Using the X-E1

The X-E1's body is slightly smaller and shorter and lighter than the flagship X-Pro1, which is a nice change for the hobbyist shooter. Not just the body, but also the main exposure controls are truly retro in design, with a manual shutter speed dial and, in the case of the 18-55mm zoom lens, a mechanical-style aperture ring. A manual switch determines whether the lens ring is enabled for aperture adjustments or set to Auto. If it is set to Auto, aperture is set automatically, and the ring is disabled.

There's no actual mechanical connection between the ring and the aperture, and you can rotate the ring through 360-degrees with no hard stops at maximum or minimum aperture, but when the ring's function is set to aperture, one detent movement of the ring changes the aperture by 1/3EV. In contrast, the X-mount prime lenses have a dedicated ring with markings and 1/3-stop increments, with a setting for Auto aperture marked with a red 'A.'

The X-E1's physical design is not overly ergonomic, and aside from the slight ramp on the front for your fingers, the X-E1 feels unapologetically mechanical, which is part of its charm. Regardless of the lens mounted, the X-E1 is well balanced, and the body itself is surprisingly lightweight. Body-only it feels less substantial than the X-Pro1, but with a lens mounted its heft is just about right for the size. Only the 18-55mm zoom, which weighs almost as much as the camera, really makes its presence felt.

In your hand

The X-E1 is smaller than the X-Pro1, but its handgrip and prominent thumb 'hook' provides a pretty secure hold even one-handed. The aperture ring on the lens encourages two-handed operation anyway, even when using a prime.
While we had no problem getting a good purchase on the X-E1's rectangular body and small grip, when we handed the camera and HG-XE1 grip combo around the office, everyone agreed it made an improvement.

One major drawback to the HG-XE1 grip (see image above) is having to remove it to change the battery and card; it really provides that Leica M9 experience, but not in a good way. It also tends to make the camera fall forward onto the lens when placed on a flat surface, and when holding the camera with grip attached, your hand is forced off to the right, which might be a little uncomfortable at first, but feels normal after a while.

Electronic Viewfinder

The X-E1's electronic finder is key to its operation, and the 2.36M dot OLED panel is likely the same unit as Sony uses in the NEX-7 and NEX-6 (and several of its SLT cameras), and therefore pretty well state-of-the-art. But the panel itself is far from the whole story, and Fujifilm is talking up the optics used in the eyepiece too. Two glass lenses, including one dual-sided aspheric lens, give an impressively clear and sharp view into the corners of the frame, and a relatively long eye point of 23mm makes the finder comfortable for those with glasses.

The optics are lower magnification than those used by Sony, and offer a viewfinder image about the same size as from the X-Pro1's (and therefore slightly larger than the E-M5's). Fujifilm's live preview image is also lower in contrast than Sony's, which means the X-E1's viewfinder is a little less prone to blocking-up shadows in bright conditions, at the expense of some 'punchiness' in the general viewing experience. This has no effect on the final image, but does make composition easier in contrasty scenes.

When you raise the viewfinder to your eye, the infrared sensor detects this and switches to viewfinder mode. The speed of switching is fast enough to make for a good user experience, but we've found that with a strong sun behind you, the eye sensor doesn't always know when you're holding your eye to the finder, and can operate erratically.

The X-E1's EVF uses a 2.36M-dot OLED panel. On the right of the eyepiece is a proximity sensor that allows the camera to switch automatically between the EVF and LCD, or you can use the 'View Mode' button to switch manually. On the left is a diopter adjustment wheel.

Detail resolution is very high, as we'd expect from the specification, although like all EVFs, diagonal lines at a shallow angle to horizontal/vertical do display some 'stair stepping'. The X-E1's EVF also becomes somewhat laggy in poor light, a little more so than we've seen from the Sony NEX-6 but we wouldn't call it problematic unless you're trying to follow reasonably fast movement. Interestingly, the X-E1's live view image freezes and pixelates for a fraction of a second when AF is acquired, which can be distracting, and gives the impression of a lower-resolution 'experience' when composing a shot.

Setting exposure mode and shooting parameters

Setting both lens and shutter speed to Auto is equivalent to selecting Program mode. Shutter and Aperture priority are set by setting lens or shutter dial to Auto, making a manual selection with one or the other; and Manual mode is equally obvious: setting both controls manually. Couldn't be easier, nor more familiar to those accustomed to working with analog-style cameras designed in the last century. While it might seem quaint to some, it's quite logical to have the controls for the lens on the lens, while the shutter controls are on the camera body. Photography students would likely benefit from the distinction, too.

Shutter speed dial
Aperture dial
Aperture Priority
Sets aperture
Shutter Priority
Sets shutter speed
Sets shutter speed
Sets aperture

In Program mode, you can shift the camera's chosen exposure parameters towards a larger aperture/faster shutter speed or smaller aperture/slower speeds using the Left/Right keys; shifted values show on-screen in yellow. Program shift is unavailable if Auto ISO or Auto DR is set.

The Fujifilm X-E1 doesn't have an ISO dial or even a dedicated ISO button. However; you can assign ISO to the programmable Fn button beside the shutter for one-touch access, or access it quickly from the Quick Menu. We'd like to have the option of changing it directly using the rear dial, which does nothing in normal shooting.

