This is an in-depth review of the Fujifilm X-E1 mirrorless interchangeable-lens camera, which was released on September 6, 2012 right before the Photokina event in Cologne, Germany. After the success of the X100 line and the release of the X-Pro1 (which initially received a rather mixed review from us due to its poor AF performance), Fuji introduced the X-E1 – basically a lower-end version of the X-Pro1. It was not an unexpected move, given how quickly Fuji was growing in popularity, thanks to its amazing retro design and excellent image quality. Despite its autofocus flaws and other quirks, both the X100 and the X-Pro1 created a huge fan base and a healthy community of supporters. The X-Pro1 was an expensive camera aimed at professionals and enthusiasts, so the X-E1 was naturally targeted as a more budget version with less features. In this Fuji X-E1 review (based on Firmware 2.00), I will provide detailed information about the camera, along with some image samples, and compare it to other cameras from Nikon, Canon and Olympus.
As usual, my goal was to thoroughly test the camera, especially its autofocus performance and accuracy (which historically has been a problem area for newly released Fuji cameras) and evaluate it for both personal and professional photography. As some of our readers might already know, I picked Micro Four Thirds as my mirrorless system of choice last year and I have been shooting with the Olympus OM-D E-M5 since then. I loved everything about the X-Pro1, except for its bugs and AF performance, so I ended up dismissing the Fuji system completely last year. Since then, a number of our readers have been asking me to re-evaluate the X-Pro1 and review the new lines of Fuji cameras, including the X-E1. Fuji has been working hard on updating the reported issues and improving autofocus performance through firmware updates, so it made sense to revisit the Fuji X-Pro1. After two months of heavy use, I am happy to say that the Fuji X-Pro1 is indeed a totally different camera compared to what it was initially. Naturally, I went back and completely rewrote my Fuji X-Pro1 Review, praising Fuji for fixing bugs and autofocus issues, and making the X-Pro1 an attractive choice for most photography needs today.
Similar to the X-Pro1, my experience with the X-E1 has been very positive, as you will see further down in the review. Without giving too many spoilers, let me just say that I have been enjoying the X-E1 immensely, even more than the X-Pro1. During the last two months, I have shot various events, engagements, weddings and have used the X-E1 for personal photography as well, so by now I have a pretty good idea about its strengths and weaknesses.
1) Fujifilm X-E1 Specifications
Main Features and Specifications:
- Sensor: 16.3 MP (1.5x crop factor), 4.8µ pixel size, same as on X-Pro1
- Sensor Size: 23.6 x 15.6mm
- Resolution: 4896 x 3264
- Native ISO Sensitivity: 200-6,400
- Boost Low ISO Sensitivity: 100
- Boost High ISO Sensitivity: 12,800-25,600
- Sensor Cleaning System: Yes
- Lens mount: FUJIFILM X mount
- Weather Sealing/Protection: No
- Body Build: Magnesium Alloy, Top and Front covers
- Shutter: Up to 1/4000 and 30 sec exposure
- Shutter Control: Focal Plane Shutter
- Storage: 1x SD slot (SD/SDHC/SDXC compatible)
- Viewfinder Type: 2,360,000-dot OLED color viewfinder
- Speed: 6 FPS
- Exposure Meter: TTL 256-zones metering
- Built-in Flash: Yes
- Autofocus: Yes
- Manual Focus: Yes
- LCD Screen: 2.8 inch, approx. 460,000-dot, TFT color LCD monitor
- Movie Modes: Full 1080p HD @ 24 fps max
- Movie Recording Limit: 29 minutes
- Movie Output: MOV (H.264)
- GPS: No
- Battery Type: NP-W126
- Battery Life: 350 shots
- USB Standard: 2.0
- Weight: 300g (excluding battery and accessories)
- Price: $999 MSRP body only at launch (currently sells for $799)
A detailed list of camera specifications is available at Fujifilm.com.
