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Review: Fujifilm X-E1

The X-E1 Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Camera is an interesting take by Fujifilm on the EVF cameras that have been dominating the mirrorless category for a couple of years now. Since the mirrorless camera by nature does not allow for a true through-the-lens viewfinder, if manufacturers wanted to put a viewfinder on the camera they had to used an electronic one. That is, until the Fuji X100 came along. (I’m leaving digital rangefinders out of this statement because they are not the same thing as a mirrorless camera although they are functionally similar).

While technically a compact professional camera, the Fujifilm X100 was such a game-changer that Fuji expanded upon that camera with a few more fixed lens models before finally releasing the Fuji X-Pro1 Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Camera in 2012 based on that same innovative Hybrid Viewfinder that wowed so many of us in 2011. The combination of interchangeable lenses with that unique viewfinder proved to be a mighty force in the camera world and has proved to be a decent seller despite the apparently steep introductory price tag.

With so many people crying again for a better EVF for use in manual focusing and with legacy lenses, Fuji has responded promptly with the Fujifilm X-E1 Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Camera. This is all very interesting of course, but the real question stands, does it hold it’s own against its predecessors and really compete with its contemporaries?

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Lighter and smaller than the X-Pro1 but still ergonomic and devilishly sexy
  • Vastly Improved EVF over the X-Pro1
  • Pop-up intelligent flash! I know this camera really shines with an external flash, but in a pinch this is a really big asset

Cons

  • Not the greatest EVF in its class
  • AF is not the best in its class
  • Not a major update over the slightly older X-Pro1, but it does save you some bucks because of that.

Gear Used

Fujifilm X-E1 Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Camera
Fujifilm 18-55mm f/2.8-4R LM OIS Lens
Promaster 16GB SD Card
Vivitar 285HV Flash
Think Tank Retrospective 40 Camera Bag

Tech Specs

Specifications pulled from Dpreview.com

Price
MSRP $1,399.95 with 18-55mm lens, $999.95 body only
Body type
Body type Rangefinder-style mirrorless
Sensor
Max resolution 4896 x 3264
Other resolutions 4896x2760,264 × 3264, 3456x2304, 3456x1944, 2304 × 230, 2496x1664, 2496x1408 , 1664 × 1664
Image ratio w:h 1:1, 3:2, 16:9
Effective pixels 16.3 megapixels
Sensor size APS-C (23.6 x 15.6 mm)
Sensor type CMOS
Processor EXR Pro
Color filter array Primary colour filter
Image
ISO Auto (400), Auto (800), Auto (1600), Auto (3200), 200, 250, 320, 400, 500, 640, 800, 1000, 1250, 1600, 2000, 2500, 3200, 4000, 5000, 6400 (100, 12800, 25600 with boost)
White balance presets 7
Custom white balance Yes (1)
Image stabilization No
Uncompressed format RAW
JPEG quality levels Fine, Normal
File format
  • JPEG (Exif 2.3),
  • RAW (RAF format)
  • RAW+JPEG
Optics & Focus
Autofocus
  • Contrast Detect (sensor)
  • Multi-area
  • Center
  • Single
  • Continuous
  • Live View
Autofocus assist lamp Yes
Digital zoom No
Manual focus Yes
Lens mount Fujifilm X
Focal length multiplier 1.5×
Screen / viewfinder
Articulated LCD Fixed
Screen size 2.8″
Screen dots 460,000
Touch screen No
Screen type TFT color LCD monitor
Live view Yes
Viewfinder type Electronic
Viewfinder coverage 100 %
Viewfinder resolution 2,360,000
Photography features
Minimum shutter speed 30 sec
Maximum shutter speed 1/4000 sec
Exposure modes
  • Program AE
  • Shutter priority
  • Aperture priority
  • Manual exposure
Built-in flash Yes (Pop-up)
External flash Yes (via hot-shoe EF-X20, EF-20, EF-42)
Flash modes Auto, On, Off, Red-Eye, Slow Sync, Rear-curtain
Flash X sync speed 1/180 sec
Drive modes
  • Single
  • Continuous
  • Self-timer
Continuous drive Yes (6 fps)
Self-timer Yes (2 or 10 sec)
Metering modes
  • Multi
  • Average
  • Spot
Exposure compensation ±2 EV (at 1/3 EV steps)
AE Bracketing (at 1/3 EV, 2/3 EV, 1 EV steps)
WB Bracketing No
Videography features
Format
  • H.264
Microphone Stereo
Speaker Mono
Resolutions 1920 x 1080 (24 fps), 1280 x 720 (24 fps)
Storage
Storage types SD/SDHC/SDXC
Connectivity
USB USB 2.0 (480 Mbit/sec)
HDMI Yes (Mini connector)
Remote control Yes ( Optional RR-80)
Physical
Environmentally sealed No
Battery Battery Pack
Battery description Lithium-Ion NP-W126 rechargeable battery & charger
Battery Life (CIPA) 350
Weight (inc. batteries) 350 g (0.77 lb / 12.35 oz)
Dimensions 129 x 75 x 38 mm (5.08 x 2.95 x 1.5″)
Other features
Orientation sensor Yes
Timelapse recording No
GPS None

 

Ergonomics

Starting at the back of the camera you will find the brains to the madness. This is also where your face will be for most of the time you are using this camera, so it is a great place to start becoming familiar with the unit. Any former or current Fuji X-Series user will already be intimately familiar with this layout, but for newer users this will take a bit of getting used to and some owner’s manual familiarization. Two note-worthy additions over the X-Pro1 are the diopter adjustment wheel on the left side of the EVF and the pop-up flash release button on the right.

