Fujifilm’s mid-range RF-style X Mount camera is the last to receive the comprehensive upgrade which commenced with the X-Pro2 – so it gets more res, more focusing points and more speed everywhere.
If the X-Pro2 is just a bit too pricey for you, most of its key features are also in the much more affordable – and more compact – X-E3. Fujifilm’s new rangefinder-style camera has the latest X Mount system sensor, image processor, AF system and electronic viewfinder.
There are some delicious dilemmas facing new camera buyers at the moment. If you’re fortunate enough to play in the digital medium format space, what about deciding between the Fujifilm GFX 50S or the Hasselblad X1D? Or, entirely within the Fujifilm stable, the X-T2 or the X-Pro2? And now there’s another one – X-E3 or X-T20?
On the inside the two cameras are essentially the same, but on the outside they’re quite different… the rangefinder-style X-E3 versus the SLR-style X-T20. Unlike the X-Pro2 with its clever hybrid optical/electronic viewfinder – which is a big point of difference with the X-T2 – the X-E3 has the same EVF as the X-T20 which is no bad thing, of course, but it means your decision is going to be largely dictated by styling and design… in other words, the more emotional elements. The previous X-E1/2/2S models have largely lived in the shadow of the X-Pro1/2 and, frankly, really didn’t do enough to attract more attention even with the significant price differences. But just as Fujifilm has recently turned the adequate X-T10 into the brilliant X-T20, so the X-E3 emerges as a very different camera to its predecessors courtesy of a comprehensive overall which sees just about every key spec given a boost. So now, in terms of overall capabilities, the X-E3 isn’t a million miles away from the equally classical X-Pro2 and that price difference becomes truly significant.
With the EVF integrated into the main bodyshell, the X-E3’s lines are crisp and uncluttered and, with any of the more compact X Mount lenses fitted, it’s a lot more unobtrusive than the X-T20. Neither are exactly big cameras, but the X-E3’s sleeker, smoother
design has less of a visual impact which could be an important consideration for applications where you’d like to stay lowkey, such as street photography. Fujifilm says it’s all about “the essence of minimalism” which basically means it’s designed not to get in the way of “the true intent of the photographer”. Makes sense to us.
Incidentally, the X-E3 is the most compact viewfinder-equipped X Mount body and is 46 grams lighter than the X-T20. This may well be accounted for by the latter’s tilt-adjustable LCD monitor screen while the X-E3 retains its predecessor’s fixed – and flush-fitting – panel which also contributes to the very clean lines. However, an important upgrade here compared to the X-E2/ E2S is the provision of extensive touchscreen controls, even going beyond the X-T20 with a new facility called ‘Touch Function’ which enables custom functions to be assigned to the left, right, up, and down swipe actions.
The E3’s control layout is considerably changed from before, starting with more room to move on the top deck following the removal of a built-in flash (the compact EF-X8 clip-on unit is supplied instead). This allows for the flash hotshoe to be shuffled along thereby freeing up space for a bigger shutter speed dial and the moving of the exposure compensation dial more inboard (reducing the likelihood of it being accidentally adjusted). As with all the recent X Mount bodies, the compensation dial is marked over a range of +/-3.0 EV, but now has a ‘C’ setting which gives access to an extended +/-5.0 EV that’s selected using the front input wheel. Likewise, the shutter speed dial is marked with the manual speeds from 1/4000 second down to one second with a ‘T’ setting for accessing the slower speeds which now extend all the way down to 15 minutes. Also in keeping with the rest of the family, there isn’t an exposure control mode dial or selector, and instead the old school methodology of ‘A’ (for auto) settings on the shutter speed dial and aperture collar is employed. For those readers of a younger vintage, this means that setting the shutter speed dial to ‘A’ puts the camera in the aperturepriority auto exposure mode. Set the aperture collar to its ‘A’ setting and the X-E3 is now in shutterpriority auto mode. With both these controls set to ‘A’, the fullyauto programmed exposure mode is engaged. Incidentally, a number of XF lenses don’t have an aperture collar, in which case, there’s a switch for selecting auto or manual control, the latter then performed from the camera body. At the base of the shutter speed dial is a new selector lever which can be set to ‘Auto’ and this is for ‘Advanced SR Auto’ control which is also fully automatic, but goes further with scene recognition which can select from one of 16 modes, fine-tuning the focusing and exposure accordingly.
