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Reviews, Tech Talk

Fujifilm X-E1: Review


Fujifilm X-E1: Review

Alright, so it’s been around a year since this camera was announced, and there have been countless other (very positive) reviews from many other bloggers/reviewers, and the upgrade model has already been announced – but I finally got down to testing my own Fujifilm X-E1, so here’s the pixelogist take on one of the most exciting mirrorless camera systems in the market today

The Fujifilm X-E1, announced last September, and released not long after, was designed as the ‘little brother’ to the more expensive and very popular X-Pro1, but not long after this release, in my opinion at least, the X-E1 was the camera everyone was talking about. Something about the cheaper price, smaller size, and equal image quality, when compared to the X-Pro1, made it an instant hit among photographers who wanted quality photographs from a compact system; and it’s not really surprising that the X-E1 received its upgrade model (the X-E2) before the X-Pro1 did. And it didn’t become an instant hit without reason – the X-E1 feels and performs really, really well. And to be quite honest with you, before I get started, I’ll  say this: the X-E1 (with the 18-55mm kit lens) is the best mirrorless camera system that I’ve ever used!

Fujifilm X-E1 - Image from Amazon

Fujifilm X-E1 – Image from Amazon

Packed with features like the stunning X-Trans CMOS sensor, a high-resolution electronic viewfinder, a very unique retro-style control set, a host of other buttons and dials, all housed in a compact, beautifully designed body, the X-E1 along with its equally impressive 18-55mm f2.8-4 kit lens, is a remarkable package overall. And when you realize this wonderful bundle is selling for just around $999 at the moment, that’s rather amazing. Add to that the fact that Fujifilm has one of the best (or THE best) selection of lenses among the mirrorless camera makers today, with a beautiful selection of fast primes, for me the X-series is the system you want to be getting into right now. It’s just that good

I’m not saying it’s perfect – it (the X-E1 and the rest of the series) does have its flaws, of course – but it’s pretty damn close to perfect. I think so, at least. Stick around and read all about it – all that I found that was good and bad, impressive and frustrating, with the X-E1. Lots of text, loads of sample pictures, a bunch of crops – the usual. Stay tuned

Oh, and before I get started, let me just confirm that I was testing the standard X-E1 kit, with the XF 18-55mm f2.8-4 R LM OIS standard zoom lens (which I’ll be reviewing separately too) – and the body/lens were both updated to the latest firmware versions: Ver. 3.0 on the lens, Ver. 2.0 on the body

Ordering/Pre-ordering Links: Fujifilm X-E1 on Amazon and Fujifilm X-E2 on Amazon / or get Fujifilm X-Series on B&H Photo

And if you’re buying this or the newer X-E2 – don’t forget  the X-E1 is a pretty awesome deal at $999 and might go down in price soon – please use my links above! Thanks!

Oh, and you guys probably know I’m not a fan of screen protectors at all – but I recently got sent a couple of these new Expert Shield screen protectors (available in all sorts of sizes to fit your particular camera) and while I can’t say they made me change my mind, they’re noticeably better than the regular stuff you’d find. They stick on and they stay on. Just like they’re supposed to. So if you really want a screen protector, go for Expert Shield

Specifications You Would Want To Know

  • Body: Rangefinder-style, magnesium alloy/polycarbonate (magnesium alloy top and front plates)
  • Lens Mount: Fujifilm X mount
  • Image Stabilization: No (IS is lens-based)
  • Resolution: 16 mega pixels
  • Sensor Size: APS-C (22.3 x 14.9mm)
  • Sensor Type: X-Trans CMOS
  • Shutter Speeds: Max 1/4000 sec, Min 30 sec
  • ISO Range: 200-6400 (expandable to 100-25600)
  • White Balance: Auto, Color Temperature, Custom, Presets
  • Video: 1080p @ 24fps
  • Video Formats: H.264
  • Metering modes: Multi-Area, Average, Spot
  • Exposure Modes: P, A, S, M only
  • Built-in Flash: Yes, pop-up
  • Hot Shoe: Yes
  • Autofocus: Contrast Detect
  • AF Modes: Single (multi-area, single area), Continuous, Manual
  • Number of AF Points: 49
  • Manual Focus: Yes
  • Screen: 2.8” LCD (460k dots)
  • Articulated: No
  • Touchscreen: No
  • Optical/Electronic Viewfinder: Yes, EVF (2.36m-dot) with diopter adjustment
  • Max Drive Speed: 6fps
  • File Formats: JPEG, RAW
  • Connections: USB 2.0, HDMI Mini
  • Memory Card Types: SD/SDHC/SDXC
  • Dimensions: 129 x 75 x 38mm (body only)
  • Weight: 350g (body only, including battery/memory card)

First Thoughts

Ok, so I skipped ahead earlier when I said this is the best mirrorless camera I’ve ever used – so I’ll rewind a bit and begin again with my first thoughts, starting from the opening of the box and the firing of a few test shots, all the way through the usual series of tests, before ending up at a conclusion, hopefully not too long from now! Alright

The box is the typical black X-series box. I love it. Nothing more to say. The stuff is securely packed. That’s that. Taking it out of the box, I don’t need to tell you how good it looks, do I? You already know that. But it really does look good – absolutely beautiful. The size of the camera plus lens is average – not surprisingly small or unexpectedly large – and was pretty much just as I expected

