Fujifilm X-E1 Review
The Fujifilm X-E1 is a new compact system camera featuring a retro design that bears more than a passing resemblance to its big brother, the X-Pro1. At the heart of the X-E1 is the same 16.3 megapixel APS-C sized “X-Trans” CMOS sensor, which has a colour filter array that mimics film grain and no optical low-pass filter for higher resolution images. The X lens mount has a short flange-back distance of just 17.7mm, and a new standard 18-55mm f/2.8-4 OIS zoom lens is available on launch which features a traditional aperture ring and an iris diaphragm with rounded aperture blades. The X-E1 has a 2.36-million-dot electronic viewfinder, a built-in flash, in-camera raw conversion, a range of film simulation modes, multiple exposure and panoramic shooting modes, a number of auto bracketing options and Full HD video recording capabilities. The Fujifilm X-E1 is available in all-black or silver and black and costs £749 in the UK and $1000 in the US body-only, or $1399 with the new 18-55mm f/2.8-4 OIS lens.
Ease of Use
The new X-E1 further expands Fujifilm's X-series of serious digital cameras, which includes the range-topping X-Pro1 and the popular X100, amongst others. As with the X-Pro1, the Fujifilm X-E1 is a classically styled interchangeable lens camera that recalls film rangefinders from the past, with a stunning retro design that draws admiring glances from everyone that sees it. At the same time Fujifilm have incorporated a lot of modern technologies that help ensure that the X-E1 isn't simply a blast from the past.
With five lenses available on launch, including the new 18-55mm kit zoom lens that we had in for review, the X-series family is gradually getting bigger. Smaller, lighter and less expensive than the X-Pro1, the X-E1 also dispenses with the innovative Hybrid optical/electronic viewfinder, replaced instead by a high-resolution OLED electronic viewfinder. The X-E1's rear LCD screen is also slightly smaller and has significantly less resolution, while a built-in pop-up flash is included for the first time.
Despite its signficantly lower price, the Fujifilm X-E1 is another amazingly well-built X-series camera, with absolutely no flex or movement in its chassis thanks to the die-cast magnesium alloy top and base plates and machined control dials. At the same time, it's actually much lighter than a first glance might suggest, weighing in at 350g body only with the battery and memory card fitted, a full 100g lighter than the X-Pro1. Measuring 129 (W) mm x 74.9(H) mm x 38.3(D) mm, it's very similar in size to the X100 camera. There are a few plastic buttons and controls on the X-E1, most notably the memory card / battery compartment door and the flap for the HDMI port, both of which wouldn't look or feel out of place on a cheap compact, but other that that the X-E1 offers excellent build quality.
The X-E1 has a subtle but effective hand-grip at the front and a space at the rear for your thumb, with your grip helped in no small part by the textured faux-leather surface that runs around the full width of the camera. Two small metal eyelets on either side of the body are used for connecting the supplied shoulder strap, which isn't quite as luxurious as the rest of the package. A metal tripod mount is positioned slightly off-centre from the lens and next to the memory card / battery compartment, so you'll have to remove the camera from the tripod to change either of them.
At the heart of the X-E1 is the 16.3 megapixel APS-C sized “X-Trans” CMOS sensor, with APS-C being a size that's more commonly used by the majority of DSLR cameras than by compact system cameras - Sony's NEX range and Samsung's NX series are the others. Fujifilm actually claim that the X-E1's sensor will deliver image quality that surpasses most APS-C DSLRs and even some full-frame ones, and as our test photos and sample images on the next two pages show , the X-E1 actually does live up to those claims. We won't say any more at this point other than to recommend that you take a look at our Sample Images for yourself.
Helping to keep the image quality high is the new 18-55mm zoom lens. This offers fast maximum apertures of F/2.8 at 18mm and F/4 at 55mm, with the added benefit of built-in optical image stabilisation to help keep your images sharp. There are aperture and manual focus rings on the lens barrel, which in conjunction with the shutter speed and exposure compensation dials on top of the camera body makes it straight-forward to set the exposure. We did find though that the aperture ring is easily moved, particularly when taking the lens on and off the camera, so watch out for an incorrectly set aperture. The 18-55mm f/2.8-4 OIS is a really nice standard zoom that's certainly a cut above the kit lenses that ship with most interchangeable lens cameras.
