Another new (used) camera: Fujifilm X-E1

In an earlier post I noted that I had started collect older digital cameras. Over time this has led to the acquisition of Canon EOS 5D; a Nikon D80; a couple of Micro 4/3 cameras – Lumix GF-1 and Olympus OM-D E-M10. I used to own a Fujifilm HS-10, which I didn’t like and eventually gave away. But I’d never used a Fujifilm X series camera. After waiting a while I found an X-E1 with a 35mm f1.4 lens for a very good price (the camera/lens combination cost less than the cost of the lens alone so the body was essentially free).

The Fujifilm X-E1 came out in 2013 and features:

  • 16MP X-Trans CMOS sensor
  • ISO 200-6400, 100 – 25600 expanded (JPEG only)
  • 2.36M dot OLED electronic viewfinder
  • Same control layout as X-Pro1, including top-plate shutter speed and exposure compensation dials
  • 2.8″ 460k-dot LCD
  • Built-in pop-up flash
  • Full HD movie recording with built-in stereo microphone
  • 2.5mm stereo microphone socket
  • Compatibility with wired remote control units (via either the USB port or mic socket)
  • Available in silver or black

A contemporary DP Review article concludes:

Conclusion – Pros

  • Unique camera design makes you want to take pictures
  • Excellent JPEGs, little need to shoot raw most of the time
  • Reliable metering and AWB systems, good color (with choice of ‘film modes’)
  • Dials for exposure controls allow for easy check of settings by glancing at the top deck, particularly with prime lenses
  • Impressive image quality at all ISO settings – good resolution and low noise
  • Built-in flash is handy for fill lighting in a pinch
  • Film-simulations offer quick access to different color modes and black and white filters
  • Use of electronic viewfinder simplifies interface while maintaining most important features
  • Quick menu gives fast access to most digital controls not covered by dials or buttons
  • Built-in level helps when capturing landscapes
  • Various bracketing modes are easy to set via the Drive button
  • Relatively quiet shutter
  • Excellent available prime lenses

Conclusion – Cons (my reaction in parentheses)

  • Built-in level isn’t always as accurate as we’d like
  • Relatively slow AF makes photographing children more difficult (Agree, but I mostly take pictures of things that don’t move)
  • Framerates in continuous shooting mode aren’t completely consistent (Have not observed this)
  • Camera disables RAW shooting without warning in some bracketing modes (Have not observed this either)
  • Relatively low-resolution rear LCD compared to some peers (It’s good enough for me)
  • Panorama mode can result in visible banding in plain tones (Don’t often use panorama mode)
  • Auto ISO often chooses too slow a shutter speed (specifically problematic with the longer primes) (Yes, but easy to work around)
  • Minimal control available in video mode (Don’t shoot video)
  • Continuous drive mode saves files with a different name, sorting them to the bottom (Don’t even understand what this means
  • Large and chunky build won’t suit everyone (It does suit me though)

Overall Conclusion

There’s a lot to be said for form as well as function and there’s no question the Fujifilm X-series cameras elicit a certain response from those of us who enjoy both photography and well-built gadgets. What’s great about the X-series cameras and lenses is they don’t just look like old photographic tools, they integrate digital and analog controls very successfully. Also, the old-style analog dials are really excellent ways of helping conceptualize things like shutter speed and aperture, the two main elements of photography one has to understand to use cameras effectively.

Those who already understand the concepts generally have no trouble understanding numbers on an LCD, but those who are learning can benefit from seeing the numbers laid out in a linear fashion; and the truth is I still find it helpful to turn a dial to adjust aperture, as I can do with the X-E1. For beginners, having that dial wrapped around the lens completely differentiates it from the body-bound shutter speed dial.

When using one of the XF prime lenses, the main photographic interface elements are right up front and visible, in the form of physical dials. Photography students would do well to secure a prime lens for this reason (as well as others).

Kit lens users will have to pay attention to the numbers on the LCD.

But that’s not all Fujifilm did right with the X-series cameras. Their simple button arrangements also make accessing common functions convenient. Important functions like Drive mode, Exposure, and Autofocus are dedicated to three buttons left of the LCD – a good position to adjust each setting. At first having a button for Drive mode seemed unnatural compared to a dial, but Fujifilm’s inclusion of fast access to bracketing modes made those even more useful. The Quick Menu allows access to almost all the other important adjustments the average still photographer will want to make, including things like ISO, resolution, and aspect ratio. Only one analog control needs fixing: the somewhat loose Exposure Compensation dial, which can be rotated accidentally, both in the hand and when being carried around or put in and taken out of a camera bag.

Of course, the elephant in the room is video. Although the X-E1’s design philosophy is based around giving you all the direct manual control you could ever need, this does not apply to video, which overall seems as much of an afterthought as it is in the X-Pro 1 and X100. For now, the X-series is simply not competitive with its peers in terms of video functionality.