It feels wonderful too. The body, while not as well built as the full-metal X-Pro1, is partly magnesium alloy, and feels extremely solid to the hand. Even the polycarbonate (plastic) parts feel very strong. It weighs a very comfortable weight 350g and feels great in the hand or on a shoulder/hand strap

The lens is built even better. I’ll go through this in more detail later on (and in the full lens review) but for now, let me say this: it’s built almost completely out of metal, it feels rather heavy and very solid, and the way the rings (zoom, focus, aperture) turn so smoothly make you feel like you’ve bought a lens costing five times as much. It’s a bit hefty for the small lens that it is, and when attached to the X-E1, you tend to feel it’s a bit front-heavy, but you soon get used to that. I seriously LOVE the lens. The XF lenses are the best part of the X-series, if you ask me, and (again, a big statement) seriously, it has to be the best lens I’ve used on a mirrorless system!

Alright, next up: powering it on and using the controls. Ah, that interface – it’s perfect. That old-school control layout with the traditional shutter dial and lens aperture ring (more on this later) combined with the bunch of other buttons, a couple of customizable function buttons, and the command dial, really makes for a very pleasant shooting experience. It makes for the kind of camera you WANT to shoot with. Replacing the mode dial with a shutter dial was a gusty move, pointing this camera in the direction of the professional or enthusiast or the film photographer – but in the end, it just creates a unique, useable, fun camera that you want to go out and shoot with, and that’s what Fujifilm has been all about lately. Excellent

The LCD is quite ordinary for a camera of this grade, to be honest – the entry-level NEX-3N has a similar LCD – but in practice, it works quite alright. It’s not really bright, unless you turn the brightness all the way up, so in sunlight it can be a bit hard to see, but the EVF is always there for these instances. And it does the job that the LCD needs to do; even though your pictures tend to look not as good as they really are, due to the low resolution. Just use it for color/white balance analysis and focus-checking etc. and use the EVF for composition. And use your computer to really see the full-sized images in all their glory

The EVF is very, very nice to use. It’s big, it’s bright, it’s clear – and in daylight, it’s very fast. At night, it can be a bit slow, a bit sluggish, due to a rather slow refresh rate, but it’s still very useable. Sure, the hybrid VF of the X-Pro1 is superior, but as a pure EVF, there’s not much to complain about this one. The dedicated View Mode button – thankfully moved to a Menu setting in the X-E2 – lets you choose between EVF only, LCD only, or the Eye Sensor, which detects your face nearly the EVF and turns the EVF on/LCD off. Nice

Alright, now to the first test shots (in low light) I took using the X-E1; and here, the autofocus system brings about the first disappointment of this camera. Skipping ahead once again, I can assure you this is the only real disappointment I had using the X-E1, but it’s a rather significant one, especially if fast focus is something you need. The contrast detect AF system is just quite slow. In daylight, it’s decent, and I would rarely have problems with it, but at night I found it quite frustrating at times. I think this is a well-documented fact about the X-E1, with every reviewer noticing this AF issue, and I unfortunately have to confirm this. And that’s really quite disappointing. Note that my X-E1 came updated with the latest firmware (ver. 2.0) and I’m using the 18-55mm also running the latest firmware (ver. 3.0),  and this was supposed to do a lot of good to the AF system; but while I have read a lot of compliments on the new firmware updates, I have to say that I found focusing in low light well below standard – with a fair amount of focus hunting – even with the newest firmware on board. In better light it was faster, and very much acceptable, but in low light, it can (and will) be a problem. Nowhere as bad as the EOS M was with its initial firmware, but nowhere as good as I wish it was either

I think the firmware addressed the issue of focus accuracy more than focus speed, to be honest, as I found the AF system to be pretty accurate more often than not, and I rarely had issues with accuracy. But while it has probably been upgraded in terms of speed as well, in dim indoor lighting conditions at night, it will struggle. Photographing a moving group of people at a party, for instance, could be a nightmare. It’s because of this that you will find many X-E1 users wanting to upgrade to the newly announced X-E2

UPDATE: The X-E2 and its PDAF system seems to have mainly improved daylight focusing as well as continuous AF; but the main issue with the X-E1, for me, is the low light AF performance, and there’s no real evidence that this has been addressed in the X-E1, especially since its hybrid AF system is designed to switch to CDAF in low light

In all other areas, the camera was stellar. Power-on speed was very rapid; shot-to-shot speed was fine, with hardly any lag; the EVF works very well indeed, and even if it was a bit slow and blurry in low light, it was always a pleasure to use; and most importantly, the image quality of my first shots was stunning. Really pleasing, overall – I had hardly anything but good things to say after my first tests

Controls & Handling

You already know how much I love the control interface of the X-E1 – not to mention the XF 18-55mm – but if you don’t yet know exactly what’s so fantastic about it and what each of these controls do, here’s the part where I talk just that

Oh, and as for handling, it feels like it was made for me. My hands are rather large, and this camera isn’t exactly big – not DSLR-like, is it? – but it just fits very comfortably. Like I mentioned earlier, it can feel a bit front-heavy due to the well-constructed lens, but this will start to feel normal very soon. It really is a photographer’s camera, if you know what I mean – you pick it up and all you want to do is take pictures with it. That sounds like what a camera should feel like, but oddly enough, only a few really good ones make you feel like this. The X-E1 is one of them