The hand settles nicely on the camera, much like the X-Pro1 but with slightly less bulk. Even without that extra bit of camera body to grip, this makes for a very comfortable and secure grip on the camera for long periods of time.

On the front you will see the small built-in grip that comes with the camera. Although I did not have one to test with this camera, the extra handgrip you can purchase for the X-E1 can make for an even more comfortable and natural hand hold on the camera body (I tried one with the X-Pro1 and it was a dream).

The top control configuration is a normal setup for the X-Series cameras, with the slightly more protected exposure compensation dial upgrade from the X100 but lacking the lock button on the shutter speed dial that the X-Pro1 possesses.

The pop-up flash extended. It looks like a possible weak point in the camera due to the articulating arm, but seems relatively steady. Only time will tell how well this part of the camera will stand up to extended use. Also, in front of the hotshoe you can see the built-in stereo microphone pickups for video capture.

If you choose to use an auxiliary microphone, you can find the port for the jack here next to the HDMI and USB ports behind a hard plastic dust cover door.

A familiar sight from the X-Pro1, you can find the rotary focus selection dial to the right of the lens mount and the lens release is directly opposite this on the left.

The battery and SD storage are directly borrowed from the X-Pro1, inconveniently placed directly next to the tripod mount rendering them inaccessible if your camera is mounted to a tripod or quick release plate.

What really sets the XE-1 apart from the rest of the cameras though is the EVF. If it looks familiar that is because information-wise almost nothing has changed since the X-Pro 1, but the resolution of the EVF has been significantly improved over its older brother. Still not industry-leading in EVF resolution, but vastly better for constant use than those in the X100 and X-Pro 1.

Build Quality

Like the rest of the X-Series of cameras, the X-E1 has a premium feel to every aspect of its construction. Even though it is slightly smaller than its bigger brother, the X-Pro 1, it feels just as solid and only a tinge lighter. It is a well balanced camera for its lighter build, even with the heavier 18-55mm lens attached it. In the hand it feels as solid as an old mechanical camera or a prosumer DSLR, but with even more functionality and manual control available at your fingertips. If you have held an X-Series camera like the X100 or the X-Pro 1, this camera will feel extremely familiar with just a hint of newness and variation.

Autofocus

The X-E1 seemed to be slightly more efficient than the X-Pro 1 with its autofocus, but not by a large majority. This particular aspect of the cameras seems to be the Achilles heel of the X-Series with almost every camera suffering from a lapse in quick and precise autofocus. This is not to say that the camera is not capable in focussing, but it is trailing behind a few of its competitors by a small margin. However, Fuji always seems to improve things like this incrementally in its firmware updates for the cameras and they have announced that the new X100s is going to have blazingly fast AF, so this could change in the future for the X-E1.

Ease of Use

If you have used the X-Pro1 or X100 before, the controls menus on this camera will be extremely familiar and easy to use. If you have not ever tried an X-Series camera before this will be a great starting model for you. While retaining the beautifully simple manual controls and interface that has contributed to this camera series being such a hit in the industry, it lacks the complications and additional menu options that come with the hybrid viewfinder that is found in both the X-Pro1 and X100. While the step from a fully digital control system to a tactile (although still digital) control system is fundamentally different, it is a very quick learning curve and one that is extremely satisfying to master. If you are thinking this is the camera for you, be looking forward to mind-melding with the camera and letting it become an extension of your shooting persona.

Metering

In our tests, the XE-1 overexposed images by around 1/3 of a stop during our Sunny 16 tests. That still isn’t that bad at all.

Image Quality

This is the trademark of the X-Series cameras: amazing image quality with wonderful tones straight out of the camera. While this is true, I did do a tiny bit of post in Lightroom 4 on most of these for a realistic look at common output. Some have nothing done to them apart from the default LR RAW import conversion tweaks such as this first one.

20121206_1319

20121206_1343

20121205_1250

High ISO Images

20121130_1219_lrg

While not a spectacular image, this one should give a decent idea of the High-ISO performance of this camera, especially with a 100% crop:

20121130_1219

Not bad for 6400, but I still highly prefer lowering the ISO and using a flash!

Raw File Versatility

20121206_1291 20121206_1291.2

The RAW files are wonderfully flexible to deal with in post, even severely underexposed images like this one could be saved without butchering the file. I would advise to get the exposure right the first time, but if you are ever in a bind over a particular image, you could just save it if you shot it in the Fuji RAF RAW format.

Conclusions

This camera is yet another worthy installment in the X-Series of cameras that Fujifilm is producing. While my personal favorite remains the X-Pro1 for its innovative hybrid viewfinder combined with the interchangeable lens mount, this camera I hold in high regards and appreciate the cost savings of $700 (before they started discounting the X-Pro1). However, if you are pairing this camera with a legacy lens that would be focused manually and using the EVF, I would much prefer the X-E1 over the X-Pro1 for its much improved EVF. The pop-up flash is a nice touch, especially since the articulating arm allows you to bounce the flash vertically (I mentioned this in the First Impressions article on this camera). I do think this camera has a place in every Fuji enthusiast’s bag, as well as anyone interested in using beautiful old legacy lenses like Leica M-Mounts and Zeiss lenses with mirrorless cameras that are significantly less expensive than the M9 and its brethren. If I had the spare change I would have one of these in my personal collection right now. Since I don’t have the moolah for that, I ended up having to send it back to Fuji with a heavy heart. Do yourself a favor and go pick one of these up for yourself right now!

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