2) Camera Construction and Handling
Unlike the Fuji X-Pro1 that is built from a full magnesium-alloy frame, the X-E1 has a slightly inferior build, with only the top and front magnesium-alloy covers. However, that’s not something that you would ever notice by just looking at both cameras. I literally had to touch the bottom back plate on both cameras with my lips to find out. So I would not worry about the construction of the X-E1 at all – it is pretty tough for a mirrorless camera, similar to the Sony NEX-5 series cameras (which also feature front and top magnesium-alloy plates). What I love about the Fuji cameras, is the fact that the magnesium alloy shell is pretty thin, making them feel very light for their size. In fact, the X-E1 is not a small mirrorless camera when you compare it to the Sony NEX-6 / NEX-7 series and yet it is not heavier in comparison. That’s one of the things that I actually like about the Fuji X-Pro1 and the X-E1 – they just feel right in my hands. The X-Pro1 is about the same as Nikon’s old film SLRs and rangefinders, while the X-E1 is a little more compact. To be honest, I actually prefer the more compact X-E1 to the X-Pro1, perhaps because I have gotten used to my Olympus OM-D E-M5 (the OM-D E-M5 is a tad taller than the X-E1 thanks to its large middle section, but its body is physically shorter and smaller in comparison). Here is a comparison between the Nikon FG (a really old film SLR), X-Pro1 and X-E1, in that order from left to right:
Now let’s compare the X-E1 to the Nikon D800E, which is the camera I use mostly for professional needs and lens evaluations. This is something that our readers requested me to provide, since many of us wonder how mirrorless cameras compare to DSLRs in terms of size and bulk. I attached the Nikon 24mm f/1.4G lens to the D800E, while the X-E1 has the Fujinon 18mm f/2.0 attached to it:
Clearly, mirrorless cameras have a huge advantage in terms of size and bulk – the D800E is much bigger and bulkier and that’s just the size. Now compare the weight between the two – the Nikon D800E with the 24mm f/1.4 weigh a whopping 1620 grams combined, while the Fuji X-E1 + 18mm only weigh 416 grams – that’s almost 4 times lighter! I could walk with the X-E1 hanging off my neck all day and I would not feel anything (using a different strap though, as explained below), while my D800E would most likely come off after a short period of time. I have done both and trust me, you will feel the difference very quickly.
Speaking of hanging the X-E1 around the neck – I would highly recommend to replace the thin strap that comes with the Fuji cameras to something better and thicker. The Fuji straps are very uncomfortable and they do irritate bare skin quite a bit. Despite the fact that one side of the strap is a little smoother than the other, it is the thin size of the strap and lack of any sort of padding that cause these issues. Personally, I am a huge fan of neoprene straps from OP/TECH. The classic version of the strap would probably be ideal, although if you feel that it is too thick or too big for the X-E1, they have all kinds of smaller sizes too. Just make sure to pick up a strap that is thin enough to go through the “ears” on the sides of the camera.
Similar to its bigger brother, the X-E1 is not designed to be a weather-proof camera. That’s unfortunate, given the fact that some cameras like my Olympus OM-D E-M5 and the new OM-D E-M1 have excellent weather sealing features. The new OM-D E-M1 could be literally put underwater and then frozen and it will still continue to function. Clearly, Fuji did not target people that would shoot in extreme conditions with their cameras. The build quality is there, but not the weather sealing. Personally, I would prefer some weather sealing for my type of shooting, since I do shoot in extreme conditions quite a bit. However, it is not an absolute requirement for me, since I know that most cameras do fine with good care. Would I dip the X-E1 into a body of water? No, but I would not hesitate to shoot it in light rain (and I have). If conditions worsen, I would find a way to protect the camera from extreme moisture, perhaps by wrapping it with a piece of dry cloth or one of those plastic covers for cameras. If you are too worried about shooting in extreme conditions, the Fuji X-E1 is probably not for you.
Here is a picture of a rainbow that I captured in light rain with the X-E1:
Once I was done, I wiped the camera and the lens with a piece of dry cloth and let it all dry out. The camera worked fine without any hiccups afterwards.
The X-E1 comes with a compact built-in flash. It is operated manually by pressing the small flash button on the back of the camera. Compared to DSLR built-in flashes, this one is tiny and not very powerful. Do not expect it to light up a room for you, as the flash is only meant to be used occasionally. It works great as fill flash, although you should be careful when using it with large lenses with attached hoods. At wide angles, you might see a huge shadow that occupies half of the frame. The good news is, you do not have to rely on this built-in flash if you like working with flash – the standard hot shoe on the top of the camera will work with any speedlight or flash trigger system like PocketWizard. I have used the Fuji X series cameras with my Nikon speedlights and while TTL does not work, manual flash works great. See the Flash section of this review for some more information and sample images.
The X-Pro1 and the X-E1 differ in the front a bit. Since the X-E1 only comes with an electronic viewfinder (EVF), there is no rangefinder-like optical window on the top right side of the camera. There is also no lever on the left side to switch from EVF to OVF and vice-versa, which is expected. Other than that, the switch to go from Single to Continuous to Manual focus, along with the slightly protruded grip and the lens release button are identical on both. The autofocus assist lamp on the X-Pro1 is slightly larger and seems to be a tad brighter in the center when compared to the one on the X-E1. However, the lamp placement on the X-E1 is much better – it has been moved to the left of the camera, which often works with lens hoods attached. The X-Pro1 is worse in this regard, since its lamp is too close to the lens, making it more painful to focus in low-light conditions. Here is a comparison of the front of both X-Pro1 and X-E1:
My biggest handling complaint on the X-E1 is the tripod mount placement and the fact that the memory card is located in the same place as the battery. This issue is rather annoying, because the tripod mount socket is located off the center of the camera close to the battery/card compartment, making it painful to remove the card or battery while the camera is mounted. I use the Arca-Swiss quick release system and using a generic plate keeps the camera way off center. It would be great if Fuji could move the card slot to the side of the camera, or move the tripod socket away from the battery compartment.
