Fuji X-E1 - First impressions

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As you can see the Fuji X-E1 is an uncluttered camera. Next to the OM-D its actually quite minimalist. The back is a little more populated, but still pretty functional. In the picture above it looks around the same size as the OM-D, but in reality its a different feeling camera. Much more rectangular and basic. It reminds me in many ways of the Panasonic L1 / Leica Digilux 3 . The brick like 4/3 cameras from a few years ago.

Despite my reservations about build quality at the show, I did love how it felt in my hands, and I have to say I do like it better than the Olympus, particularly with the grip or case fitted. It is very Leicaesque, though the zoom obviously gives a different weight ratio. 

Lets get this build thing out the way. The silver trim at the top doesn't have that cold metallic feel of the OM-D, and I'm no great fan of the mottled leatherette feel of the body. BUT compared to most everything else its pretty nice. The comfort factor and overall handling attributes more than make up for that anyway.  It is compared to most Panasonic m4/3 and Sony NEX cameras a real old school retro treat. It feels like a serious piece of kit.

Now how did I get the lens so wrong at the show? Maybe carrying around the Olympus + Panasonic 12-35mm f/2.8 zoom, suddenly picking up the Fuji, which is lighter, may have made it feel somewhat 'cheaper'. But again yesterday after getting it out of the box and assembling it with the grip, I got a completely different impression. In my show piece I said the lens didn't feel metallic. Well lets just put that down to presumptions and perhaps a little prejudice. Because it is in fact a lovely lens. Not too light, not too heavy and the focusing, zoom and aperture rings are beautifully weighted. Yes it has an faux aperture ring, like the primes, but its unmarked, presumably because of the changes zooming makes. In the pictures above its the ring nearest the camera body. There is a switch on the lens that switches it from auto, which engages Programme mode in the camera, to a little aperture graphic that engages Aperture Priority mode in the camera. Zooming is really nice. No 'creep' here and it is in fact as well put together as the Panasonic zoom next to it above. The great thing of course is that its nothing like the polycarbonate kit zooms that we are all used to.

I've had some issues with Fuji menus in the past, but I was able to set the camera up pretty quickly for how I'm going to use it. Dials for shutter speed and +/- compensation on the top, as well as the aperture ring on the lens, so manual control for the things I adjust the most when I'm out shooting. The overall initial feel is one of simplicity and again this is very Leicaesque.

It is smaller and lighter than the X-Pro 1, and when I was at the show I compared the two with the zoom lens fitted. I'm assuming that the difference is primarily and mostly down to the lack of the optical viewfinder on the X-E1. This is an advantage as far as I'm concerned. That viewfinder on the XP1 did nothing for me and I thought it just complicated the camera. I'm much happier with the EVF only on the X-E1. Its more accurate plus it is polarised sunglasses friendly. Its not great in low light certainly, but thats not really an issue for me. I like the fact thats its placed out to the left, and I wonder why more digital camera viewfinders aren't sited there. Noses jammed on to screens has never struck me as a great idea.

Overall I have to say that ergonomically and aesthetically I like it very much. Its my kind of camera being the unapologetic retro head I surely am. It isn't a Leica, its a lookaleica, and it isn't a rangefinder (another plus as far as I'm concerned) but it leans heavily on old school camera design. Interestingly I read an articule recently (Can't remember where unfortunately) that said we may have to rethink terms like retro, since that look and design style is becoming almost the norm and the expected look of many 'modern' cameras. Certainly as far as the X-E1 is concerned I think many will be attracted by its simplicity. 

One thing however to make clear, is that with the zoom, this is not a particularly small camera. This is OM-D, GH3 territory. Its mirrorless certainly, a CSC yes, but its much more a rangefinder size and weight. The zoom lens also gives it a significant weight and size increase over things like NEX and the majority of m4/3 cameras. Pocketable its not (Hooray!!) Its certainly smaller and lighter than most DSLR's, but it is some way chunkier than the X100 for example. So as far as I'm concerned, pretty much perfect then.

So, I think I'm going to like using it. I've had enough disappointments to say that for sure, but it does feel so comfortable. The image quality is, I'm assuming, virtually identical to the X-Pro 1, so I'm expecting no surprises there. I'll go into things like AF speed later, but initial use suggests its acceptable rather than impressive, and unless I have real problems with it, I'm assuming you will get to know how I get on with it rather well over the coming months.

Finally I would say that I will of course be getting a second camera. I'm assuming that will be a Fuji also, since I am keen to stick with one system. Maybe an X100s, maybe an X-Pro1, however at the moment another X-E1 is probably the way I'll go. So Fuji rubbisher to Fuji fanboy. Amazing what a Photoshop update can do!

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