Fujifilm X-E1 Digital Camera Review
A smaller, cheaper X-Pro1? Yes, please.
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Photography is supposed to be fun right? Fujifilm thinks so. Its X-series is defined by a return to the retro shooting style, capturing the irreplaceable experience of hands-on photography that many of you grew up with. Fujifilm’s latest effort, the X-E1 ($999.95), can be understood mainly as a compact version of the excellent X-Pro1, and it borrows that camera’s mechanical, all-manual control, which we enjoyed so much last year.
Of course the X-Pro1 was more than just a good time. Combined with some stunning prime lenses, this predecessor captured remarkably sharp images on its new X-Trans APS-C CMOS sensor. The very same technology is in use on the X-E1.
Design & Usability
Building on the distinctive look of the X-Pro1, the X-E1’s retrospective styling is merely a vessel for a slew of fun, satisfying mechanical dials.
Of course the X-E1's most important "feature" is the user experience. Iterating on the distinctive look of the X-Pro1, the X-E1’s retrospective styling is merely a vessel for a slew of fun, satisfying mechanical dials. The body itself is physically more compact than the X-Pro1, however the old hybrid viewfinder has been replaced by a less impressive, though still useful, traditional EVF.
The X-E1’s predominantly mechanical control scheme is extremely satisfying and really sets this camera apart. The “fun factor” here is huge, and we’ve had at least one employee claim the X-E1 completely changed the way they approach photography. Particularly convenient is the exposure compensation dial, which lies within easy reach of the right thumb, and makes drilling down to the perfect exposure very simple.
We were critical of the X-Pro1’s handling, mainly because the body was difficult to grip, and it was easy to accidentally strike the wrong buttons. Many of these problems have made their way to the X-E1 as well. The attractive dimpled surface surrounding the body looks nice, but isn’t actually very grippy. On the rear panel, the smaller body forces the thumb into an almost-ideal position: pinched between the command dial and the shaped lip that protrudes from the right side. This lip has not been improved since the X-Pro1, it still houses two of the camera’s most important buttons, and this means accidentally pressing them will be a common mistake.
If it doesn’t involve still photography, it’s probably not included.
The reason why this sensor gets its own spiffy brand is due to the omission of an optical low-pass filter, as well as a new pixel array with a higher degree of randomness. We can’t be sure how impactful the new pixel array is on final image quality, but the absence of a low-pass filter certainly makes resolution quite a bit sharper, albeit at the expense of increased moire patterns that will adversely affect video.
If you purchase the X-E1’s kit, you’ll find yourself in possession of the first XF-series zoom lens, all others have been primes. All others have also been of surpassing quality, and it seems like the new 18-55mm is no different. Aside from typical zoom and focus rings, each XF lens features an additional control ring dedicated to manual aperture control. Unfortunately it’s not mechanical, and introduces a split-second lag before the software catches up. The same is true for the focus ring, which is also by-wire.
Currently, the Fujifilm X-mount and its associated lens family are—let’s be honest—a paltry offering. There are only five lenses available: the three that released alongside the X-Pro1, a brand new 14mm F2.8, and the X-E1’s kit lens. This evaluation comes with two very important caveats though. First, we can look forward to three additional lenses early in 2013, and second, all of the lenses we’ve used have tested spectacularly well.
The X-E1 stays on pace with the excellent X-Pro1
In concert with the new 18-55mm, the X-E1's sensor resolves some of the most impressive detail we’ve recorded from a zoom lens. Noise reduction scores are on par with most other models at this price, and dynamic range maxed out at decent 7.94. D-range continues to be an important factor distinguishing the X-series from Olympus' competitive OM-D E-M5.
Color accuracy has dropped since the X-Pro1, and since it's likely these two cameras use identical sensors, the reason for this change is a mystery. The score is still better than average though, and saturation was over by just 5%, a deduction of only one point. Looking over the gamut in detail, errors are spread out fairly evenly across all colors, with no specific trouble-spots to blame.
