Thursday, 27 June 2013

Fuji X-E1 vs. X100: further observations

These are just a few things I’ve noticed now that I’ve spent more time with the X-E1. See also my first impressions.

New firmware, and handling

First of all, not long after I got the camera Fuji released firmware version 1.06 for it, which adds the ability to use the Down button on the four-way controller as a programmable function button. Furthermore, ‘Select AF Point’ is now one of the functions that can be assigned to such buttons. For those of us who regularly change focus points, this is a huge improvement, as it makes changing AF points with the camera up to your eye significantly easier, especially with a relatively heavy and ‘hands-on’ lens like the 18–55mm.

Another aspect of handling that is not immediately obvious when comparing the X-E1 and X100 is the shape of the body on the right hand side. They appear fairly similar, but in fact the X100 is much more rounded (X100 on the left):

Comparison of X100 and X-E1 right hand edges

It seems a minor difference, but it’s surprising how much more comfortable the X100 is when pressed into the palm of your hand, although with a lighter lens than the 18–55mm it might not be as much of an issue. I presume the X-E1’s shape is due to its thicker battery leaving less room for nice body contouring.

Raw versus JPEG

Almost always with the X100, I found the JPEGs the camera produced to be better than anything I could get out of Lightroom, Aperture or Capture One. For certain looks, I could get the included SilkyPix to give nicer results (it’s particularly good at highlight recovery and lush landscape colours), but on the whole the JPEGs were just plain nicer-looking, at least to me – I realise this is obviously a subjective thing. For reference, I shot Astia film simulation in Auto WB, with no WB adjustment, and with +2 colour, +1 highlights, and shadows at 0, in sRGB.

For some reason I’ve not quite pinned down yet, I can get much better results out of the X-E1’s raw files than I ever could out of the X100’s, especially in Aperture and Capture One, sometimes even better than the camera’s JPEGs. This was entirely unexpected, and it’s not because the X-E1’s JPEGs are worse either; it’s just that the raw files are… better, somehow. It seems to be because they have less baked-in contrast, and so are more pliable, easier to mould into what I want from them. Aperture, in particular, also does a really good job of the demosaicing – better, in fact, than the camera in some instances. Here’s a picture of my back garden:

My back garden

And here’s a comparison of 100% crops from the X-E1 out-of-camera JPEG on the left, and Aperture on the right:

My back garden

Slight colour differences, aside, the Aperture version is a little sharper and, at least on the red flower, more detailed. It’s also a little noisier, but I had noise reduction set as low as possible.

I’m still going to keep shooting raw + JPEG, as the camera does do some colours better than Aperture (orange and blue look nicer, I think), but it’s nice to know I have an additional very good option for processing my photos now.

White balance

The X-E1 seems to prefer a cooler white balance than the X100, so I’ve given mine a +1 nudge in the yellow and red directions.

This white balance tweaking is improved over the X100 in that you can set separate adjustments for each white balance setting, so for instance I’ve got Auto WB to be a bit warmer, and the Shade setting to be a little cooler (I actually rarely use the other settings, come to think of it).

This is especially handy as I’ve set up a couple of Custom Settings, with Astia/AutoWB on C1, and Velvia/Shade on C2, for easy switching depending on circumstance – C1 for most everyday shooting, C2 for landscapes. Being able to change the Custom Setting via the Q menu is also really handy.

Speaking of which, it’d be even nicer if the Color Space option was included there – changing it to Adobe RGB results in significantly more saturated images, even though it really shouldn’t make that much difference. I suspect it’s actually just tagging the photos differently, rather than converting the raw data into the specified colour space. Personally I don’t mind this – I see it as another parameter I can use when tailoring the look my photos.

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