Fuji X-E1 review – a photographer camera

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Fujifilm X-E1 review

I bought the Fuji X-E1 in January, and I am very satisfied with it. I really think that it is  ’best digital camera of 2012′ as I do not know which other camera should receive that award. I find it that good! Previously I used the very good  Fujifilm X10, about which I wrote a few times. However I wanted a camera that provides me with better image quality and more varied tools. Is the Fujifilm X-E1 the right choice? In this review – which will be split in several parts – I hope to answer this.

9 May Update: it’s official – the Fuji X-E1 is indeed best camera! Not best digital camera as I wrote earlier, but “best expert compact system camera”.
Fujifilm XE-1 harkens back to analogue design and handling with, for example, actual engraved number dials for shutter speed and exposure compensation control.
- source: Fujifilm TIPA Awards news

Update: Adobe has released the Adobe Camera Raw 7.4 which greatly improves the support for Fuji X-E1 Raw files. Until now I think it was better to shoot Jpegs (gorgeous) than to struggle with Raw files. However, Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Lightroom have now improved support.
You can jump straight to my comparison of before and after Raw processing in Photoshop Lightroom.

Fujifilm X-E1 with XF 35mm F1.4

Fujifilm X-E1 with XF 35mm F1.4


My Fujifilm X-E1 kit consists of:

and the Fujinon XF 35mm F1.4 R  (for $599).

The Fuji X-E1 is the second interchangeable body in Fujifilm mirroless system, and keeps most features of it’s more expensive predecessor – the X-PRO1. A camera system, as opposed to compact digital cameras, is only as good as the lenses available for it. Fujifilm X interchangeable lens system is pretty young and has only a small number of lenses compared to Canon or Nikon. However the lenses launched until now are very good.

I got the X-E1 to be my travel camera: light, relatively small with great image quality! Pompeii, Italy, with the Fuji X-E1 and XF 18-55mm lens

I got the X-E1 to be my travel camera: light, relatively small with great image quality! Pompeii, Italy, with the Fuji X-E1 and XF 18-55mm lens

To see a photo gallery with photos shot with the Fujifilm X-E1 and the XF 18-55 you can

Fujifilm X interchangeable lens system in detail

The original X-PRO1 at launch had 3 prime lenses (fixed-focal as opposed to zoom) which were:

  • Fuji XF 18mm
  • Fujifilm X-E1 with XF 35mm and XF 18-55mm

    Fujifilm X-E1 with XF 35mm and XF 18-55mm

    Fuji XF 35mm f1.4
    you can read my impressions about the bokeh of the Fuji XF 35mm »
  • Fuji XF 60 F2.4 macro

Since then 2 more lenses have become available:

  • Fuji XF 18-55 F2.9-F4.0 OS
    In 2012 when the Fujifilm X-E1 was launched, it received a new lens: the first Fujinon lens zoom, and the only lens with optical stabilization
  • Fuji XF 14mm F2.8
    which has become available from Amazon, and the reviews seem very good.

Fujifilm X system also has adapters for lenses with different lens mounts (including the famous Leica), shoe-mount flashes, grips and cases.

For a more in-depth look at the Fujinon XF 35mm, XF 18-55 and future lens roadmap you can read the second part of this review.

the Fujifilm X-E1 interchangeable lens camera

Compared to a classic DSLR (like my trusty but now unused Canon) the Fuji X-E1 loses the mirror and pentaprism. This has three advantages:

  • it gets rid of the ‘bump’ on top of a classic DSLR (as it no longer needs the pentaprism)
  • the back element of the lens can get closer to the sensor, as there is no mirror that gets in the way
  • the X-E1 is more quiet when shooting as there is no “mirror slap”
archeological site late afternoon in Rome, Italy. Fuji X-E1

archeological site late afternoon in Rome, Italy. Fuji X-E1

The Fujifilm X-E1 inherits most of the features of the classic Fujifilm X-PRO1. Key features of the X-E1 and what they mean for me:

