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Apr 17

Review: Fujifilm X-E1

Fujifilm X-E1

Fujifilm X-E1

Fuji is a relative newcomer to the mirrorless game, and they’ve taken a different strategy than the other players in this market. Fuji has eschewed the entire low-end market and decided to focus on prosumer and professional users exclusively.

Last year, they introduced the X-Pro 1, a relatively large body with a hybrid optical and electronic viewfinder, along with three solid prime lenses. A few months later, the Fujifilm X-E1 was announced, featuring the exact same 16 megapixel X-Trans sensor in a smaller package with a better electronic viewfinder, at the expense of the optical finder.

So, let’s take a look at how this rangefinder style mirrorless body stacks up with the growing competition in this market segment.

Note: this review was originally written after reviewing the camera with Firmware 1.05.  Updates have been made when newer firmware versions have added features or improved camera operation.  These notes will be in italics following the original text of the review.  Substantial portions of the conclusion were revised after release of firmware v. 2.0.

If you’re not familiar with my reviews, I review from a real world shooting perspective. You won’t find lens charts or resolution numbers here. There are plenty of other sites that cover those. I review products on how they act for me as a photographic tool. I am not a videographer, so my reviews concentrate on the still imaging capabilities of a camera.

Body and Ergonomics

The rear of the Fuji X-E1

The rear of the Fujifilm X-E1

The Fujifilm X-E1 follows the rest of Fuji’s recent offerings with a distinctly retro style. The camera looks an awful lot like a classic rangefinder, minus the rangefinder window and optical viewfinder. It comes in silver or black and the main body is wrapped in a black leatherette, recalling SLRs and rangefinders of the 1960s and 1970s.

The main body is made of a thin-walled metal, and while the leatherette itself isn’t very grippy, Fuji has included an extra rubber grip on the front edge that makes the grip on the camera secure. The camera looks quite boxy and appears larger than it really is, even when you’re holding it. It’s very similar in size to the Olympus OM-D, being just a little wider, but also shorter due to the lack of a viewfinder hump. I find the camera rather comfortable to hold for the most part, and controls are very easily accessible. The only odd ergonomic item is the positioning of the AF button, which is a little awkwardly placed at the left edge. I’d have preferred a top plate or thumb accessible button for this, so that it was easier to change the focus point while the viewfinder is up to your eye.

Update: With firmware v.1.06, Fuji has added the ability for the down arrow on the four-way controller to act as a programmable function button.  By default, this is set to control focus area selection.  The Fn button can also now be programmed to allow for focus area selection.  Having AF point selection on the down arrow makes selecting the focus point tremendously easier when shooting.  Thanks, Fuji!

The X-E1 exhibits what I’ve started referring to as “Fuji Faux Build Quality.” That makes it sound worse than it is, but with the X-E1 as well as most of the lenses, they are generally quite well-built, but there’s always at least something that keeps it from being impeccably built. With the 14mm f/2.8, it’s the slightly loose hood and loose aperture ring, with the 18-55mm f/2.8-4, it’s the plastic zoom barrel (while everything else is metal), with the X-E1, it’s the misalignment of seams.

Misaligned seam on bottom of Fujifilm X-E1

Misaligned seam on bottom of Fujifilm X-E1

Overall, the build quality of the X-E1 is on a relatively high level, but there are little tiny annoyances that let you know that they cut corners a bit. First, the metal used is very thin-walled. This was likely a design choice, as the X-E1 is surprisingly lightweight (and lighter than most of its competitors), but it makes it feel a little cheaper than it would otherwise. But the biggest annoyance with the build is the fact that several seams on the bottom (and one on the top left) aren’t lined up properly, and there are some other minor niggles. For instance, the leatherette on the front of mine is very slightly lower than it should be, which exposes a tab that holds the top plate on. There is a horribly placed seam on the rear of the camera, just above the battery door, that looks like a crack on the silver version, but it’s just a visible seam. Also, when attaching the optional hand grip, the tightening of the screw actually causes the rear of the body to flex out a bit, and when you squeeze, you can then hear creaks from the flexed body. Still, it’s held up well, but I expect better tolerances in this area. Eventually, I forgot about 99% of these items as I used the camera, but it’s still worth noting.

