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Fujifilm XE-2 Review
by Howard Creech -  4/30/2014

Fujifilm X-E2 Review

The 16-megapixel Fuji X-E2 is the middle child in Fujifilm's "X" family of MILC models, but it's more than a just cosmetic update of the X-E1. The X-E1 was very popular with enthusiasts, but its relatively high price ($1399.00 with kit zoom) somewhat limited its appeal -- especially considering its principal rivals (Sony Alpha NEX7 $1249.00 and Olympus OM-D E-M5 $1299.00) were cheaper. The X-E2 retails for the same price as its predecessor, but both of its primary competitors are starting to sell at the deep discounts that often precede a new or updated model -- so consumers will have to consider their choices carefully when selecting a camera in this class. However, price should never be the only criteria when it comes to choosing photographic tools. 

One major complaint consumers leveled at the X-E1 was that it had a slower than average AF performance. But it seems Fuji listened to those complaints, and added a new hybrid AF system to the X-E2 and an X-Trans (APS-C) CMOS II sensor, which in concert with the EXR II Processor, provides much faster AF speeds than its predecessor. Basically, the X-E2 retained all the best features of its predecessor while providing some truly useful improvements.

Build and Design

[click to view image]The X-E2 is essentially a stripped down version of the Fujifilm MILC flagship X-Pro1 model. It's an attractive camera, but it doesn't look much like a compact P&S or a DSLR. It does, however, resemble rangefinder cameras from another era, and it seems to be built to old-school standards.

The metal-alloy frame and magnesium top and bottom plates are robust and solid, but it doesn't feel heavy.  Fit and finish are excellent and dust/moisture seals are more than adequate for typical users. The X-E2 isn't pocketable, but the included neck strap will keep this camera relatively secure. All controls are logically placed and easily accessed (by right-handed shooters) and the menu system, while feature-filled, is straightforward and easily navigated. Other salient features include no optical low-pass filter (for higher resolution images), a Lens Modulation Optimizer (that corrects for diffraction blur), 7fps burst shooting, a built-in bounce lighting capable flash (plus a dedicated hot shoe), WiFi connectivity, and in-camera RAW format conversion.

Ergonomics and Controls

At first glance, X-E2's minimalist design appears almost Spartan when compared to other MILC's, but this camera feels surprisingly solid in the hands despite its diminutive size and uncluttered appearance.  The X-E1's designers did a wonderful job on control placement and the X-E2 maintains that clean and functional design philosophy.  The X-E2's controls are logically placed and easily accessed, at least for right-handed shooters.  Here's an example of that thoughtful design philosophy.  The X-E2's exposure compensation control is a thumb activated click stopped dial on the camera's top deck that provides direct access to this important function. Most other amateur and mid-level cameras often hide this feature within the menu system.

Menus and Modes

The X-E2 features a somewhat complicated menu system, but it isn't cluttered or confusing.  The complexity is a direct result of the amazing usability of this camera.  To put it another way, the X-E2 allows users to control virtually every aspect of the image making process and more control options logically require a more comprehensive menu system.   

The X-E2's shooting modes include:

Display/Viewfinder

[click to view image]The X-E2 features a large and very bright 3.0-inch fixed LCD monitor with 1.04K resolution. The wide-viewing angle TFT LCD monitor is sharp, hue accurate, and fluid.  The default info display provides all the information this camera's target audience is likely to need, the LCD gains up (automatically increases brightness) in dim lighting, and brightness can also be adjusted to the individual shooter's preferences. Here's the bottom line on the X-E2's LCD monitor -- WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) -- the colors you see on the screen are the colors the camera records.

The X-E2 also provides an electronic viewfinder (EVF) with 2.36 million pixels resolution. The EVF is strangely placed just below the left-hand end of the top deck.  This is great for vertical shots, but somewhat awkwardly positioned for horizontal shots.  The EVF features a built-in diopter correction control for those who wear glasses.

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Performance

The X-E2 is very fast -- equal to or faster than its competition at this price point.  Fuji claims this camera has the fastest autofocus system of any consumer model camera currently available - with hyper fast AF speeds of 0.08 second. However, that super speedy AF rate is only available with a very limited selection of settings.  From start-up to first picture capture is about 1.0 second. 

The X-E2 features a Hybrid TTL (phase-detection/contrast-detection) AF system and captures images and video via its 23.6mm x 15.6mm (APS-C) X-Trans CMOS II (with primary color filter) sensor. The X-E2 saves images and video clips to SD, SDHC, and SDXC memory cards (including MicroSD with SD adaptor) and provides the ability to save images in either JPEG or RAW formats.

