Fujifilm X-E2 Hands-On Preview

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The landscape of the digital imaging marketplace changed radically when the first MILC hit the market. MILCs (mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras) provide just about everything their larger DSLR siblings offer in terms of capability, flexibility, and usability, but they are smaller, lighter, much less intimidating to subjects, and cheaper than DSLRs. They were the first major innovation in camera design of the digital age; before their introduction, all digital cameras were basically digital versions of traditional film camera designs.

Two distinct classes of consumers populate the demographic that buys the most MILC digicams: semi-pros and serious enthusiasts who want a compact and capable alternative to bulky DSLRs, and upgraders from point-and-shoot digicams who want SLR-like image quality and creative flexibility without completely giving up the convenience those smaller P&S devices.

The Fuji X-E2 is an update of the very popular X-E1, and the middle child in Fujifilm’s “X” family of MILC models. The 16 megapixel shooter is a substantive, rather than cosmetic, update of the X-E1. One of the major complaints consumers leveled at its predecessor  was its slower than average autofocus performance.  Fuji listened to those complaints and added a new hybrid AF system for faster AF and a new processor that substantially improves start-up and shot-to-shot times. 

The X-E2 features the X-Trans (APS-C) CMOS II sensor first seen on the X100S which, in concert with the EXR II Processor, provides much faster AF speeds than its predecessor. In addition, the X-E2 offers WiFi transfer of images and a new 3.0″ (1.04K resolution) fixed LCD monitor. It looks like the X-E2 retained all the best features of its predecessor while providing some truly useful improvements.

The X-E2 is a very retro-looking camera, available in either traditional silver and black or Pro-look all black versions — no trendy fire engine red, hot pink, royal blue, saddle brown, or traffic cone orange color options are offered here. In fact, the X-E2 looks very much like a Olympus Pen “F” half frame cameras from the sixties. It’s robustly constructed, with a metal alloy body featuring tough and lightweight magnesium top and bottom plates. 

Upon initial inspection, the X-E2’s minimalist design appears almost Spartan compared to other MILCs. But despite its diminutive size and uncluttered design, it feels surprisingly solid. The X-E2 is a compact camera, so it only has room for a shallow handgrip, but it substantially ameliorates that shortcoming with a perfectly matched thumb rail on the back of the unit to help users maintain a secure grip. (However, wise purchasers will use the included neck strap full time.)

The X-E2’s fit and finish is excellent, and its dust/moisture seals are more than adequate for typical users. All its controls are logically placed and easily accessed (by right-handed shooters), and its menu system is straightforward and easily navigated. Other salient features include no optical low-pass filter (for higher resolution images), a Lens Modulation Optimiser (that corrects for diffraction blur), an electronic viewfinder, a hybrid (Contrast/Phase detection) AF system, 7fps burst shooting, a built-in bounce lighting capable flash (plus a dedicated hot shoe), in-camera raw conversion, and Full HD video recording.

The Fujifilm X-E2 offers more features, better handling, and faster performance than its very popular predecessor. If that’s not enough, the X-E2 produces consistently excellent image quality and makes capturing those images much easier than expected.  Image noise has been reduced to negligible levels and straight from the camera images show noticeably better than average quality. Part of that impressive image quality is due to the fast and sharp f2.8-f4.0/18mm-55mm Fujinon kit lens. 

Since the beginning of the digital imaging revolution, the world of photography has changed radically and more changes are on the horizon. MILC models will continue to steal market share from DSLRs and sometime in the near future MILCs will become the dominant camera type for most shooters graduating from the P&S realm. I am not predicting that DSLRs will disappear, but I am predicting that entry and middle level DSLRs will lose much of their current market niche dominance to their smaller MILC siblings. DCR editor Laura Hicks provides further discussion on the seemingly unstoppable ascent of mirrorless digicams here.

I’ve only had the X-E2 for a short time, but I really like it so far. I’ll go into more detail in my full review of this exciting new camera soon.

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