Thursday, December 19, 2013

REVIEW: Fujifilm X-E2 – A DSLR Replacement?

Fujifilm X-E2
Fujifilm X-E2

When I first shot my first X-Series camera, the x100, I was instantly in love with the charm of this compact Fujifilm series. However the x100 was a nightmare to use indoors and its fixed focal length lens turned me off. When the X-Pro1 came out my expectations were high as my lens concerns were addressed by a camera with an interchangeable lens, but despite the great in-camera results I got with that camera I still cursed it’s AF system. The price of the X-Pro1 was a tough pill to swallow for many, so they ditched the expensive hybrid view to make the super successful X-E1.

Fast forward to today and the X-E2 is one of the hottest cameras for the holiday season because of the incredible performance of the x100s.The x100s seemed to address all of the sins of past Fujifilm cameras and add much improved AF performance, so I highly anticipated getting my hands on the X-E2. I’m happy to say that it didn’t disappoint in that it is a fantastic cameras with some of the same quirks as its predecessors.

I’m a big fan of the X-series so this is one that I was saving for this holiday season. Read on to see how I liked it and if I decided to get it. You can also check out a gallery of sample images at http://photos.ronmartblog.com/fujifilm/x-e2.

Video Overview Review

I hate doing video, but I’m testing a video lighting product right now so I’m including a simple overview review video:


View X-E2 Video Review on YouTube

Compared to the X-E1 & X100s

Honestly I didn’t see much beyond speed and image quality improvements to set the X-E2 ahead of the X-E1. Wi-fi is a new addition over its predecessor, but from a shooting perspective the two cameras feel identical.

When compared to the x100s, I find the X-E2 to be identical in nearly every way except the viewfinder & fixed lens. Personally I prefer the X-E2 viewfinder, so I’d advise those deciding if they should get a x100s or X-E2 that they should go for the X-E2.

Bookshelf Test

My bookshelf shots are taken with camera default settings but at ISO 200 (the native base ISO for this camera). As you can see below the color and quality of the image are very solid, but it’s rather dark in the shadows despite the in-camera Dynamic Range setting being set to Auto.


f/2.8 @ 18 mm, 1.7s, ISO 200, No Flash

The image quality is excellent even with the kit lens, and the color is outstanding. Click this article to see how the Adobe raw processing works with the X-E2.

If you turn off RAW you can go to ISO 12800 and 56000, but the results aren’t that impressive from a color and detail standpoint:


f/2.8 @ 18 mm, 1/80, ISO 25600, No Flash, AWB, Standard Film Simulation, NR=0

You’ll definitely want less aggressive noise reduction, so I recommend setting the NR setting to –2. Here’s how detail is obliterated with the in-camera noise reduction:

image
There’s no RAW after ISO 6400, so if you use ISO 12800 or 25600 you’ll want to turn noise reduction off to avoid the smearing shown here at ISO 25,600

Even at f/22 I found the image quality to be excellent when a tripod and low ISO were used. The lack of obvious diffraction certainly puts this camera ahead of most at this price range and sensor size.

From an image quality standpoint, this camera is definitely on par or better than many DSLR’s with APS-C size sensors. It’s certainly on par with the x100s (which you can compare against by downloading images from here). Click here for a gallery of x100s images.

Sample Images


Click here to go to my Real World Sample Images article

Observations

The ability for the auto focus to lock in low light seems to be lens dependent as I’ve seen consistent poor performance with the 18-55mm lens, but good performance with newer lenses like the 55-200mm seems to be more reliable. That said, the pre-release X-E2 seemed to perform better than what I see with the released version, so I’m suspecting there will probably be a firmware update in the future that improves upon the low light auto focus problems I continue to see with this model.

The built-in flash height still hasn’t changed so it will get the job done, but you’ll get shadows on longer zoom lenses with hoods as shown below…

Popup flash gets the job done but it's nothing to write home about
Popup flash gets the job done but it's nothing to write home about

Remove the hood when using the popup or you'll get shadows like this
Remove the hood from the 18-55mm when using the popup or you'll get shadows like this

There’s also some carryover body design problems from the X-E1. They include an AF illumination lamp that is easy to block with finger, and the AF mode switch is easily bumped with the finger. I also find the in-camera noise reduction to be horrible (it destroys detail), so when not reviewing for the blog I prefer to set Noise Reduction to –2 and use Noiseware to eliminate noise better while still preserving detail.

The Velvia film simulation is still my favorite for everything but people where it seems to do a skin softening effect on people that make them look very plastic like. Here’s an example that shows how reds look using standard film simulation:


f/4 @ 44.4 mm, 1/60, ISO 2500, No Flash, AWB, Standard Film Simulation

and here’s the vibrant Velvia film simulation (no edits):


f/4 @ 44.4 mm, 1/60, ISO 2500, No Flash, AWB, Velvia Film Simulation

Here’s the problematic face smearing (even when in-camera noise reduction was off):


f/4 @ 55 mm, 1/17, ISO 6400, No Flash, Velvia film simulation
& NR = -2

While the dynamic range isn’t anything to write home about, it’s not bad. Here’s a tough shot because it was taken in total darkness:


Shot in total darkness, but a great AF assist beam and good contrast helped to get the shot
f/2.8 @ 18 mm, 1/60, ISO 800, No Flash, AWB, Standard Film Simulation

Overall I had no issues with this camera from a quality standpoint, and the speed overall seems to be much better in the X-E2 than its processor.

