When Fujifilm launched the X-Pro1 in Australia a year ago it emphasised that it was a “first camera option”, meaning it wasn’t intended to merely supplement a D-SLR, but to replace it completely. The price tag – similar to that of a higher-end D-SLR – helped underline the X-Pro1’s frontline status. While no doubt there are some photographers using the two systems, there are probably plenty who decided that, as desirable as the X-Pro1 is, it’s really too much of everything when you’re already happily wedded to a D-SLR. So, here’s the X-E1 which has pretty well all the good bits of the X-Pro1 packaged up in a more compact and affordable bodyshell that’s still largely retro-styled to replicate the classic rangefinder camera experience.
In addition to being an X-mount camera (an important distinction from the new X100S with its fixed prime lens), the X-E1 has the same ‘X-Trans’ CMOS sensor, the same camera control systems (i.e. autofocusing, metering, etc), an all-metal construction and, importantly, a built-in eyelevel viewfinder. It doesn’t have quite the same overtly classical appearance as the X-Pro1 and that’s because of the most significant difference between the two models, namely the viewfinder. The X-E1 replaces the X-Pro1’s clever hybrid optical/electronic viewfinder – as introduced on the original X100 and further improved on the X100S – with a purely electronic one. This helps contribute to the reduction in the price tag and also allows the X-E1 to be a little more compact than its big brother.
Fujifilm’s ‘Hybrid Multi Viewfinder II’ is undoubtedly one of the X-Pro1’s selling points – primarily with its ability to project digital displays over a direct optical image – and it’s backed by a superb RGBW-type LCD external monitor screen with a resolution of 1.23 megapixels. The X-E1 also makes do with a smaller and lower resolution external display, but the good news is that its EVF is a bright OLED panel with a high resolution of 2.36 megapixels, ensuring a much better image quality than when the X-Pro1’s finder is run in its purely electronic mode. So you’re not exactly slumming it in the EVF department with the X-E1 given it matches the best on offer from Sony (the NEX-6 and NEX-7 use the same EVF) and Panasonic (with the Lumix GH3). And the 7.1 cm external monitor isn’t too bad either, even if its resolution is down to a more modest 460,000 pixels. However, this also has enabled the X-E1 to be sized closer to its rivals as it targets a more ‘mainstream’ audience than the primarily pro-orientated X-Pro1.
In the light of its positioning in the market, the X-E1 gains a built-in pop-up flash (while still retaining a hotshoe) and an stereo audio input is added to the feature set for video recording (a strange omission on the X-Pro1) and the classic cable release socket is supplemented with a provision for connecting an electronic remote trigger (via either the USB port or the stereo audio input).
There’s still a very traditional-looking milled shutter speed dial (but without the X-Pro1’s locking button), another dial for engaging exposure compensation (and as easy to accidentally reset as it is on the other X-series models), leather-look inserts and magnesium alloy body covers (available in a choice of silver or black finishes straight away). Consequently, the X-E1 still looks great – even if its styling is much sleeker than either the X-Pro1 or the X100 models – and it feels just as good in the hand. Switching between the EVF and the external monitor can be done manually or automatically via proximity sensors set into the eyepiece (which also now incorporates a strength adjustment). Both provide 100 percent subject coverage.
The rear panel layout – indeed the entire control layout – is virtually identical to that of the X-Pro1 with the exception that the replay button moves to the opposite side of the monitor screen and there’s a new button for popping up the built-in flash. Even the focusing mode selector on the front panel is in exactly the same place on both cameras, but obviously the X-E1 doesn’t have the X-Pro1’s viewfinder mode selector lever. Additionally, the built-in stereo microphones move from the front plate to the top plate just in front of the hotshoe, and the loudspeaker moves from the side to the back panel, but these are all very minor variations so the two cameras essentially operate in exactly the same way.
The X-E1 arrives with the first X-mount zoom which has a focal range of 18-55mm (equivalent to 27-82mm on the ‘APS-C’ size sensor) with built-in optical stabilisation and the option of manual aperture selection via a control ring. It also has what Fujifilm calls a ‘Linear Motor’ (LM) autofocusing drive system which employs two micromotors to move the focusing group and is designed to be both fast and quiet in its operation.
Interestingly, the purely electronic viewfinder is actually more convenient to use with the zoom as the hybrid finder needs to be switched between its two magnification settings as the focal length passes through 35mm (well, you don’t have to, but it makes viewfinding at the longer focal lengths easier if you do).
The zoom’s click-stopped aperture ring doesn’t have any set positions or markings, and it’s set to ‘A’ via a separate switch. As with all the XF-series lenses seen so far, it’s nicely finished and all the control rings operate very smoothly. While 18-55mm may be a common focal range of the cheap and cheerful kit lenses supplied with many ‘APS-C’ format D-SLRs and CSCs, the Fujinon zoom is a rather more superior offering with a faster maximum aperture range of f2.8-4.0 and high-quality apochromatic optics.