I’ve just returned from my Tokyo trip with my wife. I took 3 cameras with me (Leica X-VARIO, Ricoh GR-D IV, Minolta CLE) and spent a whole month shooting and playing (and testing) these cameras. It was a lot of fun. As soon as I got back home, my special order Ricoh GR Limited Edition arrived from Gastown Photo. The next day, a new camera appeared at my door from Fuji to review. Was I photographically burnt out? Was I tired of reviewing cameras? No way! I was pumped to start putting the Fuji X-E2 to the test, especially comparing image quality with the Leica X-VARIO and my newly acquired Ricoh GR. However, all 3 cameras are very diiferent, although they all have one thing in common: they all use a APS-C size sensor. How did the X-E2 compare?
The last full camera review I had done was the second look at the Leica X-VARIO during my Tokyo X-VARIO project. I really appreciated the size and weight of the X-VARIO as a serious travel camera, although it lacked the ability to change lenses. However, I’m a believer in the APS-C size sensor format, and I’m happy that both the Leica X-VARIO and the X-E2 are both in this category. The APS-C size sensor is the best compromise between full-frame and micro 4/3’s system cameras, in terms of both physical size, sensor size and price. Oddly enough, the X-VARIO and the Fuji X-E2 with the kit 18-55mm lens were almost exactly the same size, although the Leica was much heavier (more metal and more complicated zoom lens design). This isn’t going to be a Leica vs X-E2 comparison, although they do have much in common (except price). The biggest difference is that the Fuji X-E2 is an interchangeable lens camera (ILC) with a built in EVF; while the X-VARIO is a unique APS-C sensored point and shoot (no EVF) with a non-interchangeable lens (but super high quality lens).
The mirrorless ILC market has been flooded in the past few years, with each format having their pros and cons. The micro 4/3’s system has the most bodies and lenses, Pentax’s Q system is the smallest, the Nikon 1 system now has a full underwater system, and Sony just entered the full-frame mirrorless ILC (alongside Leica). The APS-C size sensor market sits in the middle, although there is no universal mount (Sony, Samsung and Fuji all have their own dedicated mounts). Of all the different manufacturers fighting for market share in this crowded market, Fuji’s X system has stood out as the most photographer focused. The retro look isn’t just a cheap trick to fool people (especially hipsters) into believing they can become street photographers. Fuji has put innovation (hybrid viewfinder) and ergonomic styling (external dials instead of buttons) into the X-series cameras to help photographers take better pictures. You can tell the X-series cameras were designed by photographers for photographers. This is probably why many Leica shooters have gravitated towards the Fuji X-mount cameras and lenses (rangefinder styled bodies, focus on high quality prime lenses).
Let’s start by quickly going over the pros and cons of this new Fuji X-E2 camera with the XF 18-55mm F/2.8-4 R LM IOS kit lens.
-compact size due to EVF (vs X-PRO 1’s hybrid OVF/EVF system and X-T1’s SLR-like EVF)
-the best kit zoom lens for any camera system (metal build, metal mount, fast and sharp)
-2 dedicated Fn buttons with 4 more customizable buttons (although this has become the standard)
-AF is very quick for mirrorless and much faster than previous X-series cameras
-MF is also quicker, with less turns and focus peaking/split screen assistance
-Dedicated focus mode dial on front is very handy for quick switching between modes
-Dedicated AF-L and AE-L buttons (X-E1 was a single shared button)
-Exposure Comp dial more functional with total of 6 EV adjustment (+/- 3 stops)
-Much improved LCD rear screen resolution and EVF refresh rate from previous X-E1
-Really nice JPEGs (but complicated RAW files) especially for portraits
-Very functional and simple Wi-Fi image transfer system.
-Fuji’s proprietory “RAF” RAW file is still complicated to use if you have older software (CS, Lightroom users). The latest software has no issues!
