I was trying to remember the last time I took the car out for a drive. Just for the hell of it. I figured 1998. The enjoyment of simply driving has been lost in the same way that I feel the dslr somehow holds us back from the full enjoyment of photography. And by that I mean the experience of just taking pictures for fun, because its enjoyable.
The problem with dslrs is that they are much like a good estate family car, like thats a problem but… They are good at everything yet dont inspire you to drive.
Then comes along the x100, the Fuji X pro 1 and this made me sit up and take notice. And now the X-E1 has arrived. These are cameras that make you want to go out and take photos. I mean just the process of composing an image and pressing the button is endlessly satisfying and you dont need a backpack to do it.
It combines analogue controls with digital. It makes images that just have this look and feel.
Moreover this camera makes you rethink the way you shoot. It makes you take your time. It makes you see. Most importantly it makes you fall in love with photography all over again.
How it does all of this exactly I cant define but it does. If it were a car it would be a TVR. If it were an actor it would be James Dean.
The latest top end dslrs may have more megapixles and even better ISO but you wont care. You will be too busy taking pictures.
The Fuji X-E1 will be my new primary camera with its 18-55 zoom and the D700 shall be my second camera with the fantastic 50mm 1.8 or the 70-200. Here’s my review and at the end hopefully the lightbulb will go off and if you dont get it already you will understand. The image quality is the same at the X pro 1 and there are a ton of images online you can google search.
Ipad image sorry for low quality^^
What you see is what you get viewfinder. When you look through the viewfinder you see the image exactly how it will come out before you take the shot. White balance, exposure and even film simulation mode are all simulated in the electronic viewfinder so you know what you get before you take it. You can see the image after you have taken it in the viewfinder as well, looking at the back of the camera is no longer needed. I have not got used to this fully yet though and find myself checking out of habit, that is changing though. If you turn the exposure compensation dial the image in the viewfinder gets brighter or darker accordingly. I wanted to address this first because there is some misinformation about this online. NOTE: this only works in Aperture priority and Shutter priority. I use shutter priority I will explain why later.
To put this into a real world situation for you, lets say you are taking a portrait of someone, you no longer need to do that DSLR thing where you get them to look at the camera, then you take a shot, look at the back of the camera, adjust it, say “just a couple more” and two shots later you have it. It works like this. Raise the camera, see the exposure in the viewfinder, couple of clicks on the exposure compensation, take the shot. 1 shot, no picture review. Done. That shot will probably need no exposure or white balance changes in post. Changing white balance, if you need to, is so quick and simple with a custom button, you see the option in the viewfinder, its very intuitive and you see the changes to white balance in the viewfinder and you scroll up and down the presets.
What you get in the viewfinder in addition to the above is also a live histogram. This is great as it gives you a very quick idea about where your exposure lies in terms of clipping highlights and shadows. Although you can see the image in the viewfinder its nice to know how close you are to blowing highlights or how black the shadows are.
You also get all of your white balance menus and ISO adjustment menus, in fact the entire menu system in the viewfinder. Or the back of the camera, its up to you. The X-E1 has detection to tell when you put the camera to your face and its instant, no lag.
Obviously you see all your other info such as ISO, shutter speed, aperture etc.
The viewfinder is good but lags in low light. This can make you feel you wont get shots but its as if the camera holds your hand. Shooting people moving in very low light leaves you feeling that you missed every shot only to then look at the pictures later and I find everything was in focus and properly exposed and looked really good. Weird. This is something I will have to really get used to. At first I was not sure about this because you just don’t feel like you are getting the shots. You have to know your shutter speeds and apertures etc. In this regard its not really a camera for complete beginners.
To sum up the viewfinder it is excellent in many ways and makes the X-E1 truly wonderful to use. It does suffer from lag though in low light but is fast and snappy in reasonable light. Once you get used to this its not an issue but I would expect anyone who buys this camera to wonder if they did the right thing at first because of this lag.
Dont skip this, manual focus works differently on this camera. This is the mode I shoot in but I only use manual focus sometimes. With the camera in manual focus the back button focus button still gives you autofocus but the shutter button is shutter only. To do this you put the camera body in manual on the front the same as you do with a Nikon. The autofocus works in an unusual way. When you press the back button you dont need to hold it down, it finds focus for you from one tap. This is nice in practice. The back button can be configured to lock either just focus or exposure and focus. I set mine to just focus.
