Hands-on with the Fujifilm X-E1: Sleek, Small, and Very Solid All Around

We had a chance to play around with the new Fujifilm X-E1 at Photokina 2012, at a meeting attended by people who were the brains and hands behind the camera. Announced back on September 6, the X-E1 is the more affordable counterpart to the well-regarded X-Pro1. It’s an interchangeable lens mirrorless camera with the same beastly APS-C sensor, shedding 30% in size, 21% in weight, the fancy hybrid viewfinder in favor of an all-electronic one, and 41% in price (from $1,700 to $1,000).

The camera is noticeably smaller than the X-Pro1, but it retains the same Leica-esque retro rangefinder design. Like the new affordable DSLRs that are emerging (the Canon 6D and Nikon D600), the X-E1 feels extremely light without feeling cheap and flimsy. When attached to some of Fujifilm’s heftier X-mount lenses, the body actually feels lighter than the lenses.

Feature-wise, the X-E1 is virtually identical to its bigger and more expensive sibling. It still has a 16MP CMOS sensor, ISO that can be boosted to 25,600, 1080p HD video recording, and RAW files. It gains a built-in flash, longer battery life, and a built-in mic jack, but loses some speed (3fps instead of 6) in addition to the hybrid viewfinder.

On the back is a vivid 2.8-inch LCD screen — a bit smaller than the LCD screens that we’re seeing on cameras this year and .2 inches smaller than the X-Pro1 screen, but quite sufficient and appropriate given the X-E1’s smaller form factor:

The top of the camera hasn’t changed in its layout, except everything has been subjected to a shrink ray. A good portion of the left side is also occupied by the new built-in flash:

Here are some comparison photos of the X-E1 next to the X-Pro1:

If the main reason for a $700 difference in price is the loss of a hybrid (optical+electronic) viewfinder in favor of a purely electronic one, you’ll want to know how the EVF performs. The answer: quite well. It’s extremely sharp, featuring a resolution of 2.36 megapixels — one of the highest you’ll find on the market today. We did notice some strange pixelation going on when focusing on subjects, but this might be due to the fact that the bodies we handled were still pre-production models.

It’s also a tad bit laggy in low-light, but we can’t really say anything different about all the other electronic viewfinders out there — it’s one of the big problems when switching from optical to electronic.

Here’s a video showing what it’s like to use the X-E1 through the EVF. We recorded it using a phone, so please excuse the poor quality and shakiness:

The shutter lag has reportedly been reduced to 0.05 seconds, and the focusing speed to 0.1 seconds. From the brief time we had to test it out, it did indeed seem like the autofocus was snappy and useable.

It’s pretty superficial, but another nice aspect of the camera is the sound of its shutter click. It’d be sad to have a retro-styled camera with a cheesy shutter sound, but the X-E1’s is quite satisfying.

Fujifilm is the only company right now toying with the idea of Leica-esque cameras for mirrorless-esque prices. While the Olympus OM-D EM-5 is another retro-styled camera in this price range, it’s designed more like an old SLR rather than an old rangefinder. Beauty is obviously a subjective matter, but we think the X-E1 is drop-dead gorgeous.

The X-E1 is a very solid camera, both specs-wise and in its design. For $1,000, you get a DSLR-sized sensor, a sleek design, and a camera that you can comfortably use both as an everyday camera and as a camera for more serious photography work.

Update: Here’s a new video we just came across showing the camera’s AF in action: