When looking at cameras and lenses, there are so many choices to make, and with the cost of gear, it can be hard to make these choices without being informed. A large part of the work I do for this site has to do with gear reviews, and as such I have the opportunity to try a wide variety of gear. As such, I thought it might be helpful to put together a bit of an overview for each of the major mirrorless camera systems, to help in both deciding between systems as well as deciding between cameras and lenses once you’ve decided to dive in. First up: the Fujifilm X series. I plan on doing system overviews of Sony E-mount and Micro 4/3 as well, but I’m starting with Fuji for one simple (and random) reason: I have recently reviewed several MIcro 4/3 items and Sony items, with another in the works, so to mix up the coverage before the X-Pro 2 hits the shelves, let’s dive into the Fuji X Series first. Because of the scope of this topic, I’m going to break it up into two parts: Cameras and Lenses. Today we’re discussing the X-Series cameras.
What is the Fujifilm X Series?
Fujifilm debuted the X Series line of cameras with the fixed lens X100, which featured an APS-C sized sensor with a hybrid optical and electronic viewfinder and a 23mm f/2 lens. The X100 became somewhat of a cult camera and has since been followed up by the X100s and X100T, which further refine the X100 line of cameras. Fuji later added the X10 series of compact cameras (and more recently the X70, which also has an APS-C sensor and an 18.5mm lens). However, for this article, I’m going to focus on the interchangeable lens X series, which debuted four years ago.
The Fuji X series line of interchangeable lens cameras are centered around an APS-C sized sensor, and most of the cameras feature 16 megapixel sensors with Fuji’s unique X-Trans filter array. Only three cameras have been released with sensors other than 16MP X-Trans: the X-A1 and X-A2, which both feature a 16 megapixel Bayer sensor, and the brand new X-Pro 2, which has a 24 megapixel X-Trans sensor.
Fuji’s cameras are known for their retro aesthetic and control scheme, which are reminiscent of small SLRs and rangefinders from the 1960s and 1970s. Fuji has been a driving force for the inclusion of dedicated dials and buttons for major camera functions, which started with the first X-Series interchangeable lens camera, the X-Pro 1. The X-Pro 1 looks like a classic rangefinder camera with an offset optical viewfinder, dedicated shutter speed and exposure compensation dials, switches for changing focus mode and more. Almost all X-Series lenses have aperture rings as well, bringing back the classic control scheme from decades past. Some may prefer a more modern interface, but I frankly love the dial and aperture ring setup on the Fuji cameras. It allows you to see and adjust settings while the camera is off and instantly see how your camera is set to shoot. There’s also a great tactile element to the controls that many other cameras seem to lack. Since Fuji had some success with the X-Series, many other camera makers have started including these retro elements in their cameras as well. Exposure compensation dials have come back with a vengeance, and even aperture rings are appearing again on many other lenses, though usually as a ‘high-end’ touch.
Fuji has come a long way since the early days of the X-Series as well. The X-Pro 1 on release was a beautiful camera with very good image quality and a wonderful aesthetic. It was also practically a broken camera. The camera was laggy, slow, had infuriating interface elements and the autofocus was terrible. It even locked up the live view during focusing. Thankfully, not only has Fuji improved these things dramatically with more recent cameras, but the X-Pro 1 is a vastly different camera from where it was upon release, as Fuji has been one of the very best at providing firmware updates that not only fix bugs and improve performance, but also add brand new features and refinements. Nowhere is this more evident than on their current co-flagship, the X-T1. The X-T1 was a very polished camera when it was released, but has received three major firmware updates that have added a laundry list of new features and a complete overhaul of the autofocus system. Fuji calls this process of continuous improvement “Kaizen” and it’s one of the great things about the Fuji X Series…the camera you buy today will likely see notable improvements and new features over the ownership life. Fuji was at it again on February 4, as they released a new firmware for the two-year old X-E2, which adds almost every feature of the new X-E2s to the existing X-E2. For free.
What is X-Trans?
You’ve seen me mention X-Trans sensors a few times already, but let’s go a bit into what X-Trans is, as understanding the technology is important for those who plan on diving into the X-Series. X-Trans is the most controversial aspect of Fujifilm cameras, as it is a technology that adds some benefits while also throwing in some down sides as well.
