Thursday, November 28, 2013

FUJIFILM X-E2: NEW ZEALAND TEST-DRIVE & FLIGHT

Yesterday I returned from an exciting 2 week photo-adventure to the South island of New Zealand. Like on my earlier photo-flying trips, they are generally a combination of traveling by car and partly by light aircraft. Typically we rent a single engine aircraft for part of the trip, flown by my wife, while I’m responsible for the aerial photography part. 


Even though, I’ve been mainly shooting with Pro Nikon DSLR gear over the last 8 years, I have recently developed a strong passion in using a mirror-less Fujifilm X-E1 camera as my standard travel companion for my shorter trips. To take it a step further, this trip would be the first one where I would leave the heavy Nikon DSLR and lenses home. Not an easy decision, but definitively an interesting challenge!


Driving into Lake Pukaki


Just before leaving for “Down under”, FujiFilm Middle East gave me a pre-production Fujifilm X-E2, to field test during the two week trip. Beside these two X series Fuji’s, my camera bag also held the following XF Fujinon lenses; 14mm, 27mm, 18-55mm and 55-200mm. For a detailed list of what exactly was in my camera bag, click here.

Please be advised that I’m in no way sponsored by Fujifilm and that everything written her under is 100% my own opinion. This is not a full review of the new camera but rather a practical test-drive and test-flight (no pun intended), where I will list some of the good and not so good of the Fuji. For those of you interested in more detailed full reviews on the X-E2, I would like to suggest the following links which I personally trust;
Integrated in this post, you can find some different types of images shot with the X-E2 over the last two weeks. The complete series of the photo-adventure can be found here.

Clouds over Lake Alexandrina

Also, as the camera I received was a pre-production model, it did not have the final 1.0 body firmware. Since 1.0 was not yet available on the Fujifilm website for download, I shot all images with the pre-production 1.58 firmware. It is therefore possible that some of the problems highlighted here, have already been cleared in the final 1.0 version. I did however update all lenses to the latest lens firmware.

Because I only shoot RAW files, I was very happy to see that Adobe had just released their Lightroom 5.3 RC (Beta) version, which already supports the X-E2 RAW files. Having the option of shooting RAW, made me shoot more than 90% of the total 1500 images with the X-E2. All images on this post were shot with the X-E2 and edited with the Lightroom 5.3 Release Candidate. 


Reading a book at Lake Wanaka

PROS
At first glance the X-E2 looks very similar to its one year old brother the X-E1. I was pleasantly surprised that the HG-XE1 grip I own for the X-E1, fits the new camera perfectly! Since I like the extra shooting stability the grip gives me, it stayed on the new body for the whole trip. Also the batteries and charger are identical and were used mixed amongst the two cameras.

The biggest difference esthetically is the somewhat larger LCD screen on the back; 3 inch instead of 2.8 inch. More importantly it also has a higher LCD resolution (more than 1 million rather than 460.000 dots. This proved to be very useful when checking for sharpness at 100%, something that is not always easy on the X-E1. Even though the screen is slightly larger in size, the Fuji Leather case (BLC-XE1) also fits without any issues. 

While the quality of the X-E1 EVF (Electronic View Finder) is definitively not bad, it occasionally has some lag when moving quickly. This has clearly been addressed in the X-E2 with its much faster processor and it now is one of the best EVF's I've ever used. 

Lake Alexandrina early morning

One of the top photographers requests since the launch of the X-Pro1 and X-E1, is a better AUTO ISO setup. Fujifilm has clearly listened and now one can enter a minimum and a maximum ISO, as well as a minimum shutter speed. Something we needed for so long. Thanks Fuji!

Yellow eyed pinguin near Moeraki

While the X-E1 has excellent low light performance, the X-E2 does even better at the high ISO numbers. I did a few subjective tests between the two cameras at ISO 3200 and ISO 6400 and it feels like ISO 6400 on the X-E2 equals ISO 3200 on the X-E1. The above shot was taken at ISO 3200.    

Single shot Autofocus speed; slow autofocus has been the thing that gave the initial Fuji mirror-less cameras like the X100 and X-Pro1 a difficult start but that seems to be a thing of the past. Since every consecutive body and lens firmware update, the focus speed has steadily improved and the focus on the X-E1 is now on par with the competition such as the Sony NEX-6 and 7. I nowadays rarely mis shots on my X-E1 on the Single shot (S) focus setting, due to focus speed. The X-E2 however surely feels much faster; especially in low light. Fuji even claims that with an auto focus speed of 0.08s, the X-E2 is the fastest of all APS-C or larger image sensors. So overall the new hybrid Phase (not face) system seems to do the job!  When it comes to continuous auto focus tracking, I'm not that happy… See the next paragraph for more.

