The Fujifilm X-E3, small but mighty

Charlene fujifilm gear 39 Comments

The three of you that are long time readers of this somewhat irregular blog, will know that what my camera looks like, is important to me. Almost exactly 2 years ago, I wrote an uncharacteristic post about all the Fujis I’ve loved before, and then followed it up with more angst a few months later. Both these posts have the same message: I like rangefinder bodies, the more compact the better, and my favourite one so far has been the X-E2.

Today marks the launch of the X-E3, the E2’s next incarnation. Insert googly eyed emoji here.

The X-E3 is, in a nutshell, all my favourite things, in an even smaller package than its predecessor. It’s like Yoda. You think it’s a small frog, then it turns out to be a Jedi Master.

Watch the video, in 4K or full HD:

So, what’s new in the X-E range?

  • APS-C 24.3 megapixel X-Trans CMOS III sensor
  • First X series model to feature Bluetooth.
  • Touchscreen LCD panel with new touch functions like gesture control etc, similar to the GFX
  • Updated AF algorithm for enhanced tracking performance
  • 4K video capability with Fuji’s film simulations

The above is just what I’m aware of… during the course of testing this camera, I discovered other features that have been available since X-Pro2 days, like RAW output at extended ISOs. Until a couple of weeks ago, I assumed that shooting at extended ISOs produced JPEGs, like they did with the older cameras. Sent a baffled email to long-suffering Nordic product manager Karl that said “I just got an ISO 25,600 RAW file out of this thing. How is this possible?” Got an equally baffled reply back “But this has been possible since the X-Pro2?”

Righto.

One day, I’ll actually remember to read the spec sheets.

But I digress.

On the MRT, Singapore. Aug 2017. 1/100 sec, f/2, ISO 8000 (X-E3 and XF 23mm F2)

Like all the other reviews I write, this is really more a mashup of impressions than a studied, technical review (if you’re after one of those, head over to Jonas Rask’s). I had the X-E3 to test for 3 weeks (it got to me 2 weeks late), so this review is based on:

  • 1 week of shooting stills for samples, and
  • 1 week of shooting video

The camera sat in a corner for the last week so I could edit, record the voiceover (as always, surprisingly difficult in Singapore), and turn the project over to my sound engineer to finish all the audio. Phew. Seat of pants.

I’ve been using the X-Pro2 since November 2015, and I still love everything about it, so I’m stoked to have that same image quality and high ISO capability it in a smaller body. And it is really tiny:

Yes, it's dusty.

Yes, it’s dusty.

Ergonomics

The XF 35mm F1.4, which is a perfect fit for the X-Pro2, looks humongous on the X-E3. Both the XF 35mm F1.4 and the XF 23mm F2 lenses (and by extension, the 35mm F2) felt and handled perfectly on this body though.  It has the requisite joystick at the back of the body, and the buttons are laid out somewhat differently than the Pro2, but after a short period of adjustment, I found it just as intuitive as all my other Fujis. It doesn’t have an ISO dial, so I went back to using the top function button to switch ISO, just like I did in the X-Pro1 days (nice hit of nostalgia there, I will admit).

Importantly, despite it’s uber compactness, there was plenty of room for me to grip the camera and shoot, without accidentally hitting some button and changing a setting or three. This was one of big issues I had with the X-T10, that meant I never really gelled with that body. I’m uber happy this was not the case with the X-E3. I picked it up, started shooting, and pretty much forgot about the camera.

Auto-focus

Many thumbs up. I didn’t try the improved AF tracking functions at all, so I have nothing to say about that. But I was taken aback by how fast the X-E3 focused my beat up, 5 year old XF 35mm F1.4 lens. Faster than the X-Pro2. Faster than the X-T2. For the first time in 5 years, I could use the XF 35 f1.4 on single servo focus all the time. So much win, people!