-No dedicated ISO or WB button (although you can use Fn buttons)
-EVF still not as good as hybrid OVF-EVF, although it helps keep the camera more compact
-JPEGs tend to smooth out details. Great for portraits, bad for fine detail images. Shoot RAW instead.
-Battery life is ok, especially in the cold. Buy a second battery for sure.
As you can see, there’s more pros than cons, and with good reason. This new X-E2 is the accumulation of technological and ergonomic improvements learned from the complaints and criticisms of the past X series cameras. Fuji engineers are good listeners, and much of the improvements are invisible at first look. In fact, looking at the X-E1 and X-E2, it’s really hard to tell them apart. From a marketing point of view, this is a bad idea. Most brands want to wow people into upgrading via aesthetic upgrades, with the benefit of selling new cases and chargers and batteries (look at Sony and their ever changing NEX camera design).Fuji has taken a different approach (more like Leica). Longer camera shelf-life with multiple firmware updates; and when they do decide to replace a model, the focus is on improving the camera’s shooting ability and image file quality, as well as internal function improvements. Looking at the new X-E2, it looks exactly like the previous version, but it shoots like a very different camera.
The biggest difference for me was the manual focusing. Yes, the new AF is much, much faster, and this is a welcome improvement. However, many complained about the manual focusing of the old X-E1, and so they’ve included the focus peaking and the split-image focusing aid. The newer OS also reduces the amount of turns on the manual focus ring to get the lens into focus faster (or at least it feels that way). Why do I like manual focusing with the Fuji X-series camera? For those who like to manual focus, the Fuji X system has the best manual focusing aids, both functional and visual. On the visual side, the horizontal focusing scale (in either feet or meters) spans the entire lower half of the screen, not only showing you where you are in focus, but also shows what’s in focus with a depth of field bar in real time. As you increase your aperture (stopping down), the bar increases in focus depth and shows by scale what’s in focus. There’s no guess work. On the functional side, having a dedicated focus switch dial on the front (manual, continuous, single), a manual focus ring on the lens, and a dedicated AF-L (autofocus lock) button on the back makes it quicker to switch modes and adjust the way you focus more intuitive.
The way I like to set up my cameras is to always leave it manual focus. In this mode, you can see the focus and depth of field scale along the bottom of the screen (shows both in EVF and LCD) at all times, so you don’t have to guess your focus distance or depth. With focus peaking, I can quickly see what’s in focus as well (white only), just in case I’m not sure if an object is within range (especially when something is far away beyond 30 ft). Finally, if my depth of field is too shallow and I need more precise focusing and I need it fast, all I have to do is press the AF-L button and the camera auto-focuses to whatever I’m pointing at ASAP. And since I’m still technically in M focus mode, the focus peaking confirms the focus right away. It would be nice if you get a focus confirmation green box as well (the same as if you’re in AF mode) like the new X-T1, but I’m sure they’ll add this feature in the next firmware update.
However, my favourite use for the AF-L button is to quickly find out the distance of something without having to manually focus (the distance of passing cars or bikes or people), look at the scale to see what the distance is, make sure there is the correct DOF, and then leave it at that distance. Why not just stay in AF mode then? Because as soon as you touch your shutter button halfway, the camera refocuses again, which means it will usually hunt for focus. By leaving it in manual focus mode and only using AF-L to set the focus, it stays put at that distance.
This tool is great for street photographers. You have a visual guide to figure out distance and work out depth of field, you have focusing aids, and finally you have a dedicated AF-L button for quick access to AF as well as a quick tool to figure out focus distance. One criticism is that the focus and DOF scale is in white with no option to change colour. It’s fine in dark or cloudy shooting conditions, but it’s hard to see in bright light. Either place the focus scale below the image along a black or blue background, or allow the user to change the colour to red or some other easier-to-see colour.
