The Fujifilm X-E2 is a welcome update to last year’s popular X-E1. The camera takes the innards of the X100s and puts them in an X-mount body; it isn’t the X-Pro2 that a lot of users were hoping for, but it’s a significant enough update – for those who had issues with AF speed at least – to warrant serious consideration. In fact, I was sent a list of 61 improvements the X-E2 carries; some new to the camera, some inherited from the X-M1 and others from the X100s. I personally have had a rather inconsistent experience with Fujifilm products; on one hand, I absolutely love their films – Acros is my mainstay in all formats – but was left highly expectant and then disappointed by several cameras, first the original X100, then the X-Pro1, the XF1 and finally the X20. These are cameras I wanted to love, but found lacking in several areas; ultimately, I landed up with M4/3 as my compact system choice due to maturity of cameras and lenses. Many have asked why I don’t seriously consider the X system; I was offered a pre-production prototype by Fujifilm Malaysia, and I cleared a few days in the schedule to seriously revisit the system.
Note: the camera’s firmware is not final, so there will be no evaluation of image quality yet, or full size files or crops. Also bear in mind that some of the observations may change after final firmware. Most of the images in this review are mostly SOOC JPEG; a few have minor color corrections and all B&W images were converted from colour source files.There are also more samples in this Flickr set.
I also have the X-Q1 here; I just haven’t had time to shoot with it yet.
The biggest changes are around the sensor and focusing: the X-E2 uses the X100s’ 16MP X-Trans II CMOS which has phase detect AF photosites on chip. As we know, the X-Trans layout uses a different colour filter array and interpolation method to arrive at the final image, which supposedly increases image quality and prevents moire. I can agree with the latter, since I simply didn’t see any during the test period of this or any of the other X-Trans cameras I’ve shot; however, I’m still stymied by workflow issues when it comes to image quality comparisons: sadly, ACR results are mediocre at best. However, if I use another converter, lack of familiarity is going to prevent me from obtaining optimal results from any camera; beyond that, the whole workflow is significantly slower. Let’s park this issue for now and hope that Adobe eventually gets the demosaicing algorithm right – or that Fuji shares it with them. It would seem like an obvious business decision given the number of X-system users out there; I saw a surprising number in my recent European workshops.
Back to focusing. One of my biggest issues with the early cameras was focusing speed; it was downright slow and worse still, imprecise. Subsequent firmware updates have improved that, but not to the point that I was confident of the camera nailing the target in the same way the OM-D does; I’m pleased to say that the X-E2 fixes this. It still isn’t as fast as the E-M5 (let alone the E-M1); to be honest I think it sits on the borderline of being sufficient. There were a lot of situations in which the camera just felt laggy – mostly due to an initial hesitation before the lens kicked in; I am pretty sure this is down to the notchy shutter button – it feels like it has three positions, with the first detent after taking up initial slack (usually activating AF on other cameras) doing nothing. Despite shooting with it intensively for several days, it still felt slow to me. Odd, because this was not the case at all with my friend’s X100s.
There is a ‘high performance mode’ buried in the menus that increases focusing speed slightly, but it appears to freeze the live view in order to do so – this is a big no-no in my book because it means you have no visibility of critical action, making it very difficult to time shots. There’s also a pre-AF function that continually drives the lens while the camera is on to reduce AF times further; it works but is audible and will chew through batteries very quickly indeed; typical performance was ~200-250 images with very conservative use, and powering off the camera between images. In addition to focus peaking, Fuji have added the magnified (2.5x) digital split image simulation/ ‘rangefinder’ to the MF assist options (inherited from the X100s); it works reasonably well, but doesn’t have enough horizontal displacement to be truly effective – fortunately, that’s a simple firmware fix. Fuji claims to have a new AF-C tracking mode, which works at 3fps; it still lags behind the E-M1, let alone a DSLR.
Incidentally, continuous frame rate also increase from 5.6fps to 7fps, though there is of course single, locked AF only at this speed. Live view also blacks out between frames, making tracking subjects a little challenging; this would work better with the hybrid optical finder of the X-Pro. The buffer is for 37 JPEG images; RAW is of course less and will depend on your card speed. The now-obligatory wifi connectivity has been added, which allows for image transfer to smartphones and tablets via a free app; what I still don’t understand is why none of the camera makers – especially those who target these cameras at professional audiences – will make a wifi connection that allows for serious tethered shooting with raw files etc. for proper photography, not just social media. A wasted opportunity, if you ask me – especially since the hardware is already in place. Fuji are by no means the only guilty party – they can join the ranks of Olympus and Canon. I’d rather not have the feature at all if it isn’t useful.
Enough of specs: we’re all aware that cameras passed the point of sufficiency some time ago. Haptics and handling are far more important criteria determining whether a camera stays with you and becomes a partner or a hinderance. The X-E2 is a mix of good and bad. I admit that I am not familiar enough with the Fuji system to comment extensively on handling compared to the other models in the lineup; I’ll be approaching this from the viewpoint of a prospective new user.
Firstly, though the body is ostensibly magnesium, it lacks the solid feel of the X100s. The grip shape deserves praise, however: though it’s a flat and boxy camera, your fingers are guided into a comfortable shooting position that places all of the buttons and dials easily to hand. A thumb catch on the back prevents the camera from twisting out of your hand, though the AF-L and AE-L buttons are slippery, poorly located and difficult to press without your grip slipping and the weight transferring to your lens hand. Again, the shutter button needs work. The threaded release is great, but the button itself is far too notchy and seems to have three positions (there are really only two) – the feel of this one single control can make a big difference to the responsiveness of the camera, and your ability to release it without shake. The X-E2’s button is both too notchy and too firm at the break point. The large number of customisable buttons should also be commended; along with the Q button to easily access a grid of core settings, though the self timer seems oddly buried in the main menu and not part of the drive options – Fuji, people actually use this to reduce vibration for tripod work, not just self portraits. The LCD has also increased in size to 3″, up from 2.5″ for the X-E1.
Also deserving of praise is the ability to configure them camera before power on – at least with fixed aperture lenses – you can set aperture, shutter speed and exposure compensation from the physical dials alone, something that few cameras can match. And by using combinations of the A(uto) positions on the dials, achieve program, aperture, shutter priority and full manual modes. The dials have the right amount of tactile feel (though the lens’ aperture rings are a bit too loose and easily knocked off); I’m pleased to see there’s a big distance between A on the shutter speed dial ad the neighbouring settings to prevent accidental dislodgement. Similarly, exposure compensation now runs +/- 3EV. A hotshoe, small pop-up flash (which can be tilted backwards to bounce, providing you don’t need much light) and EVF with eye sensor complete the top plate.
The EVF is the 2.5-million dot OLED unit from the X100s, with 100% coverage and 23mm of eye point – very comfortable for spectacle wearers, of decent magnification (not as large as the E-M1, though I suspect it’s the same part made by Epson). I could never quite find the right setting for it – though perfectly fine indoors, it got washed out easily in daylight even at maximum brightness and lacks a dynamic/ auto setting. It does have configurable levels of information, and is of sufficiently high resolution that manual focusing is easy even without resorting to any of the focusing aids. With the continual improvement in EVFs and their ability to accurately preview colour, exposure and selectively magnify areas of the frame, the argument for a traditional viewfinder gets weaker and weaker every day; especially if it’s a dark, low-magnification one. There’s also a diopter adjustment and eye sensor to switch automatically between the LCD and viewfinder; it’s also possible to review images in the finder, something which is extremely useful in daylight and sadly lacking from either of the OM-Ds.
Though Fuji has significantly improved the menu system, I found it – the ‘electronic’ part of the camera – still to be my main source of my frustration. There were some aspects of control I loved, such as the Q-button and ability to change major settings directly from that screen, and the configurability of the buttons – and others that drove me absolutely mad. For example, in the aforementioned Q-menu, the command dial has the opposite effect to what you’d expect – turning left increases the value, and turning right decreases it. This seems small but is so counterintuitive that I continuously found myself fumbling. Surely there could be a custom function controlling the rotation direction of the dial? On top of that, there are multiple places to set things in the menus; sometimes it’s not clear whether the setting will ‘stick’ or not. And on top of that, other settings are buried in illogical positions – image review is under ‘Screen Set-Up’, for example.
Quite simply, two things need to be done: firstly, group the functions into more logical sets; secondly, remember the last used cursor position so we don’t have to hunt through eight pages of menus to find the option we were looking for. Better yet, have a ‘My Menu’ tab to allow the user to save frequently accessed options – or going one better, allow the Q menu to be configurable with any menu item. There’s one last fly in the ointment: be very careful if you’re trying to save a set of custom parameters; if you hit the wrong thing, it’ll reset all of your choices to one of the existing presets, and you’ll have to begin again. ‘Save current’ should be the default choice, not ‘apply preset’.
I had the opportunity to use the 18-55/2.8-4 and 60/2.4 lenses with the camera; both are optically very good, with the 60mm being excellent. The 18-55 has slightly soft corners that require stopping down a little to achieve optimal performance. It’s not much larger than competing APS-C kit lenses, but a stop faster at both ends, significantly better optically, and equipped with stabilization (of low to moderate effectiveness; I saw some evidence of double images/ “VR bounce” at shutter speeds in the 1/60-1/100s region). On both lenses, I found the aperture rings to be too loose and accidentally moved; ideally they need a lock button to push before rotating, or stiffer detents. The same goes for the switches: the travel isn’t that much, and the detents aren’t that stiff, which makes them easy to accidentally knock out of position. That said, of all of the new mirrorless systems, Fuji has the most sensible and interesting lens lineup; it has to, since other than Zeiss, there aren’t as many options as M4/3 (which arguably is full of a lot of consumer zooms anyway). It’s also the only one with physical aperture rings, and that deserves applause.
You’ll have noticed my continual references to (and use of) the E-M5 and E-M1 throughout this review; Fuji have admitted that they viewed these cameras as their main competitors, and it is of course the system I’m most familiar with – and which would be my natural choice under the situations for which I’d use the X-E2. Aside from the NEX-6 and 5R, they’re also the only mirrorless cameras with PDAF on sensor, too. I’d say the OM-Ds have the advantage when it comes to lens selection; however, the Fuji sensor in the X100s is definitely a notch above the M4/3 cameras. There’s not that much to choose between them in size or price, either; though arguably the Olympus 12-40/2.8 is about the same size as the 18-55/2.8-4 and is of significantly higher spec; the X-E2 itself lacks weather sealing.
Bearing in mind that the camera I used was not final, I’m hoping that Fuji will do something to the firmware to address two issues: general lagginess in operation, and JPEG output. (Despite this, it was still slightly faster than the X-E1.) I’ll of course reserve judgement until I get to handle a final camera. However, my biggest concern still remains around workflow: until we have decent Adobe support for the X-Trans array, Fuji are going to be crippled in the image quality department – unless you shoot JPEG, which rather defeats the point of buying a new camera or system on the basis of image quality anyway. All in all though, the X-E2 is a solid upgrade from the X-E1 and lower spec X-mount cameras and quite possibly the best X-mount camera yet; one hopes that Fuji will fix the shutter button, and continue their track record of useful firmware updates to address some of the operational speed issues. MT
Coda: Since writing, Sony has announced the A7 and A7R full frame mirrorless cameras; I took some heat over the last two days for not being gushingly full of praise. They come at a price point that’s higher than anything else for the moment, but which will still put pressure on existing mirrorless. Nothing is perfect, not even the cameras I actually buy; that’s because you have a fixed product designed for a ‘general’ type of user, not one specific one. So: if a system works for you, great; use it, ignore what everybody else thinks, and focus on making images. If not, then keep looking. Remember, photography is about photographs, not cameras.
Thank you to Fujifilm Malaysia for providing the opportunity.
The Fujifilm X-E2 is available to preorder here from B&H.
Visit the Teaching Store to up your photographic game – including workshop and Photoshop Workflow videos and the customized Email School of Photography; or go mobile with the Photography Compendium for iPad. You can also get your gear from B&H and Amazon. Prices are the same as normal, however a small portion of your purchase value is referred back to me. Thanks!
Images and content copyright Ming Thein | mingthein.com 2012 onwards. All rights reserved