Friday, July 1, 2016

Wow: Fuji X-E1 Is Cheap Now! [And Why I Just Purchased One]


The Fujifilm X-E1 (sometimes called "Sexy One") was Fuji's second digital camera with their unique 16-megapixel APS-C X-Trans sensor. The rangerfinder-like mirrorless camera took the photography world by storm in late 2012, with high-ISO capabilities equal to many full-frame sensors, excellent dynamic range and great out-of-camera JPEGs that more resembled post-processed RAW files than typical JPEGs.

Because X-Trans sensors don't need (and don't have) an anti-aliasing filter (which blurs the image slightly to prevent moire pattern distortion), the 16-megapixel sensor produces resolution similar to 20-megapixels on a traditional Bayer sensor with an anti-aliasing filter. That's plenty of resolution for most photographers. 

And their lenses performed well above expectations, with sharpness closer to Leica and Zeiss than Nikon or Canon or (especially) Sony. Even their 18-55mm f/2.8-4 zoom lens bundled with the X-E1 was much better than any kit lens made before by anyone, with prime-lens-like sharpness and very little distortion.

While camera stores had trouble keeping up with the demand, users began to find problems with the X-E1. The camera had a number of "bugs" and left photographers with mixed feelings. Fuji made a several firmware updates to correct these problems (and Adobe eventually made improvements to their RAW X-Trans processing in Lightroom), but reputations are sometimes hard to shake.
Come To Jesus - Pasadena, California
Captured with a Sony RX100 II, which has similar resolution to the X-E1 despite more megapixels.
One year later Fuji replaced the X-E1 with the pretty much identical X-E2, which they manufactured for a couple of years, and can still be found pretty easily brand-new. The improvements between the X-E1 and the X-E2 were small (mostly auto-focus). About six months ago Fuji replaced the X-E2 with the X-E2s (the "s" apparently is an abbreviation for "same"). The changes were very minor, even smaller than the tiny changes between the X-E1 and the X-E2. For practical purposes, these three cameras are the same camera.

At the beginning of this year Fuji announced the X-Pro2, the first 24-megapixel X-Trans camera. Fuji has had a good run with their 16-megapixel X-Trans sensor, but its days are likely numbered, and it will probably be completely phased out in the next two years. Digital technology changes quickly.

It's not hard to find a used X-E1, but ones that are brand-new and still-in-the-box are not abundantly available. What I found amazing, however, is that the brand-new X-E1 cameras are dirt cheap (if you can find them). When they were first released the MSRP was $1,400 with the 18-55mm lens (when the demand was high right after it was released, some camera stores jacked up the price even higher). The new X-E2s with the 18-55mm lens will run you $1,000 today. I just paid $630 for a brand-new X-E1 (with the kit lens), including tax and shipping.

Why did I buy an X-E1? Don't I prefer small-sensor cameras? What I prefer is small cameras, and that often means having a small sensor. The X-E1 is pretty small for an APS-C camera, but it will be the largest digital camera on my shelf by a large margin.

I chose the X-E1 because:
- For some certain images I need good high-ISO capabilities (in the ISO 1600-6400 range)
- My workflow is backed up (because of my recent move) and so I need good out-of-camera JPEGs
- My budget is very limited.

For those reasons, there was no better option available. And, besides, I've been wanting to try the X-Trans sensor since it came out (I just couldn't afford it).

Why wouldn't I use my Sony RX100 II instead? It's maximum practical ISO is 1600, and that's not quite good enough for the images that I want to create. It's close enough that I could probably still get by with it, but only when captured with RAW and my workflow just can't handle that right now.

My Fuji X-E1 should arrive in the mail in a week or so. I'm very excited to get my hands on it and start capturing the images that are bouncing around inside my head. I can't wait!

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