Fujifilm X-E1: From DSLR to Mirrorless
Posted on 17 March 2013
Recently I have read a lot of good things about some of the new “rangefinder-style” (a useful though not completely accurate description) or “mirrorless” cameras from Fujifilm. As a result I acquired the Fujifilm X-E1 with a few lenses, and I have now had the chance to start using it a bit. I thought I would share some initial thoughts and impressions now, with more thorough reports later on as I use the camera and lenses more.
I am primarily a confirmed full-frame DSLR photographer – I rely on the versatility of these cameras, their speed, the availability of a wide variety of lenses and other accessories, and especially on the excellent image quality that they can produce. However, one downside of this equipment is that it is most certainly not small nor light, especially once you add some (or all!) of the lenses I like to use.
While much of my photography requires what the full frame DSLR system provides, sometimes I have wished for high-quality but smaller and lighter equipment – for example when doing certain kinds of street photography, for certain types of travel, or when I just want to have a camera with me when I’m out and about. I have used a few of the smaller high end point & shoot style cameras ranging from the Canon S95 back to the old Canon Pro One, and I have looked at quite a few others.
I have heard enthusiastic reports on various cameras, including a number of the four-thirds cameras, but I decided that I did not want to consider a camera with a sensor smaller than APS-C, the size of the “cropped sensor” DSLRs. For my intended use, that level of quality – in terms of resolution, useful range of apertures, low-light performance, etc. – will work quite well. Recently several mirrorless cameras with such sensors have been introduced, and they all have their attractions. What led me to settle on the Fujifilm cameras was the combination of an expanding selection of excellent lenses, their somewhat “retro” design that provides hardware knobs and buttons to control settings, and encouraging reports on image quality.
I considered the more expensive Fujifilm X-Pro-1, with its hybrid optical-electronic viewfinder, but decided that for my intended use the electronic viewfinder (EVF) of the X-E1 would likely work. (As I read reports from other users, quite a few reported that they used the optical viewfinder option of the Pro-1 less than they expected.) I did not consider the reportedly-excellent X100 since I want interchangeable lenses.
What follows is highly subjective, and some of my initial reactions will likely need revision after I adapt to the camera. Speaking of “adapting,” some of this is perhaps based as much on my familiarity and comfort with my Canon DSLRs as on the nature of the X-E1 itself. I have used my Canon EOS 5D II so much that its operation is very much second-nature for me at this point. I rarely have to think about how to do something on that camera, since the “how” has become more or less instinctive. I’m far from that point with the X-E1, but that is to be expected.
The camera is physically very different, though it looks and feels like a “serious” camera in every way. The lenses share the same quality of the body, and they remind me quite a bit of the old school lenses from a few decades ago – smaller, compact, and with a solid feeling. (Most DSLR lenses are designed in a way that suggests that small size and weight were not important considerations.) The lenses attach solidly and seem to be balanced with the camera in terms of weight and size. If I had my preference, some of the operational friction might be changed a bit. For example, the zoom mechanism on the 18-55mm zoom seems a bit tight to me, while the aperture click-stops on the 35mm f/1.4 could be a bit more distinct. Both are within the range of normal and acceptable, so regard this as the subjective impression from a new user who will probably adapt!
The camera is, of course, much smaller – which was the point! Equipped with the Fujinon 35mm f/1.4 lens (equivalent to a 50mm+ lens on my 5D2) it makes a very small and light package. As a result of making the Fujifilm camera body so small, and simply because it is a different camera from a different manufacturer, various control buttons and wheels are in unfamiliar places… and sometimes in places where they were accidentally activated by my initial manner of holding the camera. For example, more than once I discovered that I had accidentally pressed a button or moved a switch and changed the operation of the camera. I found out the hard way that I could move the AF mode switch to “manual,” put the camera into macro mode (slowing down the AF system), or move the aperture ring on the lens barrel without knowing it. I don’t regard these issues as criticism of the camera (with the possible exception of the macro mode issue) as much as evidence that it will take me some time to become fully intuitive about this camera. I did quickly adopt a slightly different hand position that keeps my fingers away from buttons that I don’t want to accidentally press!
