Just what is an X-H, and what does Fujifilm’s new flagship tell us about an X-T5?
|After a four-year break, Fujifilm has an X-H model in its lineup again. But the X-H2S (left) is not quite a like-for-like replacement: that’s expected in September.|
When we were briefed on the X-H1, back in 2018, Fujifilm put emphasis on the idea it was intended as a stills/video hybrid. It had the most advanced video specs then seen on an X-series camera, gained the in-body stabilization that’s so useful for video shooters and internal Log capture, all of which suggested Fujifilm was taking video very seriously.
It was also the first X-series camera to feature a top-plate LCD instead of a dedicated exposure compensation dial. And it was also the first X-series model to feature a large handgrip, which became another thing that some users grabbed onto. So to speak.
What was clear is that it sat at the top of the company’s lineup. Fujifilm called the X-H1 its ‘flagship’ and it was, until this week, the most expensive X-series camera to be launched*.
But there was no immediate follow-up to the X-H1, and many of its features, including in-body stabilization were added to the X-T4, which bettered the X-H in terms of both photo and video capabilities. Which raised the question: just what does the X-H line stand for?
With a single data point to work from, different people have focused on different aspects of the X-H1 to answer that question. Now that the X-H2S has arrived and we know a little more about its 40MP sister model, where does that leave us, and what does it mean for the X-T line?
What is the X-H2S?
In order to make sense of what an X-H might be, it makes sense to understand what the X-H2S is and, just as importantly, what it isn’t.
It should go without saying, but the X-H2S is not an X-T4 replacement: it’s a lot more expensive and there’s no ‘T’ in the name. The promise of an X-H2 in September suggests it’s not a direct X-H1 successor, either. Instead both the feature set and price indicate that it’s a new, higher-end X-series camera than we’ve ever seen before.
|The Stacked CMOS chip that enables the X-H2S’s high performance for both stills and video is also part of why the camera is so much more expensive than previous X-series models.|
Stacked CMOS sensors tend to be much more expensive to make, but they make possible the high-speed shooting, fast-refreshing viewfinders, advanced AF and high-end video capabilities that the X-H2S offers. This means the X-H2S looks expensive compared with its BSI sister models and predecessor (and, frankly, a bit pricey compared with mid-level full-frame cameras), but promises a level of performance we’ve only seen from other Stacked CMOS cameras.
The X-H2S doesn’t necessarily signal what future X cameras are going to cost from now on
The least expensive Micro Four Thirds camera with a Stacked chip costs $2200. The lowest launch price of a full-frame camera with a Stacked CMOS sensor was the $4500 Sony a9. Compared to rivals with useably fast electronic shutters and super high-speed shooting, the X-H2S suddenly doesn’t seem as expensive.
The proof of that performance will come when we test it, of course, but it’s worth making clear that this is a high-performance model of the kind that hasn’t existed in the X-series before: which in turn means it doesn’t necessarily signal what future X cameras are going to cost from now on.
Is this the video model?
The Stacked CMOS’s speed clearly has benefits for video. And, like the X-H1 did, back in 2018, the X-H2S sets a considerably higher bar for the video capabilities of the X-series.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the array of resolutions, bitrates and codecs, but the X-H2S offers a spec that’s not just high for the brand, but high for any stills/video camera we’ve yet seen. It doesn’t have video support tools as polished as the Panasonic GH6, and I’m sure there’ll be zoom flicker videos being linked in the comments the moment I hit publish, but the X-H2S looks like a very, very promising camera for shooting video.
|If the X-H2S were intended as a video-focused model, why would the fan unit be an optional extra?|
But that isn’t the same as saying it is a video camera. Fujifilm’s presentation may have made reference to the ‘H’ in the name denoting ‘heavy duty’ but its stills specs suggest that ‘hybrid’ is just as relevant as it was with the X-H1. Just look at the decision to make the cooling fan optional: it’s an added cost for users who need extra dependability when shooting video in warm environments that Fujifilm didn’t want to be borne by the X-H2S’s stills shooters. It’s hard to think of a more tangible indication that the X-H2S is for both stills and video shooters.