Let’s talk about the EVF for a minute. I was not impressed with the X-E1’s EVF, period. There was too much lag and the refresh rate was way too slow in low-light. I was so frustrated with it that I just stopped using it in low light, and reserved it only for bright light shooting. This new EVF is a huge improvement. I’m still not a fan of EVFs in general, but I can appreciate its functionality. For the X-E2, it keeps the camera super compact, and when shooting in either bright light (it’s hard to see LCD in bright light) and low light (the rear LCD is a distraction to others in certain situations, and your eye to the EVF adds to stabilize the camera to help in slow shutter-speed situations ). Shooting on the street I prefer not using any screens at all (I keep my head up and constantly looking around with my eyes and not through my screen), but if I had to choose, I like the LCD more than the EVF. I only use the LCD to quickly check my settings, exposure, focus distance and DOF while I’m on the move. Using the new 3″ (vs 2.8″) LCD screen with 1 million pixels (vs 460K) is a huge improvement over the previous screen on the X-E1, X-Pro 1 and X-100S. It’s a joy to zoom right in on images to check for fine detail, especially when you are doing critical work.
However, when I slow down and want to get a good image, having an EVF really comes in handy. I applaud Fuji for working hard to improve the quality and functionality of the EVF (I hear the X-T1 is suppose to be an impressive 0.77x equiv magnification, alhtough the pixel count is the same). I can’t wait until they implement much of these improvements to their hybrid OVF-EVF system (X-Pro 2 perhaps?). Also, the future of the viewfinder is probably going to be the EVF. Since Fuji is coming out with more SLR range lenses (super wide and super telephoto), and the fact the new T-X1 looks like an SLR, the optical viewfinder will be used less and less since these extreme focal lengths won’t work with the limited range of the OVF (imagine trying to shoot at 200mm through an OVF?). I still hope Fuji will keep the OVF option, especially for us street photographers who rarely go beyond 21mm to 90mm equiv focal range.
Let’s move on to the external dials on the X-E2. The Fuji engineers have been playing with the layout of the X-series cameras, making small changes to help make the shooting experience more intuitive. The original full-stop shutter speed dial on the top is perfect for quick exposure adjustments (not great for SLR style shooters, but good for street photographers), and the ON/OFF shutter button with a manual threaded release feature will make Leica shooters feel right at home.
In terms of changes, I like that they’ve moved the Q-button (every camera should have a Q-button!) from the thumb position on the X-E1 and replaced it with an AE-L instead. The X-E1 and X-Pro 1 made you share these two features with a single button instead. In addition, the new exposure compensation dial is now +/- 3 EV instead of the original +/-2, although I still think that 1/2 stop adjustments and +/- 4 EV would be more practical (1/3 EV steps for digital photography is really silly. Even during the film days, unless you’re shooting slide film, you don’t need 1/3 EV steps).
Some small issues I had with the layout, and it’s the same complaint I had with the X-E1, X-Pro 1 and X-100S (and most D-SLRs). Like most manufacturers, Fuji has split the shooting controls to the right side of the LCD screen, and the viewing controls to the left. Everyone seems to do this on their pro/enthusiast level cameras (except Ricoh, who wisely puts all the control features to the right). If this is the case, why is the DRIVE button on the left side? Whenever you’re shooting, and you want to go into the DRIVE menu, you have to re-position your hands (usually your left hand is cupping the lens), adjust the feature, test the feature, and then re-position your hands again. Once you want to go back to the original DRIVE mode, you have to repeat this process. If I could recommend that Fuji moves the DRIVE button to the right side of the camera (perhaps under the rear dial), this would really help with shooting speed.
I noticed on the newer X-M1, X-A1, and the X-T1, there is no longer any buttons to the left of the rear LCD screen (thank you!), but I think this has more to do with the fact these cameras have articulating LCD screens (no space to put buttons), and less about ergonomics. On the X-T1 for instance, many of the drive features have been moved to the new left top-dial. Is this a complaint? I don’t know. Let’s see. More on this when I review this camera in the next few weeks.
