Honey, I shrunk the camera

I sold my complete DSLR gear last week — which was a very hard decisions to make for me. I didn’t do it for the money, neither did I do it because of lost interest in photography. In fact, I would like to do more photography again and asked my self: “What is the reason for not taking so much pictures anymore?”. The answer was: “Because you got lazy and you don’t want to carry all the heavy DSLR gear anymore”. Combine this answer with Chase Jarvis’s statement “The Best Camera Is The One That’s With You” and you get your new camera requirements — you need something small and lightweight with the capabilities of a modern DSLR.

2012 was the year of iPhone photography for me. I enjoyed taking pictures with Instagram but if you have a Canon EOS 5D Mark II and a lot of glass sitting at home, you always want to get more out of the scenes you try to capture. The camera market 2011 / 2012 revealed two exciting releases, the Fujifilm FinePix X100 and Fujifilm X-Pro1. They got praised for their design, size, weight and image quality (especially the X-Pro1 with it’s brand new Fujifilm-designed 16MP APS-C X-Trans CMOS sensor). Their retro look is very appealing, but with only one fixed focal length the X100 feels too restricted for a DSLR replacement and the XPro-1 was is too expensive. There seemed to be place for something between the X100 and the X-Pro1! Fuji saw it the same way - they released the Fujifilm X-E1.

Fujifilm X-E1

The X-E1 fixes most of my problems with the other X models. Its smaller and cheaper than the X-Pro1 but with the same great sensor and it’s interchangeable high quality lenses. After struggling for a while, and finally getting my hands on @wranner’s in Vienna, my order was placed. Taking pictures with this camera is more puristic and feels like “the poor mans Leica”. I guess, it is the place where Fuji wants position these bodies on the market. Pictures out of the X-E1 are stunning, very sharp, rich in detail and the ISO performance of this ASP-C sensor is at least as good as my “old” full frame 5D Mark II, if not better. Size and weight makes it a “all time with you camera” and less “in-your-face” on the street. Furthermore, the available X-mount lenses seem to be very high quality, as all reviewers praise them as outstanding. I got my self the 35mm 1.4 which feels better than my Canon EF 50mm 1.4 and it’s extraordinary sharp, even at 1.4.

“This Fuji lens has the superior sharpness and lack of distortion of the LEICA SUMMICRON-M 50mm f/2, with the speed and superior bokeh of the LEICA SUMMILUX-M 50mm f/1.4 ASPH, and focuses faster, focuses closer and has less light falloff than any of them. Bravo, Fujinon!” — Ken Rockwell

As great as the images out of this camera are, there are downsides. The auto focus is very slow, it often refuses to focus in dark scenes at high ISO and the battery is some kind of a joke. I had to recharge it 3 times the last week taking a few 100 shots (ok, it’s f***ing cold outside at the moment) — ordered two extra batteries. Unfortunately there are also some problems with the RAW conversion in Light Room (respectively Adobe Camera Raw 7.3). ARC is able to read the RAW files but sometimes details get messed up with very strange artifacts. This issue is discussed a lot and Capture One seems to handle the X-Trans sensor’s RAW files better in their latest beta version. Out of camera JPG is the best option for now because the camera internal RAW to JPG conversion seems to work extremely well - Fuji should share this knowledge with Adobe & Co (I guess they already do).

This camera is not for everyone, you have to be familiar with the exposure triangle and enjoy shooting in (half) manual mode. Action shooters may not get happy whit the X-E1 as a primary camera body because of the bad auto focus performance and slow image saving speed. I’m also considering it an expensive camera compared to what you can get for the price of a X-E1 and the 35mm 1.4 prime. For my share, I’m absolutely convinced that the X-E1 (or X-Pro1) is the perfect choice for enthusiasts who want a lightweight DSLR alternative for still, portrait and landscape photography with a great look and feel. The upcoming X-mount lenses also seem very promising and the moment I can get the 14mm 2.8 it will be mine :-).

I’m not surprised that a lot of professionals own an X-Trans based camera as lightweight alternative for their work. Most importantly, this camera is a joy to use and I’m excited again, exited to grab my camera and create.

Full resolution images taken with the X-E1 can be found on Flickr.

Header image by Daniel Go.