Early days with the Fuji X-E1

I’m pleased with many of the pictures I brought home from our sabbatical, but from a photographic perspective I often felt I was rubbing up against the limitations of my current camera. A Canon 40D and 17-55mm lens is a pleasure to use, but it’s neither light nor convenient, and its performance in low light really betrays its age; image quality falls to bits beyond ISO 800. Not being a fan of flash, it’s no surprise that most of my pictures were taken outside.

Camera manufacturers have done wonderful things with ISO in the five years since I bought the 40D, so I started looking at what else is out there. Not having been in the market for half a decade, I’d only been vaguely aware that mirrorless cameras are starting to get pretty good, but during our Colca Canyon trek one of our group was sporting a Fuji X-system camera and offered me a quick play. Back in London I met up with a former colleague and keen photographer, a recent convert to Sony’s NEX-7 (again, from a Canon DSLR). I was impressed at the quality of the pictures both were putting out.

A seed was sown, and further research turned up all manner of foaming reviews from newly mirrorless photographers, not to mention tons of stunning images. I found myself leaning towards the Fuji system, which seemed to offer just the right combination – great ISO performance and image quality, convenient size, and a viewfinder (some sort of viewfinder is a must for me). And it doesn’t hurt that it looks rather swish. So this week I crumbled, as was inevitable, and bought the X-E1 with its 18-55mm kit lens.

Fuji X-E1. ISO 6400. WTF.

Fuji X-E1. ISO 6400. WTF.

It’s much too early to offer more than a first impression, but that first impression is about as positive as it gets. Handling-wise, I have a lot to learn, having got to know my 40D inside out over the years. The X-E1 certainly has its idiosyncrasies (the placement of the focus point button being the main one for me so far), but in the main I’m finding it a pleasure to use.

The layout, build quality and feel create something very measured and deliberate. And the shutter noise is fantastic, making me feel like a 1950s press photographer every time I press the button. While I’m sure I’m slower with the X-E1 now than I will be in a few weeks’ time, it almost feels purposely designed to slow me down just a little, encouraging me to really look at the image I’m taking. Given photographers are an observant bunch by nature, perhaps it’s this quality that has made Fuji’s X Series such a hit with enthusiasts?

Well, that and the images it spits out. The shots in this post are test snaps from an evening out in Balham during the week, both jpegs straight from the camera (with hundreds of raws to process from the trip, I’m not looking to add to the processing pile just yet). The pint is ISO 6400, the pub ISO 12800, and there’s barely a speckle of noise in either.

Fuji X-E1. ISO 12800 (!).

Fuji X-E1. ISO 12800 (!).

I’m really looking forward to seeing what else this little slab of black magic can do – I’ll be learning it on the side while continuing to work on my travel shots.

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