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Fuji X-E1 In 2021

My introduction to the Fuji ecosystem was through the Fuji X10. A fellow camera geek recommended it to me as I was looking for a compact camera that I could take everywhere with me. I instantly fell in love with the colours it produced. I also really liked the ergonomics and how it handled. Unfortunately, the camera broke after a few months. The unique mechanism of turning the lens to switch on the camera jammed and it could no longer be used. Even though I only had the X10 for a short period of time it was long enough for me to fall for the charms of Fuji cameras. I returned the camera to the company I bought it from and upgraded to the X30. It was still a 12MP camera but it had a newer sensor and other notable improvements over the X10 including an electronic viewfinder and a tilting screen. The image quality of the newer sensor was better but I missed the way the original sensor (a first generation X-Trans CMOS sensor) on the X10 rendered images. That camera gave photos a more film like look.

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I used the X30 for a few months.  I then moved on to the X-T10 before finally settling on the X-T3 and X-T20 with a selection of lenses.  I also have an X100s which is a fixed lens compact camera. I love this combination and I am very happy with the photos I am getting but I still missed that ‘look’ of the images from the original X Trans sensor. I thought about buying another X10 but after a bit of research I found that both the X-Pro 1 and the X-E1 had the original X-Trans sensor. I decided to go for the X-E1 as it had a smaller form factor and was quite a bit cheaper than the X-Pro 1. After all, I didn’t want to spend more money than I needed on chasing a feeling.

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The X-E1 has an APS-C sensor which is substantially larger than the one on the X10. When the camera originally launched back in 2012 it was used by professional photographers so I knew the image quality would be good. Another advantage was that I could use the collection of lenses I have built up over the last 2 years on the camera. Having said that I usually just stick a prime lens on it and leave it at that. Either the 16mm f2.8 or 35mm f2. For my professional work I use mainly zooms as it allows me the flexibility I need when shooting events etc so I was interested in exploring the world of primes. Also, my pro camera with fast lenses are quite bulky and heavy whereas the X-E1 with a 35mm f2 lens is a nice compact and lightweight option. I could throw it in my camera bag and barely even notice it. The 35mm is a wonderful little lens and brings out the best of the older tech in the camera.

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I not going to delve into the technical aspects of the camera. There are many websites out there where you can read technical reviews. Suffice to say that as an eight year old camera it has certain quirks that have since been ironed out over the years with the release of newer cameras. The auto focus can be slow. The EVF screen is quite low resolution in comparison to newer models. The rear LCD screen is fixed and does not articulate. It also does not come with some of the newer Fuji film simulations such as Classic Chrome. Despite these shortcomings I love the form factor of the camera and overcoming the ‘quirks’ helped me to slow down a bit and take my time when composing shots. Which is not a bad thing. With the 35mm f2 lens the camera fits nicely in the hand. And, of course, it has the lovely analogue dials that make Fuji's a joy to use.

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I bought this camera as I wanted a small camera that I could bring with me on professional jobs to capture the locations I visited. The photos would be just for my own use. I am based in Ireland and most of my work is in Dublin. I live around an hour away so when heading up to the city I try to schedule a number of jobs for that day to make the best use of my time. As Dublin is a relatively small city, I normally walk from one job to the next. This is where the X-E1 comes into it’s own. I have a backpack with all my other gear in it and keep the Fuji in hand, all the time keeping an eye out for photo opportunities as I stroll around the city streets. I love street photography but not in the traditional sense. I rarely photograph people but tend to concentrate on the architecture of whatever area I am in. The goal is to try and capture the mood and look of any city or town I visit. Sometimes people will stray into the frame but they are rarely the main focus of the shot. I particularly like to get out and about early in the morning before the normal hustle and bustle of city life takes over.

