I spent three weeks in Italy this month, making photographs, teaching, and looking for great food and wine. I took with me the Fuji XE-1 and two lenses, the 14mm and the 18-55mm, both from Fuji. I took them because I wanted a light kit, because for places like Venice I just won’t walk around all day if my gear is too heavy. The Fuji was perfect. But I also wanted to give myself some new creative constraints and I’d heard such good things from others, mostly about the Fuji’s sensor, that I had to see if it would work well for me. So I took a couple 64GB SD cards, slapped on a Really Right Stuff plate with grip (the BXE1 set here), and took it to Europe.
What I expected was a good camera for street and candid photography and a mediocre camera for landscapes. I expected light, but at the expense of useability. And frankly, I expected a little of the frustration I’d had with some of the quirks of Fuji’s first foray into this category: the X100, which I struggled to really love while everyone else lauded it. I came home a convert, though with some caveats. Here, in no particular order, are some of my reactions:
- I loved the size and handling. It’s a little light, but with the Really Right Stuff L-plate and grip, it was perfect. Hardly noticed it was there. Except when it was falling off my shoulder. The strap Fuji provides is too small for me. In the end I had a shoe-maker take the Fuji strap apart and make me a sexy new one that’s about 12 inches longer, out of ostrich leather. It’s crazy sexy and I can now wear it bandolier-style the way I like.
- The lenses were fantastic, especially the 14mm which despite the initially confusing focusing clutch (I have to do WHAT to make this lens work?!), has depth of field markings on the lens making it easy to set the lens to f/11, find my hyperfocal distance and shoot without focusing. I love that. As for quality, they’re crazy sharp. The 14mm also has a dedicated manual aperture ring on the barrel, which I also love, but it moves far too smoothly for me and I’d constantly find my aperture changed. A strip of gaffer tape that holds down the ring will do, but I shouldn’t have to. Rubber band might work too.
- The sensor is amazing and I shot at crazy-high ISO without thinking twice about it, in part because I like the look. Very film-like to my eye.
- I love the ability to crop in-camera to 1:1 or 16:9, from the default 2:3, but I don’t see why I can’t do 4:5. Or, for that matter, a custom size. I shot on 1:1 for the whole trip, because it forced me to compose with a different frame and I find those constraints very freeing and energizing. I’m pretty strict with myself about getting it right in-camera, but because I shoot in RAW I can always change my mind or slightly re-crop.
- I love the ability to shoot in B&W, and because it’s an electronic viewfinder, I can see my scene that way. I shot in B&W the whole trip, and even though I will render most of the work in colour, the ability to see without colour and focus on the moment and the lines is fantastic. Again, because I shoot in RAW, I can do what I like with the file and I’m not stuck with only B&W images as I would if I shot only in JPG.
- I love the manual shutter and EV compensation dials, though like the aperture ring on the 14mm, the EV comp dial moves a little too freely for my taste.
- Nice to have in-viewfinder histogram and virtual horizon.
- The X-Pro 1 forces you to use an old school cable release, but the XE-1 has an available electronic one. Setting the XE-1 to Bulb and locking the release activates the shutter and shows a timer on the display so I can watch my long exposures without staring at a tiny LCD on the release itself. I love that. Add a smaller Lee adaptor and it takes my full landscape set-up. Looks a little goofy, but I’ve given up trying to look cool and be a photographer at the same time.
- The writing on the bezel surrounding the lens element reflected in my filters. Lens makers should know better. This is a silly convention. I taped mine up. It’s ugly but it works.
- Quirks? Not many. I love the Q menu for fast access to menu items. The means by which focus points are changed is cumbersome and requires me to do some weird gymnastics with my fingers. I’d love to see that changed. It’s not the fastest start-up and sometimes the focus hunted a little, but I expected worse, so wound up pleasantly surprised. The XE-1 shoots bursts up to 6fps but takes forever to process and I’m still scratching my head on how to view the sequences. Why not just let me look at them as sequential images, Fuji? Very odd.
- There’s an M-mount adaptor available for the XE-1 which means the availability of lenses is amazing, though the price-tag won’t be cheap. Leica isn’t known for being inexpensive.
The bottom line for me is: do I enjoy using the camera, does it stay out of my way as much as possible, and how good are the photographs? We’ll all answer these kinds of questions differently, but for me the answer were, Yes, Mostly, and Fantastic. I love this thing. Will it replace my DSLR? Sometimes, yes. I’ll use it in Oaxaca for Day of the Dead. I’ll use it in Ethiopia for Orthodox Christmas. And I’ll use it beside my D3s and D800 on other trips, like my upcoming grizzly bear trip or my safaris. If you’ve been contemplating a smaller camera, you owe it to yourself to try the XE-1. It won’t help you see light, lines, or moments any better, but it’s capable enough to capture them beautifully.