The rear control layout is completely redesigned with the major change being the replacement of the conventional four-way navigator keypad with a much smaller, eight-way joystick control as found on the X-Pro2 and X-T2. As well as navigating the menus, the joystick is also used for AF point selection and is a much more efficient arrangement now that the X-E3 has a total of 325 focusing points.
The recessed rear input wheel remains as before, but just about all the buttons have changed positions (the AF lock being the exception) with the primary aim of improving the ergonomics. Certainly everything is now closer together and a number of controls – notably the AE lock – much better placed.
As before – and similar to the X-T20 – the main body covers are magnesium alloy, and without any weather sealing. A single memory card slot (for the SD format) shares the battery compartment which means it’s in the baseplate and consequently not easily accessible when the camera is mounted on a tripod.
On the inside, the X-E3 steps up to the current generation of ‘X-Trans CMOS III’ sensor and the ‘X-Processor Pro’ image processing engine. The ‘APS-C’ format sensor has an effective pixel count of 24.3 million which is optimised by the absence of an optical low-pass filter.
Fujifilm’s ‘X-Trans’ sensors employ a unique 6x6 pixels RGB colour filter arrangement (as opposed to the Bayer pattern’s 2x2) which is designed to effectively eliminate moiré patterns in many more situations due to the different frequency (or, technically speaking, the higher aperiodicity). The more powerful processor delivers an increased continuous shooting speed of 8.0 fps, and a bigger buffer memory extends the burst length to 62 maximum-quality JPEGs or 25 RAWs which are now captured with 14-bit colour with the choice of either lossless compression or uncompressed files (which reduces the burst length to 23 frames). However, like its siblings, the X-E3 also offers the option of using a sensor-based shutter (a.k.a. an “electronic shutter”) in which case the maximum shooting speed increases to a very zippy 14 fps.
THE X-E3’S LINES ARE CRISP AND UNCLUTTERED AND, WITH ANY OF THE MORE COMPACT X MOUNT LENSES FITTED, IT’S A LOT MORE UNOBTRUSIVE THAN THE X-T20.
The combinaTion of The 24.3 megapixels ‘x-Trans cmos iii’ sensor and ‘x-processor pro’ engine are already well-proven, in parTicular The excellenT Jpeg performance.
image and the focus peaking display are far more useful.
Exposure control system is based on the 256-segment metering which is standard across the X Mount line-up and provides multi-zone, centre-weighted average, fully averaged or spot measurements. The standard set of program, semi-auto and manual exposure modes is supplemented by 14 subject/scene modes and the auto scene mode mentioned earlier.
The program and shutter/ aperture-priority exposure modes can be overridden via an AE lock, the +/-5.0 EV compensation or auto bracketing which can be set for sequences of two, three, five seven or nine frames and up to +/-3.0 EV adjustment. Bracketing functions are also available for the ISO, white balance, the ‘Film Simulation’ presets and the dynamic range expansion, but only over three frames.
The X-E3’s focal plane shutter has a speed range of 15 minutes up to 1/4000 second and this extended set of timed slower speeds (the X-T20 only goes to 30 second) is obviously very handy for applications such as night photography. The ‘B’ setting runs for up to 60 minutes, but obviously you have to do your own timing. The big plus here is that, as on all the other X Mount bodies, you can still use a simple cable-release to lock and unlock the shutter rather than a dedicated (and more expensive) remote trigger. As noted earlier, the X-E3 also has a sensor based shutter which runs from 30 seconds to 1/32,000 second and is both silent and vibrationfree (but creates rolling shutter distortion with moving subjects and can’t be used with flash). The alternative is the hybrid “electronic first curtain” shutter which starts the exposure with the sensor shutter and finishes it with the FP shutter’s second set of blades… consequently you can access a full speed range of 15 minutes to 1/32,000 second.
