9th Dec 2013 | 18:51
The build we love, but with faster responses and better image quality
Fuji has earned huge respect from photographers for its X-series cameras. Many aspire to own the Fuji X-Pro 1, while others have opted for the smaller Fuji X-E1. Those wanting an even more compact interchangeable lens camera have the choice of the Fuji X-M1 or Fuji X-A1.
With the introduction of the Fuji X-E2, we have the first update to Fuji's interchangeable lens X-series. This new camera uses exactly the same APS-C format 16.3-million-pixel X-Trans CMOS II sensor as the Fuji X-100S.
Unlike most cameras that use a Bayer pattern of red, green, green and blue receptors (usually referred to as RGGB) arranged in a 2 x 2 grid, the X-Trans CMOS II device uses a 6 x 6 RGGB filter array pattern, with a random arrangement of colour filters within each block of 36 photoreceptors.
This makes the sensor is less prone to moire patterning, and as a result Fuji is able to omit the anti-aliasing filter that overlays most digital camera sensors. The benefit of this is that the camera is able to produce sharper, more detailed images than a model with the same size sensor and pixel count and an anti-aliasing filter.
As in the X100S, Fuji has coupled the X-E2's sensor with the EXR Processor II. This combination allows a start-up time of 0.5 seconds, shutter lag of 0.05 seconds and a maximum continuous shooting speed of seven frames per second when shooting JPEG images (with a class 10 SD card inserted). The writing speed is also reported to be 1.8x faster than in the X-E1. In addition, there is 14-bit raw support which should mean smoother tonal gradations.
Sensitivity may be set in the native range of ISO 200-6400, but it can be expanded for JPEG files to ISO 100-25,600.
One of the main improvements offered by the X-E2 over the X-E1 is the addition of Fuji's Lens Modulation Optimiser technology, which tailors the processing of each image depending upon the specific lens, focal length and aperture used. It corrects diffraction blur to create sharper images across the frame. This system is compatible with the entire XF lens line-up. However, it is an option that users can choose to switch on or off as they prefer.
An additional benefit of using the X-Trans CMOS II sensor is that it has pixels dedicated for use by a phase detection autofocus system and the camera can use either contrast or phase detection depending upon situation. This is backed up with face-detection focusing, which can be useful at social gatherings.
Another claim to fame for the X-E2 is that it has the world's fastest phase detection autofocus speed of 0.08 seconds. Naturally, there are a few riders to this claim. Firstly, it relates to the phase detection element of the hybrid system, and secondly, Fuji says it's the fastest amongst digital cameras with a 4/3-inch or larger sensor.
Fuji has also improved the X-E2's continuous AF system. Unlike with the X-E1, this now continues to operate while the shutter release is half pressed and the AF point is no longer locked to the centre of the frame. This improvement is made for both stills photography and while shooting movies.
On the subject of movies, the X-E2 is capable of shooting full HD movies at 60fps as well as 30fps.
Like the X-E1, the X-E2 has an electronic viewfinder. As before, this OLED unit has a resolution of 2.36 million dots and covers approximately 100% of the field of view. However, according to Fuji the unit has been improved to give better performance in low light.
As in the X100s, the EVF offers a digital split image as well as focus-peaking to assist with manual focusing, something that we found especially useful with close subjects.
Whereas the X-E1 has a 2.8-inch 460,000-dot LCD, the X-E2 has a three-inch 920,000-dot screen which should provide more detail when composing and reviewing images.
Naturally, the new camera has Wi-Fi connectivity built-in, and after the initial connection has been made transferring images to a smartphone or tablet via Fuji's free app is a one-touch process.
It's also possible to wirelessly back-up images automatically to computer once the camera has been paired with a router.
Other improvements over the X-E1 include the ability to preview the exposure in the live view display of the screen and EVF, more accurate histogram display with high-contrast scenes, Dynamic Range Auto being available with manual exposure mode, maximum sensitivity and minimum shutter speed limits being customisable with the ISO Auto option, the provision of Fuji's Super Intelligent Flash and the ability to delete images from the zoomed-in view.
Build and handling
Fuji has kept the same body for the X-E2 is it used for the X-E1, so it has the same high-quality feel and traditional styling with a shutter speed dial as well as the ability to uses lenses with (or without) an aperture ring.