The shutter button sits inside the camera’s on/off switch, and both are very easily operated. The shutter button is also old-school, featuring a threaded button that takes any manual cable release. It makes it cheap and easy to use a remote release, and pretty simple to find one in any town too.

As a quick note, the Fuji X-E1 has a pretty understated shutter sound.  It’s rather quiet and has a very pleasing and discreet sound.  It’s about the same volume as the Olympus OM-D’s shutter, but has a more pleasing click, rather than the ‘whirr-thunk’ of the OM-D.

Viewfinder and Screen

The Fujifilm X-E1 features a 2.4 million dot electronic viewfinder (EVF) that sits on the left corner of the camera, and adds no bulk to the camera at all. Due to the size of the camera, the corner position doesn’t bother me on the X-E1 like it did on the Sony NEX-7. In good light, the X-E1 viewfinder is extremely high-resolution and has a good contrast curve, leading to a nice clear view. In some cases, it’s the best EVF I’ve used…however, ideal conditions don’t always exist, and in less than ideal conditions, the EVF loses that edge. In good light, it’s not quite bright enough. While still definitely quite usable, it is noticeably dim in bright sunlight. In dim light, it gets quite laggy (though thankfully it doesn’t get noisy as well). This is especially noticeable when using a slower lens. In some cases, it can make it difficult to manually focus in dimmer light because of the pronounced lag. If the lag and brightness are improved in the next generation, it’ll be a beautiful finder.

The X-E1 doesn’t feature focus peaking, but is generally clear enough to allow for accurate manual focus. Update: With firmware version 2.0, Fujifilm has added focus peaking to the X-E1.  In-focus areas are now outlined in high contrast white to facilitate easier manual focus.  It works rather well, though the addition of other colors would be welcome.  Fujifilm has promised additional peaking colors in a future update. Also, Fuji made a rather brilliant usability addition with focus peaking.  If you press and hold the rear command dial for a second when in manual focus mode, it will change between Focus Peaking and Standard manual focus modes, allowing you to turn on and off focus peaking without ever going into a menu.

It is also easy to enter a magnified view by clicking on the secondary dial on the rear of the camera. This is great, except that for some reason, you can’t magnify the view when the camera is writing to the memory card. This is a critical, and frankly quite stupid, flaw. The sensor is obviously accessible, as more photos can be taken, and the EVF itself still operates just fine, but you can’t magnify until the files are finished writing, and this can lead to a very annoying delay and the missing of some shots when using manual lenses. I have to imagine this can be fixed with a firmware update, but I can’t understand why it hasn’t been done yet.

The rear screen is a 460k dot unit that is generally clear, but is a little behind the times with its current spec. It’s just fine overall, but in harsh sunlight, it’s just not bright enough and gets completely washed out, making it essentially a requirement to use the EVF.

Next: Operation and Menus:

About the author

Jordan Steele

Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Admiring Light; Photographer; Electrical Engineer and Dad

16 comments

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  1. Andrei @ andreinicoara.com

    This is a very thorough review! Thanks.
    I find the Fuji X cameras very photography focused. When I pick my Canon dslr, or a P&S, even a m4/3 I feel I need to look at menus, options, change settings. With my X-E1 I can just pick it up and shoot.
    I never really thought I would like manual controls, but they just “feel” right.

  2. Jorg

    Love my X-E1 and both the 18-55 and the 35. I find myself using this camera and lens combo much more often now than my D700, or D800. Who wants to carry a dSLR if they don’t have to? Not me.

    I still use the D700 and D800 for tripod work, and weddings but I would not hesitate to take the X-E1 to an event.
    Thanks for the review. It is not all rosy — especially the focus issue. I also did not see the “seam” issue on my X-E1 body that you show in your images. That’s weird. Maybe they fixed this QC issue?

    Later,
    J

    1. viktor

      For Jorg!
      Love my X-E1 and as 18-55 and 35.
      See the difference in picture detail if you shoot at 35 mm focal length lens (XF18-55mm F2 ,8-4 R LM) against XF35mmF1.4 R.
      Sincerely,
      Victor

  3. NotDarkYet

    I think it is a major quirk that you need to press the AF-Button in order to be able to move the focus area.
    While looking through the EVF this is just awkward.
    The AE-Button is somewhere between my nose and my cheek and I have a hard time to find it without taking the camera down.
    Don’t you have the same problem?