The viewfinder has live depth of field in both view in the viewfinder and by way of a scale which is the blue bar in the pic above. With this you can see how far the camera is currently focusing. For instance you can see that you are focusing at a distance of 7 ft and it tells you how big your depth of field is ( the white section in the blue bar above). If you turn the manual focus on the lens it instantly changes, the blue bar is so useful as it lets you know where you are in your focus ie close or far and you know to twist a little or a lot, this makes manual focus very fast. It makes manual focus easy and its always there, you dont need to do anything different to bring this up, you run manual and auto focus at the same time seamlessly using both . Also there is focus check. there is a button on the back of the camera that as you press it zooms the viewfinder in to check focus. It does this before you take the shot, not in playback. Great. What is in focus shimmers in silver slightly. I think it looks like extreme moire on what is in focus. It is not as good as focus peaking but it is easy and works. Tapping the shutter button to shoot brings you out of this mode so you only have to hit the focus check button once. One thing to remember is that the way mirrorless cameras work is that the manufacturers can make large changes to the system with firmware updates. Full focus checking may come as a firmware upgrade, as well as autofocus speed improvements and so on. Fuji are very active in doing this and release updates every few weeks.
No post production, auto white balance. Perfect exposure thanks to the viewfinder:
The autofocus is the biggest issue along with the viewfinder for most. How slow is it? Let me state I am using the camera with the 18-55 lens which is meant to focus faster than the prime lenses. To me I have to compare to other cameras and at the same time break autofocus performance into accuracy and speed. In short, in good or reasonable light the focus is quick and snappy, certainly fast enough for most uses and does not frustrate.
In terms of accuracy its really close to my D700. Its surprisingly accurate and doesnt suffer the 5d issue of the camera confirming focus for the images to appear soft and just a fraction out when looking at them on the computer, this is important to me. If it says it is in focus then it better be in focus. I wasnt expecting this but even really tricky low light shots of moving people are bang on. I expect this might not be the case with the prime lenses. In very low light when the camera focuses it appears to focus to infinity and back and then pick what it thought was best out of all of it. This is frustrating at first as it looks like its just missed the subject as it focuses past them and past back again looking like it is hunting (it isnt) and this takes just under a second. It suddenly snaps into the correct position and is spot on. Pretty much every time as well. So to say it is slow alone is a little unfair on the camera. It may be slow but it is accurate and seems to get there just in time.
This X-E1 will struggle for anything like shooting kids running about or sports but for people moving at normal speeds it is great.
The X-E1 also has an autofocus assist light. Its not the mini flood light that the d700 has. It is actually less bright than the autofocus assist light on speedlights and is less distracting, I dare say it may be a usable autofocus assist beam. Its soft and gentle and works. With this it focuses in the dark at a reasonable speed. Its only short range, up to 12 feet maybe, but who focuses a long distance in the dark regularly.
The X-E1 shutter is super quiet and gorgeous sounding, it is not and can not do silent. It sounds great though. There is no mirror so it just makes a very satisfying little click-click. The sound is slow and although the camera shoot at 6fps it doesnt sound like it can. The shutter sounds like it is shooting at 1/10th all the time. This is nice though and makes pressing the shutter button satisfying.
The white balance of the X-E1 is superb. Ive never used a camera that could judge white balance as accurately as this. It really does seem to be flawless. I will get to test this as time goes on more but I have as yet not needed to make any adjustments in post production to white balance. Yes its that good. This is a Fuji strength for sure and this is a massive time saving in terms of not having to do this in camera or in post.
The X-E1 meters extremely well. Better than either the 5d mk ii or D700. Not flawless though and I find myself still needing to make a good number of adjustments. It is just closer to correct.
The tone of skin is rendered slightly warm but very natural, it is again better than both the 5d and D700 imo.
The X-E1 ISO performance is excellent to 6400. ISO is no worry.
Weight feel and size
It is tiny. I mean it fits in the palm of your hand. Body, zoom lens and battery less than 1kg, its so light you would forget you are carrying a camera.
Pop up flash:
The pop up flash of the X-E1 has one big advantage and that is that it can be aimed upwards. You need to use your index finger to do this but it acts as though Fuji have intended it to be used like this. As you fold it back it comes to rest on the top of the camera and with your finger it is fixed in place. Its very comfortable and easy to use and like I said it seems to have been designed to do this. The flash metering is excellent. This is really handy as it does allow you to instantly add some bounced flash on the fly. The ttl metering is spot on. It cant be turned to the side though, the only options are up and forwards. It also has commander mode so I imagine it can trigger wireless ttl flash units.
You change the aperture by turning a ring on the lens. You change the shutter speed with the shutter speed dial on top. ISO is changed via custom programmable button on the camera or the menus system. No more accidentally knocking your settings in the studio.
This button can be programmed to change bring up the menu of various settings, I have mine set to white balance. Though I haven’t needed to use that yet so I may change it to ISO but I don’t change that either so not sure what to do with it.
This brings up a quick navigation menu that remembers where you were and the last item you changed. It works very well and mine is set to ISO though this hardly gets used either.
Other things the X-E1 can do:
The X-E1 can bracket, exposure, ISO, Dynamic range, Picture styles. Essentially in each case it takes 3 images in one and produces 3 images on the card for every picture taken. Also it takes HD movies, with the image stabilization this is pretty good.
