In terms of design the X-E1 is an undoubtedly stylish and premium looking camera. Given the lack of an optical viewfinder on the front the X-E1, viewed head-on at least, perhaps looks a little less rangefinder-like than either the X100 or X-Pro1, although the overall aesthetic still borrows heavily from the retro rangefinder camp. Available in black or silver finish, we prefer the more classical look of the silver trim, although the all-black version does also look very sleek and stylish too.
The X-E1 is noticeably smaller than the X-Pro1, thanks again, at least in part, to the removal of the optical viewfinder. Indeed, in terms of overall size the X-E1 feels more akin to the X100 than the slightly larger X-Pro1. Build quality, as with all of Fuji’s X-series cameras, hasn’t been compromised in any way, with the X-E1 benefiting from a largely die-cast magnesium outer casing and Fuji’s signature faux leather finish, topped off by a good quality rubber grip on the front.
As with the X100 and X-Pro1 before, the X-E1 keeps exposure modes to a minimum, with all of the main shooting controls arranged in a similar way. Shutter speed is controlled via a machined metal dial on the top-plate, while aperture is controlled via the aperture ring on compatible lenses. Should you want to use the camera in either Shutter-priority or Aperture-priority then both the shutter speed dial and all of the X-E1’s dedicated X-mount lenses offer an automatic ‘A’ setting that can be selected to let the camera take control of that aspect. Should you want to shoot in Program mode – the only fully automatic mode offered by the X-E1 – then simply turn both the shutter speed dial and the aperture ring/switch to the ‘A’ position. While most of the X-E1’s main rivals offer a more generous range of fully automated exposure modes (some of which employ advanced scene recognition technology) we have to say that we rather like the X-E1’s old-school approach to shutter/aperture control as it actively encourages you to be more involved and take control of the exposure yourself. For those tricky lighting situations where you need it, you’ll also find an exposure compensation dial on the top plate that offers /-2EV of adjustment.
The rest of the X-E1’s physical control layout largely continues on from what’s been seen on the X-Pro1 and X100. The shutter button, for example, has been hollowed out to make it compatible with traditional screw-fit cable releases, even though the X-E1 can also be triggered with an optional RR-80 remote release (£28) if desired. Next to the shutter button you also find a small ‘Fn’ function button that is set to control ISO by default, though this can be customised to control something else via the main in-camera menu.
On the back of the X-E1 button layout is virtually identical to the X-Pro1 used, save for the Playback button moving from the right of the LCD monitor to the left, where it sits above direct-access buttons for the camera’s Drive mode, Metering mode and AF-point selection sub-menus. With the X-E1 set to Playback mode these last three buttons double up as Zoom In, Zoom Out and Delete controls.
To the right of the monitor you’ll find the 4-way directional pad, along with dedicated Display, Quick Menu and Exposure/AF-lock buttons. A rear control wheel is neatly positioned where your thumb sits and this can be used to change a wide range of settings. Rounding things off is the View Mode selector button that enables you to toggle between the viewfinder and rear screen, although you can also program the eye sensor next to the viewfinder to automatically swap to the EVF when you raise the X-E1 to your eye.
One of the main issues we had with the X-Pro1 was its relatively slow focusing speed. Thankfully the X-E1 improves on this with prompter focusing in single AF, and with only minimal hunting from the 18-55mm lens. That said the X-E1’s overall AF performance still doesn’t quite match what’s on offer from some of its competitors, with models like the Olympus OM-D able to lock focus noticeably faster. And even though the X-E1 isn’t really positioned as a camera for capturing fast-moving action with, the continuous AF does struggle with moving subjects, relying solely on the central AF point for focus.
The X-E1’s 49-point AF arrangement does provide good frame coverage, though not to the very edges, and you can also select from five different AF-point area sizes. Manual focusing is fairly intuitive with the image coming into focus pretty quickly as you turn the manual focus ring on the lens. You can also request the camera to display 3x and 10x magnification boxes in either the EVF or the rear screen while the camera is being used in manual focus mode, both of which offer more precise control – especially if you’re using the camera on a tripod.
In use we found that we didn’t really miss the hybrid viewfinder of the X-Pro1 and X100, primarily because the 2.36m-dot resolution of the X-E1’s EVF is a noticeable improvement over the 1.44m-dot EVF used in the X-Pro1. The OLED technology employed by the X-E1’s EVF provides greater levels of contrast too, as well as brighter colours. The payback for the X-E1’s excellent EVF is a somewhat disappointing rear screen, which at 2.8in and 461k-dots doesn’t quite cut it on a camera of this price. It’s still perfectly useable, of course, however it doesn’t deliver quite the same razor-sharp results as a 921k-dot screen would, and for the price we’d really expect to see a higher resolution screen fitted.