Alright, now to the controls themselves, starting with the top panel, and for such a camera, the top is surprisingly clean and well laid out. Told you it was a great interface. On top, there’s just the shutter speed dial, the exposure compensation dial, the Fn button, and the shutter button. There’s the power switch around the shutter – and that’s it

Fujifilm X-E1 Top Panel. Image from Amazon

Fujifilm X-E1 Top Panel. Image from Amazon

On the back, where there’s a lot more space, there are many more controls. I’ll start with the left of the LCD panel, where there are four buttons: Playback, Drive (zoom in), Auto Exposure/Metering (zoom out), Autofocus (delete)

Fujifilm X-E1 Rear. Image from Amazon

Fujifilm X-E1 Rear. Image from Fujifilm

Above the LCD is the lovely EVF, with the flash button next to it. There’s also the View Mode button, which allows you to switch between the EVF and LCD (or let the Eye Sensor automatically switch the mode for you). On the right of the LCD is a four-way directional pad (the UP key sets the Macro mode), with a Menu/OK button in the middle, as well as a Display/Back button, and the Command dial (which can also be pressed, so it doubles as a button). On the thumb-rest area is the AE/AF lock button, and the Q menu, which calls up a ‘Quick’ menu that contains basically all the commonly-used settings you’d ever need to change on the go

The front of the camera has the Focus Mode selector switch, as well as the lens release button – and that’s all there is. Not overly complex, but very easy to use – and any setting you need to access is right there, accessible with no more than a press or two

Fujifilm X-E1 Front. Image from Amazon

Fujifilm X-E1 Front. Image from Amazon

But that’s just on the body. Don’t forget that, unless you’re using an XC lens and not an XF, the lens body itself has a very important control: the aperture ring! So if you’re wondering how this interface can be called so awesome, having just the one command dial, it’s because the aperture control is already taken care of by the lens, just like in the olden days. Gripping the camera in a conventional two-handed grip, your hand is naturally placed to adjust aperture. It just feels right

The ring nearest to the mount is the aperture ring - you can also see the aperture mode switch and IS selector. Image from Amazon

The ring nearest to the mount is the aperture ring – the middle ring is the zoom ring and the one on the edge is the focus ring -you can also see the aperture mode switch and IS selector. Image from Amazon

The XF 18-55mm has a variable maximum aperture of f2.8-4, therefore the aperture dial is not marked – it is simply an indented control ring with no markings whatsoever. The aperture setting is seen on your LCD or EVF. On other XF lenses (the primes), the aperture ring has markings on the lens, so you can see the aperture that you’ve set, right there on the lens barrel, as well as on the EVF/LCD

Now if you’re wondering how I could call this interface so wonderful seeing that it lacks a mode dial, and if you’re trying to figure out how it could possibly be so easy to switch modes, here’s how. First of all, this camera doesn’t have the average scene modes and all that nonsense – it just has the four ‘manual’ type modes: P, A, S, M. And to most photographers – the guys who’d actually want to use the X-E1, at least – that’s all you need

To explain M (Manual) is pretty easy: adjust the shutter speed via the dial on top, and adjust aperture via the lens ring. Easy. That’s your full manual control right there. Then there are the two priority modes, arguably the most-used modes by many photographers. In Aperture Priority (A), you set the aperture and the camera sets the shutter speed, right? Basically, it’s an Auto Shutter Speed mode: so move the shutter dial to the A position, and that’s Aperture Priority! The camera sets the shutter speed automatically while you adjust aperture via the lens ring. The opposite for Shutter Priority (S): flick the aperture switch – yes, there’s a switch that goes from manual aperture to automatic, see the above photo – to the A position, and set your shutter speed via the dial. Easy as well! And lastly, if you want P (Program Auto), you guessed it: set both shutter dial and aperture switch to the A position

Lastly, if you noticed that the shutter speed dial is spaced out in full stops (1/500, 1/250, etc.) and you’re thinking how to get an ‘in-between’ speed of, say, 1/100, it’s also very simply done: just use the directional buttons on the back of the camera to fine-tune your shutter speed. It’s really well implemented

Even with the best of cameras, I usually have a little issue to point out with the control layout, but with the X-E1 (and all other X-series cameras by Fujifilm, actually) I have zero complaints. It’s just fantastic

Performance

Apart from the autofocus issue I talked about earlier, the X-E1 is a pretty snappy camera. In most areas, it’s quite fast, responsive, and rarely felt sluggish. It’s really quite sad then, to think about how good this camera would’ve been if the autofocus system was faster. It really would’ve been quite perfect. It’s good to see the X-E2 improve on the performance area, especially with the new AF system, creating a really solid upgrade in the right direction; but as for the X-E1, I can’t say the performance was excellent, not with an issue like this. It was good though

Power-on speed is snappy. Take the lens cap off, flick the power, and you’re good to go in what feels like a second

