X-E1 vs. X-E2… since you asked

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Yeah, this is a gear post. Some folks have asked me recently about the Fujifilm X-E1 vs. the X-E2, and so here’s my way of responding. I was going to just move past talking about the gear for awhile since it is only contributing to an unhealthy fixation on the parts of photography that don’t matter all that much, but inquiring minds want to know, and who am I if not a soulless shill desperate for an audience?

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All of the photos in this blog were, of course, taken with one camera or the other. I’m not going to tell you which is which, because I honestly have no idea. They have essentially the same sensor, and take essentially the same quality of photos (hey, this might be foreshadowing). If you are looking for side-by-side 100% crops from each camera, then go ahead and click outta here. Likewise if you’re looking for the Youtube video where I focus both on things near and far and you listen for how fast the beeps come.

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The questions are coming, of course, because the X-E2 is newer, supposedly better, and currently $350 more expensive than its predecessor, the X-E1. Additionally, December 2013 brought some early Christmas gifts from Fuji in the form of significant firmware updates for the X-E1, bringing it closer in ability to the X-E2.

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I’m going to start by saying that the X-E2 is better than the X-E1 in just about every important respect. And when I say better, I don’t mean that it’s exponentially better, or incredibly better, or some other hyperbole. It is a refinement on the X-E1: the autofocus is quicker and more sure, the knobs and switches a little firmer so they don’t get knocked out of place. The EVF refresh is quicker in low light, the LCD is bigger and sharper, the continuous autofocus is more familiar to those of us who cut our teeth on DSLRs (I’ll come back to this in a minute). It’s just better all around, for the most part. The X-E1 keeps crawling a little closer to the X-E2, but the newer camera has fundamentally improved hardware that keeps it ahead of the X-E1.

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The question, of course, is whether or not it is enough better than the X-E1 to make it worth the extra expense, and that, of course, is where things get mighty murky. As I suggested at the the start, I use both cameras regularly, and interchangeably. I find that I tend to shoot the X-E1 for more deliberate landscapey stuff, mostly because my version of Lightroom can read the .RAF files from it, and because it has the View Mode button which makes it easy to toggle between the EVF and the rear LCD. The X-E2 comes out for people photos and other handheld work, where things are a little more on-the-fly and a more responsive body is handy.

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Do I ever reverse those roles? You betcha. Usually because one has the lens on it that I want to use and I don’t feel like switching over, not because one is better suited to something than the other. So why did I spring for the X-E2 if the X-E1 is essentially the same? Because I could, and because it IS better, and because, well, because I wanted to see for myself.

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One thing that would appear to be better on the X-E2 is the continuous autofocus. Instead of the useless and counterintuitive implementation on the X-E1, where you were limited to the center point and the camera focused constantly until you pressed the shutter (let’s see how fast we can drain that tiny battery), the X-E2 features a more familiar version, where you can choose any AF point you want, and the continuous tracking starts when you half-press the shutter.

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And indeed the X-E2 is better than the X-E1 in this regard, in the same way that a headache is better than a migraine–i.e., it’s still pretty painful (many thanks to the wife for coming up with that analogy!). Just because the X-E2’s version is more familiar doesn’t mean that it works. Best case scenario, it is nervous on a stationary subject, moving in and out of focus, seemingly not able to make up its mind. At worst, it’s just as completely useless as it is on the X-E1. I have a five year old, so I know what I’m talking about.

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It used to be that the X-E2 was easier to focus manually, but the newest firmware for the X-E1 leveled that playing field. Ditto for the auto-ISO, which is finally completely usable on either camera.

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So, really, which is better? As I mentioned, the X-E2’s autofocus is markedly faster and surer. For me, having +/- 3 stops of exposure compensation (vs. +/-2 on the X-E1) is a big deal, and makes my life easier. Having stiffer dials is nice, and means you are less likely to change settings while carrying the camera or putting it in and taking it out of your bag. The loss of the View Mode button on the X-E2 is extraordinarily irritating. The Wi-Fi is fun to play with for posting photos on the fly, but not something I consider a ‘must-have.’

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Basically, as always, it comes down to your particular needs and how you use your camera. If you shoot landscapes from a tripod and mostly use manual focus, then I’d say it’s essentially a draw. If you need maximum flexibility for a variety of different subjects, then the X-E2 might edge out the X-E1, especially if you need faster autofocus in low light. If you’re getting paid to shoot, you’ll probably opt for the X-E2 since those incremental improvements can make a big difference.

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For me personally, I’m glad to have both. Because I shoot weddings and portraits and depend on my gear to get the job done, I feel like I need the X-E2. However, it’s not so compellingly better that I felt the need to sell my X-E1 and replace it with a second X-E2 (if you’re getting paid, you DO have a backup body, right??). Generally I find them to be complementary bodies, and aside from a few cases of moved cheese (I’m looking at you, Q button), there’s not a lot of cognitive dissonance going back and forth between the two.

