Fujifilm X-H2S First Impressions: A New Standard for APS-C

Photography Gear

The Fujifilm X-H2S has many new and vastly improved features and capabilities, all in a package that’s different than the X-T lineup of cameras with traditional control dials. I’ve had a few days with my Fujifilm X-H2S and here’s my experience with their new flagship APS-C camera.

Each decision to upgrade or purchase a camera is very personal, and each person has their own priorities for deciding when the time is right to upgrade or purchase. I’d like to share my thoughts and the journey that led me to decide to upgrade my Fujifilm X-T3 to the new X-H2S.

The Fujifilm X-H2S was announced on May 31, 2022, and after watching way too many preview videos, I had every intention of placing an order for one during a hands-on opportunity at Kenmore Camera on June 2. I spent over an hour with the camera and asked lots of questions of the Fujifilm tech rep, who was incredibly patient and was able to answer most of my questions. But, I did not order the camera.

I didn’t order the X-H2S on that day for several reasons. First, this would be the most expensive camera I ever purchased, and I wasn’t convinced I “needed” it. In addition to the expense of the camera, I would also need to invest in new and faster memory cards in order to take advantage of all the new capabilities of the X-H2S (both CF-Express type B and faster SD card) as well as new batteries.

Second, while the focus improvements were very noticeable even on the pre-production unit, again, for most of my use, the current autofocus hasn’t gotten in the way of creating the photos I want the vast majority of the time.

And third, I wasn’t as blown away by the changes from X-T that I was most interested in – the larger grip (feels much better, but didn’t seem to fit my hand very well), the new EVF (absolutely no complaints, but didn’t seem lots better than X-T3), and while carrying fewer batteries would be lovely, I’ve gotten used to carrying four small, light batteries everywhere I go with my X-T3.

One final point of hesitation was the revised control layout of the PSAM dial versus separate dials for ISO and Shutter Speed and the need to overcome eight years of muscle memory with the classic X-T control layout.

And then I changed my mind. Here’s why: I remembered how I didn’t “need” an Apple Watch, but two years later, I’m so glad I have an Apple Watch. So, while I don’t “need” the improvements in the X-H2S, I realized I would be able to reduce some of my personal minor “pain points” of the X-T3 (autofocus, battery life, small grip) as well as have new capabilities of vastly improved autofocus for wedding photography, 4K 120 for video and all the other improvements that I could use to expand my creative capabilities.

Another factor in deciding to go with X-H2S was the rumors that the X-T5 would likely be at least a year away in later 2023 and I was not really interested in the 40MP X-H2 rumored for September 2022 due to much larger file sizes and a concern I have of high ISO performance in a sensor with higher pixel density, as higher pixel density usually means high ISO settings have increased noise. And lastly, I believed that the X-H2S, with its vastly improved processing power, would be a camera with a lot of room to grow.

So, I pre-ordered the X-H2S from the fine folks at Kenmore Camera and picked up mine on release day – July 7, 2022. I then spent a good part of the day getting familiar with the menus and configuring the camera to my preferences.

Just as there are no perfect cameras, there are no perfect camera reviews. There will likely be features, functions, and capabilities important to you that are not part of my photography workflow, and will be missing from this first impression. I will be creating one or two follow-ups to this first impression, so if there are specific questions you have, please let me know.

Full disclosure: I’ve used the camera for three days, and created about 500 photos over the course of about 3 hours of photography in downtown Bellevue, Bellevue Botanical Garden, and my wife’s flower garden. I mostly focused (pardon the pun!) on the photography aspects of the camera, but did record some 4K 120 video in addition to a time-lapse.

For a great technical overview of the Fujifilm X-H2S, see Gerald Undone’s pre-release video. For a perspective of a wedding photographer/videogrqpher, head over to Taylor Jackson’s videos.

Look and Feel and Controls

There are two major physical differences between the X-H2S and the X-T lineup of cameras. First, the X-H2S has a much larger handgrip. Second, the X-H2S replaces the traditional camera body control dials with the PSAM mode dial and then uses the front and back control wheels for secondary exposure control settings, along with a dedicated ISO bottom on the top of the camera.

I really like the larger grip. It fits my hand pretty well, and after a couple of days of use, it feels extremely natural and easy to hold for long durations.

The exposure mode operation change will take some more time to get used to after eight years of using the traditional control dials of the X-T series. I primarily photograph in manual mode, and already I’ve noticed that I have to slow down to remember which control wheel to turn, as well as which direction to turn to change the shutter speed to the desired value.

Also, some adjustment will be needed due to the lack of a dedicated drive wheel. I use this frequently to change to continuous low for events as well as bracket mode for technically challenging exposure situations. While the dedicated Drive button on the back upper left of the camera is convenient, it then requires the use of the rear control wheel to select the desired drive mode.

I’m confident I will adjust to these changes relatively quickly with some more time with the camera.

Another design change that I appreciate is that the EVF eyepiece extends farther from the camera back than in X-T cameras. As a left-eye photographer, this extra depth means my nose is on the screen less and I have more room to move the focus selector (which I have assigned to the d-pad) without getting my thumb on my classes.

One thing that has not changed in the X-H2S is the high quality of construction, materials, fit and finish. The camera feels solid and durable.