1/200 sec, f/2.8, ISO 2000 (X-E3 and XF 35mm F1.4)

Touchscreen

This one comes with a touchscreen, which I tried out several times, as you’ll see in the video above (go on, watch it, it’s award winning stuff). Touchscreens on cameras are generally wasted on me though. I love the X series for its dials and buttons, although previewing images and changing settings on the quick (Q) menu was a bit fun with the touchscreen, if only for the novelty.

At the moment, with the pre-production unit I have, you also have to turn the touchscreen and all its up-down-left-right swipe-able settings off, before you flick it to EVF, or your nose will activate the touchscreen. After several rounds of changing film simulations, focus settings and what-not with my nose (being left eye dominant), I simply turned the touchscreen off altogether and left it like that. Too fiddly, having to enable and disable stuff everytime I changed view modes.

4K video

I was surprised to hear that the X-E3 came with 4K video capability. So of course, the video had to be made in 4K. I’d seen a post (or maybe an ad) on Facebook, with an X-T20 on a Zhiyun Crane-M, and was intrigued. It’s been ages since I made my last video, as it got a bit frustrating to film hours of video and have only a tiny amount of useable footage owing to shake. I’ve been searching for a portable, light weight stabilizing solution for several years. All I wanted was something light and electronically stabilized so I could walk around and film, and small enough to travel with. Oh and it also had to be affordable. Not much to ask, surely?

Enter the Zhiyun Crane-M 3-axis stabilized handheld gimbal (try saying that really fast, 5 times in a row).

The Crane M was everything I wanted, perfect for the X-E3 and XF 23mm F2 lens, with a load limit of 650g. And it was small for such a sophisticated thing, looking more like a beefy selfie stick than anything else. I picked it up for SGD $523, and it was perfect for video making. As long as it was properly balanced (a 15 minute job the first time around), it just did its job with zero fuss. I had the novel experience of having 99% of everything I filmed, stable enough to use. Suffice to say, this is a big step up from my jury rigged sinker cam days, where the percentage of useable footage was about 40… if I was lucky.

I filmed on trains, buses, around hawker centers, in crowds… really, all over the place, and no one batted an eyelid.

The combination of the Crame-M and X-E3? Perfect. And it was, honestly, fun. Turn the camera on, turn the gimbal on, and off I went. Doesn’t get much easier than that.

Size

X-E3 with XF 35mm F1.4

X-E3 with XF 35mm F1.4

Have I mentioned that the X-E3 is really small?

I think that’s what I love most about it. It’s so small, with that gorgeous, unassuming simplicity, that no one looked at it. This is the one to take street shooting, when you want to get a camera into places and situations without looking like a pro (or someone up to no good). It’s got the performance, it’s got the stealth. And the connectivity. I’d love to talk about the ease of the new Bluetooth capability, but I honestly haven’t tried it yet.

In Conclusion: The X-E3 is a tiny machine that packs a punch. If you’re a Pro2 shooter looking for a smaller, stripped down body to throw in your bag, this is is. If you’re a beginner looking for something rangefinder-like that will help you along with your learning curve, this is it. Me? I love it.

Gallery

These JPEGs have been reduced to 2084px, and EXIF is available in the files.

Comments 39

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  1. Thanks! Could you imagine ditching the X-Pro2 for the X-E3? I’m quite fond of the OVF, but the (much) smaller form factor is enticing…

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      Not that I will (I’m rather fond of its ovf and button/dial layout myself)…. But I could do it very easily.

    2. Thank you, Charlene! 🙂 I guess I’ll have a good look once the camera hits stores.

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      Well, the only difference between them is the shooting experience. They have the same sensor and capability, and are both pretty small, so it’s pretty much whether you’re an SLR or range finder fan.

  2. I never thought that “I didn’t notice it at all and neither did anyone else” could be the best advertisment for a camera. I almost get tempted to replace my X-T2 🙂

    What do you think about the viewfinder compared to the X-T2? It’s hard to switch to something smaller once you’re used to the X-T viewfinder.

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      Well, it depends on the photographer. Some people like to be noticed, others don’t (I’m one of the latter).

