Continuing the Love Affair — A Practical Review of the Fujifilm X-E1

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It’s hard to know where to start. For one, I don’t love writ­ing reviews, with lots of tech­ni­cal infor­ma­tion and 100% crops and stuff like that. For another, this cam­era has been out for awhile now, and I don’t know that I have a lot to share, other than my own expe­ri­ence with, and opin­ions of, the Fuji sys­tem. I will say that before I bought the Fuji­film X-E1, I had a hard time find­ing reviews with lots of photo sam­ples. They’re out there, but many are sur­pris­ingly unhelp­ful. This is not a dig on all the other review­ers, because I found some good opin­ions and some fab­u­lous pho­tos. Rather, I think this is a cam­era that’s a lit­tle out of the spot­light, maligned as it was for so long with poor aut­o­fo­cus and quirk­i­ness. So, I’ll try to address some things that maybe weren’t cov­ered in other reviews or write-ups. I’m also going to just put in a lot of pho­tos from the stuff I’ve been shoot­ing, and let them speak for themselves.

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To col­lect the pho­tos for this blog, I tried to use the X-E1 in as many dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tions as pos­si­ble, and to try to shoot it more or less like I have shot with DSLRs since 2006. I shot por­traits, I shot street pho­tog­ra­phy. I tried action, and wildlife, lifestyle and events. I pulled it out at a wed­ding for can­dids, and it has accom­pa­nied me vir­tu­ally every­where since it arrived. I started with the Fuji­non 18mm f/2, 35mm f/1.4, and 60mm f/2.4 macro, and then added the won­der­ful 55–200 f/3.5–4.8 tele­photo zoom. Most recently I’ve added an EF-20 speed light, which I’ll be try­ing out soon. In some sit­u­a­tions, the lit­tle retro cam­era shined. In oth­ers, it stum­bled. Mostly, though, it’s been fun, and a great reminder of how lit­tle the cam­era really mat­ters when it comes to mak­ing photographs.

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That last bit was so impor­tant I’m going to say it again, but a lit­tle differently: I had to change some things, had to adjust to lenses that zoom and focus by turn­ing the wrong way, had to find new hand posi­tions and brac­ing and quick ways to get through menus. I had to approach my shots a lit­tle dif­fer­ently, to time my moments in a dif­fer­ent way. In the end, though, my pho­tographs still look like my pho­tographs. There is no mis­tak­ing that. The cam­eras, lenses, and acces­sories have changed over and over, but my pho­tographs are unmis­tak­ably me.

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I am no stranger to small, mir­ror­less cam­eras… I have been try­ing to find one to replace my DSLR for years. I started with the Pana­sonic GF-1, con­tin­ued on to the excel­lent Olym­pus OM-D EM-5, and finally have set­tled here, on the Fuji X-E1. The Olym­pus is prob­a­bly the best per­former over­all, and as a sys­tem, one of the most com­plete cur­rent offer­ings. It was the files, how­ever… the lovely, rich images of the Fuji that won me over in the end. I just couldn’t ignore those images, or the won­der­ful lenses that helped pro­duce them, or the man­ual con­trols that fall so effort­lessly to hand.

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Some things of note:

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I don’t know what else to tell you, really (remem­ber, I said I don’t really like writ­ing reviews). I could go through every­thing sys­tem­at­i­cally and tell you what it does and doesn’t do, but that wouldn’t really tell you what you need to know. What I can tell you is this: it is now pos­si­ble to replace your DSLRs with a mir­ror­less cam­era, in my opin­ion. That’s not true for every­one, or for every­thing, but I’m in the process of doing just that. I’m keep­ing around one DSLR for awhile, as a safety blan­ket, to see if it ever gets used. I’ll bet it won’t, but we’ll see.

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The aut­o­fo­cus on this cam­era is some­times frus­trat­ing, and the 18mm lens has a ten­dency to back focus some­times when your sub­ject is heav­ily back­lit. Any­thing you put in the hot­shoe par­tially cov­ers the shut­ter speed dial. The expo­sure com­pen­sa­tion dial is too easy to move.  For­mat­ting a card requires too many but­ton pushes, and chang­ing ISO isn’t quick enough. The bat­ter­ies don’t last long enough (though good bat­ter­ies are rel­a­tively cheap), and it’s irri­tat­ing that the cam­era names files in a sequence dif­fer­ently than oth­ers. The diopter adjust­ment doesn’t have an indi­ca­tor for the neu­tral posi­tion, and Auto ISO is incom­pre­hen­si­bly use­less, espe­cially con­sid­er­ing it’s 2013 and all cam­era mak­ers should have fig­ured out how to cor­rectly imple­ment this by now (but remem­ber, I said the X-E2 fixes this stuff). Fuji needs to make a new flash bracket so you don’t have to punt on bounce­able speed­light options.