Lake Tekapo church


CONS

To continue on the auto-focus subject; the new camera now allows multiple point auto focus tracking at 3fps, but unfortunately it is still much slower and sometimes not accurate enough, compared to modern DSLR's. This is the main reason, why I'm still shooting DSLR's when photographing high speed action like air shows etc…

RANS S9 at Rangitata, NZ

Deleting images on the X-E2 LCD, now has two new functions; “Erase Selected” and “Erase All” images. While the first one can be useful, a quick mis selection to the "Erase All", caused me losing a full day of images! I eventually managed to rescue some of them with the PhotoRescue software. I know there is difference between the “Erase All” and the standard “Format” function, but I really don’t see a need to include it at its present place! The Erase All could easily be included in the same section as where the Format function lives if Fuji sees a need to include it at all!

Lake Tekapo lupins early morning

The old “View Mode” button has been removed and selecting the different view modes, is  now done with a new EVF/LCD setting in the Menu. What I really want, especially for street photography, is being able to use the EVF (Electronic View Finder) with a blanc  LCD while shooting and having the possibility to occasionally review the images on the LCD when pressing the play button. This extra setting could be called something like EVF shooting/LCD playback. The present setup only allows me to use the EVF for shooting and image playback, which I don't really like.

American car at Wanaka

Battery life; Fuji lists that 350 images can be shot on a single battery. This might be the case when one only uses the viewfinder through the eye sensor, but practically it seems to be much closer to 150-200 with the occasional use of the LCD for image review. Spare batteries are a must. I travelled with 5 for two cameras and this seemed to be the minimum for a full day of shooting on the X-E2 and the occasional shot on the X-E1. To me, battery life feels identical between the X-E1 and X-E2. 

Remaining on the subject of battery life; whenever I kept the X-E2 in my camera bag, the  eye sensor was keeping the camera active, which caused the battery to drain very quickly. Even though just like on my X-E1, the camera was setup to automatically shutdown after 2 mins, it looks like the eye sensor kept it active. Since doing the exact same test on my X-E1 did not have the same effect, I hope this has been corrected in the more recent X-E2 1.0 firmware.

Clouds drifting into Akaroa

Bracketing; I’m doing a fair amount of HDR (High Dynamic Range) photography, requiring up to 7 bracketed shots at varying shutter speeds. My Nikon DSLR's allow me for several years, to shoot the standard 0 EV followed by a -1, -2, +1, +2 all with one push of the shutter button. The Fuji's, including the latest X-E2, only allows 0 EV, +1 and -1. While this might be sufficient for standard exposure bracketing, it clearly is not enough for people shooting HDR. I'm not a camera engineer, but I really don't see a reason why this can not be done with a simple firmware update. I just hope will eventually include this in a future update!@#$%

Wifi; I was very happy to see Fuji enabling Wifi in its latest camera body. I was however disappointed to learn that shooting tethered using a tablet like an iPad was not possible. One can browse through the memory card or send individual images but there seems to be no live shooting option. Also I like the option of sending the geotag info from a smartphone to the camera. It looks like this can only be done image by image. I would really like to see a continuous sending of geotag coordinates as the shoot progresses. I suspect this function does not exist due to the potential for even more battery drain. As an alternative, why not include a GPS receiver in the camera itself? Fuji, hope you are listening if you are designing the X-Pro 2

View on Mount Cook from the Hooker valley

CONCLUSION

Even though, I do have quite a few CONS, some of them can clearly be solved by a relative simple firmware upgrade. The main reason why this camera does still not 100% replace my Nikon D800, is the Autofocus tracking in continuous mode. This is not limited to the Fujifilm cameras but rather seems to be a common problem with all mirror-less cameras, including the latest full frame Sony cameras.

Having said this, at no time did I miss my DSLR on the New Zealand trip, likely because there never was a need for high speed action stuff. However photographing the Al Ain airshow the coming weekend, my Fuji will unfortunately still have to stay home!

Will I buy the new X-E2? Since I already own the great X-E1, probably not. I would rather wait and see what the successor of the Fujifilm X-PRO1 will bring. Rumours have it that this will be probably be announced early 2014. 

The most famous tree of New Zealand, Wanaka, New Zealand

Would I recommend somebody else buying the X-E2? Definitively! If you are in need for a mirror-less camera as your main travel camera, put the X-E2 high on the list. While I love my X-E1 to death, I have over the last two weeks liked the X-E2 even more! The image quality is clearly on par with the much heavier DSLR's and all of this at a fraction of the weight! Some of the trekking trips in the mountains I would have not done if I was carrying my DSLR gear.  

Wild waters of Wanaka

Given the aerial images were all shot through the plexiglass of the cockpit, sharpness might be degraded. Please do not use these images to determine the sharpness and quality of the X-E2 images.

Lake Pukai with the Southern Alps in the background

More images, all shot with the X-E2, as well as a detailed itinerary of the trip, will be published on a separate blog over the coming days. All images of the trip can be found in the New Zealand, South Island Fly & Drive around gallery.

Moeraki boulders, Moeraki, New Zealand

Lastly, I big thank you to Fujifilm Middle East for asking me to take the X-E2 on this 2 week test-drive/flight!

BJORN







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