All of the ‘street’ photos in this article were shot with the Fuji 35mm f2. I know that this is a very popular focal length and that the lens is a favourite with Fuji users but I had rarely used it. For these photos I decided to challenge myself by only using that lens. I edited the images in Lightroom, mainly perspective corrections to correct keystoning from shooting buildings from ground level and adjustments to bring out shadow details and correct the overall exposure. I also shot everything handheld without the use of a tripod. I felt a tripod would slow me down. I prefer the more ‘run and gun’ style of photography. Shooting something that catches my eye and moving on.

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The image above is of one of Dublin’s most popular shopping centers, Stephen’s Green Shopping Center, and was one of the first I took using the X-E1. Under normal circumstances I would’ve gone for a wide angle lens here to capture the impressive design of the building but the 35mm focal length meant I was more ‘immersed’ in the scene and by concentrating on the clock it resulted in a composition I was happy with. I love the detail that the camera captured despite the relatively low resolution 16MP sensor compared to more modern cameras. I know that the images suffer on closer inspection, but I am not a pixel peeper. I prefer my images to have a more organic look and feel to them and the X-E1 certainly worked in this regard.

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As I wander around the city I often find myself concentrating on the symmetry of building facades as the restrictions of the focal length mean that a lot of the time I can’t get back far enough to get the entire building into the shot. I have read a lot over the years about prime lens being great for learning how to compose shots. With the tighter focal length, I have to be a bit more imaginative. The shots above are from a number of different trips to the capital city in the month after I got the X-E1. I was very happy with the quality of the photos I was getting from this ‘old’ camera. And that original X-Trans magic was there. I love the colours that I get but I know that this is very subjective.

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When I take photos where I have a wider field of view I am always impressed with the dynamic range that I am able to capture. I nearly always underexpose outdoor shots to protect the image detail in the brighter areas or highlights of an image. I then recover the shadow detail when editing. With the X-E1 I am able to capture shots with really nice skies and still have plenty of detail in the foreground. I am surprised how flexible the RAW files were when it comes to editing.

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Each time I visit Dublin I always bring the same combination of X-E1 and 35mm. I now really enjoy the 35mm focal length but more importantly I am very happy with the images that the X-E1 is producing. I had generally been shooting mainly outdoors but recently I happened to be working close to the National Gallery of Ireland. This is one of my favourite places in Dublin. I thought this would be a good opportunity to test out the image quality indoors in low light conditions.

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Again all of these were shot handheld. The max ISO I used was ISO640. The image detail was perfectly acceptable. These images are only ever going to be used social media so they are more than good enough. Also, the famed Fuji colour rendering resulted in very nice pics which do justice to this beautiful building.

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I really enjoy using the X-E1. As I said above the camera just feels really nice in the hand and combined with the 35mm f2 it is a great lightweight package that produces great images. I have even started to bring it out around my hometown when out walking for exercise or just to clear my head. It’s light enough that I barely know I have it with me but it’s there when I spot something of interest.

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One las thing. I bought this camera because of the film like feel of the images that it produces.  While looking at some articles about the camera I found out that I could buy old vintage lens and use an adapter to mount them.  I got an old Pentacon 50mm  .It is a completely manual lens which means that I have to set the focus myself.  The focus peaking tech in the camera, although quite primitive, still helps with this  .I shoot a lot of black and white images with this combination and between the way the sensor renders images and the imperfections of these older lenses the resulting photos have a timeless quality.  It is definitely something to consider if you buy this camera.

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All in all I love the Fuji X-E1. It has it quirks. It can sometimes work against me when I am trying to get a particular shot. It makes me slow down and take my time when composing a shot and this in no bad thing at all. The camera can be bought very cheaply on second hand sites and combined with the Fuji 35mm f2 produces beautiful images. It would be a great set up for someone looking to move up from taking photos with their phone and take their photography a bit more seriously. The fact that it has an electronic viewfinder which shows a live view of what the camera is seeing is very helpful for a beginner looking to learn how to use manual controls and the analogue dials just make this that bit easier. So, yes, the camera is worth considering in 2021.

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