Shooting with the X-E2

by Richard Butler

Much of my shooting with the X-E2 so far came on a recent holiday to the UK, where its size and feature-set ended up being really well suited to travelling light but still getting solid results. The overall impression from my shooting is that the X-E2 isn't hugely different to the X-E1 (which is already a very good camera), but that improvements had been made.

While travelling, where luggage-space comes at a premium, the X-E2's relatively small size - even with the kit zoom - made it easy to sling over my shoulder or into the weekend bag I was often living out of, meaning it was with me for the entire journey. The weather may have been terrible (to the point that weather warnings were being issued), meaning I wasn't able to capture much of the scenery of my trip, but the small size and knowledge that it would produce good results encouraged me to document time spent with friends I rarely get to see.

XF 23mm F1.4
1/52th sec, F2
ISO 6400 (DR 200%)

One of the things that contributes the X-E2's relatively high price tag is the 18-55mm F2.8-4.0 lens it tends to come kitted with. Personally I find the majority of my shooting is in the 28-90mm equivalent range, so it's really nice to have something a cut above the built-to-a-minimal-price plastic zoom to work with. It's extremely fast to focus (though in circumstances of low light and low contrast there are some missed shots) and I've been happy with the results I've got from it.

As one of the only lenses I had access to, the 18-55mm made a great all-round lens, and I rarely found myself switching over to the 23mm F1.4 lens that I'd also taken with me (despite it being a lovely lens, and probably my favorite single focal length). In almost all situations, the zoom let me get the shot I wanted to achieve, so it stayed on the camera. Only the recent announcement of a 40-150mm F2.8 for the X system made me think it would have been nice to have hauled another lens around with me.

XF 18-55mm F2.8-4.0 OIS
1/320th sec, F5.6
ISO 200 (DR 100%)

And, just to top it off, the combination of in-camera Raw conversion and Wi-Fi meant I was able to get quick prints made, as I went along, and share the events of my trip via Flickr and Facebook, as I went. Yes, you can do that with a smartphone, but you can't match the low-light and portrait performance of an APS-C camera with a good lens and Wi-Fi.

For example: because I only had a single SD card with me on my trip, I choose to exclusively in Raw and in-camera process when needed - leading me to discover a small but telling improvement. On the X-E1 (and the initial X-E2 firmware), when you re-process a Raw file in the camera, it then jumps to the JPEG that's just been created. On the X-E2, it now returns you to the Raw you've just processed. I shot around 600 images on my trip, meaning I was often trying to make quick JPEGs of images I'd taken one hundred or so shots before. It was really nice to not have to keep scrolling through those hundreds of images to find the two shots I'd taken five minutes apart.

In-camera re-processing of Raw files isn't the optimal way of dealing with large batches of Raw files, but as well as making versions for sharing and printing, it's a good way to make the most of the camera's rather pleasant color response and to make use of its Film Simulation modes, without having to constantly change mode at the point of shooting.

XC 16-50mm F3.5-5.6
1/4th sec, f/8
ISO 6400 (DR 400%)
XC 16-50mm F3.5-5.6
1/8th sec, f/8
ISO 6400 (DR 400%)
Although I used the 18-55mm F2.8-4.0 for the majority of my shots, I did find myself wanting something a bit wider, from time-to-time. Thankfully I was able to borrow the cheaper XC 16-50mm for these couple of shots.

Because of the very large brightness differences these shots required, I switched to DR400% and, using the in-camera JPEG converter, was later able to generate JPEGs that made use of the high dynamic range tone-curve, without the need to find a computer.

I feel it's this attention to detail that meant I enjoyed the X-E2's handling almost to the point of not thinking about it - in most situations the camera worked well enough that my concentration remained on the subject I was trying to shoot. However, this isn't to say I felt disengaged from the camera - its reliance on dedicated controls ensures you feel like you're playing the primary role in the photography. Autofocus was fast enough that I rarely had to think about it - it was only the prospect of small children running around that left both me and the camera a little out of our depths.

As you'd expect from a mirrorless camera, the electronic viewfinder and rear screen offer an identical shooting experience, and I found myself using each system roughly half the time. The other oft-overlooked benefit (that only really became apparent while reviewing the Nikon Df) is how dependable the metering and white balance has become on mirrorless cameras. I'm sure part of it comes from the fact you see a color and brightness correct version of the image you're about to shoot (and hence can apply the desired amount of exposure compensation, where necessary), but I returned with almost no unexpectedly mis-exposed images.

In common with recent X-series cameras, the X-E2 uses the 'down' button to initiate focus-point selection. My familiarity with the original X100 means I prefer to use the 'AE' button on the left to do this (which you can do, by holding the button down and reconfiguring it). I'm assured I'm alone in this.

As someone who's shot with an X100 quite a lot, it was unfamiliar to press the 'down' button to engage AF point selection mode. I personally prefer the X100's system of holding a button on the left of the camera and using the four-way controller to move the point (a preference my colleague Andy insists is a character defect). Thankfully, even if you're the owner of an older X-series who is similarly easily frustrated, you can redefine either of the lower-two left-hand buttons to select AF point. Ideally, of course, you'd just be able to directly select the AF point, rather than engaging a mode first.

XF 18-55mm F2.8-4.0
1.5 sec, f/10
ISO 2000 (DR 200%)
Being able to quickly produce a JPEG of this image, Wi-Fi it to my phone and post it on Facebook let me illustrate my trip much more effectively than using the phone's camera.

The other aspect of the interface I felt would benefit from a re-work is the Q menu. Overall it's pretty good, but there were a couple of occasions I wanted to apply some negative flash exposure compensation and had to rifle through the main menu to do so. It's a setting I change much more often than, say, JPEG sharpening, so it'd be nice to see the Q menu re-prioritized. The only other odd omission from the Q menu is Face Detection mode. Again engaging it requires a main-menu dive and, since it over-rides the ability to specify an AF point, it has too much of an impact on the camera's behavior for you to leave it on, when you're not using it.

The X-E2's panorama feature seemed like the ideal to capture the view down to my hometown.

However, both of these features are ones I only occasionally found the need to use, so I wouldn't say either is a significant problem. Most of the time I was able to get on with shooting. With ISO assigned to Fn1 and Dynamic Range on Fn2, I was able to quickly over-ride (or re-define) Auto ISO and tweak the camera's settings if I wanted to make sure the camera was capturing high-contrast scenes. So, whether or not you feel it needs adjusting to your own tastes, it can offer a control setup that hands-on creative photographers will really appreciate.

Overall, I felt the camera and I got along with minimal fuss - which is one of the main things I look for in a traveling companion.