(Pocket-lint) - As companies clamour to deliver the best possible camera solutions, sometimes all it takes is a little bit of polish and effort on a manufacturer's behalf to buff out the apparent spec sheet blemishes of an older model to deliver a winning ticket. And that’s exactly what the Fujifilm X-E2 is all about.
Of the variety of compact system cameras (CSC) on the market, we were very fond of 2012’s X-E1 model because of its outstanding image quality. It was ahead of the competition in that regard, but wasn’t as up to speed when it came to other feature areas.
In comes the X-E2 with its faster autofocus, improved sensor and larger, higher-resolution LCD screen, among other minor tweaks. Even if that’s not necessarily enough to get upgraders on board, it ought to align the latest model with the current standard. Is it enough to beat the competition and has Fujifilm got a CSC winner on its hands in the X-E2?
Hey good lookin’
Blink and you’ll miss it - the X-E2 is built around the same shell as its predecessor. That means an awesome looking, retro-style physique that’s built like a tank. It’s sturdy, reassuringly weighty and we’re big fans of that silver-topped look.
There are, of course, subtle differences to spot - most of which are functional. The name badge has changed, while there’s an extra stop available on the stiffer-to-adjust +/-3EV exposure compensation dial and a new 1/180th sec flash sync speed on the shutter dial. We still found it a bit too easy to knock that comp dial by accident though, which is annoying - you'll need to check the dial each time the camera is extracted from a bag.
Furthermore the function (Fn) button on top defaults to activate Wi-Fi for sharing and there's a second function (Fn2) button to the rear. The Fn2 button has, in turn, moved the autofocus (AF) button onto the d-pad's down key by displacement. Small but essential changes, even if we’re nonplussed about Wi-Fi’s presence.
Look closer and you'll also notice that the rear LCD has been upgraded to a 3-inch, 1.04m-dot version. That's a big jump compared to the X-E1's 2.8-inch 640k-dot offering and it can really be seen in the flesh, so to speak. Far, far more detail on offer.
The viewfinder remains unchanged in physical terms, but the 0.5-inch electronic panel, complete with 2.36m-dot resolution, can now deliver a faster refresh rate. It’s just as brilliant as it was in its predecessor for the most part, and we’ve used it indoors and out where even in low-light we’ve found there to be little lag or ghosting. The faster refresh rate isn't always active from what we understand from speaking with Fujifilm, it deploys such action when low light will benefit from it.
READ: Fujfilm X-E1 review
In short, if you’re after a good looking CSC with a built-in electronic viewfinder then the X-E2 will surely make your shortlist. It’s not as compact as something like the Sony NEX-6, for example, but the more traditional styling, hands-on layout and build quality make it feel well worth it.
In use it’s that hands-on approach to layout that gives the Fujifilm range a point of difference compared to most CSCs. Take, for example, the lenses which, to date, all come with physical aperture rings. There’s a certain wonderment to clicking between those f/stops, as small a thing as that may sound. We're big fans of the layout, although the position the aperture ring lies on the 18-55mm lens used for this review does feel as though it's tucked in towards the camera's body more than we would like - it's not difficult to use, just not as elegant as it could be compared to what we're used to.
The menu layout may also take a little getting used to, but once you’re on board it feels natural. We like the amount of customisation that’s available, where a single press of the "Q" button on the rear will open up a grid of adjustable options. Simply use the rear thumbwheel to toggle through them. No touchscreen ability for hands-on use might be a moan for some, but we prefer the idea of keeping it grease-free and fingerprint clear.
Among the biggest new features in the X-E2 is a "intelligent hybrid autofocus" system. This follows a similar route to what many other cameras manufacturers are utilising: the presence of both contrast-detection and on-sensor phase-detection pixels to better tackle different shooting conditions.
We’ve seen such systems serve up varying results in the past. In the case of the X-E2 it’s certainly a whole lot faster than its predecessor, but sometimes the autofocus faltered for the sake of speed - something we also found with the Fujifilm XQ1 compact camera.
READ: Fujifilm XQ1 review
Autofocus comes in two flavours: multi, which is essentially "auto", or single point. The latter can be positioned at any one of the 49 points as displayed on the rear screen and the rear thumbwheel can be used to resize the AF area. We found reducing it to the smallest possible size was useful, but results often missed the exact point which was specified on screen - on some occasions we didn't have images as pin sharp as we'd hoped.
Is it the fastest and most accurate out there? We’re still not totally convinced, largely based on how well Panasonic's G-series now perform. In speed terms we're not worried though, because the X-E2 is a definite step forward compared to its predecessor and more than speedy enough for what we need.
However, continuous autofocus for tracking moving subjects isn’t up to scratch. But that’s a fairly standard thing in any given CSC in our view.
Just like its predecessor, the X-E2’s image quality is its most attractive prospect. The X-E1 was good, the X-E2 is just as good. Arguably it's even better - although the jump between sensors (the same as from the Fujifilm X100 to the X100S model, if you happen to be a big Fujifilm fan) is a subtle push forward that's tricky to see by eye.
READ: Fujifilm X100S review
The X-E2 has the very same 16-megapixel X-Trans CMOS II sensor as found in the X100S. It may have a silly name, but the results from this APS-C size sensor will bring a smile to your face for an entirely different reason: because everything looks so good.
Fujifilm has its own unique colour filter array that calculates colour per pixel differently to most cameras. This removes the need for an anti-aliasing filter and that means sharper image quality with less risk of moire and colour issues compared to standard non-AA-filter cameras. This boost in sharpness may be subtle, but it’s a genuine thing and an equally genuine reason to opt for this camera, especially with one of the top-end prime lenses attached to the front.
Shots from the X-E2 are rich in detail and of the ISO 200-6400 standard sensitivity range everything is usable. Best quality is between ISO 200-800 where it's difficult to tell the difference between one shot and another by eye, which is testament enough to how good the camera is. It's a shame there's no true ISO 100 option - it's only a "low" setting available by post-processing - but otherwise this camera puts DSLR quality shots in your hands.
Just as with the X-E1, there’s a lot of dynamic range to play with in the X-E2’s raw files, which opens up creative possibilities in post-processing. At the higher sensitivities there's a fair amount of image noise present, particularly from ISO 3200 and above, but it's grain-like in its structure and we didn't find colour noise to be a particular issue.
For us the X-E2 is up there among the best APS-C sensor compact system cameras based on its image quality. There’s little more we could ask for from this point of view, save for a larger sensor - but that’s something Sony has monopolised on for now with its Alpha A7 and A7R cameras.
READ: Sony Alpha A7 review
The Fujifilm X-E2 gets plenty right. Although, ultimately, it's a subtle upgrade compared to its predecessor.
If you’re after a CSC that’s all about image quality then look little further. We also love the hands-on layout of the build, and both retro style and retro approach to taking pictures thanks to physical aperture dials on the XF lenses. That £799 body-only price point might seem like a lot of money, because it is, but there’s a physical quality here that can be seen from a mile away.
On the downsides battery life remains the same so-so performer of its predecessor, the so-called improved autofocus might be faster but isn't consistently accurate, while there could be more lenses available in the XF range to further widen appeal. But the available lens options - from primes to more "consumer" zoom lenses - is slowly growing and the quality is great.
If you’re an action photographer then don’t kid yourself, this camera won’t be suitable. But if you’re after a camera that successfully marries the old school of thought with the new in a visually striking package then there's a lot to love in the Fujifilm X-E2. For those low-mid ISO sensitivities its image quality that's the real sell.