As impressive as the Hybrid Viewfinder is on the other cameras in the X-series, the X-E1’s electronic viewfinder is excellent. Compared to the X-Pro 1’s finder in electronic mode, the X-E1 offers a better and higher-resolution image, but of course it can’t pull of the X-Pro 1’s impressive trick of switching to an optical view for those times when you want a literal ‘window’ on the world in front of your lens. The X-E1’s EVF cannot replace the X-Pro 1’s OVF but if you don’t really need or want an optical finder, the X-E1 is clearly a better choice than the X-Pro 1, thanks to its superior EVF and lower overall cost.

Optics

Arguably, it was very important that the X-E1, being the first ‘prosumer’ offering in the X-series, could be coupled with a zoom lens, and fortunately the new 18-55mm F2.8-4 R lens performs very well. Although pricey compared to typical ‘kit’ options, the higher cost is justified by very good optical performance, and solid image stabilization, with an unusually fast maximum aperture.

In addition to the 18-55, the X-E1 owner can also mount any of Fujifilm’s high quality XF prime lenses, the 18mm, 35mm, and 60mm, and now the new 14mm as well. After using all of them, I settled on the 35mm for most of my shots; its 53mm equivalence was just about right for most of my favorite subjects.

The built-in flash, while handy, produces the typical harsh frontal illumination we like to avoid. However, we liked the (undocumented) ability to bend back the flash to bounce light off the ceiling for a slightly more natural look, especially when shooting interior portraits.

Image Quality

Image quality is where the X-E1 shines, turning out JPEG images with extremely low noise, even at its highest ISO setting of 25,600. Contrast can be a little low in default JPEGs but this can be tweaked, although switching to Velvia film mode pumps contrast and color a little too much for most situations.

Shooting in Raw mode gives you a lot of control over brightness and color adjustments post-capture (as well as noise and sharpness) but X-E1 buyers should be aware that Silkypix, which is bundled with the X-E1, is one of the least enjoyable raw-conversion platforms out there, despite being very capable. Fortunately, after shaky beginnings, third-party raw support is finally pretty robust, with both Capture One and Adobe offering good support, closing the gap between the X-E1 and its conventional bayer-pattern competition when it comes to shooting and processing raw files.

If you’re a user of Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4, or Photoshop CS6 and you haven’t already downloaded the release candidate of Adobe Camera Raw 7.4, we suggest you do so immediately.

It’s also worth noting that as we’ve come to expect from Fujifilm’s X-series, the X-E1’s built-in raw converter is excellent, offering all of the essential tonal and color adjustments that make shooting raw so useful, and delivering JPEGs that match in-camera JPEGs in terms of quality. The recent emergence of robust third-party raw support makes the X-E1 even more attractive, since it effectively makes it less of a risk. If you buy an X-E1, you don’t need worry that its raw files won’t fit into your usual workflow, which fundamentally alters the camera’s value proposition, and indeed that of the X-system as a whole. Both the significantly improved third party raw support and the development of lenses like the new 18-55mm zoom signal the maturation of the X-system for enthusiasts, and we can’t wait to see what comes next.

The Final Word

Overall, we really enjoyed shooting with the Fujifilm X-E1, and I’m very pleased with the images I got out of it. The camera crashed on occasion (it wouldn’t be a new X-series camera if it didn’t have some bugs…), leaving buttons unresponsive, and focus and exposure sometimes delivered odd results, but powering off usually cleared the error.

Ultimately, the Fujifilm X-E1 is a great little camera with a unique, retro design aesthetic, which works with a slowly growing selection of impressive lenses, and brings home images from both bright and dark places that rival some pretty heavy hitters. From the simple slab-sided design to Fujifilm’s enthusiast-friendly control logic, the X-E1 is tuned for the enthusiast photographer who likes straightforward controls and a no-nonsense emphasis on still photography. As such, despite it’s sub-par movie mode and less than stellar autofocus performance, it earns our coveted gold award, by a whisker.”

Below some pictures taken with this camera/lens combination during my first outing with it walking around my neighborhood.













Camera picture taken with a Sony A77II and Minolta 50mm f2.8 Macro lens. Other pictures taken with a Fuji X-E1 and Fuji XF 35mm f1.4 R

Film Camera 2019/10 – Moskva 5 – Results

I struggled with this camera – not the fault of the camera, more my lack of familiarity with it and some basic mistakes I made. Loading was easy enough, but after that things started to go downhill.

Admittedly I was rushing. I was leaving on vacation and wanted to finish a roll quickly before I left. I had the camera set for 6×9 and so only had 8 frames available. I composed my first picture and pressed the shutter release. Nothing happened. Maybe I needed to advance? I did this and still nothing. Now getting flustered I tried again. Still nothing. Eventually I realized that I’d forgotten to cock the shutter – three frames lost, five to go.