The 18-55mm lens' fast maximum apertures in conjunction with the large APS-C sensor make it easy to throw the background out of focus and achieve some really nice bokeh effects. The combination of the fast apertures and the extensive ISO range of 100-25600 makes the X-E1 very well suited to low-light shooting, allowing you to hand-hold the camera in places where you'd usually be reaching for a tripod (if allowed) or other support. The ISO Auto Control setting allows you to set a maximum sensitivity (up to 6400) with the camera automatically choosing the ISO speed, although it often tends to set an annoyingly too-slow shutter speed of 1/30th second when shooting in Aperture Priority mode.
With its focal-plane shutter, the X-E1 has a very adaptable top shutter-speed limit of 1/4000th second in all shooting modes. Consequently there's no built-in ND filter as on the X100, so if you want to use the 35mm lens at F/1.4 in very bright sunlight then it's a good idea to buy an actual glass ND filter (52mm).
The Fujifilm X-E1's auto-focusing speed is much improved when compared to the X-Pro1 on launch, with a quoted fastest auto-focus time of 0.1 seconds when using the 18-55mm zoom. DSLR owners accustomed to the quick reactions of their phase-detection cameras will likely find the still slightly perceptible delay of the X-E1 as it locks onto the subject mildly annoying, but it simply won't be an issue for the majority of owners. The X-E1 has 49 individual AF points laid out in a 7 x 7 grid, with the ability to change the size of the focus point via the rear command dial to achieve more precise focusing.
Manual focusing is activated by setting the focusing switch on the front of the camera to Manual and using the ring that encircles the lens to focus. The X-series lenses have an electronically coupled focus-by-wire manual focusing ring, rather than a physical one, which in practice is less responsive both in terms of feel and speed. It takes quite a lot of turns to focus from the closest possible distance to infinity, so many that as with the X100 it's still a much better idea to use the AFL/AEL button on the rear of the camera to set the focus automatically, then use the focusing ring to micro-adjust the focus manually, if required.
There's a handy blue distance scale along the bottom of the viewfinder and on the LCD screen if you're using that for composition, with a red bar indicating the the focusing distance and a white bar showing the depth of field, which actually changes in line with the current aperture - very handy. In addition to the AFL/AEL button, the X-E1 has another trick up its manual focusing sleeve in the shape of the rear command control (the dial which sits under your right thumb). You can press this in to magnify the view in the electronic viewfinder and rear LCD screen, making it much easier to judge precise focusing.
The X-E1 utilises a focal-plane shutter rather than the leaf shutter that the X100 has, much like a regular DSLR camera. This results in slightly noisier operation and a much slower flash-sync speed of 1/180th second (versus the X100's 1/400th second). To make the camera less obtrusive there's a Silent menu option which turns off the speaker, flash, AF-assist lamp and most importantly the artificially-created shutter-release sound, instantly making the X-E1 perfectly suited to candid photography.
The Fujifilm X-E1 offers two ways of composing your images. In addition to the 2.8 inch LCD monitor on the back, which offers 100% scene coverage and 460K dots, there's an excellent new electronic viewfinder, which has 2,360,000 dots and provides the same exact 100% coverage as the rear LCD screen, plus a parallax corrected view, accurate preview of exposure and depth of field, and the ability to see all of the information that you can view on the rear LCD. The Fujifilm X-E1's EVF is one of the best that you'll find on any compact system camera to date, and is so good that we hardly missed the X-Pro1's admittedly superb Hybrid optical/electronic viewfinder. The X-E1 also has a built-in eye sensor so that you only have to hold the camera up to eye-level to switch between the rear LCD and the electronic viewfinder (or you can press the View Mode button).
In terms of operational speed, the Fujifilm X-E1 isn't the fastest camera around, but it does represent a quantum leap over the X-Pro1. Shutter lag is virtually non-existent on this camera, so once you have set the focus, you'll never miss the moment because the camera can't fire the shutter quickly enough. The write speeds from pressing the shutter button to recording to the SD / SDHC / SDXC memory card are perfectly acceptable. Shooting a single RAW + Fine JPEG takes about 3 seconds to record to the card, a big improvement on the X-Pro1, and you can also take another shot almost straight away. Continuous shooting speeds are also good, with a top rate of 6fps for around 40 JPEGs or 10 RAW files, depending on the speed of your memory card, with a slower 3fps speed also available. Note that both the focus and the exposure are set according to the first frame in each series, so it's not a particularly good system for tracking fast-moving subjects in varied lighting conditions, Thankfully the camera no longer locks up completely for a long time if you shoot the maximum number of images in a burst, allowing you to continue shooting after just a few seconds.
