Fujifilm X-E2 – life on the road

This Fujifilm X-E2 is the camera that I never thought I would find myself owning and using – a compact mirrorless system camera, and non-Canon to boot! This is not intended to be a technical review, as the web is full of these (and very positive they are too!), but rather some early impressions and considerations of owning and using the camera itself.

A brace of X-E2s, mine in black

A brace of X-E2s, mine in black

To explain, I’ve never liked using point-and-shoot compact cameras, as apart from usually having no control over settings when I want it, they mostly rely these days on a rear LCD screen for composing the image. Now, I find this difficult on two counts: Firstly, I dislike having to hold the camera away from me, as I find it too distracting when composing the image. Nope, give me a proper viewfinder, which isolates me enough to allow me to concentrate on what I am doing. OK, I could take this even further and get a really old camera with a cloth to go over my head, but this seems too extreme even for me. Secondly, my eyes are not great for close-up work, which makes the screen harder to see, resulting in me holding the camera even further away, increasing the risk of both camera-shake and looking like an old git! And no, I’m not prepared to take reading glasses along to take photos.

… for this reason, I had ruled out anything but my trusty Canon DSLR, but then I discovered that the better mirrorless cameras have a digital viewfinder. And guess what … it works in such a way that my eyes are focusing on a distant image, which is very comfortable for them. Now, as many reviews admit, even the good examples of this, ie, lots of pixels and with a fast refresh rate, are not perfect when compared to an optical finder. Particularly, I would struggle using such a camera for action, wildlife and possibly concert photos too, but I was aware of this going in. And there are definite advantages, particularly the ability to see much more information displayed (and the ability to easily turn as much of it off as I wish to!). So, rather than just have basic image info around the edge, I can now have the screen divided up into a grid, or include a spirit-level (this is particularly useful for shots including the horizon, as I’m sure one of my legs must be shorter than the other, so often do I have to correct for a slight slope on Photoshop!). On the X-E2, this is fully customisable, and easily changeable with a button on the back. Oh, and I can also work through the menus and settings with the camera to my eye (not as easy for a left-eye user as for others, but still …)  And as for sunsets, well, I’m not looking at this burning bright-spot which leaves me dazzled for a couple minutes, as the brightness is reduced to a very comfortable level. Oh, and I can see in b&w when I have the camera set to shoot in this way. Or see my precise depth-of-field without the image becoming dimmer as it the lens is stopped-down more …

… so, suddenly, the small limitations of the digital viewfinder don’t seem so much, given what I’m gaining. And one thing I am losing is weight … my Canon EOS 7D with permanently-attached battery-grip and Canon 24-105 mm is not a light beast, and then you start to add in other lenses, and feel the weight of the backpack just grow and grow. However, with the Fujifilm X-E2 and the Fujinon XF18-55mmF2.8-4  (a kit-lens, but one of superb quality, not the usual made-to-a-price piece of junk), plus Fujinon XF10-24mmF4 (I do love a good wide-angle for some landscapes), I have a very good set-up. And in a small pack with waist-belt, I can wear it for hiking and actually forget that it is there until I need it (or sometimes until I hop over a gate and feel it catch behind me!). OK, this lacks the wildlife-capturing ability of my Canon 100-400 IS (adaptors are available if you want to try other types of lens-fitting on the X-E2), but I would probably go with the Canon kit for this anyway. And I don’t rule-out getting a longer Fujinon lens at some stage: The quality is frankly amazing, up to Canon in quality, in my subjective view.

OK, I bought a few other bits and pieces, with some cheap extension-tubes for occasional use, a heavy 10-stop neutral-density filter for some long-exposures, two spare batteries making three in all (they are not huge, so I like to have plenty of spare shots with me), a couple of memory-cards, UV filters to protect the front of the lenses, a travel-charger to augment the standard one, as it includes adapters for worldwide charging, and for a car CLS. Plus, I spent some time selecting the right sized bag, which would take a waist-belt as I hate having things hanging from my shoulders when I’m taking photos. And most importantly, a nice, big, red shutter-button and black thumb-grip (both from ebay as the Fujifilm versions are, in my view, way over-priced). Yes, now I was fully-equipped to take photos!

