One day with... Fuji X-E2 14mm/2.8

Fuji listens

It's no secret, I love the Fuji x100s.  As a company that makes cameras and lenses, I'm loving Fuji more and more.  Very often we look at cameras we've borrowed, seen at the store and bought and think to ourselves "I'd love if this or that were different/better".  What makes Fuji special?  They seem to listen to it's customers.  Firmware updates are continuously which improve camera performance.  Changes are made from one version to another which genuinely improve the cameras and address the things we the customers complain about.  Is it going to make everyone happy?  No of course not...that will never happen...lets be realists.

Recently, Fuji released the X-E2, the next iteration of the X-E1.  A friend of mine let me borrow his for a day.  One thing that's great about Fuji's X-series is the availability of lenses for it.  His came with the 18-55 kit lens and their new 14mm 2.8 R.  I didn't bother with the kit lens, I really wanted to play with the 14mm and I only had a day.  (approx 21mm equivalent on Fuji's APS-C sensor)  Unfortunately the weather wasn't cooperating, but we'll make due.

 

Holy trinity? (Click to enlarge)

First impression

X-E2, x100s, Sony A7r size comparison (Click to enlarge)

We live in a time where everything is about being retro.  The Mustang, Camaro, unnecessary added grain to give photos a "film" look, retro looking cameras, 80's bands going back on tours.  Sadly there is one thing that so many companies are missing about this retro craze and most consumers are too young to know better.  What's this missing key?  Build quality!  Money saving plastics invade ours lives with the promise of less weight.  Looser tolerances are incorporated to increase profit and meet the "good enough" standard.  The "feeling" of quality has gone out the window.  Fuji had a better idea.

I've had a chance to shoot the X-E1, The X-Pro1, x100 and x100s from Fuji's x-series over the past year.  There is one thing that all of these cameras have in common.
- They all have a 16MP sensor! (all versions of Fuji's APS-C X-Trans CMOS sensor)
- They all have dials (and who doesn't love dials)
- They all look fabulous!
- They all take SD cards!
- They all take take amazing pictures!
- They all feel like they were built by someone that gives a shit!

Fujifilm x100s (left) and X-E2 (right) (Click to enlarge)

Ok...so they have more than just one thing in common.  But the most impressive part is how they feel in your hands.  There is more to this than just the materials used, but there's a certain "feel" they have that really feels like someone took a digital camera from 2013, traveled back to the 1970's and had the design and exterior build done and then brought it back to our time.

What we don't do

X-E2 14mm 1/30, f/2.8, ISO 250 (Click to enlarge)

I don't do reviews.  And this is not a camera review.  What you'll read here is some facts about the camera/lens/gear, I take these from the manufacturer's website, my opinion about the it, some dry humor and very possibly a rant that may not even have anything to do with the camera/gear I'm discussing.  Think of these rants as something like Easter Eggs (no, not the rabbit day kind) and not a direct reflection of my wandering mind that has an uncanny ability to stray off topic....easter eggs.....egg.....chicken.....wings......bbq wings...mmmmmmm.  I digress...

There will be no "straight out of camera" jpegs posted (possibly an exception someday).  There will be no "pixel peeping".  There are other websites/forums you can go to and argue about photos at 400% crop and which camera/lens is slightly better.  My concept is simple:

All cameras have one thing in common, they all take pictures. 

So stop fretting over the technical details, bloggers opinions, lab results and pixel peepers.  Go buy what you feel comfortable with, what's within your budget and go take pictures.  If you're making a living from photography....you already know what you need to buy next or you acknowledge that there is no camera or lens that's going to make your product any better without a massive jump in cost like moving to medium format.

What we do......do

I'm pretty sure I explained it above....I just wanted to write do do

My usual "first shot" with any new camera/lens.  The Dubai Marina from my balcony (Click to enlarge)

First the complaints

Why not start off with the negatives?  Might as well get them out of the way.  None of these things are a big deal.  Nothing is serious enough to be considered a show stopper.

Buttons

Each button configuration from camera to camera seems to change.  Minor changes, but changes nonetheless.  Most of the shooting I did with the X-E2 was done at night and I couldn't see the buttons, but quickly was able to adapt.  Though I've grown very familiar with the x100s, the few buttons in different locations I had no problems remembering where they were...they almost made more sense.

