Fuji X-E2 - Review and User Experience - Part 1

Somewhat ahead of expectations stocks of the X-E2 have arrived in the UK. After some careful consideration (Unusual for me!) I have decided to go with Fuji in addition to my Panasonics for a while. I still have issues with the Fuji X system as a whole - battery life, fiddly processing, gaps in the lens range being three of them. But overall it is a system that suits me. The overiding reason here is the exemplary high(er) ISO performance that allows me to shoot beautifully clean images up to ISO 800, with all that implies for fast shutter speeds and narrow apertures. Plus it has to be said at a reasonable cost. 

The X-E2 body cost me £800. Contrast that with an Olympus E-M1 body which is currently £1300 here in the UK. So do you get more for your money with the E-M1? Well that's down to personal preference. As far as I'm concerned the Olympus has a tilting screen and in body IS, neither of which bother me, so what could justify the extra £500 for me? Well it might have been argued that the E-M1 has faster AF and a better screen and EVF. However from my initial time with the X-E2 those arguments might be dissipating somewhat. The X-E2 AF is certainly an improvement over the X-E1. Much snappier. It is in fact now pretty quick. As quick as the Olympus? Well I have no way of knowing but the X-E2 is easily fast enough for me. Plus the new EVF on the X-E2 is pretty special. Its sharper with a higher refresh rate and works well in low light. In fact I tried it out in almost total darkness and though somewhat 'grainy' it was still sharp and clear. In fact the best I've ever used in very dark conditions. Plus, whatever I might think about the quality of m4/3 images at high ISO's, there is no doubt that the Fuji X sensor is pretty much amongst much the best out there. I've only ever seen samples from the Nikon D4 that might be considered superior, offering cleaner, less noisy images than the Fuji X cameras. Even then its mighty close. In terms of m4/3 sensors however there really isn't any competition. The Fuji X sensors are in my experience, depending on how you expose and process, between 1 and 3 stops better than anything m4/3 can come up with.

Now I'm not anti the E-M1, I'm sure it's a fine camera, but over the relatively short time Fuji have been around seriously in the mirrorless market, they do seem to have made significant improvements and could be considered to be 'catching up.' And while the X-E2 is seemingly one of those incremental upgrades, it is unusual in that all the 'improvements' are usability based. The images it produces look identical to my X-E1 files, but even after a very limited time with it, it is a much nicer camera to use. Fuji have taken the time to sort some of the ergonomics out. A really nice touch is the redesign of the exposure compensation dial. On the X-E1 it was quite big and easy to turn. Its position on the top right of the camera meant I was always moving it by mistake. On the X-E2 its been made smaller and there is more resistance in terms of turning it, consequently its almost impossible to move accidentally. Now this is a very nice touch, and a response to user experience and feedback. This and the moving of some buttons and dials shows an ability to listen to how photographers work with cameras.

Now Fuji being Fuji it is no surprise that there is a cock up with the camera. They have just introduced the snappily titled Lens Modulation Optimizer. According to Fuji it does this:-
'In addition, utilizing the enhanced performance of the EXR Processor II, Lens Modulation Optimizer (LMO) factors are calculated to compensate for aberrations and diffraction blur that occur when light passes through the lens and then are applied to produce images with amazing sharpness.' However I can't tell you what that's like since it requires a lens firmware update for my 18-55mm zoom. And this isn't available yet! Apparently the dual PDAF / CDAF doesn't work either yet since that's going to be coming with the lens update as well. So not good news, but it is apparently due on the 7th. November, so not too long to wait. Plus the X-E2 has arrived much earlier than anticipated so it seems the various departments at Fuji aren't talking to each other.

I will briefly mention the split screen manual focusing aid, which is an alternative to focus peaking. Its very Leica rangefinder like, and involves lining up three rectangles in a black and white square in the centre of the frame. Very good indeed for focusing wide open, not so great at narrower apertures, but 100% accurate at the widest apertures. 

A prime reason I like Fuji cameras, despite all sorts of frustrations, is the ethos behind what they come up with. Obviously inspired by Leica, and there's nothing wrong with that (in fact the opposite) they do concentrate on what is useful for photographers and image quality above all else. Not to say that they always get it right. They still need to sort out raw processing with Adobe and some of their cameras have been somewhat fiddly and a bit quirky to use. However, the recent massive update to the X100, a camera they don't make anymore, shows a real commitment to their customer base, which is both unusual and refreshing. Other companies such as Canon do offer firmware upgrades long into their cameras shelf lives, but I can't think of any company that's offered such a comprehensive upgrade to a discontinued camera. So while I've criticised Fuji continually for their somewhat ham fisted execution of certain things, I can't really fault their intent. And despite the aforementioned firmware glitch, they do seem to be getting better.

Owning a Fuji X camera is like being the member of a small club. All be it a somewhat very noisy and aggressive one! There is no doubt in my mind that their cameras will always remain niche products. They aren't going to compete with Nikon, Canon or Sony or even Panasonic and Olympus, but I can see them being very successful if they stay with their core market. Not sure about these small cheap compacts they have decided to turn out. If anything I feel that could damage the brand rather than enhance it. For me they make good looking retro styled cameras with a great sensor and some great lenses. Why try to achieve more than that? Despite my ups and down with the system I do have a certain brand loyalty as I like the philosophy and what they are seeking to do. I like their pricing and I like the fact that they seem prepared to listen to customers and respond to that. The Sony A7r and Nikon Df are probably very nice cameras, but for me the Sony needs more lenses and from the rumours Nikon are going to price the Df way too high, plus it is heavy.

So is the Fuji X system a 'pro' system? Well no, but I think its getting there. From various internet articles its obvious that a lot of pros do however like the system and use it. To a large extent I believe this is down to a relative simplicity. There is Wi-Fi on the X-E2, but I get the distinct impression that's its there because they think it should be. I'm glad to see that they have not gone the touchscreen route. Yes I know you can turn it off on cameras that have it, but I have no hesitation in saying that I like a company that thinks something like that really isn't important. For me its the difference between a manufacturer who tries to cram everything into a camera and those who include only what's needed. For me Fuji, like Leica are in the latter catergory. For example, the Olympus E-M1 has all sorts of bells of whistles but my decision not to buy one comes down to one thing. The X-E1 is much more comfortable for me to use in bright sunlight, because of the OLED technology in the EVF. That's far more important for me than anything else a camera might offer. 

I also like the capability of the X-E2 to be very customisable. You can see from the pictures above that you can seriously 'pimp it up'. A small thing to some and indeed a disadvantage for many, but there are occasions when I need to make my cameras look big, heavy and serious. Since I don't have a DSLR any more and aren't likely to get one in the near future, that is important. 

And finally, I'm not immune to the aesthetics. Since I have a silver X-E1 (which I'm keeping incidentally) I decided to get a black X-E2. And it is nice to look at. Plus when I've got it fitted with the grip and flash (which incidentally I'm using more and more) it feels really good in the hand. Not that light but certainly less than a pro DSLR and it does have more of a Leica feel than any other faux rangefinder I've used. Today and tomorrow there is apparently some sun, so I'll report back on how it works in the field.

For all my posts on the Fuji X-E2 CLICK HERE

N.B. to see more on the cameras and lenses featured in this post click on the relevant labels (tags and keywords) below.

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