The much anticipated Fujifilm X-E1 arrived in Canada early last week and I’ve had mine for about 5 days now. I was hoping for some better weather on the west coast to take some good test shots, but it hasn’t stopped raining. A few days isn’t enough time with the X-E1 to warrant a complete review, but it’s about perfect to know if you’ll love or hate a camera. So there are some quick pros and cons.
- The X-E1 is smaller, and lighter than I thought. When the specs were first published I imagined the size to be about the same as my Konica Hexar rangefinder. The Hexar has been my travel camera for years and I’ve been actively looking for a digital equivalent to replace it; I was ok having a camera of that size. Opening the box I found a camera much closer in size to my Canon Canonet. The X-E1 holds well, with buttons that don’t get in the way of shooting.
- Autofocus is faster than anticipated. After reading all of the pre-production previews I came to think that the AF was going to be terribly slow. It’s not. In good light AF is quite snappy. In low light the lens will hunt a bit if the contrast is too low, and can take a bit longer to lock on. Now it may not be as fast as the Olympus E-M5, but for a mirrorless camera the speed is quit good.
- AF accuracy. When the X-E1 AF locks on it’s dead on, even at f/1.4. I can’t even say that about my Nikon system shooting at f/1.4. This is where Fuji trumps Olympus in AF. As much as Olympus has super fast AF it’s not always accurate; Fuji’s may be slower but it’s dead on.
- Manual dials. I do like the manual dials on the camera. It brings me back to shooting old film bodies. The dials are firm and shouldn’t move when in a bag.
- Amazing image quality. This is the kicker, the X-E1′s images quality is the best in the mirrorless camera category. And I’d even go as far as it rivals some of the best SLRs on the market. The images are sharp and contrasty with very good colour rendition.
- Very good high-ISO performance . High-ISO noise is virtually non-existant in the native 200-6400 range.
- Sans AA filter. Lack of an anti-aliasing filter results in much sharper images.
- Good EVF. The EVF is good. Super high resolution, high contrast, and good color rendition. The only small drawback is it’s slightly slower refresh rate. You’ll notice it if you’re looking for it. If you press the shutter release half way, the refresh rate become much much better. Not sure why that is, or if it was intentional by Fuji.
- It’s a sexy camera. Let’s be honest, the X-E1 is a good looking camera. There are some rumours floating around the web talking about how the name suggests SeXy-One. Either way, it definitely works well as an accessory to a blazer and a good pair of shoes. Now if I can only find a simple brown leather strap for mine.
- Slow start-up. It seems like the X-E1 needs a few seconds to adjust every time you either switch the camera on, or switch from playback to camera. There is a Quick Start mode which turns the camera on faster, but doesn’t actually speed up the adjustment time. I’m not sure if the camera resets every time it leaves camera mode, but it would be great if Fuji could speed this process up. A note about Quick Start mode; in this mode the X-E1 doesn’t fully power down, which means it’ll drain your battery faster when it’s just sitting in your bag.
- No AF-lock between shots. This is probably my biggest problem with the X-E1 (and from what I hear the X-Pro1 as well). The X-E1 will re-focus between every shot, even if you don’t take your finger off the shutter. Every other autofocus camera I’ve owned/used will lock focus when you press the shutter half-way, and will not release focus until you take your finger completely off of the shutter button (past the half-way point). The reason this is a problem is because I like to focus, recompose, and take a few frames. With the X-E1 I can focus and recompose the first frame, but if I take a second frame the camera will re-focus to where the AF-point is now pointing to after recomposing. There are some tricks to get around it, namely using the AE/AF-Lock button, but it won’t been very hard for Fuji to change this with a firmware update (or at least give the option to AF-L on shutter release).
- AF-Point selection button. For some reason the AF-Point selection button is on the left side of the camera. You have to press the button with your left hand, then use the multi-selector to change the focus point with your right hand. Why Fuji didn’t make the multi-selector an active AF-Point selector, or even having one of the right side buttons activate it, is beyond me.
