USER REPORT: Fujifilm X-E1 review and tests
By Alexander Hessentswey – Follow him on twitter
Good time of the day, dear readers of Steve Huff’s great site!
I’d like to share with you some impressions about Fuji X-E1 which I’ve got recently.
UPDATE: I’ve added info about firmware updates 1.04 (body) and 2.02 (35mm f:1.4). What to check and how to address issues, see below.
When I first took X100 in a shop to test a little, it said me:
— I’m a retro obscure thing, and you will not shoot with me, I promise.
At first X-Pro1 told me:
— I’m a big serious pro-priced thing and you cannot focus with me that easy.
But the second time it told me:
— Look, I state I’m Classic and feel like a real camera, but don’t be afraid. You’ve not just got used to me, you are not attentive enough. But that’s a matter of time.
When I first took in my hands X-E1 it told me:
— You are at home. You are a little confused, but we can photograph together and you will like me very much.
And the 35mm f:1.4 said: — I am THE lens.
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So I had to try.
First time I worried – can I shoot with Fuji X-E1 just like I can with the Panasonic G1? Maybe I can’t shoot good enough with anything but the Panasonic (I’ve gotten used to it) and that means I have to stay in the system and get a GH2 or GH3. I know there is compatibility much like it happens with lovers or friends or co-authors. There can be a camera or lens incompatible with me (as Jupiter-37A) — it can be great or high-grade but I can’t do anything with it. But when I saw pictures from X-Pro1 and X-E1 in reviews I was blown away like several years ago with Lumix G1 and later with Panaleica 25mm f:1.4. So X-E1 couldn’t come out of my mind. And I feel this is the time to try anything else and to be clear — this Fuji.
So I really had to try.
Saint Petersburg, Russia (Fuji X-E1 with Fujinon XF 35mm f:1.4 R at 1.4, ISO640, multiple exposure)
Petropavlovskaya castle, Saint Petersburg, Russia (Fuji X-E1 with Tair-11 f:2.8 133mm, ISO200)
At first it was clear that Panasonic with its pro DSLR-like controls is superior in ergonomics. But most of the Fuji’s annoyances disappeared in about a week or two when I tried to know the camera better. Some things were done in the other way, some were not so important.
So the things that stayed are: slow autofocus and operations (not so slow in some conditions — see below), a lack of 3-4 buttons for quick access to important settings, and… mostly unusable auto-ISO that have lost custom shutter speed limit somehow. (At the moment of writing we were waiting for the 1.04 firmware, by now autofocus accuracy and speed were improved, read below.)
The camera has some quirks sometimes, but every camera does.
Anya in Saint Petersburg, Russia (Fuji X-E1 with Fujinon XF 35mm f:1.4 R at 2.0, ISO500)
Don’t use Quick Start mode, it eats the battery. Learn what’s Dynamic Range 100%, 200%, 400% before using. Try various focusing modes and focusing area sizes. Always check the shutter speed when you are in auto-ISO mode. Shoot either JPEG (which is very good) or choose the appropriate RAW-converter (more on RAW apps in X-Pert corner) and check halftones and colors — but really, give the out of camera JPEG a try, it’s one of the best out here.
Fuji tends to set you a +1 stop ISO value because it tends to overexpose 1/3 to 1 stop, while preserving the highlights, however. Make sure you prefer the exposure set by your camera, or if not add the exposure compensation -1/3 or more, or set the ISO value by hand. As with every camera, try to keep ISO as low as possible, but not ISO100 (it’s artificial pull-process from 200). Noice reduction may be a little bit too aggressive, so in a good light prefer -2 and in low light check what works better: 0 or -2, it depends. Post processing will give you better sharpness control so +1 can be used only in good light (and mostly isn’t recommended). For better details you can try Sharpness -2 (sic!) and compare with 0. If you want good details, try to stay inside ISO 200-800 or 200-1250. But it’s Fuji, so don’t be afraid to enlarge ISO up to 6400 and more if the shot needs it – chances are, you’ll get quite usable and fair detailed photo.
The Boundaries and How Do We Cross Them
Fuji is not for reportage nor sports. Not really… ?
UPDATE: The sports and reportage sections were written about old firmware experience, by now autofocus will be more snappy and fast.
In sports shooting the totally bad thing is a slow camera, a missing focus on subject., missing focus on your subject. One thing I can not do is rely on this autofocus. Indeed, I shoot manual glass for several years and why should I now autofocus? I’ve mounted some film lenses (135mm and 50mm) and that time Fuji shined! Quick operation while focusing, not so bad 5 RAW shots per second, not so small buffer so Fuji became a quick camera. I’ve lost several shots but mostly because of facial expressions or gestures than of focus missing. Good. (And when you set a shutter speed and an aperture manually you may allow Fuji to set exposure suggesting ISO.) I’m more than sure when I’ll get used to the camera, I will be able to shoot more quickly.