Custom shutter-button and thumb-grip

Custom shutter-button and thumb-grip

… well, not quite. I’ve used Canon gear since I was 18, and the X-E2 has things laid out very differently, plus some options I’ve not encountered before. So, I spent time just playing around with the camera, not even always taking photos but learning where things were that I needed, and setting up a few useful options: For example, I like to have the rear screen generally just show the settings, rather than the image-preview, apart from a short review of the image after I take it. And there are also customisable buttons, so I have one set to take me through various custom-shooting modes I’ve created: This is where I have two high-contrast b&w settings, which I can get to in a couple of presses. The camera includes yellow and red filter settings, and adding some extra contrast as well means I can produce just the kind of monochrome image I like straight from the camera:

Lovely contrasty b&w straight from the camera: Rainforest in Costa Rica

Lovely contrasty b&w straight from the camera: Rainforest in Costa Rica

… this really needs to be seen larger, but I hope it gives some idea of what this device can do. A few short outings also got me from that ‘where did they put the setting to …’ feeling to having confidence and being able to concentrate more fully on being creative, with the functions starting to become more automatic for me to find them. This was just in time for a three-week vacation in Costa Rica, where it was lovely to have much less camera-gear to lug around, and made it easier also to be more anonymous when I was taking photos (one friend had already commented that it looks very 1970s with the dials, and wondered why it had a wifi-button on it!). Yes, wifi. On a camera. Very useful for travelling, as I can upload a few images to my smart-phone using the Fuji app and post them as I go.

Great macro

Great macro

I have become more impressed as I have used it more, and I can only echo what I have read in several other reviews of this device: It is not only superb quality, well designed and thought-out in execution, but fun. Yes, fun, such great fun to use, making you want to do more, see what you can achieve, get creative, wonder ‘what if I try …’. And there are still things I’ve not played with fully: The film-emulation modes, and some of the other effects, whilst possibly gimmicky at times, may well find a place in some situations. And as I’ve already said, getting high-contrast b&w straight off the camera is amazing, aided by the red-filter Fuji have included. I love this camera!

Any downsides? Well, as I already said, there are some small limitations of the digital viewfinder, but these were known to me prior to purchase, and there are compensations in the extra information available. It is also quite easy for the exposure-compensation dial to get turned accidentally, but the thumb-grip makes this much less frequent. Of course, price could be considered a downside; this is not a cheap camera, but then I would not want to compromise on quality, and given the amazing kit-lens, and Fujinon lenses in general, I would say that the price is justified: This camera seems to have been well-designed and thought-through, from the position of the buttons, to the film-simulation modes, to the quality of materials.

I do have one strong issue: Weather-proofing. No, I don’t mean that I want to take it out in the pouring rain, although I can – and do when required – do this with my Canon gear. No, what I mean is that I can shoot without even changing the lens and then see that I have several sensor dust-spots on some images when I review them. This can be corrected on Photoshop, but I really shouldn’t have to at this level of gear, in my view. So, I’ve altered the default setting so that the camera sensor now cleans on power-up as well as when switching it off: I am in the habit of turning off any cameras as I change lenses, so that the sensor will be cleaned, but I guess I’ll also have to try and remember to power-cycle the X-E2 in-between times as well, in order to limit this problem.

Perfect ... once the sensor dust-spots were removed

Perfect … once the sensor dust-spots were removed

In my early playing, I also managed to alter the manual-focus so I was getting some lock-icon in the viewfinder, which is not mentioned anywhere in the manual (at least it got me to read the manual, and find out some other useful things in the process!). It also came back after removing the battery, but some more button-pressing eventually removed it. I’ll attribute this one to being part of the learning-curve! And yes, I love that I can have full manual-focus if I want it, for better control.

Another plus-point is the amazing low-light capability. Subjectively, it seems better (or at least differently-processed) than my EOS 7D, even with minimal illumination. Still digital-grain and artefacts, of course, but when it’s that or no shot, I’ll take it! And I can use to within a couple of stops of the maximum ISO without noticing too much degradation. Wow.

Amazing in low-light situations, even on maximum ISO: Turtle returning to the sea, Costa Rica

Amazing in low-light situations, even on maximum ISO: Turtle returning to the sea, Costa Rica

All in all, this is a rather amazing camera, and I do love the saving in weight, superb image quality, logical design, and rather useful functions included. The sensor-dust is annoying, but I can live with it and remove it. Yes, the price is not insubstantial, but at the time of purchase, a Fuji cash-back offer took the edge off this, and I would rather not buy cheaper gear and then be permanently disappointed with the image-quality. Yes, I’m a mirrorless-convert, and enjoying a change from the Canon-brand for a while. Not that I have any plans to ditch the DSLR any time soon. Yes, it has put the fun back. Or more accurately, added even more, as I always enjoy my photo-work.

Oh and as to the two cameras in the photo at the start of this, my friend also decided to buy one, going for what I call the ‘dad’s camera’ look in silver with a brown leather case. Plus custom shutter-button and thumb-grip, naturally! Yes, it’s nice to share the fun … and thanks to her also for managing to get the photo of me actually smiling; I’m not a great fan of having my photo taken, that’s why I’m usually behind the camera.

One final word: If you have expensive photo-gear, head over to Lenstag to register it. It won’t guarantee that you get it back if it is stolen, but at least it gives you a chance, and will even report images it finds taken with your gear from the rest of the internet.


About Chris Senior

Photographer, wit, travel-junkie, MSc student and practising eccentric! Prog rock nut and baker of tasty cakes.
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