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.
6) Image Sensor
At the heart of the X-E1 sits an X-Trans CMOS sensor technology from Fuji, the same sensor that is featured on the X-Pro1. While traditional sensors with a repeating bayer-pattern color filter array exhibit moire problems and hence need an anti-aliasing filter to reduce moire by essentially blurring the image, the X-Trans CMOS sensor has a new color filter array that has a more random pattern, which does not cause moire to occur in the first place. Hence, an anti-aliasing filter is not necessary, which in turn translates to sharper, more detailed images.
Here is an illustration of a traditional bayer pattern color filter array compared to the new Fuji color filter array:
Top image: 1) Lens, 2) Sensor, 3) Optical low-pass filter.
Bottom image: 1) Lens, 2) Sensor, 3) Natural random arrangement of the fine grains of silver halide in film.
As you can see, the difference between the two is quite big.
Fuji says that their sensor not only delivers sharper images due to the lack of an anti-aliasing filter, but also has better color reproduction. Does the new X-Trans CMOS sensor work as advertised? It certainly does, in my opinion. The amount of detail from the camera when using Fujinon and Zeiss Touit lenses is very impressive, especially when looking at images at 100% view. As a long time digital Nikon shooter, I am very impressed by what the X-E1 does with the colors. Not only does the camera produce beautiful colors, but Fuji clearly knows how to process skin tones – something Nikon is historically not very good at. This is quite evident even when looking at JPEG images straight out of the camera.
The X-Trans CMOS sensor with a new color filter is a great innovation. Sadly, most digital camera manufacturers today, including Nikon and Canon, still rely on the bayer pattern that was invented back in 1976 in Kodak labs. With all the new ultra high resolution sensors coming out, I believe manufacturers need to start adopting such innovations to get rid of the outdated anti-aliasing/blur filter. Nikon has started removing the AA filter from its cameras to get as much resolution as possible from lenses, but at the expense of introducing moire.
7) Autofocus Performance and Accuracy
When the Fuji X-Pro1 was initially released, it was plagued with all kinds of autofocus issues. I reported this in my review initially and I criticized the camera heavily due to these problems. Fuji fixed a number of serious AF issues with the release of the X-E1 and promised improved AF over the X-Pro1. Overtime, more AF accuracy and speed improvements were introduced to the X-E1 in a number of firmware updates. As of today, I am happy to say that the current firmware 2.0 is a pretty stable release, which addresses most of the original autofocus problems.
Autofocus speed has improved dramatically and AF accuracy has gotten a world better, even in low light situations. Lola and I shot a wedding a couple of weeks ago and I had a chance to use both the X-E1 and the X-Pro1 in low-light environments indoors. Surprisingly, where my Nikon D800E with the Nikkor 85mm f/1.8G suffered in AF accuracy, the Fuji cameras did not! Now I am not here to say that the AF system on Fuji mirrorless cameras is better than on DSLRs, because it is clearly not. Autofocus speed is still pretty slow in comparison. However, seems like contrast detect has its own advantages in low-light situations. Here is an image that was shot with the X-E1, because my D3s could not manage to get accurate results in such a dark environment (concert stage, with only a couple of spot lights):
When compared to the AF speed champ, the Olympus OM-D E-M5, the Fuji X-E1 definitely performs slower and feels a little less responsive when quickly changing from one subject to another – there is a noticeable lag on the X-E1. However, it is not as bad as it used to be and it certainly adequate for most photography needs. I certainly would not shoot a sporting event with the X-E1, but as I have already pointed out earlier, the X-E1 is not meant to be for photographing sports and wildlife. The AF-C mode is extremely slow and practically unusable for serious subject tracking. In addition, Fuji does not even have a fast telephoto lens in its arsenal yet (neither the 55-200mm, nor the 50-230mm lenses are suitable for that) and we might not see anything until AF gets faster and lags / blackouts are completely eliminated. For everything else though, the X-E1 performs admirably.