As before, if both the shutter speed and aperture dial on the lens are set to A (automatic) the camera is in program mode and both settings will be selected automatically. Setting just one of the controls to A sets the camera to aperture or shutter priority mode respectively.
A textured grip on the front of the camera, along with a ridge on the back, give the camera just enough purchase in the hand, but many will want the security of a strap when carrying it between shots.
Anyone familiar with the X-E1 will find they are on very familiar ground with the X-E2, but there has been a switch around with a few of the buttons. For example, the AE-L and AF-L (auto exposure lock and autofocus lock) control has now been separated across the two buttons on the ridge to the right of the thumb-rest on the back of the camera.
This change means that the Q button, which accesses the Quick Menu, has also moved – and this is now above the screen. It's the button that is the View Mode control on the X-E1, and it remains within easy reach of your right thumb.
Fuji has made more of the X-E2's buttons customisable than on the X-E1, so it can be better set up to suit the photographer. However, it's worth using the camera in the default arrangement for a while until you settle into it, as it works pretty well.
In addition, the shutter speed dial has a 1/180sec mark to indicate the maximum sync speed when flash is used, and the exposure compensation dial extends to +/-3EV rather than just +/-2EV.
As the three-inch 1,040,000-dot screen isn't touch-sensitive, the AF must be set by pressing the down key of the navigation controls and then navigating to the desired point. This is fine, but we are increasingly becoming used to being able to do this with a touch of a finger on a screen. The upside of not having a touchscreen, of course, is that the LCD is less likely to get covered in fingerprints, and this ensures that it provides a good, clear view at all times.
It's also a shame that the screen is fixed and can't be tilted or twisted for easier viewing when shooting low or high images. Fortunately, it has a wide viewing angle, which goes some way towards counterbalancing the problem, but naturally the scene is somewhat foreshortened.
The screen provides a nice clear view in most situations, with reflections being an issue only in bright direct light. One of the major draws of the X-E2, however, is that it has a viewfinder built-in. While some may be concerned that this is an electronic device, they should try it before dismissing it, as it's excellent. Details are clear and there's no obvious texture, so it is possible to forget that it's not an optical finder.
One of the benefits of an EVF is that it is able to display the scene as it will be captured, and the X-E2's unit performs well in this respect.
As we have seen the sensor and processing engine before, in the X100s, it's no surprise to discover that the X-E2 generally produces high-quality images with plenty of detail and well-controlled noise.
However, at 100% on screen, out of focus areas in JPEG images have a watercolour-like appearance and some strong edges border on being over-sharpened. The painterly effect seems to be the result of the camera attempting to sharpen areas that should not be sharp. Fortunately, this effect isn't visible at normal viewing sizes and images look good with a film-like quality, but it will limit print sizes and cropping. Even better news is that the problem does not extend to simultaneously-captured raw files.
Noise is controlled impressively well throughout the native sensitivity range: ISO 200-6400. Even shots taken at ISO 6400 have little chroma noise, with just subtle coloured speckling being visible in the darker (but non-black) areas. This coloured speckling can be fairly easily removed, for example using the Colour slider in the Noise Removal section of Adobe Camera Raw, to leave luminance noise.
It's not possible to capture raw files at the sensitivity expansion settings, but the JPEG results are pretty good. As you'd expect, ISO 25,600 JPEGs look softer than those captured lower down the range, but they are pretty good, and in some cases would make respectable A3 prints.
Fuji's automatic white balance system has impressed before and it doesn't disappoint in the X-E2, delivering natural-looking colours in a range of situations. However, in overcast and shaded conditions the Fine Weather setting produces slightly warmer, more pleasing results.
Similarly, the standard Provia Film Simulation mode is a good choice for many conditions, but the Velvia option is good when you want to boost colors. I particularly like the results in BW mode, with the Highlight and Shadow tone set to their maximum values (+2) to boost contrast. In many cases, monochrome images look good straight from the camera, but it's nice to have the raw file to process if you decide you want a colour image or a more considered black and white conversion.
Despite the claims made for the X-E2's automatic focusing system, it doesn't seem quite as fast as the systems in the likes of the Panasonic G6, Panasonic GF6 or Olympus E-P5. Nevertheless, it is good and an improvement upon the X-E1's AF system, delivering sharp images quickly in most situations. As usual, it slows down a bit and becomes a little indecisive when light levels fall, but it's not bad and a lot better than the AF systems available in an average SLR's live view mode.