As with most cameras now the X-E1 can do in camera panoramas and these work very well. Better than I thought it would. It takes several exposures as you sweep the camera then quickly stitches the images.
The 18-55 OIS 2.8-f4:
This lens has 4 stops of image stabilization which means I can shoot detail shots at 1/8th of a second zoomed in and means I can shoot ceremonies at 1/30th or 1/60th of a second easily.
It is sharp throughout the zoom range and is solid. It has no zoom creep at all. All the rings on it feel smooth but are well damped so feel heavy to move. Fuji got this spot on.
Why I shoot the X-E1 in shutter priority:
I don’t often shoot manual. I want to focus on what is happening not spend ages just getting my exposure. I want to shoot in a semi automatic mode and usually I shoot in aperture priority but the X-e1 does not have minimum shutter speed settings in auto ISO like the d700 does. I think that minimum shutter speed is coming in a firmware update though as everyone is screaming for it and when it does I will use that.
So this is how I would shoot it at a wedding. My lens will be at f2.8-f4.0. Indoors it will be at the biggest aperture possible. Set to Auto ISO the camera will give me the correct ISO. So I just change the shutter speed to suit. For instance at a wedding I will shoot details at 1/8th of a second to give me the lowest ISO. Id shoot the ceremony at 1/60th and moving people indoors at 1/125th Outdoors I am at 1/500, if its too bright the camera will stop the lens down for me. Thats all I do. Just turn the exposure compensation dial the rest of the time. This way I control the shutter speed so its never too slow but always low enough to give me the best image quality. This works better than aperture priority which gives you shutter speed close to your focal length. For instance at 50mm it will try to give you 1/50th of a second. Which is no good for me at 23mm getting 1/20th for instance.
The other bonus to this is that the shutter dial on top has the numbers written on it so a quick glance tells me the shutter speed and a quick turn of the dial is very accurate to get the right speed. All the dials are solid and clunk into place and feel heavy in movement.
If you are coming from a DSLR you will have a bit of a learning curve. The camera behaves very differently to a DSLR. It makes you think and slow down. You cant brute force your way through a shoot. You have to be more thoughtful and considerate. This is a big plus in many ways. I like this about it.
My first reaction was give me the through the lens view of a DSLR. I was frustrated. This camera will initially frustrate you, the electronic viewfinder is irritating at first, this comes from not understanding what the camera is all about though. Be prepared for this. You need to learn to shoot in a different way. I felt like I was on a steep learning curve. I even questioned if I had done the right thing. But then I said to myself I need to really shoot this camera how it was asking me to shoot it. And then it came to life.
You have to stop thinking how a DSLR thinks. This is hard to put into words. In many ways this camera is faster than a DSLR, bare with me. If the DSLR were a machine gun then the X-E1 is a sniper rifle. You cant shoot a sniper rifle like a machine gun and so you have to change the way you shoot. The X-E1 is about the single shot – nailed it way of shooting. This is a delightful way to make photographs and it can be faster. Once you are in the right frame of mind it is addictive and each click is rewarding. The pictures are stunning. I can imagine putting the D700 in the boot of the car for large sections of a wedding and just go around with this tiny camera.
Light bulb moment:
I can work faster than with a DSLR. This didn’t actually occur to me at first. Im working faster, because im doing less. Pulling the camera to my eye, a couple of clicks to correct the exposure and I have the shot. One shot, done. Im working more easily because im getting DSLR performance in a tiny camera. Spend a 10 hour day with this lightweight camera and it feels like the X-E1 leans back and says “told you so”. With its awesome ISO, colour rendition, white balance, skin tone and exposure metering. This camera just handles it. This feels like a more pure way of doing photography, even though its reliant on new technology, its more about the moment. Now I have a camera I can really take everywhere and Im shooting more than before but Im shooting far fewer shots to get any job done. For all the speed of a DSLR they need constant review and checking. This camera is more than that though. Its size and look make people not pay attention and you get those shots you wouldnt otherwise. Its just so much fun to use you want to take it everywhere and shoot it all the time, which can only be a good thing.
This is why I love this camera. Each image feels special and thought out. I had got used to just running and gunning too much with a DSLR.
This camera is a dream for natural light shooters. A lot of its benefits are lost on people that use flash extensively I expect.
I started writing this review after 3 days of ownership and now it has nearly been a week. Going back to my D700, the D700 feels faster in terms of autofocus, really much faster, but it feels remote. I dont feel as connected to the camera. I have started to feel like the X-E1 really sucks you in and makes you shoot its way. Like it has a style and a way where a DSLR has none. It commands your attention and says “you better think about this” but in the way a good teacher might rather than being difficult. My D700 in comparison feels like it is saying “yeah ok do what you like”.
To conlcude I would say this camera is not a DSLR replacement, I would not be without my D700. That was never my intention. I wanted a 2 camera setup for professional work. But it will become my primary camera. I still love my D700. I like each for different reasons and they fill different roles.