The Devil, the Details & the X-E2
I’m in the car, fitting a lens onto a shiny new camera I just picked up a few minutes ago. I step out into the park by the river, the sun shining, the leaves burning up with bright autumn colours. I shoot my first image and immediately notice a rich, boomy thwap under my finger. I think to myself “ Wow, they worked on the shutter sound?”.
Yes, I believe they did.
So the rumours were true: Fujifilm today announced the X-E2, a new, updated high end body for the X series cameras. If you followed the rumour sites over the past couple of weeks you probably already had a pretty good idea of the changes in store. Hard to control leaks I guess. But a lot of the refinements become obvious only once you’ve worked with the camera and in my opinion, these go far beyond mere specs and cosmetic alterations.
I’ve been shooting with a pre-production version for a little over a week now, thanks to Billy, Guido, Evan and everyone at Fujifilm Canada. In fact, fellow canadian X-Photographers Don Craig, Kale JF and Riley Joseph all had a chance to shoot with one as well and we’ve even had some email conversations about it. I’m linking to each of their reviews at the bottom of this page and encourage you to read those as well for other impressions. I believe Kale will also be taking the camera to NYC pretty soon which should be an absolute feast for the eyes.
The usual disclaimers about pre-production units apply (IQ not final for one) and there was obviously no raw support since it wasn't even announced while we were shooting with it, so everything you see here was shot in jpeg. Anyway, in case you haven’t had enough of it, here’s some gear porn for you…
The specs are right up there and everything you’d expect from a new pro X body, including all the technological improvements released in the X100S: second generation of X-Trans sensor and EXR Processor, hybrid contrast/phase focus detection, Lens Modulation Optimizer, Focus Peaking AND Split Image, all the features first seen in its fixed lens sibling.
Unfortunately I can't do the most obvious comparison of all: the X-E2 vs the X-E1. I’ve never shot with an X-E1, never even once held one in my hands. I can however talk about the trajectory of the pro end of the X-series and what this new release brings to the table. A story arc that’s becoming clearer with each release — Keyword: iterative.
Just like the X100S built on what the X100 had already accomplished, the X-E2 is an exercise in refinements: tons of small and not so small details seem to have been touched upon to improve the experience. I’m sure you’ve already read the official list of improvements but here are some of the standouts for me:
- Preview exposure in manual mode. More on that below but… Wow.
- 4 assignable buttons including a new distinct AE-L. Yesss.
- The exposure compensation scale: when set to 0, the scale is greyed out and only the 0 remains white; as soon as you move up or down the scale becomes white and the “cursor” becomes yellow. Very nice touch.
- Information OFF screen mode: I love this. In this mode everything disappears from the screen after about a second, unless you touch the shutter or any of the dials. Everything. On the X-Pro1 I’ll often trigger the AF selection screen just to see the entire frame without distractions (well, except for the AF selection points). This is way better.
- Zoom in while in AF mode! Zoom in while in AF mode! And this isn’t just for review either: you can still trigger AF while looking at the 4x view.
- –3EV exposure compensation. If you use a priority mode like I do most of the time… Yay.
- Big Green Dot. As in big green focus confirmation dot. Nice.
And lots of other niceties you can read about on the official X-E2 page.
S-P-E-E-D. In operations and yes, AF. We all know AF speed has always been singled-out as Fuji’s Achilles heel, even though it improves with each generation and every firmware release. I don’t have a problem with it and it’s never stopped me from doing what I needed to do. That said, this marks a new high for the series. You immediately feel the responsiveness of the added phase detection and the EXR Processor II. Plus, as far as AF is concerned it’ll only get better: this pre-production model couldn’t make full use of the capabilities of the new hardware with the current generation of lens firmware. But my lenses were still much faster when mounted on the X-E2 and we’re bound to see even more improvements when the final product is released and everything else follows as it usually does.
The camera is Wi-FI enabled and includes a new setup that allows it to recognize, connect and remember specific networks. It's a nice addition but my hopes of using this as a tethered solution (replacing the need for an Eye-Fi card) were quickly dashed: it only communicates with a set of Fujifilm apps but more importantly doesn't send images "live" while in shooting mode — at least from what I saw on this pre-production model. You need to stop everything, switch to playback mode, dive in a couple of menus and then wait for the camera to do its thing. The LCD even turns itself off during this operation. Honestly I don't see the usefulness of this feature the way it's implemented at the moment — But the radio hardware is in there so maybe this will evolve over time.
Another change is the inclusion of the flash design Fuji first introduced with the X-M1 last summer. Great move because I thought it was brilliant then and I still do. We also get +–2 flash compensation as well. I don’t use built-in flash very often but this design makes it much more versatile and useful if nothing else is available and natural light won’t work.
