When Fuji first introduced X100 few years back, the photographic community got excited about new fresh approach. Reasonably sized rangefinder-like camera with big sensor and retro design was very appealing. Then, along came X Pro1 with it’s brand nex X-Trans sensor and interchangeable lenses. I’ve been waiting for something like this for a long time but again, after a while when reviews came through I was still bit confused and not entirely convinced. The price tag was quite hefty for camera with so many quirks but folks out there were still quite hyped about it. I went to a local shop to get my hands on it and boy it felt great. I pictured myself waking on the streets with this thing, unnoticed and free of DSLR bulk. But still, there was something that stopped me to pull the trigger. I guess it was mostly the price. Then Fuji X-E1 was announced and I was immediately hooked. I always wanted a camera that can be on me all the time. I do not care I cannot slide it in pocket. As long as I don’t have to visit chiropractor after caring it whole day I am fine. Initial hands on reports and early reviews were great, first image samples unbelievable so I was like sitting on the needles when it became available. I got it immediately being probably the first person in Singapore who bought it. They even took a photo of me in the shop. Just in time for my upcoming trip to Myanmar. There was not enough time to go through manual properly, I just skimmed through it. I purchased the 35mm Fujinon lens with it as the zoom lens was still unavailable at that time. I do have to mention that this is my first camera with EVF and apart from brief experience with Panasonic GF-1 I have no extensive experience with mirrorless cameras.
Fuji X-E1 looks just gorgeous. I think after X100 this is the best looking camera on the market. I really liked the Olympus OM-D design but I think Fuji topped it, full stop. I picked the black version as I do not want to draw too much attention and it looks little less “flashy”. To me, it is more photojournalist-like camera. Fuji X-E1 feels great in hands, has a solid build and it doesn’t feel cheap. Yet it is still very light and one can barely notice it even after whole day wearing it on the shoulder or around the neck. And I know from experience that carying for example D800 with two lenses in hot day in Myanmar drains you pretty fast. With X-E1 there is sill a plenty of energy left in me even after whole day shooting. There is additional hand grip accessory that is available for purchase but I never had need for it. I have big hands, and never had trouble holding it or being afraid it gets knocked out of my hand.
As I am still relatively new to this camera so I often find myself trying to use it in a way I use DSLR (have Nikon DSLR). Especially my right index finger is continuously looking for command dial to change aperture. This is of course not Fuji’s fault, I just need more time to get used to it. And it has been a while since I had to change aperture on the lens barrel. After a while I got used to it and have no problem to switch back and forth from “DSLR way” to “Fuji way”. Camera is small enough to reach the aperture ring with whatever finger you feel comfortable to change the aperture. EVF display shows the updated aperture with little lag though. Not a big deal, especially when you use it enough and it becomes a second nature to you. So far pretty good.
Changing from aperture to shutter priority or to manual settings is pretty cool. If shutter speed dial is set to A (automatic) and aperture ring to anything but A then camera is in aperture priority. Likewise if aperture is set to A and shutter dial to anything else but A then it is in shutter speed priority. Both set on A and we are in automatic mode. Both set away from A and we have full manual goodness. Buttons on the back are big enough so it is easy to handle them with exception of “Q”, the quick menu button. The height of the button is in same level as the camera case so occasionally it might be little hard to press or locate without looking at camera back. There is an exposure compensation dial right in the top right side of the camera. Easy to locate but also very easy to turn. It happened to me several times that I accidentally set and an exposure compensation without noticing it. I would prefer if the handling was little more stiff or it had some kind of lock to prevent from moving away from desired setting.
The on/off switch on top of the camera, seems to me also little loose. I often turned on the camera accidentally while putting it to bag and I was surprised later that battery was flat. I guess I just need to be little more careful and always check if camera is switched off.
Changing the autofocus point is awkward. Button is positioned lower left corner on the back of the camera. This means it cannot be done without moving the camera away from the face and not looking like I am digging the nose at the same time. This can be a big deal to some. I mostly use only the middle autofocus point, lock the focus and exposure and then recompose. I think it is faster but certain situations may call for changing the autofocus point. This technique doesn’t work with aperture wide open. At F1.4 the depth of field is so shallow that even that slight movement when recomposing can throw the focus off. ( If you look carefully at photograph of Buddhist monk from Myanmar, the Golden Land article, this is exactly what happened. Eyes are not the sharpest part of photograph.). I often soot wide open so unfortunately this happens to me a lot.