- 1/180 X-Sync? In the world of flash photography 1/180 flash sync is slow, though it’s actually not much slower than big-boy SLRs like the Canon 5D mk3 which has a 1/200 x-sync. What’s really odd about the X-E1 is that you can’t actually get to 1/180 shutter speed. The manual dials on the X-E1 are in full-stop increments. In manual mode you are able to adjust the shutter speed by 1/3 stops using the multi-selector. So if we count out the 1/3 stops it would look like this; 1/125 – 1/160 – 1/200 – 1/250. No 1/180 shutter speed. And so far I haven’t found an x-sync option anywhere on the camera. Again, it wouldn’t be hard for Fuji to implement an x-sync option in a firmware update.
- No minimum shutter speed in Auto ISO. You are not able to set a minimum shutter speed while using Auto ISO, which mean the camera can select a shutter speed much lower than what can be hand held.
- Expanded ISO range in not available in RAW. You can not access the expanded 100-25600 ISO range while shooting raw images. This may not be a big issue, but having the full ISO range in RAW would be nice. And with amazing processing in Lightroom, the usability of a 25600 ISO image is much higher.
- Not quite full Adobe, Apple RAW support. Fuji uses a completely different sensor pattern (array) than everyone else on the market. The X-Trans sensor array utilizes a 6×6 colour pattern instead of the traditional Bayer 2×2 pattern. Fuji claims the X-Trans sensor increases image quality, color depth, noise reduction, and reduces moire effect from lack of an AA filter; and they’re right. The downside is it’s a really hard to process. There have been mixed results in processing X-Trans RAW files in Lightroom and Aperture. On the plus side, Fuji is committed to resolving this issue and has been said to be working directly with Adobe and Apple to unlock the power of the X-Trans sensor in RAW processing.
RAW Conversion Tests
As I mentioned above, there has been mixed results processing RAW files with Lightroom. With the limited amount of images I have taken, I haven’t experienced the major mosaic-effect that reportedly turns images into watercolour paintings. The RAW images do have a mosaic “grain” structure, best seen in the last comparison, where the JPG appears to have more of a standard dotted “grain” appearance. I’m hoping that the mosaic-effect is due to the RAW processing, and as Adobe keeps working on a proper conversion that has a more natural looking “grain”. Lightroom applies a default sharpening setting of +25 which seems to increase the mosaic-effect. Setting Lightroom sharpening to zero appears to minimize it. The JPG files coming straight out of the camera seem soft in comparison to the RAW files, I am attributing that in camera noise reduction. The X-E1 defaults noise reduction to zero, I am unsure if that is completely off or a minimum amount.
Fuji ships the X-E1 with a SilkyPix RAW converter which allows to do a lot of the basic adjustments but is a really cumbersome program. I would have thought that the files processed by SilkyPix would be better, but I actually prefer the files from Lightroom. SilkyPix doesn’t seems to handle noise very well.
RAW File Latitude
The Nikon 800E is stated to have one of the best latitude ranges amounts cameras today. Fuji states that the X-Trans sensor can hold it’s own as well. The picture below was taken almost 2 stops overexposed (1.9 stops to be exact). I was able to pull it all back in Lightroom with no loss of detail in highlight areas. Pretty good if you ask me.
A Few Thoughts
The Fujifilm X-E1 is a fantastic little camera, at least for me. The size and weight make it great for travelling. I don’t shoot much, if any, high-speed action so the AF speed isn’t an issue for me. Moreover, AF accuracy is high on my priority list which this camera excels at. And the image quality is astounding. You do have to remember that the X-E1 is a mirrorless camera not a SLR. If this is your first venture into a mirrorless system, get ready for a bit of a learning curve. The X-E1, like most mirrorless cameras, operates a bit slower than SLRs, and the EVF is great but still isn’t a prism viewfinder.
My first mirrorless camera was an Olympus E-P2, which was great as a personal camera. What I was looking for in the Fuji X-E1 is a camera that can compliment my D800E, and be able to use it for less intensive editorial work. I have found that the 35mm (eff. 53mm) lens is a little long for a walk-around lens, and I’m really looking forward to the 23mm f/1.4 to be launched next year. I am planning a large creative project where the only camera I will be using is the Fuji X-E1. It should be a good test on how capable the camera is for editorial style work. I’m hoping to have that project completed before the end of the year. Here are a few more test images from the last few days. Unfortunately all of them were shot at night and at high ISO, though you should get a sense of what to expect from the Fuji X-E1.