Fuji X-E1 Review

I have been using the Fuji X-E1 since the official release date of the camera on the 17th of November. Rather than showing you performance charts or trying to convince you that this camera is the best in the world just because I love it, I will first give you the context in which I decided to buy an X-E1: what other cameras I am/have been using, what i was looking for exactly in a new camera, what other brands/models I did consider, and why I ended up choosing the Fuji in the end. In my opinion, these are an important part of any review, because what matters for me might not be what matters for YOU. All cameras come with pros and cons, so you need to be aware of the trade-offs that come with each model, in order to make the best investment decision for YOU.

For the past few years now, I have mainly been shooting with Nikon DSLRs:
– a full-frame as my main body (currently a D800 and previously a D700), either with the 16-35 f4 and the 70-200 f2.8, or sometimes with a 50 f1.4 for low light shooting
– a smaller body (D90) easier to carry around, for example for lazy holidays (as opposed to holidays that you take only because you want to take a specific shot and you plan everything for that sole purpose), usually with the 18-200 DX, lightweight general purpose lens perfect to take with you on a trip.

I mainly take pictures during 1-2 week travels or week-end trips. I tend to take a little bit of everything, landscapes, cityscapes, portraits or even sport photographies. I usually travel via public transportations and cover a lot of distance by feet on a daily basis (I don’t own a car, and as a not-so-experienced driver I rarely adventure myself to rent a car – it’s safer for everyone). This obviously means carrying around a bag full of gear, with typically the D800 with the 16-35 and 70-200 zooms, a fast prime for low light situations, plus a tripod and a bunch of accessories (spare battery, filters, etc…). If you are the same as me, you know that at some point your back says STOP. You can’t go on carrying that much weigh on your back, and finding the lightest system becomes your priority. Obviously we care about our images, and we don’t want to sacrifice on the image quality just for the size factor. With that in mind, I had been watching carefully the mirrorless cameras getting better every year, and decided that it was finally time to get a replacement for my trustworthy D90.

I ended up considering 3 different cameras in a similar price range: the Sony NEX7, the Olympus OMD E-M5 and finally the Fuji X-E1 after it was announced this year. I never owned the first 2 and never will, so please understand that my thoughts on those 2 cameras come from personal documentation from all possible sources (magazines, blogs, Youtube video reviews and so on…) but also from literally dozens of hands-on experiences in several camera stores in Tokyo (the good thing in Japan with camera stores is that all the cameras are available for you to touch and test without even having to ask for permission – you can even bring your own memory card if you want to go back home and compare files…). Even though I was already holding a lot of Nikon gear, I never considered the Nikon 1 system as an option despite of its outstanding focus performances, as I got disappointed by the point-and-shoot orientation with shooting modes buried deep down a clumsy menu

Sony NEX7: this was the first mirrorless camera I considered buying, as for a first time it looked like a manufacturer had decided to deliver a product oriented for more advanced user, with a promising “Tri-Navi” interface and a top-notch electronic viewfinder (EVF). Needless to say, my painful back and I were highly excited when that camera was announced, despite of what I would call a pragmatic look rather than an inspiring design. Sadly, once I could finally grab a test model in my hands, it was far from love at first sight. My first and immediate complaint was about the 2 dial-commands on the top of the camera that feel too loose (no nice click) to really know what you are doing without looking at the rear-screen, on which you can notice a slight lag between your action on the wheel and the change in the settings. For me (again, just personal taste, don’t get offended if you own a NEX7 and love it), it just did not feel right. The other thing that I did not enjoy was that, because of some complicated menus and sub-menus (though I understand all the buttons are customizable to reduce the time you have to spend in the menus), the menus are actually taking a decent amount of space on the rear-screen, de facto limiting the usable space of what is otherwise a large and nice-looking screen. Finally, high ISO performances lower than my expectations (as I said, I was really excited by this camera when it was announced, so my expectations were high) finished to convince me to hold on and wait for other camera releases.