But what about the dials?
The X-H1 was the first X-series camera to control exposure compensation with a button press, rather than a dedicated dial, instead giving over part of the top plate to an LCD status panel. It’s a decisive decision: I find the former more useful than the latter, but I know plenty of people who prefer a status screen, so it’s nice to have the choice.
This design had no impact at all on subsequent X-T models, with the X-T3 and 4 still offering the dedicated dials that so many users love about Fujifilm. Instead, the next time we saw an X-H-like control layout was on the company’s first medium format body: the GFX 50S.
|The control layout and philosophy of the X-H2S comes directly from cameras like the GFX 50S II: not exactly Fujifilm’s most video-focused model.|
There’s a logical progression of this control layout that starts at the X-H1 and leads, via the GFX 50S, 100, 100S and 50S II, to the design of the X-H2S. Anyone who thinks the shutter speed dial has been sacrificed to appease the video-shooting vandals hasn’t been watching the development of the GFX series.
The X-H2S’s control logic isn’t from a video camera or copied from other manufacturers, it’s borrowed from the GFX 50S II, which I can’t imagine has made many ripples in the video world.
What does this mean for the X-T series?
|The X-T4 brought a larger grip, image stabilization and advanced video capabilities to the X-T range. If both X-H2 models end up offering all those things, it takes the pressure off a hypothetical X-T5 to play a hybrid role.|
To understand what the X-H2S tells us about the X-T series, it’s worth considering what we know about the promised X-H2 model. It’ll be a 40MP camera with a BSI sensor at its heart and, it seems fair to assume, it’ll share a body with the X-H2S (why share the X-H name otherwise?).
So that means there’ll be a 40MP, large-gripped ‘flagship’ model that, without the cost of a Stacked CMOS chip, I’d like to think will sit nearer the X-H1’s original $1900 price tag. I’m speculating, of course, but again it doesn’t seem like a great leap to suggest the X-H2 will also be compatible with the VG-XH and the FT-XH accessories (why make a file transmitter with ‘XH’ in the name at the same time as you announce an X-H model, if they won’t work together?).
We’re told dedicated dials are ‘more of an X-T feature’
That leaves room for a hypothertical ‘X-T5’ to sit alongside (or slightly below, if if loses-out on options like FT-XH compatibility). We’re told that dedicated dials are ‘more of an X-T feature,’ which means I can imagine it going one of two ways:
The first might be that the main distinction will be that the X-T has a slightly smaller grip and full traditional dials: essentially a 40MP X-H2 with a different control layout.
This approach would even, in theory, leave room for an X-T5S with the Stacked sensor, though I doubt Fujifilm fancies its chances of selling two $2000+ APS-C models.
|If both X-H models address the stills/video ‘hybrid’ role, there’s scope for an X-T5 to become more photography focused. But Fujifilm probably won’t want it to tread too heavily on the toes of the X-Pro series.|
The other possibility is that, with two X-H models playing the hybrid role, the X-T can become an even more traditional photographers camera: losing ProRes support and the CFexpress slot perhaps, retaining its dials and maybe even regaining the lovely two-way tilt LCD, rather than a fully articulated screen. We can but dream.
Another flagship on the horizon
The X-T4 was launched as the X-series flagship and through the addition of a larger grip, flip-out screen, in-body stabilization and impressive video specs, arguably helped the X-T and X-H lines become entangled. But with two ‘X-H’ cameras in the lineup, a putative X-T5 no longer has to fly the flag for all of Fujifilm’s stills and video ambitions.
With the high-performance X-H2S underway, and news that its high-res sister ship will be next down the slipway, the X-T series is free to plot its own course. But we can’t yet be sure what direction the winds will take it: Fujifilm’s latest flagship leaves us all as armchair admirals, trying to interpret the vague shapes in the offing.
* The black version of the X-Pro3 was launched for $100 more, but you could buy the silver version for $100 less than the X-H1, so I’m going to consider the hardened coating as more of an optional extra than part of the inherent cost of the camera.