More Thoughts About the Fujifilm X-E1

Posted on 31 May 2013

(Note: Chuq von Rospach recently tried out a Fujifilm X-Pro1 and wrote about shoot he did with the camera, musing about whether or not it would work for him as a landscape photography camera. I wrote a lengthy comment in reply and since I think it might be useful to others considering these interesting Fujifilm mirrorless cameras, I have decided to share the comment again here, with a few edits. Do note that the X-Pro1 that he used is not the same camera as the X-E1 that I use.)

I’ve been using the Fujifilm X-E1 Digital Camera quite a bit for the past few months. This camera is a mirrorless “rangefinder style” body with an electronic viewfinder. There is also a model with a hybrid electronic and optical viewfinder, the Fujifilm X-Pro1. A decent set of Fujinon lenses is now available with more on the way – see a list at the end of this post. (There’s an earlier report here at my blog – see Fujifilm X-E1: From DSLR to Mirrorless – that article gives a bit more background about these cameras and their unique X-trans sensor.  It needs updating now that I have a lot more usage of the camera under my belt, and I plan to write this real review soon.)

I think that the main issue with trying to use the X-Pro1 or the X-E1 as a landscape/nature camera is that this is not really what it is best suited to doing. That said, it could make an excellent lightweight and small backpacker’s or hiker’s camera for those who aren’t trying to do in their photography what I’m trying to do, but who want the potential of very good image quality. The image quality from this camera is quite good considering its diminutive size and weight, but not what you’ll get from a full frame DSLR for sure.

I find that this camera is great for street shooting and other sorts of “on the go” photography done without the tripod, where small size/weight is critical, and where you might want to work somewhat quickly. (Although the AF system is not well suited to shooting particularly active subjects, though there are ways to make it more effective.)

I’m just back from four days in Portland, Oregon, where I used it to shoot urban subjects (mostly) and was grateful for its small size, which allowed me to carry it , along with other non-camera stuff, in a small messenger bag – which, not incidentally, works much better as carry-on luggage that what I must take when I shoot my DSLR. My full frame DSLR would have made for such a large bundle on this trip that the messenger bag wouldn’t have worked, but I could carry this camera (with the 35mm f/1.4 and the 14mm f/2.8) and my small laptop plus all of those other assorted things that typically come along on such a jaunt.

For photographing many urban street scenes, it is near perfect, especially for my style of shooting such subjects, which might be just a tiny bit slower than that of some real street shooters. One soon learns to “reawaken” the camera with a half press of the shutter button as soon as a potential subject appears, and sometimes manual focus can be a better option than AF – how’s that for “old school” street photography style shooting?

I’ve adapted now to the camera’s interface and I’m getting to the point where I can mostly use it quite quickly and intuitively – though I’m not to the same level as I am on my primary DSLR system. The Fujinon lenses are tremendous – much better than I expected – and the system can produce some excellent image quality for an APS-C sensor camera. I’m with you regarding the camera’s ability to handle large dynamic range scenes. The AF is mostly good, though there are occasions where I have to be slightly patient with it. One of the fun surprises of using this camera in more urban settings – at least for those of us who otherwise shoot with some rather bulky gear – is that it makes you almost invisible to others around you. I was struck by this when I shot in Balboa Park (San Diego) earlier this year, and I did not get much attention at all. (Even from other photographers, who seemed more interested in ogling one another’s big ol’ DSLRs! ;-)

For balance, there are a few issues that potential buyers will want to know about. The battery life is considerably shorter than that of a typical DSLR system – though, in fairness, you are essentially shooting in live view mode all the time with the EVF, and live view naturally drains power faster. There is something a bit different about the color balance of images from the X-E1 (and almost certainly from the X-Pro1 as well) that I haven’t quite put my finger on just yet. It isn’t a bad thing – just a different thing. The Fuji images perhaps seem just a bit more saturated than the Canon raw files I’m used to, and perhaps also a bit more so in the blue channel. Some of the controls are a bit too easy to move. I partially chalk this up to my need to simply learn better instincts for this camera – for example, at first I often found myself accidentally hitting the macro button, and I still occasionally move the AF mode switch accidentally. The aperture rings tend to move a bit too easily, and others have mentioned that it would be nice if the detents were a bit more positive. The Q (for “quick”) button ISO settings are presented in a strange way, though once you figure it out it makes some sense and is easy and quick to adjust.

