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Saturday
May312014

The Fujifilm X-E2: a Landscape Photographer's Perspective

The Fujifilm X-E2: Handsome Indeed

The Fuji X-series of cameras have been some of the most discussed and reviewed cameras of the last two years. Fuji appear to have created a very successful formula that excites both amateur a professional photographers alike: good image quality in a small, reasonably-priced package that has intuitive manual controls. Combine this with a great lens lineup and a solid history of adding features via firmware updates, and one can see why they have become so popular. It's no secret that I shoot primarily with Nikon gear, but I'm certainly not the type to become attached to a particular brand when a better tool for the job exists. Since my Nikon setup is rather large and ungainly to travel with, I decided to give the Fuji X-E2 a try to see if it has what I need in a travel camera.

Before we begin, a quick note: I tested the X-E2 with the recently-released 2.0 firmware update which added significant electronic viewfinder (EVF) and autofocus (AF) improvements. Additionally, this is not intended to be an exhaustive review, but more of a short collection of my thoughts about the camera. 

Handling

The X-E2 is a handsome little thing: the perfect size and weight for travel, and with the MHG-XE accessory grip, the camera fits perfectly in my hand, and has a solid, well-built feel. Fuji did very well with the control layout, adding manual switches wherever possible instead of slow-to-access menu items. I'm a big fan of the manual shutter speed dial up top, the AF-mode selection switch, and the aperture selection dial that is on most Fuji lenses. The software menus are fairly well-thought-out; I was able to get used to them very quickly, so no complaints there. This was the first camera with an EVF that I've used for any extended period of time, and I was pleasantly surprised by the EVF resolution: it's very good! The EVF refresh rate is also rather good (the 2.0 firmware update greatly improved this) - there's a barely-noticeable delay between what happens in real-life, and what you see in the EVF.

Unfortunately, that's where my praise for the handling aspects must end. The camera is very slow to start-up, and certain functions can't be accessed until a few seconds after startup. The ISO button, for example, doesn't work until 2-3 seconds after turning the camera on, which resulted in one missed shot for me. If the EVF is in eye-sensor mode, it's very slow to activate shortly after turning the camera on. The process would often go something like this for me: turn the camera on whilst bringing the EVF to my eye, and then wait 3-4 seconds for the EVF to activate. To me, this delay was unacceptable. The default EVF mode switches between the EVF and rear LCD based on an eye sensor, but three other modes are available: EVF only (always on), rear LCD only, or EVF only activated by the eye sensor. I think the camera could use one more mode: DLSR emulation, where the EVF is used to compose and take photos, and the rear LCD is used for photo playback and menu access (and remains off otherwise). The addition of this new mode, along with much faster EVF response/activation time after startup, would make the camera much more usable, and would eliminate the sluggish feel that it currently has.

Autofocus

The AF is fast and accurate in good light. It's slightly slower, and noticeably less-accurate in poor light. The 2.0 firmware greatly improved AF performance, but it's certainly not up to DSLR standards yet, and it's not even close to DSLR standards when tracking moving subjects. Despite this, it's quite good for a mirrorless camera, and certainly usable for a travel camera.

Image Quality

I will go ahead and say it up front: the X-E2 image quality is very disappointing. The X-trans sensor has good noise characteristics and delivers great dynamic range in RAW, but unfortunately this comes with a great loss of detail. Some of this detail loss is due to the RAW de-mosaicing algorithms in Lightroom (I'm using 5.4), which seem to give images a strange, painting-like rendering. However, some detail loss just seems to be a characteristic of the strange pixel arrangement that the X-trans sensor has, since some artifacts and detail-loss are still visible in the JPEGs produced in-camera. The strange, painterly effect is most noticeable when taking photos of fine detail, like vegetation, and ultimately is unacceptable for a landscape photographer like myself. Some photographers seem to be getting better results by converting RAW files using CaptureOne, but I'm stubborn and refuse to completely change my workflow to make minimal image quality gains. Ultimately, I'd be much happier with a traditional bayer arrangement; noise is always correctable in post-processing, but lost detail is never recoverable.

To see an example of this strange X-trans rendering, click through the image below to view a full-sized version:

Sausalito, CA: Fuji X-E2, 18-55mm f/2.8-4. RAW converted in Lightroom 5.4. 18mm, 0.5s, f/8, ISO 200, OIS: off.

In the image below, you can see the X-trans de-mosaicing struggle with the fine detail of the bridge cables. There is also a strange color-cast around some of the cables, which looks a bit like chromatic aberration, but is not removed by Lightroom 5.4's correction algorithms. Click through to see the full-sized image:

San Francisco, CA: Fuji X-E2, 18-55mm f/2.8-4. RAW converted in Lightroom 5.4. 48mm, 5.3s, f/8, ISO 200, OIS: off.