Autofocusing is reasonably fast, with the new firmware, in daylight. Similar in speed and responsiveness to the RX100 or X10 in good lighting conditions, if I remember right. In dim light is where things go horribly slow. It’s still definitely useable in low light, of course, but if you’re shooting a moving subject like a child or some people at a party, it’s going to be tough. Very tough. It’s disappointing to have this glitch mess up a really nice camera

However, I don’t recallll having issues with focus accuracy. The X-E1 initially had accuracy issues as well as speed issues; so it’s good to see that the firmware has made things pretty accurate now – but speed in average-to-low lighting conditions is still sluggish

Alright, so I’ve made it very clear that the AF performance of the X-E1 is not at all impressive – moving on…

Shot-to-shot speed, well – it’s very good. This isn’t the kind of camera you’d buy if you’re a speed demon, but the X-E1 processes images very fast indeed. RAW and JPEG both. I admit, I don’t shoot that fast, so some of you may find the shot-to-shot speed insufficient for your needs, but seriously, if you’re needs include super-speed, this isn’t the camera for you

Burst shooting at 6fps is actually pretty impressive, considering I just said this isn’t for the speed demon. It shoots a total of around 12 frames at full speed before slowing down to write to the memory card. Note that it shoots at this speed only after locking AF and exposure. In comparison, the X-E2 shoots faster, while also offering a 3fps mode that focuses continuously through the entire burst. Just thought I’d mention that

The EXR processor is good, and overall the performance of the camera – including general operation – is very smooth. If you leave the autofocus system aside, the entire camera performs very well, as you would expect from a device such as this. Unfortunately, the AF system is not something you can simply ignore these days – so when you bring in that aspect of the camera, the performance averages out to a result of ‘pretty good’

In addition to many other improvements, the X-E2 adds a lot of performance enhancements, including the better AF system and newer processor, so consider that if you’re in the market right now, and you want speed. But if you’re ok with ‘pretty good’ performance, you can always save yourself $400 and get the still-fantastic X-E1!

UPDATE: If you skipped the First Thoughts section, let me point out here again that the X-E2′s AF system seems to improve on focus speed in daylight and continuous AF performance. In low light, the hybrid AF system switches to CDAF, so it appears focusing at night might be a similar experience to the X-E1. I’d consider the X-E1 pretty strongly – it’s a significant saving, if you’re buying an X-series camera today. And current X-E1 users, don’t rush to upgrade


Features

X-Trans CMOS Sensor: Only found in the Fujifilm X-series, the design of the X-Trans sensor is very unique – it’s a bit too complex for me to explain how it differs from a regular sensor here – and produces stunning images, truly like no other. The amazing color reproduction, superb sharpness due to the lack of any sort of sensor filter (one isn’t necessary, thanks to the X-Trans design), and incredible high ISO noise control, all combine to create some amazing images. You need to shoot with an X-series camera to know what I mean

Electronic Viewfinder: The X-E1’s EVF is large, it’s bright, with a resolution of 2.36 million – higher than the X-Pro1’s EVF – and is fantastic to use. Adjust the diopter till you see things clearly, and you’re good to go. The refresh rate is a bit slow in low light, making things a bit sluggish and blurry, but even in these conditions its very useable – and in all other conditions, it’s perfect. If you’re thinking of going for the X-M1 or X-A1 – the X-series cameras without this EVF – I strongly suggest you try the X-E1/X-E2 and get an idea of what you’re missing before making that decision

Controls: I’ve gone on about this a lot already, but the controls of this system deserve mention here again. I’m not talking simply of the great control layout but also of the entire manual interface – with the dedicated shutter dial and lens aperture ring – and the way that all this works. It really is quite fantastic. It takes things back to the olden days of film SLRs and rangefinders; and when you actually use it, you realize this concept isn’t something just for the purist, but is something everybody can learn to use and enjoy. It’s beautiful

Film Simulation: Found on all X-series cameras, Film Simulations are what Fujifilm calls their presets of color/contrast/sharpness etc. Other manufacturers call them Picture Styles etc. but Fuji titled these modes/styles/simulations based on their different types of film. Clever. Instead of Portraits, Landscapes, and Black and White, on the X-series cameras you will find Provia, Astia, Velvia, Mono, etc. Try out a few of these – they really do make a nice difference to your JPEGs. The black and white modes (there are a couple) are especially good

Exposure/ISO/Film Simulation Bracketing: If you found bracketing your exposures not enough, the X-E1 also allows you to bracket ISOs, Film Simulations, as well as White Balance and Dynamic Range! To clarify, you can shoot once and capture a burst of three ISO speeds, or three different film simulations or three white balance presets and so on. If you’re not sure what to shoot, or if you’re having trouble deciding between a couple of different settings, a bracket of each shot might help, allowing you to decide later on. It’s an option!