X-E2 Rear (Click to enlarge)

x100s Rear (Click to enlarge)

Button nipples

Would love to have some nipples on the buttons or at least some of the buttons.  On the left side you have 4 buttons, from top to bottom, review, drive, AE, and Fn2.  In the dark I hit drive instead of review a few times.  I'd love to see the top and bottom buttons have a nipple or recess of some kind.  Just makes life easier.  Notice above how the x100s has a little raised dash below the review button.  I guess with time muscle memory would take over, but it's just such a minor thing to be able to add.  It is especially true on the X-E2 because the buttons are flat against the surface of the camera.  What's worse, on the right hand side, the AF-L and AE-L buttons have a difference you can feel.  Clearly the right side button engineer and left side button engineer did not talk to one another.

(Click to enlarge)

Bracketing

One of the complaints I had about the Sony A7r is the lack of control over bracketing.  Fuji has two things that outshine the Sony A7/A7r when it comes to bracketing.  When set to bracketing, I can still use the 2 second timer (you cannot with the Sony).  Secondly, I set my brackets (only +/- .3, .7 and 1) press the shutter once, it counts down either 2 or 10 seconds and fires off all three photos.  So now...it's 2013 (when the camera was released) and we still can't allow the user the customize exactly how many bracketed shots he/she wants to take and at what exposure increments?  Come on people!  This is such an easy fix and it's one less thing people will bitch about!  Especially if you're trying to infiltrate more of the DSLR market.

X-E2 shooting Business Bay in Dubai. (shot with Sony A7r, Canon FD 50/1.4 (Click to enlarge)

30 sec, f/9, ISO 200 (Click to enlarge)

Battery release and SD card slot

So this one I found pretty annoying.  Again...would not stop me from buying it, but every time I pulled out the battery or SD card I'd grumble inside a little bit.  So the bottom door flips open and the SD card sits about as far back as possible against the open door.  Perhaps if you have dainty little fingers and some finger nails this is not a problem for you.  I don't have massive banana fingers, but it was still noticeable.  Below I have pictures comparing the X-E2 to the x100s so you know what I'm talking about.  Could we not have flipped it around Fuji so the door wasn't in the way?  I get the battery is thicker, a better solution I'm sure is possible.

Ergonomics

If you plan on buying this camera or already own one.  Get the Fujifilm X-E1/X-E2 Metal Hand Grip MHG-XE

This really improves the comfort of holding this camera.  I found on numerous occasions due to the lack of finger grip, while holding the camera one handed my thumb ended up on the AE-L and AF-L buttons.  The Fuji X-T1 was announced yesterday and it has a grip on it much like the Sony A7r.  Trust me on this one...it's worth the money.

Aperture ring

Very minor detail here, but for my liking I felt like the aperture ring on the 14mm/2.8 was a bit loose.  A few times I was set for 2.8 and while handling the lens I'd bump it to 3.2.  It's not wiggly, just spins too loose compared to what I'm used to.  Just be mindful of this.

The positive stuff

I really really like this camera.  And with the availability of a large array of lenses from Fuji alone I think it's a perfect camera for a overwhelming majority of people out there.  If the Sony A7r didn't offer the sensor it does and the ability to use damn near any lens out there, I would own this camera without a doubt (I already own a lot of Canon EF lenses).  I know of a few cases where photographers are using some combination of the X-Pro1, X-E1 or E2 and x100/s as their primary cameras for their photography business.  And I don't see why one wouldn't.  People complain about the 16MP sensors Fuji is putting out (and I will too a bit later), but the reality is...most people don't need anymore.  You can print billboards from a 6MP camera and you can print at 300dpi up to 15"x11" prints!  Don't get lost in delusions....you'll know when you NEED more....chances are...you probably don't.  Living in a city filled with tourists I see big hefty DSLRs lugged around constantly.  For what?  You need something like the Fuji X-E2!  The image quality is fantastic, it has good dynamic range and has great build quality.

10 sec, f/7.1, ISO 200 (Click to enlarge)

Auto Focus

Fuji claims "World's fastest AF speed of 0.08 sec." with some caveats.  I don't know if it's the world's fastest...frankly I don't care if it's one hundreth of a second faster or slower than brand x, y or z.  My experience yesterday was simply "holy shit..this thing is fast and accurate".  There were only two times yesterday when it couldn't achieve focus, in both cases it was damn near pitch dark.  Otherwise, wherever I put the little box, it hit focus (with 14mm/2.8R).  The zoom function when using manual focus, especially at night, is pretty damn horrible, however, I just kept AF on the entire time and it would hit focus over and over and over again.  After 5 minutes of using the camera this was my first take away.  Probably would have been wise to write this early as I've probably lost 50% of my readers by now.  Go to a store, try it out....you will seriously be impressed!!!

