FIRST LOOK: Fujifilm X-E1

    Addressing some of the negative comments that met the release of its first interchangeable-lens compact camera, the X-Pro1, Fujifilm has unveiled a smaller, more portable model. the X-E1, which is scheduled for release in November in black or silver. The X-E1 is made in Japan and offers most of the function of the X-Pro 1.
     

     The two colour options for the Fujifilm X-E1, shown with the new 18-55mm zoom lens. (Source: Fujifilm.)

    Its top and front covers are made from die-cast magnesium  and it has the same 16-megapixel APS-C X-Trans CMOS sensor as the X-Pro1. However, it's  roughly the same size as the X100 and weighs only 350 grams with battery and memory card installed.

    The lens mount is positioned centrally on the camera to ensure the weight of the body and the lens is distributed evenly. A rubber-coated grip is provided comfort and security when the camera is in use.

    Controls and Ergonomics
     The control layout on the X-E1 is very similar to the X-Pro1, despite their different body sizes. The new camera lacks the lever on the front panel for switching viewfinder modes and the focus mode switch is closer to the lens mount on the front panel of the new camera. The X-E1 has no viewfinder window but otherwise, the front panels of both cameras have a distinct 'family' look and feel.
     
     

    Front panel of the X-E1 with the new 18-55mm zoom lens. (Source: Fujifilm.)

    Most of the button controls on the rear panel of the X-E1 are in the same places as the equivalent buttons on the X-Pro1. The exceptions are the play button, which has been moved to the left hand side of the rear panel on the X-E1 and the addition of a button for popping up the built-in flash to the right of the viewfinder eyepiece.

    The rear panel of the X-E1. (Source: Fujifilm.)

    The top panel layouts in both cameras are almost identical, right down to the design of the shutter button and on/off lever control. Both cameras have the 'traditional' dial controls for shutter speeds and exposure compensation, with aperture controls located on the lenses. A programmable Function (Fn) button sits to the right of the shutter button.

    The top panel of the X-E1 with no lens fitted. (Source: Fujifilm.)

    The X-E1's inset flash pushes the hot-shoe mounting a little closer to the shutter speed dial and the sensor plane mark is located a little further over on its left side. But, otherwise they are the same.

    These similarities will make swapping between bodies easy for photographers who adopt the Fujifilm system and existing X-Pro 1 owners who want a smaller, lighter camera body. The table below compares the body-only dimensions and weight of the two cameras.

     

    X-E1

    X-Pro 1

    Width

    129 mm

    139.5 mm

    Height

    74.9 mm

    81.8 mm

    Depth

    38.3 mm

    42.5 mm

    Weight without battery & card

    Approx. 300 g

    Approx. 400 g

    Weight with battery & card

    Approx. 350 g

    Approx. 450 g

    Both cameras use the same NP-W126 battery, which will be welcomed by existing X-Pro 1 owners. Interestingly, power management appears to be better in the X-E1, which has a CIPA-rated shooting capacity of approximately 350 shots/charge, compared to 300 shots/charge for the X-Pro 1.

    What's New?
     Aside from its smaller, lighter body, the main features distinguishing the X-E1 from the X-Pro1 are its viewfinder and built-in flash.  The organic EL viewfinder is an emissive electroluminescent device that uses organic light-emitting diodes and can display deep black levels.

    With 2.36 million dots, the X-E1’s EVF  offers higher resolution than the overwhelming majority of digital cameras with EVFs. Built using proprietary optical viewfinder technology, it provides a clear and distortion-free view to all corners of the frame and isn't affected by the position of the user's eye or the surrounding environment.

    Offering an apparent horizontal field of view of 25-degrees, it enables users to scan the entire scene quickly and easily. Two glass elements and one double aspheric element provide a display quality that is comparable to an optical viewfinder. Rich colour gradation and a contrast ratio in excess of 1:5000 provide faithful reproduction of focus, exposure, white balance and film simulation effects.

    An eyepoint of approx. 23mm and the use of soft resin on the eyepiece ensure comfortable viewing for users who wear glasses. Dioptre adjustment is available via a dial close to the finder eyepiece.

    The built-in flash is inset into the top panel and pops up to provide a guide number of 7 in metres at ISO 200. A hot-shoe is also available to enable external flash-guns to be fitted. Fujifilm offers three dedicated flash models to choose from: the  EF-X20, EF-20 and EF-42.

