I pick up the camera and, for what feels like a hundredth time, get surprised by its low weight. It’s not what you’d call hollow, more like… tightly packed. There might be a couple of areas where you touch and feel mild disappointment – the control wheel at the back could be metal and the bottom, well, can’t help but wish it felt as cool (literally) and solid as the top of the camera – but only because the rest of it is just so pleasant to hold. It has quickly become a very natural size and shape – that Nikon body, though that much more secure in hand, feels almost unwieldy. It’s not, really, but also is when you compare it to the Fujifilm X-E2. And the dials – save for the aperture ring on the lens, but that is a separate subject – offer very good resistance. In the case of exposure compensation dial, when doing such time-critical types of photography as street, perhaps even a touch too good. It’s not that easy to turn with your thumb whilst holding the camera to your eye. And that is exactly what I am doing right now, bringing it to my eye as my subjects still don’t seem to have noticed me noticing them.
And then another thing happens for what feels like a hundredth time. I did not understand it at first, might not have even noticed my own reaction (since, more often than not, I can’t afford being surprised by something), but after relying so much on an optical viewfinder – be that of the rangefinder Kiev 4AM, my digital Nikon body or medium format Mamiya RZ67 – that EVF feels weird. It’s not bad weird, or good weird for that matter. Just… weird.
One of the reasons I was reluctant to purchase the X-E2 initially was the EVF. And perhaps I’ve only spent about a week with the camera, but it is still something I am a little bit bothered by. Scratch that, I am very, very bothered by it. Strangely enough, it has nothing to do with the quality of EVF itself, because it is spectacular. It really, really is. The viewfinder is sharp, has an array of information that can be displayed and does not suffer from much lag. It is certainly not irritating for the type of shooting I’ve been doing with it so far. I also find it large enough, but then I wear spectacles and would not be able to see the whole frame if it were any bigger (given the same eye relief). So, my very subjective and individual issue is not with this particular EVF, but with EVFs in general. I am not going to bore you with the advantages and disadvantages of electronic viewfinders – those have been talked about plenty of times. Instead, I will talk about an inherent trait of EVFs which to me is bothersome.
Whenever I work with my OVF-featuring Nikon camera, I use manual exposure eight times out of ten. Now, I am not a snob, I don’t do it to look “cool” or “professional” or because I believe automated exposure modes are for “lesser” photographers – that’s rubbish. I use manual exposure mode for several reasons that are important to me personally. First of all, I am quite selective with my exposure – I often tend to expose for highlights, or at least those highlights that I find to be the most subtle and beautiful to my taste. If I were to use automated exposure modes – say, aperture priority – I’d have to adjust exposure compensation constantly. Even worse, I’d have no idea how to adjust it and were I to use, say, spot metering in some specific situation, even slight camera movement might result in a different exposure. Too unpredictable.
The second reason is so crucial that the first one wouldn’t be worth much alone – it feels natural to me. Unless shooting indoors in mixed artificial light (or, strangely enough, into the light and exposing for shadows), I am quite good at estimating roughly correct exposure so long as I always see the scene as it is and concentrate on the areas that I want to be exposed correctly. It is especially true if I have some point of reference, say an image I took previously under different light levels. In that case, I just have to estimate the difference in light levels between the two environments. While I photograph, it all happens fairly quickly – I don’t really think about any of it much. It is certainly much quicker than, say, constantly switching between spot, center-weighted and average metering modes when I change composition, but the light remains the same. So, unless it is the light that changes often and I can’t anticipate it, I will almost always naturally switch to M with my Nikon.
During my first walk with the X-E2, I almost exclusively shot in aperture priority. More than that, I actually used the exposure compensation dial, even though the camera itself encourages manual use featuring both aperture and shutter speed dials (the former on higher-end lenses). I can’t say it was alien to me to such an extent I’d want to return the camera – oh no. The image posted with this article, for many reasons, is enough of a proof for me to know I chose correctly and the issues that do arise aren’t actually issues, but me not being familiar with the tool, certainly not to the same extent I know my trusty old D700. And yet using aperture priority, switching between metering modes and adjusting exposure compensation dial rather than shutter dial was very, very weird.
What does setting correct exposure have to do with OVFs and EVFs? The thing is, until I tried the X-E2, there was a condition I never even realized existed for my skill to estimate exposure. I can only do it (almost subconsciously) if I see the real light. The X-E2 does not show the real light. What you see through the EVF is either what exposure settings are like (if exposure preview is enabled), or what the X-E2 “thinks” the settings should be. It does not show how the light looks like. How it hits the subject. It rids me of my eye’s dynamic range. It shows me an interpretation which I am then supposed to interpret myself. It is so bizarre to lift the camera to my eye and see a completely different view than I saw just a second ago, it throws me off completely. Suddenly, I can’t estimate the exposure anymore, I can only rely on what I see in the viewfinder and adjust the settings based on what I see there. Actually, more often than not what you see isn’t exactly what you get. With X-E2, for example, the EVF shows an image that is less representative of the captured photograph than the LCD at the back – for one thing, colours seem to be a tad cooler, not to mention the affect direct sunlight has on the contrast and perceived luminance of the image.
There is another issue, one that has nothing to do with EVFs in general, but with Fujifilm’s specific settings for the viewfinder. You can set it up in so many ways – you can photograph using the proximity sensor and the camera will switch between LCD and EVF depending on whether the camera is to up to your eye or not, or you can set it up to only activate the EVF and not use LCD at all. The problem is, you can set it up in what feels the most obvious, the most natural way for me, personally. You can’t set it up the DSLR-way, you can’t use the EVF to compose and shoot, and the LCD for menus and image review only. If you set the EVF-only mode, that is what you’ll be forced to use to preview images, too. A silly and somewhat annoying omission by Fujifilm and one I sincerely hope the Japanese manufacturer will get around to fixing via firmware update.
But that’s a separate subject and, to me at least, these issues are far less important simply because they can potentially be fixed. What I found perplexing and irritating, and what I still can’t figure out is why I’m so bad at using the otherwise very natural-feeling manual exposure mode with the X-E2. Or perhaps that is not entirely true. I can figure it out. The Fujifilm X-E2 is such a new tool to me, I haven’t yet learned to use it well, and certainly nowhere near its full potential if there even is such a thing as a camera’s potential. And so in no way am I saying I bought the wrong camera, the wrong system, and compact camera systems are not for me. Oh no. The positives far outweigh any issues I might have despite this particular issue receiving so much of my attention. It just means that, once again, I’ll need to use the camera as often as possible to get to know it quickly. And you know what? That is no hardship, because one thing remains an indisputable truth for me – the X-E2 is almost asking to be used, all the time. Even now, quite late into the night, I am thinking about the next time I will take it out and hoping it will be very soon.
I am not one to take things for granted. I don’t take AF for granted, for example – every system needs to be learned. X-E2 requires time to get to know. I’ve worked with that D700 for years now, it’s why I know it so well. And I know I will learn the Fujifilm eventually, too, and all these issues that I am having will then turn into skill. That said… I guess EVFs is something we need to embrace as the future, much like, say, electric cars. But I don’t want to. And so I am happy I did not go with the more expensive X-T1, which would end up as my main camera of the system due to its price and size. It is a good camera, of course, and one Nasim prefers to the X-E2. Yet as a high-end body, I would prefer one that has an OVF.
Waiting for that X-Pro2, then. Waiting patiently. But the X-E2 is not going anywhere.