ads by Adsterra

Review: Fujifilm X-E1 with 18-55 Lens

Full Review: Fujifilm X-E1 with 18-55
F2.8-4 O.I.S Zoom

Thank you
for waiting patiently for my full review of the Fujifilm X-E1 with the 18-55
F2.8-4 zoom lens. I apologize for the long delay. I had a stack of notes and a
(virtual) stack of pictures to go through and analyze, so it’s taken a bit of
time to come up with this review. Instead of making you wait to the end to read my conclusion, let’s start with my final thoughts…


1. solid build
quality and well rounded system camera with great lenses and accessories.

2. a great
design philosophy:  a ‘photographer’s
camera’ much like a Leica M (but with autofocus!)

3. the best
looking jpegs I’ve ever seen, and in-camera RAW conversion for control over
jpeg output.

4. focus distance and
depth of field scale on screen for real

5. useful
‘film mode’ feature that gives subtle ‘feel’ to the jpegs…very film-like. Includes b&w film with colour filters!! How cool is that?

6. Best in
class high iso performance. There’s no need to go below iso 1600, seriously!

7. different
types of bracketing, other than the usual exposure type (white balance, film
type, dynamic range)

Cons (aka ‘Wishlist’)

1. a dedicated
white balance button please!!

2. a higher
resolution and bigger rear screen (2.8” and 460,000 pixel is a bit too small to
check for sharpness) with larger playback zoom to check for image sharpness.

3. confusing
silent mode that turns off flash (I actually had to read the manual to figure
this out!)

4. tends to over expose in daylight.
5. a wider kit
lens please. 18-55 (or 27-84 equivalent) is ok, but 24 wide is the new 28. Look
at Sony and Olympus. (F2.8 at the wide is nice though. Good job.)

6. EVF is
sharp (2.36 million pixels) but lags with moving subjects, and gets worse as it
gets dark.

7. focus is a
bit slow, but it’s adequate in this style of camera. Still, a bit faster

Continue with the rest of the review below…

Would I buy this camera?

First and foremost the question to ask is would I personally buy this camera? the answer is a most definite yes. Maybe not the lens (I’m not a fan of variable aperture zooms) but definitely the body and the beautiful line-up of prime lenses (4 of them now, and 3 more coming this year). Is this camera for everyone? A definite no. If you want a point and shoot camera and have it do everything for you, this isn’t for you. How about for sports or any fast moving object, like kids or pets? Nope.

This camera
feels like you’re shooting an old film camera. You have to think before you
shoot. Chris Nicols from The Camera Store in Calgary calls it a ‘purist-feeling’
camera. There isn’t a mode dial with PSAM and different sports or portrait
modes. It does have PSAM modes, but it’s via a combination of the shutter speed
dial on the top, and an aperture ring on the lens, and that’s it. The “A” on
either dial puts you in auto mode (P,A or S); but turn that shutter dial or
aperture ring, and now you’re in either priority mode (A or S), or move both
and you’re in full manual (M). It took me a while to get use to shooting in
this old school style again (Leica M series cameras all work like this) but
once you get use to it, it’s most rewarding. 
There is one cheating dial, the exposure compensation, which is
perfectly placed by your right thumb. It’s nice for making quick adjustments to
the exposure, but allows you to quickly go back to the original setting once you’re done.

So yes it
take a bit of getting use to, but once you do get it, it’s faster and arguably
more enjoyable than turning a mode dial, as you feel more in control of the
process. Overall, a great handling camera via traditional
control features. It makes you think before shooting, but
rewards you with more control, a better understanding of what makes for a
better exposed image, and more engaging while getting the shot.

 Accessing Key Features

Other than
these 3 ways to control the exposure, most of the other features are all under
the hood of the X-E1. I wish they had two dedicated buttons though: iso and
white balance. There is a well placed function button on the top, and you can
assign it a multitude of features, but only one at a time. I would recommend
using it as your iso control. But what about white balance? It’s also a very
common feature to access, and to find it you have to find it buried in the menu
list. You can change it via the Q or quick access button, but it’s still a two
step process. Also, via the Q menu, you can’t see how the white balance changes
effect the image via the screen, which is important when you’re dealing with
mixed or tricky lighting. To see live white balance changes, you have to go
into it via the menu button and scroll through. A bit of a hassle…if the X-E1
can use a similar feature in the new X-F1, where the user can have a custom
secondary setting of the main menu dial with on-screen overlay of the secondary
function, I think this would really help in quicker access to key features.
Also, since the buttons on the left side of the screen is so spaced out, there
is room for a dedicated WB button. The Q button is a good start though, but
needs a bit more refinement…nothing that a firmware update can’t fix right?

