Can Fujifilm’s fastest-ever camera turn the heads of nature and wildlife pros? Matty Graham takes a journey to the photo hide to find out more about the latest X Series flagship camera. Read our Fujifilm X-H2S Review.
WORDS & IMAGES MATTY GRAHAM
THINK ABOUT PROFESSIONAL Fujifilm photographers and the first pictures that would enter your mind will be those from wedding or street shooters. That’s not surprising, since the brand has built such an amazing name for itself on the back of premium quality images from cameras such as the X-T1 and X-Pro 3. In fact the IQ of these models is so renowned it’s been pivotal in persuading some pros to trade in their Leicas.
However, it’s probably fair to say that Fujifilm isn’t the first name that springs to mind when it comes to the challenging genre of wildlife photography. That is up until now, and suddenly the landscape has changed following the launch of Fujifilm’s fastest-ever camera, the X-H2S. A considerable upgrade on the original X-H1, there’s actually even more to this launch than might first appear, as Fujifilm has already confirmed there will be two versions ultimately available, with a higher megapixel model – the X-H2, boasting a 40MP back illuminated sensor – expected to be launched later this year.
Matty took the X-H2S along to a hide at a local bird reserve to shoot pictures of the wildfowl there, and came back hugely impressed.
Its arrival will give photographers a clear choice between speed or resolution, and it’s those working in genres such as sports and wildlife, where capturing action is key, who will have their heads turned by the X-H2S.
Built around Fujifilm’s 5th generation X-Trans CMOS 5 HS APS-C sensor, there’s 26.1MP of resolution on board, which results in a max file size of 6240 x 4160 -more than enough to create prints up to A3 in size. This is accompanied by the brand new X-Processor 5, which is two times faster than the Mk 4 version and enables such things as recording in the 10-bit HEIF format as well as reduced power consumption.
Now, it’s at this stage of this review that I can hear a distant groan, but the fact is that more and more professionals are employing APS-C-sensored cameras in their set-ups because of the advantages that a slightly smaller stacked sensor can bring in terms of performance, reduced hardware size and extended focal length reach. And, when it comes to Fujifilm’s newest X Series flagship camera, the speed stats in particular are head turning.
Let’s just go through those figures for a moment: the X-H2S is capable of firing off 40fps with blackout free shooting – and, remarkably, that’s with AF and AE employed. Drop down to 30fps and extended shooting sequences are accessible. In fact, users can fire off over 1000 JPEGs in one hit, an option that could come in very handy for the most demanding of action sequences, or for the capture of imagery with the ultimate intention of creating timelapses.
The new Fujifilm X-H2S looks every inch a professional model, but being APS-C format it’s smaller and lighter than full frame rivals.
In the Field
This incredible performance shows that Fujifilm is putting its flag in the ground and has jumped into the wildlife and action photography sector with both feet. In the photo hide I had headed out to in order to give this camera a proper workout in field conditions I have to confess it did feel a little weird being able to achieve burst rates so ridiculously fast from a Fujifilm camera.
Of course, speed is nothing without control, but this is where photographers will notice the biggest overall improvements, as the autofocus system on board this camera is first class. Essentially, there are 117 AF areas on offer, but there is far more synergy to the AF system than sheer numbers, because the Subject Detection modes work so well.
Wildlife photographers will find themselves slipping the Subject Detection setting to Birds, and being amazed at how the X-H2S picks up even the tiniest of them in the frame with a high degree of accuracy. Now, the purist pros out there might make the argument that this takes some of the skill out of image making, but the flip side is that your hit rate for great images will sky rocket, and no professional can ever say that’s a bad thing.
Low light AF performance is impressive as well, with -4 EV from the Contrast Detection AF points, and up to -7EV from the Phase Detection points. Along with Birds, the Subject Detection also caters for Animal, Automobile, Motorcycle & Bike, Airplane and Train. It’s well worth newcomers to the Fujifilm brand taking the time to explore the AF options accessible from the touch-sensitive LCD, as these will have to fit alongside your chosen workflow. I prefer to use the LCD to establish a focus point, although you can set it up so that you just need to tap the screen to fire the shutter as well.