  • 16MP X-Trans CMOS sensor Fuji really likes to design innovative sensors, and the one present in the X-PRO1 and the X-E1 has no low-pass filter (anti-aliasing filter). This means the sharpness is a bit better. Easiest to notice on small details (like foliage), but less impact in other types of subjects. Partly because of this people favorably compared the Fuji X-E1 to full-frame DSLRs.
  • ISO 200-6400 range
    The noise is very hard to notice up to ISO 1600, and even when you find it it has a pleasant grain aspect.
    ISO 100, 12800 and 25600 are also available but only in JPEG shooting and are done in post processing. I always stay away from these as they have trade-offs: ISO 100 has worse dynamic range than ISO 200.
  • 2.36M dot OLED electronic viewfinder Electronic viewfinders – love them or hate them – are here to stay. Olympus OM-D E-M5 and Sony Nex-7 (the main competition for Fuji X-E1) all have electronic viewfinders.
    An OLED, 2.36M dot (which translates to about 768K pixels) is a good viewfinder, but I still prefer the look through an optical viewfinder.
  • top-plate shutter speed and exposure compensation dials
    People who used cameras before the digital camera “age” fondly remember the dials and aperture rings. I find it easy to make adjustments on the Fuji X-1, everything feels natural.
    The only complaint is that I easily bump the exposure compensation dial from its neutral position. Fortunately the dial in the new Fuji X100s is stiffer, so Fuji learns.
  • 2.8″ 460k-dot LCD
    This is a bit of a step-down from its bigger brother the X-PRO1. I would’ve like a larger screen or more dots. My greatest wish for a next-generation Fuji X camera is a mobile screen. I really like Sony’s tilt-able LCDs.
  • built-in pop-up flash I did not purchase a separate Fuji external flash, so this has to do the job. It has good balance and enough power to lighten the shadows a bit. A nice perk is that  the flash can be bounced off the ceiling.  But be careful with this feature as it is not official.
    For a fill-flash the little pop-up does a good job.
  • HD movie recording, built-in stereo microphone and 2.5mm stereo microphone socket
    From the little recording I did (it is not my main area of interest) I find the features somewhat limited: low bitrate and no ability to set the shutter speed.
    The Fujifilm X-E1 cannot compete with the much acclaimed Panasonic GH3, nor with Canon 5D2 or 3.
  • I got the silver version. i think it look great, and really takes me back to film era cameras.

 Fujifilm X-E1 firmware upgrade

The Fujifilm is not a speedy digital camera, but the latest firmware update is an improvement. The firmware improves several areas – autofocus speed, review times, and adds a focus peak mechanism. Fuji also claims write times are lowered but I haven’t tested. The first thing you should do when you buy the Fujifilm X-E1 is to update the firmware.

Saint Peter square in Rome - Fujifilm X-E1 is great at low-light photography

Saint Peter square in Rome - Fujifilm X-E1 is great at low-light photography

Download the firmware from the official Fujifilm website, and follow the update instructions step by step. I did not encounter any problems, and it took me less than 30 minutes to update Fujifilm X-E1, the XF 18-55 F2.8-4.0 and the Fujifilm XF 35mm.

what I like about the Fujifilm X-E1

  • great JPEG image quality
    The X-E1 is the first camera with which I no longer feel it is necessary to shoot Raw.
    Raw files do offer more flexibility though, and I sometime develop them differently in-camera. I really enjoy using the different film looks, and I think Fuji does an amazing job with the Jpeg engine. I especially like the Pro-Neg Hi and Std looks, and use Velvia for landscapes.
    The latest version of Adobe Camera Raw improved the support for the Fuji Raw files, so maybe I will shoot Raw+Fine Jpegs again. The Jpegs show very little chroma noise (the colored noise), so images look great at most ISOs.
  • great Fujifilm XF 18-55 standard zoom lens
    I find it as good as my old Canon EF-S 17-55, which makes it a great lens. Good sharpness, useful subject separation, good contrast when wide open, and nice colors. What is not to like?
  • excellent prime lenses
    I have the XF 35mm and I love it. I also intend to get the Fuji XF 14mm at some point in the future.
  • film-simulations – Velvia, Astia, Provia
    Fuji offers film looks that I find hard to simulate in post process (but not impossible). These look very good, and offer nice settings for portraits, landscapes and everything in-between.
    film mode velvia/vividfilm mode astia/softfilm mode Pro Neg standardfilm mode Pro Neg Hi (highlights -2 shadows -2)
  • quick menu, electronic level, bracketing modes, panorama tool
    Quick menu gives fast access to most settings and the electronic level helps with tilted horizons. I discovered that after a long day spent shooting I start to tilt the camera, and a lot of pictures I need to straighten in post-processing. The electronic level forces me to pay attention.
    I like to bracket film modes, and also of course bracket for exposure. I would like a larger spread when bracketing though. As for in-camera panoramas – some consider this tool gimmicky, but I use it to quickly capture a wide vista.
  • quiet shutter (not silent though) Definitely quieter than a classic DSLR. The shutter can still be heard – but I find it noticeable only when shooting multiple exposures.
  • nice finish, solid build and general enjoyment in using the camera it’s a great feeling to pick up the Fuji X-E1. Solid in hand, it almost asks to start shooting with it. I feel this is a photographer camera first, and a gadget in a far second place.