Focusing seems still slow to me. This is definitely not an action photography camera. When it find and locks the focus, it is dead on. However in bad light conditions camera hunts for focus and cannot seem to find it. There is a manual focus available but personally I do not like it. It is focus by wire and you have to turn on the focus ring many times to get where you need to be. It feels especially slow compared to OM-D or Nikon V1 which is smokin’ fast. There is new firmware available for lenses so hope this might improve the situation. Generally, in good lighting conditions, when I got out of focus pictures, it was always my fault.
Low ISO performance is on par with the best DSLR cameras in my opinion. Period. It natively supports ISO range from 200 to 6400. Even at ISO 6400, the image is very much usable. I wish there was easier way to change ISO quickly. Quick menu button is ok but not ideal. You can map this function to function button on top of the camera, however changing the setting is not done by command dial but rather with control buttons. This makes it quite hard to do when you have the camera up the face. This would be possible to change by firmware and I wish Fuji addressed this .
Display on the back is smaller than X Pro1 but I don’t really care. I never had problem with the size of preview pictures during my trip. I only wish the histograms were little bigger as that is my primary “image check” tool. Back display has 3 operation modes. You can either shoot using solely back display, or use only EVF. Third setting engages eye sensor so once you look through EVF, camera switches off the display. I personally used EVF only as big display on the camera drains the battery. And also viewfinder on mirrorles camera is a feature I wanted. Not to mention that having the camera at the eye gives you another point of contact which helps to stabilize it little more and prevent blurry images.
Camera turns on reasonably quickly, but I kept it on most of the time so I wouldn’t miss shots. Sometimes life “happens” much faster than camera can get shot ready. I still have to get used EVF. Reviews mention about how great it is but my lack of experience with EVF in general doesn’t really allow me to compare it against anything. My personal feeling is that refresh rate is little slow. It is bright though so I can see the scene well enough even in low light.
There is a little shutter lag. Maybe if would not be so obvious to me if I didn’t come from DSLR world. It is not as bad though and most of the pictures come out just fine. With little more practice there will be surely better results. Occasionally when I thought I half-pressed the shutter release and locked the focus, I did not and on full depress camera still tried to find focus. This happened for few times but it is not necessarily camera’s fault. I just need to get more “feel” for the shutter release. I can probably update this after I get more hands on experience with it.
Files are written to SD card. I used the one that came with camera and writing speeds were not the fastest. I assume, by using faster card the performance will improve. As I do not shoot in burst mode with this camera (even though it is able to do it at 6fps) I am not finding it as such a big issue.
Fujinon 35mm lens in very nice and sharp. It is also fast and it is rendering bokeh in very pleasing way. It comes with lens hood and rubber lens cap. I find it useless as it easily falls down and it is likely to be lost rather soon.
When it comes to quality of image I think Fuji nailed it 110%. It is simply stunning. My “WOW” sounded much louder than when I first time saw files from Nikon D800. There is something to the X-Trans sensor. I shoot RAW and I am using Lightroom 4 for post processing. I am stunned by quality, colour rendition and dynamic range. I have to say that light condition I used this camera were pretty though ones with mostly very contrasty scenes, yet I was able to pull so much details from highlights as well as shadows.
This camera is not without quirks as many previous Fuji cameras but it has less of them and Fuji seems to continuously working on improvements. It is easy one to fall in love with. And boy, I do love it. It is unobtrusive, light, relatively easy to handle and well built. I can carry it all day long without even noticing the weight. I was photographing local people in Myanmar and went almost unnoticed while when I pulled off D800 they got either scared or I was almost immediately asked for some “monetary” donations. With growing lens range from Fuji as well as lenses from other vendors (noticeable Zeiss – EXCITING!!!) the future looks very promising. Fuji does something right since there is lot of hype about the X range of their cameras. I am so excited than I thing if I don’t turn pro (which is not likely to happen) I might have already purchased my last DSLR. This is only short insight and there can be definitely more written about it. What I can say I didn’t regret a bit investing money into this jewel. Hope you found this helpful and if you get hone too I am sure you will enjoy it as much as I do.