If you want to see some of the images from this camera, and you’ve not already seen the postcards I published last week, you can see them on this post, this post, and finally this post.
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I’m a long time fun of your blog and c&v books!
How did you find the EVF in X-E1? I used x100 in EVF mode inside and i found it horrible experience! It would freeze when i did half-press, then i wouldn’t see what was going on in the real scene, but instead i saw what my photo would be, then i release it, the screen flickrs, i get confused again, i manage to see the scene again, i press the shutter fully and something gets caught :-).
Of course, me being a real photographer (i shoot family pics mainly 😉 ) I didn’t bother to read the manual so maybe there’s an answer to my issue in there. Additionally, I’m used to using film cameras with MF lenses, both (d)SLRs and rangefinders, so maybe I’m just not used to using an EVF (though I’m not sure I’d want to get used to what I experienced)…
Sorry for the late reply. I had no issues with the EVF but it did take some getting used to. The in- viewfinder preview is a great idea, but I’m pretty sure you can turn it off.
Excuse me as before. Cheers
If you write “I shoot in RAW” you intend in RAW and STOP.
If you write “I shoot in RAW + Jpg ” after my suggestion you are in conflict with yourself.
BUT this is secondary, now it is clear it was a mistake; the pics are WONDERFUL , thanks for share. Cheers
…”I shot on 1:1 for the whole trip”…
…”I shoot in RAW”…
Incompatible! raw not accepts 1:1
Perhaps you shot RAW+JPG. Cheers
Yes, I shot RAW+JPG, but imported into Lightroom the RAW files retain the 1:1 crop, so I don’t see the incompatibility you’re describing.
Nice review David. Just wondering what you thought of the color renditioning. I’ve read that it’s pretty dull and tweaking it in PS or LR doesn’t do much
I love the colour and didn’t have to tweak it much, if at all, to keep it vibrant and accurate.
I’m really laughing, I am beyond medicre as a photographer, and of course had a couple L lenses, like that was going to help. Your writing and books had reenergized me so I headed to the camera store last November for a full frame 6D, like that was was going to help. Thanks to a great sales guy, out I walked with an XE-1. I am blown away, It’s fun and energizing. And you keep me fired up. Careful with those grizzlies
First outing for my XE-1 also in Italy (Cortina d’Ampezzo & Venice). Excellent camera thatmay just replace my DSLR.
If your interested: http://www.flickr.com/photos/alexanderjblair/sets/72157633387007106/
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I sure love what Fuji is doing. I picked up the X20 for my wife as it’s something she would be comfortable using but I can take over and exert more control. It’s a superb little camera. The X-E1 is on my list for a travel companion. For now I bit the bullet with the D800 (also for a pending Italy trip, our first) with hopes I don’t regret the storage/processing burden afterwards. Coming from the D700 at least I’ll be in my comfort zone, for better or worse.
David, thanks for confirming your filter complement. I had the Lee 2-stop soft grad with me on a recent trip to Costa Rica and invariably found it too light, forcing me to bracket landscapes which I prefer not to do. Took me only a few shots to realize I should have brought my 3-stop, although I’ve been waffling on the soft vs. hard.
For X-series RAW shooters out there has anyone found good profiles to simulate the default Fuji film styles (Astia, Provia, Velvia)? By most accounts the X-series JPEGs are excellent and I would agree from at least the X20. But I do prefer the headroom from RAW. I see PSKiss has a Fuji profile set but am not sure if they work well.
I have a question. When you shoot RAW and a square format is the RAW image square? I’ve used cameras that had a B&W function but unless you shot JPG in camera the RAW image ended up the same as if you hadn’t set it for B&W. I’ve wondered if the same applied to aspect ratio settings.
James, the RAW images remains at the 4:3 ratio.
no, simply you CAN’T set square format with RAW! So this is a “mistake” of the writer…
James, Lightroom keeps the crop when you import the image but as Laura said, you still get the full image and can tweak or change that crop if you like
James, not sure what pinkopunko is going on about but my images are all in RAW and shooting in 1:1 in-camera gave me a full-sized RAW image that retained that 1:1 crop in Lightroom. I was shooting on RAW+JPG but I’m talking here about RAW images, not JPGs.
ugh, you know clearly what I mean you write in your story ” I shot RAW” not RAW + JPG . If I set RAW in camera, 1:1 is not present in menu It is present only setting RAW +JPG.