Amazing ISO Performance. Jpegs. RAW.

As for iso
performance, I have not seen another camera make jpegs so clean, not even on a
full frame camera.  So good in fact, I would
recommend iso 1600 as your base iso, even on a bright sunny day. There’s no
point going any lower. Plus in dynamic range 400% mode, you have to be iso 800 and above anyway, so I prefer gaining the extra dynamic range versus slower iso
and slightly less grain. At night, iso 3200 is very nice still. It looks like my Sony DSLR shooting at iso 400!! The jpegs are a little soft out of camera, but you can increase the sharpness in camera if you wish.  I prefer it a
bit soft so I can sharpen it later in CS5.

A very
unique feature of the Fuji X series cameras is their in-house RAW conversion to
jpegs. Why? You hate dealing with RAW files on your computer? Me too! But with
in-camera RAW conversion, you get to decide the sharpness, the contrast, white
balance, dynamic range, etc., instead of the camera doing it for you. Basically Fuji is allowing you to output your own
custom jpegs to your own taste!! How cool is that?

There is a
good reason why you should convert your own RAW files in-camera on the X-E1:
Fuji’s unique  X-Trans sensor uses a
non-standard demosaicing algorithm. What does this mean? Most RAW 
 software, including Photoshop, can’t convert RAW files made with the Fuji
X-Trans sensor (yet). Why would Fuji use such an unusual algorithm? It has to do with
how the image is captured at the pixel level. Most sensors use the standardBayer color filter array pattern for capturing RGB light patterns. The problem
with this standard pattern is that it needs an anti-aliasing filter in front of
the sensor to avoid moiré, but it also lowers the resolution as it blurs
details. With the Fuji X-trans filter, it uses a random pattern for RGB,
avoiding moiré without using an anti-aliasing filter, making for a higher
resolution image. Does it work? Clearly it does!! In fact, the only other main
stream manufacturer that uses a non-Bayer color filter array is Leica, and they
too have amazingly sharp and high resolution images. Leica has the same problem
with RAW conversion support, but they’ve supplied each camera with their own custom
built RAW conversion software. Good for Leica. Too bad for Fuji X-trans sensor
shooters who love to play with RAW files on their computers…for now.

So if you’re
a RAW shooter, be warned. You can shoot RAW and convert in-camera and still
save the RAW file for later use. I’m sure that the major image software
companies will eventually jump on board, and you can go back to your RAW
files and convert it some time in the future. However, if you shoot mostly
jpegs, then you’re in for a treat. The jpegs are so good, some websites are
reporting almost no difference between Fuji’s jpegs and converted RAW files. That’s
saying a lot.

However, as
mentioned, there is an advantage to shooting RAW and then converting in-camera versus shooting straight jpegs. At the time of taking the image, you don’t have to decide on white balance, sharpness, contrast, dynamic range,
etc. as you can choose later what you want to do, or create multiple images
with different settings from the same RAW file, and all of this in-camera.
Pretty cool.

Fujifilm has ‘Film’ in the name for a

Another cool
feature of the X-E1 and other X series cameras is the different film modes that
you can use to give it a slight “look” or “feel” of classic Fuji films. Names
like Provia, Astia, Velvia are household names for those of us who shoot or use
to shoot film, and we get 7 other film modes to choose from. If you’re a black
and white shooter, you’re in for a real treat with 5 different films, including
3 colour filter modes (green, yellow, red). An extra cool feature in the DRIVE
mode is film bracketing, so you can choose 3 films and decide later which
‘film’ captured the image best, or bracket all 3 colour filters in black and
white mode. I found this bracketing feature very useful and flexible,
especially for those who like to shoot in black and white but don’t want to
fiddle with screw-on colour filters. Also, unlike real film that must be shot
at a specific iso (we all love Velvia, but iso 50 is a bit limiting) and a
specific white balance (usually daylight balanced); in the digital realm we can
shoot at a wide variety of iso’s and lighting situation (Velvia at iso 3200
under tungsten lighting!! Imagine that?!?!)