Despite strong still performance, potential buyers should know the X-E1's video implementation feels like an afterthought. The camera's low frame rate (only 24 frames per second) results in video content that's choppy and doesn’t look like what we’ve come to expect from this price range. The absence of an optical low-pass filter is both a strength and a weakness here. While we’re sure the omission is partly responsible for this camera’s excellent resolution, one key side-effect is significant moire that pollutes repeating patterns, especially during video.
For better or worse, our most enthusiastic praise is reserved not for the camera itself, but for the new kit lens.
When the X-mount debuted, Fujifilm showed a commitment to high quality glass with its first three prime offerings, but many wondered if this performance would extend to a zoom lens. Now we know the answer. The X-E1’s 18-55mm kit lens is almost exactly as sharp as the XF 35mm f/1.4, which is really quite amazing for a zoom lens. We only wish the aperture and focus rings were mechanical.
For all its quirks and details, the X-E1 is still an easy recommendation. The X-Pro1 was one of 2012's most satisfying enthusiast cameras, but if you thought the asking price was just a little too high, here's the perfect solution. Performance is a match for the X-Pro1's most crucial tests, and much of the hardware package is also the same—minus a smaller footprint.
Compared to the X-Pro1, the X-E1 is all the fun but less of the frivolity. The omitted hybrid viewfinder in exchange for the lower price is a trade many enthusiasts will appreciate, and improvements to Fujifilm's widely-criticized autofocus system are most welcome. We suggest this camera for anyone hoping to not only capture some sharp photos, but have a great time while doing so.
Except for a strangely low color accuracy score, the X-E1 stays on pace with the excellent X-Pro1 test for test. We were also pretty amazed by the new 18-55mm kit lens, which seemed every bit as sharp as the three primes released alongside the X-Pro1 last year.
One of the best zoom lenses we’ve ever tested
In concert with the 18-55mm, the X-E1 resolves detail levels that cross MTF50 above 2000 lp/ph at all focal lengths and apertures, except for the narrowest apertures, in which cases that figure is brought down to around 1475 lp/ph.
Our test shots were captured using the X-E1’s “Standard” sharpness setting, and this does result in a little software enhancement. The effect isn’t drastic, and our rating has already taken this fact into consideration. We measured such enhancement between approximately 4% and—in rare cases—15% overshoot.
Color accuracy is fine, but we’re surprised to see the score drop so far from the X-Pro1.
When compared to the known values of an X-Rite ColorChecker chart, JPEGs of out the X-E1 returned an uncorrected delta-C average color error of 2.4. That’s very strong, much better than average, although the X-Pro1 strangely fared much better. Saturation was also a tad bit too far off, it was over by 5%,
Very wide dynamic range at low ISO levels
The X-E1’s maximum dynamic range of usable image data is 7.92 stops, however this occurs—strangely—at the so-called “pulled” ISO setting of 100, rather than the sensor’s minimum native sensitivity of 200. Weird.
Indeed dynamic range drops almost an entire stop by ISO 200, down to 6.96, however performance does flatten very slightly and stays above 6.5 stops at ISO 400 as well. From there, dynamic range decreases linearly, down to 4.91 stops at ISO 1600, 3.44 stops at ISO 6400, and culminates at only 1.86 stops at the maximum sensitivity of 25600.
The camera’s choppy video footage feels like an afterthought
The X-E1 and kit lens are capable of resolving 600 lp/ph horizontally and 650 vertically before the moire effect starts to ruin video details. We recorded identical values in our low light sharpness test.
Thanks in part to the fairly bright f/2.8 aperture, this lens and sensor combination is also capable of recording usable video (50 IRE of image data) under as little as 9 lux of ambient illumination. That’s pretty impressive, though we’ve seen a few models in the past year go even lower.
Burst performance is worse than Fujifilm’s claim, but still fast enough
Uh-oh! The fibbers at Fujifilm have exaggerated their burst speed again. After navigating the drive menu and selecting the so-called “6 fps” mode, you may expect shooting speeds to reach—oh I don’t know—six frames per second. Nope. While it’s true that some shots will fire 0.166 seconds after the previous one (which extrapolates out to about 6 fps), the time difference between continuous shots actually fluctuates between 0.166 and 0.268 seconds. A typical set of five continuous shots will actually average out to around 5.45 frames per second, max.