It was a fairly dull day and I was using 100 ISO film and in one of the shots I think the shutter speed was too slow for me to hand hold – four frames down four to go.

Only occasionally having used medium format cameras I didn’t realize that depth of field is less than I was used to with 35mm. Only a small area was in focus, with the foreground and background badly out of focus. Five down, three to go (the images above and below),

I found the camera quite cumbersome to use. I couldn’t seem to hold it comfortably and the focus mechanism at the end of the lens was also uncomfortable. I left with the impression that it’s really designed to be used on a tripod, which is what I’ll do next time I use it.

So while I didn’t really like the camera all that much the 6×9 negative is hard to resist so I’ll certainly try it again.

Film Camera 2019/10 – Moskva 5

Made from 1955-59 by KMZ, Krasnogorsk (Moscow), USSR. Earlier models were copies of the Zeiss Ikon Super Ikonta C. Unlike the earlier models, this model is a Zeiss Super Ikonta adapted form, rather than a clone and unlike the Super Ikonta, its solid top plate has a built-in rangefinder and a dual-format viewfinder. The Moskva-5 was the latest model in a series of cameras, the main difference from the Moskva-4 being the addition of a self timer. The Moskva-5 was undoubtedly designed as an expensive professional camera, and not as an amateur model.

It uses 120 rollfilm and produces a negative of 6cm x 9cm (or 6cm x cm) with mask (apparently the mask is often lost, but I was lucky that mine still has it.

It weighs about 30oz and has an Industar-24 f3.5-f32 (4 elements in groups) lens, which focuses from 1.5m to infinity. The shutter is a Moment 24s with shutter speeds of b, 1-1/250. The shutter isn’t set by advancing the film; it has to be cocked at the lens by a lever. To take a picture, press the button on the left of the camera top. The button on the right is for unlocking the front plate when the camera is collapsed. To fire the shutter, the film needs to be transported, if not, the release button will be blocked, a double exposure locking mechanism is indicated by a small window beside the winding knob, before winding it is white and the shutter release is blocked and after winding it is red and shutter release works.

It sports a rather strange, but effective, rangefinder mechanism with a rotating arm at the end of the lens (I’m not entirely sure how it works but it does). The rangefinder window is separate from the viewfinder, so it’s select the focus distance using the rangefinder and then compose the image in the viewfinder.

The rear of the camera has two red windows, one for the 6×9 frame and the other for the 6×6. Both windows have a blind and whichever frame size is selected (by moving a lever inside the camera back) disables the other.

For a more thorough review see here.

Film Camera 2019/9 – Agfa Click I

I got this camera for two reasons: 1) A developing interest in bakelite cameras; 2) an interest in inexpensive cameras that take 120 film.

There’s really not much to be said about it. As mentioned above it takes 120 film in a 6×6 frame. It was made from the late 1950s into the 1970s and has a bakelite body with a viewfinder on top. A clip on the side allows the entire back to be removed so that the film can be inserted.

It has a fixed 72.5, single element (meniscus) lens. A slider allows you to select from two apertures: cloudy (f11) and sunny (f16). There is a third setting which allows you to angage a yellow filter along with the f11 setting. Shutter speed is said to be around 1/30 second. It has a red winter for counting frames, but it isn’t covered to take care not to expose it to too much light.

Other than that there’s just the winder knob and the shutter release.

Film Camera 2019/8 – Nikon FG – Results

My first attempts to use this camera (without film) showed a few problems. I put a battery in and opened up the back. When I closed it again the frame counter didn’t reset. Ah well. Who needs a frame counter. I’ll know when the film stops that I’ve finished it. However, after opening and closing the back a few times the counter suddenly reset and has since worked as anticipated – at least for now. Second I couldn’t get the meter to work. This was more disturbing, but at a push I could use it in manual mode (with an external meter or “sunny 16”. Although I was getting a bit “down” on this camera I could still try it out although I was starting think that I probably wouldn’t be using it much. Then browsing the web I discovered that the meter won’t function until the frame counter reaches ‘1’. I tried this and sure enough this solved the meter problem. Another problem turned out to be related (I think). When I wound on and pressed the shutter release the mirror would stick in the up position. Setting the camera to ‘M90’ released the mirror. When doing the same thing after the frame counter reached ‘1’ the mirror did not stick.

After that it was all plain sailing. I set the camera in aperture priority mode and went out to take some pictures along nearby Peekskill Hollow Road. There were a few operator-related (i.e. me) errors e.g. not noticing that the camera was selecting too low a shutter speed for me to hand hold, but generally I was pleased with the results. Above the former Tompkins Corners Baptist Church (Now the Tompkins Corners Cultural Center).


Red barn with geese.


Old wooden shack on Peekskill Hollow Road.


Rusty, broken wheel.


Red Barn.


Porch at the Tompkins Corners Cultural Center.