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Fujifilm X-E1 review: Great photos, fun to use

For photo-quality-first photographers who want the analog-ish shooting experience, the Fujifilm X-E1 rules in its price range.

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Lori Grunin
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Lori Grunin

Senior Editor / Reviews

I've been writing about and reviewing consumer technology since before the turn of the century. I'm also a photographer and cat herder, frequently at the same time.

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8 min read

When Fujifilm announced the X-E1, I wrote: "A cheaper, smaller, and faster version of the Fujifilm X-Pro1 with 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!'"

fujifilm-10-e1-digital-camera-mirrorless-system-16-3-mpix-3-10-optical-zoom-18-55mm-ois-lens-black.jpg
8.0

Fujifilm X-E1

The Good

The <b>Fujifilm X-E1</b> delivers excellent photo quality in an attractively designed body with a streamlined shooting layout.

The Bad

While not bad, performance lags in its class, and the video quality disappoints.

The Bottom Line

It's not a general-purpose recommendable camera thanks to subpar video and slightly sluggish performance, but for photo-quality-first photographers who want the analog-ish shooting experience, the Fujifilm X-E1 rules in its price range.

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.

Image quality
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.

Fujifilm X-E1 photo samples

See all photos

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.

Click to download ISO 200
ISO 1600
ISO 6400

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.

Performance
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.

On top it's got analog shutter-speed and exposure-compensation dials; for shutter priority shooting, you rotate the shutter dial to A. The camera is designed to be used with lenses that have manual aperture rings like the 18-55mm lens that comes in the kit, but a recent firmware update has rendered it compatible with the newer (cheaper) no-aperture-ring lenses; with those, you control aperture via the jog dial on the back. (Here are the instructions in PDF format.) If you have the higher-end lenses, you choose between manual or automatic aperture modes by flipping a switch on the lens.

The shutter button has threads for a wired shutter release, and there's a programmable function button next to it that you can map to one of a variety of frequently needed settings. The popup flash can be tilted back for bouncing, a feature I really like. An autofocus mode switch -- for single, continuous, or manual -- is on the front of the body.

Down the left size of the camera back are the review, drive, metering, and autofocus-area selector buttons. Fujifilm considers movie recording a drive mode, so you have to inconveniently dive down to turn it on, and you can't shoot photos while you're in that mode.

On the right side are the four-way navigation buttons, one of which is dedicated to macro mode, and a menu/OK button. On the thumb rest are an AE/AF-lock button and Fujifilm's Q to bring up the quick control menu. I'm getting to the point where I wish I could customize the options that appear on this screen, since there are too many I never use and they all have equal visual weight.