DOF and Distance Scale

I love real
lenses with a distance and depth of field scale on the lens. If you don’t know
how it works, you are definitely missing out, and it’s a shame that more and
more lenses don’t have the built in distance scale and corresponding DOF scale
(that’s because most zooms are varifocal and not parfocal lenses, so the focus
changes when you zoom, thus you can’t have a scale showing distance because
focus shifts when you zoom!!). That’s why Fuji’s on screen distance and DOF
scale is the greatest invention I’ve seen on a digital camera in recent history!! I can’t imagine
shooting without it now. As soon as you focus, especially in wide angle mode,
the onscreen scale confirms the actual distance of the object in focus (you can change
between metric or imperial), as well as the corresponding depth of field (what’s
in focus in front and behind the focus point). As you change your aperture, you
can see the bar scale increase or decrease, depending on the f-stop you choose,
letting you know what is going to be in focus. This on screen scale is
available for both the back LCD screen and inside the EVF. This is great for
landscape photographers, portrait photographers (including figuring out your
flash output) or manual focus street photographers who need to know their DOF
accurately. In fact, I think it’s a great feature for any photographer,
understanding the relationship between DOF and focal length of the lens and the
distance of focus, and watching it change as you zoom in and out, and change
focus distance and aperture. In fact, with this scale, who needs a DOF preview

Panorama Sweep Mode

I have to
admit that I’m pretty late on the panorama sweep feature that’s built into more
and more cameras. I thought it was a gimmick not worth playing with, but I
thought I’d test it so I could report on it. Once I got the concept, I couldn’t
stop using it!  Fuji gives two widths to
work with (I prefer the medium sweep) and 4 different directions to sweep from. The
vertical mode is the most interesting because with the 18-55 lens, I get 28mm
wide on the vertical, and when I sweep, I get beyond fisheye horizontal. If you
stand stationary in a tight space, as you sweep, you get the fisheye effect,
since the sensor plane is stationary. However, if you sweep by physically
moving, you get an entirely different looking image. I found this feature most
interesting when I was shooting graffiti that was extremely wide.  I use to shoot wide and at odd angles, but
never get the true feel of the entire 20-30 foot long piece of street art.  However, with the panorama sweep feature, I
could finally capture what I could see. The more I played with this feature,
the more addicted I got. It opened me up to an entirely different way of
capturing images!! Thank you Fuji!! 

Click the image below and see what I mean…

Ergonomics and Feel

Does the
X-E1 feel good in the hand? It depends. I think with the 18-55 zoom lens, the
balance is a bit awkward. The camera-lens combo feels a bit front-heavy, even
though the body is slightly heavier than the lens. When I went to my local
camera shop and put on the 18mm and 35mm lens, I felt the camera-lens combo was
more balanced. Walking around street shooting, I don’t like having a strap on
the camera. But since the body lacks a grip, I found myself holding the camera
by the lens and not the body. I think getting the optional hand grip from Fuji is
a good idea for street shooters who don’t like using a strap.

The feel of
the camera body itself is great though. The dials and buttons feel solid and
responsive. Although the 2.8” 460K pixel rear LCD screen is adequate, I wish it
was at least 3” and have more resolution. I found it difficult at times to
check for sharpness of a detailed image, although perhaps that has more to do
with the zoom ratio in playback mode than the size of the screen.  Also, the EVF is a cool feature, especially
shooting in a bright or dark setting, but the lag was a bit distracting. If
you’re shooting primarily static objects, then no problem. But if you’re
shooting people or cars, and you’re using the EVF, it actually made me a bit
dizzy using it due to the lag. This is where the cool hybrid optical/electronic
viewfinder in the X-100 and the X-Pro 1 would really come in handy.

The best
part of the body is the top. Everything is placed logically and
ergonomically…it looks sexy (almost Leica-like) and I really enjoyed turning
the camera on and off via the dial that surrounds the shutter button. The
pop-up flash is just good enough for fill, and you can tilt up for bounce flash
indoors, but that’s about it.  One weird
feature is ‘Silent Mode’. It turns off all sounds, turns off the focus assist
light, but it also turns off all flash control, either built in or attached to
the hotshoe. At first, I thought the camera was broken, but after reading it in
the manual (which I rarely do) I realized it was a feature of the camera. If
you want flash on, but sounds and focus light turned off, you have to manually
shut off in the menu while keeping silent mode off. That is a bit of an odd

18-55mm F2.8-4 Zoom

For a kit
lens, the build quality was really nice…nice enough to sell even as a non-kit
lens (most kit lenses are throw aways, often showing up on Craigslist BNIB). There
was a bit of lens creep when you walked with the lens facing down, but the zoom
action and focus ring was smooth and the aperture ring was nice and clicky.  Manual focusing was pretty good, but use the
zoom feature when doing it, or you’re just guessing (unless you scale focusing).
 The lens hood is reversible which is
nice, but it covers over the manual focus ring. Perhaps a shorter metal type, like
the one for the X-100 would be better, more for protecting the lens. The lens cap
is the center pinch style and a bit hard to remove, especially with gloves
on.  Maybe get an aftermarket one, for
quicker and firmer removal.  Focusing on the lens
itself, starting at F2.8 at wide angle, this is one of the fastest kit lenses
out there, and probably adds to the weight of the all metal body. Overall, a solid,
optically image-stabilized (up to 4 stops), well built zoom lens.

