Fuji X-E1 – Worth considering in 2020?

My introduction to the Fuji ecosystem was through the Fuji X10. A fellow camera geek recommended it to me as I was looking for a compact camera that I could take everywhere with me. I instantly fell in love with the colours it produced. I also really liked the ergonomics and how it handled. Unfortunately, the camera broke after a few months. The unique mechanism of turning the lens to switch on the camera jammed and it could no longer be used. Even though I only had the X10 for a short period of time it was long enough for me to fall for the charms of Fuji cameras.

I returned the camera to the company I bought it from and upgraded to the X30. Even though it was still a 12MP camera it had a newer sensor and other notable improvements over the X10 including an electronic viewfinder and a tilting screen. The image quality of the newer sensor was better but I missed the way the original sensor on the X10 rendered images. That camera gave photos a more film-like look.

Fuji X-T20 . Fuji XF60mmF2.4 @60mm . f/5.0 . 1/60″ . ISO 200

I used the X30 for a few months and then I moved on to the X-T10 before finally settling on the X-T20 with a selection of lenses and the X100s. I love this combination and I am very happy with the photos I am getting but I still missed that ‘look’ of the images from the original X Trans sensor.

I thought about buying another X10 but after a bit of research, I found that both the X-Pro1 and the X-E1 had the original X-Trans sensor. Both were widely available second hand but I decided to go for the X-E1 as it had a smaller form factor and was quite a bit cheaper than the X-Pro1. After all, I didn’t want to spend more money than I needed to chasing a feeling.

Fuji X-T20 . Fuji XF60mmF2.4 @60mm . f/5.6 . 1/60″ . ISO 200

The X-E1 has an APS-C sensor which is substantially larger than the one on the X10. When the camera originally launched back in 2012 it was used by professional photographers so I knew the image quality would be good. Another advantage was that I could use the collection of lenses I have built up over the last 2 years on the camera.

Having said that I usually just stick a prime lens on it and leave it at that. Either the 16mm f2.8 or 35mm f2. For my professional work, I use mainly zooms as it allows me the flexibility I need when shooting events etc so I was interested in exploring the world of primes.

Also, my pro camera with fast lenses is quite bulky and heavy whereas the X-E1 with a 35mm f2 lens is a nice compact and lightweight option. I could throw it in my camera bag and barely even notice it. The 35mm is a wonderful little lens and brings out the best of the older tech in the camera.

Fuji X-T20 . Fuji XF60mmF2.4 @60mm . f/5.6 . 1/60″ . ISO 200

I not going to delve into the technical aspects of the camera. There are many websites out there where you can read technical reviews. Suffice to say that as an eight year old camera it has certain quirks that have since been ironed out over the years with the release of newer cameras. The autofocus can be slow.

The EVF screen is quite low resolution in comparison to newer models. The rear LCD screen is fixed and does not articulate. It also does not come with some of the newer Fuji film simulations such as Classic Chrome.

Despite these shortcomings I love the form factor of the camera and overcoming the ‘quirks’ helped me to slow down a bit and take my time when composing shots. Which is not a bad thing. With the 35mm f2 lens the camera fits nicely in the hand. And, of course, it has the lovely analogue dials that make Fujis a joy to use.

Fuji X-E1 . Fuji XF35mmF2 @35mm . f/4.0 . 1/250″ . ISO 200

I bought this camera as I wanted a small camera that I could bring with me on professional jobs and use it to capture the locations I visited. The photos would be just for my own use. I am based in Ireland and most of my work is in Dublin. I live around an hour away so when heading up to the city I try to schedule a number of jobs for that day to make the best use of my time.

As Dublin is a relatively small city, I normally walk from one job to the next. This is where the X-E1 comes into its own. I have a backpack with all my other gear in it and keep the Fuji in hand, all the time keeping an eye out for photo opportunities as I stroll around the city streets. I love street photography but not in the traditional sense. I rarely photograph people but tend to concentrate on the actual architecture of whatever area I am in.

