The Fuji X-E1 has been pure gold for me. But there's one caveat, and it's a big one.
Just over a year ago I sold my Nikon D7000, along with some great lenses - the Nikkor 18-105mm f/3.5-5.6G ED, the Nikkor 50mm f/1.4, the amazing Nikkor 80-200 f/2.8 ED, and a handful of SB-700 speed lights. A setup that was about as good as you could get for a crop sensor.
My decision came from the realization that photography wasn't going to be about making money. I needed to step back to taking photos that I loved, for myself. To slow down and enjoy the learning experience. That meant a smaller and less "professional" setup that I could more easily tote anywhere. A tough decision to make.
And so I purchased my Fujifilm X-E1.
That decision has turned out to be pure gold.
I have grown more as a photographer this past year with the X-E1 in my hand than with any other camera in previous years. That's exciting, surprising, and it is progress that I want to hold onto. A step at a time, learning, growing, taking on new and challenging opportunities, and sharing the journey.
There are a number of reasons I believe the X-E1 has been so important to me, each one small enough, but together adding up to something amazing.
SKIN TONE - The Fuji X system captures beautiful skin tones. Canon does as well. But I was continuously frustrated with tones from my Nikon shots. It's not about color balance, that's easy enough to fix later, but I would always be futzing with the Nikon RAWs, trying to get the skin right. It's not that skin tones were bad, but in comparison to the surrounding scene skin tended to be desaturated, sallow, greenish… dead. Portraits were consistently missing a lifelike quality, each requiring some CPR from the RAW files. I've heard some photogs talk about shooting medium format in order to get lifelike skin tone. I can understand the reason. But, Fuji has this one nailed. Skin tone is full of life in nearly every shot, cool it or warm in it post, but it is always lifelike and feels natural within the scene. It's like having a new favorite roll of film to shoot with!
SIZE - My X-E1 and two lenses fit nicely inside the helmet storage compartment on my motorcycle. In fact there's still plenty of room left over for spare tools, cliff bars, water bottles, and whatever else gets thrown in there. It's not a big deal to pack it around on a hike or a bike ride. And when I do need the rest of my equipment on a shoot, a medium sized Ape Case fits the X-E1, two lenses, four speed lights, four sets of battery chargers, meter, filters, gray cards and gels, extra batteries for the camera, numerous accessories and room left for rental lenses. Another rolling duffle bag totes a tripod, light stands, modifiers and sand bags. Two bags - that's it, for a full shoot!
APPROACHABLE - People are far less intimidated by this camera. Even in a fully lit editorial shoot the small camera and lenses seem to help create a comfortable setting. I've found it to be a surprisingly great part of shooting with this camera.
LENS QUALITY - The Nikon lenses I was shooting with were "pro" ED glass, yet I found myself spending hours fixing purple and yellow fringing in the snowy river scene shown here. I thought that was just the way things worked until you were ready to drop $2K-$4K on a lens. Fujifilm has realigned my expectations. No, the X system lenses aren't inexpensive, but in my experience they fly high above the equivalently priced Nikkor lenses I was shooting with. The 18-55mm "kit" lens is incredible, fringing has never been an issue. None. I can shoot directly into the sun and flare is well managed, and looks great. Images are sharp edge to edge. Same for the 35mm f/1.4. Same for every Fuji lens I've rented this year. The fact that Fuji X lenses were specifically engineered from the ground up for a compact mirrorless APS-C system really shows in how well they perform. Each is a first class product, not a sibling to a larger and more expensive full frame lens.
IMAGE QUALITY - My Nikon D7000 shot soft pictures, sharpening tended to make the images crunchy. Images from the Fuji X-Trans sensor are loads sharper out of camera, easily sharpened further without going grungy.
MECHANICAL - My motorcycle has a digital speedometer… I would gladly trade it for a traditional mechanical dial. It's much easier to glance at an analog speedometer and see that you are somewhere between 65 and 70. Reading off the exact digital number every time you look at the speedometer takes work. It requires more thought. It's for the same reason that I love the mechanical exposure controls on the X-E1. I can look down at the aperture dial and see that I am one click above f/1.4 and two below f/2, it's much more meaningful to me than an LCD readout of f/1.6. The entire f/stop range is represented there on the scale of the lens, I don't need to keep that scale in my head. I know that I have two more stops I can open the lens just by looking at the ring, no need to do math in my head. Same thing for the shutter dial, the entire range is displayed right there on the dial and where you are within that range is obvious in a mechanical chart of sorts. The simplicity invites you to take control of the exposure. But if you do want the camera to take over part of the exposure triangle, just set one particular control to "auto." There are no Av, Tv, M, or "green" modes or always changing thumbwheels to think about. Sometimes I use a light meter. Sometimes I use the Sunny 16 rule. Sometimes I let the camera meter. Sometimes I just guess. The dials are always obvious and intuitive, no matter the situation.