      If you like that big viewfinder, then stick with the X-T2. This thing has a regular sized finder that you’ll find a little small after that one!

  3. Your video, write up and imagery are not screaming but gently take me to a different world. Your visuals make me examine every inch of the frame and marvel all discoveries – so many of them. This is exactly what photography is all about. You have become one of my favoure photographers. Please keep opening my world of seeing.

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      Ah Olaf, you are kind. But i appreciate it very much. Thank you, your words mean a lot.

  4. Hi Charlene,

    Would the X-E3 make a good companion camera for the X-Pro2? I prefer wider lenses the using the wonderful OVF on my X-Pro2 like my 23mm f/1.4 (and am so looking forward to the coming 18mm f/2.0 R WR “Fujicron”). I am not so fond of the X-Pro2’s EVF and would like a great EVF companion camera for longer lenses like the 56mm f/1.2 and 55mm f/2.0 or wider ones like the 14mm f/2.8. I am accustomed to working with two cameras simultaneously from my Leica M days, and much prefer rangefinder and rangefinder-style cameras.

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      Karin, this is essentially a miniature Pro2 without the OVF. If you don’t like the EVF on the Pro2, i reckon you won’t like it in the X-E3.

  5. Hi Charlene,
    Thank you for the write up, review, and your photos from the XE3! I have the XE2 and simply love it; it was my dive into Fuji mirrorless, and have not regretted it. Excited to try it!
    Thanks!
    Mark

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      Mark, the E3 is significantly smaller than its predecessor. Punchy too performance-wise. Enjoy!

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      Alex, I shot RAW and processed in Lightroom. Default film sim. for shooting is Pro Res Standard.

  6. Charlene,

    A very nice narrative, pictures and video. Just added you to my follow list.

    I appreciate your insights into the X-E3 and especially your confidence being able to operate the camera without the touch screen (I’m assuming that you also mean you didn’t need “real-time” access to the D-pad equivalent functions).

    The X-E3 looks like a great (smaller) companion to my X-Pro2.

    We also look for something that we can hand-off to others to include us at times and the “auto” function seems like that would be very useful function in this camera.

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      Roger, you assumed right re “real time” access to D-Pad etc. I set the camera up at the start and while shooting, rarely adjust anything other than aperture, shutter speed and ISO. If I am thoroughly honest, I’m not a fan of the touchscreen. Aside from initial fiddling for the novelty, it has stayed disabled, and will probably continue to be so going forward. In all honesty, I wish I could lock that Auto lever in off as well, but if you’re after a full auto switch, you could certainly do worse!

  7. Great review – real end-user experience really helps colour the review beyond the usually commentary on regurgitated specs.

    Question: how did the EVF stack up against the X-Pro2? I’m not expecting a 1:1 experience, but I’m interested in hearing how you felt shooting through it.

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      Brent,
      good question re EVF. The EVF size and refresh rate you will find are equal to the Pro2. I find it a teeny bit less contrasty than my Pro2. E.g. my shooting mode is typically Acros, +2 highlights, +3 shadows, and it doesn’t look quite the same as it does in the Pro2’s EVF. But this is a pre-production unit I’m using, with pre-prod. firmware as well, so I’m betting all of that is fixed by the time the production units are released. This is meant to be a baby Pro2, and it certainly does feel very much like one, even in presently not-quite-finished form. I’m still quite taken aback by how damn fast the new AF algorithm focuses the old lenses. Definitely sold on that.

  8. I can see your X-E3 is black colour, I had a silver X-E1 and X-T10 before. I have a black X-T20 right now. For X-E3, not sure which colour to get.

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      Haha, Alex, I’d say go with your heart when it comes to color. The camera will do the same job 🙂

    2. I used to have silver X-E1 cause it is so retro but X-E3 design has slimmer silver part so to me is not so retro like the old film rangefinder, there is no window like X100 series. So I think black looks better. Just personality choice.