The goal is to try and capture the mood and look of any city or town I visit. Sometimes people will stray into the frame but they are rarely the main focus of the shot. I particularly like to get out and about early in the morning before the normal hustle and bustle of city life takes over.

All of the ‘street’ photos in this article were shot with the Fuji 35mm f2. I know that this is a very popular focal length and that the lens is a favourite with Fuji users but I had rarely used it. For these photos I decided to challenge myself by only using that lens. I edited the images in Lightroom, mainly perspective corrections to correct keystoning from shooting buildings from ground level and adjustments to bring out shadow details and correct the overall exposure.

I also shot everything handheld without the use of a tripod. I felt a tripod would slow me down. I prefer the more ‘run and gun’ style of photography. Shooting something that catches my eye and moving on.

Fuji X-E1 . Fuji XF35mmF2 @35mm . f/4.0 . 1/250″ . ISO 200

The image above is one of Dublin’s most popular shopping centres, Stephen’s Green Shopping Centre, and was one of the first I took using the X-E1. Under normal circumstances I would’ve gone for a wide angle lens here to capture the impressive design of the building but the 35mm focal length meant I was more ‘immersed’ in the scene and by concentrating on the clock it resulted in a composition I was happy with.

I love the detail that the camera captured despite the relatively low resolution 16MP sensor compared to more modern cameras. I know that the images suffer on closer inspection, but I am not a pixel peeper. I prefer my images to have a more organic look and feel to them and the X-E1 certainly worked in this regard.

Fuji X-E1 . Fuji XF35mmF2 @35mm . f/5.0 . 1/1000″ . ISO 200
Fuji X-E1 . Fuji XF35mmF2 @35mm . f/5.6 . 1/2000″ . ISO 200
Fuji X-E1 . Fuji XF35mmF2 @35mm . f/4.0 . 1/250″ . ISO 200
Fuji X-E1 . Fuji XF35mmF2 @35mm . f/4.0 . 1/500″ . ISO 200
Fuji X-E1 . Fuji XF35mmF2 @35mm . f/4.0 . 1/500″ . ISO 200

As I wander around the city I often find myself concentrating on the symmetry of building facades as the restrictions of the focal length mean that a lot of the time I can’t get back far enough to get the entire building into the shot. I have read a lot over the years about a prime lens being great for learning how to compose shots.

With the tighter focal length, I have to be a bit more imaginative. The shots above are from a number of different trips to the capital city in the month after I got the X-E1. I was very happy with the quality of the photos I was getting from this ‘old’ camera. And that original X-Trans magic was there. I love the colours that I get but I know that this is very subjective.

Fuji X-E1 . Fuji XF35mmF2 @35mm . f/4.0 . 1/1000″ . ISO 200
Fuji X-E1 . Fuji XF35mmF2 @35mm . f/5.0 . 1/500″ . ISO 200
Fuji X-E1 . Fuji XF35mmF2 @35mm . f/4.0 . 1/500″ . ISO 200

When I take photos where I have a wider field of view I am always impressed with the dynamic range that I am able to capture. I nearly always underexpose outdoor shots to protect the image detail in the brighter areas or highlights of an image.

I then recover the shadow detail when editing. With the X-E1 I am able to capture shots with really nice skies and still have plenty of detail in the foreground. I am surprised how flexible the RAW files were when it comes to editing.

Fuji X-E1 . Fuji XF35mmF2 @35mm . f/4.0 . 1/2000″ . ISO 200
Fuji X-E1 . Fuji XF35mmF2 @35mm . f/4.0 . 1/1000″ . ISO 200

Each time I visit Dublin I always bring the same combination of X-E1 and 35mm. I now really enjoy the 35mm focal length but more importantly, I am very happy with the images that the X-E1 is producing. I had generally been shooting mainly outdoors but recently I happened to be working close to the National Gallery of Ireland. This is one of my favourite places in Dublin. I thought this would be a good opportunity to test out the image quality indoors.