In-Camera RAW Processing: The X-E1 offers one of the better in-camera RAW image conversion processes I’ve used. You get a load of options on what you want to do to your RAW file before conversion to JPEG: you can ‘reflect shooting conditions’ where you basically convert the RAW file directly to JPEG without any changes i.e. with the same settings that were used when the image was taken, or you can push/pull-process (adjust exposure), adjust dynamic range, white balance, sharpness, noise reduction, and so on. It’s really easy to use too. If you’ve used another X-series camera you know what I mean

Panorama: Nothing to write home about, the automatic sweep panorama mode on the X-E1 works well. If you can’t find it (there’s no mode dial), remember that it’s in the Drive menu

Multiple Exposure: This is a pretty cool feature, especially if you’re a fan of the retro film photography stuff, or Lomography, and is  the only sort of ‘filter’ effect that can be got from this camera, even though it’s not really a filter at all. You take one shot, press OK, take another shot, and watch as the images are combined, the second one superimposed over the first. It works well, and is quite fun to use, although I can’t see myself using this a lot. It’s buried deep in the menus though, so accessing it for a quick shot is a challenge. But if you’re feeling wacky, this is a pretty nifty feature to call up. If you’re longing for more filters, the X-E2 has around 15 ‘artistic filters’, so maybe the X-E1 will get them in a firmware update too – keep your fingers crossed

A very ordinary example but you get the idea!

A very ordinary example but you get the idea!

Dynamic Range Expansion: By default, the X-E1’s dynamic range is very good. It may not be the best in its class, but it’s equal (or very close to) the best. However, it’s DR Expansion modes allow you to gain a couple more stops in terms of dynamic range, in both highlights and shadows, and that’s pretty outstanding. Set it to DR 400 (maximum) and you’ll notice a lot of detail in the highlight areas, as well as improved shadow detail. Naturally, these modes do a better job with the highlights, but the shadow detail is pretty impressive too. It’s not talked of much, but the DR Expansion modes are extremely useful, and to me, a major feature of the X-series

Flash: The flash is just a little pop-up one, and isn’t that powerful, but thanks to the flexible head, it can be tilted backwards, meaning bounced flash effects are very possible; this makes flash photographs much more natural than if the only option was direct flash. As a fill-flash, it’s super-useful. You want an external flash if you want to light up an entire room, though

Manual Focus/Focus Peaking: A feature of the new firmware, focus peaking works great when focusing manually. Thanks to both this feature as well as the beautifully smooth ring on the XF 18-55mm, manual focusing is fantastic on this system

The X-E2 has the new Digital Split Image MF assistance, however, which looks amazing, and is something I’d really like to see on the X-E1, hopefully in the next firmware update

And that’s quite a bunch of special features, in addition to the regular ‘non-special’ features that I’ve already talked about earlier. A couple of them might be considered gimmicks – maybe just the panorama mode, something I rarely use, even though it does a good job – but most of them are extremely useful

Fujifilm XF 18-55mm f2.8-4 R LM OIS Lens

I usually just write a bit about a kit lens in a camera system that I review, just for the sake of it, and to give you an introduction into what the thing is capable of, and talk about it in more detail in a separate review; but it really speaks a lot for this lens when I say that I’m positively excited to write about, and shower praise over, the XF 18-55mm standard zoom lens by Fujifilm. Right here, and in its full review as well. Like I stated before, this is without doubt the best lens, in every aspect, that I’ve used, in a mirrorless camera system. In fact, it’s one of the best standard zoom lenses I’ve used. Period

The lovely standard zoom in the Fujifilm XF line. Image from Amazon

The lovely standard zoom in the Fujifilm XF line. Image from Amazon

Let me start with the build quality. It’s built like a tank. Or at least, very close to what a tank must be built like. The lens is all-metal – barrel, mount, everything –  with very high quality control rings – zoom, aperture, focus – that are buttery smooth when turned. I already said this but I say it again: it feels like a lens costing much, much more. A Canon L lens, for example

Focusing is internal – many new kit lenses are designed such these days, so it’s nothing THAT special any more, I guess – and is silent. So you hear nothing, and nothing moves, when you focus. Nice

The barrel extends as you turn the zoom ring – again, as expected – but the way the entire lens feels when using it is what makes it special. The zoom ring is not too stiff, not too loose, giving just the right amount of resistance to properly adjust and compose your image – same goes for the focusing and aperture rings – and that makes it wonderful to use

I’m actually not sure what the MFD is – maybe one of you can help me out in the comments – but it feels like it can go to around 20-25cm, the usual MFD of such a lens, which allows for decent close-ups. Look at the sample images to get a better idea – I got up pretty close in some samples below

Image Quality

And of course, I wasn’t going to mention the image quality of this lens in passing – the image quality, being the most significant factor of any camera, deserves it’s own section, and this is what I’m sure most of you have been wanting to read. Here we go

Yeah, I already hinted at top image quality earlier – my first test shots looked great – and obviously, in saying that I haven’t used a better mirrorless camera, I clearly liked the images I got. And yes, after a couple of days of thorough testing, in all sorts of situations, the quality of pictures produced by the X-E1 and 18-55mm lens is top notch. Truly fantastic. The X-Trans sensor together with the high quality glass keeps things sharp, with beautifully reproduced colors, in a way that I’m starting to think only Fujifilm cameras can – with excellent dynamic range, accurate white balance, and extremely good noise control even at high ISOs. What more does one need from a camera these days, I ask you?!