Overall, I think the button layout on the X-E2 is the best of the X-series cameras (including the X-T1 with its small and flush rear buttons), and I can see myself getting use to the quirks. Once I was in shooting mode, I could easily jump between features and shooting modes, and the nice big LCD screen is a huge improvement over the previous X-series 2.8″ 460K screen.
18mm (27mm equiv). 1/18th sec F/2.8 @ ISO 3200. I used a light pole as my impromptu tripod. Jack shooting via meetup.com on Sat night on Granville St. I saw 30 peeps shooting that night. Totally awesome.
Let’s move on to image quality. The X-E2 has the newer 16 megapixel CMOS sensor with the EXR processor II, with improvements in resolution, high ISO, and video capabilities. I think most X users don’t care much for video (am I wrong here?) and focus more on resolution and high ISO performance. Like all previous X series cameras, Fuji has a unique approach to jpegs and RAW file images. I know some who complain about Fuji’s smudgy JPEGs (especially pixel-peepers) but this works both ways. If you’re shooting detailed landscapes, shoot RAW and avoid the JPEGs. Personally, I think Fuji has the best JPEGs in the industry. Not only is it great for portraiture (beautiful skin tones), you can also shoot with Fuji’s simulated films (Provia is standard jpeg, Velvia, Astia, etc.). I tested this on a large group portrait assignment (20+ people) and the JPEGs looked amazing. I would say 80-90% of my shooting is with JPEGs anyway, and I really like the way Fuji pulls it off. If you shoot Leica, you have to shoot RAW to get the most out of the image. With Fuji, I say JPEG is the way to go.
One major reason for Fuji’s distinct image look is their proprietary but unusual non-Bayer colour filter array layout for their RGB sensor (unlike most others who just buy a Sony sensor). There’s no argument that the images are clearer with Fuji’s own proprietory RGB layout (no need for anti-aliasing filter), but this also creates some problems in post production. Try uploading the RAF (Fuji’s own RAW files) to older versions of Lightroom or CS, and the files won’t open (I have CS5 and it wouldn’t open). You either have to use the provided SilkyPix RAW converter application, or convert the files into DNG and then open in Lightroom/CS. This isn’t a big deal once you set up your workflow to incorporate Fuji’s RAW files, by either upgrading your software (latest CS or Lightroom) or plugins (DNG converter) to the latest versions (this is not possible for CS5 and other versions, you must upgrade), or using their provided software (I find it a bit difficult to use). This is the price to pay for Fuji’s unique approach to image capturing.
Yes you can convert the RAW files in camera, but I think this defeats the point of shooting RAW (you don’t get much image control or precise viewing and adjusting in-camera). I like their JPEGs anyway, so no complaints here. I even did a test shooting both JPEG and RAW, editing both files, and see which I liked better. I did it for a portrait job I was working on, and in the end, I actually preferred Fuji’s JPEG file over my laboriously over-worked RAW file. As well, all my images posted for this review was shot as a JPEG. None of my RAW images made the cut. There you go.
Shooting at night and low light is also a pleasure with the X-E2 with the new sensor and processor. Unlike the X-E1 and X-100S (and other competitor’s cameras), AF at night is no problem. Noise control is pretty good as well (for a non-DLSR body), thanks to the new CMOS sensor. ISO 800-1600 was my standard setting during the day when street shooting, and because of the fast kit lens, ISO 1600-3200 was perfect for night handheld. I rarely shot below ISO 800, and I rarely made much adjustment to the JPEGs in post production. A little bit of colour correction, contrast, and sharpening, that’s it. In fact, I recommend against extra sharpening in camera (too aggressive, adds contrast and pixelation). Yes, the images do come out looking a bit soft without sharpening, but that’s what you want. Control the image in post production. I sharpen in CS5 using Unsharp Mask, which does a better job of sharpening than the in-camera sharpening anyway.