    1. Jordan Steele

      I do say ” The only odd ergonomic item is the positioning of the AF button, which is a little awkwardly placed at the left edge. I’d have prefered a top plate or thumb accessible button for this, so that it was easier to change the focus point while the viewfinder is up to your eye.”

  4. NotDarkYet

    You are right, sorry, I missed that one.
    However why do I need an extra button?
    On my 7D I can move the focus points without pressing any extra buttons.

    Even if I have to press an extra button: The buttons up, left and right of the selector all already taken, but the button down is available: Pressing the down button once enters the focus selection mode.

    I just hope somebody at Fuji reads your blog and changes that in the next firmware update.

    BTW: You have created some truly beautiful pictures for this review!

    1. Jordan Steele

      What I’d really like is for them to put a touch screen on the back in addition to direct focus point adjustment. I originally thought it was a gimmick, but having owned several touch screen cameras now, it’s truly great to just be able to touch where you want the focus point to be. Even bringing the camera down from your face it’s fast to switch. (Note I’m not wanting a touch screen instead of direct button controls (never), but in addition to…

      My biggest hope for the next firmware update (aside from continuing to improve AF) is the fixing of the magnification problem, where you can’t magnify an image in manual focus if the camera is writing to the card. It kills me when I use an adapted lens.

  5. Luis

    Hi Jordan, great review! I just bought Sonar 90 and have not yet bought the adapter, could you tell me what are you using? Thanks

    1. Jordan Steele

      I’m using a cheap e-bay adapter that looks like a knockoff of the Kipon adapter. It works fine. It turns easily, but can stick a little bit throughout the range. The longer you leave it on, though, the smoother it gets. If you want really smooth focusing, I hear the metabones is the way to go, but it’s heavy and expensive.

  6. Roger

    Great review, thank you. I am strongly leaning towards a purchase of the X-E1. Fuji has very recently released a software update to address focus issues with both the ProX1 and the X-E1. Was your review with the new update? If not will you be updating and letting us know if it makes as significance a difference as Fuji indicates on their website. Thanks

    1. Jordan Steele

      I’ve been shooting with the latest firmware since I got the camera (1.04). All lenses are up to date as well. The next update that was recently announced won’t be available until the May-July timeframe. If there is a significant change, I’ll update the review at that time.

  7. Laurence

    I’ve been excruciatingly patient in holding off on purchasing one of the new Fuji X-Series cameras. However, this one is starting to talk to me in a big way. Your honest review with not only the good points, but the dirt too, is really an informational dream. I’m still limited on my budget, but I think I can swing into a body-only XE-1 for $600-$700 if I’m just a little patient about it. I find that there is an M42 adapter available, and my old but amazing Zeiss Ultron 50/1.7 screw mount ought to do well in carrying the image to the sensor. Thank you for one of the better reviews I’ve read anywhere.

  8. Caner

    Hi Jordan. I’m very glad to read this detailed review. If you don’t mind, i’m wonder that what did you apply on first photo above in ps? Thank you.

  9. SRK

    The latest firmware solves the problem of the awkward placement of the AF button on the lower left of the Fujifilm X-E1. You now have two other choices; the FN button can be programmed to serve that function, as can the lower arrow in the 4-way controller. The latter seems the better choice. Just one click on the lower arrow to open up the focus point screen, then your finger is already in position to make adjustments. It works smoothly.

    1. Jordan Steele

      Yes indeed. That is why, when Firmware 1.06 was released, I added the following text to the review: “Update: With firmware v.1.06, Fuji has added the ability for the down arrow on the four-way controller to act as a programmable function button. By default, this is set to control focus area selection. The Fn button can also now be programmed to allow for focus area selection. Having AF point selection on the down arrow makes selecting the focus point tremendously easier when shooting. Thanks, Fuji!”

  10. Chris

    Thanks for the nice reviews. They are always well written and supported by some fine images.

    I am considering the XE-1 + 27mm f2.8 both of which you have reviewed. One of the reasons is the cropped 1:1 aspect ratio it offers, as an easy alternative to shooting 6×6 film . One question though, how does the cropped 1:1 aspect ratio affect the focal length of the lenses?

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