Why I Went Mirrorless: Fujifilm X-E2 Review

Bio:

This is a subjective review (this whole review is opinion oriented) based on my experiences using a DSLR and the much more enjoyable experience of transitioning to a mirrorless camera system. I would describe myself as a photography enthusiast whose favorite genres include long exposure and macro photography, however I like to practice a little bit of everything and view photography as an opportunity to engage in a life-long learning experience. I watch has many reviews and tutorials as possible during my free time and then practice the techniques. The act of taking photos is my hobby (or obsession) and my favorite method of relaxation. I enjoy viewing photos and sharing on social media, but my favorite medium to view photographs is in print where pixel peeping is not an option, however I do get caught up in this from time to time while in Lightroom. In print composition and subject matter make the difference.

Motivation for the switch:

For someone that does not shoot professionally, I began to realize that carrying around a full-frame DSLR and L lenses was not always a particularly enjoyable experience. Of course I enjoyed the results that they provide me the opportunity to achieve, but with trade-offs that I do not deem worth it. When using a messenger bag my shoulder would quickly become sore and fatigued, and I am not a small guy. Traveling with this gear basically meant that all of the room in my carry-on bag was dedicated to photography equipment. Another consideration is that is difficult to be discrete when photographing with a DSLR.

I did not forgo the DSLR completely, in my case a Canon 6D, but I did sell my Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art lens to invest towards the Fuji system. The Art lens started to represent everything that made photography less than enjoyable for me. Sure it offered amazing image quality, but it is large and heavy. The main thing keeping me from selling off all of my Canon gear is the EF 100mm f/2.8L IS macro. Fuji’s X-mount option, the XF 60mm f/2.4, lacks image stabilization and only offers 1:2 magnification. Samyang/Rokinon just released a 100mm 1:1 manual focus option, and Zeiss make a 50mm 1:1 autofocus macro for X mount cameras. I frequently use my 1:1 macro lens in conjunction with extension tube to achieve even greater magnification and appreciate the image stabilization, so for now I will be keeping my Canon equipment. The day that Fuji creates a telephoto Macro lens that offers true 1:1 reproduction, has image stabilization, and is internal focus will be the day that I will happily part with the DSLR.

Review of the X-E2:

Pros

Focusing - The responsiveness and coverage of the 49 point autofocus system, manually focusing with the focus assist aides, in particularly focus peaking, is an enjoyable experience. I find the autofocus system to be better/more usable overall that the Canon 6D. The center focus point of the 6D has the edge, but the Fuji is impressive and the focus point coverage allows the user to achieve more consistent focus when needed compared to the focus and recompose method need on cameras with a limited number of focus points.

EVF – The OLED EVF is bright, clear, and easy to use on the X-E2. It is sharp and provides a customizable array of shooting aids with minimal lag. Being able to playback and review images in the viewfinder on bright days allows for a better experience and more accurate fine-tuning of settings for the next shot.

Noise performance at high ISO – I shoot in the raw file format and the maximum native ISO is 6400 on the X-E2, while this is not particularly high, but it performs very well at this setting. While noise is present, there does not seem to be any color noise just grain in files that I have shot in this range.

Wireless capabilities – Fairly capable wireless options, remote shooting allows control over settings. Transfer of images to a table or phone is speedy. Currently only JPEG transfer is supported which means that if you shoot in RAW you must use the in camera raw convertor. To my surprise I found the film simulations to be quite nice. I still will opt for editing raw files in Lightroom, but if I want to transfer a photo to send out for whatever reason I feel good about using the in camera convertor.

Auto white balance - Performs exceptionally well

Pop up flash - Can be tilted towards the ceiling to be used as a bounce flash

System – Firmware updates are substantial. When I purchased my X-E2 from a local camera shop the camera had version 1.2 and firmware 3.0 was available. The upgrade was substantial and included the addition of an interval timer, manual focus override, and red and blue focus peaking. Fuji is also committed to creating high quality lenses.

Ease of back button focusing - switch focus selector switch on the front of the camera to “M”  and use the AF-L button located on the back right.

Shooting experience – This may be where viewpoints will differ from mine, but for casual shooting I enjoy having the aperture ring on the lens and the shutter speed and exposure compensation dials on top. The playback buttons location on the left side of the LCD mean that operation of this camera is a two handed affair. I have had several friends ask me if I had bought a film camera when using the X-E2. While I never shot with film, I do like that people associate this camera with film.  I like that the viewfinder is located in the rangefinder location vs. the DSLR position. It is more comfortable shooting position than having the camera pressed against my nose. It is important to note that this is only appealing if you are right eye dominant, those who are left eye dominant may not appreciate the ergonomics of this camera. Manipulating photos with a DSLR is quicker experience, while using this camera forces the user to slow down and be more reflective with what they are doing. This is not to say that you cannot quickly manipulate the dials and buttons on the X-E2, but that using manual mode feels more manual and for me that is desirable and enjoyable.

