Over the past couple of years Fujifilm’s premium quality ‘X’ range has elevated the brand no end in the eyes of enthusiast photographers. The first model in the series – the X100 – combined retro rangefinder looks with a cutting edge ‘hybrid’ viewfinder to great effect, and this was soon followed by the smaller but equally as stylish X10.
Earlier this year Fuji followed the X100 and X10 up with the launch of the X range’s first compact system camera – the X-Pro1. With its rangefinder-inspired design, hybrid viewfinder and proprietary X-Trans CMOS sensor technology, the X-Pro1 won near universal praise for the intuitive handling and ultra-sharp image quality it is capable of producing. That said, as a premium model the X-Pro1 doesn’t come cheap and even ten months on from its launch the X-Pro1 is still commanding body-only prices of around £1,180. This is where the X-E1, with its £730-ish body-only price comes in.
Broadly speaking the X-E1 is aimed at broadening the appeal of Fuji’s X-series CSC range. The X-E1 borrows much from the X-Pro1, but packs it into a slightly smaller and more affordable body. Is this enough to tempt enthusiast photographers? Let’s take a closer look and find out…
One of the things that most impressed us about the X-Pro1 was its APS-C sized X-Trans CMOS sensor, and the good news is that the X-E1 uses the very same chip. Fuji’s X-Trans sensor differs from regular CMOS sensors in that it uses a unique colour filter arrangement. While the majority of CMOS sensors employ a traditional Bayer filter array to decode colour information, one inherent problem with the Bayer arrangement is that it produces undesirable aliasing effects such as moiré patterning. This problem has traditionally been solved by placing an anti-aliasing filter in front of the sensor, which eliminates the artefacts but results in a minor loss of critical sharpness. Fuji’s X-Trans sensor, however, uses a unique array of red, green and blue pixels that aren’t arranged in a repetitive order. This allows the sensor to minimize moiré and false colour without the need for an anti-aliasing filter, which in turn delivers noticeably sharper images.
Elsewhere, the XE-1 shares the same dual-core EXR Pro image processor that’s used in the X-Pro1, with a standard ISO range that runs from 200-6400, but which can be further expanded to an ISO equivalent of 100-25,600. Continuous shooting speed clocks in at 6fps, although this can be lowered to 3fps should that be preferable.
The X-E1 offers JPEG and Raw (.RAF format) capture at various increments up to 16MP, with a maximum output of 4896 x 3264 pixels in the native 3:2 aspect. On top of this the X-E1 also offers a useful Motion Panorama mode, whereby the camera will automatically stitch multiple images together as you pan it in a predetermined direction to produce a single ultra-wide image of up to 7680 x 2160 pixels. Last but not least, the X-E1 can also record video up to a maximum quality setting of 1080p Full HD at 24fps.
Exposure modes extend to the regular manual and semi-manual quartet of Program, Aperture-priority, Shutter-priority and full Manual. As with the X-Pro1, however, there are no built-in digital effects filters although you can choose to shape the look of your images by applying one of the seven Film Simulation modes. In keeping with other Fuji cameras, these aim to replicate the look and feel of old Fujifilm 35mm film stock with, for example, Velvia offering plenty of saturation in contrast to the much more muted Astia. Those looking for a safe middle ground will probably find themselves using the Provia setting more often than not.
As might be expected, the X-E1 uses the same ‘X’ lens-mount as the X-Pro1. At present there are five dedicated X-mount lenses, which are available in the following combinations: 18mm f/2 prime, 35mm f/1.4 prime, 60mm f/2.4 prime, a new 14mm f/2.8 prime and an 18-55mm f/2.8-4 zoom that will be sold as part of a kit from X-series stockists. Given the APS-C dimensions of the X-E1’s sensor all of the aforementioned lenses need to have a 1.5x focal length multiplier applied in order to work out their 35mm focal length equivalent. For example, the 18mm prime offers the same field of view as a 24mm lens would on a full-frame DSLR.
The new 18-55mm kit lens looks to be a smart choice of kit lens. Not only is the build quality very good, but also the relatively fast maximum aperture of f/2.8-4 makes it highly flexible, while the built-in OIS image stabilisation system offers the equivalent of four stops of anti-shake protection. Given the 18-55mm kit zoom’s variable aperture the aperture ring at its base is no longer marked with specific f-stop values. Instead the ring rotates continuously, with each click round representing a third-stop change. A dedicated switch on the side of the lens is used to toggle between Automatic and User-defined aperture control should you want to take direct control over aperture settings in either Shutter-priority or Manual mode.
On the back of the X-E1 you’ll find a fixed 2.8in, 460K-dot LCD monitor. While this is the same that’s found on the X100 it’s somewhat smaller and much less detailed than the 3in/1,230K-dot display used by the X-Pro1. Unlike the X-Pro1 though, the X-E1 does offer a built-in pop-up flash with a GN7 rating. Should you want a little more power then you’ll find a standard hot-shoe on the top-plate that can be used to attach compatible flashguns.
One big difference between the X-Pro1 and the X-E1 is the viewfinder. Whereas the X-Pro1 offers a ‘hybrid’ viewfinder that can be toggled between optical and electronic options, the X-E1’s viewfinder is purely electronic. Thankfully though, Fujifilm has seen fit to improve on the X-Pro1’s 1.44m-dot LCD EVF, fitting the X-E1 with a 2.36m-dot OLED unit instead.