31/12/2012 12:00 | By Rob Clymo, contributor, MSN Tech

Fujifilm X-E1 review

High-quality interchangeable lens camera that impressed us greatly

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What is it?

The Fujifilm X-E1 is a premium interchangeable-lens camera that harnesses retro-looks to a high-tech specification.

Whats great?

Fabulous build quality, a superb electronic viewfinder and the option to switch lenses with ease makes it a real winner.

Whats not?

A plethora of buttons and other control options might flummox less experienced users while some crucial functions aren’t immediately obvious.

The bottom line:

This is a real enthusiast's camera. It presents some challenges, but the Fujifilm X-E1 is packed to the rafters with great features and boasts an excellent design and build. It’s a fraction of the cost of the closely related Fuji X-Pro1 too.

Fujifilm X-E1 CSC review (© Fujifilm)

Fujifilm X-E1: Review

Many of us have dream cameras that we’d buy in an instant, if only they weren’t so expensive. In the case of Fuji it has the fabulous X-Pro1, which offers formidable performance from its 16-megapixel sensor, but costs an arm and a leg into the bargain.

The Fujifilm X-E1, therefore, makes an admirable alternative and is a few hundred quid cheaper to boot. You get the same sensor, but it’s been shoehorned into a smaller but no less desirable body. It’s an interchangeable lens camera too, meaning that you can mix and match a variety of optics depending on what you have in your picture-taking sights. Falling into the compact system camera marketplace, complete with its snazzy electronic viewfinder, the X-E1 does of course have a few competitors, such as the more modern-looking Sony NEX-7 for example, but it’s an undeniably nice piece of kit.

Fujifilm X-E1: Design

One thing that was immediately noticeable the moment we stepped out with the Fujifilm X-E1 is that it invites curious glances from fellow camera fans. That’s not surprising, because this is a camera that oozes personality and is available in all-black or, in our case, in a tempting silver and black combination.

The design is a heady blend of retro and modern, not dissimilar to the more budget compact lines of the recently tested Fujifilm XF1, but with much more in the way of buttons and bits. In fact, if you’re a photography buff then you’ll love working your way around the feature set here and there’s plenty in the way of innovation to pick through, alongside more standard CSC options. And, alongside being able to switch lenses, there’s also a hotshoe built into the design (next to a built-in flash) that means you can add on three dedicated flash models for even more versatility on the shooting front.

Meanwhile, the 2.8-inch TFT LCD screen around the back is a treat, with excellent resolution and provides quality shot previews plus access to the menu options within, if you’re shy of the EVF. The latter, incidentally, switches on automatically when it senses your eye is near. Very cool.

Fujifilm X-E1: Build

The great thing about the Fujifilm X-E1 is the fact that it's got an awful lot going on specification-wise, but all this technology has been squeezed into a body that’s nothing more than compact-sized. Of course, because you’ve got to attach a lens to the front of the body it’s not going to fit in the same places as a more modest point-and-shoot would, but the trade-off is oodles more picture power at your disposal.

What’s more, the weight is just over 310g, which considering the plethora of metallic components and the metal body itself, is pretty respectable. Even attaching the kit lens in this review bundle leaves the Fuji feeling solid, well-balanced and easily manageable in the great outdoors.

Full marks must go to the controls too, with a dazzling chromium power button sitting between two chunky metal dials that control exposure compensation and shutter speed. Other button options are more plastic in feel but no less impressive, with a special ‘Q’ option near where your thumb sits offering up frequently used settings to good effect.

Fujifilm X-E1 CSC (© Fujifilm)

Fujifilm X-E1: Usability

The Fujifilm X-E1 isn’t a camera that’s mastered in minutes. In fact, if you’re a newcomer to the whole concept of a CSC, complete with its electronic viewfinder, then it might appear a little daunting.

Confused by some of the lingo in this review? Then check out: Camera jargon explained.

Some features and functions are far from obvious to locate and, while the menus are nicely laid out, they too can be tricky to pick through if you're not sure what you’re looking for. Of course, in that respect the Fuji makes a perfect enthusiast camera, with a mountain of features to discover and enjoy. And that EVF is an absolute wheeze to look into, with its superb resolution framing shots perfectly.

The earlier-mentioned ‘Q’ button really comes into its own once you’ve got a feel for the camera by presenting you with a one-touch way of calling up regularly used settings. Conversely, one of the least user-friendly features is the Drive button on the left-hand side of the screen, which provides rather frustrating access to the likes of a panorama mode, continuous shooting and video. It’s all a little tricky to get your head around, and the latter would benefit from a dedicated button as the resulting footage is too good to miss.

Fujifilm X-E1: Performance

You can't go far wrong with the X-E1 when it comes to performance, simply because of the same sensor and processor technology as that found in the Fuji X-Pro1. Combining it with the bundled lens that we tried provided some great pictures, full of colour and with little in the way of noise.

That said, there is also a noise reduction feature present if you’re working in tricky light. Those with a keen interest in shooting RAW will find that it works well here, although note that it’s not available when using the bracketing modes for shooting continuously. A bit contradictory to the enthusiast camera stance, it has to be said.

The Full HD video includes the ability to use Monochrome or Film Simulation modes when you’re recording, which is pretty cool. A wider range of said film simulation modes are also available for still images and it’s a neat addition to an already bumper selection of menu options. Considering the EVF, screen and other features that inevitably put a strain on the battery, we found the indicator bars seemed to suggest that the Fujifilm X-E1 has hidden strengths as it fared very well during long stints outside in the freezing cold.

Fujifilm X-E1: Lenses

It’s important to mention the lenses, simply because they offer the ability to turn this camera into a different beast altogether. The Fujifilm X-E1 boasts the same lens mount as that found on the aforementioned X-Pro1, and that makes it compatible with three existing Fujinon XF lenses, with more arriving in the near future.

We tried the bundled XF18-55mm R LM OIS short zoom offering, which makes it a decent all-rounder, plus it sports optical image stabilisation and a smooth and silent operation, which also means you can shoot video without having your footage ruined by the whir of a lens in the background.

Fujifilm X-E1 (© Fujifilm)

Fujifilm X-E1: Verdict

The Fujifilm X-E1 and XF18-55mm kit bundle that we tried makes a fine alternative to the X-Pro 1, which is much more expense and carries a lot more bulk to boot.

With practice, you’ll find that this is a camera that can produce superb results, with excellent picture results and a real quality design and build. Anyone who doesn’t want to head down the route of a DSLR, but demands similar quality shots, will warm to the Fujifilm X-E1, while those who want to have plenty of manual controls and don’t mind a challenging feature set will find it even more enthralling.

Aside from a couple of idiosyncrasies, such as the fiddly video functionality, this is a camera that rocks. It’s also something of a conversation piece too.

5 star review

Fujifilm X-E1: Available now - £700 (body only), £1,200 (with kit lens as tested). Check the latest prices with Bing.

See also:
Samsung Galaxy Camera review
Olympus PEN Mini E-PM2 review