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.

Monday, 24 June 2013

Fujifilm X-E1: Initial thoughts

These are some really early thoughts on the X-E1, gathered during the short time between opening the box and the battery running out of its initial small amount of charge. There’s no real order to this – just things listed as they occurred to me. I’ve had a Fuji X100 for almost exactly a year now (I wrote about my first impressions of it, too), and thoroughly enjoyed shooting with it in that time, despite its idiosyncrasies. These thoughts, then, are frequently written with comparisons to X100 in mind.

First off, the 18–55mm kit lens is a lot smaller than I thought it’d be. The only other similar lens I’ve handled is the Pentax equivalent, and that’s physically a little fatter and quite a bit longer. The Fuji lens feels much denser though, very solid. The zoom ring is stiffer than expected, kind of like it’s attached to a powered-off electric motor (turning it makes a noise like that’s the case, too).

I know several people have made a big deal about how loose the aperture ring feels, but honestly I quite like it. It makes a similar ‘snick’ noise to the X100’s aperture ring, only it moves more easily and of course simulates ⅓-stop detents. I have read a few mentions of how lens rings are all a bit close together; I imagined these complaints were a little overblown, but now that I’ve handled the lens I can see the problem. I don’t think it’s so much that the rings are close together – that’s no problem even for my pretty large hands – but more that the aperture and zoom rings feel fairly similar in texture. Having said that, I’m sure it’s something I’ll get used to pretty quickly.

The rubber grip on the front of the camera is much better than the slippery plastic front of the X100 – on the latter I actually resorted to glueing some grip tape to it to improve the handling:

X100 with grip tape – not necessary on X-E1
My X100 with grip tape, a modification that’s thankfully not necessary on the X-E1.

Similarly, the raised ridge that holds the AE-L and Q buttons provides good purchase for my thumb, so all in all I feel quite secure holding the X-E1 with one hand, despite the additional weight with the 18–55mm lens mounted.

The EV compensation dial has had a bit of praise in comparison to the X100’s, because it’s recessed into the body more, so it’s less prone to accidental turning. Personally, though, I never found that to be an issue with my X100, and, at least for now, I find the X-E1’s dial to be a bit less convenient, with a slightly less grippy texture to it.

The four-way buttons on the X-E1 are a big improvement over the X100, almost entirely because they lack the annoying spinning dial around them. Even after a year that dial still annoys me a bit every now and then on the X100, and while it’s sometimes useful for quickly spinning through menus, that’s a small silver lining on a big dark cloud. I know it can be used to nudge manually-set shutter speeds, but I almost always shoot with the shutter dial set to A, so that’s not been relevant to me.

The top rear dial is also a nice improvement over the X100’s, in that it’s an actual dial now, not just a rocker switch. It pushes in with a more satisfying click, too – the X100’s felt a little mushy. In fact all of the buttons on the right hand side of the camera’s rear feel more clicky and less mushy.

The screen is… well, it’s pretty much the same as the X100’s as far as I can tell, except perhaps a bit more neutral in its colour rendering. Since I’ve never experienced the supposed glory that is the X-Pro 1’s screen I can’t really comment on how they compare. The EVF is quite obviously better than the X100’s, though – much better detail, and a generally more ‘solid’ look with no faint visible gaps between pixels. It’s also a bit bluer than the rear LCD. The refresh rate doesn’t bother me in the slightest – I use the X100 almost exclusively in EVF mode, and it never bothers me on that camera, either. The X-E1’s EVF is marginally smaller than the X100’s, but not enough that it really matters. I’ll see if I can get a comparison picture once the battery’s charged.

The EV +/− display is a little less obvious than the X100’s, due to the lack of a blue bar extending from 0 to the current setting. It’s already tripped me up once so far, but hopefully I’ll get used to it.

The menus look nicer than the X100, and they’re organised a bit better, too, with tabs down the left side so you can quickly jump to the required section rather than having to scroll through each page.

The Q menus is, as others have said, very handy. It remembers the last setting you were on, so you can spin through adjustments very quickly, and of course since the camera uses an EVF you can do this with it up to your eye.

One thing I like about the X100 is its in-camera raw conversion feature. It’s not particularly good in terms of user interface, but since the camera can very often produce better JPEGs than I can get out of Aperture or Lightroom*, I’ve found I use it quite a bit. The X-E1 has the same feature, although it’s slightly less convenient to use since there’s no handy ‘RAW’ button to bring up the converter. Not sure why the Q button couldn’t be used for that purpose, since it doesn’t otherwise seem to do anything in playback mode.

Finally, the battery/card door is not as good as the X100’s, because the way it hinges up makes getting the SD card out much more difficult, especially if you have fat fingers like me:

X100 battery/card compartment on the left, X-E1’s on the right
On the left, the X100’s battery/card compartment, and on the right the X-E1’s. Being so close to the compartment door, it’s difficult to get a good grip on the card.

So that’s it for now – just my initial impressions on how the X-E1 compares to the X100.

* I recently got Capture One Express when it was on sale for €35, and initial impressions with X100 raw files are very good – sometimes I even like the C1 conversions more than the camera’s!