Olympus OMD E-M5: the NEX7 and X-E1 both use an APS-C size sensor, while the E-M5 is a micro 4/3 camera. As with everything, this comes with pros and cons. In my opinion, Olympus and Panasonic have tremendously improved the micro 4/3 technology, to the point that their image quality is on par with many camera with APS-C sensors. Meanwhile, the choice of lenses dedicated to this format kept growing over the past years, while manufacturers such as Sony, Fuji, Nikon or Canon still need to develop much further their offer in lenses for their respective mirrorless mounts. However, image quality for high ISOs was somewhat of an issue, though the E-M5 is a clear improvement in the area compared to older models (I never owned any micro 4/3 before, this is simply my belief forged after documenting myself and taking test shots in stores… if you have more insight on this, feel free to add it in the comments section of the post!). The E-M5 has some very nice features that the X-E1 does not have, and it was not easy to decide on which one to go for:
– Crazy fast autofocus: very impressive, much faster than the X-E1!
Built-in Image Stabilisation “5-axis”: will enable you to use lower ISO to shoot handheld with any lens, also helps a lot to make videos that don’t make viewers sea-sick (by the way, if the video side of things is important for you, the X-E1 is not aimed at you)
Weather sealing: not something you often find on this form factor, kudos Olympus

So why the Fuji X-E1 then?
– This might sound crazy to a lot of people, but one of the first reasons why I ended up choosing the X-E1 is because that camera just looks beautiful. It smells like photography, It’s like it’s calling you to take it with you and go shoot something! Whether ugly tools are as good as nice looking ones to craft beautiful art is a tough question, I’ll leave it up to you ;) All I know is that the form of this camera is almost inspiring.
– I love the dedicated dials to set the shutter speed and exposure compensation, and the aperture settings directly on the lenses. From the moment you take the camera in your hand, you know exactly what to expect. Instead of thinking of the settings you used for your last shot and how to amend them for the next one, the commands are already right there at the tip of your fingers. Free your mind of the unnecessary and enjoy having all your mind focused on the picture you are creating!
– The image quality at high ISO is just stunning, well ahead of all its competitors in this form factor (check out this video)
– The “Q menu” is an interface that enables you to quickly change key settings (white balance, RAW or JPEG, strength of the colors and sharpening for JPEG output, etc…), much more intuitive and easy to access than a clumsy menu
– The so-called “film simulations” produce JPEGs with great colors and details. Velvia for landscapes and Astia are my 2 favorites
– The X-E1 has a pop-up flash for when you need some fill light. You can also use it as a commander to trigger a remote flash

What are the weakness of this camera?
– The most obvious glitch is the autofocus. Obviously in broad daylight there isn’t any problem, but in low light the camera will struggle quite a lot. This is not such an issue with the new 18-55 kit lens, that seems to have normal performances in this area (as opposed to the outstanding autofocus of the E-M5), but the 35mm f1.4 prime hunts a lot without necessary being successful. This is with the latest version of the lens firmware, and Fuji definitely needs to work on this if it does not want to scare a broad number of enthusiasts away from its products
– The post-processing of RAW files in Lightroom feels like somehow it i not delivering the full power from the RAW files of the X-E1… According to the rumour mill, Adobe and Lightroom are working on some improvements, I really hope it’s true. Fortunately the JPEGs created in-camera are excellent, thanks to the “film simulations” mode. The camera does come with an additional software that is presumably good at processing the files produced by the Fuji X-Trans sensor, but I have not even installed it yet. This camera seems to have been created by people who love photography, I am sure these people understand that nobody wants to learn a new software and a new workflow every time there is a new camera… This camera is all about freeing the mind of the photographer from the useless, so why burden the user with a new processing software to master just for this camera?
– The EVF is outstanding for still subjects, with crisp details and great colors, but if your subject is moving or if you are moving your framing yourself, the display is lagging. That being said, the X-E1’s EVF is one of the best I have tried, and I am now well used to it while I was previously worried about giving up on an optical viewfinder, though you need to be aware of the limitations
– The rear screen has a resolution on the low-end of the range for that price tag, and the size is kinda small as well (but at least you don’t get big menus on a big part of it like with the NEX7). This is most likely a purely marketing decision to mark a difference with more expensive X-PRO1, and it’s a little bit disappointing as such a nice camera deserved better
– I don’t know what Fuji has tried to pull up with its continuous autofocus mode, it seems completely useless to me! The center of the frame keeps chasing for focus, even before you half-press the shutter, does not make any sense to me… If you figured out how to use this, please let me know!
– The video features are limited: the X-E1 is a camera for photographers!
– Swively-and-tilty(ish) screens are not important for me, but, if it is for you, you need to be aware that the NEX7 and OMD-EM5 both have this feature, while the X-E1 doesn’t.

