6) Image Sensor and Autofocus Performance
Similar to the excellent Fuji X100S, the X-E2 is now the second Fuji mirrorless camera to feature the new X-Trans CMOS II sensor. While the effective resolution stayed the same at 16.3 MP as on the original X-E1 with the X-Trans CMOS sensor, this one incorporates phase detection pixels right on the sensor, allowing for much faster autofocus (see the Autofocus Performance and Accuracy section below for more information).
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 II 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 II 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 the color rendition of Fuji cameras, including the X-E2. Not only does the camera produce beautiful colors, but Fuji clearly knows how to process skin tones – something Nikon and many other brands are historically not very good at. This is quite evident even when looking at JPEG images straight out of the camera.
The X-Trans CMOS II sensor with a new color filter and built-in phase detection 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high resolution sensors coming out, I believe manufacturers need to start adopting such innovations to get rid of the outdated anti-aliasing/blur filter.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.
The only problem with the X-Trans sensor is rendering issues of RAW files when using Camera RAW and Lightroom. I am not sure why Adobe has still not worked this out with Fuji, but the RAW processing engine in Adobe’s products introduces artifacts to images and weird patterns in different color channels. I have recently started using the Photo Ninja software to render RAW images and it is definitely a world better than what Adobe has to offer. The problem with Adobe’s RAW rendering, is that once sharpening is applied, excessive outlining on fine patterns starts to occur in images. Take a look at the below comparison of RAW rendering by Adobe ACR and Photo Ninja:
As you can see, the rendering by Adobe Camera RAW looks very different in comparison, with visible artifacts in the fine bush branches. Photo Ninja does a much better job here and even excessive sharpening does not create the same outlining artifacts in images.
I really hope that Adobe and Fuji will soon iron out these issues, since I am not very keen on introducing another RAW rendering software package to my workflow process.
7) Autofocus Performance and Accuracy
As I have stated in my Fuji X100S review, Fuji’s new hybrid autofocus system is indeed very fast when compared to older X-series cameras. The X-E2 has the same hybrid autofocus system, which uses the phase detection pixels on the sensor to acquire focus in good light and switches to contrast detection when the light levels drop. When testing the X-E2, I wanted to find out if it has the same issues with phase detection as the X100S did. Unfortunately, the X-E2 seems to suffer from a similar problem – the phase detection autofocus sometimes gets confused and fails to acquire focus. I do not understand the nature of this issue, but it has something to do with the phase detection system, since it only happens in daylight conditions. Take a look at the following image of a statue, which was captured with the Fuji 23mm f/1.4 lens:
As you can see, the camera failed to acquire focus completely and choose to focus on the background instead. After I focused on a different subject and re-acquired focus, the camera then focused just fine. When using the X-E1 that only uses contrast detection, I have not seen these types of issues. Here is another example, this time captured with the Fuji 55-200mm lens, with the latest firmware:
Once again, the background is what is in focus and not the deer. There was plenty of contrast in the scene and on the subject, and yet the camera for some reason failed to acquire focus. The subsequent images were mostly fine, but the number of keepers was below my expectation (and definitely below what I would normally get with my X-E1). The red AF indication was not an issue as on the X100S, but it was mostly accuracy issues with the 23mm f/1.4 and 55-200mm lenses.
While the above issue is not of critical nature and can only be witnessed occasionally, I really hope that Fuji can fix this issue via a firmware update very soon.
If you are interested in the continuous autofocus (AF-C) capabilities of the X-E2, you should know that Fuji has changed a couple of things. First of all, the camera is no longer limited to the center of the frame for continuous autofocus. This means that you can pick any of the 49 focus points in the frame, and the camera will track subject in the selected AF point. While this certainly does work, I found the 9 phase-detection focus points in the center of the frame to be more accurate for subject tracking. Still, the Fuji X-E2 continuous to remain practically useless for serious action photography (like most other mirrorless cameras). Its subject tracking capabilities are very limited, and both speed and accuracy are much worse when compared to a modern DSLR. Hopefully, Fuji will continue to innovate in this department and make continuous autofocus much more useful than it is today.
8) Manual Focus
Manual focus is still the same as on the X-E1, which is pretty slow to rotate from one end to another. That’s because Fuji does not rely on a mechanical focus ring like on traditional lenses. When you rotate the focus ring, focus is adjusted electronically via the fly-by-wire system. A focus scale is provided inside the viewfinder or on the rear LCD to indicate where you are at. It would be nice if Fuji added an option to speed up focus rotation by 2x, 3x, etc.
Fuji also added magnification options for fine tuning focus, which is great. You simply press the rotary dial on the back of the X-E2 and the camera switches to zoom mode. There is one notable advantage on the X-E2 compared to the X-E1 – the X-E2 can switch to the magnified mode even in AF-S mode! So you don’t need to switch to manual focus just to be able to view the subject closer. In magnified mode, autofocus still works and you can see it much better. Unfortunately, as soon as you fire the shutter, the view goes back to normal. Hopefully, Fuji will either make this an option in the menu, or keep the magnified state even after the image is captured in future firmware updates.
The focus peaking feature seems to be the same as on the 2.0 firmware of the X-E1. It is nice, but I personally like the way Sony implemented focus peaking better. Fuji’s focus peaking looks pixellated/less detailed in comparison and there is no option to change peaking colors. A welcome addition is the new digital split image focusing that we’ve seen on the X100S first. Basically, as explained here, Fuji uses phase detection pixels from the sensor for the split comparison, which is a pretty cool idea. I tested it both on the X100S and on the X-E2 and it works really well, especially in magnified mode (yes, you can magnify even in split image mode!).