I’ve been experimenting with various camera systems including the Fuji X-E2 mirrorless system in the past months. The reason is that there is just so much new technology coming out that it’d be silly not to at least see what it’s all about.
After shooting for a client with an iPhone, trying the Phase One IQ250 (more in an upcoming post!), I decided I would forego the usual DSLR+Pro lens combination when I was going on hikes and walking around for my own personal pleasure. My usual D800+24-70mm combination was just too heavy and bulky for those times when I didn’t want or need the full power. I couldn’t stand anymore to be carrying that much gear around, all the time.
Also, I must confess that I see more and more photographers out there, dressed as if they were going to war with their gear: I remember seeing a particular dude while I was in New York during the Climate March for my Climate Heroes project the other day, wearing a cap saying “NAM” (yes, for Vietnam), khaki pants, and a huge DSLR camera/zoom kit. He was almost going aggressively about taking his photos. Snap. Snap. Move stealthily. Snap. I just started laughing out loud!
It also made me realize how crazy things had got when I saw all the wildlife photographers carrying all their gear during my huge road trip to the Canadian Rockies (Jasper, Banff), the Tetons National Park, and the Yellowstone National Park earlier this year while I lived in Canada. I can tell you, although I had my 200mm on my D800, it was hard not to feel inadequate when they all lugged around their big 600mm, camouflage style, and started snapping pictures from their car at a Grizzly on the side of the road. Really?
I think overall people start moving away from this, thankfully. There’s a trend toward a more hipster-like, vintage and smaller mirrorless cameras. You know, taking your time, living in the moment, enjoying the sunshine and the breeze, and traveling lighter. More quiet is also good for creativity. Nikon is also doing it with the Nikon Df camera, bearing a more retro an all-manual style.
Micro 4/3 & Mirorrless
Obviously, if you need the big system for jobs or a certain type of photography, go for it. But the rest of the time, I love walking around with my Fuji System now. My criteria of choice were the ability to shoot RAW files and change lenses, while not having the size and weight of the DSLRs.
Things are moving fast in the mirrorless arena. Sony has been offering mirroless cameras with full-frame 24×36 sensors since 2013 (the Alpha 7 series is now reaaaally good with features that should have long been included in the other brand’s functions, like Wifi, remote control, better ISO, etc. as Jason Lanier mentions in his thorough video), even though the Sony lenses may not be at par with the Nikon/Canon lenses), and Fujifilm has a clear lead in terms of image quality, with the XTrans sensors. The other two contestants are Olympus with very successful micro 4/3 models, and Panasonic, which made a huge impression with the GH4 and its 4K Video capabilities.
The Fuji system seemed to be the best match for me. I was intrigued by Fuji’s proprietary XTrans sensor design, and liked the portability. In order to try it out without spending an arm and a leg on a new system, I settled for a combination of the FUji X-E2 + 18-55 OIS + 27mm lenses.
My desire to retain the ability to change lenses puts aside the x100S/T for the moment. The x-Pro 1 is quite old now, and without Wifi capabilities, and the X-T1 was too expensive for a first venture into the Fuji lineup. I therefore went for the X-E2 and added the (very good) 18-55mm lens, and a pancake 27mm lens, making it a very portable kit, while retaining the ability to use a zoom lens, if need be.
For this test, I therefore took the Fuji XE-2 from New York (People’s Climate March on September 21) to Paris, Le Louvre, and a couple summits in France (as in the Parc des Écrins). I am still testing it in various situations (night, very low light, backlit scenes to see the flares etc.) My first impressions so far:
- The photos overall, with very pleasing results in many situations
- Images are very sharp and detailed
- Low-light performances are very good
- Very good dynamic for high contrast situations
- Quiet, low-profile camera (I chose the black version)
- Very lightweight, it does not wear you off so you keep your energy high and your spirits fresh while walking/shooting with it
- Great dynamics in backlit photos (as you’ll see below I am a big fan of shooting against the sun)
- With the EVF it is possible to see the histogram in the viewfinder even before you take the photo, as well as getting a sense in real time of what the photo will look like (as opposed to Jason, I believe this can also be a small drawback, I’ll explain below)
I don’t like
- No ability to customize the dials (Fuji, what were you thinking about? Since when is turning a dial to the right **decreases** the value of the thing you are trying to set?). Here’s a chance to include the ability to customize this in the future updates Fuji!
- Lens not that good when shot directly facing the sun as the Nikkor lenses: the flares are quite ugly and full of colors, it’s almost as if you’d see the XTrans sensor photosites (Red, Green, Blue) on the photo! That one was quite disappointing (see example below) as it reminds me of the iPhone 4 behavior when shot directly in the sun: those colored areas are not nice.
- Some minor jumps in the display, or slow to respond during playback.
- You can’t zoom on a photo during playback if you are in certain view modes, and you can’t loop the various display information/histogram/preview panes during playback (you have to go back, which is annoying)
- Overall, taking pictures is slower than with a DSLR: the display and the EVF have to boot, adapt to the light, etc. While slowing my pace down is part of why I chose the Fuji for a certain type of images, I want to be able to capture a moment quickly if needed, and in this respect it is not as good as the DSLR. But I hear the X-T1 is better in that respect.
I thought I’d be bothered by the EVF a lot more, but things aren’t too bad if the subject isn’t moving too fast. For those occasions, I’d stick with a DSLR with an optical viewfinder, this is absolutely a must.
Good and Bad about the Electronic Viewfinder
The ability to see the histogram and final exposure simulation in the EVF before taking he photo is great to hone your exposure. This, plus the ability to have focus peaking is a nice technological improvement over the OVF and most of DSLRs (the new ones now offer this in LiveView! at last!). Having the histogram is great. However, like all technological clutches, if you only look at it to make it “technically perfect” it can be a dangerous tool that will make us lazier and lazier with time. I noticed that you can very quickly be tempted not to look at your image and understand your subject, choosing the part you want to expose for, and “only” looking at the histogram. You are always tempted to choose the easier route. To me, his is a drawback, as your photographer brain will bet lazy with time, you won’t understand light as well, and you’ll loose this ability to analyze an image.
It is the same issue as with digital vs. using a light meter in a studio. You get lazy and don’t know how to “think” an image.
Although this is not a scientific review (you’ve got a lot of that out there and I am NOT going to do pixel-peeping comparisons), I wanted to give my professional photographer point of view, and whether this Fuji X-E2 helped me attain my goals. I am still to test it in a professional setting, for instance with flash etc.
I am pleased overall with the Fuji X-E2 and the lenses that I bought, for the times when I am shooting for the pleasure, or just to have a camera in my bag without carrying too much weight. I would also probably use it in a professional setting when I would have the time to think and photograph in a quiet environment. A portrait session in studio, for instance, may be a good situation. But I would currently not use it in a more demanding situation when I need to make sure I nail the shot whatever the parameters. The main reasons being the uneven quality of the lenses in demanding backlit situations, and the slower responsiveness of autofocus or simply the more sluggish display in the viewfinder.
Below is a sample of photos I took recently with the Fujifilm X-E2 and the 18-55 OIS as well as the 27mm lenses (don’t pay attention to the subject of some photos, which sometimes were taken purely to demonstrate some of the technical aspects mentioned above!). On some of them, there is intentionally no compensation for the colored artifacts created around the sun flare, so you can see them better.
What are your thoughts and feedback about mirrorless cameras and more specifically the Fujifilm XTrans lineup? Have you tested the Fuji XE-2, XT-1 or X100 systems? Or other brands such as the Sony Alpha 7?
Leave a comment below! I would love to hear from you!