser degree any DSLR)
The X series got its start by appealing to ‘tradition’ (or to hipsters that thought they knew a thing or two about it). The X-H1’s chunky, powder coated body, replete with top-mounted display, and pointy grip should appeal to a wholly different group.
One thing that many action photographers rely on is simple, reliable physical UI. The X-H1’s physical UI is a slight evolution of the X-Pro 1’s. And let me remind you that in order to select the X-Pro 1’s fastest flash sync speed, you had to either first switch the camera into T mode and roll the sub dial to 1/180; or, you had to set the shutter dial to 1/125 or 1/250 and roll the sub dial up or down from there.
Six years later, Fujifilm’s ostensible action camera had to first be set to T mode in order to access all shutter speeds. Twirling the sub dial will get you 2/3 of an exposure value up or down from the labelled exposure speed on the main dial. Old timers may look at the X-H1 and think, yay! Finally a DSLR-style camera that reminds of the the simple, halcyon days of yore. On the surface, the X-H1 does just that. In practice, however, it betrays the simplicity of the past by hiding more than 80% of its shutter speed settigns in unlabelled dials and forcing you to fiddle with three settings when one will do.
To make matters worse, the X-H1’s top screen can display a shutter speed of 1/320 while its shutter speed dial says 1/250. Incredible.
5 Parallel-aligned SD cards (see Leica SL)
It is okay for one card to occlude another when there’s not enough space. If installed in parallel (as seen in the Leica SL), cards are easily inserted blind or with gloves. In the X-H1, the front card blocks the back card, and inserting the back card requires pincer-like fingers, or fingernails. The only acceptable scenario for installing SD cards in front or behind each other is if the rear card is much larger than the other.
6 Extruded sub-dials (see Leica SL)
Current X-H1 sub-dials compete too much with the rubber panels around them, or take up too much valuable finger space, pushing hands lower, and weakening the grip. This also makes it harder to activate the dials. Finally, these dials are too finely toothed, and require more attention and energy to engage than necessary.
7 Drive and meter buttons (see Canon’s mid/high-end dSLRs)
Fujifilm installed into the X-H1 drive and metering mode dials from the X-T. In good weather, and if your fingers are thin and your fingernails long, this system works. But it is prone to accidental bumps and is extremely difficult to change when the fingers are cold, gloved, or stubby and fat.
Dedicated drive and metering buttons, which activate with corresponding twirls of the dial would ensure that settings aren’t inadvertently changed, as well as make important changes easy in the field in all weather conditions.
8 Rear-mounted autofocus switch (see Panasonic’s high-end Lumix and Nikon dSLRs)
While it is trivial to change the X-H1’s MCS focus lever, the settings are too close together, not visible when looking at the back of the camera, and none of those settings can be further honed with a combination of push button and dial. Nikon did the latter right with the D850. Unfortunately, they placed the lever on the front, meaning that the camera lost some amount of direct or tactile feedback. It would be great to be able to depress the lever to cycle through various AF settings. Alternatively, and much like Panasonic’s high end Lumix camera’s, the central button could activate AF-ON functionality.
9 Make the 4-way pad larger, and re-shape the keys (see X-Pro 1 and GFX)
This may be an unpopular opinion, but I prefer the X-Pro 1’s 4-way pad to the X-H1’s and certainly to the X-T1’s and X-T2’s. Its flatter, more extruded buttons were easier to press. But the pad was still a bit too small. Even my narrow thumbs cover the X-H1’s 4-way pad completely. I will often accidentally hit one, or other directional button. If the buttons stuck out more, it would be easier to pinpoint which to press. Currently they are too flush with the body, forcing errors. Even if they didn’t reform the button shape, they could at least enlarge the array to match the GFX, which is far easier to use.
10 Re-form the AF-ON button (copy from Nikon D800)
It’s great to have a dedicated AF-ON button, but currently, it is too close to the AE-L button. Worse, it is hidden in a recessed niche which itself is placed at a strange angle to the thumb stop. As a result, it is harder to activate than any nearby control. It should be placed where thumb naturally falls or hooks into. Currently that space is taken up by the shutter speed sub dial. It should not be hard to reach, or press.
This list is by no means exhaustive but it details what I think are the most pressing design issues for Fujifilm to correct in order to bring the X-H2 to the fore among enthusiast-level action and sporting mirrorless cameras. As an ardent admirer of Fujifilm’s JPEG engine, I pine for the day when their X lineup is divided by design and utility for the hipster as well as the no-nonsense working class. O