Based on the small number of photographs I have made so far, image quality seems to be very good. The photo above was shot handheld using the 35mm f/1.4 prime. I shot in RAW mode, converted the file using ACR, and then did a bit of post-processing in Photoshop CS6. The resolution of this lens seems absolutely top notch, and there is very little distortion or CA. (Neither would be visible even if left uncorrected in post.) I have also used the 14mm f/2.8 lens, and it also seems like a standout optical performer. I briefly put the 18-55 zoom on the camera but have not shot enough to report on it yet.
These cameras use the unique Fuji “X-trans” 16MP sensor, which uses a different arrangement of red, green, and blue photosites and which eliminates the anti-aliasing filter found on most sensors. There have been some reports of RAW conversion issues when using conversion software other than that provide by Fuji, but I didn’t see any problems when I inspected my RAW files fairly carefully. (Update: After I posted this I realized that I had not mentioned one small issue with RAW conversion. Both Lightroom and Adobe Camera Raw want to crop imported RAW files to 16:9 format, necessitating manual intervention to expand the crop to include the entire frame.)
Auto-focus (AF) speed is often mentioned as a concern with these mirrorless cameras. AF speed is not as fast on this camera as it is on a high-quality current DSLR. How fast is it? It depends. With one of the lenses that has best AF performance – like the 35mm f/1.4 or the 14mm f/2.8 – it is quite decent, especially in good light. It is slower with the 60mm f/2.8 macro, especially when the lens/camera is in macro mode, forcing the system to consider a very wide range of possible subject distance. I know this answer is a bit vague, but overall I’m happy with the AF system and I’m confident about it in normal situations where very fast AF is not necessary. That said, I’m not likely to use it for sports or bird photography!
The quiet operation of the camera is a welcome change in certain situations. While the mechanical shutter does produce some sound, there is not DSLR mirror, so the overall sound level is much lower. I used the camera to make photographs at an art gallery opening as artists spoke about their work. The sound of the E-X1 was very unobtrusive to the point that most people probably didn’t notice it in a situation where they certainly would have been aware of the sound of my DSLR.
It is probably a bit presumptuous to be offering a “bottom line” evaluation so soon, and after only using the camera for a few days – so take this with a grain of salt. However, I’m quite pleased with the camera’s ability to perform for the use I had in mind when I got it, and the files I’ve worked with so far are looking very good.
That’s enough for now. After I have had a chance to use the camera a bit more I’ll share some more about what I discover as I continue to use it. In the meantime, here are links to the X-E1, a number of Fujinon lenses, and some additional related mirrorless bodies from Fujifilm. (The links go to site-sponsor B&H Photo.)
- X-E1 - interchangeable lenses, electronic viewfinder (this is the one I own)
- Other Related Bodies
- Fujifilm X PRO - (body only - functionally very similar to the X-E1 but with an optical viewfinder option)
- Fujifilm X100S Digital Camera - (digital rangefinder with fixed focal length non-interchangeable lens)
- Fujifilm X20 Digital Camera (Black) - (mirrorless body with fixed zoom lens)
- Fujifilm X20 Digital Camera (Silver) - (mirrorless body with fixed zoom lens)
- Fujifilm 35mm f/1.4 XF R Lens *
- Fujifilm 18mm f/2.0 XF R Lens
- Fujifilm 60mm f/2.4 XF Macro Lens *
- Fujifilm XF 14mm f/2.8 R Ultra Wide-Angle Lens *
- Fujifilm XF 18-55mm f/2.8-4 R LM OIS Zoom Lens *
- Fujifilm XF 55-200mm f/3.5-4.8 R LM OIS Lens **
* I have used these lenses and am very impressed by their quality.
** The 55-200mm zoom has been announced but is not yet available. I intend to acquire it when it is available.
© Copyright 2013 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.
G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer whose subjects include the Pacific coast, redwood forests, central California oak/grasslands, the Sierra Nevada, California deserts, urban landscapes, night photography, and more.
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