My Fuji X-E1

Or, a lesson on buying based on future promises.

I spent a good portion of 2012 testing a number of cameras, trying to find the right one for me. Late last year I purchased the Fujifilm X-E1 based on good reviews, a very successful rental of the similar X-Pro1, and a lens lineup founded on high quality primes. I bought into a system that was in its infancy but showed potential. I bought based on hope and promises for the future.

I have now had the camera for a year and have taken thousands of pictures. I have used every R-series1 Fuji prime lens released for the system to date, and I own the standard zoom lens. I have taken pictures in all conditions, from desert sand at midday to icy cold at midnight. It has a few dings and scratches now but still looks good. And I am still extremely happy with the camera.

A big upgrade

The X-E1 is a huge upgrade from my old Olympus E-410. I used to avoid shooting at any sensitivity higher than 400 ISO unless I had to, relying instead on tripods or (often poor) attempts to be steady in low light. When I did give in and use the higher sensitivities I found the noise extremely distracting. I could massage and filter it to make it slightly better, but could never get it to a point where the noise was anything but distracting. Color noise was so bad I would convert pictures to black & white out of desperation. Now I can go outside and shoot handheld in the dead of night at 3200 ISO and the noise still compares favorably to the grain of scanned 400 and 800 speed film, both in level and aesthetics. It certainly doesn’t fundamentally change my photography, but it gives me more opportunities.

Delays and software problems

It hasn’t all been roses, of course. Part of why I chose the Fuji over other options was the highly regarded lenses. Which is absolutely true about the 35mm “normal” lens I bought with the camera. But part of why I hesitated was just how limited the lens lineup was. Yes I bought the camera with the excellent 35mm f/1.4 prime, but I half bought it on the promise of a future 23mm prime, a 35mm equivalent moderate wide angle lens that gives probably my favorite angle of view of all time. Which took a good 6 months longer to show up than initially planned. And is bigger than expected. And about $200 more expensive than I guessed.

I used the 23mm in the a Twin Cities last month. Optically it is everything that I was promised (fantastic) and I definitely plan to buy it. But I can’t impulse buy a $900 lens.

And I’m still waiting for the fast portrait prime I was promised. I tried the existing portrait length lens and it takes nice pictures, but it is slow to focus and frustrating. If the promised future lens is anything like the new 23mm I will probably buy that too.

In addition to that I bought the camera knowing that Adobe Lightroom, my photo software of choice, had serious flaws in its handling of raw files from the Fuji’s strange sensor. I started out using Lightroom for web sized images, but spending a lot of time in Fuji’s strange and unintuitive raw converter for any image I wanted to print.

Thankfully it wasn’t long before updates to Adobe Camera Raw and Lightroom arrived. Although I can still pull more fine detail from a file using Fuji’s software Lightroom is now extremely competitive. And far easier to use.

The risk pays off

I took a risk buying a camera that was great on its own, but with an unusual sensor and part of a system in its infancy. Buying from Canon or Nikon or even Sony would probably have been more sensible.

What if Fuji didn’t last, or support from Adobe lagged, or the lenses I was waiting for were inferior? What if third party lens makers like Zeiss ignored the platform? What if minor software issues were actually real world showstoppers?

I might just be lucky that isn’t the case. Or I might have seen the real potential in a fledgling system that was embraced by others. I’m happy with my camera, but it could have turned out very different.

— Steve

  1. The R-series lenses have dedicated aperture control rings, whether marked with end stops (all prime lenses) or freely rotating (the zoom lenses). There are other lower-cost Fuji lenses without the aperture control ring, which I have not used.

Posted on 16 December 2013