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Hands-on with the Fujifilm X-H2S

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Introduction

Fujifilm’s X-H2S is described as the company’s ‘flagship’ APS-C camera, and sits significantly above anything offered in the X-series before.

Much like the OM System OM-1, the X-H2S offers the same pixel count as existing models in the lineup, but a much higher asking price. In both instances it’s a question of performance: the closer you look at the specs, the more powerful you recognize the camera to be.

We’re going to take that closer look at the specs but also discuss how the camera handles, compared with existing X-series models.

Stacked sensor

The X-H2S’s defining feature is really its use of a Stacked CMOS sensor. This is likely to account for a lot of the camera’s asking price, so it’s worth contemplating what it brings to the camera. After all, there’s no intrinsic value to adopting a technology just because it’s the latest thing.

We haven’t yet been able to assess the image quality of the X-H2S’s output, but based on the Stacked CMOS sensors we’ve seen before (particularly examples like the Nikon Z9 and OM System OM-1, where the sensor appears to be a stacked variant of an existing design), there’s little reason to expect a major difference in image quality, compared with the X-T4. For that matter, there’s little to suggest that using other current technologies would result an any significant IQ improvement, either.

In the likely absence of image quality benefits, the sensor’s value to the photographer must instead stem from the ways in which it boosts the camera’s capabilities. In this case, the Stacked CMOS design helps deliver its headline promise of 40 fps shooting with well-controlled rolling shutter.

The fast sensor also allows high-resolution and fast refresh in the viewfinder, as well as the expanded video capabilities (faster frame rates and higher DR 14-bit readout in some modes). But, as you’d expect for a high-end, high performance model: if you don’t need the speed of a Stacked CMOS sensor, it’s hard to justify the extra expense of one.

Control layout

The X-H2S essentially adopts the control layout of the most recent GFX models: there’s a dedicated [REC] button alongside the camera’s top-panel LCD, rather than a Stills/Video switch on the left shoulder, but that’s about the only difference.

The result is a camera primarily driven using the command dials on the front and back of the body. These control two of: shutter speed, aperture value, program shift and exposure compensation, depending on which exposure mode you’re in. You can swap the functions between the front and rear dials in each mode to suit your preference, and select the direction in which each operates.

Beyond this, there are ten buttons that can be customized (fourteen if you set the four-way controller to ‘Fn’ in the menus), and four directional swipes of the touchscreen that can have functions assigned to them.

There’s a well-placed joystick on the back of the camera, which can be pushed inwards to reset the AF point to the center or to edit the size of AF area.

It’s a little different to the dedicated dials of the X-T series (and the X-H1, to a degree), but it’s a pretty quick/effective way of working.

Ergonomics

Like the original X-H1, and the GFX models that seem to have borrowed from it, the X-H2S has a substantial hand-grip: the kind you wrap your whole hand around (rather than the smaller ones on the X-T and X-Pro series that usually dictate you press the sides of your fingers against).

The front and rear command dials are fairly large, well-placed and, unusually for Fujifilm, not clickable to change their function. This brings them into line with most DSLRs, rather than the pre-80s SLR approach favored elsewhere in the X-series range. A large top-plate LCD panel makes it easy to see your settings, which is especially convenient for tripod users. The panel can be customized with your choice settings to be displayed, with a choice of how it appears in stills and video modes.

The S/C/M AF mode switch has disappeared from the front of the camera, to be replaced by a custom button. By default this controls the AF mode, but it’s not got the tactile immediacy of the dedicated switch.

Viewfinder and screen

The X-H2S has a large, 5.76M dot OLED viewfinder. It appears to run at the panel’s full resolution most of the time, with only a very slight loss in resolution if you choose to run it at 120fps, to give a more responsive display for action shooting. There’s also a ‘240fps equiv’ setting beyond this, which darkens the viewfinder, but as yet Fujifilm hasn’t given us any detail of how this mode works.

The rear screen is a fully-articulating 1.62M dot touchscreen. This is one of the most obvious ways in which Fujifilm has leaned towards making the X-H2S a hybrid, rather than stills-focused camera. Many photographers are comfortable with fully-articulated screens and it’s a design that is essentially the default for video cameras. But some photographers hate the way their off-axis design can make framing and composition awkward.

Ports and audio connections

The X-H2S has four main ports, all arranged down its left-hand flank. At the top, front edge of the camera is a full-sized HDMI port. To its rear are the headphone and mic sockets that so rarely appear as a pair on Fujifilm cameras.

Slightly disappointingly, the headphone socket is placed exactly where the rear screen swings round. This means that you have to plug in your headphones after opening and rotating the rear screen, and even then it will limit your ability to tilt the screen at certain angles.

Below these audio/video ports is a USB type-C socket. It’s a USB 3.2 Gen 2 (10Gbps) socket, which allows for much faster data transfers than the X-T4, which had a Gen 1 (aka USB 3.0) connector. The USB connection can be used to power or charge the camera.

