I’m the camera manufacturers’ worst nightmare. I buy a camera, I keep it for years. I buy a few additional lenses and keep those even longer. So it took a lot for me to switch from Sony’s NEX system — as it was known when I first bought into it — to the Fuji X system. I had started with the NEX5, eventually moving to the NEX7. Along the way I picked up a couple of Sony lenses and a couple from Sigma. The NEX7 was a great camera. If I had believed for a moment than Sony intended to develop the NEX line further (whatever they chose to call it) I would still be using it today. Unfortunately, it became clear to me that Sony had little interest in the NEX line having thrown all the company’s energies into the FE mount. So, with a little money to spend, and little confidence that spending it on NEX gear was a good long term investment, I finally made the change.
Having already left DSLR’s behind, there was no going back. So, with a built-in viewfinder an absolute must, a rangefinder style body a strong preference, and a clear commitment to the system by the manufacturer crucial, I surveyed my options. Olympus — the OM-D’s were very nice cameras but fell down, for me, on design. The PEN’s failed on the lack of a built-in viewfinder. Panasonic — the GX7 was very tempting. Back in 2010, before I acquired the NEX5 I looked longingly at the original GF1, a big brother to the little LX3 I had then. Samsung — some of the NX’s looked interesting but, again, no built-in viewfinder. Canon, Nikon, Pentax — nothing. So the GX7 looked good. Yet Panasonic’s failure to follow up on the original GF1 left me wary.
Then there was Fujifilm. I had never really considered Fujifilm previously. I didn’t share the enthusiasm for the ‘retro’ styling and, for all the great reviews, a lot of the early cameras seemed to have plenty of problems, whether sticky aperture blades on the X100 or ‘orbs’ on the X10 or the generally slow focusing across the range. Over time Fujifilm seemed to iron out these early design and production problems but, committed to the Sony NEX system as I was when Fujifilm entered the CSC market, it made little difference to me.
I only started looking seriously at Fujifilm when I finally accepted that I needed to look at alternatives to Sony.The X-E2 was the obvious choice for me: rangefinder style and a built-in viewfinder, with the bonus of that slightly bigger sensor compared to the GX7. More importantly, Fujifilm appeared to be very strongly committed to the X system. The development of a range of bodies, the rapid expansion of a collection of high quality lenses, and the absence of other Fujifilm systems distracting the company’s energies all suggested that Fujifilm were fully behind their system. Having identified a potential camera it was time to read everything I could find about the camera, and the system.
Naturally, I started with the usual online sources but at one point I discovered Thomas Menk’s Fujifilm blog where he collects articles from across the web on the Fuji X system. Here I found multiples reviews of the X-E2, Fujifilm lenses and, more generally, the entire system. It didn’t take long before I was reasonably sure that the Fujifilm X-E2 was the way to go. It was time to place my order. I ordered the X-E2 with the XF18–55 and the XF35 lenses. This was the first time I had ever bought a camera without handling it first, so there was a certain anxiety on my part in case the camera turned out to ‘feel’ wrong in the hand. In the event, it felt just right. A little later I added the XF23 to the two original lenses, and, most recently, the XF55–200.
I’ve now had the X-E2 for approaching a year and it seems like a good time to offer some personal observations to add to the many reviews already available. First, I’ve changed my mind about the styling. I still have fond memories of my NEX7 and its minimalist, modern appearance. Yet the X-E2’s retro look has grown on me. I’m not sure I love it, but I do like it. The shutter speed and exposure compensation dials on the top of the camera are well placed and sufficiently stiff to prevent accidental adjustment most of the time, though I have very occasionally set exposure compensation without realizing it. Not a problem, of course, since it shows up in the viewfinder.
The viewfinder itself is better than the one I had in my NEX7, with, to my eye, a more natural look. I do find the location of the camera shake warning icon irritating. It is too far into the image frame to be anything other than a distraction. While the camera allows for extensive customization of the display, this icon is the only thing that can’t be disabled. The display also shows a depth of field icon which is a nice touch though somewhat superfluous since the actual depth of field is visible — no DOF preview button required. The biggest issue with the viewfinder is the lack of an adequate eyecup. I was used to the much more substantial and comfortable one on my NEX7 and there is no comparison. Unfortunately, while the more recent X-T1 offers optional larger eyecups, this is not possible on the X-E2. It is a particular problem when using the display sensor next to the viewfinder that switches between the viewfinder and the screen. I have found that when using the viewfinder strong light coming from certain angles can fool the sensor into switching to the screen.