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Does that answer your question? I certainly don’t know. I hope, though, that gives you some helpful information to chew on, and will keep you from asking me about it for awhile, so we can go back to talking about the stuff that’s really important to good photography.

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  1. Heather on Jan 11, 2014 at 12:58 pm

    Excellent, real-life comparison Mark, and compliments on your witty style of writing. If I were thinking of buying an interchangeable Fuji at the moment, I’d probably be drawn to the X-E1 as I can trust Fuji to continue to provide it with firmware updates in the future. For now, I’m happy with the X100s.

  2. jim Dobbins on Jan 11, 2014 at 3:39 pm

    Refreshing ‘perspective’. Thanks!

  3. Jiri Ruzek on Jan 12, 2014 at 6:39 am

    Nice comparison. Thanks to similar articles I have bought X-E1 and my next body will be … perhaps X-E3? :)

  4. Jorge on Jan 13, 2014 at 9:40 am

    Great read Mark,
    I have the X-E1 with the 18-55, 35 and now the 10-24 on order. I was wondering about upgrading but the X-E1 just does such a great job the incremental upgrade for me may not be worth it; I’d rather put my $ into glass.
    Thanks again,

  5. Michael Shea on Jan 13, 2014 at 10:17 am

    Intelligent, well written and honest appraisal. I put it to you though that there can’t really be a draw between two cameras when one costs three hundred pounds or so less than the other. For my own part, I’ve already got an X-Pro1 and remain convinced that my own camera is superior to both. But for practical purposes, great results can be obtained by them all and as Heather rightly points out, it’s reassuring to know that Fuji will continue to improve them with firmware updates so we don’t need to change our equipment every few months.

  6. mschueler on Jan 13, 2014 at 10:38 am

    I never said there was a draw, I said that the X-E2 is better in pretty much every meaningful way. What I did say, though, was that IN SOME CIRCUMSTANCES, like landscape photography, some of those better things are essentially nullified in practice. I.E., if you always manual focus while shooting landscapes, then the faster autofocus of the X-E2 isn’t useful to you. They both have focus peaking now, and they both have exposure preview in manual mode, so functionally they are essentially the same.

    FOR ME, as I pointed out in multiple places, the newer camera is very much worth it and an improvement over the X-E1–I appreciate incremental improvements in autofocus and overall operation, as it can mean the difference between getting the shot and not. One thing that I failed to mention, and should have, is that the write speeds are VASTLY improved on the X-E2, which can make a big difference when shooting a burst, especially in RAW.

  7. mschueler on Jan 13, 2014 at 10:40 am

    Jorge, thank you, and I think that is a sensible approach. All things being equal, I’d definitely put the money into glass as well. In my case, I saved enough money by bundling the X-E1 and lenses that it more than covered the price difference between the X-E1 and X-E2. I also opted to pre-order a 56 f/1.2 over trading up the X-E1 for another X-E2.

  8. Ken Jacques on Jan 17, 2014 at 1:59 pm

    Thank you for your article. I have been an early adopter with the Fuji X Series. First my Xpro 1. Then in August the XE1 and now the XE2. Sold my Nikon gear and am now totally Fuji X Series and loving it. My blog: https://studio1231.wordpress.com has a new posting about being able to shoot sports. I covered 2 of the bowl games this past December and used the all 3 cameras. BUT, had great results with XE2 and the action of the game. Sample photos on the posting. Shot much of the action with shutter in the multiple bursts. How fun it is to be excited about photography again.

  9. Felipe Méndez on Jan 19, 2014 at 10:08 am

    Hi. First time reader. Got here looking for a E1-E2 comparison. I currently own an x-E1 but I messed the sensor up, and I don’t know wether to buy a new E1 or to upgrade.
    The thing that bothers me about the E2 is, as yourself, the lacking of the View Mode button. So the straight question is: can I customize the Fn2 button for that purpose?
    Thanks a lot.

  10. mschueler on Jan 19, 2014 at 10:14 am

    Currently no, and that’s what’s so frustrating. It would be ok if Fuji took the view mode button away but allowed us to map it to something else so we could have it back, but they didn’t. Hopefully it will get updated/fixed in firmware at some point, as I’ve yet to read a review that didn’t point it out.

    That said, that’s not reason enough not to get the X-E2… it’s really an improved camera in every other respect, and well worth it, IMO, with the qualifications I’ve enumerated in this blog.

  11. Murilo on Feb 1, 2014 at 10:18 pm

    Hi Mark, nice Review! Do you see any difference in image quality? I currently own a E2.