In simplest terms, X-Trans is simply the design of the color filter array that sits on top of the image sensor. Almost all digital cameras made today use what’s called the Bayer color filter array. Digital sensors are inherently black and white: they measure the number of photons entering the silicon and, after some amplification and counting, deliver a number of brightness. To have digital sensors see color, a color filter array is placed over the sensor such that only green light, blue light or red light hits a particular pixel. The final color is then interpolated from that pixel and neighboring pixels to produce a color value for each pixel.
The Bayer pattern uses a row of alternating red and green pixels, followed by a row of blue and green pixels (offset so the green pixels are diagonal). The demosaicing of the data produced by the sensor yields a good representation of this color data. Since Bayer has been in use for so long, RAW converters have had decades to improve Bayer demosaicing, and most are quite good at it. Bayer is very good, but because individual lines lack one color (each line can only detect red and green or blue and green), this arrangement can lead to moire, which shows as false color rainbows in areas of very fine detail. Also, the Bayer pattern can lead to ‘stairstepping’ artifacts on diagonal lines. To help with both artifacts, many sensors have an anti-aliasing filter to soften incoming imaging and help eliminate moire. As sensor resolutions have increased, however, many camera makers are leaving out the AA filter since stairstepping (aliasing) isn’t so much of an issue at very high resolutions, though moire can still be a problem in the right circumstances.
Fuji wanted to create a filter array that would help eliminate aliasing and moire without the need of an antialising filter (which also cuts down a bit on detail). Their solution is X-Trans. The X-Trans filter array uses a repeating 6×6 grid, such that each line in the grid contains at least one red, green and blue pixel. As such, the demoisaicing produces results without aliasing issues or moire, even without an antialising filter, and it works well. I also find that color noise is exceptionally reduced with X-Trans, even at high ISO. On the down side, you’ll notice that the repeating pattern results in some blocks of four green pixels. This can result in some false detail artifacts, especially on green items, which can appear as a sort of watercolor type look, especially on foliage that is at a distance.
How much of the negative side you’ll see depends a lot on the RAW converter used. Unfortunately, Adobe ACR and Lightroom still tend to show the watercolor effect in some situations, but it’s far better than it used to be. Iridient Developer (Mac Only) and PhotoNinja both do a very good job with X-Trans details and avoid most of the pitfalls that can show up. I will say that for the most part, it ultimately doesn’t matter much in the final output. Both in print and for screen display, the final images look quite good.
Now let’s get into the specifics on the current X-Series:
Fuji X-Series Cameras
Fuji’s current camera line consists of 5 cameras with varying levels of features and styles. The line has what I would describe as two ‘flagship’ lines, with the brand new X-Pro 2 heading up the ‘rangefinder styled’ line and the X-T1 heading up the ‘SLR-Styled’ line. Due to the recency of release, the X-Pro 2 has the newest technology at the moment, but the X-T1 isn’t far behind, and a new X-T2 with all the new technology in the X-Pro 2 is expected to be released sometime in the near future. The next line is the ‘enthusiast’ line, which currently consists of the X-E2s (replacing the X-E2) and the X-T10. Again, these designs are split among rangefinder style and SLR style bodies. These cameras have similar sensor technology to the X-T1 and most of the features, but often are missing some of the higher-end items such as weather sealing or deep burst rate buffers. Finally, there’s the consumer-level cameras, which currently only consists of the X-A2 (which is identical in style to the earlier and now discontinued X-A1 and X-M1). This camera is the only current camera to have a Bayer filter array and is the only one to lack a viewfinder. The X-A2 has excellent image quality, but loses some of the retro control scheme and is constructed of cheaper plastics and lacks many of the features of the other cameras.
Let’s talk about the specifics of the current lineup:
The Fuji X-Pro 2 is the newest X-Series camera: it was just recently announced and won’t hit stores for a few more weeks. This camera is the successor to the original X-Series camera, the X-Pro 1 and features all of the latest technology from other recent cameras, plus adds a few new things that are firsts on an X-Series ILC.
