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Product Review: Fujifilm X-E1

X-Pro 1 Image Quality With Few Compromises

Fujifilm followed up the revolutionary X-Pro 1 with a less expensive model that uses the same extraordinary sensor, the X-E1. We put it through its paces on the streets of Manhattan.


Fujifilm X-E1 with 35mm f/1.4, equivalent to a 50mm on a 35mm camera.

For street photographers, photojournalists and others who rely on small, quiet, unobtrusive cameras to capture candids of people, the introduction of the Fujifilm X-Pro 1, available from Adorama for $1,399 body only, last year was a significant moment. The hybrid, switchable optical/electronic viewfinder and a sensor with a randomized sensor array that delivered killer image quality. Fujifilm has expanded the system with the Fujifilm X-E1, which at the Adorama price of $999 body only, costs $400 less than its more pro-oriented sibling.

Fujifilm X-E1 vs. Fujifilm X-Pro 1: Downgrade or upgrade?

Upgrades:

  • The Fujifilm X-E1 is smaller and lighter than the X-Pro 1.
  • At 2.360 million dot resolution, the EVF is among the highest resolution EVFs available
  • The X-E1 finder has a diopter adjustment; the X-Pro 1 doesn't.


Downgrades:

  • No hybrid/optical viewfinder
  • Construction has a bit more plastic but is still quite rugged.


A Wash:

  • The X-E1 uses the same outstanding sensor as the X-Pro 1, and its control layout is almost identical.


So, if Fujifilm put the X-Pro 1 on a diet to achieve the X-E1, is it a worthy alternative for more budget-minded shooters? Could it possibly be—gasp!—better? Last year I spent a month with the Fujifilm X-Pro 1 (read my review) and have just spent quality time with the X-E1. Here are my observations.

 

 

In The Hands

The
Fujifilm X-E1 is just the right size and fit for street photography. It isn't as thick as a Leica M-series camera but is otherwise similar in size with a better grip. The control layout will seem familiar to anyone weaned on manual cameras such as the Leica M-series, with top-plate dials for shutter speeds and EV settings, while apertures are controlled via a good old-fashioned aperture ring. I do wish Fujifilm had placed a depth-of-field indicator on its prime lenses, but there is a DOF indicator that pops up in the EVF when shooting in manual focus mode. Speaking of which, manual focus is achieved via a focus ring on the lens, but it is wire focus rather than the mechanical variety and it took a full 360-degree turn to go from closest focus distance to infinity with the 35mm f/1.4 lens that came with my test camera.

The slight bulge in the camera's back provides a comfortable resting place for the thumb, while the front rubberized grip gives the camera comfortable purchase. Fingers fall naturally on the shutter release and easily turn the shutter speed ring. Focus mode is changed via a front-of-camera switch, and menu navigation is done via a menu button surrounded by the usual array of four navigation buttons. All buttons are generously sized.

The viewfinder? While I miss the X-Pro 1's unique switchable optical/electronic setup, the X-E1's all-electronic eye-level finder lives up to the hype. The image is near-optical quality, and when moving the camera there is very little of the jagginess one comes to expect from EVFs in normal light, and very little of it in low light.

A few improvements over the X-Pro 1? There's an adjustable diopter, built-in flash (some pros may debate whether that's an upgrade), and claimed improved shots per battery charge.

 

Vivid color, smooth focus fall-off, and no apparent grain in this image, shot at ISO 400.

 

Image Quality

The
Fujifilm X-E1 uses the same sensor as the X-Pro 1, and the results are similarly spectacular. Noise is barely noticeable through ISO 1600, and there really isn't much noise until you've pushed it to its highest native speed, ISO 6400. Yes, the noise by ISO 25,600 is there but even in a pinch the results are useable.

 

At ISO 400, the camera seemed to have excellent dynamic range. This shot is straght out of camera, and shadow and highlight detail both hold up well.


The sensor uses a randomized pixel pattern rather than the more common Bayer pattern, a design that helps to avoid moire patterns, and negates the need for a low-pass filter. This means more light can reach the sensor, effectively improving its ability to record at higher ISO settings. Shooting test images I found its image quality to be outstanding at most ISOs. In the following three samples, I photographed a painting under moderate-low light. The 100% details below are representative of the results I got at key ISOs.

Overall, image quality is equal to the X-Pro 1, which is impressive.