  12. Piers on Feb 3, 2014 at 1:11 pm

    Thank you for interesting discussion; I just disposed of XE-2 and bought a second XE-1 (definitely improved via software upgrades especially for live view of manual exposure).

    • I shoot RAW a lot under mixed artificial light and in LR 5 I could never totally get rid of magenta smearing from XE-2;

    • to my eye the XE-1 gives a more “honest” and perhaps also “traditional” looking image in terms of texture and colour (and yes, I like to review images in the EVF during breaks in otherwise continuous shooting so the review button is important);

    • I shoot mainly manual lenses or on manual focus setting – I would probably have appreciated the faster AF otherwise

    • my big regret – neither of these Fuji cameras can handle my Zeiss 21mm Biogon C as well as my Ricoh GXR with M-mount – which is pin sharp to the edges/corners, even though the EVF image is tiny and the sensor outdated…

  13. rob t on Apr 29, 2014 at 2:37 pm

    Great review and I am sure fuji will A… sack the designer who sliced view button and B… Future sware will allow mapping to fnct button… DO YOU HEAR US FUJI

  14. Jozef Povazan on May 2, 2014 at 2:37 pm

    I think you just made me believe I should try fuji and add it to my Nikon set as nice refreshment :) Thanks

  15. Joge Ledesma on Jul 13, 2014 at 9:59 pm

    Great post Mark, tough choice, personally I had the XE1 first then a few other Xseries and now the XE2 and I must say the XE1 is better in most ways over the XE1 its just more refined. I can’t recall if they both have the same bottom hole for the tripod, meaning if they are in the same position essentially so both could share perhaps an L Grip but other than that – XE2 wins.

    Great post once again, I like it.

  16. John on Sep 2, 2014 at 3:23 am

    Useful write-up. I’m looking at buying into the Fuji X system for those lovely lenses and with Wex selling new X-E1 bodies for £269 it was very tempting I think you’ve confirmed that it’s more than tempting – I’m going to get one. Thanks

  17. Bruce MacAlister on Nov 15, 2014 at 2:49 pm

    Thank you for your common sense evaluation. I just couldn’t stop myself from asking the Google “XE-1 vs XE-2” and I was relieved to hear that my now 15 month old decision is still holding up well!

  18. Bryan Miraflor on Dec 1, 2014 at 3:58 am

    Thanks for the article Mark! I was really wondering what you meant by the missing view mode button. Is that really not there on the X-E2 anymore? Would love to hear more about it. Thanks! -Bryan

  19. Gary on Dec 3, 2014 at 4:40 pm

    Thank you for the review. Now, if only I could return the X-E2 for my former X-E1…
    Seriously, I kept asking the salesperson at the shop I purchased the E1 to test lenses and they always put them on the E2 body. After a handful of trips and tests, I realized that the overall shooting experience was much more satisfying on the E2. It’s quieter, faster, and more pleasing to hold. This may sound crazy to some, but I opted for the upgrade rather than a new lens (I have the kit, the 27, the 60, and the XC50-230). The E1 served me well for the past year, but just didn’t in the end focus fast nor write as fast. And the screen and EVF are so much brighter and sharper on the E2. And since the most criticism of the E2 seemed to ‘focus’ on the missing view mode button, you might be interested to know that you can program this in one of the four function buttons on the camera – which is twice as many as were on the E1. And I’ve already sent several photos to my phone via the WiFi option and shared them with family and friends. Get the upgrade now while the E2 body is on sale, keep your lenses, and keep the E1 for emergencies or sell it. Really a no-brainer to me.

  20. Ken Carney on Feb 13, 2015 at 7:08 pm

    I ran across this while trying to decide what to add to my Fuji outfit. Excellent images – the one with the boy holding the defib paddles is superb.

  21. mschueler on Feb 23, 2015 at 11:59 am

    Yes, the View/mode button was eliminated completely. As others have pointed out, you CAN assign the function to another button (which I have done), but that still doesn’t fix the problem where you have to both shoot and review images either on the LCD OR on the EVF… with the X-E1, you could shoot via the EVF and review via the LCD, which is much more logical than the step backwards with the X-E2.

  22. Phil on Mar 13, 2015 at 3:56 pm

    Thanks for the review. I have a XE1 and I have thought about buying a XE2 or XT1. It sounds like the image quality is about the same between the XE1 and XE2, so I might just keep the XE1 until Fuji comes out with a new sensor with better image quality (XPRO2 ?).
    The improved AF and stiffer dials really sound good. I had to tape the exposure compensation dial down because it’s much too loose. However, I would like to have those features plus better IQ, so I suppose that I’ll wait to see what Fuji comes up with later in 2015.

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