The biggest improvement is made with continuous focusing, which in the past was largely unusable, but now performs well - provided you have the active AF point over the subject.
Rather than locking to the central AF point when continuous AF mode is selected, the AF point can be positioned as normal within the frame and, in reasonable light, it locks on to the target quickly, keeping it in focus as the subject distance changes. I found it was able to get cyclists sharp as they pedaled towards me.
Our tests reveal that the X-E2's general purpose metering system does a good job with exposure in most situations, but the exposure compensation dial comes in handy occasionally, especially when you want to protect the highlights.
Raw files prove their worth in high-contrast conditions, as their greater dynamic range allows more detail to be retrieved from both shadows and highlights. It is impressive how much detail can be drawn from very dark shadow areas, even in images captured at high-sensitivity settings.
Naturally, this needs to be done with care, as brightening shadows brings out noise, but there's no banding and it's possible to strike a good, natural-looking balance.
Our lab tests confirm our findings in the field, that the X-E2's JPEG files have a slightly restricted depth of field and highlights are clipped a little more easily than we might like in high-contrast conditions. On the plus-side, in average conditions JPEG images have a nice level of contrast straight from the camera.
Image quality and resolution
Full ISO 100 image, see the cropped (100%) versions below
ISO 100, score 24 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 200, score 24 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 400, score 24 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 800, score 22 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 3200, score 22 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 6400, score 22 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 12800, score 22 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 25600, score 20 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 200, score 26 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 400, score 24 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 800, score 24 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 1600, score 24 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 3200, score 24 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 6400, score 22 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
Noise and dynamic range
Our normal procedure when testing new cameras is to process the raw files using the supplied software and convert them into TIFFs before analysing them using DXO's Analytics software. All dynamic range optimisation and noise reduction systems are set to their minimum values.
Like several manufacturers, Fujifilm supplies Silkypix software for raw conversion, but many users are likely to use an alternative package, such as Adobe Camera Raw, which is integral to Photoshop Elements and Photoshop CC, and uses the same raw processing engine as Lightroom.
As the latest release candidates for Adobe Camera Raw include the Fuji X-E2, we have also processed the raw files from this camera and its competitors using the Adobe software before running them through DXO Analytics. As you will see, it makes a significant difference to how the X-E2 measures up and shows the benefit, especially to Fuji users, of using this software.
For consistency, we will show both sets of raw file results here - those processed via the supplied software and those by Adobe Camera Raw.
JPEG Signal to noise ratio
The X-E2's signal to noise ratio is very similar to the X-E1's, indicating that noise levels are pretty similar across the sensitivity range. Apart from at ISO 100, where the results are very similar, the X-E2's JPEGs beat those of the Olympus OM-D E-M1 for signal to noise ratio. However, the Panasonic GX7 has the best results from ISO 200 to ISO 800.
Raw signal to noise ratio after conversion to TIFF: Supplied software
At the lower sensitivity settings, the X-E2's raw files (after conversion to TIFF) are very similar to the Olympus OM-D E-M1's, but both are beaten for signal to noise ratio by the Panasonic GX7 and Fuji X-E1, indicating that the files are slightly noisier than those from the competition.
Raw signal to noise ratio after conversion to TIFF: Adobe Camera Raw
Using Adobe Camera Raw to make a straight conversion of the X-E2's raw files without any manipulation results in files that have a much higher signal to noise ratio, indicating that there's less noise and more detail visible. Its results are much better than those for images from the competing cameras processed in the same way.
JPEG Dynamic Range
The relatively low dynamic range scores of the X-E2 reflect our findings in the real world, where highlights can be lost a little early, but images have a pleasing level of contrast.
Raw dynamic range after conversion to TIFF: Supplied software
Processing the X-E2's raw files with the Silkypix software doesn't get the best from them, and they have a relatively low dynamic range.
Raw dynamic range after conversion to TIFF: Adobe Camera Raw
Using Adobe Camera Raw to make a straight conversion of the X-E2's raw files without any manipulation produces images with a wider tonal range than the competing cameras.
Colours look natural straight from the camera, but some bright areas are occasionally a little overexposed.
The general purpose metering system has coped well with these tricky lighting conditions.