NOW (and I repeat, NOW) you say “I was shooting on RAW+JPG” but this is a new and different thing in contrast with your story.
Or I’m i crazy?
BUT the shots are beautiful, thanks x share (this is the most important thing!).
Sorry, Pinko, I don’t generally write to be this accurate. It didn’t occur to me that shooting RAW+JPG would be different from shooting RAW. Thanks for the kind words about the photographs. 🙂
Excuse me, I’m fanatic, enthusiast Xseries and poorly indulgent. Thanks again x pictures.
Great review of the XE-1. I would agree with just about everything you’ve said about it. On the EV compensation button which definitely moves, I’ve put a little red pointer in tape so if it’s moved I know immediately. Also agree that the fiddling to get different focus points is not good and probably my biggest complaint. Still great fun to have a small camera that performs so well. It’s wonderful for street shots when I don’t want to stand out as a ‘photographer’.
Wow you sing the praises of this camera. As a follower of your blog, Ive come to love the images you produce and I may well opt for one of these, you are slowly restoring my desire for photography once again! Thanks 🙂
I’ve just got myself one of these – and so thanks for the RRS tip. Now I need a small travel tripod – what’s short and stable, has three legs and is lighter than a feather?
Nice write-up, David.
Over the last year and a half I have gone from full-frame Nikon gear to exclusively “mirrorless” equipment. I was mostly happy with the top-of-the-line micro four thirds cameras, but I recently got an X-E1 and I’ve been blown away by the quality of the images. Not just the sharpness, but the “feel” that the X-trans sensor produces.
As I’ve gone down the Fuji rabbit hole, it’s been interesting to see how many photographers I admire are following a similar path to my own. I think Fuji is on to something!
I completely agree. I traded in the 5D about three weeks for an X-E1 and the 35mm. At first I was a little sheepish telling my photographer friends what I had done, but now I find the replies to be more along the lines of “Oh, man, I’ve heard that Fuji is going to murder the DSLRS!” And I’m finding it more and more true. It is a phenomenal camera.
I’m glad you have found a camera that complements your existing gear, and which opens up new creative challenges. Beautiful results.
I have the X-Pro 1 and X100s. I prefer the optical finder, but the sensor is the same as yours. I too enjoy the film-like results.
I recommend that you try the 35mm lens. It’s delicious.
Thank you for sharing. Apologies if this has already been answered somewhere, but could you please detail your Lee filters setup?
Are you using an adaptor ring for a larger mount screw-in filter, or an adapter ring to be able to use the filter holder in which you can insert square filters such as the Big Stopper? Wondering how stable this setup would be, given the large size the holder and filters vs the lense and camera.
Thanks in advance for your answer.
I use the Lee filter holder with the appropriate sized adaptor. I’ve usually got a 3-stop hard transition graduated ND, and a large polarizer, on there, and often also a 3-stop or 10-stop solid ND. It’s plenty stable on a good tripod but it sure looks kind of goofy. 🙂
Thank you for the quick reply!
David I am super excited that camera worked for you. It is a joy to travel with and I can’t wait to see some of your pictures from your trip. Don’t forget there is a review of the X-Pro1 in Photograph if people are interested as well 🙂 http://craftandvision.com/books/photograph-issue-two/
A useful article Al. I am nervous now that I might not want to use my Nikon gear 😉
I know what you mean my “real” rear takes a back seat to my Fuji gear 90% of the time. I shoot a lot of the work on http://www.vic42.com on the Fuji gear lately.
Great images Al, still learning the quirks of the X-Pro 1.
I have just got the X-Pro 1 and am already loving it, I also prefer the optical view finder which the X-e1 doesn’t have. I enjoy the different approach it requires you to take in making pictures.
Nice, basic review of the X-E1. I like how it frees oneself from the. more complicated, DSLR. I also love the style of the camera. While recently using the camera myself, I got many looks and even had a teenage girl ask me if it was “one of those film cameras”, haha, I got a chuckle of that. I really enjoyed viewing your images taken with the X-E1, and am considering the 14mm myself. I have the 18-55 and 35mm f/1.4, love them. Yes, the camera has quirks, but like you mentioned, in photography there will always be “constraints”, and even with the pro level DSLR’s, there’s always something someone wishes it had. The X-E1 is a camera for uses that appreciate quality images, it allows one to “slow down” and compose an image, and relive or discover, the joy of photography. Thank you for your review and for sharing your images, love them. Alan.