 

Fujifilm X-E1 with the kit lens, in Rome Fujifilm X-E1 with the kit lens, in Rome Fuji X-E1 with the kit lens, in Rome

what I do not like about it

  • auto-focus speed is just so-so
    In low-light and with low-contrast subjects the Fuji X-E1 struggles. A prime lens like the XF 35mm is pretty slow, but the standard zoom is very decent. Fujifilm improved the focusing speed with the latest firmware, and I hope this will happen again in the future.
  • a bit low-resolution rear LCD I would have liked a higher resolution LCD, or with a tilting mechanism.
  • Auto ISO chooses too slow a shutter speed
    The Fujifilm X-E1 really likes 1/50s as “fast” shutter speed. Especially with moving subjects I would like to be able to set 1/125s. I really hope that Fuji will change this in a future firmware upgrade. The new Fujifilm X100s brings customization to the Auto ISO mode: you can set lowest ISO, highest ISO and a minimum shutter speed. I hope Fujifilm will bring this option to the Fujifilm X-E1 also
  • video mode limitations I do not mind that much, but if you intend to shoot video it’s best to wait for a firmware upgrade (hopefully), or a new camera.
  • limited battery  I can get between 200 and 300 shots per fully charged battery. This means that every day I have to carry at least one spare, sometimes ‘just in case’. Fortunately additional batteries are pretty cheap.
    An additional complaint (pretty small) I have is the door to the battery-card compartment. The door feels pretty cheap and I am afraid it will break.
  • the exposure compensation dial
    I often bump the dial from the neutral position. I feel it is too easy to rotate it.
  • in-camera raw conversion
    I like to play with different film simulations, and as I try to find the perfect Fuji X-E1 camera settings I re-process a lot of Raw files in-camera. This should allow me to see exactly how different settings affect the final Jpeg. Unfortunately the system is a bit clunky – I would like to select multiple Raw files and process them at the same time with new settings.
    More importantly I want the camera to name the resulting files based on the original name, and not as new files. It makes browsing and returning to the original Raw file hard.

conclusions

This is an ongoing review, so i will expand on different points. For me using the Fujifilm X-E1 is a new experience and a learning process. I really hope to understand all the quirks, and put to use all the best features.

I bought the X-E1 as a travel camera. My main usage for the camera – I thought – was going to be travel photography. However, the more I shoot with the new Fuji I realize what a well-rounded camera it is. I have shot the Fuji at a press conference recently and I am very happy with the results. The biggest quality of life improvement for me was the quality of the camera output. I have to edit the files in Lightroom far less than before.

Continue to the reviews of Fuji XF 35mm and the XF 18-55 lenses.

update: for several more photos done with the Fuji X-E1 and the XF 18-55 you can view my post about Rome with travel tips and photo gallery.

Fujifilm X-E1 pricing and availability

I bought the Fuji X-E1 as kit, and also the XF 35mm.

Roman Forum with the Fuji X-E1 Fuji X-E1 is great at low-light photography monumental staircase - Fujifilm X-E1 at the Vatican museum
Series NavigationFujifilm XF 35mm and XF 18-55 lenses reviews and roadmap »

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