When Fujifilm announced the X-E1, I wrote: "A cheaper, smaller, and faster version of thewith only a few compromises? I expect it will take some intense testing to figure out where the downside is, but for now I'm trying mightily to silence the voice in the back of my head shouting, 'Sign me up!'"
Well, it didn't take terribly intense testing to find the downsides: performance and video quality. That said, it delivers roughly the same stellar image quality as its little brother the X-M1, in a cooler, far more photographer-friendly design.
Based around the same excellent, anti-aliasing-filter-free sensor and image-processing subsystem as the X-Pro1, the X-E1 replaces that camera's hybrid viewfinder with a high-resolution electronic viewfinder. Aside from that and the smaller, 2.8-inch LCD, the body looks quite similar, with effectively the same control layout and attractive retro design. It's about 20 percent lighter and a few tenths of an inch smaller in every dimension, with magnesium alloy top and bottom panels.
The camera delivers excellent photo quality, very similar to that of the X-M1. (Hence, my analysis will sound almost...cut and pasted.) Thanks to Fujifilm's X-Trans sensor and excellent image processing, even the JPEG photos are not just usable, but really good up through ISO 1600. Shots as high as ISO 6400 remain pretty usable at full size as well, depending upon image content. However, I did notice more hot pixels at ISO 6400 in the X-E1's images than the X-M1's -- not just the JPEGs, but in the raw files.
The camera also displays a great dynamic range. If you shoot raw, it retains quite a bit of highlight detail in blown-out areas, and you can bring back seemingly clipped shadows without introducing color noise.
I like the camera's color accuracy and color handling as well, though they're slightly different than the X-M1's. Interestingly, the X-E1 includes extra film simulations, including a Pro Neg (in addition to the Astia, Provia, and Velvia slide-film simulations on the X-M1), which seems to better approximate neutral colors.
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As with the X-M1, however, the video quality disappoints. Because the sensor lacks an anti-aliasing filter, edges look terribly jaggy in videos, plus there are all sorts of other edge-related and rolling-shutter artifacts. Most manufacturers who offer an AA-free sensor add some postprocessing to correct the video.
Even with the body and lens firmware updated to the latest versions (2.0 and 3.0, respectively), the X-E1 turns in a rather lackluster showing for performance; not bad, but lagging a bit in its class. It takes about 1.4 seconds to power on and shoot, which is OK, but time to focus and shoot under optimal conditions runs a sluggish 0.5 second and a sluggisher 0.8 second in dim conditions. Taking two sequential shots takes about 1 second, regardless of whether they're raw or JPEG, at least with a fast 95MBps card. That's on average, though; autofocus times vary between slowish and slower. Also, during my field testing, I inadvertently used a slow (15MBps) card and shooting raw+JPEG became painful. (To its credit, the camera didn't slow down while shooting, just changing settings and chimping.) With flash enabled, shot-to-shot time increases to about 3.8 seconds, which is pretty slow.
Like the X-M1, the X-E1 can sustain a nice burst -- 16 JPEGs at about 5.7 frames per second or 12 raw for 5.9fps, before both drop significantly -- but that's only if you don't throw autofocus into the mix. Which you can't. Focus and exposure are automatically fixed on the first frame.
Generally, the autofocus performance feels fine while shooting stills, but the continuous autofocus is pretty miserable for shooting video. However, the camera does have focus peaking now, which really helps when manually focusing via the LCD. It's less effective in the EVF, ironically because on the higher-resolution display, the edges don't stand out as much. Also, the peaking doesn't operate while you're shooting video, which can be frustrating.
The LCD is a mix: small and relatively-low resolution, but sufficiently visible in direct sunlight. The large, bright EVF has a nice dynamic range; in low light it doesn't get nearly as noisy as some. However, it refreshes fairly slowly.
Design and features
There's a lot I really like about the X-E1's design, and I enjoyed shooting with it quite a bit. It's relatively large, though, which some folks might object to, and I wish the grip were slightly bigger, but the thumb rest on the back is big enough that it's comfortable for single-handed shooting.