Another with some of the strange painting-like rendering in the details of the boats. Despite this, I'm fairly happy with this image. Click through below to see the full-sized image:

Sausalito, CA: Fuji X-E2, 18-55mm f/2.8-4. RAW converted in Lightroom 5.4. 18mm, 1/280s, f/8, ISO 200.

There's quite a lot of detail-loss in the long-exposure below. Click through to see the full-sized image:

San Francisco, CA: Fuji X-E2, 18-55mm f/2.8-4. RAW converted in Lightroom 5.4. 18mm, 30s, f/8, ISO 200, OIS: off.

The next image, I'm very happy with, and would consider quite good. For some reason, the camera seems to fare better when taking portraits. Click through below to see the full-sized image:

Sausalito, CA: Fuji X-E2, 18-55mm f/2.8-4. RAW converted in Lightroom 5.4. 28mm, 1/240s, f/3.2, ISO 200.

Conclusion

The X-E2 is a pretty good little camera, albeit with a number of annoying handling nags. I would be willing to forgive some of the handling problems if the image quality were up-to-par for my landscape work, but ultimately the X-trans sensor is unacceptable for me. Sadly, my landscape work has turned me into an obsessive pixel-peeper: I demand good detail from my RAW files, and the X-E2 doesn't deliver in that regard. Even the JPEGs leave a lot to be desired. If you're as landscape-obsessed as I am, I don't recommend this camera for you. My Nikon D7000 from 2010, which also has a 16mp APS-C sensor, produces RAW files with much more detail than the X-E2. If, however, you're a more casual photographer and not as pixel-obsessed as I am, then you could be very happy with the X-E2. It delivers outstanding web-sized images, and could make a great travel companion for you!

If Fujifilm is listening, here's what I'd like from my next X-camera:

  1. Replace the X-trans sensor with one that has a traditional bayer pixel arrangement, like the excellent 24mp APS-C sensor used in Nikon and Sony cameras.
  2. Address some of the camera's slowness and handling issues, particularly the slow responsiveness just after turning it on.
  3. Add a DLSR EVF mode: compose and take photos using the EVF, playback and menu access using the rear LCD.

Those three fixes would make the X-system a perfect travel setup for me. Until then, I'm going to stay away from Fuji cameras, whilst yearning wistfully at their beautiful prime lens lineup and compact-size.

Pros

  • Size and weight: perfect for travel!
  • Manual control layout: I really like the manual shutter dial up top, and how the majority of lenses come with an aperture ring.
  • Fuji's lens lineup is outstanding, and is aimed perfectly towards enthusiasts and pros. Canon and Nikon could certainly take a hint here and add a number of fast primes to their APS-C lineups.
  • Excellent dynamic range and noise performance.
  • Produces beautiful web-sized images.

Cons

  • X-trans image quality leaves a lot to be desired: lots of detail loss due to X-trans de-mosaicing.
  • The EVF is slow to activate after turning the camera on: it takes 2-3 seconds for it to recognize that my eye is at the viewfinder after switching the camera on. This is incredibly frustrating, and makes the camera feel very sluggish.
  • The EVF needs one more mode: "DSLR emulation", where the EVF is used to compose and take photos, and the rear LCD is used for photo playback and menu access (and remains off otherwise).
  • The EVF doesn't adjust brightness automatically based on ambient light, and it's a bit too dark in very bright sunlight (even at its brightest setting).
  • The ISO menu can't be accessed for a few seconds after turning the camera on, which sometimes results in a missed shot.
  • IS.2, the secondary image stabilization mode, doesn't activate on shutter 1/2 press as described in the camera manual. Instead, it seems to activate during photo capture, which sometimes results in blurry photos since stabilization can take a short moment to properly "settle". IS.1, the default mode, leaves stabilization active constantly as long as the camera is on, but unfortunately this drains the battery much faster.
  • Spot metering doesn't use the selected AF point, and instead the center area is always utilized. This is very counter-intuitive to how every other camera meters in spot mode.
  • Long exposures cannot be stopped mid-exposure - not even by physically turning the power switch off. This is rather frustrating for a landscape photographer, since sometimes I start a long exposure by accident and need to end it quickly to change a setting and re-start.
  • Long exposure noise-reduction is a mystery. It doesn't actually take a second dark-frame exposure to subtract noise from the original.
  • AF isn't up to DSLR standards, particularly in low-light.
  • Exposure delay/self-timer mode not preserved when turning the camera off and on. I use the 2-second self-timer as an exposure delay for landscape photos, so I have to re-enable it each time after turning the camera back on.
  • Unable to change selected AF point without first pressing a different button. This extra step is an annoyance coming from a DSLR.

