Fuji X-E1 review: the perfect travel camera? | Zarek Rahman

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I have tested a few of the newer advanced mirrorless cameras this year (Panasonic GX1, Olympus E-M5, Fuji X-Pro 1) and the X-E1 is absolutely my favourite. First, a few notes on the camera:

  • The size is comparable to the Fuji X100 with the only difference being the lens protrusion. This doesn’t bother me much since it was never going to be a pocket camera anyway. It works great with a wrist strap or even a neck strap. The camera fits well in my hand, but I do think the addon grip may be a good idea if using only a wrist strap as it can be difficult to keep hold of the camera while walking around given its slim profile.
  • The build quality is good and it feels solid to me. I have the black model, and the paint has already started to chip off around the popup flash area. It’s very minor and could easily be filled in with a black pen. It is very stealthy and nobody batted an eyelid when I pointed it at them. I blacked out the X-E1 logo on the front with a black chinagraph (grease) pencil because I think it stands out way too much.
  • The camera is very responsive and settings changes are immediate. Usability is much, much better than the E-M5 which I found was a little sluggish to respond when turning the dials.
  • The image quality is absolutely outstanding (on par with the X-Pro 1) and is astonishing given the camera’s APS-C sensor size. With the 35mm lens in particular, it is on par with the my old Nikon D700 (a full frame beast). High ISO noise is very well controlled. I don’t do much ISO 6400 shooting, but when I did noise was certainly not a factor when reviewing the files.
  • Developing the files in Lightroom is a little painful, if only because Lightroom seems to load X-Pro1 & X-E1 files at about 1/8th of the speed it loads normal RAW files. I wasn’t concerned with any of the smearing junk that people babble on about. It just didn’t affect any of the photos I took enough for me to care.

While it does indeed sound like the perfect travel camera, there are some things that really piss me off about this thing:

  • Fuji needs to implement a minimum shutter speed for auto ISO. The X100 has it, so I can’t understand why their ‘pro’ class doesn’t. The camera chooses 1/equiv focal length which is OK for the 35mm lens (it chooses 1/52), but rubbish for the zoom – 1/30 at 18mm is pretty useless for most things.
  • While auto ISO works in manual exposure mode, the exposure compensation dial does not. This is stupid, because you can’t adjust the ISO setting the camera chooses automatically. My Nikon cameras have this and I use it all the time. And yes, I know how to choose a manual ISO speed – but that doesn’t mean it’s the only way to do things.
  • The AF point selection drives me nuts. I don’t see any reason to have to press the stupid AF button first. The 4-way selector should just allow you to move the points. The ‘macro’ button should be moved to where the AF button is.
  • The thumb wheel dial thing is totally underused. It does come in handy for zooming in to check images at 100% though (press it inwards in viewing mode).
  • The EVF was an initial point of concern. I’m used to using optical viewfinders so this was kind of new to me, but I am totally happy with how it is implemented. It behaves more or less like an optical viewfinder (it’s not WYSIWIG in manual mode) and the lag is minimal. I don’t really like how the ‘view mode’ button works. There should be an option to have ONLY the EVF on, and just switch off the LCD completely during shooting, only having it come on to review images.
  • The battery life is actually better than I expected, but still poor overall. I carried around 2 spares with me and only ended up having to use one of them towards the end of each day. I mostly used the EVF with the LCD set to the info pane. I guess this uses the least battery power of the available combinations.
  • The flash bounces easily and has enough power for smaller rooms with light ceilings. I wish there was an easier way to control the flash compensation though, and I don’t understand why you can only compensate up or down by 2/3 of a stop.
  • When set to lock exposure, AF-L/AE-L does not lock white balance. This is irritating if you are trying to take photos to stitch later and the colour temperature changes between each frame (e.g. in mixed lighting situations).

Overall, the camera works very very well. To get the most of it though, you do have to treat it differently than you would a DSLR. So here’s another bunch of bullet points about the main differences and how I deal with them:

  • Single point AF is the only real usable autofocus mode on this camera. The continuous AF mode is a waste of time. If you want to take photographs of moving subjects or action, then you need to anticipate where the subject is going to be, pre-focus to that area and then sit tight and hope they walk into that spot before you hit the shutter fully. If you try and treat this camera’s focus system like you would a DSLR, you will be disappointed. In order to do this you need to be aware of how much depth of field you’re working with, and this can be tricky for beginners.
  • The contrast detection AF system of this camera is very different to the system that DSLRs use. You really need to understand how CDAF systems work in order to get the most of it. I suggest reading the manual if you don’t already know. Once you know the limitations of the AF system, you can work around them with ease.
  • I didn’t really use manual focus extensively (why would I with 2 AF lenses with me?) but it does work much better on this camera than on DSLRs, particularly due to the magnification you get by pressing that thumb wheel thing. I’ve never used focus peaking so I have no clue of the value it would add to manual focusing.

OK enough writing: here are a few more samples before we get onto the lenses…..

See pictures and more on www.25daysoff.com

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