A small point concerning the kit lens: be careful when shooting wide (18mm) and also wide open (F/2.8) with the 18-55mm lens, as you do get a bit of distortion on the edges when the image plane is at an angle. The software based Lens Modulation Optimiser technology is suppose to correct for “unique characteristics” (eg. lens distortion) of each lens, but avoid putting people along the edge of the frame at 18mm. Instead, shoot at 23mm (or 35mm equiv), stop down at least 2 stops from wide open, and back up and leave plenty of room along the edge. This is especially important if you’re doing a group shot portrait (you lose a bit of sharpness along the edge as well). This isn’t an issue with just Fuji’s zoom lens, but this is a weakness of all zooom lenses. Stick to primes (although stopping down the lens 2 stops is still recommended) if you want the least amount of lens distortion and even sharpness across the entire image.
The X-E2 is also packed with lots of fun features (motion panorama, filters, bracketing, video), none of which I spent much time playing with. The motion panorama is not bad, although I think the new iPhone camera does a better job (read my article here). I wish the AF and exposure didn’t lock at the beginning of the sweep, and I wish you can have more selection of how wide you want the panorama shot to be (the iPhone fixes all these issues). The other features are there if you want them, but I’m happy these features are buried in the menus. Most who buy the higher end X-series cameras won’t use these features very often. I also have mixed feelings about the pop-up flash. It’s there in case of an emergency, but any serious photographer should have a dedicated shoe-mount flash. The fact this flash can be bounced (manually facing the flash up instead of forward) is pretty neat, but with such a small flash, this is only useful for indoor with a low ceiling. Instead of the flash, I’d rather have a dedicated ISO dial…I know, that’s what the new X-T1 has!! Thank you, thank you, thank you!! Are you paying attention Leica?
18mm (27mm equiv). 1/180th sec F/2.8 @ ISO 800. Distortion corrected along edge of image due to shooting wide open. Remember to stop down, especially with people along edge of image. Image taken just off Hastings DTES.
One feature I did find really useful was the Wi-fi option. I didn’t attempt to use it in the field at first because I thought it would be cumbersome to set up and slow to transfer. Nothing could be further from the truth. After downloading Fuji’s generic sounding app (‘Camera Application”) for your smartphone or tablet, you can quickly connect to the camera and download or browse any image on your card. Then from the app, you can quickly send the image off to your Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram application, or edit it with whatever editing app you have on your device. It’s very basic, but convenient. There’s no need to buy an Eye-Fi card, and I feel that every new digital camera should have this feature. No you can’t control the camera via your smartphone like some other cameras (eg. remote shutter release), but it makes no difference to me as a street photographer. However, I’m sure if enough people ask for this ability, Fuji can just do a firmware update to add this feature in future firmware updates.
I really enjoyed shooting with the latest Fuji X-series camera. The X-E2 works great and is capable of wonderful images. The XF 18-55mm kit lens is also really amazing, although the upcoming XF 16-55 F/2.8 R OIS WR is pretty exciting (albeit will be more expensive). Fuji is committed to the APS-C format, unlike everyone else who seem fixated on full-frame (ironically during the film days, 35mm was considered the lower-end format, and medium format was considered the premium format to shoot in). You can tell by the way Fuji labels their lenses, not in equivalent focal lengths (the Leica X-VARIO labels the lens 28-70, although it’s really 18-45mm) but the actual focal length. Also, when you look at Fuji’s X-mount lens road map, you can see how committed they are to the X-series. Unlike Sony’s calculated move to dump their NEX APS-C ILC lineup of lenses and bodies for full-frame (they probably knew years ago they would eventually drop the NEX series), Fuji has given us a time-line of when the next lenses are coming, assuring those who have bought into the system that the X-series cameras and lenses are here to stay. Publicly, Fuji has made it very clear that they have no aspirations of pursuing full-frame with the X-series cameras. I like that.
