Sunday, August 25, 2013

Retro Chic: Comparing the Fuji X-Pro1 and X-E1

I have been using the Fuji X-Pro1 since it first came out, and have to say I am more than pleased with the the way this camera works, not to mention the excellent quality of its images. When if first came out, the X-Pro1 drew some criticism for is slow focus. In the interim, Fuji has remained faithful to the brand and has continually issued firmware updates that have improved the speed of auto-focus along with adding sophisticated focus peaking for improved manual focus.

In addition to consistently introducing new lenses, both primes and zooms, to support this system, Fuji has also introduced new models that can also use the same set of accessories. While the X-Pro1 remains the more expensive flagship model, there are now three other models below it that use the same lenses. The bottom two models, the X-A1, and new X-M1 are specifically aimed at entry level users, but the X-E1,which is the model just below the X-Pro1 shares many of the features of its bigger brother but lacks its hybrid viewfinder. Because these cameras are essentially the same inside I am not going to present comparative images from them. The results would be the same. Instead, I will concentrate on the different features of each camera to see why someone would want one over the other. Of course another interesting consideration would be to own both.

Part of the success of the Fujifilm X-series cameras is their handsome retro look. In the photo above is the top of the line X-Pro1 on the left, with an X-E1 resting next to it. A post-WWII Hallicrafter S-38 shortwave radio serves as the backdrop. You can almost imagine these cameras being used by spies or journalists in the post-war years. 
In the days of shooting 35mm film, most pro photographers would carry two camera bodies -- sometimes more -- with different lenses on them. We have gotten away from this in the digital age. One reason is expense. Digital cameras are much more expensive that film camera bodies were. Another reason is that zoom lenses are now more prevalent. So one camera body with a mid range zoom can cover a very large area. In the earlier days of film there were no zooms so a photographer wanting to change quickly from one focal length to another had to have at least two cameras with different lenses mounted on them. A good example of this is the Leica M2 and M3. The M2 had viewfinder frames for 35mm, 50mm, and 90mm, while the M3 had frames for 50mm, 90mm, and 135mm. The cameras were meant to be used together, not separately. The Fuji X system may be tending in that direction when we note the large number of excellent prime lenses that Fuji is making for it.

The principle difference between these two cameras is their viewfinders. The X-Pro1 has a hybrid finder that can switch between optical and electronic. Those of us who grew up with rangefinder cameras are familiar with optical viewfinders and their frame lines corresponding to the lens mounted on the camera. Modern electronics have done away with all that by introducing a small video image in place of the actual image in the viewfinder. However -- and this is a big HOWEVER -- an electronic image behaves very differently from an optical image of a scene.

An electronic image has a lag time that can never approach the speed at which an actual visual scene is changing. Coupled with this is the lag in processing time. So, if your camera is set for motor drive instead of single shot, you will experience what I call, "image drag". The electronic image cannot keep refreshing itself in real time. So what you are seeing in the electronic finder as the camera clips along at 3 or 6 frames per second, is a jerky, blurred image of the scene that is impossible to compose. This is the main reason I am not a big fan of electronic viewfinders.

The Fuji X-Pro1 has a hybrid finder.  It can be either electronic, or optical with framelines, your choice with the flick of a switch. I happen to like this feature, particularly for the reasons outlined in the paragraph above. That said, electronic finders are getting better -- meaning clearer with faster refresh. As these things go, Fuji's X camera finders perform well until you hit a fast changing subject and have to switch to 6fps. In which case, you might as well give up all hope of seeing your actual subject through the electronic viewfinder as you move the camera moves to follow it.

It may not look like much here, but the X-E1 on the bottom feels much smaller in your hands than the X-Pro1 above. 
I think I am getting more used to the electronic finders available in mirrorless cameras today, and have to admit it is sometimes nice to be able to precisely align elements in a composition, something that is impossible with an optical finder. I include the sun in many of my photographs. Usually it is peaking through some tree branches and bursts into a soft star. Without actually seeing this scene through the viewfinder it would be almost impossible to accomplish such an alignment. So I have a love/hate relationship to the electronic viewfinder. This is an area where I hope to see improvement as digital cameras continue to improve.

One reason I like having an electronic viewfinder is for capturing images like this, where the precise placement of the sun just peaking out from behind a leaf is extremely critical. A shot like this would be completely hit or miss with an optical finder.
The sensors and functions of these two cameras are almost identical. They both have a 16.0MP APS-C X-Trans CMOS sensor delivering and ISO range of 100-6400 in RAW, and up to 25600 in JPG. The sensor is uniquely designed to eliminate moiré so no low-pass filter is needed. This improves resolution.