I could offer a list of similar “criticisms” for any camera, so no one should consider these deal-breakers. Instead, it is very important to recognize what this camera is and what it isn’t. What it is is a very high quality and very small and light rangefinder-style camera that can augment or stand in for a higher quality full frame DSLR in certain situations. And for that I like mine a great deal.

Here is a list of some of the Fujifulm system gear currently available. The links go to site sponsor B&H photo.

Bodies

Lenses

* 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 have one on order and should receive it soon.

Also see:

© Copyright 2013 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist 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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8 comments to More Thoughts About the Fujifilm X-E1

  • Hi Dan. Thank you for sharing. I own a Fujifilm X-E1 as well. This is an great little camera, but I must say that the image quality is not better than that of my old Canon 40D alongside with its excellent lenses. The main advantage of the X-E1 for me is its lightness, so I primarily use it for street photography – mounted with a 35mm FUJIFILM XF lens.

    • Jens:

      Thanks for sharing. I’m surprised to hear you say that about image quality. I have some familiarity with a few of the Canon cropped sensor cameras and they can produce some fine image quality with the right technique and lenses. However, based on that experience I was not expecting the quality from the little Fujifilm X-E1 to be better or even the same. I was actually quite surprised when I worked with the first images that I made using the 35mm f/1.4 and the 14mm f/2.8 lenses – they provide excellent resolution across the frame.

      Of course, I continue to use a full frame Canon DSLR as my primary camera for all tripod based photography and even a great deal of handheld work. As you point out, that can make it a great camera for street photography – and that is among my primary uses for the camera. It isn’t that the Fujifilm is going to be “better” than DSLRs, but that it is excellent given its small size and weight, can produce first class image quality, and can be better for certain kinds of shooting.

      Take care,

      Dan

  • [...] (See my previous posts about this camera at the blog: Fujifilm X-E1: From DSLR to Mirrorless and More Thoughts About the Fujifilm X-E1. Links to Fujinon lenses for the cameras are also included in those [...]

  • I’ve read your thoughts on the X-E1, and higly appreciate that you share your experiences like this. I’m seriously tempted to exchange my Nikon D7000 kit for an X-E1 kit. One of my main subjects is landscape photography, so I was a little surprised when you wrote this: “I think that the main issue with trying to use the X-Pro1 or the X-E1 as a landscape/nature camera is that this is not really what it is best suited to doing.”

    I would appreciate if you could elaborate more om why landscape photography can be challenging with an X-E1. The quality of the raw files is higly praised, and the lenses also seem to be great, so I’m a little puzzled on the reasons behind this.

    I look forward to hear your thougts!

    Ståle

    • Thanks for writing. I think that the X-E1 could be great as a landscape camera for some photographers, though for me it cannot equal what I can do with my full frame gear.

      Let me first take a look at some of the pluses of considering such a camera for landscape use.

      • The Fujinon lenses (and, reportedly, a number of the 3rd party and “classic” lenses that you might use) can produce excellent image quality. I have been very impressed by the performance of the 14mm f/2.8 and the 35mm f/1.4, both of which I have now used extensively. I have used the 18-55mm zoom a bit and it seems very good, too. I have only barely used the 60mm macro, but those who use it a lot have only good things to say about it.
      • The image quality of the sensor/camera is first rate – as good as any similar cropped sensor model and arguably better than some in certain ways.
      • The small size and weight could be advantageous to photographers who want to minimize their gear load – including folks such as backpackers or those who travel to their shooting locations.
      • Although the range of Fujinon lenses is currently somewhat limited, with the release (right about now) of the 55-200mm zoom and the announced future release of a 10-24mm zoom, most landscape needs will be covered.