The X-Pro 2 is a rangefinder styled pro-grade body made of magnesium allow and featuring full weather sealing for protection against moisture. It is the only body in the current lineup to feature Fuji’s unique hybrid viewfinder, which also appears on the X100 line of fixed lens cameras. This viewfinder combines a 2.36 million dot electronic viewfinder with a rangefinder styled optical viewfinder, featuring adjustable frame lines depending on the focal length of the lens in use. The frame lines also adjust for parallax when focusing close up to help you best capture what the lens sees. The optical finder in the X-Pro 2 has two magnifications: one for wide angle lenses and another for normal and short telephoto lenses. Longer lenses aren’t really good for use with the OVF, so switching to the EVF with longer lenses is the way to go. Like last year’s X100T, the X-Pro 2 also has the ability to overlay a small electronic focus patch on the optical finder, showing the true magnified sensor view of the selected focus point. This allows for focus confirmation or manual focus even while using the optical finder.
The camera is the first Fuji X-Series camera to have a sensor with greater than 16 megapixels, and the new 24 megapixel X-Trans III sensor shows great promise from the early image samples I’ve seen. It’s got phase detect points that cover nearly half the sensor for accurate continuous focus. Speaking of focus, the X-Pro 2 is said to have even further refined autofocus speed and accuracy compared to the latest firmware for the X-T1 and X-T10, both of which have quite good autofocus capabilities. Some independent tests I’ve seen are claiming speeds in low light faster than all other mirrorless cameras. I’ll be very curious to see how they’ve improved things, and when I get a sample to review, I’ll be sure to put the AF through its paces.
The camera also has a few new ergonomic additions, including a joystick for AF point selection and a combination shutter speed and ISO dial, which harkens back to old SLRs once again. It is loaded with features and has a fast 8 frame per second burst rate at up to 33 RAW and 82 JPEG images, dual card slots, +/- 5 Stop exposure compensation, an intervalometer, and more. Video, like all X-Series cameras, is limited to 1080p, but this is a camera that’s really designed for stills shooting, though frankly all the Fuji cameras are designed for stills shooting.
Am I interested? Well, I’m certainly intrigued. The rather high $1699 price tag for the body only tempers my enthusiasm somewhat, as I don’t think the value is there compared to the competition at that price. That said, it certainly seems to be a well specified body with some unique features and the only optical finder in a mirrorless camera (other than Leica rangefinders and the earlier X-Pro 1). I’m really excited to take one for a spin, and I’ll have a full review on the X-Pro 2 as soon as I can get my hands on one.
The X-T1 (review here) made waves when it was first released two years ago. The X-T1 has been the real flagship of the X-Series since its release, and Fuji has seen fit to continually update the camera with firmware updates, such that the X-T1 with firmware 4.3 (the current version as of this article) is a wildly improved camera from the already excellent camera the X-T1 was upon its release. The T series, including both the X-T1 and X-T10 is Fuji’s “SLR Styled” camera line, and features a center mounted viewfinder hump with a more substantial grip and a multitude of direct controls. It was also the first X body to feature weather sealing against dust and moisture.The X-T1 was firmly aimed at serious users, and people took to it in droves (at least, droves in comparison to the rest of the Fuji lineup).
The X-T1 has the same 16 megapixel sensor with phase detect points on sensor that the X-E2 and X-T10 also utilize, with similar performance to the rest of the X-Series cameras, save for the new X-Pro 2. The big differentiators with the X-T1 are the giant electronic viewfinder and the bevvy of direct controls and dials. Let’s start with the EVF. The EVF on the X-T1 is huge, with a generous 0.77x magnification, which provides a view larger than most any full-frame DSLR. It was the largest viewfinder on the market for 35mm and smaller sized sensors when released, and even two years later it’s among the largest. The Olympus E-M1 is close, and the Sony A7R II and Leica SL have since surpassed it in size (though only slightly). It’s a big, bright and clear viewfinder with excellent information overlays that rotate when shooting in portrait orientation.
The dials and levers on the X-T1 are its second big calling, with a dedicated shutter speed dial, an exposure compensation dial, an ISO dial, a shooting mode direct switch, a metering mode direct switch and numerous programmable function buttons. The X-T1 is also the only X-Series camera that has an accessory vertical grip. This makes it great for event shooting where long-term comfort is paramount. It also allows for an extra battery to use for extended shooting.
In all, the X-T1 hits all the right notes. The firmware upgrades since release have added 1/32,000s electronic shutter, a completely overhauled (and excellent) autofocus system, changes to spot metering, improvements to the EVF, new film simulations and much, much more. While the X-Pro 2 now supplants the X-T1 as the top end X-series body, the T1 is still worth a long hard look for anyone interested in the system.