One thing I
didn’t like on the zoom lens is the non-marked aperture ring. I understand that
due to the variable aperture as you zoom, they didn’t want any markings on the
ring; but for those of us who shot with older cameras, or those who shoot
Pentax or Nikon zoom lenses with variable aperture, we understand how it works.
When you’re at the widest aperture and then zoom out, we know it’s not at that
specific aperture anymore. The screen and viewfinder confirms that for us.
However, because there was no marking on the lens, I found myself always spinning
the ring, making sure I was at the maximum aperture. If there was a clear
marking for F2.8, I would leave it there, and no matter where I was in the zoom
range, I would know I’m at maximum aperture. This is just my preference. I’m
sure others prefer a non-marked ring…

Final Conclusion

wrote this review with the conclusion at the beginning, so there really isn’t
much to say now except that I really enjoyed shooting with the Fujifilm X-E1
and the 18-55mm zoom lens.  I would love
to try it out in the field with the new 14mm f2.8 (21mm equiv) and especially
want to try the panorama sweep feature again down graffiti alley.  I also look forward to the upcoming 23mm F1.4
(35mm), and the 10-24 F4 (15-36mm) OIS lenses in 2013.  I wish they had a prime equivalent 24mm lens,
but I guess the 18mm (27mm) is just too close in focal length for Fuji to make

I had the
camera for almost a month, and I noticed after, my shooting style changed. It
was like learning how to drive a standard transmission car again. You have to
think a bit more before shooting, instead of allowing the camera to do most of
the work. It was easy to mess up the shot if you weren’t focused on shooting, so my mind
was always on. 
Yes, there
are things I wish this camera had and quirks I wish it didn’t have, but every
camera and camera system has it’s pros and cons. I couldn’t get use to the EVF
and the unmarked aperture ring, and the autofocus was just slightly too slow
for my taste (although there’s a recent firmware update that’s suppose to make things a lot faster). 

However, I love the sensor, I love
the high resolution jpegs and in-camera RAW converter, and I am completely sold
on the on-screen distance and DOF scale. I don’t shoot nature very often, so I didn’t care
so much about the electronic level, except for when I did the sweep panorama.
In general, buildings and structures are rarely exactly level, and shooting at
odd angles, it doesn’t matter what true level is.

One problem I did find with the camera’s exposure is that it tended to overexpose about 1.5 stops in daylight. At first I thought it was inaccurate LCD brightness, which I increased 2 stops, which helped a bit. But in very simple lighting situations in aperture priority mode, it was consistently over exposing. It’s not the end of the world, and something easily fixed in a firmware update, but something to be mindful of when shooting. I prefer to shoot 1/2 stop under as a general rule, so over exposing 1.5 on average was a bit irritating.

If you
noticed, no video review. I don’t shoot video. The specs are good: 1080, lens
with manual zoom and built in image stabilization, external mic input. However,
there’s no manual exposure control. What’s the point then? Anyway, I’m sure
most people looking at this camera aren’t interested in video. It’s not really
a video type camera anyway…it appears to be a thrown in feature, although manual
control could always be updated via firmware, so who knows…

I can’t
compare the XE-1 with the X-Pro 1, the Sony NEX 6 or 7, or the super popular
Olympus OMD, because I haven’t fully tested any of these other cameras. I will
test them in upcoming reviews, but for now I can say that I highly recommend
the X-E1 to anyone who enjoys (or enjoyed) shooting film, and who enjoy
shooting slow and deliberate photography. I wouldn’t recommend this to those
who want to get great shots of children or anything fast moving, as the
autofocus is not up to speed, and there’s too much lag in the EVF. But for
walking around town and shooting non-fast-moving or static people and buildings
and alleys, I had great fun with this camera. It’s compact and light (compared
to my Sony A700 and my 35mm F1.4 lens) and I felt comfortable shooting all
afternoon with it.

Thank you
Fujifilm Canada for letting me test this wonderful camera, and I look forward
to testing more of your X-series line-up of cameras, specifically the new X-F1,
X-20, X-100s and the X-Pro 1 in the near future…

Post a Comment