In low light, the Fuji X cameras are top of the breed. While many cameras today boast of high ISO abilities of 6400-25600, in most cases images above 1600 need a lot of post processing work to make them acceptable for large print usage. Fuji X cameras are the only models I know of where images shot at 25600 are usable with only minor tweaking. One reason is that above ISO 6400 the Fuji X cameras only take a smaller image and in jpg format only. Nonetheless, this is Fuji being practical. Better to acknowledge the limitations and cap them where they are truly possible than promise a low light capability that is unattainable.

Below are a series of downloadable high res files shot on the Fuji X-E1 from ISO 400-25,600. You can judge the results for yourself.

High resolution versions of this test image done at various ISO's are available using the links below. Although taken with the X-E1, both camera models produce the same results.
Click here to download a high res version of ISO 400
Click here to download a high res version of ISO 800
Click here to download a high res version of ISO 1600
Click here to download a high res version of ISO 3200
Click here to download a high res version of ISO 6400
Click here to download a high res version of ISO 12800
Click here to download a high res version of ISO 25600

The LCD panel on the X-E1 (right) is only slightly smaller that that of the X-Pro1 (left).  This is to accommodate the smaller body.
The dials and menus of the two cameras are similar but somewhat different in size. You can see the foot print of the pop-up flash of the X-E1.
The eyepieces of the two cameras are different. The X-Pro1 (left) does not have a vision adjustment like the dial on the X-E1. Instead you need to buy screw in diopter correction lens for the finder.

Conclusion:

In terms of image results, these two camera models are equal. The only differences are in a few of the features and, consequently, in the size. Being a newer model, the X-E1 came out with an improved auto-focus ability that Fuji has been attempting to correct with firmware updates in the X-Pro1.

The biggest difference between the two cameras is that the X-E1 has an electronic viewfinder only, but it is an improved OLED version with higher resolution than the X-Pro1 LCD electronic finder. The lack of a hybrid finder allows the X-E1 to be much smaller than the X-Pro1. If you can live with an electronic finder only,  the X-E1 is probably the best bet. It is smaller, has a better electronic finder, and includes a pop-up flash. If you are like me, and occasionally need an optical finder, then the larger X-Pro1 is the way to go, keeping in mind that it is also more expensive. At the time of this writing an X-Pro1 camera body is selling for $1199, while an X-E1 is $799. That is a big difference, almost enough to pay for a lens.

I like both of these cameras, and if this were my only camera system, and I could afford a second body, I would opt to have both as a throwback to the early 35mm film days when working pros usually carried two cameras, each with a different lens to make for quicker shooting. Ahhh...nothing like the good old days.

12 comments:

  1. Thanks for the comparison.
    By the way, when you place sun inside the frame what metering mode (spot, center-weighted, Matrix Metering) do you use?

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  2. I use matrix metering but usually open it up one to two stops depending on how bright it is.

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  3. Nice comparison. With the deal on Amazon right now I picked up the 35mm at $150 off and put that towards the X-Pro. I own the X-E1 and really like it but like you do miss the optical view finder from time to time AND I needed a back up body and figured, what the heck get the X-Pro instead of another X-E1

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  4. All is ok but at first place i put your vintage shots. I like a lot your pics. Thanks.

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  5. Great read here!
    I use my X-E1 with the 18-55 and the 35 F1.4. I am waiting for the 10-24 F4 which will complete my travel kit. When that happens, the oft used D700, D800 and the myriad of 2.8 glass will be on eBay faster than you can say "X"
    Later,
    J

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  6. Hello Tom, thanks for the comparison. In spite of the higher resolutie of the X-E1 EVF, I find the refresh rate of the EVF from the X-E1 slower and more irritating the than de EVF from the X-Pro1.

    What is your experience?

    Demian

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    1. Hi Demian. With more resolution the X-E1 EVF has more work to do processing its image. This could lead to the slower refresh you mention. I didn't find it to be that much different, but I think all current EVF models are much too slow to refresh when using the motor drive. Can't wait for the new X-E2 and X-Pro2 models which are rumored to have dual processors to speed up the refresh.

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  7. Nice read. You mentioned about a model X-A1 in your blog. Do you have more info about it? Is it for real? Thanks mate!

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  8. I don't have any more info on the X-A1 than what I have read on the internet. Looks like it will be entry level, APS-C but not with X-trans. Also, no viewfinder.

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  9. Thank you for the comparison. I am currently deciding which of them .... I preffered X-E1, but now I am almost sure it will be the X-Pro1 because of its viewfinder

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  10. I am living "the good old days" by using both models as my travel companions. My usual set-up is usually the XPro 1 with the 18-55mm (since it can now be used with the optical finder) and the XE 1 with the 55-200mm, I am still planing to buy the 10-24mm to round up the set. I have been a loyal Canon user since the 70s, so I can now dust my old manual lenses and use it with these wonderful digital bodies. I still have my Canon EOS, Mamiya RZ and Sinar P systems for my commercial studio work, but I find that these X cameras do compliment them for real world - 'street style' applications.

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