One area in which the Fujifilm X-E1 excels is its handling, thanks in no small part to the numerous external controls that make changing the key settings a breeze, especially when holding the camera at eye-level. Surrounding the 18-55m lens is a circular aperture ring, although it has no markings due to the variable aperture. This dial also allows you to choose third-stop apertures, a big improvement on the X100's full-stop lens. On top of the X-E1 is a large, tactile control dial for setting the shutter speed, with settings ranging from 1 second to 1/4000th second, an Auto option, a T setting for longer exposures (2 to 30 seconds, set via the circular command wheel) and a Bulb mode for exposures up to a whopping 60 minutes in length. Alongside the shutter speed dial is another tactile dial for changing the exposure compensation (+-2EV) - together these three controls make it extremely easy to set the exposure.
|Memory Card Slot||Battery Compartment|
Four other controls complete the X-E1's top-plate. The small but responsive shutter release button is encircled by the On/Off switch, which in turn has a thread for a very traditional mechanical cable release - there's no need to buy an expensive dedicated accessory for this camera. Alongside is the Fn button, which by default provides quick access to the ISO speeds, but can be customised to suit your own needs from 12 different settings. Further customisation is available via the 7 Custom Menu options, which let you create, save and recall up to 7 sets of user-defined settings. Finally there's an external flash hotshoe for suitable dedicated external units, and the handy new built-in pop-up flash which has a guide number of 7 at ISO 200. This is released via the Flash button on the rear of the camera, and its clever hinged design positions it above the lens and helps to reduce red-eye.
The LCD screen is one of the few areas where the X-E1 compares less favourably with the X-Pro1. It's adequately sized at 2.8 inches and of moderate resolution (460,000 dots) which doesn't match the rest of the camera's high specification. I actually found myself using it much less than with a DSLR, due to the ability to use the menu system and review images via the electronic viewfinder, and you could conceivably turn off the LCD altogether to help eke out the 350 shot battery life even further. The LCD screen does have a handy Info view which presents all of the key settings at once, or you can switch to the Standard or Custom Live View modes, with the latter offering 14 customisable options (these are also used for the electronic viewfinder).
The Fujifilm X-E1 can record full HD 1080p movies at 24fps with stereo sound, with the option for turning this mode on curiously buried at the bottom of the Drive menu (you can, as with most things on the X-E1, customise this and assign the Fn button to the movie mode). It's fair to say that the X-E1's movie mode isn't overly advanced. You can set the aperture and shutter speed before recording begins, but not during, and you can also set the Film Simulation mode, so black and white footage is possible. Continuous auto-focusing is possible, although it tends to hunt around a lot before locking onto the subject, and manual focusing is also available (with the same caveats as for stills). There is a HDMI port for connecting the X-E1 to a high-definition TV, although as usual there's no cable supplied in the box. Also missing is a paper copy of the otherwise helpful manual, which is supplied on CD-ROM instead, along with the consumer MyFinepix software the slow and rather unintuitive RAW convertor (essentially a specially customised version of the commercial Silkypix application).
The X-E1 has a logical rear control layout. There's a vertical row of four buttons on the left of the LCD screen for choosing image playback, the drive mode, exposure mode and focusing point. Above the LCD are the Flash Release button and View Mode button for manually switching between the LCD and the EVF, and to the right are the rear control dial, customisable AFL/AEL button, activity LED and the Q button. This provides quick access to lots of frequently used shooting settings including the ISO speed, White Balance, File Size and File Quality, with the 4-way controller and command dial used to quickly change them. The 4-way controller is also used to change the shutter speed and aperture and toggle the macro mode on and off. In the middle of the controller is the Menu button, which accesses the Shooting and Set-up menus. Underneath is the Disp/Back button which is used for changing the LCD display or going back.