Going into more detail, the sharpness of these images is quite stunning. In equal parts thanks to the sensor and lens, the shots are tack-sharp – corner to corner. Even wide open, where things get ever so slightly soft in the edges of the frame, things are very sharp indeed. The center, even at f2.8, show hardly any signs of softness. Stop down to f3.5 and lower, and everything just tightens up beautifully. The sensor is top stuff, of course, but I really have to give a lot of credit to the lens. It’s a fantastic piece of glass

Sticking with the lens, I hardly noticed any lens errors such as vignetting and distortion, nor did I see much chromatic aberration. Lens flare was not present in any of my sample shots, even without the lens hood. The control of these lens errors was so good, I feel it has to be corrected in camera – even for RAW files. Either way, it doesn’t matter, as there’s nothing for you, the photographer, to worry about. Terrific

Moving on from the lens, the automatic white balance of this camera deserves special mention for being extremely accurate. In most conditions, the average Auto WB of any camera does a good job, but there are often tricky conditions, like my living room at night, where the combination of white walls, colored curtains, and warm lamps, create a difficult combination that all cameras I’ve used have struggled with in the past – and here, the X-E1 nailed it with ease. Comparing the Auto WB results with the custom WB shots, there was hardly any difference. Maybe the Auto WB gave a slightly warmer result than was truly accurate, but still very useable and maybe even better than the clinically accurate custom WB results were. In all other average situations, the Auto WB did an equally good job

What next? Ah, yes – noise. The noise control on the X-E1 is unbelievably good. Really, it is. I wouldn’t hesitate shooting at ISO 6400, to be honest – the results are that clean, with hardly any loss of detail. I’m not sure how Fujifilm has done it, but again, I don’t really care – it allows me to shoot at very high ISO speeds without worrying about noise – RAW and JPEG – and that’s brilliant! Check out the sample crops if you don’t yet believe me

Quick note on the flash – I shared a few sample shots earlier, so you know how nice it is – and yeah, it’s really quite useful. The range is nothing much, so don’t expect much from it – but as a fill-flash, bounced/tilted, it’s very nice to have on your camera

And lastly, the metering system of the X-E1 is solid. I’m not sure of the specifics, but it works well. On occasion, I felt it tended to overexpose – all that was required was a little movement with my thumb to compensate –  but in general it did a good, accurate job – as expected. I don’t recall it ever getting things really wrong, and that’s a good thing!

Image Quality: Sharpness, Detail, Noise


NOTE: All night shots/high ISO shots were taken with Long Exposure NR ON and Noise Reduction set to Standard (default). All are approximately 100% crops, and if not otherwise mentioned, each shot is taken from the center of the frame, at around f5.6, and at around 18-20mm

Image Quality: RAW vs. JPEG


NOTE: All of the above comparisons are approximately 100% crops, and if not otherwise mentioned, are taken from the center of the frame, and shot at around f5.6. RAW first, JPEG second! 

——————————————————————————————————————————————————

Yeah – the X-E1 combined with the XF 18-55mm is really quite terrific. All of the earlier points I made about size, build quality, performance etc. wouldn’t really matter if it didn’t take good photographs. And to be honest, taking really good pictures but being poor in build, performance and design wouldn’t be that nice either – the EOS M, for example, took very nice pictures, but I hated that camera. So it’s really a combination of all these factors, along with the quality of images it is capable of producing, that makes a really good camera. And the X-E1 is one such camera. Superb design, build, good performance (except for the AF system, alas!) and absolutely excellent image quality – what more would you want? A better AF system, perhaps, yes – but it’s quite brilliant as it is. My favorite mirrorless camera? Definitely. Until I check out the X-E2, at least!

Fujifilm X-E1 Product Gallery

All images from Amazon and Fujifilm – apologies for not taking my own product images this time!

Fujifilm X-E1 Sample Image Gallery

What I liked/didn’t like

Positives:

  • Outstanding image quality
  • Class-leading high ISO noise control
  • Stellar build
  • Extremely well designed control interface
  • Shutter dial/lens aperture ring makes for a classic, professional way of shooting
  • It just makes you want to shoot (an extension of the above point, but you get the idea!)
  • Best standard zoom kit lens out of all mirrorless system cameras I’ve used
  • Good performance in most areas
  • Excellent electronic viewfinder
  • Useful pop-up flash with flexible head
  • Superb focus peaking implementation in new firmware – MF is super easy
  • Solid battery life (went through all my tests on a single charge)

Negatives:

  • Average autofocus performance – especially sluggish in low light
  • EVF is a bit sluggish/blurry in low light
  • I really can’t think of any other points that I didn’t like about this system, honestly

Conclusion

As you can see from the pros/cons list just up there, there’s hardly anything I didn’t like about the camera. And if I didn’t use the camera at night, I wouldn’t have had a cons list at all!

Alright, so the single major flaw in the camera – the AF system – is a significant one; and if you’re into sports or any sort of action photography, this will be a major issue. But for many people this is less of an issue than it may initially sound. It’s not super slow with the new firmware update, especially in good light – and if you don’t shoot much (or at least you don’t shooting moving subjects) at night, I really feel you wouldn’t notice this problem too much


As for me, I loved the X-E1. And I loved the XF 18-55mm f2.8-4 lens. And it’s not without reason – I didn’t call it the best mirrorless system out there for nothing – it’s just really that good. Unbelievably good image quality, stunning noise control, fantastic controls, premium build, and of course, that awesome lens. And more. The only thing I didn’t love about it was the AF system, but I can live with that. Consider you get all this for just $999 and that’s pretty damn amazing

If you’re buying a camera system today, I suggest you hold off for a month and wait for the X-E2. I haven’t used it yet, nor have I read a lot of reviews or comments on it, but from what I can tell, it’s got everything that makes the X-E1 awesome, while adding a whole bunch of improvements, including the very important one – the Hybrid Phase Detect AF system. That will make it pretty close to perfect, don’t you think? Then again, low light performance of the X-E2 doesn’t seem to have been upgraded that much; so I’m not really sure if this model is really worth the $400 more than the X-E1, nor am I sure if X-E1 users should upgrade right now. I’m currently undecided on that, so I’ll leave it to you – I think I’ve given enough information here to help you make up your mind, right? I hope so!