Speaking of the screen, it is certainly big enough and bright enough for me, though I mostly use it for quick reviews and rarely for composing shots. The screen is fixed and while I’ve never seen the need for those screens that can twist and contort endlessly, it would be nice if it could be tilted up and down to some degree, in the manner of the screen on my NEX7. The biggest failing of the display is that it is not possible to set viewfinder/screen options separately for shooting mode and for display mode. As someone who shoots via the viewfinder I want to be able to switch the rear screen off. At the same time I also want to be able to hit the display or menu buttons and have those appear on the rear screen. It’s so blindingly obvious an arrangment that all previous X system cameras offered this option (as far as I know), and clearly Fujifilm understood this, since all subsequent X system cameras restored this option. Unfortunately, Fujifilm’s much vaunted commitment to the philosophy of continuous improvement via firmware updates has wavered here, with no fix and no sign of one coming, despite many of the early reviewers pointing to this as a major flaw. I can only assume they have decided to hold this back for an ‘X-E3’.
Generally though, the camera handles well. The layout of most dials and buttons is good. There is a sufficient, if not extensive, range of customization available. I would like to be able to customize the Q menu, both in terms of what appears in the menu and how these menu items are arranged. Again, a firmware update could achieve this and a recent firmware update to the X-T1 offered precisely this option. Again, though, I assume we will have to wait for an ‘X-E3’ to see this. One thing I had not realized, though I’m sure I must have read it in the reviews, is that the camera does not have a traditional PASM mode dial. Instead, both the aperture ring and the shutter speed dial have an auto setting indicated by a red dot. Set both dials to auto and you have programme mode; set shutter speed to auto and you have aperture priority mode; set aperture to auto and you have shutter priority mode; set neither on auto and you’re shooting in manual. It’s a very simple and, I think, very elegant approach.
Most of the time I shoot in aperture priority mode which means I get to use one of the outstanding feature of the Fujifilm X system and the XF lenses, that is, the aperture ring on the Fujifilm lenses. It is hard to express in words just how satisfying it is to have a real (sort of) aperture ring on each lens, rather than a dial somewhere on the camera body. To me, this is the single biggest factor in making this camera such a pleasure to use. That the prime lenses also have the aperture numbers engraved on the ring simply adds an aesthetic pleasure to the ergonomic one. The lenses are beautifully constructed. If the X-E2 sometimes feels a little lightweight compared to the NEX7, the Fujifilm lenses make the Sony lenses feel like toys. The image quality of each of these lenses had been measured to death on many websites, but all I will add is that the pictures that come out of the camera, irrespective of which lens I’m using look good to me. The Fujifilm lenses aren’t the cheapest, but the feel like they will last a lifetime.
The only downside to the lenses is the terrible lens caps. For some reason these are mostly curved with a narrow flat area in the centre making it, if not impossible, then unnecessarily risky to stand a lens on its end. It also makes the central and edge pinch grips too shallow to use comfortably, particularly on the smaller sizes. Add to that the weak springs that result in the lens cap popping off regularly when removing from or returning to a camera bag and the result is a design without a single redeeming feature. I can only assume they let the office junior or the work experience intern come up with these. Thankfully, more functional replacements are available for a few dollars and I have replaced all of mine.
Image quality? You’ve read the reviews, seen the test shots. I’m happy. At first, I will admit, I was a little concerned at moving from 24 MP in the Sony to ‘only’ 16 MP in the Fujifilm, but then I stopped listening to the marketing voices in my head and acknowledged that 16 MP is more than sufficient. I will leave the reader to judge the quality of my images from the X-E2. All those posted here have been taken with the X-E2: the first with the XF23, the second with the XF18–55 and the next two with the XF35. The final image was taken at the National Zoo in Washington DC with the XF55–200.
I’m very happy with the X-E2 and the X system generally. Though I still miss my NEX7 I have no regrets about switching to Fujifilm.
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