Conclusion: The Fuji X-E1is a beautifully designed camera, aiming first at the photographer rather than the geek inside us. Its command dials and intuitive Q menu invite us to free our mind from the unnecessary and take more time to think of our pictures instead of the technical details. It produces outstanding images even at high ISO, and the in-camera JPEG engine renders files with sharp details and vivid colors, depending on the “film simulation” mode that you choose. However, no camera is perfect, and the X-E1 is to be avoided if you are allergic to manual focusing, as the autofocus may struggle in low light. Also, as a camera designed primarily for photographers, the X-E1 is light on video modes… In the end, it all comes down to what is important for you, and if you are looking for a lightweight camera with outstanding image quality in all light conditions for still subjects, the Fuji X-E1 is exactly what you need.

As I continue to use the camera further, I will post more thoughts along the road… Meanwhile, here are some sample images taken in the Showa Kinen Koen, a famous Koyo (autumn) spot not far from Tokyo:

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27 thoughts on “Fuji X-E1 Review

  1. Pingback: Fuji X-E1 Review | Gritty Monkey | MentalBusiness | Scoop.it

  2. Thanks for yor post, Damien. Sounds like you’ve travelled a similar path to me, in some respects.

    This is certainly a camera that won’t suit everybody and it seems many want to see much more robust RAW support before theyl invest further in Fujifilm’s X cameras and lenses. But if it suits your general style of shooting it’s hard to pass by, isn’t it. It suits mine too.

    Firmware may sort a few niggles over the next few months. Happy shooting!

  3. Pingback: Fuji X-E1 Review | MyScoop.it photo: Compact expert | Scoop.it

  4. Thanks for the review. I’m leaning towards getting an XE-1 for the same reasons and have been using a D40 with the 18-200 up to now. I’m tempted to get the 18-55 for the same reason i like my 18-200: it’s versatile and i can quickly frame photos how i want without having to run forward or back (i’m a bit lazy that way) but… looking through flickr at photos taken from an XE1 or XPRO1 I have to say the 35mm photos just seem so much nicer. You seem to have both lenses… what do you reckon? I also have a leica 50mm which could cover more of the telephoto end with an adapter. And do you think the xpro1 could be a better buy now that the price has dropped to $100 more than an XE1?

    • In my opinion the 18-55 is wonderful… for a kit lens! You can see from the maximum apertures on both ends of the zoom that Fuji went the extra step compared to the competition. Quality at 18 and 55 is also outstanding, no distortion compared to the nikon 18-200 I also used before.

      If you shoot the 18-55 at 35mm and f8, you will not be able to see the difference with the 35mm prime at f8… I basically find myself using the 18-55 80% of the time, and only use the 35mm prime when I need f1.4… The bokeh will make the subject pop, which makes you say that the Flickr images look better and for sure the zoom cannot compete at 35mm on that part, but for anything where you use smaller aperture results are great!