    The other feature separating the X-E1 from the X-Pro1 is its monitor screen. Whereas the X-Pro1 sports a 3-inch RGBW LCD monitor with approx. 1,230,000 dots, the X-E1 has a very ordinary 2.8-inch, 46,000-dot LCD screen, which is no better than most cheaper point-and-shoot digicams.  This is a big disappointment for anyone who likes to use the monitor for framing shots and/or checking focus post-capture.

    Sensor and Image Processing
     The X-E1 has the same X-Trans CMOS sensor and EXR Processor Pro as the X-Pro1 and supports the same native sensitivity range (ISO 200 to ISO 6400). This can be extended for JPEGs downwards to ISO 100 or up to ISO 12800 and ISO 25600 through settings in the shooting menu. High ISO and long exposure noise reduction are available.

    Since the X-Pro1 displayed very impressive low-light capabilities, this augurs well for the new camera. Dynamic range performance should also be well above average, going on the results obtained with this sensor on the X-Pro1.

    By default, image files are recorded in JPEG format, although users can opt for RAF.RAW or RAW+JPEG pairs. For JPEGs, three aspect ratios are available:  3:2, 16:9 and 1:1.  All raw files are recorded with a 3:2 aspect ratio, regardless of the settings selected in the camera. 

    Typical file sizes are shown in the table below. Note: these file sizes are approximate because file size will vary according to the complexity of the subject recorded. Detailed subjects will produce significantly larger files than those containing large areas of clear blue sky.

    Aspect ratio

    Image Size

    Resolution

    Fine

    Normal

    3:2

    RAW

    4896 x 3264

    25.0MB

    RAW+JPEG

    4896 x 3264

    23.5MB

    L

    4896 x 3264

    6.45MB

    4.04MB

    M

    3456 x 2304 

    4.04MB

    2.07MB

    S

    2496 x 1664 

    2.16MB

    1.13MB

    16:9

    L

    4896 x 2760

    5.48MB

    3.45MB

    M

    3456 x 1994

    3.45MB

    1.75MB

    S

    2496 x 1408

    1.84MB

    0.97MB

    1:1

    L

    3264 x 3264

    4.31MB

    2.76MB

    M

    2304 x 2304

    2.72MB

    1.43MB

    S

    1664 x 1664

    1.45MB

    1.00MB

    The 'Motion Panorama' modes are the same as the X-Pro 1's and selected via the drive settings. They are distinguished by their angle of view (either 180 or 120 degrees, selected by toggling the left horizontal arrow pad button) and their direction (selected with the right arrow pad button). The table below shows the number of panoramas you can fit on an 8GB card in both modes.

    Angle & direction

    Resolution

    Capacity of 8GB card

    Fine

    Normal

    180 degrees vertical

    7680 x 2160 

    970 images

    1910 images

    180 degrees horizontal

    7680 x 1440

    1440 images

    2820 images

    120 degrees vertical

    5120 x 2160 

    1440 images

    2820 images

    120 degrees horizontal

    5120 x 1440

    2140 images

    4210 images

    Continuous shooting is supported with the same frame rates as the X-Pro 1: six frames/second and three frames/second. Focus and exposure are locked on the first frame in each burst and the capture speed slows gradually as the buffer memory fills.

    As far as we're able to determine, video capabilities are unchanged since the X-Pro 1, although the new camera provides a 2.5 mm jack for an external microphone .  Both Full HD (1920 x 1080 pixels) and HD modes (1280 x 720 pixels) are available using progressive scanning with a frame rate of 24 frames/second. Soundtracks are recorded in stereo.

    There's no direct movie start/stop button to make it easy to record movies on the spur of the moment. Instead, you have to dive into the menu and toggle down to select the movie mode. Pressing the shutter button starts and stops recording. There's an upper limit of 29 minutes per movie.

    Unchanged Features
     Noteworthy among the features carried over from the X-Pro 1 are the twin shutter speed and exposure compensation dials on the top panel that provide quick and easy access to these frequently-used settings. Both dials have a textured grip pattern for smooth adjustment.

    Aperture settings are adjusted with a dedicated ring on the lens. Users can turn the aperture ring with their left hand, and use their right hand for quick setting changes to shutter speed or EV compensation without having to look away from the viewfinder.

    Frequently-used shooting functions can be assigned to the Fn (Function) button to make them readily accessible. A 2.5 mm microphone jack enables users to attach an external microphone or remote release connector.