The X-E2's built-in flash is located almost directly above the lens and a pop-up mechanism raises the flash slightly above the lens axis -- so redeye will most likely be a problem. Here's where things get interesting, the X-E2's pop-up flash is on a jointed arm that lends itself to easy bounce lighting - simply calculate your bounce distance and hold the flash at the proper angle with the index finger of your left hand (while gripping the camera with your other three fingers and thumb). This feature substantially improves the X-E2's general-use camera capabilities by allowing users to quickly bounce the flash for evenly lit natural looking portraits.  In addition to the built-in flash the X-E2 also provides a hot shoe for using external speedlights from Fuji (dedicated TTL flash compatible) and other manufacturers, but some advanced flash features won't be available with external flash units from other manufacturers.[click to view image]

Fuji claims the X-E2 is good for up to 350 exposures with a fully charged NP-W126 Lithium-ion rechargeable battery.  The battery charges outside the camera in the supplied charger and requires about three hours for a full charge. Based on testing, 350 exposures seems a bit optimistic.  DCR used the camera heavily for almost three weeks and was obliged to charge the battery three times.  Reviewers would guess -- based on usage -- that the X-E2 is actually good for about 250 - 275 dependable exposures. This is important to note, since the battery icon will show as fully charged and then suddenly change to the low battery warning icon, rather than drop gradually on a scale.

Lens Performance

Currently there are 9 prime lenses in the Fuji (X mount) lens lineup (including 3 from Zeiss) and 9 zooms including the very sharp 18mm-55mm/f2.8-f4.0 (28mm-80mm equivalent) Fujinon kit zoom.  The X-E2's kit zoom is faster (f2.8 maximum aperture) than the kit zooms of either of its primary competitor's (NEX7 or OM-D E-M5) and it comes with a very nice tulip style hard plastic bayonet mount lens hood and a nice pinch-clip lens cap. 

Video Quality

The X-E2's movie mode seems to have been an afterthought.  The X-E2 provides no direct video start/stop option.  Users must first push the drive button and then select video from the list and then push the shutter button to commence filming (and push it again to stop) -- the absence of a standard red stop/start video button is not necessarily a deal breaker -- this somewhat primitive video capture method does work adequately, if rather slowly.  The X-E2 records full HD video at 1920 x 1080p at 30fps or 60fps with stereo audio (Continuous recording: up to approximately 14 minutes) or HD 1280 x 720p @ 60fps or 30fps (Continuous recording up to approximately 27 minutes).  Video clips are sharp, fluid, and hue correct and Fuji's nifty Film Simulation mode can be used during video recording to more precisely control color saturation levels. 

Image Quality

The X-E2's default images show fairly neutral hue accurate color, balanced contrast, and impressive overall sharpness. JPEG color saturation is dependent upon which film simulation model users select. Be warned, however, that the Velvia model -- for  those of you too young to have shot color slides -- is  equivalent to the intense color or enhanced color modes of other MILCs. Image quality is dependably excellent outdoors in good light and slightly better than average indoors -- although there is a slight tendency toward under exposure in bright lighting. Shadow detail capture was better than expected and highlight detail capture is noticeably better than average for cameras in this class.  Noise levels below ISO 800 are negligible and dependably better than average for cameras in this class.

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The Fujinon kit zoom's f2.8 maximum aperture is just fast enough for shooting indoors and more than fast enough for most outdoor venues. Center sharpness is pretty good overall, but at the wide-angle end of the zoom corners are slightly soft. DCR didn't notice any vignetting (dark corners) and barrel distortion is visible, but appears to be well corrected. Pincushion distortion is non-existent.  Contrast is balanced and a bit harder than expected -- which is nice since most P&S digital cameras and many MILCs tend to flatten contrast.  Chromatic aberration (color fringing) is remarkably well-controlled, but very minor color fringing is occasionally visible in the color transition areas between dark foreground objects and bright backgrounds.

Sample Images

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Conclusion

Since the beginning of the digital imaging revolution the world of photography has changed radically and even more changes are on the horizon.  MILC models will continue to steal market share from DSLRs and sometime in the near future I predict that MILCs will become the primary camera choice for most shooters graduating from the P&S realm.  The Fujifilm X-E2 is an excellent first MILC option for those embarking on this exciting new photographic adventure.

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Bridge cameras are supposed to "bridge" the gap between two different types of camera. The X-E2 successfully bridges the gap between compact enthusiast point and shoots and interchangeable lens DSLRs -- and it does a very good job of balancing the features and capabilities of these two very different types of camera. MILCs were designed specifically to meet the needs of an active lifestyle demographic and this camera will almost certainly find an enthusiastic audience among extreme sports fans, skiers, backpacking travelers, hikers, campers, semi-pros and wedding photographers, and serious shutterbugs looking for a compact camera with lots of creative potential.

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 images 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.  The Fuji X-E2 will also find favor with natural/available light fans, environmental portraitists, and street shooters -- because it is small and inconspicuous and consequently much less intimidating to subjects than big DSLRs.  It is capable of dependably generating excellent image quality, even in low light situations, and its fast maximum aperture and APS-C sized sensor allow users to throw the background out of focus to place more attention on their subjects. 


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