In these days of 100 megapixel monsters costing from £9999 to way north of £20000 I’m going to extol the virtues of the 16MP FujiFilm X-E1 that can be purchased for well under £150.
Launched in September 2012, the X-E1 shares the original X-Trans CMOS sensor with the X-Pro 1 producing fabulous images that just look right. This natural, filmic look is far removed from many current cameras with their harsh, clinical, ‘too digital’ photographs lacking any sort of character.
It is worth making direct comparisons between the X-E1 and the X-Pro 1 as they produce identical images. Personally I prefer the more rugged construction of the X-Pro 1 which also features the hybrid Optical (OVF)/Electronic Viewfinder (EVF) and a larger, much higher resolution rear LCD screen. However, prices of good condition X-Pro 1s continue to rise, at the time of writing (September 2019) between £250-£350, partly due to a recent Amateur Photographer ‘Second Hand Classic’ feature. So it is not the same kind of bargain as the X-E1 which does have some better features than the X-Pro 1 such as a viewfinder diopter adjuster, a built-in flash and much higher resolution EVF (2.36m dot OLED vs 1.44m dot LCD).
There are some areas where the X-E1 shows its age such as slowish autofocus (especially in continuous mode), a dark, laggy EVF (due mainly to the higher pixel count) when following action and in particular panning, plus a lack of customisable buttons compared to the current X-E3. None of these really bother me as most of the time I use manual focus with the superb EVF/rear LCD depth of field scale and use an X-T2 for action photography.
Handling is generally good with smaller lenses such as the Fujinon XF 14mm f/2.8 or XF18-55mmF2.8-4 R LM OIS but the small size of the camera (and grip) means things get a bit front heavy when the XF 55-200mm F3.5-4.8 R LM OIS telephoto zoom is fitted. The exposure compensation control is far too easy to accidentally move as it can be quite loose and protrudes beyond the rear of the camera body. Minor annoyances really though when you consider how cheaply these cameras can be picked up for now.
JPEGs straight from the camera have lovely tone and contrast, especially with the Astia film simulation, equally Black & White with red filter produces great monochrome images. Adobe now does a much better job with the FujiFilm RAF RAW files so the waxy, watercolour look has all but disappeared, just make sure that in Lightroom to use Process Version 5. It is best to keep the X-E1 ISO at 200 or 400 (I never use the interim ISO settings 250, 320 etc.) for the best image quality but up to 1600 or even 3200 are perfectly useable, things fall apart (noise, contrast and colour) rapidly after that. The X-E1 also makes a superb infrared converted camera, especially when paired with the Fujinon XF 14mm f/2.8 lens that does not produce hot spots at any aperture.
Things to look out for when buying a used FujiFilm X-E1 include a delaminated rear LCD, a damaged or very loose exposure compensation dial and also make sure that the on/off switch functions correctly, these can fail meaning that the camera never truly switches off and the battery drains quickly. This is why I think it is always better to buy used camera equipment from specialists such as Ffordes, mpb, London Camera Exchange, Park Cameras or Wex who all offer no quibble approval periods plus 3, 6 or 12 month guarantees and in most cases are cheaper than eBay. The last X-E1 I purchased, boxed with all original accessories, cost just £119.
Here is a selection of images I have made with the FujiFilm X-E1;