8) Manual Focus
Similar to autofocus fixes, Fuji also addressed a number of manual focus problems with the X-E1 release (the initial implementation of manual focus on the X-Pro1 was terrible). It is much better and faster now with firmware 2.0, but I am still not very happy with the number of turns I have to make to go from close distance to far and vice versa. I really hoped that Fuji would take care of this issue by increasing the speed of rotations, but the speed issue still remains. It is certainly faster than it was on the X-Pro1 initially, but still not fast enough in my opinion. Not a big problem for most people out there and might actually be useful for those that need to have the highest amount of focus precision. Fuji could address this particular issue by adding an option to speed up focus rotation by 2x, 3x, etc. Fuji also added magnification options for fine tuning focus, which is great. Thanks to these fixes, I have been able to test Fuji lenses using Imatest software (Fuji lens reviews to be published soon) and compare them to each other optically. Lastly, Fuji added the focus peaking feature, which helps a great deal with focusing manually. This one was another hot request from the Fuji fans, since many other mirrorless cameras have had this feature for a while now. It is certainly a welcome addition and a great feature for those that rely on manual focus a lot. I used it quite a bit while testing lenses and I loved being able to see focus precision while zooming in. Many of us really wanted to see this feature on Fuji cameras and I am glad that Fuji listened.
9) Fujinon Lenses
As of September, 2013, the Fuji lens line has expanded from the three initially launched lenses to ten. Fuji has done a great job with the lens line in my opinion, first introducing prime lenses and then following up with some zooms later. This basically showed that Fuji’s target market was professionals and enthusiasts that were looking for a serious mirrorless system. I had a pleasure of shooting with all three initially launched lenses and I have recently received every Fuji lens for proper testing. In addition, I have also been shooting with the new Zeiss Touit lenses (a number of newly uploaded images in this review are from the Zeiss lenses). All these lenses will be reviewed individually very soon and I cannot wait to test them all in my Imatest lab. So far, my experience has been very positive on the entire line of Fuji and Zeiss lenses.
Having gone through a couple of weddings and portrait shoots, a true portrait lens is something I missed. While the 35mm f/1.4 and the 60mm f/2.4 macro are great, I would love to see a fast f/1.2-1.4 prime in the 50mm+ range for portraiture. The good news is, looks like such lens is coming next year (Fujinon 56mm f/1.2), which will fill a big hole for many pros that want to shoot with the Fuji X line professionally.
10) Electronic Viewfinder
Being a more budget version of the X-Pro1, the X-E1 does not have the same hybrid optical (OVF) / electronic (EVF) viewfinder – Fuji decided to go with just a high resolution EVF instead. At first, this might sound like a downgrade, however, if you look up the specs on the EVF on both the X-Pro1 and the X-E1, you will notice that there is a resolution difference between the two. The X-Pro1 has a 1.44 megapixel EVF, while the X-E1 has a 2.36 megapixel EVF. Hence, Fuji tried to compensate the loss of the hybrid viewfinder with the gain in resolution. Is the resolution difference very noticeable? I experimented with EVF on both cameras for a while and to be honest, I cannot see a huge difference. The EVF on the X-E1 seems to be more saturated with perhaps a little more details, but it is not something very obvious. The EVF on the X-E1 also showed some strange interlacing and moire patterns when looking at fine patterns, while the lower resolution X-Pro1 seemed to handle those a little better. Probably has something to do with the higher resolution screen on the X-E1.
11) Metering and Exposure
While the Fuji X-E1 does not have a sophisticated meter as the latest generation Nikon and Canon cameras, it actually works surprisingly well in most situations. The camera does have a tendency to overexpose and underexpose in unusual lighting situations, but that happens even with advanced DSLRs, so it is not anything unusual. Gladly, the exposure compensation dial is right there on the top of the camera, so altering the exposure is a very straightforward process.
If you are a Nikon shooter, you will notice odd behavior on the Fuji, similar to what you see on Sony cameras as well – when the shutter is half-pressed, metering gets locked by the camera. Trying to rotate the aperture on the lens or moving the exposure compensation dial will do nothing and the exposure will remain locked. The only thing you can do is release the shutter, then adjust your exposure, then half-press again to get a different meter reading. On Nikon DSLRs, once you half-press the shutter, you can still continue to adjust the exposure and the meter will continue to adjust automatically. This is not a big problem for me, since I do not mind releasing the shutter and half-pressing it again, but it might annoy others that are used to the DSLR way of things.