Fuji X-E1 . Fuji XF35mmF2 @35mm . f/2.0 . 1/250″ . ISO 640
Fuji X-E1 . Fuji XF35mmF2 @35mm . f/2.0 . 1/250″ . ISO 640

Again all of these were shot handheld. The max ISO I used was ISO640. The image detail was perfectly acceptable. These images are only ever going to be used social media so they are more than good enough. Also, the famed Fuji colour rendering resulted in very nice pics which do justice to this beautiful building.

Fuji X-E1 . Fuji XF35mmF2 @35mm . f/5.6 . 1/125″ . ISO 200
Fuji X-E1 . Fuji XF35mmF2 @35mm . f/5.6 . 1/500″ . ISO 200
Fuji X-E1 . Fuji XF35mmF2 @35mm . f/2.0 . 1/500″ . ISO 200

I really enjoy using the X-E1. As I said above the camera just feels really nice in the hand and combined with the 35mm f2 it is a great lightweight package that produces great images. I have even started to bring it out around my hometown when out walking for exercise or just to clear my head. It’s light enough that I barely know I have it with me but it’s there when I spot something of interest.

Fuji X-T20 . Fuji XF35mmF2 @35mm . f/2.0 . 1/125″ . ISO 1250

One last thing. I bought this camera because of the film-like feel of the images that it produces. While looking at some articles about the camera I found out that I could buy old vintage lens and use an adapter to mount them. I got an old Pentacon 50mm. It is a completely manual lens, which means that I have to set the focus myself.

The focus peaking tech in the camera, although quite primitive, still helps with this. I shoot a lot of black and white images with this combination and between the way the sensor renders images and the imperfections of these older lenses the resulting photos have a timeless quality. It is definitely something to consider if you buy this camera.

Fuji X-E1 . Fuji XF35mmF2 @35mm . f/2.5 . 1/60″ . ISO 1000
Fuji X-E1 . Fuji XF35mmF2 @35mm . 1/500″ . ISO 200
Fuji X-E1 . Fuji XF35mmF2 @35mm . 1/250″ . ISO 200

All in all, I love the Fuji X-E1. It has its quirks. It can sometimes work against me when I am trying to get a particular shot. It makes me slow down and take my time when composing a shot, and this is no bad thing at all. The camera can be bought very cheaply on second-hand sites and combined with the Fuji 35mm f2 produces beautiful images.

It would be a great set up for someone looking to move up from taking photos with their phone and take their photography a bit more seriously. The fact that it has an electronic viewfinder which shows a live view of what the camera is seeing is very helpful for a beginner looking to learn how to use manual controls and the analogue dials just make this that bit easier. So, yes, the camera is worth considering in 2020.

"I am an award-winning professional photographer based in Tullamore, Co Offaly.  I am also a member of the Irish Professional Photographers & Videographers Association. My photographic journey began back in 2008 when I got my first iPhone. I started out by taking snapshots of my children.  As the old saying goes 'The best camera is the one you have with you' and I always had my phone so I was able to capture all those candid and impromptu moments of early childhood. I started my photography business in January 2018 and in my first year, I was accepted as a member of the Irish Professional Photographers and Videographers Association.  I also won the Photographer of the Year Award at the 2018 Midlands 103 Customer Service Awards. Photography is not a job to me, it is my passion.  When I am not taking photos for clients I am constantly taking photos for myself in order to keep learning and improving.  When I am taking photos for myself or for my clients my goal is to use the images I create to tell a story and give the viewer an emotional connection to the photos."

15 Comments

  1. I don’t know about the X-E1, but your images make me think I need to use my 35mm f/2 lens more often. Every time I use it I am very impressed by its quality, but I suffer from too many choices… paralysis by analysis.