Cons

Cost benefit analysis – Out performed by competitors A6000 and new Samsungs in many ways. Same sensor/image quality as the X-T1 for less money

Native ISO range limited – 200-6400 (with the 200 minimum it becomes more difficult to use fast primes at wide apertures on sunny days, long exposures, panning) For my needs I do not mind being limited to 6400 especially with the quality that I have experienced, but find myself missing 100

EVF – In poor light the digital gain will decrease the clarity of the viewfinder.

Video – Is capable of shooting video, but this is a stills camera

Tripod Mount Location - Impossible to change the memory card and battery with a tripod plate attached

Lack of articulating screen -X-T1 has a tilt screen

Lack of a touch screen

Lack of a small or medium raw option - Full size raw and JPEG options

Lack of weather sealing - Available on X-T1 and select Fujinon lenses

Bracketed shooting - Limited to a maximum of 1 stop range

XF 18mm, ISO 6400

Fujinon Lenses

I have personally tested the XF 18-55mm f/2.8-4 R LM OIS, XF 18mm f/2 R, XF 35mm f/1.4 R, and a brief chance to play with the XF 56mm f/1.2 R

The lack of a mirror and the APS-C sensor size allows for lenses to be much smaller than DSLR lenses. They feel nicely manufactured and are usable wide open, but are sharper stopped down. The 35mm is impressive at f/2 and is my personal favorite. Having this lens makes getting rid of the Sigma 50mm Art less painful, since it is approximately the equivalent focal length and produces great images. The 18mm is very nicely sized (small) and will fit in most jacket pockets when attached to the camera body. The kit lens offers a faster maximum aperture than DSLR as well as mirrorless competitor’s kit lenses, although it is still variable. The fly-by-wire manual focus ring takes some getting used to, and I am still partial to traditional lenses in regards to manual focus. This is not unique to Fuji and many newer lenses are focus-by-wire notably, Canon STM lenses, the 85 f/1.2L, and Sony E-mount lenses. The lenses all come with their hoods, which is something that DSLR shooters are often unaccustomed to unless purchasing premium glass. One small negative is the fit of the front lens caps, which tends to be looser than I would like, so much so that I have put UV/protection filters on all three lenses to guard against the possibility of scratching the front element. Luckily both primes are 52mm filter thread and the kit lens is 58mm so the filters are affordable. It is important to note that I am cautious and put protection filters on my DSLR lenses as well.

Taken with the 56mm f/1.2 at f/1.2

Conclusion

With all of the great options available in the smaller than DSLR market how did I arrive at the X-E2? Coming from full frame I was hesitant to go back to a smaller sensor, but I also did not want to invest in a system with large lenses designed for full frame coverage (Sony A7 series). The whole point of wanting a mirrorless option was for their compact size. Micro 4/3rds cameras have many interesting options including in-body image stabilization, 4k video recording, and a great ecosystem of lenses but I rarely shoot video and decided that the APS-C options were a better fit for me. Ultimately, I narrowed it down to the Sony A6000 and the X-E2. After hands on time with each model at my local camera shop I was sold on the X-E2 for aesthetics; it felt great and I appreciated the styling. The aperture range on the kit lens also helped in the decision making process. Ultimately the Chase Jarvis quote, “the best camera is the one you have with you,” came to mind. The X-E2 is something that I want to bring everywhere with me, and it is not a burden. The Fujifilm X-E2 offers a balance between performance and design. When considering a camera or a system there will always be compromises including but not limited to: cost, available accessories, lenses, size, weight, focus system, megapixels, ISO performance, sensor size, features, and styling (aesthetic and ergonomic). The X-E2 checked the right boxes for me.

The X-E2 is not the X-Pro1 or  the X-T1. The X-Pro1 has a hybrid viewfinder that is/was desirable to many, but this body is beginning to get old with a less robust focusing system. The X-T1 shares a sensor with the X-E2, but it is more feature packed. Notable features include a very well reviewed viewfinder and weather sealing.

Reviews of Fuji systems cameras often gush about the Fuji look much like Leica reviews. I have to say that I am thoroughly impressed with the files created by the 16 MP X-Trans sensor and the Fujinon lenses. As long as fast moving subjects, inclimate weather, and pixel peeping are not in your repertoire and you okay with the fact that the X-T1 exists the X-E2 might be the photographer's camera for you. As I have said I purchased this camera, and it is my first choice to take with me whenever I leave the house.