  9. I have many great images taken with the X-E1 and hoped the X-E3 would be a continuation of this EVF only design with updated sensor tech and joystick. Your comments regarding touch screen confirm my concern regarding its usage for the D-pad controls. It won’t be added to my kit. I see it as more of a consumer grade rangefinder styled camera for the masses. Nothing wrong with this as a product to offer to the public, but disappointing to those of us that loved the X-E design.
    I have the luxury of owning both the X-Pro2 & X-100F which fit my needs quite well.

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      Mark, I’m not thrilled about the odd fiddliness of the touchscreen myself, but I’ll be submitting it as a problem along with a bunch of little bugs I’ve found in this pre-production unit – it was such a rush to shoot stills, video, edit them all and deliver that I didn’t have the chance to really get to know the camera as I’m doing now.

      Stay tuned to this channel re improvements. I love the X-E line myself, so I’m personally invested in having this camera be a total joy… for me, anyway, if not the rest of the world 😉

  10. Solid review and imagery here Charlene. I’m an XE2 user and lover, and I find myself often reaching for vintage glass; in fact, the pretty good focus peaking on XE2 was what got me away from OVF-only Canon DSLR shooting…and I haven’t really looked back much. While it seems you shot entirely using XF lenses, I’m curious if you used any manual focus (either vintage glass or with the XF lenses set to manual), and if so what that experience was like.

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      Derek, I don’t own any non XF glass unfortunately, vintage or otherwise, so I can’t comment on that. I do however, manual focus pretty frequently with my 3 XF lenses – the 35 f1.4, 23 f2 and 56 f1.2. The EVF’s higher refresh rate (than the E2) and focus peaking make manual focusing as much of a breeze as it is in the X-Pro2 (I say this as someone who has had substantial experience manual focusing on this particular body though). I don’t honestly notice any difference between the 2. If you’ve tried manual focusing on the X-Pro2, this is pretty much an identical experience.

  11. I had the X-E1 and liked the ergonomics, but the X-T10’s tilt screen won me over. I am debating about getting the X-T2, having owned an X-Pro 1 and not liken the OVF on my old eyes. I loved the feeling of it in my hands though. I like the small factor of this X-E3, but I don’t think I’d like the touch screen or the annoyances of me changing it accidentally. I wonder if that also happens on the X-T20? Any thoughts on that? I am between the X-T2 and X-T20 now. I don’t see much size difference between the X-T20 and X-T2 judging by your picture above. I do know the X-T10 has a crappy grip and I had to add the expensive external grip to make it useable, and my hands are not that big It’s the ergonomics of it. So annoying. In the end I will probably get the X-T2 as it ticks all the boxes. I like the X-E3 for it’s size and quite frankly would love it if the balance of lenses would make it a joy to hold. According to your article, this is a mixed bag? Am I wrong? Does it become front heavy with bigger lenses? My aim has always been to get the best smallest workhorse camera. I’m in love with my Ricoh GR, but it doesn’t have an EVF. Still it has some of the sharpest and best shots coming out of the 28mm lens. The Fuji X70 is another gem with its leaf shutter and tilt screen, but it isn’t nearly as sharp. I love the smallness of the Sony RX100V, but it is a 1″ sensor. The sweet spot for me is the APS-C sensor. I don’t need full frame or medium format anymore. The APS-C sensors of today put out large enough prints for pro use, so I sold most of my Nikon gear and the last of it will be gone soon. The files in the Fuji still haven’t beaten my Sigma DP Merrill series for 3D layered look or detail, but the usability trounces the Sigma DP Merrill series. Also, the Fuji system is a joy to use, and the firmware updates and the support in customer care crush the competition. Anyway, I would love to hear your thoughts on what I wrote. Also, will you be staying with the X-Pro 2 rangefinder format as your number one choice of camera? If yes, then why? that’s what I would like to know. I am curios about that and the above that I wrote about. Thanks, Charlene in advance for your answers. Love your work and your videos. You are an inspiration to this old gal.