12) Shooting Speed (FPS) and Battery Life
The Fuji X-E1 is a pretty fast camera that can shoot at 6 frames per second – the same speed as the X-Pro1. The good news is that when the camera is shot in burst mode, the memory card write process does not freeze the camera like it did before on the initial firmware releases. If you want fast writes, make sure to get a really fast SD card. I used some 45 MB/sec class 10 SD cards and there was definitely noticeable difference between those and SanDisk Extreme Pro 95 MB/sec cards. When shooting in bursts, Fine JPEG images will shoot approximately 16-18 images before the buffer gets full, so the buffer size on both the X-E1 and X-Pro1 seems to be the same. It then takes approximately 10 seconds for buffer to clear out and memory writes complete. If you shoot in RAW, the buffer will fill up at about 12-14 images and takes good 20+ seconds to clear out. These numbers are based on approximate calculations using the fastest SanDisk Extreme Pro SDHC 95 MB/sec cards. Slower cards will take even longer to empty the camera buffer.
In terms of battery life, the X-E1 specs state 350 frames before the battery runs out, which is in line with other mirrorless cameras and more than what you would get on the X-Pro1 (rated at 300 frames).
13) Video / Movie Recording
It seems like all modern digital cameras are coming out with movie recording options and the Fuji X-E1 is not an exception. It can record either 720p or 1080p high-definition video at 24 fps with stereo sound and offers some control of exposure before recording (not during). Unlike DSLRs that have to have their mirrors flipped up, which limits viewing of video recording only on the camera LCD, the Fuji X-E1 can display recorded video both on its rear LCD and inside the electronic viewfinder. You can choose a desired aperture, adjust exposure compensation and a few other camera settings, but you cannot adjust the shutter speed and ISO – those are chosen automatically by the camera based on the camera meter reading. One major difference between the X-E1 and the X-Pro1 for those interested in video features, is the external mic connectivity – the X-E1 comes with an input on the side of the camera. Not sure why Fuji goofed up with this important feature on the X-Pro1 (I bet they will incorporate it on the upcoming X-Pro2). Because there is no dedicated button or switch for recording videos (another oversight), you have to go into the camera menu and change the drive mode from stills to movie and vice versa. From that standpoint, the new Fuji X-M1 is better, since it has a dedicated video record button. In addition, there is no support for capturing images while recording a video. The really slow manual focus adjustment through lenses is frustrating when recording anything that moves relatively fast. Lastly, subject tracking in AF-C / Continuous mode is also a source of frustration, not only because of a single center focus point, but also because tracking is very slow.
Just like all other Fuji X series cameras, the X-E1 comes with a standard size hotshoe that can be used with Fuji’s flashes such as EF-20, EF-X20, EF-42 and third party flashes and radio triggers such as PocketWizard Plus III. The X-E1 lacks the PC sync port on the side of the camera, but it won’t be a major issue for many of us that like to use external flash. I have used the X-E1 with my Nikon speedlights and PocketWizard triggers and it performed very well. The only downside is the sync speed, which is limited to 1/180 of a second. The X100 and X100s are amazing in this regard, thanks to their leaf shutter mechanism that sync at much faster speeds.
For me, having a standard hotshoe is a big plus, since I work in studio environments quite a bit. Here are some sample images taken with external flash using the X-E1:
15) Dynamic Range
When it comes to dynamic range, from what I can tell from the JPEG images, the new X-Trans CMOS sensor seems to deliver great dynamic range in photographs at even high ISO levels. It is no Nikon D800, but you can still recover plenty of details from the shadow areas without adding too much noise. I have been waiting for test results from DxOMark, but they have not released any information on any of the new Fuji mirrorless cameras with the X-Trans sensor, probably due to RAW file support issues.
16) ISO Performance at low ISOs (ISO 100-800) – JPEG
Some technical information:
- White Balance: As Shot
- EXIF information is preserved in the images
- Focusing was performed through Live-View Contrast Detect
- Long exposure NR: Off
- High ISO NR: Off
- Image Format: JPEG
- Imported images into Lightroom 4 and normalized to 16.3 MP resolution
- All images shot in JPEG
- Lightroom export: sRGB JPEG Quality 80
Here is the full image, showing which area of the image I cropped below:
Both are very clean, but the boosted ISO 100 looks much more overexposed when compared to ISO 200 for some reason. I would avoid using ISO 100 on the X-E1 for this reason.
JPEG output on ISO levels 400 and 800 looks as clean as ISO 200.
17) High ISO Performance (ISO 1600-6400) – JPEG
High ISO performance is a very important measure of sensor quality for low-light photography. Here is how the Fuji X-E1 performs at high ISO levels between ISO 1600 and 6400:
Again, going from ISO 800 to ISO 1600 practically does not add any noise to the image, even in the shadows. ISO 3200, on the other hand, adds a little bit of noise and here we can see the effect of noise reduction applied by the camera on JPEG images – clarity is slightly reduced as a result.