Reader Comments (15)

Great write-up. Appreciate that you go into the details of the flaws of the camera as well. Do you have any experience with the X-T1?

June 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAtle Rønningen

I have to agree with your opinion on image quality. Big prints reveal a strange smoothing quality and poor rendition of complex images such as grass. Other subjects seem fine.

I still like the X cameras (I have the 100S and XT-1), they suit the work I put them to and certainly have a good weight:performance ratio but I can quite imagine people not being so keen on using them for specialist work such as nature, sports or landscape.

June 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJohn R

Michael, nice post and nice images! I really enjoy San Francisco and walking the bridge is a great stretch of exercise and photo opportunity. Wanted you to know that I have had extremely good results with the X-Series and X-Trans sensor in both the X-1Pro, the X100s and the X-T1. There are a few things I have done differently, though. First, I use mostly Leica lenses on the X-Series using the Fuji adapter (primarily because the button on the adapter takes me quickly to the setup menu). Using the Summicron M 28m f/2.0 and even the Voigtlander Nokton (new) 50mm f/1.5 has provided very nice detail, and all crisp. The JPEG straight out of the camera have had very fine details with very good contrast. There processing inside the camera also does a good job of removing CA. However, the best processing results I've had to date on the RAW files is Irident. I have been using LR since 2.0 and still use it to catalog everything. But if I use a RAW file from the X-Series, I run it through Iridient first (yes, cumbersome). I have also found the Fuji X lenses to be very good, but no matter what you hear, the Leica glass has much less flare and CA. I always use a sun hood, no matter how ugly they look and that helps. Here is a quick look I did at the sharpness I got from Irident: Fuji X-Pro1 and Irident Developer - Sharp as a Tack. Great site! David.

June 2, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Knoble

Thanks for your honest review. It's great when someone actually takes the camera out of the office and reports on how it performs in normal use. I've noticed similar problems to those you report with landscapes and find the rapturous reviews a little puzzling.

Especially odd is how fundamental problems such as poor focusing in low light get dismissed so casually.

I'd add that the limitations on the exposure bracketing range make the camera useless for HDR, so essential for landscapes these days, unless you shoot static scenes with a tripod and are willing to switch through a range of shutter speeds each time.

The implementation of the custom modes is quirky at best, but really just shows little thought. They are essentially limited to picture controls for JPEG adjustments, but without the option of being able to nominate if you are shooting RAW or JPEG. So if you use a custom mode while shooting RAW to bring up your JPEG settings, you must still also activate JPEG in the camera's menus. Other useful functions that might relate to a specific custom mode, such as the drive setting to activate bracketing, panorama, etc, also are not included and must be activated separately for no good reason.

Then there is the decision to deactivate the exposure compensation dial when in manual exposure mode. That would make sense, except when you have Auto ISO enabled and the camera is still determining your exposure leaving you no ability to adjust it. Other manufacturers recognise this as a manual ISO-preferred mode and let you adjust the exposure compensation to shift from the camera's selection.

These are very extraordinary failings for a much-hyped camera that is trying to capture enthusiasts and professionals.

Fuji has been decent in coming back and fixing some of its other problems, but all these remain, and shouldn't exist in a quality camera.

June 2, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRichard

Absolutely true. Even with my best efforts to get the exposure right, the sky in landscape appears flat and unnatural without any character. I found my old Nikon D300 much better. Having fallen for all the hooplah about the xtrans sensor I am now going back to an SLR for my landscape work.

June 3, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterTony Edwin

I have no idea what you are doing in your work flow but I have never seen anything as appalling as the quality of the Golden Gate photo from an X camera (X-E1 owner). I don't do anything particularly special on my shots, just a quick rinse through Aperture, and I have never seen anything like that.

June 3, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAndy

Nice article. I had the same demosaicing issues with LR. But using Irident or Photo-Ninja I get results simiar to what I get from my OMD or D7000.

June 4, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterHolger

I agree, these X-trans sensors are a bit of a disappointment for me too. I'm curious to know why everybody seems to love them so much. The retro design (aperture ring, shutter speed dial, all metal body and lenses, etc.) is what keeps bringing me back. Let's see what the X-Pro 2 does ...