Ordering/Pre-ordering Links: Fujifilm X-E1 on Amazon and Fujifilm X-E2 on Amazon / or get Fujifilm X-Series on B&H Photo

Well, that’s that. I hope you enjoyed this review as much as I enjoyed this camera. As always, leave a comment if you want to…leave a comment…about anything! And of course, please use my links if you’re getting yourself a nice X-E1 – or if you’re pre-ordering the even-nicer X-E2! Thanks for reading! Until next time

Did you know that I’m currently working on this site full-time? Please consider making a small donation if you can – thank you!

By Heshan Jayakody
All content in this review is my own, except where noted
All product images from Amazon and Fujifilm
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Discussion

35 Responses to “Fujifilm X-E1: Review”

  1. An excellent review!

    Posted by June jayakody | October 23, 2013, 20:24
  2. great review :) interesting to compare this with the newly announced x-e2. i think i might save a bit of cash and get this one instead. i usually shoot landscape, and sometimes street, but who knows, i think this will be fast enough for daylight street photography. $400 is a lot of saving, actually

    Posted by James | October 24, 2013, 07:11
    • Thanks, James. Yeah, if you don’t need what the X-E2 offers (new AF system, WiFi, etc.) save yourself $399! I think it’d be pretty good in daylight, for street work and definitely perfect for landscapes!

      Posted by pixelogist | October 25, 2013, 10:50
  3. Super review as usual! It’s not the newest camera but I’m actually glad of your timing as I was just thinking of getting a new mirrorless system as an addition (or replacement) to my Canon 600D. Maybe this is a good option – the X-E2 doesn’t seem to compel me to buy it

    Posted by Adner | October 24, 2013, 08:59
    • Thanks! :) The more I read about the X-E2, the more it seems like the main reason to upgrade (the AF system) is enhanced for daylight and tracking/continuous focusing. And this isn’t my problem with the X-E1. The X-E1 is very slow in low light, and it appears (so far, at least) that the X-E2 will be around the same in this regard

      Posted by pixelogist | October 25, 2013, 11:13
  4. Great review as usual !!!

    Posted by Nihal | October 24, 2013, 10:26
  5. I always thought the new firmware has increased the AF speed a lot too. That’s kinda disappointing, I was counting on that. I don’t really need blazing AF but I’d like to ‘future-proof’ myself if you know what I mean

    Posted by Ben | October 25, 2013, 07:05
    • Yeah. I watched this video on youtube (before reviewing mine) of a guy testing the X-E1 with the XF 18-55mm, in low light, with new firmware, and it appeared quite fast. Just goes to show how you really need hands-on experience to really get a feel for it: it felt much slower in practical use, for me. Don’t count on the X-E2 being much faster in low light though

      Posted by pixelogist | October 25, 2013, 11:14
  6. I love the X Series. Fantastic cameras. I’ve used the XPro1 and tht too had issues, but wow, the image quality and handling is stunning. Never want to use anything else

    Posted by BB | October 25, 2013, 07:53
    • Yeah, the Fuji X-series is great for a particular kind of shooter. If you don’t care for sheer speed, this is a fantastic option. Any one of the Fuji X’s are a great option

      Posted by pixelogist | October 25, 2013, 11:14
  7. I think I’m gonna hold out for the X-E2. Even if it’s not a huge improvement, I think there will be some benefits, and that might be worth the 30 day wait, even if it’s quite a bit more expensive

    Posted by Lars | October 25, 2013, 09:30
    • Some benefits, sure – but I’m not seeing people talk a lot about the AF speed as yet. The PDAF system might increase daylight speed and continuous AF speeds, but where the X-E1 struggles the most is in low light, and I can’t seem to find anyone who’s tested the X-E2 who feels the low light focusing has been improved

      Posted by pixelogist | October 25, 2013, 11:15
  8. X-E1 user here. Not upgrading. Great review

    Posted by Cameron | October 27, 2013, 21:04
  9. excellent review, really!! i was holding off this camera till later this year as i heard the upgrade was coming out. and now i think its finally time to buy. great timing, to read it here now, just when im about to buy it. cheers. i’m definitely going ahead with the x-e1!