At ISO 6400 some details get washed away and we are starting to see some artifacts here and there. Still, the performance at ISO 6400 is excellent. Whatever Fuji does with its JPEG processing is very impressive.
18) High ISO Performance “Boost” (ISO 12800-25600) – JPEG
Fuji X-E1 has two extra ISO “boost” levels – ISO 12800 and ISO 25600 for extreme situations. Take a look at these:
Boosting ISO to 12800 results in more noise and much more aggressive noise reduction by the camera. Noise is apparent in the shadows (although noise reduction makes it look a little “muddy”) and more artifacts are visible throughout the image. Still ISO 12800 is very usable in my opinion, especially when down-sampled. ISO 25600, on the other hand, looks too muddy and washed for my taste.
19) ISO Performance at low ISOs (ISO 200-800) – RAW
Some technical information:
- White Balance: As Shot
- EXIF information is preserved in the images
- Focusing was performed through Live-View Contrast Detect
- Long exposure NR: Off
- High ISO NR: Off
- Image Format: RAW
- Imported images into Lightroom 4 and normalized to 16.3 MP resolution
- All images shot in JPEG
- Lightroom export: sRGB JPEG Quality 80
There is a slight difference in noise between ISO 200 and 400 in the shadows, but both look very clean overall.
ISO 800 clearly adds more noise to the image (especially in the shadows), as can be seen from the sample crop above.
20) High ISO Performance (ISO 1600-6400) – RAW
Here is how the Fuji X-E1 performs at high ISO levels between ISO 1600 and 6400 in RAW:
As we increase ISO, the amount of noise also increases – ISO 1600 only marginally increases noise over ISO 800. ISO 3200, on the other hand, adds more noticeable noise that looks significantly worse in comparison to ISO 1600 – shadow details are getting lost as a result.
At ISO 6400 the amount of noise doubles throughout the image and much more shadow details are lost. Interestingly, the JPEG version of ISO 3200 and 6400 shots looks much cleaner in comparison. Also, ISO 12800 in JPEG looks better than ISO 6400 in RAW (due to noise reduction applied on JPEGs), except there is a significant amount of detail loss in the shadows.
21) ISO Performance Summary
The Fuji X-Trans sensor is capable of excellent image quality at ISO levels all the way to ISO 12800. To date, I have not seen a camera that can render such beautiful, noise-free JPEG images – I am simply amazed by how good the JPEG output of the Fuji X-E1 is. Fuji definitely knows how to apply noise reduction on JPEG images. However, the same cannot be said about its RAW files – as you can see from the above crops, the RAW output looks quite disappointing in comparison, with plenty of visible noise at higher ISO levels.
Now let’s take a look at how the Fuji X-E1 compares to the Nikon D800, Canon 5D Mark III and Olympus OM-D E-M5.
Please note that the camera comparisons are only based on image quality, based on RAW files. Also note that all images are down-sampled to the size of the Fuji X-E1 sensor.
Compared to Canon 5D Mark III
Let’s see how the Fuji X-E1 compares to the new Canon 5D Mark III. Below you will find image samples normalized to 12 MP by down-sampling.
22) Fuji X-E1 vs Canon 5D Mark III ISO Comparison at low ISOs
Take a look at the below crops at 200, 400 and 800 (Left: Fuji X-E1, Right: Canon 5D Mark III):
As expected, ISO 200 on both cameras looks very clean. However, if you look close enough you will see that the Fuji X-E1 RAW image looks cleaner in comparison – and that’s with a down-sampled Canon 5D Mark III image. Considering that the Fuji X-E1 is an APS-C sensor (more than twice smaller in size than full-frame), normally there should be a similar amount of noise at low ISOs, especially in the shadows. This difference we are seeing either has to do with Fuji’s new color filter array, or Fuji is “cooking” the RAW files (meaning it is applying some noise reduction on RAW level). Note that both RAW files had exactly the same Lightroom settings – no additional sharpening or noise reduction was applied to the image (all default settings).
A similar thing happens at ISO 400 – the Fuji RAW looks a tad cleaner overall.
And we see it again at ISO 800. The Canon 5D Mark III crop has very fine grain in the shadows, while the Fuji X-E1 crop has a smoother feel to it.
23) Fuji X-E1 vs Canon 5D Mark III High ISO Comparison
ISO 1600 still looks better on the Fuji X-E1.