Shooting with manual lens, in Saint Petersburg, Russia (Fuji X-E1 with Leica Summicron R II 50mm, ISO3200)
In reportage you need to be quick. But in a good light and in some modes Fuji can focus relatively well. When I’ve used it in the real life situation I’ve missed just a couple of shots and again mostly because of my errors than of Fuji’s. You should check the light conditions, use expocorrection if needed and probably correct white balance a little. Check focusing and compare 1-zone with multi zone. If you choose 1-zone try to make focusing area smaller, try to switch to Macro mode.
You can check various film emulation modes and I’ll advice to use 2 or 3 per reportage or stick with BW or Astia or Normal, but don’t use film modes bracketing in sports or reportage.
The other things you may use are some manual lenses – and that’s when Fuji will also allow you to be quick. What can be very important is your ability to stay almost invisible. X-Pro1 and black X-E1 look like relatively small old film cameras, and black+silver X-E1 is even more retro while staying hardly visible. So I can’t say which version will make you less visible actually, may be, the black+silver one looks less serious and is quite opposite to large fullframe DSLRs — you don’t look as journalist and it’s very good.
Meeting in Russia (Fuji X-E1 with Tair-11A f:2.8 135mm for M42, ISO200)
So — Fuji is not for sports nor reportage… but you can use it for these genres and get great results!
Firmware update 1.04 and (35mm) 2.02 — how to install and what will be improved
Fuji have recently released firmware updates for X system cameras and lenses.
There was a lot of buzz about 2.02 not updating properly so I’ll tell you what I know. The typical situation when AF accuracy improves but AF noice and speed degrades usually combines with the situation when firmware version was somehow 2.01 and so the 35mm lens wasn’t updated. Fuji tells you to update BOTH body and lens firmware for autofocus improvement — it was tested that 1.04 WUTHOUT 2.02 causes AF noice, but WITH 2.02 works good. I guess in some interval of time there was 2.01 pre-release on Fuji site and it says that all was updated while it wasn’t.
How to update:
Download the new firmware from Fuji’s site: X-E1 1.04 and 35mm 2.02. Read the version numbers there and if you are still seeing something earlier than 1.04 or 2.02 respectively, it’s browser cache problem or something else, but the download links can be incorrect, too.
Make sure the battery is charged. Copy both firmware files to the SD card root. Insert the card into X-E1 and press and hold DISP button, and then, while still holding it, turn on the camera. It will tell you the firmware versions. Start to update the lens firmware to check which is the version inside update. If it’s not 2.02, DON’T INSTALL. Now cancel the installation (or turn off the camera then turn on again while holding DISP button.) The same way, begin to install the body firmware and check if it’s 1.04. If it’s not 1.04, DON’T INSTALL. So, to be clear, Fuji tells us, we should either install firmware both for body and lens or not install at all. Installation is possible only if both updates are in correct versions — that’s easy. So if you check the lens new firmware version, see 2.02, than check for body firmware version, see 1.04 — go on and install firmware for body and for the lens.
With other lenses or X-Pro1 body do the same, just find the firmware on Fuji’s site. Fuji tells us to remove zoom lens from body before updating the body firmware. I have no zoom and I guess it’s not about fixed lenses.
First impressions after updating
So I made sure the versions are correct and all was fine. After some testing I see significant improvement over the autofocus accuracy and speed with 35mm f:1.4 (the only system lens I have), I’ve tested it in the same very conditions in which it focused slowly and failed time to time with the old firmware. Now I had no problems focusing and the camera becomes relatively fast (except for totally non-contrasty objects in really dim light which can be difficult for most of the cameras) and not a hyper-snail like it was before. For me, it makes X-E1 much more acceptable in real life using. And I tell about its great image quality and other strong sides in other sections.
Read more: Steve Huff about new firmware
And Home Again
If you shoot portraits, Fuji X-E1 is the portrait camera. It can paint landscapes as natural-looking scenery or in bright expressive colors if you choose so. It’s landscape camera. It’s great for architecture, too. And it can do macro. And still life scenes. It is very good for street photo, too and its monochrome photos are great.
In Moomin cafe bar, Moscow, Russia (Fuji X-E1 with Leica Summicron R II 50mm, ISO2000)
Fuji gives a lot of halftones so it can do smooth and delicate portraits. Something unusual to me, and very pleasing.
While there is no portrait lens in lineup by now, anything like an 85mm f:1.4, Fuji has 2 lenses that can be used for portraits: bright 50mm f:1.4 (initially 35mm) and macro 90mm f:2.4 (initially 60mm), not so bright, though. Both lenses show plenty of details, are soft enough and non-aggressive, and have a portrait rendering. You can use any 50mm (will be 75mm on crop — that’s better for portraits than 50mm) and portrait lens also and Fuji will do its best to help you in manual focusing. UPDATE: And we know the 85mm f:1.4 is already in the roadmap for this year, so things will become even better.
