The Fuji XE2 and I started out with a classic love-hate relationship. Initially, it felt too small, I couldn’t hold it comfortably, kept mashing buttons that felt poorly placed and it wouldn’t lock focus fast enough. As I was getting ready to kick it to the curb, I found my groove. "Too small" became unobtrusive and nimble. I adjusted my grip and it became comfortable to use. Firmware upgrades and some practice improved AF performance and handling issues. As soon as I learnt how to shoot with it, it became fun. A LOT of fun.
A Real World Review
I’ll be clear up front about what this review isn't going to be. We won’t be poring over every function, feature and technical facet of this camera. Most of the other review sites out there will help you with that kind of stuff. I took this thing out on the street with one intention in mind - to see whether it really was (as Fuji claim) the fastest “AF in the world”. My aim in this review is to feed back on how the XE2 performed in the real world and to see how they'd improved the AF ability.
All the shots I've posted are unedited and straight from camera so you can see what the images look like without any post processing.
Of course, the files here are pretty compressed and low res so you won't be able to pixel peep, but the idea is to show you generally what this camera is capable of through a variety of focal lengths.
By the way - this thing is small. If you're used to a large DSLR, or even an XPro1, get ready for a shock.
Just The Facts
Here are some basics that the new XE2 comes with:
- The sensor is the new X Trans CMOS II (the same as Fuji X100s) and the faster EXR Processor II provides faster read/write and contrast detection over the XE1. You get faster auto focus capability with the phase detect AF (more on that later) and slightly better image quality over previous X-series cameras with perhaps a touch more vibrancy to the images.
- The dynamic range on this camera is wonderful. This is purely anecdotal but at times it felt like it was better than the range from my 5D Mk3.
- We now get +/- 3 stops of exposure compensation (compared to 2 on the XE1) and a super detailed, bright 3” LCD with 1040k dot display.
- Manual Focus has focus peaking, magnified view and now the new digital split image system (something I tried but preferred the focus peaking system in actual use). If you really want to see the focus and read/write speeds of the XE2 compared to the XE1, someone on YouTube posted this little test video:
- The Lens Modulation Optimizer (as found in the X100s) aims to optimize image quality at each focal length and aperture setting. We certainly get impressive center to edge sharpness and I didn’t really see much to complain about any of the lenses at different aperture settings.
- There is a faster refresh rate on the Electronic View Finder (EVF) than the XE1, so it is smoother particularly in low light. We also get WiFi, a mic jack and now two separate AE and AF lock buttons with improved continuous shooting.
Is The Auto Focus Really “The World’s Fastest AF?”
Here’s the short answer - I don’t know.
Frankly, I don't really care if it is or isn't the fastest because it doesn’t really matter. In practice, for the most part, it’s fast enough. I tested it pretty extensively on moving subjects on the street, while I was also moving and often converging on the subject (so both of us moving toward each other), often shooting wide open to narrow the focal plane.
I’ve spent a little bit of time with the XPro1. The XE2 is an improvement over that model as far as quicker AF is concerned, but I wouldn't say there is a great deal in it, especially with the new firmware updates for the XPro1 / XE1. When I tested the XE2 side by side with the XPro1, it felt like if the XPro1 was hunting for focus, the XE2 was too, although it felt marginally quicker to acquire focus lock over the XPro1.
Is the XE2 a revolutionary improvement? No, but it is faster, and 90-95% of the time it’s fast enough. I would say 1 out of every 10 or 20 shots are lost because it wouldn't snap focus as quickly as I would like, although those lost shots were typically the most extreme and challenging for the camera (shooting wide open, converging on a moving subject heading toward me, focus and then attempt to recompose situations). I didn't zone focus any of the shots here, I wanted to test the AF ability and almost none of the 40-50 people I shot were even aware I'd shot them before I snapped them and moved on.
Who Is The XE2 Aimed At Then?
If you haven’t yet tried out the Fuji X-series camera, this might just be the moment you’ve been waiting for. For most owners of the XPro 1 or XE1, the firmware updates for those models will suffice and probably won’t make it worth selling either of those cameras to buy the XE2.
If you don’t already own something mirrorless or an X series camera, then the XE2 was almost designed specifically for you.
This will probably not be a replacement to your DSLR, especially if you require a high megapixel studio camera. My workhorse is my 5D Mk3 and I shoot both stills and video. You can’t manually change the shutter speed of the XE2 so it makes it practically useless for any sort of professional video work but that’s not really why you should be thinking about buying the XE2 anyway.
The main reason you should think about buying this camera is for the complementary aspects it can bring to your work - if the big DSLR is your large SUV or minivan to take the family out, the XE2 is a small 2 seater convertible to let you run rampant and get a little crazy with. The fantastic image quality and the convenience - or “fun” factor - means it can go anywhere and not weigh you down or get in the way of the shots you want to make. It is so small and light and so unobtrusive, you barely notice you have it with you. More than once, I suddenly panicked thinking I’d left it somewhere only to remember it was actually over my shoulder, I just couldn’t feel it hanging off my side.
What About That Love/Hate Thing?
Ok, let's update my relationship status with the XE2 real quick.
If you’re used to a big DSLR, you have to give these small mirrorless cameras a bit of time to dial in. If you like the feel of the XPro1, or you’re used to a pretty big size DSLR, this thing might well feel too small initially. At first I wasn’t even sure how to hold it properly. You don’t grip the thing so much as use finger tips. It's weird and takes time to work out how to handle it.
The battery life still seems average at best, and in the cold weather, it's bad. I kept the LCD off completely and it didn’t help much. Be prepared to carry at least 1 if not 2 additional charged batteries for a full day of shooting.
I kept the AF assist beam off most of the time (naturally, it does help with it on in low light). The AF is fast, faster than previous X models, but sometimes it still hunted. In conditions with a fair amount of light and contrast on my subject, I was surprised how much focus hunting was still going on before it locked focus. Firmware updates have subsequently improved this however and Fuji seems great about pushing out updates that actually make a difference to operability.
All of that said, once you start to get to grips with it, the initial frustration subsides and you just open up a world of fun.
There are two reasons I grew to love the XE2 and why I'm likely to be placing an order for my own when I hand back the review model.
First, the image quality is phenomenal. Yes, part of that is the camera body, and part of that is the glass but Fuji has done a great job of working it's lenses and bodies together to produce outstanding results. I tested the XE2 with three Fuji primes (the 18mm, 23mm and 35mm), and the quality of glass of each is fantastic. If you’re looking for a light, discreet camera with some great glass to carry around for travel, street or just everyday shooting, the XE2 will tick all of those boxes perfectly and the image quality won't let you down. The images you get from this thing are great, and while it’s not “cheap”, for the price of the body and some nice fast lenses, it feels like great value.
Secondly, and almost more importantly, the camera just lets me capture the moments I want and is a lot of fun to use. A 5D and a bunch of L glass helps me do my job but it’s not particularly small, light and “fun” to carry about all day and use candidly. The Fuji on the other hand is so small and light, it’s almost impossible to have an excuse not to bring it out with you. People really seem to notice you less with a small camera like the XE2.
If you already own a Fuji X series body, none of the improvements will feel too revolutionary, especially with the improved AF performance through firmware upgrades. If on the other hand like me, you have a large DSLR with a bag of heavy glass weighing you down wishing for an alternative, I present to you the camera that could very well be the Fuji you have been waiting for.