 

 

Performance

When set in all-auto, pressing the shutter release all the way down at once, there is a slight but pronounced lag time, perhaps as long as 1/3 of a second. Depending on the lens, focus can take a split second longer, but the
Fujifilm X-E1's focus acquisition seems to have improved over the X-Pro 1. In all-manual, press the shutter release partway down, and this lag time is virtually eliminated. However, there is a similar lag between shots as the camera re-sets when you try to shoot a rapid sequence. You can switch the drive mode to 3 or 6fps, but then you do not have control over the exact timing of the multiple shots.

You can easily turn the aperture ring and shutter speed dial to auto exposure and use autofocus and concentrate on being creative, but if you know how to take control, manual overrides are there for you. Simply select the desired aperture and shutter speed settings with the familiar dials. The practical implication here is that when in manual, the camera requires a split second less time to calculate exposure and acquire focus—time that could make all the difference when doing candid, street, or other action photography where timing is essential.

 

 

Street Photo Stress Test

Once upon a time, I used Ilford HP5 for street photography, and pushed it to ISO 800 and until the last few years, that was the fastest ISO I'd dare to use on the street. Thanks to sensors such as the one in the X-E1 (as well as the X-Pro 1), I can confidently shoot at ISO 2500 and get better image quality than I did at ISO 800 in the film days. So, all of the sample street photo images here were shot at ISO 2500, allowing me to use a faster shutter speed and/or smaller aperture to maximize depth of field. Even enlarged, with one exception (noted below) there was no noise apparent in any of the images.

The
Fujifilm X-E1 performed admirably on the street, with a quiet shutter release, and almost no lag time when shooting in all-manual modes. As with almost all other MILCs, the wire-focus and lack of on-lens depth of field chart slowed me down a bit, but the finder display includes a dynamic DOF chart that changes as you focus and change the aperture. However, using the 35mm lens it was more of a challenge since I had to look through the viewfinder more than I wanted to in order to check the narrower depth of field, and this called attention to the fact that I was walking around with a camera. A wider lens with greater depth of field, such as the Fujifilm 18mm f/2, available at Adorama, would have helped solve this issue.

The
Fujifilm X-E1 was otherwise unobtrusive and was very easy to handle. It was responsive and exhibited very little lag time. I would recommend this camera for street photography with the caveat that you might want to add an optical viewfinder via the hot shoe for framing reference if you'd rather not look at an EVF, then use the LCD finder to check DOF and other settings. If I were to buy this camera for personal use, that's how I'd set it up for street photography.

Sample street shots:

 

 

 

 

 

Oops! Forgot to change exposure setting! As a result, I pushed this RAW image 2.5 stops and converted it to black and white, using the shadow slider to bring back some detail. Yeah, it's grainy, but still produced a usable image. The captured moment was worth it.




A word about the lens

For my test unit, I used the
Fujifilm 35mm f/1.4 lens, which covers the equivalent of a 50mm lens on a 35mm camera. Optically I found it to be an outstanding match for the sensor, delivering creamy-smooth bokeh (see sample, above). Aperture numbers are clearly indicated and the aperture ring moves in subtle 1/3-stop detents. The focus-by-wire focus ring goes a full 360-degree circle around the lens to move from closest to farthest focus and there is an oh-so-slight hesitation in reaction time when turning the focus ring. As with other MILCs, I wish there could be some traditional mechanical focusing lenses with a smaller focus ring turn.

Fujifilm's lens line for the X-series has grown to include a new kit lens, the Fujifilm XF 18-55mm f/2.8-4 and the Fujifilm XF 14mm f/2.8. These join the Fujifilm X-F 18mm f/2
Fujifilm 60mm f/2.4, and the Fujifilm 35mm f/1.4 lens I used for this review. All have a 35mm multiplication factor of 1.5X.

Conclusion and recommendation

If (and this, for photojournalists and street shooters is a BIG if) you can live without an optical viewfinder, the Fujifilm X-E1 is an outstanding choice. It offers the advantages of Fujifilm's superior prime lenses as well as the option of their new zoom kit lens. The entire system is compact, and the X-E1 is smaller and lighter, making it well suited for travel photography where an unobtrusive camera is preferred.

If you're looking for a smart marriage of traditional and high tech that can deliver outstanding images while costing just under a grand, the
Fujifilm X-E1, available now from Adorama, is an outstanding, money-saving choice.

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