Fujifilm Pushes APS-C To New Levels

Today at the annual Fujifilm X Summit—this year's being the 10th anniversary of the XF mount—Fujifilm introduced new products that push their APS-C efforts into new territory. Specifically, one camera and two lenses.

bythom 2020

The camera is the X-H2S, a 26mp camera incorporating a new X-Trans image sensor that's stacked. This marks the first appearance of a stacked image sensor in the APS-C realm (Canon, Nikon, and Sony APS-C sensors are either FSI or BSI these days, but not stacked). Stacked image sensors are expensive to produce, with the primary benefit being "speed." 

The X-H2S uses that speed in several ways. First, the electronic shutter of the X-H2S generates up to 40 fps (with limitations; mechanical shutter is 15 fps with near unlimited buffer). Second, for video the relevant specs are 6.2K/30P video and up to 60P for DCI 4K video. Subject detection in the autofocus system is also another area that improves with that new speedy image sensor and processor, now including animal and other object tracking, as well as 120Hz refresh.

I noted cost in passing, so let's go right to the bottom line: the X-H2S also now becomes the most expensive APS-C camera on the market at US$2500 (body only). Add some of the accessories (US$1000 file transfer grip for Ethernet use, US$400 vertical grip, US$200 fan) and it can get pricey. 

bythom x-h2s

Other X-H2S features that are sure to catch your interest:

  • The X-H2S has Mode dial and forgoes the dials only interface of many previous X models. The X-H2S is more "DSLR-like" in design. As I've noted many times, the all-dials interface works for slower, more contemplative work, but if you want speed in handling, the button+dial DSLR designs are what perfected that. 
  • As with most of the high-end video capable mirrorless models these days, the X-H2S has a fully adjustable Rear LCD, which rotates out from the camera as well as tilting.
  • Fujifilm has ironically progressed to the type of Focus Mode button/switch that Nikon has (mostly) recently abandoned. 
  • A US$200 optional cooling fan mounts onto the back of X-H2S should you need to push it to its max, particularly on the video side.
  • Data storage is either CFexpress Type B or UHS-II SD (one slot each), or via a special file transfer grip to external media.
  • The viewfinder is 5.76m dots, though it has an eye point of 24mm.

Overall, the X-H2s easily establishes a new top for mirrorless APS-C capabilities, though, again, at a price. Canon's R7 is the "poor person's" top APS-C choice, providing a reasonable subset of state-of-the-art APS-C (review coming soon).

bythom fujfilm 150-600

The key new lens that was introduced is the 150-600mm f/5.6-8. Thing is, a "speed camera" really is truly only necessary in sports and wildlife photography, and you need lenses to support that. Up to this point, the primary lenses that Fujifilm has in the XF mount that work well for that are the 50-140mm f/2.8, 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6, and 200mm f/2, which really isn't a broad enough set to support a camera such as the X-H2S. The new US$2000 150-600mm f/5.6-8 extends the reach of the APS-C system, but I'm not sure that it fully satisfies the needs in the XF lineup. What we're not seeing is compact, light lens choices in the telephoto range (ala Nikon's PF series), and I'd think that really needs to show up in order to fend off what's happening in the full frame world the X-H2S will need to compete against. 

To a large degree, the X-H2S and 150-600mm f/5.6-8 are sort of a natural offshoot of the Nikon D500 and 200-500mm f/5.6 success. However, many of us D500 users moved on, particularly once the Z9 and a wide series of PF lenses produced a total size/weight package that out-performed the older DSLR. While the Z9 is a heavier body, the 300mm f/4, soon to be 400m f/4.5, 500mm f/5.6, and 800mm f/6.3 PF lenses are light, short, and reasonably fast in aperture. Should Nikon move the Z9 features down into smaller cameras soon, Fujifilm will have a tough sale with the X-H2S in terms of winning over traditional mount users (Canon EF, Nikon F). 

The second new lens is the 18-120mm f/4 (effectively 28-180mm). This lens is a power mid-range zoom. 

A second camera was previewed with the X-H2S, the X-H2. The X-H2 goes yet another route for APS-C: a mammoth pixel count. Another new image sensor shows up in the X-H2, providing 40mp and 8K video, but it's not a stacked sensor. 40mp APS-C puts us close to 100mp full frame, and thus diffraction becomes a real issue, as would be any even small lens misalignment or even less than state-of-the-art optical design. Many of us have already found clear lens resolution issues with the 100mp GFX cameras, which use a sensor two sizes larger, so 40mp APS-C is definitely not going to come without birthing pains. 

Which brings me to this: Fujifilm still seems to be pursuing the "big numbers" plan for moving cameras forward. I'm not at all convinced that that approach is the winning one long term. Short term, sure, it gives you bragging rights that wins over the easily convinced. But I'm one that wants to see real improvement in results. For example, for me the 61mp Sony A7R Mark IV was a disappointment. In many ways, the 50mp A1 actually performed better in terms of ultimate image quality, and I still believe that the real top of the image quality heap is defined by the 45mp Nikon D850 and Z7 II (almost equalled by the Z9, but not at base ISO). And the "sweet spot" in terms of image quality for most people would still be 24-30mp full frame, which translates down to something like 12mp APS-C. Thus, I'm skeptical of a 40mp APS-C camera's true usefulness. 

That said, Fujifilm's commitment to APS-C over full frame doesn't leave them a lot of options. We'll see how they deliver once the new cameras and lenses become available.

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