Lerka (in Moomin cafe bar), Moscow, Russia (Fuji X-E1 with Fujinon XF 35mm f:1.4 R at 2.5, ISO400)
Both Normal/Provia and Astia film emulations can be used for portraits, and Pro Soft and Pro Contrast also in some conditions. Fuji has very good skin tones rendering. I’ll write more about concert photography later. Fuji allows to photograph at high ISO. Here is a portrait from a concert:
Alla at Umka & Borya rock concert, Books and Coffee club, Saint Petersburg, Russia (Fuji X-E1 with Yashinon DSM 50mm f:1.4, ISO1600)
The Fuji S5 Pro was a great portrait DSLR. It was criticised for not so good details, little too soft. X-Pro1 and X-E1 feel quite as good also and address the details issue – at this time, details became great. (Some people pointed to several situations when S5 Pro has more accurate colors and the other moments when X-E1 does better.) So you can choose to get very sharp image or soft portrait if you wish.
Anya the White Rainbow (books illustrator), in Saint Petersburg, Russia (Fuji X-E1 with Fujinon XF 35mm f:1.4 R at 2.5, ISO6400)
While Fuji’s sensor isn’t actually monochrome (sensor in Leica Monochrom does), it can produce really great monochrome files. A lot of halftones and good dynamic range allow you to choose between dynamic and contrasty BW image and soft one.
Fujinon lenses are very good not only in colour rendition but also in BW, giving clear and almost classic look.
Out of camera JPEGs can come in BW, BW+yellow filter or red or green, or in Sepia (which is somehow softer than others). It gives you many shooting variants and you even are not forced to get and use the glass filter (so you don’t lose light on this).
And you can do a film bracketing. Or shoot in RAW+JPEG and develop the shot just inside the camera trying other flim emulation modes and contrast variants. Also, you can shoot in colour (Normal) and BW and then develop colour shots in Silver Efex or Exposure or other app (comparing it with out of camera BW). You will be able to get dramatic and interesting pictures.
Smile (in Moomin cafe bar), Moscow, Russia (Fuji X-E1 with Fujinon XF 35mm f:1.4 R at 2.0, ISO2500)
Fuji is very good in the leaf and grass colors, also with sun rays shining through. And yes if you wish night scenery or architecture, it can paint great images also. Just try to get natural colors. Or you can choose bright and vivid, too. I like Fujichrome Provia and Fuji Pro films colors and X-E1 colors too.
Moscow, Russia (Fuji X-E1 with Fujinon XF 35mm f:1.4 R at 1.8, ISO2500)
Petropavlovskaya castle, Saint Petersburg, Russia (Fuji X-E1 with Fujinon XF 35mm f:1.4 R at 10.0, ISO200)
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t state that you can’t get great photographs from other cameras. Let’s compare with Panasonic G1 from the same walk:
Petropavlovskaya castle, Saint Petersburg, Russia (Panasonic G1 with Panasonic 25mm f:1.4 Leica-labeled, 50mm in equivalent at 5.0, ISO100)
I can tell you I’ve used DR100%, 200%, 400% and auto. And 200-400% produced some nice and interesting results. But yes 200% means 400ISO and 400% starts from 800ISO, and, of course, you can get the same results for yourself if you underexpose a stop or 2/3, shoot in RAW and then lighten shadows and all image. (More on this on X-Pert corner.)
Here is another one from Panasonic:
Petropavlovskaya castle, Saint Petersburg, Russia (Panasonic G1 with Panasonic 25mm f:1.4 Leica-labeled, 50mm in equivalent at 10.0, ISO100)
And from Fuji:
Petropavlovskaya castle, Saint Petersburg, Russia (Fuji X-E1 with Fujinon XF 35mm f:1.4 R at 10.0, ISO200)
X-E1 is just the photocamera. It doesn’t feel absolutely like a professional camera, while it is professional. And it’s not small. And not big. Nor it’s Premium Award-Winning Best Camera Ever. And not High-End made of marble. Not the cold old film SLR with no auto functions (except for expo metering, may be) waiting you to know everything and do everything by hand. Not the high-tech plastic computer with WiFi, user tips ‘I’veForgotWhatIsShutterButton’, multilevelled menus, pop-art+trash-camera+clip-me-all-colors modes, highlighted controls and 3 games. Not the silly cam to occupy the place in its category and kill all others by low prices. Not an ordinary camera just like any other only pretending to be cool and retro. Not a true rangefinder. Not the black silent thing with 3 innovations and weird colours.
It’s just the camera. It has easy classic control wheels. It’s just waiting for you to go out and photograph. You will need a little patience, you’ll want to learn it better. It doesn’t expect you to be a professional and it’s not for complete beginners. It will not swear to delete all noise and be ideal. But it tries to do its best and God knows it is awesome. Don’t expect it to be ideal and it will give you much more than you are waiting for.
My favorite reviews of the X system (use Google Translate to read texts):
Vasilyevsky island, Saint Petersburg, Russia (Fuji X-E1 with Fujinon XF 35mm f:1.4 R at 2.0, slow 1/20s, ISO200) – notice the wings behind the man
Petropavlovskaya castle, Saint Petersburg, Russia (Fuji X-E1 with Fujinon XF 35mm f:1.4 R at 10.0, ISO200) – and now two silhouettes from animation or an old story
Alexander Hessentswey from Saint Petersburg, Russia