The X-T10 (review here) is the X-T1’s little brother. When it debuted, it supplanted the X-E2 as the second fiddle in the X-Series lineup, with the new AF system (also now shared by the T1 and E2), more excellent direct controls and most of the features of the high-end X-T1. The T-10 is best thought of as a shrunken X-T1, with smaller proportions, no weather sealing, a shallower continuous burst buffer and a smaller viewfinder. However, those things aside. However, minus those features, the T-10 contains essentially everything else that makes the X-T1 a great camera. It’s a competitively priced body too, at $799. As I said in my review conclusion, the X-T10 is truly 90% of an X-T1 at 61% of the price. The X-T10 is a great body to consider as a backup to an X-T1, or for those who are on a tighter budget or simply want a more compact camera body. There’s not a lot more to discuss here, so let’s move on.
X-E2 / X-E2s
The Fuji X-E2 (review here) is the oldest camera in the Fuji lineup that’s still being sold today. However, I’d imagine that the original X-E2 will disappear from shelves in the next week or two as the X-E2s supplants it. The X-E2 was Fuji’s second rangefinder styled body that featured only an electronic viewfinder, and it was the body that first saw the major hardware improvements in the second generation of Fuji cameras that includes the X-T1 and X-T10.
The X-E2 followed closely on the heels of the successful X-E1, and features an identical industrial design to that camera. Inside, however, the camera changed dramatically. The X-E2 was the first Fuji ILC to have on-sensor phase detect focus points and the second interchangeable lens camera to have the faster processor that first saw light with the X-M1 (and the fixed lens X100s before it). As such, the X-E2 showed the first acceptable focus tracking for an X-Series camera and was an eminently complete camera upon release. While the X-E2 was upstaged somewhat by the X-T1 that followed, it has remained an excellent body with good performance since its release in December of 2013.
This past month, however, the X-E2 has gained new life. It’s being replaced by the X-E2s, which gains all the improvements and features that have been incorporated into the X-T line of cameras, such as the intervalometer, improved autofocus system, live EVF processing, electronic shutter and so on. The thing is: the improvements are essentially entirely firmware based. So what has Fuji done? Well, they’ve done something no other camera maker has done that I am aware of: they are allowing X-E2 owners to gain almost every single feature of the new X-E2s with a simple firmware update. Yes, firmware 4.0 for the X-E2, which was released on February 4, essentially turns the original X-E2 into an X-E2s. The X-E2/X-E2s effectively gains feature parity with the X-T10 as well, leaving only one choice when deciding between the X-E2/X-E2s and the X-T10: do you want a rangefinder styled body or an SLR styled body. Pick that and the rest will be an almost identical experience.
The X-A2 is the budget member of the X-Series lineup, and follows the X-A1 and X-M1 that came before it (both of which have been discontinued). The X-A2 is constructed with a plastic exterior and lacks the shutter speed and exposure compensation dials that are present on the other X bodies and instead sports a standard PASM mode dial and two control wheels. The X-A2 series feels cheap in comparison to the metal bodied cameras that fill the rest of the line, but the image quality is still stellar.
The X-A2 has simplified controls, no phase detection and is definitely geared towards the casual shooter. However, there is one thing that makes the X-A2 worth a look for many shooters: it’s the only X-Series camera with a standard Bayer color filter array. For those who don’t like the look of X-Trans files, the X-A2 is the ticket to those great Fuji lenses without X-Trans. I haven’t had a chance to use the X-A2, though I owned an X-M1, which has a similar construction and design, and quite enjoyed the little guy. The X-A2 comes in at an affordable $549 including the rather nice 16-50mm kit lens.
So that concludes my discussion of the X-Series camera bodies Fuji offers three tiers of cameras to cater to three different classes of camera, with both the top and middle tiers giving you a choice of body style. The X-Pro 2 and X-T1 fulfill the serious shooters needs and provide a choice of rangefinder or SLR styled bodies. Similarly the X-E2s and X-T10 fill similar roles for the enthusiast. Finally, the Bayer sensor X-A2 rounds out the consumer level in the X-Series. I think most serious shooters would be happy with any of the top four cameras in the Fuji lineup, though those who don’t like the look of X-Trans will be left wanting. Look for a discussion of the outstanding X-Series lenses when this discussion continues.