    Maybe it’s time for that one-lens deprivation exercise. It certainly works for you.

    Again, very nice photos.

  2. Paul, my sentiments exactly! Agreed that the X-E1 causes you to slow down a little. And I too love that. Out of all the cameras I own, the X-E1 feels special somehow, I have bonded with it I guess. Thanks for a great article and photos.

    1. Thanks Rodney. Good to hear you enjoyed it. There is just something about the camera that makes using it a pleasure. And I really like the photos it produces.

  3. My main camera bodies are the XT3 with a collection of zooms and the X100V. I recently purchased a second hand XF18 f1.4 to repurpose a XE 2 that I own. My intention is to use this combination to capture a more organic and film like look, just like you stated in your article.
    I have an old XE1 body that I have been keeping for sentimental reasons. It was my first Fujifilm camera and my wife gifted it to me on my birthday. There was something very pleasing about the images it redered. After reading your article, I think I will try out the 18mm prime on this body and see what we can capture wuth it.

    1. That sounds like a great idea. I don’t think you will be disappointed. I don’t have the 18mm f1.4 but I am definitely going to look into getting one 🙂

    2. Just curious…. 18mm f/1.4

      Do you mean 16mm f/1.4 or 18mm f/2?

      If it is the 16mm it is a great lens. I have it, but also the 16mm f/2.8. I bought the f/2.8 only because the f1.4 was right at the edge of too large on the smaller Fujis, like the X-E class.

  4. Dear Paul. I owned the XE1 and sold it for the XE2. They share the same sensor which like you, I like very much: the “filmlike/organic” look. I also own the XPRO2, but stil prefer the XE 1/2 pictures. New camera’s seem to get punchier, have more contrast, more detail etc., but seem stepping away from natural reality. Looking more “digital”/artificial. On my XPRO2 I turn down sharpness, clarity and contrast a bit, to have a more XE1/2look. I actualy use the XE2 as reference for my self-made RAW-presets (for the XPRO2) in Lightroom. When you shoot the same picture in JPG with the XE 1/2 and the XPRO2 you immediatly see the differences (Adam Bonn experiemented with some exaples in his website) Thanks for your article. Ton van Schaik

  5. Hi Paul
    I smiled when I read your article as my journey has been remarkably similar to yours i.e. started with the X10 in the Fuji X-system years ago, went to the XE-1 and now am on the X-Pro2 with a range of glass, but chiefly the 35mm f1.4 which is sublime. I have just bought some inexpensive Pentax-M (Asahi Opt) lens (50mm f1.7 and a 200mm f4.0) which are very sharp too. Try them if you get a chance. I have kept all the Fuji bodies I’ve bought (except for the X10) as they are wonderful cameras and the Fuji colours are just magnificent. I am not a fan of ‘pixel-peepable’ pin-sharp images and my Fuji’s deliver beautiful film-like keepers. Oh, I am also from Ireland too. So it’s a small world (made even smaller with COVID!). Thanks for sharing, keep enjoying the Fuji magic. Best, Paul.

  6. I got into Fujifilm last year with a used X-Pro1 — about $300 — a couple of manual Chinese lenses, and adapters for my 39mm and Olympus OM lens. It’s exactly as you say, there’s just this cool film-like vibe to the images. I’m not sure how much of that is just the nature of the image, how much is using old Sonnar lens formulas, and how much is just the need to take the same time one did with film, and make some of the mistakes. I’m pretty sure my next Fujifilm body will be one of the XEs, though I’d love a bit more viewfinder resolution… and built in diopter correction!

  7. Hi Paul, I can see from your photographs that you have talent – I love the Abbey Court photo – and can create stunning imagery with an eight-year-old camera. Your article is a breath of fresh air from GAS fuelled articles.

    Although it took me several years to make the switch, a rented Fuji X-E1 (2013) was my introduction to the X system. I noticed some limitations at that time but nothing that prevented me from getting the shots I wanted.

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