Decisions, decisions, decisions. So many cameras, so little time. If you’ve got a thousand rand or so burning a photo-shaped hole in your pocket, there’s just so much choice out there. Do you go for something traditional, like a Canon or Nikon SLR? Or something new and funky, like Olympus’ lovely E-series mirrorless bodies. Maybe you seek the new, and want to try Samsung’s Android-photo-phone hybrids?
Or perhaps you’ll take our advice and just buy this, the Fujifilm X-E2. Because frankly, unless you really, really need to spend a small fortune on a professional system, it’s hard to think of anyone who’ll be disappointed by Fujifilm’s X-E2. It has it all: outstanding build quality, professional grade photo capture, a blindingly good – and yet reasonably priced – selection of lenses plus it’s lightweight and looks just so damned good… there’s little at the price point to beat it.
But perhaps we’re getting ahead of ourselves. You’ll be wanting to find out how we came to these conclusions.
With its magnesium alloy body and three inch LCD, the Fujifilm X-E2 feels simultaneously modern and reassuringly reminiscent of the handcrafted age. Just like its forebears in the X-series – the X100, X-Pro1 and X-E1 – the top and back area all buttons and dials laid out for classic manual controls.
There’s no fly-by-wire focussing here or on screen messing about here: everything from shutter speed to aperture size is a traditional ring twist or turn to set-up.
Despite its light weight and size, it feels far from flimsy in the hand too. It has a bit of bulk, but in a good way, and can take a few knocks with ease.
Most of the buttons are laid out in the same way to previous X-series cameras too, with a few improvements. Moving the focus area hotkey onto the cursor pad makes it easier to select your target zone with a single thumb, and the quick menu ‘Q’ button is more sensibly placed that previous cameras: on the X-Pro1, for example, it was a little easy to catch while picking the camera up meaning that some shots would be taken at entirely the wrong white balance or other settings.
The only problem we found is, however, one that is legacy to the system. The exposure compensation dial sits over the top right hand side of the camera still and is almost impossible not to turn when slipping the X-E2 into or out of a bag – and it’s easy to miss the fact it’s been shifted while shooting. We resorted to the familiar method of taping it in place to avoid frustration.
Like the X-E1, the Fujifilm X-E2 has a large LCD screen and an electronic viewfinder in the same position as the optical viewfinder of a rangefinder would be. Unlike the X-E1 – and any other camera apart from the newer Olympus ones – the EVF is actually very, very good. As someone who generally hates EVFs for their spotty refresh rate and sheer artifice when you’re ‘in the scene’, I was genuinely surprised by how little the X-E2’s bothered me.
After half an hour or so, in fact, I grew to like it more than the unique hybrid viewfinder of the X-Pro 1. Which is, frankly, saying something.
Once your eye is scrunched up against the rubber eyepiece, the view automatically switches from the large LCD to the internal one, which is sharp, colourful and fast enough to be as good a guide to composition as a traditional SLR’s glassware. It can be a little tricky to confirm visually whether or not the autofocus is accurately locked on on the smaller screen, but if you’re manually focussing the centre of the screen zooms into the target and gives you the option of using peaking highlights as a guide to sharpness or a black and white split screen.
The former is truly excellent and highly customisable too.
It’s a bit of a shame that the larger LCD isn’t a touchscreen, but given the quality of the EVF you’ll not want to use it much anyway.
The bane of mirrorless cameras like previous Fuji Xs is focus speed. In a traditional SLR, focussing is done using a phase detection system which splits the light coming through the lens onto two sensors that can see when focus is aligned (that’s a very quick overview – there’s a better description here). Mirrorless cameras, however, don’t have a mirror inside (hence the name) to redirect light up into the viewfinder during composition of a shot – instead they use a software ‘contrast detection’ algorithm based on what the main sensor sees.
On the whole, contrast detection is noticeably slower than phase detection – which is why photographers used to shooting with fast SLR cameras struggle with the slower AF of mirrorless cameras when they try them out. It’s also harder to do things like track moving subjects.
But things are changing. Like its rival Olympus – and, indeed, Samsung – Fujifilm now has a hybrid contrast/phase focussing system for the X-E2 (and the TX1) which is lightning fast, accurate and basically addresses the key short coming of mirrorless cameras. It’s a joy to use – really it is – and makes the X-E2 a potent tool. It gets a little interesting as of the 49 focus areas laid out in a grid, only the centre block uses contrast detection and can therefore be used to track moving targets shot-to-shot, but fine performance none-the-less.