  Fujifilm X-M1 Fujifilm X-E1 Olympus PEN E-P5 Samsung NX300 Sony Alpha NEX-6
Sensor (effective resolution) 16.3MP X-Trans CMOS
n/a
16.3MP X-Trans CMOS
n/a
16.1MP Live MOS
12 bits
20.3MP hybrid CMOS
n/a
16.1MP Exmor HD CMOS
n/a
23.6mm x 15.6mm 23.6mm x 15.6mm 17.3mm x 13mm 23.5mm x 15.7mm 23.5mm x 15.6mm
Focal-length multiplier 1.5x 1.5x 2.0x 1.5x 1.5x
Sensitivity range ISO 100 (exp)/ 200 - ISO 6400/25600 (exp) ISO 100 (exp)/ 200 - ISO 6400/25600 (exp) ISO 100 (exp)/200 - ISO 25600 ISO 100 - ISO 25600 ISO 100 - ISO 25600
Continuous shooting 5.6fps
30 JPEG
6fps
n/a
4.5-5fps (lens-dependent, IS off)
70 JPEG/20 raw
(9fps with fixed AE/AF, no IS)
8.6fps
n/a
3fps
11 raw/15 JPEG
(10fps with fixed exposure)
Viewfinder None EVF
0.5-inch
2.36 million dots
100% coverage
n/a
Optional EVF
2.36 million dots
100% coverage
1.48x/ 0.74x
None OLED EVF
0.5-inch
2.4 million dots
100% coverage
1.09x/0.73x
Hot shoe Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Autofocus 49-area
Contrast AF
49-area
Contrast AF
35-area contrast AF 105-point phase detection, 247-point contrast AF 99-point phase detection, 25-area contrast AF
AF sensitivity range n/a n/a n/a n/a 0 - 20 EV
Shutter speed 30-1/4,000 sec.; bulb to 60 min; 1/180 x-sync 30-1/4,000 sec.; bulb to 60 min; 1/180 x-sync 60 - 1/8,000 sec; bulb to 30 minutes; 1/250 sec x-sync
(FP to 1/4,000 sec)
30-1/6,000 sec.; bulb to 4 minutes; 1/180 x-sync 30-1/4,000 sec.; bulb; 1/160 sec x-sync
Metering 256 zones 256 zones 324 areas n/a 1,200 zones
Metering range n/a n/a 0 - 20 EV n/a 0 - 20 EV
Flash Yes Yes Yes Included optional Yes
Wireless flash Yes No Yes No No
Image stabilization Optical Optical Sensor shift Optical Optical
Best video 1080/30p H.264 QuickTime MOV 1080/24p H.264 QuickTime MOV 1080/30p @ 20Mbps H.264 QuickTime MOV 1080/60p/30p; 1,080x810/24p AVCHD 1080/60p @ 28Mbps, 1080/24p @ 24Mbps
Audio Stereo Stereo; mic input Stereo; mic input Stereo; mic input Stereo; mic input
LCD size 3-inch tilting
920,000 dots
2.8-inch fixed
460,000 dots
3-inch tilting touch-screen LCD
1.04 million dots
3.3-inch tilting AMOLED touch screen
768,000 dots
3-inch tilting touch screen
921,600 dots
Wireless connection Wi-Fi None Wi-Fi Wi-Fi Wi-Fi
Battery life (CIPA rating) n/a 350 shots 330 shots n/a 270 shots
(with viewfinder)
Dimensions (inches, WHD) 4.6 x 2.6 x 1.5 5.1 x 2.9 x 1.5 4.8 x 2.7 x 1.5 4.8 x 2.5 x 1.6 4.8 x 2.8 x 1.1
Body operating weight (ounces) 12.8 12.6 15.1 10.9 (est) 12.3
Mfr. price $699 (body only) $799 (est., body only) $999.99 (body only) n/a $749.99 (body only)
$799 (with 16-50mm lens) $1,199.95 (est., with 18-55mm lens) n/a $649.99 (with 20-50mm i-Function lens) $899.99 (with 15-60mm PZ lens)
n/a n/a $1,449.99 (with 17mm f1.8 lens and VF-4 EVF) n/a n/a
Ship date July 2013 November 2012 July 2013 March 2013 October 2012

There are some aspects of the design I don't like, though. The biggest caveat goes out to tripod users: the mount is right next to the battery compartment/SD card slot, which makes swapping cards or batteries a mega pain when it's on a tripod. Also, some folks have complained that there's no way to set a minimum shutter speed when in aperture-priority mode; still can't, even after firmware update.

While the camera gets bonus points for the EVF, tilting flash, and focus peaking, the rest of the feature set is pretty average. With the exception of the minimum shutter-speed issue, and perhaps a desire for time-lapse or increased number of shots during bracketing, there's enough here to keep most photographers happy. But in addition to the poor video quality, there're very few options for video; ironically, you have more control over the audio quality than the video quality (though you can apply the film simulations while shooting).

For a complete accounting of the X-E1's features and operation, download the PDF manual.

Conclusion
If you just want the great photos, save your money and buy the cheaper X-M1; the X-E1 is just as much about the shooting experience as the photographs, and the cheaper kit lens from the X-M1 will likely disappoint you if you're attracted to the philosophy of the X-E1's design.

If you want something a little more well-rounded, though, with better performance and (at the very least) decent video quality, the Sony Alpha NEX-6 is still my recommendation for this class.

Shooting speed (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Raw shot-to-shot time  
Typical shot-to-shot time  
Shutter lag (dim)  
Shutter lag (typical)  
Olympus PEN E-P5
0.2 
0.2 
0.3 
0.2 
Sony Alpha NEX-6
0.2 
0.2 
0.5 
0.2 
Olympus OM-D E-M5
0.6 
0.5 
0.5 
0.3 
Fujifilm X-M1
0.9 
1 
0.7 
0.3 
Fujifilm X-E1
1 
1 
0.8 
0.5 

Typical continuous-shooting speed (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Fujifilm X-E1
5.7 

fujifilm-10-e1-digital-camera-mirrorless-system-16-3-mpix-3-10-optical-zoom-18-55mm-ois-lens-black.jpg
8.0

Fujifilm X-E1

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 7Performance 7Image quality 9