Autofocus

Fujifilm has done a lot of work on the autofocus on the X-H2S, utilizing a combination of the sensor’s readout speed (to deliver frequent updates on movement with the scene), AI-trained subject recognition algorithms and brute processing power from its latest processor.

The X-H2S’s AF system has been trained to recognize human faces and eyes, trains, planes, motorbikes, cars, birds, cats, dogs and horses. In addition, the non-recognition-based AF tracking has been improved, and more dependably sticks to subjects. The interface has also been reworked so that face detection is now an integrated part of the main AF system, with the camera only focusing on faces near the selected AF area.

It’s too soon to know how well the X-H2S is going to perform across a variety of shooting scenarios, but the ambition is clearly to work up to a level that’s appropriate for a fast-shooting, deep-buffered camera.

Less work appears to have done on the video side of things, though: the camera can only track subjects it’s been trained to recognize. The rest of the time you’ll have to manually keep your AF target on your subject.

Stills capabilities

The X-H2S’s main photographic selling point is its speed: up to 40 frames per second continuous shooting with full autofocus with its electronic shutter. It has an e-shutter rate of around 1/150 sec, which is within a stop of the flash sync speed that acts as a pretty good guide to the rate of a camera’s mechanical shutter. This means rolling shutter should be very controlled.

The camera’s buffer allows it to capture up to 184 JPEG files or 175 compressed Raw files even at maximum speed. This large buffer and fast electronic shutter makes the high-speed e-shutter mode significantly more useful than the cropped 30 fps mode on the X-T4.

Even away from electronic shutter mode, the X-H2S’s mechanical shutter is new, and allows continuous shooting at up to 15 fps. Fujifilm says you can expect the shutter to have a lifespan of 500,000 cycles: well into the territory of ‘pro-grade’ cameras.

Another notable change on the X-H2S is the ability to capture 10-bit HEIF files. These should be able to capture smoother tonality than 8-bit JPEGs and be less prone to stepped ‘posterization’ in gentle gradients, if you can display the images back on a 10-bit display. Oddly, though (given Fujifilm was one of the first brands to deliver Hybrid Log Gamma true-HDR video), there’s no HDR profile to really exploit the additional tonal range the 10-bit files can accommodate.

Video features

The X-H2S, shown with the XF 18-120mm F4 LM PZ WR: a power zoom lens well suited to video shooting

Just as on the stills side of things, the X-H2S’s video feature set is essentially a super-charged version of those offered by the X-T4. So, in addition to 4K/60 in 10-bit, the X-H2S adds options including internal ProRes capture and the ability to capture the full 3:2 aspect ratio region of the sensor.

Even the features than initially appear to overlap, such as 4K/60p capture turn out to be more advanced, when you dig in, with the X-H2S able to capture all its video modes in 10-bit 4:2:2 color, with a choice of H.265 or ProRes 422 HQ, 422 or 422 LT. It can also shoot 4K/120 footage if you’re willing to accept a 1.29x crop (that’s still a roughly 4.8K region, so the detail levels should be good, even if the noise performance will be hit by the use of a smaller sensor region and faster shutter speeds that 120 capture typically entails).

The X-H2S also offers a new F-Log2 profile. This uses the sensor’s rapid readout to create up to 30p video using the same 14-bit sensor readout usually used for stills (most cameras drop to 12-bit mode for video and lose some dynamic range by doing so). The F-Log2 curve is designed to accommodate the extra DR this approach brings. Its base ISO is rated one stop higher than conventional F-Log, indicating that it should be given one stop less exposure, to capture an extra stop of highlight detail. Even in this more challenging mode, the X-H2S’s rolling shutter is lower than that of the X-T4.

Optional accessories

The X-H2S has a small series of connectors behind its flip-out screen, for powering the optional fan, and a further series of pins and what appears to be a USB-C socket on the base.

As you might expect of a range-topping camera, a number of accessories are available to help tailor the X-H2S to specific tasks. These include a screw-on fan unit, which extends the camera’s video record times in warm conditions, and a conventional vertical grip that duplicates the camera’s shooting controls at right angles to the built-in grip and provides capacity for an additional two batteries.

Beyond these options will be a file transmitter grip, to provide a faster, more stable Wi-Fi connection and Ethernet port to the camera. Fujifilm has also worked with third-party accessory makers, meaning you can buy an XLR microphone adapter from Tascam that allows four channel audio capture. Or, there are X-H2S-specific camera cages from SmallRig and Wooden Camera and underwater housings promised soon.

Summary

The X-H2S is a higher-end camera than we’ve seen in the X-series before, and it has a price tag and feature set to match that ambition.

We’ve not had a chance to fully test the camera yet, but are hopeful that it’ll live up to its promise of a Nikon D500-level sports and action camera while also delivering a video spec to rival the Panasonic GH6.

Those are high standards to live up to, and we’ll need to see a lot more of how the X-H2S performs before we can draw any conclusions. But the more you dig into it, the more ambitious the X-H2S looks. If you need the speed, power and performance of something like the X-H2S, stay tuned in the coming months as we put it through its paces.


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