The EVF still isn’t quite as good as looking through-the-lens for checking shots are in focus, mind, so there’s an element of having to trust the camera more than if you’re using an SLR. Sports photographers will probably still struggle to adjust. But for everything else – kids playing, wildlife and so on – the only drawback is that selecting focus areas still isn’t quite as fast as on an SLR. For manually focussing on static objects, in fact, the zooming screen and highlight peaks in the display give you a very clear idea of what is and isn’t going to be sharp.
When Fujifilm’s first mirrorless camera, the X-Pro1, was released a couple of years ago, one of the big drawbacks was that no-one owned Fujifilm lenses, and there weren’t many to choose from. Thankfully, there are now loads on the market and Fuji is in the habit of regularly giving them away for free too. The only thing missing from the current range is a long-throw zoom, but there are plans to bring a 300mm piece of glass out later this year.
What’s more, the lenses are very reasonably priced considering the quality. So far, I’ve tried out lenses including the 12-24mm and 18-50mm zooms and the 30mm and 60mm primes and I’ve yet to find one that doesn’t exceed expectations in every way.
The much vaunted X-Trans sensor which is unique to Fuji cameras is now in its second generation, and remains top of the class. The main differences between this and a ‘normal’ sensor are that X-Trans has a different pattern of coloured pixels on its surface to most sensors, and
Again, there’s a few compromises. As a Linux photographer it’s frustrating that so little third party software supports RAW shooting on the Fuji (that different pixel pattern in the X-Trans sensor means most RAW converters struggle to deal with the Fuji’s image information). That means I’m reduced to shooting in JPG formats. Fujifilm’s JPG engine is very good – there’s a huge amount of detail in pictures and plenty of latitude for post-processing – but may require a lot of tweaking for the best results. I find its default settings a little over-saturated, for example.
Really, though, if there’s much to worry you about the off-the-camera results then the chances are you’ll a) know how to fix them and b) tend to PhotoShop every pic anyway.
The area where the X-Trans sensor really shines – and continues to do so now – for me is in low light situations. I prefer not to shoot with a flash unless I have to. With the X-E2 I didn’t have to (even though there’s one built in).
And as for exposure? Barely a blown highlight or overdark shadow in two weeks of shooting.
The one area that I really wish was slightly better is the battery life of the X-E2. The downside of having to use an LCD or EVF to compose shots means that there’s a lot more drain on the camera’s power supply than there is with an SLR, where the display is off most of the time. It’s not terrible, and certainly better than the X-Pro1, but a full battery won’t last a full day of relatively constant use. Which is a pity.
X-series shooters don’t generally buy the cameras for video, but for occasional use the X-E2 is more than up to the job of filling in for even a semi-pro video shooter. There’s an external mic input (although setting levels isn’t possible) and the EVF is higher quality than most dedicated film cameras. It’s not likely to be the weapon of choice for those who produce videos on Canon or Panasonic SLRs or mirrorless cams, but it’s close enough for us.
Fujifilm X-E2 conclusion
So what is there left to say about the X-E2. I love every part of using it – except the so-so battery life – and the pictures it produces are up there with the best I’ve taken on my Nikon SLR kit. Where there’s some compromises to be made, for me the trade-off of a relatively reasonable price tag and wonderfully small size make the minor issues easy to cope with. You may disagree – and that’s fair enough. Personally, I prefer the X-E2 and its rangefinder styling even over the higher end X-T1 – but again, that’s down to my preference.
There’s more I haven’t touched on. The built-in WiFi, intuitive focus and exposure lock buttons, the image stabilised lenses… but I think I’ve said enough. It’s a camera to fall in love with. And if you get one, you will.
- Price: R10 495 (without lens)
- Sensor size: APS-C
- Pixels: 16.3MP
- Viewfinders: 0.5inch, 3inch
- Shutter speed: 30-1/4 000 sec
- Exposure: 256 zone TTL
- Autofocus: 49 area, 7 tracking
- Lens mount: Fujifilm X-system
- Weight: 350g (with battery)