Where does the X-E2 sit within Fuji’s X-series ecosystem? The X-Pro-1 is still technically the top-of-the-line body, followed by the new X-T1, then the X-E2. Yes the X-T1 and X-E2 have much in common internally (same sensor, same processor, basically the same OS) but the external layout and function is very, very different. At the time of writing, the price difference between the X-T1 and X-E2 is $400. If weather-proofing, an optional vertical control grip (I think its a waste of weight and space), articulating rear LCD (pretty cool) and an oversized SLR-styled EVF is important to you, then get the X-T1 ($1299 body only). Just know that you’re not going to get better pictures. The X-E2 is a bargain at $899 USD, and even more of a bargain with the 18-55mm kit lens ($1299 with lens).
Comparing the X-E2 with the X-Pro 1, other than the X-Pro 1’s hybrid viewfinder, I think the X-E2 is a better and faster camera. It’s more compact, faster AF, faster processor and OS, more intuitive and customizable buttons. The rear screen is bigger and higher resolution, and so is the refresh rate and pixels of the EVF (my mistake, the 3″ 1.23M pixel screen of the X-Pro-1 is superior to the X-E2). Comparing the X-E2 to its smaller and more compact siblings, (X-A1 and X-M1), the X-E2 is still a better overall camera. Yes the other two have articulating screens, but that’s not necessary to take better pictures. With more control features and dials at your command (and less dependent on menu driven features), the X-E2 will shoot faster.
How about compared with the new X-T1? Its basically the same camera with a different layout and shooting style. The X-T1 is more SLR styled, while the X-E2 is more rangefinder style. I will be testing the X-T1 soon, so instead of arguing for or against it, let me test it first and let you know what I think. The X-T1 will definitely be bulkier, but it also has more external dials than the X-E2 (and a unique approach to the EVF). Is it worth paying an extra $400 for ergonomics and a few new features? I can’t say until I take it for a test drive. I can see a commited X-series shooter having both an X-T1 and an X-E2. Both will output similar images since they have the same sensor and processor (which is a good thing), but each will have their unique uses (T-X1 for a wedding shoot, X-E2 for vacation and street shooting).
In the end, comparing the X-E2 to the previous X-E1, it’s definitely worth the upgrade. Before the release of the X-T1, the X-E2 was the unoffical top-of-the-line X-series ILC camera. It has all of the most recent hardware and software upgrades, and still keeps all the ergonomic and functional features of the X-series cameras. The JPEGs are amazing, even at high ISO, and all the camera functions have been refined (EVF, LCD, AF, MF). Would I buy the X-E2? Well, this is a difficult question. I prefer the hybrid viewfinder of the X-Pro 1 and X-100S. However, everything else about the X-E2 outperforms the X-Pro 1. If I was only thinking of image quality, then yes, the X-E2 is a good choice. The out-of-camera JPEGs is class-leading for me, better than Leica, better than Ricoh.
If I was forced to buy a Fuji X-series camera right now based on features and price/value, then the camera to get is the X-E2. At $899 body only, it’s functionally better than the more expensive X-Pro 1, and the image quality will be exactly the same as the $400 more expensive X-T1. With the kit lens, the X-E2 is a serious bargain. I’m happy with Fuji’s direction with their X-series cameras, with multiple firmware updates, and gradual and small improvements on functionality and design. The X-E2 is the result of Fuji’s continual refinement of a very classy and capable mirrorless ILC system.
Thank you Fujifilm Canada for loaning me the camera for over a month. I look forward to reviewing the X-T1 soon, although I know I won’t be able to keep it as long. I’m sure there’s a long line-up of reviewers waiting to test this new X-series camera format (DSLR style mirrorless ILC). Thanks for reading my review. Post any questions or comments or criticisms below, or email me. Remember to follow me on Instagram and Twitter.
My Fujifilm X-E2 Preview is Here
My Fujifilm X-E1 Full Review is Here
MY Fujifilm X-T1 Rull Review is Here
My Fujifilm X-Pro 1 Full Review is Here