Seth

June 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSeth

Thank you very much Michal!
Everywhere I read only good comments and reviews about Fujis but you are the first who has put the finger on the real 'problem', image quality.
I came up with the same conclusions. I entered in the Fuji X world by the X100 and quickly noticed its quirks.
My photo shop salesman admitted it was not so good in IQ (this means fine details, not dynamic range which is always very well mastered).
I upgraded to X-E1, same problem but a bit better though. And now with the X-E2, I'm sorry to have to say it did not improve...
Don't get me wrong, I love my Fujis and lenses as well as dynamics but for landscaping and fine details, it is not so good.
I will keep mine for travel, portrait, street photo as I love the way Fujis handle these. But for landscape photography, I will continue with my hefty and bulky 5D and L lenses.
I thought the little Fujis could replace my DSLR system, and I would have loved just for the weight! But today I have a clearer picture of advantages of each system.
Marco

June 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMarco

@Marco: Did you try other raw converters than Adobe LR? I use a D610 and OMD and compared to my Fuji XT1. Using PhotoNinja, Irident or Capture One I get similar results without artefacts. Other landscape photographer (e.g. http://soundimageplus.blogspot.de) use PhotoNinja and Irident to get very good results. The workflow is slower, but it's possible. I can understand if people don't want to use other converters, but image quality should be judged only by using the best possible tools in my opinion.

June 22, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterHF

Hi Michael
Found this site while looking for reviews of the best raw processing software for Fuji files. Not sure I agree with you about image quality on the XE2, though I do about other issues - such as the EVF and focussing issues. I use the RAW File Converter powered by Silkypix that is bundled with the XE2, and I don't see the issues you are mentioning. I do take all sharpening and noise reduction off and try and choose the most neutral 'film setting' that I can - usually Film Colour A or K, before doing all the majority of the post production in photoshop. I've done comparative tests with my D4, using Capture NX for processing (this is the best RAW processor there is for Nikon files) and to be honest it's quite hard to see the difference (other than, of course, the sensor size effects). The jpgs out of the camera however are often much poorer on the Fuji.
The reason I'm looking for better software is that the starting point is not great in the Silkypix so work is required, and I don't like the interface and tools very much.
Rob
www.robscottphotography.com

June 24, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRob Scott

I'm not seeing anything like the problems with your Golden Gate Bridge photo. That has to be operator error during post processing.

August 8, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterChris

Hi Michael,
thanks for your review. I process my X-Pro1, X100s and X-T1 pictures in Lightroom 5.4 myself. I print my pictures on the Canon Pixma Pro1 printer, and up to 13x19 inches (33x48 cm). I do all kinds of photography, also nature - but only as a hobby. I'm nowhere near a professional. Anyway, on my printes and using the right sharpening techniques I've yet to see anything like the the issues I am seeing on your picture examples here. If I sharpen my X-series pictures like I used to sharpen my Canon 7D (and some Canon 5dMk2) files, then I'd see what you are posting here. But with some extra care, and IF I see any problems I use the Nik Sharpener plugin for Lightroom, then I get nice and sharp results with 13x19 inches prints. Lightroom sharpening CAN make the problems you are showing here.

August 15, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterLars Authen

I have both X-E1 and X-E2. E1 have better SOOC Jpeg quality - almost perfect. The E2 is a totaly mess - strange colors, green-yellow in low light, too high sharpness, no details in shadows and overprocessed images. http://imgur.com/RpaTkmj these images were taken by me with 100% same settings on both cameras and same lens(18mm F2). Observe details in bottom-left dark area. Also details on the table and on the window curtain. Also the colors. Fuji X-E2 = full disappointment.

February 18, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterOvi D.

Great article. I had the same problems with soft, mushy looking RAW-images. I also shoot Leica M, so I bought the original Fuji-X to Leica M adapter with the camera, also to use the X-E2 as a stand-in, just in case something bad happens while traveling.

After experiencing, as I first thought unsharpness of the kit- zoom, I was amazed, how tack sharp the images came out of the camera when using my Leica Summicron M 50mm or Elmarit-R 60mm Macro lenses! So, the X-E2 actually produces sharp images, probably because the original Fuji-X to Leica M adapter switches off any kind of image correction, except those that are available specifically for the adapter. So says the camera's manual. But what to do about the "mushy" 18-55mm kit-zoom lens?

Simple. The sharpness is there. In Lightroom 5.7.1 I used a develop-panel I never used before with any camera: "Detail", "Sharpening". Standard setting is Sharpening Amount 25, Radius 1.0, Detail 25, Masking 0. I usually avoid sharpening in Lightroom, but this time I played with the Amount-slider--and--it worked!

Be conservative, I hardly go beyond 50, but when used on RAW images, the "hazy veil" is removed and I was amazed at the good image quality of the kit-zoom lens.

Cheers,

Frank N.

May 28, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterFrank N.

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