When Fujifilm launched the X system in January 2012, it did so with an unusually high-end body: the X-Pro1. With its unique hybrid optical/electronic viewfinder, solid metal body and analogue dial-led control philosophy, it was clearly targeted at professionals and enthusiasts looking for an updated take on the classic rangefinder concept. The X-Pro1 was generally well-received, but its price was always likely to limit its appeal. Fujifilm’s X-E1 aims to broaden the line’s appeal to wider range of enthusiasts, and will compete directly with the likes of the Sony Alpha NEX-7 and Olympus OM-D E-M5.
Fujifilm X-E1 key features
- 16MP X-Trans CMOS sensor
- ISO 200-6400, 100 – 25600 expanded (JPEG only)
- 2.36M dot OLED electronic viewfinder
- New kit zoom: 18-55mm F2.8-4R
- Same control layout as X-Pro1, including top-plate shutter speed and exposure compensation dials
- 2.8″ 460k-dot LCD
- Built-in pop-up flash
- Full HD movie recording with built-in stereo microphone
- 2.5mm stereo microphone socket
- Compatibility with wired remote control units (via either the USB port or mic socket)
- Available in silver or black
The X-E1 is in essence a slimmed-down X-Pro1, with the large, complex and expensive hybrid finder replaced by a purely-electronic viewfinder. Not any old EVF though – it uses a 2.36M dot OLED unit, out-speccing the X-Pro1’s 1.44M dot LCD finder. In return its rear screen is slightly downgraded in terms of both size and resolution, to a still-respectable 2.8″ 460k dot LCD – according to Fujifilm this is necessary to keep the camera’s size down. The result is a compact body that’s broadly similar in size to both the much-loved FinePix X100, and its most obvious competitors like the E-M5 and NEX-7.
X-E1 – the more affordable X-Pro1
The X-E1 joins a developing family of unique cameras that truly stand apart from the pack. The major omission from the X-E1 is the hybrid optical viewfinder found in the X100 and X-Pro 1. Left to right are the Fujifilm X100, X-E1 and X-Pro1.
The X-E1 gets a few new features relative to the X-Pro1, commensurate with its class. There’s a little built-in pop-up flash, a 2.5mm stereo microphone socket for movie recording, and the ability to use an electronic shutter release cable in addition to the signature threaded shutter release button. But otherwise it’s nearly identical to the X-Pro1, using the same 16MP X-Trans CMOS APS-C sensor and EXR Pro image processor, and almost exactly the same control layout and interface.
Firmware tweaks – including improved focusing
It’s not just new hardware that Fujifilm has been working on; it’s made some significant tweaks under the hood that promise better performance. The good news for existing X-Pro1 owners is that they’ll benefit equally from this, with the co-announced firmware version 2 offering all the same updates. File write times have been halved, and the camera can now enter playback to check focus and composition within about two seconds of shooting a single frame. Auto ISO now allows use of ISO 6400, but sadly there’s still no way of influencing the minimum shutter speed. The most significant changes, though, have been made to focusing, both auto and manual.
The Fujifilm X-E1 uses a new autofocus algorithm and different sensor drive mode, which promises significantly-improved speed, especially with the XF 60mm F2.4 R Macro lens or when shooting in low light. Indeed Fujifilm claims the X-E1 and X-Pro1 now offer AF speeds competitive with benchmark cameras such as the Olympus OM-D E-M5. The ‘feel’ of the electronically-driven manual focus has been improved, and critically the camera now sets the aperture wide open in manual focus mode, finally allowing truly accurate focusing using the EVF. There’s also a new 3x magnification mode to assist manual focus, which should be less prone to problems with shake when using long lenses.
Overall, this makes the X-E1 on paper a very strong competitor to other high-end EVF-equipped mirrorless models. Its traditional control layout means it should appeal strongly to stills photographers, although its movie capabilities still lag behind the competition (you can manually set the aperture, but have no control over the shutter speed the camera will use).
Size and design compared
Here’s the X-E1 compared for size against its most obvious rivals, the Sony Alpha NEX-7 on the left and Olympus OM-D E-M5 on the right, all fitted out with their respective kit zooms. All feature built-in EVFs and multiple control dials; the NEX-7 and E-M5 both have tilting rear screens. The E-M5 also has in-body image stabilization that works with all lenses, but on the other hand lacks a built-in flash.
The X-E1’s ‘kit’ zoom offers the same 18-55mm (~28-80mm equivalent) range as the NEX-7’s, but a rather faster aperture, which should be good for both low-light shooting and providing a degree of background blur for portraits. The E-M5’s 12-50mm F3.5-6.3 kit zoom offers a wider range, a choice of manual zoom or power zoom for video, and a useful macro setting, but at the expense of maximum aperture.
This is the X-E1 with its 18-55mm kit zoom, alongside its big brother the X-Pro1 equipped with the lovely XF 35mm F1.4 R lens. The X-E1 is substantially smaller due to the elimination of the optical viewfinder, but the two cameras’ overall family resemblance is striking.