Quick Menu

Pressing the 'Q' button on the back of the Fujifilm X-E1 brings up a Quick Menu, where you can change 16 options including ISO, DR, Film Simulation and the self timer. This isn't exactly a ground-breaking concept, but Fujifilm's implementation scores heavily for clarity of layout and simplicity of operation. The icons are large and easy enough to understand; once selected their function is displayed at the top of the screen. You simply move around the panel using the 4-way controller, then spin the rear dial to change the selected setting. The full set of functions available is listed in the table below.

Fujifilm X-E1 Q Menu options
 Select Custom Setting  ISO  Dynamic Range  White Balance
 Noise Reduction  Image Size  Image Quality  Film Simulation
 Highlight Tone  Shadow Tone  Color  Sharpness
 Self Timer  AF Mode  Flash Mode  LCD Brightness

The various settings are interdependent, which can be confusing at first until you know what's going on. For example you can't select expanded DR settings at ISO 200, or use extended ISOs when shooting RAW, and have to change the conflicting setting first. Then, of course, you have to remember to change it back again afterwards; for example it's all-too-easy to forget to re-enable RAW after using the extended ISOs.

In movie mode, the Q menu gets dramatically pared-down to just four options; Movie Mode (i.e. Full HD or HD), white balance, film simulation, and LCD brightness.

Customizable Fn Button

The Fujifilm X-E1 has a large button labeled 'Fn' beside the shutter, to which you can assign your most-used function (we tend to use it for ISO normally - see comments above). Its exact behavior depends upon the selected function, either toggling directly between alternative settings, or bringing-up a sub-menu of available options.

The currently-assigned function can be quickly changed by pressing the Fn button down and and holding it for a second, which calls up the selection menu shown above. This can be really useful, for example to quickly access depth-of-field preview or multiple-exposure mode. The available options are listed in the table below.

Fujifilm X-E1 Fn button options
 Function  Type  Notes
 Multiple Exposure  Toggle  Turns multiple exposure on/off
 Preview Depth of Field  Toggle  Sets lens to taking aperture to preview depth of field
 ISO*  Activate/
 In OVF, highlights ISO - change with dial or L/R keys
 In EVF/LCD, activates ISO submenu, change with up/down keys
 Self Timer*  Submenu  These settings each bring up a submenu listing available options.

 Image Size*  Submenu
 Image Quality*  Submenu
 Dynamic Range*  Submenu
 Film Simulation*  Submenu
 White Balance*  Submenu
 AF Mode*  Submenu
 Select Custom Setting*  Submenu
 Movie  Toggle  Enters/exits movie mode - press shutter to start/stop recording
 RAW  Toggle  Turns RAW recording on/off for one shot
 *Also available from Q menu

Silent mode

The X-E1 offers Fujifilm's familiar 'Silent Mode', which is turned on and off by a 'long press' of the DISP button. It's actually something of a misnomer, as it doesn't just disable the electronic operational noises, but also the AF illuminator and and any external flash. Obviously, though, it can't disable the sound of the mechanical shutter - but luckily this is relatively quiet and discreet.

You can independently turn off all of the electronic noises using the 'Operation Vol' option in the Setup Menu (tab 2), which you'll probably want to do anyway as straight out of the box, the X-E1 insists on quietly beeping at you each and every time you press a button. You can also disable the AF illuminator in the Shooting Menu (tab4), and set the flash mode to 'Suppressed' from the Q menu. (Or, of course, simply turn the flash unit off.)

Shutter noise

One important consideration for the X-E1's target market is operational noise, and especially the shutter; one great attraction of this type of camera is that with no flapping mirror, it can in principle be rather quieter than an SLR. Many mirrorless cameras, however, have shutters that are sufficiently noisy to offer little advantage in this respect.

The X-E1 still uses a focal-plane shutter, so inevitably is louder than the lens shutter-equipped X100 / X100S, but it's quieter than most of its mirrorless contemporaries (with the exception of the Olympus OM-D E-M5). The shutter sound is also relatively low-pitched, and therefore less intrusive. This means that you'll be able to use the X-E1 in situations where an SLR would be unwelcome, although the X100 / S is still a better choice when the camera has to be as close to silent as possible.

Electronic level: Shooting from the hip

Life is less interesting viewed from the proverbial five-foot-nine-inch perspective, and a live view camera with a built-in on-screen level really helps find more than a few different perspectives without straining your back. The X-E1's level isn't perfect, nor does it give you any information about pitch - your upward or downward tilt - but maintaining a relatively straight horizon line is half the battle when using the rear LCD to frame your images. we did find, however, that the level isn't always spot-on, so we recommend other solutions when getting an absolutely straight horizon is of crucial importance.


We encountered a few bugs during our time with the X-E1, but far fewer than we experienced with earlier X-series cameras. The Drive mode button on our sample camera occasionally stopped working, which was fixed with a quick restart - at other times exposure would simply be wrong, either under or overexposing every image. In those cases, removing and replacing the battery cleared the problem.

Not exactly a bug, but vexing nonetheless - the exposure compensation dial on our X-E1 is too easy to rotate by accident. Often, simply handling the camera carelessly, or letting it bump against a bag or clothing was enough to nudge the dial out of its neutral '0' position.

Halfway through the review, after verifying that accidental exposure compensation had affected too many shots, we employed a bit of Scotch tape to the dial and squashed that 'bug'. It's easy to remove when necessary, and cheap to replace when it gets worn out. Fujifilm claimed to have tightened up the dial on the recently-announced X100S, which can only be a good thing.