The Fujifilm camera offers pro-spec features such as extensive weather sealing and impressive performance from a big battery. This delivers up to 720 shots on a full charge, an incredible stat that puts the efficiency close to DSLR level.
The LCD is impressive, measuring 3 inches in diameter and boasting a high resolution of 1.62 million dots. Being able to pinch and zoom to get a close look when reviewing frames also helps to speed up the process, and the clever design extends to the 0.5 inch OLED Colour Viewfinder, which offers 5.76 million dots of resolution. More importantly it also features a button that offers a choice of modes (LCD only etc), so that the monitor won’t turn off should you move your hand near the viewfinder sensor.
When it comes to the shape and size of the X-H2S, Fujifilm’s newest flagship is somewhat of a paradox. It certainly looks like a pro piece of kit, but at the same time it doesn’t appear overly bulky, and it’s definitely sleeker than the square format bodies, such as Canon’s R3. However, measuring 136.3mm x 92.9mm x 84.6 mm and tipping the scales at 660g (including battery and memory card), the X-H2S is slightly heavier than the X-T4 (607g). Compare the X-H2S to a rival APS-C sensor speedster, such as the Canon R7 (612g), and you might think the X-H2S is a little on the bloated side.
However, this doesn’t tell the whole story, as the Fujifilm camera offers prospec features such as extensive weather sealing and impressive performance from a big battery. This offers up to 720 shots on a full charge, an incredible stat that puts the efficiency close to DSLR levels and actually, in a wildlife or sports setting, a little extra bulk can be a bonus, since it helps to provide a firmer grip. If you need it there is also a vertical battery grip available for £ which packs two extra batteries in addition to the one in the main body, effectively tripling the overall life.
The X-H2S has a different-looking top plate, with the two separate dials replaced by a single PASM dial featuring seven custom pre-sets.
One big change is the X-H2S’s ability to accept both SD and CFexpress Type B cards, allowing huge amounts of data to be recorded.
Despite the proportions, the X-H2S doesn’t deviate too much from the classic Fujifilm DNA. The main difference you’ll notice is that there’s a change of exposure control on the top plate from the separate shutter and ISO dials either side of the X-H1’s viewfinder to a single PASM dial on the left hand side. This sports no fewer than seven custom pre-sets and it also means that there’s now room on the right-hand side of the camera to include dedicated buttons for movie recording, ISO, White Balance and a custom function, alongside the upper information display. Although it isn’t quite as retro chic as other Fujifilm cameras, such as the X-T4 or X-E4, the X-H2S is still a great looking camera.
In terms of operation, now is a good time to talk more about the In Body Image Stabilisation (IBIS) feature in the X-H2S.
The Toughest Fujifilm Ever?
LET’S FACE IT, if you’re a wildlife or sports photographer, it won’t be long until you’ll want to shoot in harsh conditions. This means that your camera has to be up to the job, and you can’t risk it being compromised because of inclement weather. The X-H2 is extremely well placed to deliver on this front since there are an incredible 79 weather-sealed points around the camera’s construction, and this offers a high level of protection against dust and moisture. Meanwhile the shutter mechanism has been built to withstand a whopping 500,000 actuations, which should provide a huge amount of reassurance, and the X-H2S can even operate in temperatures down to -10 degrees.
On offer to photographers is up to seven stops of compensation, thanks to the 5-axis IBIS system. There are rivals such as the OM System OM-1 and Canon’s newly-launched EOS R7 that offer up to 8-stops, but it’s still a stellar performance from the X-H2S.
In reality, this IBIS system sets you free to work handheld. For wildlife and sports photographers, who are likely to be using longer lenses, great IBIS performance is a must, as obviously camera shake is more pronounced at longer focal lengths. The benefits are abundant and immediately obvious, and make a huge difference out in the field.
Although I could easily rest the camera/lens on a ledge when shooting in a photography hide, I preferred to handhold the X-H2S and dart from window to window as there were quite a few subjects to capture, and IBIS is the key to unlocking the portability of the camera. Also present of course are no lens than 19 Film Simulation modes to allow photographers to any angle , including facing forward or back.