3) Camera Controls
Let’s now talk about the camera controls. As I have noted in my review of the Fuji X-Pro1, I love the way Fuji implemented controls on the X-Pro1, and the X-E1 is no exception. Aside from the built-in flash, the top layouts on both X-Pro1 and X-E1 are pretty much identical. The programmable Function (Fn) button, along with the On/Off switch + shutter release are located on the top right hand corner. The large dial is for setting the shutter speed of the camera, with an option to switch to Aperture Priority mode (Red A). The X-Pro1 has a larger dial than the X-E1 and it has a locking mechanism with a button to release (the X-E1 does not have one). While the dial shows shutter speed increments in full stops, do not worry – you can still go in smaller 1/3 stop steps simply by pressing the Left and Right buttons on the back of the camera. This is great, because 1/250 is too fast for proper flash sync and 1/125 could be too slow in some situations. So you could just set 1/250 and move the shutter speed down to 1/200, or set the dial to 1/125 and move it up to 1/200 (technically, the sync speed on the X-E1 is 1/180). Lastly, the smaller dial is for exposure compensation – the camera allows +2 to -2 adjustments in any of the automatic camera modes. Take a look at the top of the X-E1:
If you have used a DSLR before and never touched a rangefinder, you might find yourself looking for a way to switch the camera mode from Auto/Program to Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority or Manual. Unlike a modern DSLR, there is no camera mode switch. To change the camera to Shutter Priority, you simply rotate the large top dial to a desired shutter speed. To change the camera to Aperture Priority, you leave the top shutter dial at “A”, while rotating the aperture ring to an aperture of your choice. To change the camera to Manual Mode, you pick whatever aperture you want on the lens and pick whatever shutter speed you want on the camera. Lastly, Program mode can be set by setting both the top dial on the camera and the dial on the lens to “A”. Super simple and very intuitive in my opinion.
Let’s talk about the back button layout and ergonomics. In general, the layout and design of the back of the camera is good, but I do have a couple of complaints. Here is how the back looks:
The two main complaints for me are:
- AF focus point is changed by pressing the “AF” button that is inconveniently located to the left bottom of the LCD. I constantly move the AF focus point when shooting, so this button should be elsewhere, or should be eliminated (see the next point below). While it is possible to move the focus point by pressing the down arrow, I do not understand why Fuji did not make all of the back arrow buttons active for this.
- Why is the up arrow button (to the right of the LCD) dedicated to Macro feature? Again, the arrow navigation buttons should be for changing the AF focus point, just like on DSLRs. I very much hope Fuji will make such choice available via a firmware update – it should not be that hard to implement this button change. And if buttons change the focus point, it would be great if the “AF” button could become a programmable function button. This is not possible even with the latest 2.00 firmware (at the time the review was written).
Operating the camera and navigating the menu system is a breeze, except when dealing with some design flaws:
- RAW shooting at boosted ISO levels. The same X100 / X-Pro1 problem that never got addressed – why doesn’t Fuji allow shooting RAW at boosted ISO levels such as ISO 100, 12,800 and 25,600?
- Auto ISO feature does not allow setting minimum shutter speed. Fuji already fixed this on the X-M1, so it is time to push this change to the X-E1 and X-Pro1 now. Also, why doesn’t the camera allow to use Auto ISO at ISO 6400 and even ISO 12,800? High ISO noise performance is excellent, so the option should be there in my opinion.
4) LCD Screen
One of the downgrades of the X-E1 when compared to the X-Pro1 is its LCD screen. Instead of the gorgeous 3″ LCD monitor with 1.2 million dots found on the X-Pro1, the X-E1 sports a smaller 2.8″ LCD screen with just 460K dots. The smaller screen was probably necessary to keep the X-E1 physically smaller. To be honest, I really don’t care about the LCD and do not consider it to be an important feature. It is not like you would sit through and play back images on the camera anyway – the screen is there to access basic menu functions and preview photographs after they are taken. There is a small difference in the way characters are rendered, but it is not like they are extremely pixelated, like on some of the really old LCD screens. I think 460K for a 3″ screen is plenty on any camera.
5) EVF Diopter
The X-E1 comes with a very important feature for those of us that do not have perfect vision – there is a diopter adjustment to the left of the viewfinder. The X-Pro1 comes with a removable cover that you can remove and replace, but that costs extra and is not convenient if multiple people use the camera. From that standpoint, I really like the X-E1, because you can adjust the diopter to your needs and change it to a different setting if you are wearing glasses or hand the camera to someone else.