A retro-looking sharpshooter

It seems to be mirrorless camera season right now, with most of the leading camera manufacturers releasing products in this segment. Sony has refreshed its NEX series and Canon, too, finally came to the mirrorless camera party with the EOS-M. And now it is the turn of Fujifilm which has released its XE-1 in the market, a slightly watered down--but more affordable--version of the very high-profile X-Pro1, which was released last year.

FujiFilm's X-E1

Fujifilm seems to have a thing for retro-style cameras when it comes to design, and to its credit, it is one of the companies that actually manages to pull if off pretty well. The X-E1 looks right out of the eighties with its box-like appearance, and its faux leather covered body (we got the all-black model, but retro lovers should try the silver and black one). No, it is certainly not the most compact mirrorless camera we have seen--it is about five inches long, about three-inches tall and an inch and a half thick and tips the scales at a very healthy 350 grams, and that is minus the 18-55mm kit lens. That said, it certainly is lighter and more compact than a DSLR.

And it manages to pack in a stack of controls too. Unlike Sony, which prefers to go with a relatively simple interface for its mirrorless cameras, Fujifilm has pretty much thrown the kitchen sink at the user in terms of dials and buttons on the camera. There are two dials on the top, and before you ask, neither is for the shooting modes one is accustomed to seeing--one is for shutter speed and the other for aperture. Put both on auto and you are in full mode, else if you tweak the aperture, you are in aperture priority mode, and if you set the shutter speed, you are in shutter priority. There is also a shutter and on/off button at the top and a pop-up flash as well as a hot shoe for adding an external one if you prefer that.

The back has a 2.8-inch LCD, on the left of which are buttons for play (for reviewing images and videos); drive, which lets you switch between modes like still, motion panorama and movies; a button for setting the metering area and yet another for setting the active focus point. There is also a button near the top for activating the flash, and another for switching between the LCD and electronic viewfinder. On the right of the LCD is a menu button with four directional keys around it (one of which also moves the camera into macro mode), a Q button for tweaking shooting settings (self-timer, AF mode, flash, etc.) and yet another button for information displayed on the back. Round that off with a customisable Fn button at the top, a less than intuitive menu system and you can see that the X-E1 is not really one of those cameras that you can pick up and start shooting with within seconds, even if you have messed with your share of DSLRs and prosumers! 

Get the hang of all the settings, however, and the X-E1 can serve up some very good shots, courtesy the 16.3-megapixel X-Trans CMOS sensor. We were particularly impressed by the results we got in low light conditions, where detail was rather good, and noise relatively low. The 18-55mm kit lens is more than adequate as long as you do not want to get into high zoom mode and some of the close ups we got were excellent in terms of colours and detail. We would have liked a more solid shutter button and a better front grip, though. Tthere were times when we felt a slight lag while taking pictures. And call us old fogies but we prefer our viewfinders in the middle of the camera rather than on its left, although that does make it easier for one handed shooting. Still, when it comes to picture quality, the camera delivers, once you understand its moves.

All of which makes the Fujifilm X-E1 the kind of camera that is more likely to appeal to those who are already familiar with DSLRs and love playing around with settings and controls. The typical mirrorless camera crowd (which seeks DSLR-like quality in a relatively compact body) will, however, find it just a bit intimidating in terms of interface. There is also the matter of price. At Rs 89,000, the X-E1 is definitely very much in DSLR territory. And actually, we reckon it is the DSLR users who are likely to be more attracted to it, with its plethora of controls. This is a mirrorless camera that is more DSLR than point and shoot. And if you are willing to be patient with it, it
will deliver.

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