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First Impressions: Fujifilm X-E1 Mirrorless Interchangable Lens Camera

by Christian Rudman on 12/18/2012

Even before I had a chance for a first impression, I really did not have great expectations for the Fuji X-E1 Mirrorless Interchangable Lens Camera. I like what Fuji is doing with their X-Series and I am really excited about the directions that the company is heading in the mirrorless market; but, when I heard that it would be an EVF only camera and completely ditch the hybrid viewfinder that made both the X100 and X-Pro1 so groundbreaking, I was less than ecstatic. How can an EVF camera ever hold it’s own against the kind of ingenuity and classic camera experience that the Fuji X-E1’s predecessors offer?

Yes, it has all that classy retro-dress and full metal jacket that sets it apart from the other MILCs on the market, but does it really outperform its competitors or just wrap the same functionality and image quality up into a prettier bundle? Thankfully Fujifilm has chosen to give this photographer a chance to take a hands-on approach to answering this widely pondered question.

Before we get mired down in the bog of my personal rants on camera interaction design, lets take a look at the cold hard facts on this angular chunk of metal and semiconductors:

Tech Specs

Specs provided by m43blog.com

  • 16.3 million effective pixels APS-C X-Trans CMOS sensor
  • EXR image processor PRO
  • FUJIFILM X mount (for Fujinon XF Series Lens)
  • Ultra-high resolution 23.6 megapixel organic EL viewfinder
  • 2.8 inch (460,000 pixels) LCD display (high contrast, high brightness and wide viewing angle)
  • Built-in pop-up flash (with hot shoe, which can be accessed outside the flash)
  • ISO 200 – 6400, expandable to ISO 100, 12800,25600 (ISO Auto is available ranges from ISO400-6400)
  • 0.05 seconds shutter lag
  • Q (quick) button Quick menu settings
  • Built-in RAW conversion
  • Film simulation mode (Velvia, Astia, Provia, Monochrome, Sepia, PRO Neg Std & PRO Neg Hi)
  • Creative shooting functions include multiple exposure and panorama mode
  • Auto Bracketing (AE / ISO / DR & FS)
  • Full HD camera function
  • Microphone / shutter line interface (Φ2.5mm)
  • Single charge can take about 350 photos

Quick shameless B&H “Buy It Here” widget:

Ergonomics

Like most of the X-Series cameras, the Fuji X-E1 has a really wonderful tactile experience that really sets it apart from most of the other cameras in its class. Not just in feel though, the looks really do hearken back to the glory days of mechanical film camera design. I cannot tell you how many times I had people out on the street stop me and ask, “Oh, you’re still shooting with a film camera?” This always makes me cringe a little inside as a film shooter, but it speaks volumes for the camera’s visual design. It’s not all primp and sass though, this camera has some very well thought out hardware features.

Much like it’s bigger brother the X-Pro1, there is a subtle hand grip area on the front right side that in turn places your thumb firmly resting on the backside next to the small extrusion that houses the multi-function Q menu and AE-L & AF-L buttons. This gives you a secure grip that allows you to leave the neck strap at home and just slap on a wrist strap and keep it shooting all day long. The rear controls are also quite similar, and cover every necessity that you might encounter while out shooting for the day. It has a nice balance in weight, never seems to be too heavy to sling around your neck all day and always has enough heft to confirm that you have a workhorse in your hand.

A new feature to this camera over the X-Pro1 is the inclusion of a pop up flash. While I am very much an off-camera flash kind of guy, it was really nice to have this for a bit of fill in a pinch. The flash itself looks like it was a direct design copy from one of R2-D2’s extendable appendages.

Quick fun fact, due to the adjustable nature of the flash’s pop-up mechanism, this also allows you to physically hold it back for a bit of bounce flash as well. This turns out a whole lot nicer than that scary red-eye inducing head-on flash we are all used to with a pop-up flash.