The black and white Film Simulation mode produces some nice results, especially when the highlight and shadow tone values are set to their maximum to boost contrast.
There's plenty of detail in the stone in this shot.
The X-E2 makes a great choice for street and documentary photography.
Taken using the Red Selective Color Advanced Filter.
The viewfinder is useful when you want to cutout distractions and concentrate on composition and exposure.
The Shadow and Highlight tone values were pushed to their maximum here to give more bite to this image.
The white balance system has produced a pleasantly warm image that reflects the lighting at the time.
Sensitivity and noise images
Full ISO 100 image, see the cropped (100%) versions below
Although the upgrades made with the X-E2 may not be immediately attention grabbing, there are around 60 of them, and for those familiar with Fuji's X-series they are significant, making the new camera faster to use than the model it replaces. The screen also reveals more detail.
The improvements to the autofocusing system in continuous AF mode are particularly good, although like other compact system cameras it can't track a fast-moving subject around the frame. This means that it is unlikely to be used by serious sport photographers, but it's not really designed for that type of photography.
The introduction of Lens Modulation Optimiser technology also brings an improvement in image quality across the frame.
The majority of photographers who use the X-E2 are likely to shoot raw files, so they are unlikely to be concerned about the painterly effects that appear in out of focus areas in some JPEGs.
Fuji's retro-style build and control has found favour with many photographers, including us. However, we're pleased to see the addition of a current 'must have' technology - Wi-Fi connectivity. The X-E2 is likely to be a popular camera with street and documentary or landscape photographers, who like to travel light and work quickly. These users will love the ability to share their images quickly via a smartphone or tablet.
The fact that Fuji doesn't offer an app that lets the camera be controlled remotely is unlikely to be a major issue for this type of user, but it would be a 'nice-to-have' feature. Remote control is more useful to photographers who use their camera on a tripod and need to be at a distance from their subject. Some landscape photographers also find it helpful when shooting low- or high-level landscapes when there's no tilting screen to give a clear view, but few will let the threat of dirty knees put them off getting a good image.
What camera should I buy? your options explained
I have to confess to being a tiny bit disappointed that Fuji hasn't pushed the pixel count of the sensor up a little, or given the X-E2's screen either touch-sensitivity or a tilting/articulating bracket. Adding touch control would speed up selecting the AF point and making settings changes, while a variangle screen would be useful when composing images at awkward angles.
I'd also like Fuji to treat its advanced filters in the same way it does its Film Simulation modes, so that they can be used when shooting raw and JPEG files simultaneously. This would allow photographers to capture a JPEG with the filter effect applied, along with a 'clean' raw file. Merging the two features would also make sense operationally, as all the image styling controls would be in the same area.
Doubtless, X-E2 users will be more than capable of replicating the Advanced Filter effects post-capture if they want, but they can be a fun way of exploring new creative ideas, or showing a model or client what you're aiming for during a shoot.
Although it provides a comprehensive set of tools, I'm not really a fan of Silkypix raw editing software because it's not tailored to match the settings of the camera in the way that Canon's Digital Photo Professional and Nikon's Capture NX are. It's also clear in this test that it makes it harder to get the best results from the X-E2's images. Fortunately, most of the photographers who invest in an X-E2 will also probably have Photoshop CC, Photoshop Elements 12 or Lightroom 5, so they will be able to produce better results from their raw files.
Along with many photographers, I liked the X-E1. It offers the same image quality as the superb X-Pro1 in a smaller body and has what I consider the more useful of the two viewfinders - the electronic finder, which has been improved so that it's better in low light. The X-E2 builds on the successes of the X-E1, with the same high-quality feel, an improved focusing system, a host of minor updates and better image quality.
Although image quality is often said to be the most important aspect of a camera, it's only part of the story. If a camera feels good in your hands, is responsive and easy or quick to use, you'll be far more likely to use it. The X-E2 isn't designed to appeal to novice photographers, but many enthusiasts will love it. The key features are within easy reach, there's an excellent viewfinder and the images are also superb – especially the raw files.
We always recommend that photographers shoot raw files where possible to get the best image quality, but this is especially true with the X-E2, provided you have access to Adobe Camera Raw to process the files, as this elevates the results - in many cases producing images that are better than those from competing cameras, such as the Olympus OM-D E-M1 and Panasonic GX7.