Ear to the ground
So, back to that preview exposure feature I mentioned earlier… Allow me a small detour for a moment. You often hear from other X Photographers how Fuji is a company that listens. And understandably this may sound like total BS. I see it in discussion forums all the time, how it’s all marketing bla, bla, bla… It’s not. Here’s a little story: when I reviewed the X100S last spring I mentioned a change I hadn’t read about…
Maybe I’m the only one who had a problem with this. Fact is I never read about it anywhere, in any review or any post so… I don’t know. But I felt quite strongly about it and mentioned it to Billy Luong. Then we talked about it during one of our X-Photographer meetings. Well guess what? Enter Preview Exposure in Manual Mode. Not only does this allow us to toggle the way the EVF responds to the amount of available light, but when turned on we now also get to preview our exposure when shooting manual, the same way we can when working in aperture or shutter priority. All of it live. Which means we no longer have to guess by relying on the exposure scale but can actually choose to see all changes reflected on the EVF (or LCD) screen. This is a fantastic addition. The fact that I apparently had something to do with it (been told) is icing on the cake.
So yes, Fuji does listen. It’s not BS at all.
Having never used its predecessor before, I was pleasantly surprised at how well the lenses balanced on this smaller camera. Obviously the 55-200mm zoom feels a bit strange but then it feels strange on the X-Pro1 as well... As do ANY long telephoto lenses on ANY camera really. I never thought the 70-200mm felt particularly comfortable on my Nikons either. But I had anticipated a certain awkwardness even with the prime XF lenses and it simply wasn't there; everything felt different but perfectly acceptable — I didn't even need to adapt at all. Judging from the XF 14mm and XF 18-55, the new XF 23mm should be a great fit as well.
I still prefer the body and overall ergonomics of the X-Pro1 which for me, and for the type of work I use it for, is a great combination of size, weight and shape. A matter of taste. I also prefer the placement of the Q button on that camera to its new spot on the X-E2 which isn't as fast to access while shooting, although this may only be a question of reflexes. But speaking of buttons...
The 1 caveat
There had to be something, right? You may have noticed something missing on the back of the camera. When I first turned it on it was set to LCD. So I immediately fumbled for the View Mode button... Only to find it wasn't there. It's gone. Don Craig had mentioned this in his emails so I went looking for an equivalent in the Q menu. Nope. I accessed the main menu... Display Custom Settings, nope... Screen Setup, nope... Then I noticed a new menu item in the blue section called EVF/LCD Settings: bingo.
This brings up the one problem I have with the current pre-production model and I do hope it gets fixed: you can't quickly switch from EVF shooting to LCD viewing. I can't tell you the number of times I hit playback expecting to turn on the LCD for a quick look. I don't chimp all that much because I use image preview set at its lowest setting (0.5 sec on this camera), which is just enough to get a confirmation and move on. But when I do want to review the images I do so on the LCD; it's just much more comfortable AND allows someone else to see them as well if needed.
I obviously don't expect the View Mode button to come back but I honestly feel something needs to change in the firmware to address this issue. The options in the new menu are:
- Eye Sensor
- EVF ONLY + Eye Sensor
This last one is new to the X cameras and simply turns the EVF on and off using the eye sensor... Or anything else blocking the viewfinder at less than an inch or so; including your chest when the camera is around your neck. Not a bad idea per se but not perfect.
The problem with all of these is that it's either/or: you can't shoot with the EVF and quickly use the LCD for playback. The only way to do so is to use Eye Sensor, something I won't do because I never want the LCD turning itself on each and every time I take the camera away from my eye. I also find the slight delay when switching from one to the other extremely annoying while shooting. So normally I'll just press the View Mode button if I need to check something on the LCD, press it again to go back to EVF... Boom! Done.
My solution would be to add another option, something like EVF ONLY + LCD PLAYBACK. I also feel we should be able to access these various modes much more easily, without having to dig through the main menu. Perhaps this could be added as a possible assignment to the FN buttons, mimicking the old setup. But an EVF ONLY + LCD PLAYBACK option would pretty much allow us to have our cake and eat it too, getting that functionality back without losing an FN button in the process.
This may seem trivial but honestly it's the only real negative I have for the X-E2, the only thing that gave me pause — A shame given how refined everything else feels but something I'm quite confident will be resolved eventually.
I could go on and talk about the new 60fps video option, the fact that we can FINALLY see all images taken in burst mode (YAY!!) and on and on... But I'll just say this: the X-E2 is a polished, powerful camera and there wasn't a moment when I didn't feel at home using it. It's everything we expect from the top X-Series, refined — Something I know a lot of us are glad to see. And since this camera isn't out yet, the very few negatives I mentioned could very well disappear by the time it hits the shelves or in a future update; God knows Fujifilm doesn't skimp on feature upgrades.
If the devil is in the details, this thing's a demon — A good lil' demon.
P.S. I'll be posting more X-E2 images in a few stories next week. Stay tuned.
P.P.S I'll be testing out the new performance features this weekend (high performance mode, face detection etc) and will report back. I had a chance to shoot with it extensively yesterday and on a job last night (as a second camera). Can't post anything from the job shoot but I'm very impressed. Afternoon images will be part of an upcoming essay.
Canadian X-Photographers + X-E2 (as the reviews become available):
UPDATE 5/12/2013: Don Craig | All Lit Up