DYNAMIC RANGE - Even the JPGs have great dynamic range with the Fuji X-E1. I can really pull hard on the lower part of the curves adjustment to bring light back into the shadows and it looks great! With the D7000 I had to go to RAW every time I wanted to to do this, the JPGs weren't anything more than just previews. With the Fuji X-E1 I rarely need to go to the RAW.
SLOWING DOWN - I take my time with this camera. Something about this camera invites me to work the shot and get it right. Maybe it's the live preview through the viewfinder, the mechanical nature of the settings, or just the confidence that I'm going to get an amazing image when I do press the shutter. Light is what makes photography, and this camera captures light beautifully.
Looking back I'm fairly frustrated by the amount of time I spent with the Nikon D7000 kit. Fuji is treating the crop sensor as a first class product line, Nikon clearly was not. Fuji has no upward path to a larger sensor and gives no excuse for anything less than a stunning image out of the X-Trans sensor size. And when you are making an entirely new system including sensor, mount, and lenses why should it be anything less than the best?
As for the rumors that Fuji is going to come out with a full frame body... That doesn't make sense to me, and I really hope they don't go that direction. A full frame body would require a completely different line of lenses, the X lenses are made specifically for the 1.5x crop size. Fuji has proven that a crop sensor system can go head to head with a full frame system. So, if you're going to need to come out with a whole new line of lenses for a new full frame body, why stop at the full frame size? Why not a sensor size between full frame and medium format? Hit the full frame price point with a stunning image quality that competes with medium format. Why not? And put leaf shutters in those lenses while you're at it! (Wouldn't that have been cool in the X system?)
But, here's my caveat. And it's a big one.
Ironically, it's been my growth in photography that is sparking a renewed interest in video production, something I did professionally early in career. I want to approach video again, this time from more of a cinematic style, with beautiful light, camera movement, creamy depth of field, and dramatic focal lengths. Lenses I add to my kit should be useful for both photo and video production, and at this point the Fuji X system is useless for serious video work. I completely appreciate the focus on photography with this system, but I would be loathe to rent lenses for a video shoot, equivalents for which I already have on hand for photography.
I'm not talking about PL lens quality of video production. Nor do I want to lug around a full frame solution such as the 5D Mark III, the Canon EOS C video cameras, the BlackMagics, the Sony FS700 or the Sony A7s. We're back to significant weight and expense of full frame lenses and equipment with these. But there have been significant movements in the Micro 4/3 world around cinematic video production, primarily with the GH3 and Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera, and now the E-M1 and the GH4. Real, useable, gradable video output that can be used professionally when shot with care.
I'm finding myself apprehensive to purchase additional Fuji lenses. I'm being pulled toward exploring the Micro 4/3 world. If Fuji can pull of such spectacular results with a 1.5x crop sensor, why can't someone else do it on a 2x crop sensor? I'm not sure Olympus and Panasonic are there yet with the quality or the shooting experience, but I may be taking a closer look. If you're reading this, I would like to hear your thoughts and experiences on the topic.
If Fuji came out with a video specific X body, much like Sony is doing with the A7s, that would be enough to fill the gap for me. Even better would be a next generation Fuji X hybrid camera that gives the Canon D5 Mark III a run for it's money when it comes to video. I know, the X lenses aren't cinema lenses, but neither are the EOS lenses or the M43 system lenses. If it weren't for this one caveat, I would be growing the number of Fuji X lenses in my bag.
So Fuji, figure out how to let us shoot gradable 10 bit 24p video with a global shutter and true 1080p resolution across the entire sensor with no false color. Throw in 4K if you really want to shake up the industry!
So what's ahead for me? I want to keep nurturing this growth in photography. Learning more about light and composition. I would like to do more editorial work, I enjoy being able to set up a composition and bring light into the scene to make it pop. Weddings intrigue me because of the mix of documentary and editorial style - eventually I would like to get there. Teaching photography to others is something I hope to have a try at this year, possibly as an ongoing brown bag lunch session at work. And then there is the digital cinema side of things, taking what I have learned about light and composition and applying it back into video work. A longtime dream of mine is to work on film projects as a Director of Photography. A long journey from here to there, especially when mixed with a great non-photography career, marriage, kids, and caring for a home.
One small step at a time.