    Fujifilm's Film Simulation Modes enable users to select settings that simulate the 'looks' of traditional photo film. Velvia provides high saturation for landscape shots with a lot of primary colours; Astia is used to ensure smooth skin tones in outdoor portraits; Provia provides a natural looking colour and tonal balance.

    Two additional settings are available, based on professional colour negative films: PRO Neg.Std and PRO Neg.Hi. Each produces different sharpness for indoor portrait photos.  Three types of filter simulation are also available for monochrome and sepia looks. The Film Simulation Bracketing function uses a single exposure to produce three images with Film Simulation effects.

    The Multiple Exposure mode allows two exposures to be superimposed to create a single image. The first shot is displayed on either the EVF or LCD monitor as reference for taking the second shot. 

    Playback and Software
     Nothing has changed since the X-Pro1. The playback menu includes the following settings: RAW conversion (to JPEG), Image rotate, Red-eye reduction, Photobook assist, Erase selected frames, image search, Panorama and Slide show. You can also Mark images for upload, Protect, Crop and Resize shots and tag them as Favourites.

    On-screen display options include a framing guide, histogram display, depth-of-focus preview, electronic level. Multiple exposures are also supported, along with Multi-frame playback (with micro thumbnail).

    The software bundle appears to be the same as the X-Pro 1's and is based on MyFinePix Studio, which combines image viewing with basic editing (2D and 3D) and uploading to social networking sites. As far as we're able to determine, the raw file converter is based on Silkypix technology.

    Comments
     Following on the heels of the X-Pro1 and using the same X-Trans CMOS sensor and EXR Processor Pro, it's pretty safe to predict the new X-E1 should offer excellent image quality, particularly in low light levels and for subjects with wide brightness ranges. Packing these technologies into a smaller camera body without compromising build quality is also a very smart move on Fujifilm's part – as is releasing two new lenses (including the system's first zoom) with the new camera body.

    Traditionalists and serious photographers will warm to the user interface of the X-E1 as they did to its 'big sister' and they'll welcome Fujifilm's commitment to extending the range of lenses with five more promised in 2013. Three of next year's lenses will be primes (56mm f/1.4, 27mm f/2.8 and 23mm f/1.4) and the remaining two stabilised zooms (55-200mm f/3.5-4.8 OIS and 10-24mm f/4 OIS). Although not as comprehensive as the M4/3 lens offerings, they constitute a solid start to the system.

    There are a couple of disappointing features that should have been rectified before this camera was released. The first – and most significant – is the lack of a decent raw file processor. Silkypix is simply not good enough for a camera of this calibre, a fact we proved when reviewing the X-Pro1:  for the first time ever, the resolution figures for raw files converted with the supplied software (Silkypix) were LOWER than for JPEGs straight out of the camera. 

    The message to Fujifilm is simple: offer DNG.RAW as an alternative to the proprietary format. Buyers of this camera will be primarily raw shooters and they deserve an effective way to extract the quality we know the sensor/lens partnerships are capable of from the image files.

    Photographers who shoot raw files overwhelmingly prefer third-party raw file converters to proprietary software or bundled applications like Silkypix. This preference can be a deciding factor when choosing between cameras with similar specifications. The next few months will see competing products announced by most, if not all of the major camera manufacturers.

    Speaking of competition, pricing will undoubtedly play a role in whether photographers buy the new camera and lenses in sufficient quantities for it to be profitable. While many of the new products will be targeted at snapshooters, higher-specified cameras could tempt serious photographers if they offer a wider range of lens options, better raw processing software (or DNG.RAW instead of proprietary formats) and/or even smaller, lighter bodies.

    Monitor resolution may also play a role in consumer choice and it's another area where the X-E1 lags. However, it might make up ground on the basis of its distinctly superior EVF.

    Recommended retail pricing for the new camera will be disclosed later this month. The Fujifilm  X-E1 is scheduled to go on sale in October.

