Testing the XH-1 for use in day to day video production.

Hi there. For the last year and a half I've been using mostly Panasonic GH5 cameras to do my video projects with. I recently bought three of the Fuji XH-1 cameras and I was curious to find out how well they would do the same kind of work I've been doing with the GH5s and, before that, the various Sony cameras. I'm between projects so it's a great time for me to test out all the stuff I might want to use down the road. It's kind of rude to do your testing while actually on the job; I mean, what are supposed to do if some piece of gear you're "testing" doesn't work out quite the way you wanted it to and the client is looking over your shoulder with the clock ticking away in the background?

No, it's much better to test stuff in your office where you can grab the fire extinguisher to battle unexpected flames and where you can make all the dumb mistakes we all do when we're trying out new ways of doing things. Or new gear. 

Up till now I've leaned on the Panasonics for my video and I've more or less transitioned to the Fuji stuff for photography. But in the back of my mind I'm anticipating the day a client changes his/her mind and decides on the spur of the moment, that they really. would like some video as well..... I'd like to know exactly what the Fuji cameras will deliver and how to set them up to deliver an optimum file, if they are the only ones in the bag. It's one thing to memorize the owner's manual but it's another thing altogether to put your hands all over the equipment and to know, without a doubt, how to set it up and turn it all on. That's what this afternoon is all about for me. Later in the week I'm planning to take a rig up to Blanco, Texas and see if I can shoot some footage at my favorite brewery, The Real Ale Brewing Company. But for now getting the rudimentary stuff right is the first step. 

So, why am I testing the XH-1 instead of the XT3 which is supposed to be the "better" video camera? I guess it all depends on what you find useful and necessary versus which camera has the best specs on paper. I have them both and at some point we'll probably do a head to head test but right now I just like the solid feel of the older camera a bit better.  Especially since I have it fitted out with the battery grip and I haven't gotten around to getting a grip for the XT3...

I set up the camera to shoot 4K and I opted to send the 4K file to the camera while sending a smaller, HD file to my Atomos digital recorder. I'm interested today on how the bare bones file out of the camera will look for all those times that I want to travel light or shoot on a gimbal and won't be linked to an external recorder which would allow for the bigger file. The XH-1 allows you to choose to send the 4K file to either the camera or the recorder while sending a smaller HD file to the other device. You can have it both ways...

I set the camera to shoot at 100 mbps because that too reflects a lot of what we shoot for corporate clients. I generally always originate in 4k and then edit on a 1080p timeline. It's a little bit for "future proofing" and a lot for having the capability to crop in and resize the frame without loosing quality. It's also cool to be able to say, "yeah. We always shoot in 4K." As if I have unlimited storage or the world's fastest computer (neither).

For this test I was less interested to see what the "ultimate quality" might be and more interested to see what a routine file looked like. 

I shot the short test just using the camera microphones since this is all about color and focus and not about ultimate sound quality. When I get around to really testing the camera's pre-amplifiers I'll need to drag out a couple rolling cases filled with sound blankets and cover the walls and window. I'll also want to use a really good microphone so I'm not blaming the camera for inadequacies of a lesser instrument. 

No, I just wanted to see what the files looked like shooting at 24 fps with a nice wash of natural (indirect) light coming through the studio windows. A nice touch, the camera provides an actual 1/48th of a second! 

I had the camera set up on a tripod so I could play with variations of rigging. I'm trying different shoulder mounts for DSLR style cameras and figuring out different ways to configure the camera for basic interview shooting that I'll be doing, using a tripod or monopod, but being ready to go quickly to a handheld set up for mobility. Recently we've been doing a few events that require some basic interviews and some quick transitions to b-roll shooting. It's nice to get it figured out and practiced without the added pressure of dozens of people standing around watching you mess up.

So, in my quick test I was looking at the way the Eterna film emulation profile looks on old, weathered flesh (very flattering, easy to contain both highlights and shadows)  and how well the camera does when using face detection while shooting in 4K. Also very good. 

While I talk about working to transition the camera from the "sticks" to handheld, to be truthful, I am lazy and hate to do anything under pressure so I will most likely have one body dedicated to tripod use on a job and a second body configured to be handheld. When I finish with one I'll be able to put it back in the case and turn to the alternate one. That's enough of a good reason to call for having two cameras. It's always a time save to have each camera set up well for just the right use. The rationale for a third identical body is to have a ready back up should either of the two "dedicated" cameras develop a flaw that you can't troubleshoot in the moment. 

So, how does working with the Fuji compare to working with the Panasonic cameras? One thing that I'm less than happy about it losing the audio interface of the Panasonic. It's wonderful to have the audio device plugged right into the hot shoe to provide balanced XLR microphone inputs to the camera. Even better is having handy controls in just the right place. With the XH-1 we're back to running microphones into a 3.5mm jack or using a Saramonic or BeachTek adapter to wrangle XLR microphones and line level inputs to the camera. That will be the next thing for Fuji to solve for the video part of the market.

When going back and forth between systems I do miss the bigger battery capacity of the Panasonics as well. Yes, with three batteries in the XH-1 plus grip I can more than match the single, big battery in the GH5 but when I want to strip everything down to the essentials to, for example, put the camera on a hand-held gimbal, loosing the battery grip on the XH-1 means relying on the single, in-camera battery and that can be a nail biter as the camera tends to have a healthy appetite for electricity.

On the other hand I think I like the Eterna profile better than a customized "Natural" profile, or a "Cine D" profile from the Panasonics. The Eterna files seems more directly usable while the Panasonic files seem to need some extra tweaking. I also think that (excluding Log comparisons) the Fuji camera tends to preserve highlights and dynamic range a bit better. 

In terms of face detection.... I've been testing side by side for a while and I'm finding the Fuji camera (with the 16-55mm f2.8) does a (slightly) better job getting to focus and staying put while filming (using the latest firmware in each). 

But all this is my early blush with dialing in a new camera model; pre-work. I've got to make sure the audio is good and usable and that adjusting the audio during filming is workable (one of the reason I like external boxes like the BeachTek or the Saramonic mixers is to have the physical control of the audio level knobs) before I commit to making the XH-1 my first choice for video. 

I'm trying to take the emotion and nostalgia out of my testing so I can make some good determinations in order to streamline my workflow. If the Fujis can at least match the Panasonic cameras for video and out deliver them by a certain margin for photographs then I'll pare down to one system and joyously commit to one menu. But I'm not as impulsive as some might conjecture. I have to make sure everything works for me first. 

In other news: The Subaru Forester continues to satisfy for day-to-day stuff. Nice amount of space and a surprisingly good ride. The downsizing of studio inventory continues apace with fewer and fewer accessories and modifiers cluttering up the space (and my brain). I've resisted buying any new studio gear since the beginning of the year and have slowed down on camera and lens buying after a particularly ambitious flurry of wallet emptying near the beginning of the year. Oh the horror, I may be embarking on fiscal competence...

Swimming is glorious and I'm happy with my current progress. I guess being 63 is not a death sentence after all. 

News on the family front is okay. My dad is declining week by week but he is happy, not in pain, getting the best care imaginable and between my brother and me he sees family a lot more than he did before everything started to crumble. Hospice care + Memory care is great and his caregivers are super. We'll be celebrating his 91st birthday next week. He's mentioned that "he's way past his sell by date already but he's not off the shelf yet". I'm heading down to celebrate with him, giant chocolate cake in tow. 

Hope everyone is having a good week and is not currently having trouble with their Range Rover automobile....