Size and Weight

The X-H2S is very similar in width to the X-T3/4, but is deeper due to the much larger grip area and to accommodate more input/output options, larger battery, and larger CFExpress Type B card. The X-H2S is heavier with battery and memory cards at 680g versus 550g for the X-T3. However, I’ve always used my X-T3 with a SmallRig L-Bracket/Grip, and in this case, the X-H2S is slightly lighter than the X-T3 in this configuration at 688g. The SmallRig L-Bracket/Grip also makes the X-T3 slightly taller (approximately 10.6 cm) than the X-H2S (approximately 10.3 cm).

Control Dials vs Classic Dials

One of the big changes in upgrading to the X-H2S from the X-T3 is the configuration of the controls and exposure dials. the X-H2S uses a mode dial and control wheels near the hand grip, which is similar to traditional DSLR configurations, but much different from the traditional control dial configuration on the X-T series of cameras. Already, I’ve noticed that I have eight years of muscle memory using the X-T series control layout to overcome, and I have to slow down a bit to adjust to this new configuration. The controls on the X-H2S are logical and easy to access, just different than what I’m used to.

Autofocus

One complaint of the Fujifilm X-Series camera has always been the relatively low speed and accuracy of the autofocus system, especially compared to the progress that Sony and Canon have made in their autofocus systems recently. With the combination of the new sensor and processor, the X-H2S has put to rest those complaints. The autofocus system is fast, accurate, and responsive to subject movement in ways that no other X-Series camera can match.

I have not had much chance to stress test the new autofocus system, with two exceptions. First, while in downtown Bellevue on my first day with the camera, I noticed an osprey circling between several buildings. I quickly switched to the Fujinon XF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 at 300mm and grabbed a few quick photos of the osprey. The X-H2S focused accurately on the osprey in all but one (the first) photo, even though the camera was set to single-point focus mode and face, not object-detect, mode.

Second, while at Bellevue Botanical Garden on day two with the camera, there were lots and lots of bees on the flowers, and once again the autofocus quickly and accurately focused on the bees and stayed with them as they moved around the flowers.

In my use of previous X-Series cameras, autofocus performance has not been too much of an issue. One exception has been events with subject movement, where the previous autofocus systems often had a high missed focus rate. I’ll be photographing two weddings in the near future, so stay tuned for a report of continuous focus accuracy with moving subjects sometime in the fall.

In-Body Image Stabilization (IBIS)

I exclusively used lenses with optical image stabilization in my short time with the camera thus far, so I don’t have much to say about the in-body image stabilization, except this: I feel like it was adding more stability to my 300mm flower photos in the garden, even though that lens already has image stabilization. IBIS plus improved autofocus meant almost no missed photos due to focus or unintentional camera movement.

Overall Image Quality

Image quality is similar, maybe even the same, as the previous generation X-Trans sensor cameras. In other words, it’s wonderful, and benefits from the same picture personality in the preceding cameras.

High ISO

As with overall image quality, high-ISO image quality seems to be pretty much exactly the same as the previous X-Trans sensors. I have only tested this in a shady spot with some flower photos at ISO 12,800 as well as a product photo with available light in my office. The ISO amount and behavior, to my eye, look almost exactly the same as the X-T3.

Video

Currently, video is not the focus (pardon the pun, again) of most of my work. However, one of the reasons I decided to upgrade to the X-H2S was for its dramatically expanded and improved video capabilities, so that I would have room to expand my work in video. One of the simple changes in the X-H2S from the X-T3 is the separation of settings when switching from photo to video mode. This will reduce friction for using the X-H2S in video mode while out creating photos, as I will not need to be continually changing exposure and other settings back and forth between the two modes.

During my short time so far with the X-H2S, I have mostly used the 4K 120p video for some slow-motion videos of bees on flowers, and I was very impressed with the quality of the video, and the stability of the clips due to the IBIS, even at 300mm handheld.

Battery Life

Another common complaint of the X-T series of cameras was the small battery and relatively short battery life. The X-H2S uses the same larger battery as the X-T4 and GFX cameras, the NP-W235. My experience with battery life in the X-H2S so far is that I have to worry much less about changing batteries than I did with the X-T3.

Here are my battery life results so far: On the first day of photos in downtown Bellevue, I created approximately 200 photos and approximately ten 4K 120p video clips in about 2 hours. Later, I created two time-lapse sequences of 450 images each (approximately 8 minutes of capture time each). During the second time-lapse, the red low-battery warning light turned on, but the time-lapse sequence was able to complete. When I placed the low battery in the charger, it indicated 20% charge remaining. In the same scenario with the X-T3, I would have fully used at least two batteries.

Conclusion and Recommendation

In short, the Fujifilm X-H2S is a dramatic improvement over any previous X-series camera before it. The performance of the autofocus is far superior to previous cameras in the line and should allow for greater confidence in getting the photo in challenging focus situations. The massive expansion in video capabilities will serve well for just about any video needs for most mere mortals.

This is now the new flagship camera in the Fujifilm X-System, and as such, it is their most expensive APS-C camera. The inclusion of a much more powerful processor means that this camera should have a long life and the ability to grow with your needs. As with the X-T3 when it was first released, it seems that Fujifilm has once again created one of the most capable APS-C cameras and one of the best values in photography.

I really enjoy this camera and am looking forward to exploring its capabilities and creating photos and videos with it for many years.


About the author: Michael Sladek teaches digital photography at Highline College near Seattle, Washington. He enjoys dad jokes, doughnuts, and helping others discover the fun of creating photos they love. Stay connected with Michael on his website, YouTube channel, and Instagram..

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