    SPECS
    Image sensor: 23.6 x15.6mm (APS-C) X-Trans CMOS with  primary colour filter; 16.3 megapixels effective
    Image processor: EXR Processor Pro 
    A/D processing: not specified
    Lens mount: Fujifilm X mount
    Focal length crop factor: 1.5x
    Image formats: Stills – RAF.RAW, JPEG (Exif 2.3), RAW+JPEG; Movies – H.264 (MOV with Stereo sound
    Image Sizes: Stills – 3:2 aspect ratio: 4896 x 3264, 3456 x 2304, 2496 x 1664; 16:9 aspect ratio: 4896 x 2760, 3456 x 1994, 2496 x 1408; 1:1 aspect ratio: 3264 x 3264, 2304 x 2304, 1664 x 1664; Motion panorama: 7680 x 2160, 7680 x 1440, 5120 x 2160, 5120 x 1440; Movies: 1920 x1080 pixels, 1280 x 720 pixels  (24 frames / sec.) with stereo sound; Individual movies cannot exceed 29 minutes in length
    Image Stabilisation: Lens based
    Dust removal: Ultrasonic vibration of low pass filter
    Shutter: Focal plane shutter; shutter speed range 30 to 1/4000 second (min. 1/4 sec. in P mode) plus Bulb to 60 minutes; flash synch at 1/180 second or slower
    Exposure Compensation: +/- 2EV in 1/3EV steps
    Bracketing: 3-step AE and ISO bracketing of +/- 1EV in 1/3 EV steps; Film Simulation bracketing (3 types), ISO  bracketing (3 frames in 1/3, 1/2 and 1 EV steps) and Dynamic Range bracketing (100%, 200%, 400%)
    Self-timer: 2 or 10 seconds delay
    Focus system: TTL contrast AF with AF  frame selection for EVF/LCD; 49 areas with 7x7; OVF; 25 areas with 5x5; Multi (adjustable AF frame with 5 sizes)
    Focus modes: Single & Continuous AF plus manual focus; distance indicator and AF assist illuminator available
    Exposure metering: TTL 256-zone metering with Multi, Spot and Average modes
    Shooting modes: Programmed AE, Shutter priority AE, Aperture priority AE, Manual exposure
    Film Simulation modes: 10 types: Provia/Standard, Velvia/Vivid, Astia/Soft, PRO Neg Hi, PRO Neg. Std, Monochrome, Monochrome+Ye Filter, Monochrome+R Filter, Monochrome+G Filter, Sepia
    Dynamic range adjustment: Auto (100-400%), 100%, 200%, 400%
    Photographic functions: Select custom setting,  Motion panorama, Colour space, Colour (Saturation), sharpness, Dynamic range, Film simulation, Gradation, Auto red-eye removal, Framing guideline, Frame No. memory, Histogram display, Preview depth of focus, Focus check, Electronic level, Multiple exposure, Fn button setting (RAW, Movie, etc)
    Colour space options: sRGB, Adobe RGB
    ISO range: Auto, ISO 200-6400, extendible to ISO 100, ISO 12800  and ISO 25600 for JPEGs only
    White balance: Automatic scene recognition; Custom, Colour temperature selection (K); Preset: Fine, Shade, Fluorescent light (Daylight), Fluorescent light (Warm White), Fluorescent light (Cool White), Incandescent light, Underwater
    Flash: Built-in TTL pop-up flash GN 7 (metres at ISO 200); hot-shoe attachment also provided
    Flash modes: Red-eye removal OFF: Auto, Forced Flash, Suppressed Flash, Slow Synchro. Rear-curtain Synchro Red-eye removal ON: Red-eye Reduction Auto, Red-eye Reduction & Forced Flash, Suppressed Flash, Red-eye Reduction & Slow Synchro. Red-eye Reduction & Rear-curtain Synchro
    Sequence shooting: 3 frames/second for up to 6 shots
    Storage Media: SD, SDHC and SDXC memory cards; UHS-1 compatible
    Viewfinder:  0.5-inch OLED colour viewfinder withapprox. 2,360,000 dots with 100% FOV coverage; approx. 23 mm eyepoint, -4 to +2 dpt adjustment, built-in  eye sensor
    LCD monitor: 2.8-inch TFT LCD monitor with approx. 460,000 dots; approx. 100% FOV coverage
    Playback functions: RAW conversion (to JPEG), Image rotate, Red-eye reduction, Photobook assist, Erase selected frames, image search, Multi-frame playback (with micro thumbnail), Slide show, Mark for upload, Protect, Crop, Resize, Panorama, Favourites
    Interface terminals: USO 2.0, HDMI (Type C Mini). 2.5mm stereo mini connector
    Power supply: NP-W126 rechargeable lithium-ion battery; CIPA rated for approx. 350 frames/charge
    Dimensions (wxhxd): 129.0 x 74.9 x 38.3 mm
    Weight: Approx. 300 grams (without accessories, battery and memory card)

    RRP: tbd

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