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I love the thing. The cam­era, four lenses, four extra bat­ter­ies, and a bunch of SD cards all fit in the very small­est bag I used for my DSLRs (a Tam­rac Adven­ture Mes­sen­ger 4, for the curi­ous). No-one takes the cam­era seri­ously, until they see the pho­tos. The cam­era and I are vir­tu­ally invis­i­ble. It’s quiet, it’s unas­sum­ing. The aut­o­fo­cus is accu­rate, the lenses sharp. The col­ors are beau­ti­ful, the elec­tronic viewfinder emi­nently usable. My hands don’t get tired using it, and my back is so thank­ful. The lenses are rock solid and a delight to use.

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I packed up my 5D Mark III this morn­ing and sent it on to its new owner. It was the best cam­era I ever had in most ways. Things are chang­ing, and some folks aren’t will­ing to haul around fifty pounds of gear all the time. Dig­i­tal is dif­fer­ent. Not every­one needs to be able to shoot clean ISO 12,800 with 22mp. Some­times 16mp and ISO 1600 are more than enough, when com­bined with a com­pelling sub­ject and good light, to tell your story best.

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I would wager that a lot of folks are like me, wait­ing for that moment that a smaller cam­era can replace a big­ger one. Folks who have appre­ci­ated the advan­tages of smaller cam­eras, but been dis­ap­pointed by per­for­mance or image qual­ity. Folks who con­tinue to lug around a DSLR because they don’t think there’s any­thing else around that is as good, or as flex­i­ble, or as fast.

Folks who are won­der­ing if there will ever be a mir­ror­less cam­era that can defin­i­tively replace their DSLRs.

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I can’t speak for every­one, of course, but I can tell you that for me, that just hap­pened. I finally have the cam­era that con­vinced me to let go of all that weight. A cam­era that reminds me to focus on the moment, the the pho­to­graph, and the idea. To com­mu­ni­cate the emo­tion, to con­vey the expe­ri­ence. I’m not sug­gest­ing a DSLR can’t do that… I’m sug­gest­ing that ANY cam­era can do that, if it works for you.

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6 Comments

  1. Ed Dombrowski on Oct 29, 2013 at 5:28 am

    Thanks for the write up Mark. I took pretty much the same path you did. I had a full Nikon sys­tem and added the GF-1, then the OMD. Micro 4/3rds was going to be my final des­ti­na­tion until I bought an X100s while sell­ing all the Nikon gear. I have now set­tled on Fuji and am very happy. I think what you said is so impor­tant. It may not be for every­one (pure wildelife and sports shoot­ers may not be happy) but if you shoot a vari­ety of things you can make just about any pic­ture, but you might have to change your process a lit­tle. I am mostly a peo­ple pho­tog­ra­pher but I do like to do some action once in a while. I can make it work but pre­fo­cus and tim­ing tend to work best rather then con­tin­u­ous AF and machine gun approach. Any­how, thats such a small per­cent­age of my shoot­ing that it doesnt make sense finan­cially to keep a whole dslr sys­tem just for that.

  2. Tim on Oct 29, 2013 at 3:49 pm

    Not *that* many peo­ple have shot both the OM-D and Fuji X’s; your com­ment that the Oly is “prob­a­bly the best per­former over­all…” fol­lowed up quickly by plugs for the Fuji image-quality/controls, is provoca­tive. If you wanted to say some more on the sub­ject I bet lots of peo­ple would be interested.

  3. mschueler on Oct 29, 2013 at 4:49 pm

    Tim… I will try to do that! I wish I had them side by side to do a bet­ter com­par­i­son, but the crux of it is this: the OM-D is ulti­mately lim­ited a bit by its sen­sor, it has some fid­dly but­tons, and the dials could be a lit­tle bet­ter. I also didn’t love its Auto-WB or its JPEG ren­der­ing, neces­si­tat­ing shoot­ing in RAW most of the time. How­ever, it has great lenses, is weather proofed, has a great touch­screen LCD that can tilt and you can press to focus (very use­ful!!), and aut­o­fo­cuses notice­ably quicker than the X-E1 (which I would just cat­e­go­rize as “good enough”). The new Olym­pus EM-1 looks to address a lot of those issues, but again, is ulti­mately lim­ited by the sen­sor. If you don’t need high ISOs, it may be the bet­ter cam­era over­all. If you do, I pre­fer the Fuji.

  4. Jiri Ruzek on Oct 30, 2013 at 4:30 am

    I am cur­rently in a half of the same process of exchange, in my case from Nikon D700. Just wait­ing for X-E2. Thanks for the arti­cle. Jiri

  5. Simon Peckham on Oct 30, 2013 at 1:57 pm

    Great review Mark. Plenty of images and info on my blog fol­low­ing 2 years with the x100 and X-E1. Prac­ti­cal every­day stuff rather than pixel peep.

  6. Joe S on Jan 6, 2014 at 3:55 pm

    After updat­ing to firmware 2.10 (avail­able Dec. 19, 2013) on the X-E1, the auto-iso works very nicely.

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