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      Hey Lainer, wow, you have a lot of questions, so I’m going to go through them one item at a time, and hope I get them all 🙂 Also, keep in mind that what I have in hand, is a pre-production unit. Some stuff might change before they release the production units.

      X-T20:
      I’ve never used this one, so I can’t comment on it at all. My pictures above are of the X-Pro2 and X-E3. There are no pictures of the T2 or T20 anywhere in this post. I have also never used Sony or Ricoh cameras (can’t afford to, really) so I can’t compare this to any of them.

      Touchscreen on the X-E3:
      You can turn it off and leave it off. Once in a while, you may accidentally trigger it with your thumb though, when moving the joystick around. I don’t like this so much, but I’ve gotten used to its rear layout so this is not a problem anymore. It DOES take some persistence, and getting used to, as I am long fingered

      Balance of lenses:
      This, i find is an individual thing. Let me just say that the E3 is a really small camera. It’s shorter and lighter than the E2, if you have ever used that. The biggest lenses I’ve used on the X-E3 are the XF 16mm f1.4 and the 56mm f1.2. These lenses by themselves are significantly heavier than the X-E3 body on its own (even with battery in it), but I don’t find any issues with lens balance on either. This could simply be the way I hold my cameras, or that lens – camera balance has never really been an issue for me, given the kinds of things I shoot. I will concede the 100-400mm or any of the XF zooms might be a little ridiculous / off balance on it though. I would encourage you to go try it out for yourself though. It’s really the only way to know for sure.

      “Also, will you be staying with the X-Pro 2 rangefinder format as your number one choice of camera?”
      Yes, for several reasons:
      1. Ergonomics. It’s a bigger camera, and nicer to hold, and more space for the thumb to roam around the back without hitting something. Dual card slots. Higher mechanical shutter speed (the E3 has a max mechanical shutter speed of 1/4000). On jobs, this is my camera. I am also so keyed to how it works, I can operate it blind.
      2. I see the X-E3 as my main video camera. Not only for the 4K capability (the Pro2 is getting that in a firmware upgrade in December I think), but because it also means that the rigs involved in video become that much smaller and lighter to carry around. That’s a HUGE boon, being a nomad and constantly subject to cargo / carry on, arbitrary limits on electronics from airlines and border control.
      3. That being said. Street shooting? X-E3 all the way. If i ever had to travel with just a backpack? X-E3. Ultimately, it can do everything my Pro2 can do, it’s just a little different to use.

      Ok, I think that was everything. Hope it helped!

  12. Hi Charlene.
    thanks for a very good review. I have a question about auto focus in low light conditions.
    Does it lock fast or is it still some issues with this ?
    I have owned X-E1, X-E2 and would love to go back to the small Fuji system.

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      Andreas, it has been a while since I’ve held an X-E3. But I will say that AF and performance wise it feels more like an X-Pro than an X-E. All my lenses work faster with this one in all lighting conditions. This is especially obvious with the XF 35 f1.4, and even the 56 f1.2 hunts far less than it does on every other body I’ve used it on…. Even my Pro2, although I’m 2 or 3 firmware updates behind on that one.

  13. This is a great write-up. Makes me really want to have that camera to finally replace my good, old X-E1. Thanks for giving the 35mm F1.4 a mention. It’s my favourite lens and I’m relieved to read that it benefits from the faster autofocus despite its age. Is the 23mm F2 significantly faster? And which one would you prefer for compact one lens travel?

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      Klaus, for the most part it’s blazing fast, but I find the 23 such a fast lens anyway. Did you watch the video? Scenes that were shot with the X-E3 was shot only on the 23f2, with continuous AF tracking. There’s only one scene where you can see it hunting (briefly) for focus lock. Re compact travel, I assume you’re asking me about lenses, so my preference would depend entirely on what focal length I’m expecting to shoot at. No matter how good the 23 is, it won’t give me 53mm. Same for the 35.

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