The side-hinged touchscreen on the X-H2S is fully articulated and can be flipped or twisted to get creative in-camera, which can be used for shooting video as well as stills. As you’d expect from a pro-level camera, the X-H2S features dual card slots, enabling users to make an instant back up of their content. However, here there’s another twist in the tale: rather than offer a pair of SD cards, instead there’s one SD and one CFexpress Type B. Professional stills photographers might feel 1^ like letting out a collective groan given the price difference between the two types of media, but look closer and there is solid reasoning behind Fujifilm’s decision.
One of the key reasons for a CFexpress Type B card slot to be on board is because it enables the reading and writing of huge amounts of data, on average at least four times more than SD cards. This, in turn, allows the X-H2S to be a true hybrid camera for today’s generation of professionals who, increasingly, have a need to shoot both stills and video.
The headline feature on the video front is the ability of the X-H2S to capture footage at 6.2K 30p, which will deliver incredible video that will enhance your production values. In reality, it may well be the case that the workflow for many hybrid shooters might not yet be ready for 6.2K due to the huge file sizes created by all that data, but in future proofing terms it’s good to have that spec onboard in any case.
I preferred to handhold the X-H2S and dart from window to window as there were quite a few subjects to capture, and IBIS is the key to unlocking the portability of the camera.
If I’m honest, as a hybrid professional myself, the more important video specification of this camera for me is its ability to shoot 4K at 120p, enabling videographers to shoot epic slow-motion sequences at super high res. Given the headlines around other brands in recent months, professionals are right to be a little wary when it comes to recording times, but it seems that Fujifilm has worked hard to make sure the X-H2S features impressive heat-management, since the camera can shoot up to 240 minutes of 4K/60p.
That’s a massive amount of time, and will open the door for videographers to capture super high-resolution timelapse creations. Fujifilm has even gone one step further and released an optional coolingfan accessory, priced at around £ to extend recording capabilities. There are various menu options for the fan, but Fujifilm claims it allows the X-H2S to film up to 51 minutes of 4k under temperatures of 40 degrees C, when it would have overheated after just 17 minutes without.
A handy little accessory for when the X-H2S is being used to shoot video for extended periods is an optional fan to keep temperatures down.
The X-H2S also supports Apple ProRes and is also the first camera to include Fujifilm’s newest Log profile, F-Log 2, which records an expanded dynamic range of 14+ stops – more than the original F-Log and sure to give the videographer more potential to make more of the shadows and highlights in the scene when editing the footage.
As you’d expect, there are ports for both headphones and an external mic, so enhanced audio can be both monitored and captured. However, this brings me on to one of my few niggles about this camera. With leads plugged in for headphones and mic, the tilting movement of the LCD is slightly restricted and this is quite annoying at times, especially when the camera is on a gimbal and you want to swivel the LCD for high/low compositions.
IT TAKES SOMETHING pretty special to stand out from the crowd in today’s world of bells and whistles cameras, but Fujifilm has presented a well-considered and feature-packed model that’s certainly going to appeal to what, for them, is likely to be a new audience. This is because the company has moved into previously uncharted territory by incorporating speed and autofocus performance that’s simply on another level to previous X-System cameras.
Along with amazing stills features and operation, the video capabilities of this camera will be more than enough to turn heads, and this is exactly what Fujifilm needs to do if they are going to snatch loyal sports and wildlife photographers away from rival brands such as Canon, Nikon and Sony. At £ (body only), the X-H2S is very keenly priced – and as a reminder, depending where you shop, you could buy a pair of these cameras for the same price as a Canon R5 or Nikon Z9.
The launch also provides further proof, if any were needed, that these days professionals can, and should, be weighing up whether they actually need to go for a camera that features a full-frame sensor.
The X-H2S is certainly fast enough to satisfy professional sports and wildlife photographers and, if you feel that resolution really is something of a deal breaker, then all you need to do is to hold on for a few months until the high-res version of this camera comes along.