Overall, the camera has many of the physical features that have become a modern trademark of the X-Series. Manual shutter speed controls, professional functionality and quality, and an exposure compensation dial that you always seem to inadvertently bump off 0 when you are not paying attention (in all fairness, this has become much less of a problem than with the X100, but it still happens often enough to mention it). The feature that really sets this camera apart from its siblings is the EVF. Departing from the unique hybrid viewfinder that Fuji brought to the world, this camera has settled into the industry standard electronic viewfinder for this offering.

The EVF surprised me a bit. It is still an EVF by all means, there is some lag, it flares easily, and always seems to have a different interpretation of what the exposure of the scene is. You still have to pay attention to the meter and it still left me pining for an optical viewfinder. However, it was very useable and never gave me any problems that I couldn’t fix by paying attention to the detailed information readouts scattered along the fringes of the finder. I have not extensively used any other comparable finders like the NEX-7’s or the like so I cannot accurately speak into how well it performs against those competitors, but I can say that it is making me reconsider my rather stalwart position against them. I really enjoyed using it in every instance, especially over the option of not having a viewfinder at all and constantly shooting at arms-length.

Autofocus

This is the Achilles heel of the X-Series apparently, as there has yet to be a camera in the series that has a praised autofocus system. It is quite usable and in most instances it will lock focus with no problem. It takes a certain amount of trial and error to learn how to shoot with the camera’s autofocus system, but the slightest bit of practice will bring consistent results. It can really struggle in low light situations from time to time, but shooting in near dark can cause that with almost any camera. All said, the autofocus doesn’t match up to the Olympus OM-D E-M5, but it is quick enough for some decent street shooting. Plus, Fuji has shown how they have the capability of improving output well after the release of products with some quick reworks in the firmware. Be looking for one of those updates for this camera soon, as it is in need a few tweaks.

Ease of Use

This camera is a straightforward enthusiast mirrorless camera. There is no movie function, it has a plethora of manual exposure options, and it is all quickly accessible via the physical dials on the camera or through the Q menu system. Made to take beautiful photos easily and efficiently, this camera receives high marks from this reviewer for the user experience. That all said, this camera is not suitable for the average full-auto shooter. While it is capable of shooting in full auto, there are a few nuances to its operation that would make it unsuitable for the unwitting photographer.

Image Quality

While the AF may be the weak point of the Fuji X-Series, IQ is where it really shines. The images, even the raw files, are simply amazing for this crop sensor camera. High ISO performance that makes for an almost organic grain without smearing the crap out of the details, this camera can really shine in any lighting situation image quality wise. The JPGs straight out of the camera are gorgeous as well, especially when one wants to shoot an Astia or Velvia like series and have deliverables directly out of the camera. This is one camera I would be content to shoot with and have all the in-camera processing done and have them handed off to my customer without an ounce of post-production.

I got to test this camera with the new Fuji 18-55/2.8-4R LM OIS lens, and can honestly say that this is a great pair for any photographer looking for a nice standard set. I am more of a prime shooter myself, and would have liked to have tried this camera out with the 35mm to confirm the IQ a bit more. However, this combo performs beautifully, just take a gander and decide for yourself:

First Impressions

I like this camera, more than I thought I would. After a bit of time with the Olympus E-M5 and Sony NEX-7, I really see the Fuji X-E1 as a clear winner in the IQ and usability areas. It would outright lose in an AF battle, so keep that in mind if that is truly a deciding factor for you. It does seem to be a slightly sexier (physically and IQ wise) option than any of its current competitors. Being the optical viewfinder kind of guy that I am, I would still go for an Fuji X-Pro1 over this (especially with the recent price drop!). But, if squeezing out an extra $400 really isn’t an option or you don’t care for the hybrid viewfinder on the X-Pro1, this camera is the most viable option on the market for serious shooters looking into the mirrorless market and craving a true manual control experience with a good EVF built right in. Also, if you are one of the millions who are adapting older lenses for use with the X-Series, this camera really is a better choice over the X-Pro1 because of its improved EVF would be much more usable in manually focusing those gorgeous Summicrons. All in all, I would totally see this camera in my bag in the near future, but only after there’s an X-Pro1 in there first.

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