I’ll make this short and sweet. The X-E1 excels in some situations, but falls way short in others. Unfortunately, it falls short in many of the scenarios I need it to be good in. I’ll explain.
As I imagine many parents do, I shoot a lot of photos of my kids. Kids run around. Kids are also indoors a lot. That means you want good low light performance, but also good autofocus.
I’ve been shooting for the last year with my Panasonic GH2. I’d say the GH2 has mediocre low-light performance, and good AF. With the X-E1, I was hoping for much better low-light performance, with comparable AF.
Lets be clear, the high-ISO performance on the X-E1 blows the GH2 out of the water. I’d say it’s on the order of at least 1 to 2 full stops of noise improvement. ISO6400 on the X-E1 looks like ISO1600 to ISO3200 on the GH2. Dynamic range is a lot better too. DxOMark ratings consistently show that MFT sensors get you about 11-12 stops of DR, where as APS-C sensors get you on the order of 13, and the X-E1 seems like it keeps to that trend (though, official DxOMark scores for the any of the X-trans sensor are not up yet).
When it comes to the autofocus, however, I can only say I was disappointed. In well-lit scenes, it works well enough, especially with the 18-55 kit zoom I got. Nothing super-fast, but adequate. In low light, however, the AF just often refuses to lock, which is the most frustrating thing ever. Imagine catching your child doing something and wanting to preserve that image forever, only to find that your camera refuses you child as a subject to focus on.
Switch to manual focus, you say? Well, I tried. Therein lies the second major flaw of this camera. In low light, the EVF is suuuuper laggy. It looks like they lower the shutter speed to be able to get a reasonably bright image, but in the process, you get all the motion blur and low frame rate which that implies. It’s impossible to focus on anything moving when your EVF is giving you 3fps. It’s even more comical with the MF assist zoom mode.
The GH2, in comparison, doesn’t suffer a drop in EVF in frame rate in low light. Sure, in extremely low light, it misses focus, or refuses to lock sometimes, but I’d say compared to the X-E1, it’s about 1/20th of the time, if not less. In terms of the frame rate, I think the GH2 prefers to just amp the signal coming out of the sensor (which brings in noise), which is a much better option (imho) then adjusting the shutter speed. Maybe that’s something they can fix in a FW update. But to some extent, it feels like maybe Fuji isn’t used to making EVF only cameras (afaict it’s the only X-series camera without a hybrid OVF/EVF) and it kinda shows. Unless your subject is completely still, this camera is pretty useless in low light.
In either case, if the X100s is any indication, Fuji knows that they have an issue, and they’re going down the hybrid AF approach to address it. Time will tell if they can better the situation in low light.
Anecdotally, the best shots I did get out of this camera were when I was walking around with my son in a park that had some hiking areas. Landscapes, closeups of plants, etc, all excel on this camera. Great color. Great DR. Great resolution.
As far as manual controls go, it’s a bit of a wash. After trying the X-E1 for a bit, and then going back to the GH2, I felt that there were definitely situations where having the aperture/shutter rings were really helpful. Other times, you really just want to fix one of the dimensions and go, for which the usual aperture-priority/shutter-priority modes work a bit better.
I’d be super tempted to try another X-series camera if they can fix the autofocus. But if your shooting patterns are anything like mine, I would stay away for now.