The new interchangeable lens Fujifilm X-E1 offers retro styling and classic handling, but with all the benefits of the latest digital camera technology. We took it out for a day of shooting on the streets of Nottingham.
Fujifilm is one manufacturer that has reinvented itself since the film days to successfully push forward in the digital age. With a range of retro-infused rangefinder-styled digital cameras under its belt, Fujifilm has carved a sizeable niche in the already saturated camera market. The Fujifilm X-E1 is its latest interchangeable lens camera to hit the shops, but can it live up to or indeed exceed the bar set high by its flagship model, the X-Pro 1?
To address that question early on, the answer is that they are similar but different cameras. However, at their heart is the same 16.3MP APS-C X-Trans CMOS sensor powered by the EXR Processor Pro. They also share the same lens mount, so image quality should be consistent across the two models. This sensor and processor came out well for image quality in past testing. We’ll test them again, but the features and handling of the X-E1 will be of most interest as we take a look at the camera...
With anything where so much attention to detail has been paid to styling, it’s not uncommon to wonder whether the same care has been paid to features. But we’re happy to say the X-E1 has everything you’d need from a compact system camera, or DSLR minus an optical viewfinder. Like most CSCs, autofocus is fast, and with 49 focus points in a 7x7 arrangement across most of the frame you can choose the exact point of focus. These can be changed on either the 2.8in 460K dot LCD, or the 2.36 million dot OLED electronic viewfinder. The EVF can be particularly useful for viewing images and accessing menus in bright conditions where the LCD is difficult to see, although many photographers still prefer the clarity of an optical viewfinder.
The X-E1 is a camera that doesn’t really have any gimmicky features. It’s all about taking photos with a degree of manual control, thanks to the shutter speed dial, the aperture ring on lenses and the exposure compensation dial. However, the camera does feature multiple exposure, panoramic shooting and full HD video recording. There’s also a pop-up flash and a standard hotshoe for attaching larger flashguns or wireless flash triggers.
For us one of the most interesting features is the set of film simulation modes. When shooting JPEGs you can set the camera to simulate the colour balance of popular Fuji films. You can choose from Velvia, Astia, Provia, Monochrome, Sepia, PRO Neg Std and PRO Neg Hi. Provia is the standard setting. These settings can only be applied to RAW files if you process them in-camera. The problem with in-camera RAW conversion is that despite having the ability to adjust images in all the ways you need to, you can’t really see the changes because the image thumbnail is very small.
Handling & performance
The X-E1 is well made, with die-cast magnesium covers on the top and front of the body. The control dials for shutter speed, exposure compensation and the shutter release button are all robustly designed, with a retro look and feel. The humble shutter speed dial has all but disappeared on DSLRs, so it’s good to see its return with the X series. At just 350g the X-E1 is extremely lightweight for a camera offering such a high level of features. It feels comfortable in the hand, with a small contoured grip on the front and a thumb area on the back, and the shutter button is positioned with consideration to the way the camera is held. The shutter button is in fact the classic metal type with a thread for a screw-in cable release. These are surprisingly cheap and easy to get hold of, as well as being retro.
Just like in the days of the fully manual SLR – yes, that’s SLR not DSLR – the X-E1 doesn’t include labelled shooting modes. Instead you have to set lens/aperture and shutter speed dial in certain combinations to shoot in full auto, aperture-priority, shutter-priority or manual. This does mean a small amount of knowledge of exposure is useful for assessing the right settings, although it’s not difficult to get a grasp of the techniques.
Bracketing was a technique that was common back in the days of film because you never really knew what you were going to get. This technique is, of course, still used, but is less important because of the immediacy of digital. The X-E1 is the king of bracketing, with options for AE Bracketing, ISO Sensitivity Bracketing, Dynamic Range Bracketing and Film Simulation Bracketing. It’s no longer just about getting the shot right, it’s also about having choice.
So far it’s all been quite positive for the X-E1, but like most things it’s not perfect. There are a few quirks that could have you wringing your hands in frustration. The Q menu is a great way to quickly access commonly used functions, but rather than using the Menu/OK button to select them for scrolling, you use the thumb wheel. For us, hitting OK and then using the arrow keys to scroll would be a more intuitive option. The Exposure Compensation dial is also easy to knock, so you have to keep an eye on the setting it’s on. A slightly odd feature of the camera is that when shooting RAW or RAW+JPEG you can only shoot within the standard ISO range of 200-6400. To take advantage of the expanded range of ISO 100-25,600 you must be shooting in JPEG only. Another issue is battery life – it just doesn’t last as long as you’d hope, and Fujifilm suggest 350 shots per charge. We found it lasted longer, but only slightly, so never forget the charger!
We really like this camera – it looks great, it’s intuitive to use and image quality is very good. The X-E1 is aimed at enthusiasts and professional photographers looking for an even more compact and lightweight alternative to the X-Pro 1. At a shade under £1200 for the X-E1 and XF 18-55mm f/2.8-4 R LM OIS it’s over £500 cheaper than the X-Pro 1 with the same lens. However, this is still a premium price-tag so you have to consider what you need from a camera, and what the other options are in this price bracket. We hope this camera doesn’t end up being the exclusive plaything of the rich and frivolous, because despite its shortcomings it’s such an enjoyable camera to shoot with.
- Street price: £189 (Secondhand price as of July 2016)
- Effective resolution: 16.3MP
- Sensor type: 23.6x15.6mm CMOS
- Focus points: 49
- Lens mount: Fujifilm X mount
- Autofocus: TTL contrast AF
- ISO range: 200-6400 (expandable to 100-25,600)
- Metering: 256-zone
- LCD: 2.8in 460k dots
- Viewfinder: 100% EVF
- Sensor cleaning: Yes
- Shooting speed: 6fps
- Video: Full HD (1080p)
- Card type: SD, SDHC, SDXC (UHS-I)
- Weight: 350g
- Visit: www.fujifilm.eu/uk
This review was first published in the April 2013 issue of Practical Photography - download back issues here.