Seven months ago I got an X-E1, a product of Fujifilm, who announced the X-E2 today; an occasion for going a little deeper on my time with the camera. With a dozen pictures.
First, the conclusion · It’s the best camera I’ve ever used: Light, wonderful in the hand, perfect controls, astounding lenses, pleasing pictures. So if you were thinking of buying a Serious Camera, this is totally one of the ones you should look at. Or maybe the X-E2; more on that below.
Did you say “perfect controls”? · Yep. The picture shows what you see when you look down at the camera in your hands. Want to set the shutter speed? Spin that dial with your thumb; or leave it on “A” for automatic. Want to control the aperture? Spin the lens ring, or “A”. Want to compensate for weird lighting? There’s your ±2.0 adjustment right there. Those are all the controls anyone ever needs for almost any shot. What about the ISO, you ask? I limit the auto-ISO at 6400 and the sensor’s comfy there, and the lenses are fast, so I just never think about it.
The only other adjustments I ever touch are manual/auto-focus, and occasionally the viewfinder diopter, which seems to drift a bit.
Use this for a little while and it becomes obviously The Right Way; all those cameras with “Mode” dials are just Doing It Wrong.
Accessories · Fujifilm sends you this silly short flimsy-looking strap with the camera, and if you’ve been used to lashing your big honking SLR to a Luma Loop or equivalent you’ll be apt to write it off, but don’t; it turns out this featherweight wants to be sitting right there Leica-style in the middle of your chest, so short and simple is good.
Except for I got a Luma Cinch; I have to confess that this big multi-adjustable thing looks like overkill but damn it’s comfy around your neck; recommended.
Eyesight · A whole lot of people, including me, have decent vision-at-a-distance but need reading glasses. Mirrorless cameras in general and the X-E1 in particular are just the ticket for us. When my glasses are on I use the screen on the back of the camera, and when they’re off I hold the EVF up to my eye. That EVF is about as good as the SLR view my Pentax offers.
Upgrades! · Other cameras I’ve owned have received firmware upgrades, and never has one of them been worth a damn; correcting problems that might occur in some exotic corner case, mostly ignorable.
Fujifilm has emitted a steady flow of updates for the X-series; they add significant features and fix real performance problems. Probably the most telling is the recent major patch for the X100. Yes, the discontinued, superceded X100. That’s gotta give any Fujifilm owner a warm glow.
Lenses · Check out the Fujinon roadmap. There isn’t a lens on here that hasn’t been praised, and the primes in particular (35mm F1.4, 23mm F1.4, and 14mm F2.8) reduce reviewers to quivering heaps of moist fandom. All the reviews of the 18-55 zoom start something like “Although this specs out like a low-rent kit lens, it turns out to be really excellent.”
Plus, it’s stabilized; which hasn’t kept me from using the awesome 35mm F1.4 for the vast majority of my shooting.
Other Fujifilms · The top of the X-line is the X-Pro1, distinguished by an exotic hybrid-optical viewfinder. The first time I held an X-E1 up to my face the EVF Just Worked for me, so I’ve never been tempted; also I confess to fondness for its minimalist aesthetic.
X-E2? · The reviews of the X-E2 make it obvious that it’s a very incremental step up over the current model; the big deal is that autofocusing is a little quicker. Reviewers of the current Fujifilm models tend to dismiss them as useless for sports; and although I’ve had good luck shooting kids’ judo (see below) and soccer, the faster autofocus might be really nice.
But not enough that I’ll buy one. If you’re in the market you might want to consider seeing if you can get an end-of-life deal on an X-E1; it’s already a lot of camera for the money at the list price.
The two things that might make me buy the next Fujifilm are weatherproofing (I’ve been spoiled by Pentax) and a decent video mode. The video from my RX100 “pocket cam” is stupidly better than what the Fuji can do.
Images · The quality is wonderful. Now, let’s be fair: Any modern digital camera can take wonderful pictures if the light is good and you have it with you at the crucial moment. I get more and better with the X-E1, though.
First, the depth and quality of the image data is amazingly good; there are very few blown-highlights or buried-shadows that can’t be mined profitably; for example, the Tokyo evening above that I stupidly shot at F13. Second, it’s lighter and less cumbersome and thus is with me more. Third, the controls are so right that I get the right shot with the right settings more than with anything else I’ve used.
Photography is fun · Four or five years ago I would have said we were in the golden age of photography, and things are better since then. The mainline DSLRs from Nikon/Canon/Pentax are good; but boring, swollen, heavy, and awkward. Mobile phones are interesting, and so are the new cameras from Sony and the Micro-four-thirds makers. It’s become pretty obvious that a young person just getting into serious photography can and probably should stay mirrorless.
I’m firmly in the Fujifilm camp, for now; if only because of the relentless responsive purity of the camera designs. Others who share my taste might want to start following Thomas Menk a.k.a. @Fuji_X_Pro who curates more or less everything Fujifilm-X-related that trickles onto the Web.
Comment feed for ongoing:
From: Mikael Östbye (Oct 20 2013, at 06:02)
Since the first time I read your description of the aperture and shutter control on the X-E1 I've been convinced that it's the right way to do things. Especially after using my Nikon DSLR for a few years and not finding it becoming second nature as quickly as I expected.
However, it seems that the nice aperture control ring is absent on the 18-55mm, which instead uses a simple digital jog wheel without labels for the aperture value or endpoints for the rotation?
I wonder which control method future Fujinon lenses will use?
From: DanSmedra (Oct 20 2013, at 07:01)
"I’m firmly in the Fujifilm camp, for now; if only because of the relentless responsive purity of the camera designs."
Life is too short to pine after either the *next* perfect camera...or companion. :)
From: Hub (Oct 20 2013, at 09:57)
Mikael: the only reason it does not have a scale is because the aperture on the zoom is sliding: f2.8-4 on the widest. In practice this doesn't change much beside the fact you have to look on the LCD or in the VF to see the aperture set.
Note that for all the lens the control is "by the wire" ie completely electronic.
From: Gordon Haff (Oct 20 2013, at 13:04)
The XE-1 is a really nice camera. Was having fun with it in Edinburgh today. I really like the combo of the 18-55mm and the 27mm "pancake." One's very adaptable; the other makes it pretty compact.
The difference in low light especially between the XE-1 and my S100 is huge. I still use my S100 a lot but the XE-1 is clearly a big level up if you care about the final quality at greater than thumbnail size.
That said, and at the risk of being taken as negative, there's also a quantum level between the XE-1 and my Canon DSLR gear. Had I been shooting at the Head of the Charles this weekend rather than being (well, not exactly "stuck") in Edinburgh, I'd most certainly have been shooting with my DSLR.
And I do find some annoyances with the XE-1. It needs "rebooting" from time to time. It's a bit sluggish doing this or that. It doesn't make histogram info as immediately available to me as either my big or small Canons do.
But it's a nice system and it serves as a big brother to my S100 in situations where I just wouldn't bring a big DSLR.
From: Phillip Fayers (Oct 20 2013, at 13:28)
Thought that control mechanism sounded familiar... Nikon tried it out on the F401 back in late '80s.
From: Luke Opperman (Oct 21 2013, at 09:35)
Same control preference on my Canon S95 - usually have shutter on A, aperture control on front ring and +- on the back jogwheel. Very nice to see it confirmed in physical layout again here.
This is probably the year I get back into a more serious camera, world of possibilities is starting to condense around this and the Sony NEX-7, or whatever's in similar space when I get to it.