At ISO 3200 both look somewhat comparable, but the look of the grain is very different. The Fuji X-E1 has bigger and smoother grain, while the Canon 5D Mark III has finer and more detailed grain.
Some strange things are starting to happen to the Fuji X-E1 at ISO 6400 – the grain pattern looks rather erratic, which at this point I am pretty sure is happening due to noise reduction. Noise levels on both cameras are very comparable…
24) Fuji X-E1 vs Canon 5D Mark III Summary
It is hard to understand whether Fuji is applying some kind of noise reduction to its RAW files at all ISO levels, or perhaps the new color filter array is the reason why the RAW files look less grainy. Despite the fact that I down-sampled the Canon 5D Mark III images from 22.3 MP to 16.3 MP and there is a significant difference in sensor size between the two cameras, the Fuji X-E1 seems to be producing very impressive images at both JPEG and RAW level. Overall, I find the Fuji X-E1 to be superior at low ISOs and about the same above ISO 3200.
Compared to Nikon D800
25) Fuji X-E1 vs Nikon D800 ISO Comparison at low ISOs
The Nikon D800 has a much higher resolution 36.3 MP sensor, so heavy down-sampling was applied to the Nikon D800 image. As a result, the Nikon D800 image looks very crisp and practically noise-free compared to the Fuji X-E1 at ISO 200. Still, the RAW image from the Fuji X-E1 looks a tad cleaner.
ISO 400 looks very similar to ISO 200.
At ISO 800 we see a little finer grain on the D800, but both are still very comparable in terms of noise, even in the shadows.
26) Fuji X-E1 vs Nikon D800 High ISO Comparison
At ISO 1600 we see a similar thing as with the 5D Mark III – the Fuji X-E1 crops looks a little more “washed”, with very little noise throughout the image.
At ISO 3200 the Fuji X-E1 starts to lose plenty of data as can be seen from the shadows. The Nikon D800 retains a lot more detail overall and the grain looks more natural.
And finally, increasing ISO to 6400 again results in larger and smoother grain on the Fuji X-E1, while the Nikon D800 is still retaining a lot of shadow details with finer grain. The down-sampling process is clearly advantageous for the D800 in this case.
27) Fuji X-E1 vs Nikon D800 Summary
Comparing RAW files between the Fuji X-E1 and the Nikon D800 yields very similar results as with the Canon 5D Mark III. Despite having a sensor more than twice smaller in size, the RAW output from the Fuji X-E1 looks very clean in comparison to the D800. I prefer the look of the images from the Fuji X-E1 at lower ISO levels below ISO 1600, but not above. At higher ISO levels, I find the Nikon D800 images to be better, because they have finer and more natural-looking grain. I am not sure if this kind of output is the result of noise reduction applied to RAW files by Fuji, or if it is the magic of the new color filter array. Whatever it is, it looks great for a small sensor! It is no secret that many RAW files from cameras are “cooked” nowadays – take a look at the Nikon 1 V1, for example. Nikon clearly applies noise reduction at higher ISO levels. As long as manufacturers can do this without losing image detail, who cares if RAW files are treated? The Fuji X-E1 engineers clearly developed a great algorithm that can do magic to the RAW files and we can see it from the above comparison. If Fuji released a full-frame sensor with the same noise characteristics as the sensor on the Fuji X-E1, it would be a serious challenge for both Nikon and Canon DSLRs in my opinion.
Compared to Olympus OM-D E-M5
Let’s take a look at how the Fuji X-E1 fares against the Olympus OM-D E-M5 micro four thirds camera (see my review). Since both cameras have very comparable 16 MP resolution, the below image samples are 100% crops, without any down-sampling applied. Images were converted from Fuji’s RAW “RAF” to JPEG format using Lightroom 5.2.
28) Fuji X-E1 vs Olympus OM-D E-M5 ISO Comparison at low ISOs
Both start out very clean at ISO 200.
At ISO 400, however, we can already start seeing slight differences in ISO performance. The Olympus OM-D E-M5 shows a slight hint of noise in some areas, while the X-E1 is very clean (see the blue disk on the bottom of the screen).
As ISO is increased to 800, we can now see even more differences between the two cameras – the X-E1 is clearly cleaner.
29) Fuji X-E1 vs Olympus OM-D E-M5 High ISO Comparison
Pushing ISO to 1600 results in some noise in both cameras, but the X-E1 still renders a cleaner image throughout the frame. The grain looks a little washed, but it is not distracting.