      Some of the countering factors might include:

      • Regardless of its excellent quality for the format, the X cameras are still cropped sensor cameras. Yes, they can produce some very excellent image quality – good enough and more for many uses – but for those who still feel that there are important benefits to larger full-frame sensors the cropped sensor cameras (from Fujifilm or others) may not be appropriate. There are several possible reasons for this: Those who may make very large prints recognize that greater system resolution is possible with larger sensors, diffraction blur issues limit the number of useful apertures on smaller-sensor cameras.
      • At this point the range of available lenses is limited by comparison to what is available for full frame DSLR systems. Now, this doesn’t matter if the lenses you need are available, but you cannot go as wide or as long with the available lenses at this point. (On the other hand, you get the same angle of view coverage with smaller and lighter gear when the lenses do work out.)
      • Battery life is not great. Admittedly, you are essentially shooting in live view mode all the time with the X-E1, and doing that on DSLRs will reduce their battery life, too.
      • Camera mounting options are not ideal at this point. If you are used to mounting your camera to the tripod head using an L-bracket, you are not going to be happy with the options for the Fuji bodies.

      None of this is meant to be criticism of the Fujifilm cameras – obviously, I like mine a great deal. It is more about being aware of their strengths and weaknesses relative to your expectations. To illustrate, let me offer the examples of two hypothetical “landscape” photographs, one of whom might love the X-E1 option and one who probably would not.

      Photographer A loves to hike and backpack and photograph the landscape while doing so. This photographer mostly shoots handheld, though might occasionally use a light and small tripod or “Gorillapod” device. This person generally goes out for a day or perhaps a few days on weekend and slightly longer backpack trips. This photographer is already quite happy with the image quality and other aspects of shooting a cropped sensor DLSR but might want something smaller. The range of available Fujinon lenses seems to meet the needs of this photographer. The X-E1 option could work quite well for this person.

      Photographer B usually shoots landscape subjects from the tripod and often produces large, high quality prints from the photographs, thus regarding the larger format of full frame DSLRs to be important. The photographer wants the widest range of apertures possible for creative and other control and may use a wide range of lenses, including ultra-wide angle lenses. The photographer may regularly shoot active subjects include wildlife or even non-outdoor subjects such as sports. The photographer is willing to put up with the additional weight and bulk of this gear for the results it produces. This photographer would be much less likely to find the smaller format X cameras to be a replacement for the full frame DSLR… though might (as I do!) find it to be a worthy addition to the DSLR gear in a number of situations.

      Hope that helps.

      Dan

      • Thank for your extensive elaborations on the E-X1 and landscape photography! The pluss factors you’re listing here are the main reasons for my wish to switch kit. Among the con’s there’s a few things which makes me hold back the switch a little. The range of lenses is one of these, but since I’m also a birdwatcher the AF-speed is a concern too. I’m not into high quality bird species portraits, but leans more to documentation and birds-in-habitat photos. I think I’d like to read reviews and experiences with the 55-200, lens before I’m heading for the shop…

        I also like your “categorization” of landscape photographers here, and I’m clearly among the A’s :-) So there’s a great chance that I should be quite content with the X-E1.

        Thanks again for your valuable advice!

        • Glad to hear that my reply was useful to you. I also photograph birds, frequently but not always with the goal of showing them within their landscape. For my purposes, the DLSR is still going to be a better tool for that sort of thing. The X-E1 is not optimized for photographing fast moving subjects while the DSLRs are ideal for that sort of thing.

          With luck, I may have a copy of the 55-200mm lens to use by the end of this week, and I’ll report on my experiences with it not long after that.

          Dan

  • [...] complete move from Nikon DSLR gear to the Sony NEX system. A number of other photographers, like G. Dan Mitchell, use, have blogged about and embrace these smaller, mirrorless camera systems for limited purposes. [...]

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