From SLRs to a Mirrorless System

The Fujifilm X-E1
Old and new.
Old and new.

After a lot of thought and online research I decided against upgrading my 2006 EOS 5D to the EOS 6D. Instead I came over all radical and within a month or so I’d bought the Fujifilm X-E1 and 35mm and 18-55mm Fujinon lenses.

I did take time out to consider the EOS M but it just didn’t make all the connections for me. At one level it makes sense because I have a set of Canon EF lenses. Despite the projected cost of the X-E1 and the 3 lenses I will eventually need, I concluded that the Fujifilm is a superior camera overall. I felt the M could and should have been more to make an impression in the current wave of quality compact systems. Maybe Canon has plans. If so, they will probably materialise too late for those EOS users who need a lightweight solution that’s on a par with their SLRs.

As a practical enthusiast I need to give a few of the X-E1’s accessories a bit of thought too, especially the grip and/or case – but not from Fujifilm, if I can possibly help it. The cost is eye-popping! As the months go by I’ll look for quality products at realistic prices from independent manufacturers. Cases are already available. The larger grip appeals to me. I feel it would make the camera more comfortable to manage.

I’ve been shooting with the X-E1 for a couple of weeks now every chance I get. Rubbish pics I know, but I’m getting the feel for this camera and just sharing the results.

The basic design and dimensions of the X-E1 remind me of SLRs I first used over 30 years ago (see image above). Even so, coming from a digital EOS camera my first handling impressions weren’t that encouraging. After years of using modern SLRs I’m very comfortable with the size and handling the larger bodies.

But I’m hopeful that I’ll eventually learn to keep my fingers away from most of the 14 buttons that are crammed onto the limited space on the back of this camera. Thankfully the macro button can be locked. It’s interesting that one reviewer thought “The X-E1 holds well, [handling is good] with buttons that don’t get in the way of shooting.” Another inexplicably describes the X-E1 as “chunky and solid”, which has to be a minority view. Initially the body feels light and insubstantial.

35mm, f/1.8, 1/45 sec, ISO-200, tripod. The image top-right is my software edit. Apart from that, all the images in this post are unedited X-E1 JPEGs.

If you get this camera and you’re used to typical SLRs there’s a good chance you’ll accidentally activate a button somewhere or change the focus mode selector setting on the front of the camera bottom-right. I’m good at the latter. I wish it was stiffer like the selector on the X10. Similarly, the lens aperture rings don’t click into place firmly enough, so there’s a chance you’ll change your setting by mistake as you quickly handle the camera. The last time I used an aperture ring was on my Rokkor lenses. The 50mm f/1.4 is perfect.

On the subject of buttons, I took the interesting action shot below while hurriedly trying to press the Fn button to change the ISO setting. It’s got something, in an impressionist kind of way. I could include it in a new series of arty shots called, “My Life in Pictures”.

The focussing speed of the 35mm lens won’t impress anybody, but it’s not my usual style to shoot from the hip anyway, so it’s not a huge issue. I’m still experimenting with the adjustable size of the focus frame to see if it helps speed things up in situations where there’s not a lot of contrast in the focussing area. The 18-55mm F2.8-4 zoom is better but so far doesn’t give me the confidence I’m used to with my EF-fit lenses.

When the X-E1’s focus mode selector is set to manual focussing, pushing the command dial in magnifies the image on the LCD screen as well as in the excellent electronic viewfinder. Turning the wheel to the right further enlarges the focussing area which I’ve found to be very useful, especially when the camera’s on a tripod.

Tokina 100mm Macro Lens, f/8, 1″, ISO-200

I’ve also been using my Canon EOS lenses on this camera by attaching an EOS EF lens adapter to them. (It cost under £20 including postage from Hong Kong and arrived within a week.) I’ve pre-set the aperture on a few lenses by removing them from the SLR while pressing the DoF preview button (at your own risk!).

Focussing is tricky and the slightest adjustment can make all the difference compared to the lenses’ response manually on an SLR. Focussing with the 100mm Tokina macro preset to f8 was a serious challenge but delivered very good results – eventually. See above.

You can judge for yourself how good the X-E1’s image quality is, especially with the sharp 35mm lens that demands careful technique when hand-holding. I’m certainly impressed. The camera’s JPEGs are clean and sharp and results from various ISO settings  – even at 6400 – are hard to beat. But in this context don’t draw too many conclusions from your 100% on-screen viewing. Don’t get nose grease on the screen! I’d say prints will look very good.

I spent several hours trying to visually match my RAW processing with the results straight from the X-E1. I saved these settings into SilkyPix as Taste and can now apply them experimentally. After quite a lot of study at 100% viewing I concluded that perhaps the in-camera sharpening very slightly degraded image detail here and there. But it’s not too wise to make decisions based on such JPEG observations. Compression is an issue here and fine detail can look excellent in a print – indistinguishable, in fact, from prints that started of as RAW-processed images.

35mm, f/4, 1/200 sec, ISO-500, handheld

As a flexible tool for taking images in a wide variety of situations the X-E1 can’t match the inherent versatility of even a consumer SLR. But that’s not the point. On the whole the X-E1 delivers excellent images but needs managed in a way that specifically targets its strong points. It will suit some shooters better than others. It definitely suits my typical style of shooting and gets almost 8 out of 10 from me.

On Online Reviews

When I eventually got my brain in gear I discovered that some so-called reviewers weren’t quite delivering the kind of stuff we actually need to know – not in a hands-on kind of way. Words like “impeccable” and “sensational” and “fantastic” and “stunning”, not to mention “astonishing” and “phenomenal”, can make reviews sound like they’ve been written in part by the camera’s manufacturer. And maybe we should be a bit uneasy when a review ends with, “Buy from one of our affiliate retailers.”

Yes, this really is a very good camera but, for example, is it as good for you overall as the Olympus OM-D E-M5? See one of the more interesting links below. These pages are arguably among some of the better stuff that’s out there if you mainly want to know what this camera will be like to use in the real world, and whether it will suit your general style of shooting.


Photography Blog

The Luminous Landscape

Lindsay Dobson Photography

Ian Sheh Blog

Mike Mander’s Blog

Fujinon XF 35mm f/1.4 R – Review

Here’s a decent Fuji X-series forum: Fuji X Series

Other X-E1 Images

35mm, f/1.4, 1/60 sec, ISO-2500
35mm, f/2.5, 1/20 sec, ISO-200, Exposure bias: -0.3 step, tripod

Camera-processed B&W image, though perhaps a little bland.

35mm corner fringing, but typical of lenses of this type when shot wide open in contrasty conditions.
An example of detail resolved by the 35mm lens. A prime prime indeed.



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