Fujifilm X-E2 (Body Only, Silver)

With the X-E2, Fujifilm has addressed almost all the important issues I had with the X-E1. The incorporation of the X-Trans CMOS II (used in the X100S and X-M1) provides phase-detection autofocus, and in conjunction with the updated EXR II image processor the result is better, albeit not terrific, performance. It also has a larger, higher-resolution LCD, a digital split-image viewfinder display from the X100S, and a more streamlined design and control layout. Plus it gains Wi-Fi connectivity.

The result is a camera that’s generally better than its predecessor and great fun to use, but not necessarily a clear-cut buy once you lay out all the pros and cons.

Image quality
The X-E2 delivers the excellent photo quality I’ve come to expect from the APS-C X-Trans CMOS II sensor, as well as the video problems. However, it’s not definitively better than the X-E1. At the same exposure settings, for instance, the X-E2 produces higher-contrast JPEG images that clip shadow detail more than the X-E1’s; it’s all there in the raw file, though.

However, the combination of relatively clean, sharp images and solid JPEG processing means you really can’t improve on the camera’s sharpness by shooting raw at any ISO sensitivity. That said, it does help for adjusting exposure; at the default Standard (Provia) film simulation color setting, low-light images tend to come out a lot darker and more contrasty in the JPEGs than in the raws. But JPEGs are quite usable at full size up through ISO 3200 and possibly ISO 6400 depending upon scene content and lighting. And beyond that, if you shoot in black and white they’re still surprisingly sharp. My only caveat vis-a-vis the stills is that there’s still no raw support in the expanded ISO sensitivity range — that goes for ISO 100 and ISO 12800 and higher.

Click to download ISO 200

ISO 1600
ISO 6400

The color looks relatively accurate in the defaults, but I find I get the best results in NH, or Pro Negative High mode, which doesn’t boost saturation quite as much. Nevertheless, standard does deliver some of the best reproduction I’ve seen in a camera of this class. You do need to expose on the dark side to get good skies or clouds clip unrecoverably and the blue can look false and flat in the JPEGs — raws are better. There isn’t an extraordinary amount of highlight data to recover in blown-out areas, and as you’d expect you lose quite a bit of shadow detail in dark shots at high ISO sensitivities, but in the main ISO sensitivity range shadow areas can be brought out with practically no noise.

You really don’t want to use the camera for video, however; as we’ve seen before, the X-Trans sensor produces more moire and artifacts than usual, and you have to be more conscious about what you’re shooting and the frame rate you choose than normal. Sensors without OLPFs are notorious for this in video, but Fujifilm’s seem worse than normal.

While I wouldn’t call the X-E2 a speedster, clearly the autofocus has improved over its predecessor, and it’s fast enough that it rarely frustrated me. It takes about 1.4 seconds to power on, focus, and shoot, and once on, time to focus and shoot runs about 0.4 second, though it’s rounded up to that in good light and rounded down in dim. Time for two sequential shots is a little on the slow side, 1 second for JPEG and 1.1 for raw, mostly because the lens seems to reset and refocus between shots. With flash enabled, that increases to about 1.9 seconds.

Continuous-shooting performance is a bit trickier. It can burst JPEGs pretty fast without continuous AF — 7 frames per second for about 15 frames at which point it slows to 4.6fps. With autofocus you have to drop to continuous-low mode, which delivers an effectively unlimited number of shots at about 2.5fps. In continuous-low mode with autofocus the buffer can accommodate about 14 raw shots before slowing, though it varies, at 2.7fps.

Despite problems with the video quality and a tendency to pulse on fixed subjects in video continuous-focus mode, the autofocus works noticeably better in the X-E2 than the X-E1. It retains its great manual-focus feel, though.

Both the EVF and LCD are really nice: bright, contrasty, and saturated. But the LCD doesn’t tilt and can be quite difficult to view in direct sunlight. I don’t really like the new digital split-image viewfinder — focus peaking seems far easier — though that’s a personal quirk; I could never get the hang of the split-image focusing in film cameras, either.

Design and features
As with the X-E1, I like quite a bit about the X-E2’s design and enjoy shooting with it. It’s big for a compact, which some folks might not like, and despite the tweaks Fujifilm has made to the design one of them wasn’t a needed increase in grip size. Still, the thumb rest on the back gives you enough leverage for single-handed shooting.

On top it retains the analog shutter speed and exposure compensation dials; for shutter priority shooting, you rotate the shutter dial to A. Now there’s an entry on the shutter-speed dial for 1/180th second, the flash sync speed. And one subtlety I didn’t catch before was the ability to select the 1/3-stop shutter speeds between the full stops by using the back dial. The camera is designed to be used with lenses that have manual aperture rings like the 18-55mm lens that comes in the kit, but it’s compatible with the newer (cheaper) no-aperture-ring lenses; with those, you control aperture via the jog dial on the back. (Here are the instructions (PDF).) If you have the higher-end lenses, you choose between manual or automatic aperture modes by flipping a switch on the lens.

Some of the control layout changes include better placement for the AF-L and AF buttons.

Sarah Tew/CNET)

The shutter button has threads for a wired shutter release, and there’s a programmable function button next to it that you can map to one of a variety of frequently needed settings; in playback mode it brings up the Wi-Fi connection. The popup flash can be tilted back for bouncing, a feature I really like. An autofocus mode switch — single, continuous, or manual — sits on the front of the body.

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