Great Lens Choices

Fujifilm has done an incredible job of bringing a wide range of excellent lenses to market. They’ve also teamed up with Zeiss to provide a an excellent range of premium quality lenses:


FUJIFILM X-Mount Lens Roadmap - July 23, 2013

For those who are wondering, my favorite lens in the Fujifilm lineup is the 23mm:

Fujifilm XF 23mm f/1.4 R Lens
Fujifilm XF 23mm f/1.4 R Lens

This lens with the X-E2 will have x100s owners wishing they would have waited this super combo. Sure, it’s a lot more expensive, but this is one of those “sure to be a legend” lens like Canon’s 85mm f/1.2L and Nikon's 14-24mm.

Will I give up my DSLR and go mirrorless?

With great image quality, lenses and even a EF-42 shoe mount flash for only $159 (at the time of this writing) to round out this platform to give you really everything you need to make a switch from a DSLR. The question is should you? Will I?

As great as these cameras are, I still prefer my DSLR bodies primarily for the autofocus performance. Yes, these are excellent cameras, so if I were to buy one it would be a complementary setup to keep me from having to lug my heavy DSLR around.

Prior to getting my review unit of the X-E2, I was 100% convinced that this was “the” one I was going to buy. I adored the x100s, but I need more lenses choices. I don’t care about a X-Pro2 because I think the optical viewfinder on this class of camera is garbage, so the electronic viewfinder on the X-E2 is good enough for me. However, the real world indoor performance of the AF system still isn’t where I want it to be so I don’t think I could trust it as my only camera when traveling. With that reality, it means that I’d still need to lug my DSLR on trips so this would become more of a hassle when traveling.

Around town I’d feel totally confident to only bring the X-E2 as long as I had the right lenses, but there again presents another problem for me – I’d  probably need to invest in at least three lenses and a flash. For me that just added up to more expense than I wanted, so in the end I’ve decided that this fantastic and fun to use camera just isn’t for me – for now. However, if I was going to go mirrorless this would be the one I’d get. 

Conclusion

If you are looking for an x100s with interchangeable lenses or you were disappointed with the X-Pro1 performance then your dream camera has arrived. There’s lots to love about the X-E2 as its build quality is excellent, the lens choices are plentiful, and the image quality makes me fall in love with photography all over again. This is an excellent product that I long to own should I decide to buy with my heart instead of my head, but for now common sense keeps me behind a DSLR for at least another generation.

If you don’t already own a DSLR then I’d say start with this camera and invest in the X mount lenses. If you stick with prime lenses, the AF performance seems to improve so there’s a workaround if you are willing to pay the price of more lenses.

The Fujifilm X-E2 is an excellent camera that I highly recommend. I also think it makes sense over the x100s as XF 23mm lens will give you everything people love about the x100s with better image quality and the ability to swap to a different lens when you need it.

May 2014 Update

After being disappointed with the selector controls of the X-T1, I finally broke down and bought the X-E2. I’ve been very happy with it, and these lenses that I tested with it were amazing:

Where to order

Other articles you may enjoy

If you enjoyed this article, you may also enjoy these:

The Perfect Bag for this Camera

Think Tank Photo Mirrorless Mover 30i
Think Tank Photo Mirrorless Mover 30i

I carried the X-E2 in my Mirrorless Mover or Turnstyle 20 bag during my testing and found both to be excellent choices for this camera.

Disclosure

If you make a purchase using links found in this article, I may make a commission. It doesn’t cost you a penny more, but it does help to support future articles like this.

If you enjoyed this article, please support future articles like this by making a donation or saving money by using my discount coupon codes. Either way, your support is greatly appreciated!

Click here to learn more about how this blog is funded. Residents from Arkansas, California, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, and Wyoming (and where prohibited by law) may be prohibited from using the links to make purchases, so please consider making a donation instead. This blog is intended for freelance writing and sharing of opinions and is not a representative of any of the companies whose links are provided on this site.

The opinions provided are of Ron Martinsen alone and do not reflect the view of any other entity

4 comments:

Khürt Williams said...

Have you tried the full frame Sony α7? Seems it would be better DSLR replacement.

Ron Martinsen said...

Khürt,

I just started reviewing the a7R

Ron

Tom In Real Life said...

Great review. Full of good info and very well balanced. I'm leaning heavily towards this camera as I could not justify the price jump to the X-T1 or those blankety blank d-pad and function buttons. When I heard Fuji's latest software update added the remote camera features (from the X-T1) that pretty much sealed the deal for me. Toss in the great 18-55 "kit" lens, the awesome 23mm and the ridiculous 50-140 f2.8 coming out and it's pretty clear this is a brand moving in the right direction.

Ron Martinsen said...

Tom,

Yep, I have the v3.0 firmware on my X-E2 and love it for its compact size. I haven't lost any sleep about not buying the X-T1 as this camera is just as capable and has a much better d pad design.