Fuji X-E1 Review

Fuji X-E1 Review

This is a review of my old Fuji camera. I’ve now upgraded and have written a review on my new Fuji X-Pro2.

If you have any interest in cameras, then you will already know about Fuji’s line of mirrorless cameras. Taking styling cues from ‘back in the day’ when things were made to last, Fuji have bought the ‘pro’ 35mm compact camera into the digital era with the ‘X’ line of digital cameras and lenses.

Fuji X-E1 Review - Mike Osborne Photography

I’ve always liked the idea of a compact camera, but being picky as to what I wanted from one, and not being able to find it meant I stuck to carting a DSLR about most of the time. My Olympus Trip often went with me on bike rides, but as much as I love film, it was a bit of a faff and I only ever shot a few frames on it each time. My iPhone, while can’t be beaten for ‘always-with-me-ness’ lacked the control/quality and was never going to match up to a DSLR.

If only there was a compact camera that could shoot raw, have really good image quality, (with a decent sized sensor), and looked really good, then that could be the answer. While there have been a few cameras come and go, none have ever been ‘right’, so I just carried on carting my DSLR around, often never getting it out the bag as I would often feel a bit of a jeffrey wielding a huge camera about at parties or in the pub. Plus everyone has a DSLR now. Just because I am a photographer doesn’t mean I want to look like one.

In roll Fuji.

These cameras seemed to tick every box. A good range of bodies, good lenses, looks to die for, and image quality to match. I read up a review of the X100 and started saving. My friend was also in the same photographic quandary, but he was just after a camera to replace his film P&S, and had been reading up a lot on the Fuji’s and their competitors. He decided to get the X-E1 – the baby brother to the X-pro 1 – as soon as it was available last year, but I carried on saving for the (now ‘upgraded’) X100s. Even though I liked the idea of interchangeable lenses, I thought as I had a DSLR with all of that malarky, the X100s would do me fine for snaps.

Then I started to read up on a few reports/reviews/whatever of the new Fuji cameras from notable photographic heavyweights (ie guys who know their stuff) and that got me thinking. What would I use this for? It’s pretty expensive just to be used as a p&s camera, especially as I’d still use my D700 for most other things. If I got a model with interchangeable lenses, then that would open up a whole new level, and allow me to get a lot more use out of it, which would be more of an investment, then maybe longer term, eventually replacing my DSLR setup?? The X-pro1 was still a bit too much, but the X-E1 made sense: It’s small; compact; light; and looks amazing. Add in the amazing 18-55 kit lens, (with it’s APS-c sensor runs up about 27-80ish equiv) and Fuji’s line up of (really good) XF range glass means it’s a very complete system.

After the first few shots I knew I’d made the right choice. Opening up the all-black box to see the XE-1 and it’s kit lens felt like Christmas. It’s light, (compared to a DSLR), but doesn’t feel cheap. The body is metal, the lens is made of metal and glass. The shutter speed dial is knurled metal and has reassuringly nice bumps as you rotate to select its B, T,  1/4-1/4000 in full-stops or A(uto) settings (like cameras of old). The buttons on the back have a weighty resistance to them when pressed. Things seem thought out. There was a lack of AF speed when it was released last year, but that has been fixed by firmware upgrades. I’ve not yet noticed anything that’s too much different to my DSLR. This isn’t a compact camera – this is a professional piece of quality kit in a small package.

You can let the camera do the work, (setting to ‘A(uto)’ on the lens and the shutter dial) or you can do it properly. Rotate the aperture ring, set the shutter speed and take a photo. That’s all it needs to do, but it does it very well. As a nice add on – being Fuji – you can also set it to shoot jpgs in film simulation modes – Velvia, Astia, Provia – as well as four monochrome (to simulate different filters (again like back in the day with B/W film), which is a nice touch. With my D700 I’m spoilt in low light, and this is often the killer with compact cameras – the otherwise good IQ disappears in a blurry mess of noise reduction. Not the case with the XE-1. Shooting at iso 3200, the noise (thanks to the Trans-X sensor) is very controlled and looks almost film like, run through Lightroom almost goes entirely. If it is too dark, then popup flash can be rotated up to bounce off ceilings. If it’s very dark, I can add on a speedlight, or hook up my skyports. Yes, the XE-1 will work with my studio flash. Pretty much all bases covered there. Also due to the Trans-X sensor, there is no need for an Anti-Alias filter. If you want to know why that is a good thing, then have a search in Google.

Suffice to say I can’t see myself buying another Nikon lens, or even another DSLR body for the foreseeable future.

If you want to read a proper review with photos of walls and resolution charts then there are a lot out there, but if you stumble across this, and you’re already thinking about the Fuji, go for it. You won’t be disappointed. I’ve not been shooting all that long with it, but I’m still amazed at what it can do. I have to say in most situations it’s easily on a par with my D700, and because of that it’s become my primary walkabout/travel/snapshot/do everything camera, and a solid second body for portrait work. (I will still keep the D700 for commercial work, that FX sensor is too nice) although I would like to give the XE-1 a go at that to see how it handles it.

I can see where I’d use this camera, and for me it makes a lot of sense. I hope it’ll get a lot of use especially in occasions where the DSLR is too much – lightweight travel, biking, exploring etc, but still need high-quality shots. It may not suit everyone, and it’s rather expensive if you don’t really have a need for it. Most people will know if they need it or not, and how to fit it into their current setup. Personally I’m really chuffed.

So as this was a sort of review, I better summarise.

Who’s the Fuji X-E1 for? –

  • Anyone who enjoys taking photos;
  • Anyone who remembers shooting on film on ‘proper’ cameras;
  • Anyone who can’t afford a Leica (most people);
  • Anyone who has a DSLR but doesn’t want to look a jeffrey carting it about all the time;
  • Anyone wanting very good quality images from a small package.

Who Won’t like it?

  • I can’t see people not liking it, but haters gunna hate.

Other points? 

  • It’s not a DSLR – may seem obvious, but don’t expect instant quick startup times (if that’s a decider – still takes less than a second) or other things like that. Work with it, not against it, and it’s a very, very capable camera. Moving from one system to another takes getting use to, but again, that’s just the world we live in now. Learning curves, not RTFM, and user error probably accounts for most peoples problems.
  • AF – Since the firmware updates this has been improved immensely. However the way it locks on to things to focus is slightly different to a DSLR, it takes some getting used to, but I can’t say I’ve missed shots on it that my DSLR would have got.
  • There are a couple of UX niggles that other people have noted, personally in my style of camera setup and shooting, I’ve yet to be bothered by them.

I’m very impressed. As said before I can’t see myself getting anymore DSLR kit unless I absolutely need to. There are third party adapters available so I hope to get one of those so I can use my existing lenses. Nikon 10.5mm Fisheye and Fuji X-E1?? I’m also very (very) tempted by the Fuji XF35mm f/1.4…

Bottom line? DSLR image quality in a package that is cheaper, more compact, nicer to look at, and personally nicer to carry about. For me, this is very close to the ‘perfect camera’.

For more images, check out my 500px thing.