On Saturday I managed to get my Olympus kit stolen (E-PL2 + 3 lenses), don’t ask how. So now I am searching for a new walkaround camera. From what is available at the moment I only see 2 options, the Olympus OMD-EM5 and the Fuji X-E1.
The Olympus would keep the compatibility with the E-PL2 that I need to buy, again, for my underwater kit. I could then share all the lenses. The Fuji, on the other side, would be a totally new system to add. When reading the different webs and forums the OMD gets praised for its fast autofocus, weather sealing and general performance and the X-E1 gets praised for the image quality and photographer oriented design.
What I ask of the camera is to be able to carry it around without having the bulk/weight of the DSLR; to have the best image quality possible, including at high ISO; to be reactive enough for street and travel photography; to have some sharp lenses with big aperture;… I will compare it with the Canon EOS 7D and L lenses that I have used for the last 2 years.
At the moment I don’t know anybody that could lend me the OMD but yesterday Frank lent me his X-E1 and I managed to get some shots during the lunch time and the evening. Here is a short report of my experience:
First I walked over to the new Vodafone campus to see if I could get any nice shots of the architecture and get familiar with the controls.
- The first thing I noticed was that the viewfinder is much smaller and not as comfortable as the DSLR or the E-PL2. It is also much sharper than the EVF from the E-PL2 and the color rendition is much better. The refresh rate makes it jump when panning but it did not bother me much.
- The Quick menu is great for changing parameters.
- I managed to change the aperture very often when zooming, the aperture ring is exactly in the same position as the zoom ring in my canon EF 17-55.
- Autofocus did not have any problems in daylight, although is not as fast as the DSLR.
- Color and image quality seemed to be quite good, based on the camera screen.
Low light street photography:
After work I drove to the Altstadt (city center) to see how the camera behaved for street shooting. It was snowing lightly so I used thin gloves and was carrying an umbrella. Here is what I noticed during the session:
- The streets of Germany are not very illuminated so I had to set the auto ISO to 6400. The problem is that it is not possible to choose the minimum speed. It goes down to 1/30 and then raises the ISO. It was ok for the architecture but not for moving people. This is one of the main concerns in all the forums and reviews and everybody hopes it will be corrected in the next firmware release.
- The stabilization works like a charm, you can really notice it if you switch it off. The bad thing is that is a lens stabilized system and not camera stabilized as the Olympus.
- Autofocus is not as fast in low light, certainly is not a sports camera but quite usable on the street.
- The camera acquired focus almost 100% of the times, lets say 95%. The other 5% I needed to focus on an area with more light and recompose. Not much of a problem.
- The handling of the camera with thin gloves was acceptable although some of the buttons are not easy to press. With thicker gloves it will probably get more complicated. There are some aftermarket screw in shutter buttons that can provide a nice improvement in handling.
- The image simulation modes are quite nice to see the result directly in black and white.
- Image Quality, again viewed in the camera, seemed great even at ISO 6400.
- With this camera you do not get the attention that you drag with a big DSLR – big Lens combo. People notice you much less and you do not get any strange looks.
When I arrived home I took some more pictures to see how it handled the white balance and downloaded the pictures with lightroom. I was shooting RAW+jpg, since Lightroom still do not handle the Fuji X RAWs properly. The first thing I did was to open the jpgs with Irfanview and I can only say WOW. I could just zoom in without seen any noise in the day photos and the ISO 6400 just had a little but very, very acceptable. The black and white conversions are also nicely done. In Lightroom I could see some lack of sharpness, which I am sure will not be noticeable in a print, but did not observe any color smearing. I did not have much time to look in detail anyway. Let’s hope Adobe brings the expected update soon.
I started in photography in the “film age” with a rangefinder and spent many hours in the darkroom developing film. This camera has brought back some of the feelings I had back then. Black and white photos have a huge place in my heart and I had never set my DSLR to black and white but this camera just asked for it. Also the controls are really well thought, although there could be some improvements. The camera makes you shoot in a quite different way as a DSLR, you have to slow down, think, compose… This makes it a really fun camera to use. Also, the image quality is great, photos are sharp and the noise at high ISO is on a level that my 7D could only dream about.
I will visit my favourite camera store and compare it to the OMD but I think the X-E1 already won the battle before it started. Hopefully the new lenses that Fuji will bring out in the next moths have the same quality level and sharpness as the actual ones.
And since an image is worth more than 1000 words, here are some of the images. They are out of camera jpgs resized for the web. The EXIF data is included if you are curious to know how many are shot at ISO 6400.