1/1500, f/3.2, ISO 200 (Click to enlarge)

1/30, f2.8, ISO800 (Click to enlarge)

1/420, f2.8, ISO 200 (Click to enlarge)

1/800, f/2.8, ISO200

Das Lens

The 14mm/2.8R is very well built and has a solid feel.  The aperture ring doesn't "click" in tight, some will probably like that.  I'm used to much tighter rings.  The focus ring you push forward to lock into AF mode and pull back to use MF.  This is identical to the Tokina 11-16 and I like it.  However....since the camera has a MF/AF focus switch on it and it's quickly accessible...what's the point?
The minimal focusing distance of the lens is 7 inches!  That's awesome!  While 21mm equivalent isn't exactly super wide angle, having the ability to focus so close and actually have some DOF blur was a nice treat. 

15 sec, f/4.5, ISO 200 (Click to enlarge)

30 sec, f/11, ISO 200 (Click to enlarge)

The Menu

I've read a few reviews bitching about Fuji's menu structure.  And I admit...there are a few things that seem out of place.  But how much time are you spending in the menu?  Most everything you need day in and day out is accessible by using the Q button.  You have two custom function buttons and it's not like the menu's are in a foreign language.  Perhaps I've gotten used to it with the x100s, but I don't recall ever griping about the menus.  I'm usually able to find whatever I'm looking for in just a few seconds.

15 sec, f/7.1, ISO 200 (Click to enlarge)

The EVF (Electronic View Finder)

Probably the single biggest item that the DSLR world holds against the mirror-less camera world.  And it's a great thing to hold against them.  The x100, x100s and x-pro1 all have electronic and optical view finders.  The rest don't.  Well...it doesn't both me what so ever!!  The EVF in the X-E2 is top notch.  Not perfect, not quite as good as Sony's, but it was a pleasure to use.  If you read someone bitching about EVF's, ask them why they are so against them.  With faster frame rates the choppy images are gone like 2012.  If shooting in the studio with strobes you can turn off the ISO simulation (gives you the "what you see is what you get" image in the EVF).  Sure there are some applications where EVF's aren't ready for prime time, but those are mainly those same applications where mirror-less cameras aren't ready for prime time either.

30 sec, f/11, ISO200 (Click to enlarge)

Conclusion

If you're thinking about buying this camera, go buy it!  Over the past year big waves has been made in the photography world.  Fuji, Sony and Olympus have created quite the stir and Nikon and Canon need to step their game up.  Sometime I feel like the big 2 have given up on photographers and purely want to focus on DSLR video and their flagship cameras.  Sigma has been pumping out some amazing lenses with their Art line and is gunning for the Zeiss Otus lens with their new 50mm/1.4.  Sony is rumored to be working on a 54MP sensor.  There will be a lot of big things happening over the next 24/48 months in the photography world.

I applaud Fujifilm for the great things that have come since the release of the x-series.  Being an engineer and a bit of a technology junky, I embrace our megapixel overlords for two reasons.  The marketing world over the past decade has made it seem like more megapixels, the better camera.  The vast majority of buyers of cameras are people who don't have an understanding of photography.  DSLR's are for pros and the more MP numbers the better.  That's the mindset because that's what all the marketing people have pushed for years.  You can throw all the acronyms you want about your processor or whatever technologies you bring, but thanks to the megapixel war over the past decade, that is all that people know.  And secondly, any advancing technology advances other technologies and drops cost.  Sure I rather have more dynamic range than even more megapixels, but one day that will come.  Whether by accident as a result of some new technology test or intended, digital sensors are getting better and better and one day will be able to replace the human eye.

I've recommended the Fuji X-E2 to others when asked "What camera should I buy".  This was only after using the X-E1 and reading about the improvements with the X-E2.  After spending the past day with it...I stand by my recommendation 100%.  I expect to see more photographers moving in the direction of smaller mirrorless cameras.  Have a look around online and you will see plenty of wedding photographers shooting mirrorless.

According to Fuji's website, the newly announced X-T1 can do tracking autofocus at 8 frames per second.  That's a HUGE claim for a mirror-less.  I will try to get my hands on one as soon as possible.  Feel free to send me a loaner, 48ish hour turn around! :-)