    Posted by Fleur | October 28, 2013, 06:45
    • Thanks! Yeah, good timing yourself, buying this camera now! Hold off a couple more weeks, the price should really crash closer to the release date of the X-E2

      Posted by pixelogist | October 28, 2013, 07:58
  10. just came across your site while googling. its a great find, super site you have going here! nice review too – waiting for the sample pics that are coming up! thanks

    Posted by Claire | October 28, 2013, 07:45
    • Great to have you on board here :) Thanks. I’ll get on those sample pictures ASAP – they’re all crops to examine sharpness and noise, basically. Cheers

      Posted by pixelogist | October 28, 2013, 07:58
  11. Love this camera, been shooting with it for a few months now, and its amazing, i have the 18-55mm and the 35mm lenses, and they are so awesome too, wonderful camera

    Posted by Boris | October 30, 2013, 20:59
    • Me too. I have the same two lenses – reviews coming up soon – and they take beautiful shots. The build quality is excellent too. I just wish the focusing was faster – focusing is my only issue with this system

      Posted by pixelogist | October 31, 2013, 20:10
  12. Nice review – the sharpness is rather amazing. Noise control is super too, isn’t it – even 6400 looks great. There’s noise but it’s almost like film grain!! Very smooth, not ugly

    Posted by Pieter | November 3, 2013, 07:50
    • Thanks! :) Yeah, the lens+sensor produce some super-sharp images. Noise control is excellent, and that’s exactly right – noise even at high ISO settings is almost pleasant. Much like film grain in some cases, especially in black n white shots

      Posted by pixelogist | November 3, 2013, 08:04
  13. well, i enjoyed to read your review.. I don’t know much about Camera, in fact, i have never bought a camera more than point and shoot…. but this is quite interesting to read… i do not think any camera is perfect but i think this one is quite close.

    Posted by Linn | November 5, 2013, 14:39
    • Thanks! Yeah, absolutely – there’s no perfect camera. Especially at $1000 – considering some people spend even $10,000 for their cameras and lenses. SO yeah, this is pretty close to perfect, and is priced comparatively cheaply!

      Posted by pixelogist | November 5, 2013, 15:43
  14. what is the best mirrorless camera if i was going to buy one, regardless of price? i know ‘best’ is subjective but i’d like to hear your thoughts :)

    Posted by VM | November 6, 2013, 06:40
    • Ah, that’s a tough one. If money isn’t an issue, I think the best one to go for right now would be the Olympus OM-D E-M1. Very close would be this X-E1/X-E2. Sure, the performance isn’t blazing fast (AF speed, that is) but it’s a superb camera that takes beautiful images, with the best handling in the world, and has one of the best mirrorless lens collections available. It’s for this lens selection that I pick Fuji and Olympus over Sony etc.

      Posted by pixelogist | November 6, 2013, 06:55
  15. I have been a fan of Leica M7 with 50 mm Summilux for a decade. I have used a few digital cameras but nothing could replace my M7. My biggest discontent with digital cameras have been white balance and contrast — no matter which camera I tried, I could never quite get the same perfect white balance and the natural and yet strong and beautiful contrast of film camera photography, especially those of M7 with Summilux. Digital photos almost always had the washed-out colors and weired color bias. I hesitated to invest in M9 because I did not believe, for right or wrong, it could quite deliver what M7 had delivered. Leica had never been known to be a pioneer in digital photography. I also tried the first digital Leica called Digilux some 9 years ago, which was a joke. Convenience means little if the quality is lacking; I would rather have 10 photos that I like than 100 photos that I do not like. So despite the efforts and costs of processing needed for a film camera, I kept on using my Leica M7.Enter Fuji X-e1. After taking some photos, I blew them on my 60-inch PDP. Perfect. Perfect at ISO 4000. And what a contrast. Wow. As far as I know, this is as close to a film photo feel as a digital photo could get: white balance is impeccable, skin tones perfect, strong contrast, colors that sing, and no grains at ISO 4000! Hallelujah.Another thing about this camera: JPG files are excellent. I hate keeping RAW files. They are big files taking up so much space and post processing is such a pain to me. With this camera, you can simply forget about shooting in RAW. JPGs are just as nice. Even after reducing the file size to a mere 40 KB for emailing purposes, your photo retains the color and beauty.The EVF is awesome.

    Posted by Kathrine S. Rosales | November 16, 2013, 20:57
    • Thanks for sharing your experiences and opinion :) I actually quite like the quality that I get from good digital cameras, but you’re absolutely right in saying that Fujifilm’s X-series is the closest you get to film photography from a digital image. The cameras themselves are modelled on these vintage designs, and work that way too – and the resulting images are very much like the beautiful shots you might get on film. You make a great point

      And while I often shoot in RAW, and store them in DNG format, the X-E1 does produce excellent JPEGs. That makes it far easier for most people, myself included. I can see myself shooting JPEG with this camera for all but the most important shooting occasions. High ISO performance is truly awesome indeed

      Cheers!

      Posted by pixelogist | November 17, 2013, 10:53
  16. I agree with the above comment. The X-E1 is the closest I’ve come to getting film-like images out of digital photographs. It’s not that I don’t like the results I’ve got with my 5D and even my RX1, but something about those lovely rich and natural colors that came from film is beautiful, and I get results very much like this with my X-E1. I find myself shooting with this more and more these days. So small and fun to use too

    Posted by HHH | November 21, 2013, 15:07
    • Yeah, and as you probably noticed, I agree too! :D It’s a photographer’s camera, no doubt about it. And you guys are all spot-on about the film look – the X-Trans sensor does just that. It’s an amazing series of camera gear!

      Posted by pixelogist | November 21, 2013, 16:42

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