      All that being said, I do miss the 200mm of the 18-200 though, and since it is not a really wide lens either it will be of limited use when the wide-and and telephoto zooms are out next year… At this point I will probably sell the 18-55 and buy the 2 other zooms…

      Cheers

    • Regarding the X-Pro1, images will be the same, the sensor and lenses used are exactly the same… So you will need to make your choice thinking of the following:
      – the X-Pro1 has an optical viewfinder, could you live without one or not?
      – the X-Pro1 works more like a rangefinder camera, some people prefer it but others are allergic
      – the X-Pro1 is noticeably bigger

  5. Thanks for the quick response. I suppose my leica lens can satisfy my fast prime urge and that i should indeed buy the xe1 with the 18-55 kit lens for its versatility. I don’t yet know if i can live without an optical viewfinder as i’ve never had a camera without one but from what i’ve read it’s not too hard getting used to EVFs so i should just give it a go. Cheers.

  6. Thank you very much for your review!
    Where did you get this small thing that you put on the release button (I don’t know the english word for it)?
    Cheers.

  7. Pingback: High ISO performance: GH3 vs E-M5 vs X-E1+ review | Fuji Rumors

  8. Very nice review! I too was in the market for a more compact system since lugging around a DSLR and lenses can be quite cumbersome. I ended up choosing the the X-E1 for similar reasons to you. A quick observation about the continuous focus mode. When I first received the camera I too thought it was completely useless. It didn’t seem to do anything but hunt continuously for focus and drain battery life. I gave up on it instead choosing to leaving the camera in single focus mode and switching over to manual focus mode in low light situations when AF wouldn’t lock (which is all too often in very low light). Then recently I read a posting in one of the forums (I don’t remember which one) that if you put the camera in continuous focus it is able to lock focus faster and more frequently in low light . I tried it and amazingly it works! If you hold the shutter button halfway the cross hairs displayed in continuous focus mode with turn green to confirm focus lock. In side by side comparisons with with single focus continuous focus seems to consistently find focus more frequently.

  9. A really nice review and thoughtful comments. I much prefer a subjective assessment with objectives explained in the way you have, then reading a lab report from someone who shoots pictures of a mannequin holding a colour chart. I bought an XE-1 for many of the same reasons you did, and am finding it an absolute pleasure to use as well as producing great results. Heavy gear be gone. Thanks for your review.

  10. I was wondering if you’ve had any success solving the continuous focusing mode yet. It seems absolutely useless to me. Perhaps it works for video. But for stills it just seems to hunt around pointlessly until you half press the shutter button, which then completely refocuses and locks, so if your subject is moving, too bad. Most bizarre form of continuous focus I’ve ever encountered.

    Ideally you should be able to assign it to the back focus lock button and engage it when you want with the shutter button just used for release. But doesn’t seem possible.

    Any thoughts on that?

    • Hi Ric,

      Indeed, that’s what all the others camera doing… But for whatever weird reason Fuji came up with their own way of continuous shooting via the centre point that keeps hunting in a loud and inconvenient way… They might have thought this was the best way to do it given the slowness of the autofocus in the first place, I’d like to hear someone from Fuji talk about that and demonstrate how to use that feature…

      In my humble opinion, the continuous autofocus of the X-E1 is useless (so forget about using autofocus for fast moving subjects), but I’d sure be happy to be proven wrong… I have been shooting a lot of cityscapes lately, and been mainly using the manual focus mode. Just love the way you can quickly zoom in on your focus zone by pressing the command dial button, and then quickly zoom out to recompose by half-pressing the shutter.

      • Yes I’d appreciate an explanation from Fuji. Or a user manual that was less cryptic. Perhaps they are used to solving zen koans.

        Another nifty advantage of using the manual focus mode is that you can still auto focus with the AE-Lock button. Gives you a bit of everything.

  11. Pingback: Fujifilm X100s… and what it means for the X-E1′s future! | Gritty Monkey

  12. I just bought an X-E1 from Adorama to replace my D300 for size and other issues… I hope the autofocus isn’t as bad as some people make it out to be for action shots. I still want to take pictures of my kid when he’s active here and there.

  13. Thank you for the good personal reason review with nice photograph. I bought this “SEXY ONE” with the same reason as you did…

    It feels like holding the real camera and pleasure to carry around taking photo with happy moment…

    Thank you.
    PS. I like your blog look beautiful simple… :)

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