We see a very similar situation at ISO 3200 – the X-E1 clearly looks better, especially in the shadow areas.
Finally, while ISO 6400 is pretty grainy on both, the X-E1 certainly retains more data and colors. The OM-D E-M5 loses details and has much more visible grain, as evidenced from the above crops.
30) Fuji X-E1 vs Olympus OM-D E-M5 Summary
The Olympus OM-D E-M5 has an impressive sensor that is capable of producing very good images at high ISOs. However, as you can see from the above image crops, the X-E1 renders images with more details, colors and less noise when the two are compared. Performance differences are already visible at ISO 400 and they become more apparent as ISO is increased. Keep in mind that the above comparison is between RAW files from both cameras. If I compared the JPEG performance of the X-E1 against the OM-D E-M5, the performance difference would have been even greater, since Fuji knows how to handle JPEG images very well.
Those, who read our website on a frequent basis know that I ended up picking the Olympus OM-D E-M5 as my mirrorless camera of choice last year. Although I loved shooting with the Fuji X-Pro1, the two primary reasons why I decided to hold back, were its poor autofocus performance and lack of RAW support. Between then and today, Fuji has been working hard on improving the AF system. So thanks to the requests of some of our readers, I was able to re-assess the performance of the X-Pro1, and evaluate two other Fuji cameras – the X-E1 and the X-M1 (see my review). To my surprise, the cameras performed admirably in terms of autofocus and most of the issues that I encountered originally were addressed. Although RAW support from Adobe is not the best compared to other third party solutions, it has improved dramatically as well – certainly more than adequate for my needs.
The Olympus OM-D E-M5 is an AF champion and a superb tool. However, I have made a firm decision to switch from Olympus to Fuji. This decision is based on a number of factors. First and foremost, is the amazing image quality. I just love the colors, the depth and the noise performance that I see in images produced by the X-Trans sensor. The second factor is something very subjective, but something that surely relates to those of us that shoot with Fuji cameras – enjoyment. Yes, the Fuji X-E1 is a camera that I want to pick up and shoot. I don’t know what it is – ergonomics, its looks, its feel, the noise of its shutter…it is hard to express why this camera just lures me into picking it up. To date, I have not enjoyed photography as much as I have with the X-E1. It feels just perfect in hands. Another factor is aspect ratio (also a subjective one) – I just never got used to the 4/3 aspect ratio of Micro Four Thirds. After shooting with Nikon DSLRs for so long, 4/3 still feels foreign to me. Yes, I have a wide choice of lenses for Micro 4/3 today, but I am really impressed with what Fuji and Zeiss have done so far. I cannot wait until Fuji releases the Fujinon 56mm f/1.2 lens – a true portrait lens that will fill a hole in the current lens line and please many Fuji owners, now including myself.
While I prefer to use as my Nikon D800E as the primary tool for commercial and landscape photography, the Fuji X-E1 now nicely complements my full-frame beast and can be easily used as a backup camera. I have been taking the Fuji equipment to every shoot with me so far and I have to say, I would not hesitate to shoot weddings and other portrait sessions with it (you can probably see why I am so excited about the upcoming 56mm f/1.2). In fact, Lola and I shot a wedding yesterday, and after 8+ hours of working with heavy DSLRs, ended up switching to the X-E1 and X100s for photographing the dance floor. Lola hesitated at first, but after taking a few pictures with the X100s and the Nikon SB-900 attached to it, a single word came out of her mouth “Liberating!”. After heavy DSLRs, these cameras just felt like nothing on our hands and they did quite well in terms of autofocus. I was shooting with the X-E1 in the same configuration and I had to agree – both cameras nailed autofocus from frame to frame.
Why not the X-Pro1? While I really like the X-Pro1 as well, it just feels a little too big and heavier in my hands. The X-E1 is a perfect fit for me and almost everything about it just feels right. I wish Fuji made a few changes to the X-E1 ergonomics, but I am sure they will listen to us and provide those updates in the future versions of the camera. We have already seen Fuji take care of firmware issues and I am hopeful that some exterior design changes will also come to life soon.
In summary, the X-E1 is a phenomenal camera. I don’t think there is anything else to add to that.
32) Where to buy and availability
B&H is currently selling the Fuji X-E1 body only for $799.
33) More image samples
All Images Copyright © Nasim Mansurov, All Rights Reserved. Copying or reproduction is not permitted without written permission from the author.
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