Fuji X-E1 – Compact System Brilliance

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When I told my wife that I was to go from the Canon 5D MkIII to the Fuji X-E1 she thought I had lost my mind.

Why did I do it? Well for several reasons.

Firstly, I grew tired of a DSLR’s bulk. I am no professional photographer by any means but on days out I do like to carry a camera everywhere with me. Whether in or out of a bag the Canon simply becomes unwieldy and tiring (or rather tiresome) to lug around.

As I stated above I am not a professional photographer so why take a pro camera around with me? I wanted a camera that would give me images that I could ooh and aah over but not where I would need to be submitting the images to National Geographic. I want images that are good enough for me and can take some tweaking in Photoshop. I don’t need to have file sizes that I can aggressively crop and still be able to print off A1 sized prints.

I don’t shoot sports (so no need for dozens of focus points, focus options or super fast frame rates), I don’t shoot wildlife so no need for the capability to strap on huge telephoto lenses. In fact I want to be able to keep lens changes to a minimum or not at all. I used to tire of dust spots on my sensor and having to touch images up and repetitively clean the sensor after being out for the day.

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No, my personal brief was for a camera that would provide me with excellent image quality – edge to edge sharpness, great colour out of the camera, light, easily portable, no temptation to try out a dozen primes to squeeze the best image quality from that full frame sensor (because in my experience unless you do you are missing out on what the 5D’s sensor can produce). 

After trying a number of CSC’s over the years including the Sony NEX 5n and Olympus E-P3 both of which were okay the Fuji X-E1 seemed to fit the bill with the kit zoom lens. Incidentally, saying the 18-55 is a “kit” lens does it an injustice. Most kit lenses I have used be they from Nikon, Canon or Pentax are invariably average at best. The Fuji 18-55 on the other hand is superb and worthy of its almost £600 price tag if bought separately.

Anyway, with the 5D gone I was left with this small, portable and light camera package that I was hoping would deliver.

And, boy does it.

It has been compared to full frame cameras and fared extremely well despite the perception that the bigger the sensor the better. Fuji, when the sensor was first released, suggested that it was better than that found in the 5D Mk2. Take this as typical marketing headlines but I have owned the 5D Mk2 and Mk3 and I do not feel short changed by the Fuji in any way.  

Another comparison was by Steve Huff. He compared the Fuji with the Sony RX1 and found that in good light he preferred the Fuji and in poor light the Sony. He also preferred the build quality of the Sony.

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What frustrates me with this review is that he doesn’t mention that the Sony with a prime Zeiss lens strapped to the front, a full frame sensor and a retail price over two and a half times that of the Fuji should be better. A lot better. In fact if I had the Sony I would expect it to trounce the X-E1 in EVERY area. Not just one or two!!            

In some ways this comparison was a lot like the comparison in high end audio. The more money you spend my get you a better made component with beautiful brushed steel finish or real wood veneers but the engineering inside the boxes is similar a lot of the time and the sound not significantly better.

So back to the X-E1. It fits the bill in terms of size and weight and convenience. It challenges some of the best cameras around in terms of image quality.

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So what are the downsides?

For me there are none. Really!

For other users, however, they may find the following slightly disappointing:

  • Build quality. Without the battery and lens the camera feels a little lightweight and it is clear the materials used are not the same as the X-Pro 1. Don’t get me wrong fully loaded it feels solid in your hands but without it could prove a disappointment.
  • Video quality. This is just average. At the end of the day this is clearly designed as an image making machine and not a replacement for your video recorder. Expect slow focus and occasional rolling shutter artefacts.
  • Lenses. Compared to the likes of Sony, Panasonic and Olympus reasonably priced lenses are hard to come by.

I have no issue with any of the above. I did not buy the camera as a lightweight alternative to a DSLR only to then fill my bag with assorted lenses. There is a lot to be said to with sticking to one camera and one lens in terms of improving your creativity. In any case the 18-55 lens does everything I want and I am more than happy. In fact I am delighted with the image quality.

Once my wife saw the quality of the X-E1’s images and the fact I wasn’t lugging a huge Billingham bag full of gear on holiday she finally got it.

Good job too!

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