For white balance control, the X-E3 has auto correction and a set of seven lighting presets (including one for underwater), fine-tuning, up to three custom settings, manual colour temperature control over a range of 2500 to 10,000 degrees Kelvin and, of course, auto bracketing.
In The hand
As is the case with most RFstyle cameras, the X-E3 handles comfortably despite having what amounts to a mere hint of a handgrip. As noted earlier, the revising of the rear control layout promotes better efficiencies, although it takes a while to acclimatise to using the joystick control for all navigational duties (i.e. including the menus), not just selecting a focus point.
Four external controls have a multi-functional facility, including the rear input wheel, but a number of others can be customised for direction or swapping functions. The ‘Fn’ list runs to no fewer than 35 items which are also available for the four ‘Touch Function’ swipe actions mentioned earlier. Additionally, the ‘Quick Menu’ control screen can be customised from a selection of 27 functions and there’s the added convenience of tapping the icon tiles to quickly access the sub-menus. This facility isn’t available with the X-T20. However, like the T20, the E3 doesn’t have an ISO dial, but the swipe option is arguably just as quick (or, of course, it can be assigned to the ‘Fn’ button).
The touch controls also include autofocusing – with or without subsequent shutter release – and a various replay functions, including browsing, zooming and accessing the thumbnail pages. The touchscreen itself can, of course, be switched off, but it can also be set to either left or right active areas should this better suit a particular shooting situation.
There’s a customisable ‘My Menu’ which can be stocked with pretty much anything you like from the main menus and then ranked in order of importance.
Additionally, both the EVF and monitor displays can be extensively customised. Both are adjustable for brightness and colour balance, and then various elements and read-outs can be added, including a single-axis level display, battery power indicator, a guide grid (either 3x3 or 6x4), a real-time histogram, highlight alert, AF/MF distance indicators and selections from a long list of status indicators.
The EVF is the same 1.0 cm OLED panel as is used in the X-T20 with a resolution of 2.36 megadots and a magnification of 0.62x (35mm format equivalent). The monitor screen is a 7.62 cm LCD panel with a resolution of 1.04 megadots. Both displays are the same, but the monitor screen also has an additional info-only display which is primarily designed to be used in conjunction with the EVF. It provides a lot of information, including the selected AF point grid, a real-time histogram, the main exposure settings and a total of 15 capture-related settings.
There are three image replay/ review screens which include a full frame image with capture data or thumbnails accompanied by capture data, a highlight warning, a brightness histogram and, very usefully, the focus point used. Pressing the rear command dial instantly zooms in on this point for checking the focus. Alternatively, conventional zoom playback is available or, in the opposite direction, pages of nine or 100 thumbnails.
The in-camera editing functions include RAW-to-JPEG conversion (with 13 adjustable parameters), red-eye removal, cropping, resizing, Fujifilm’s ‘PhotoBook Assist’ feature (which allows for up to 300 images to be organised for reproduction in a photo book) and direct printing to an Instax instant print device via WiFi. The X-E3 is the first X Mount camera to supplement WiFi with Bluetooth LE which provides a convenient ‘always on’ connection for low bandwidth data transfers, and allows for easier WiFi pairing if you want to send bigger files or use the Fujifilm Camera Control app for remote camera operation.
SPEED AND PERFORMANCE
Using our reference memory card – Lexar’s 128 GB SDXC UHS-II/
U3 (Speed Class 3) Professional – the X-E3 captured a burst of 76 JPEG/large/fine files in 9.582 seconds, giving a shooting speed of 7.93 fps when using the focal plane shutter which is as close to the quoted spec as makes no difference (and exceeds the quoted burst length). Switching to the sensor shutter, a burst of 35 frames was recorded in 2.567 seconds, representing a shooting speed of 13.6 fps which, again, is only a fraction off the quoted 14 fps. For the record, the average test file size was around 13.3 MB. The buffer cleared very quickly so there’s minimal delay between bursts.
Not surprisingly, the autofocusing performance is significantly improved over that of the X-E2/E2S, both in terms of responsiveness and the reliability, particularly with smaller-sized subjects. This is particularly noticeable with the tracking which locks on quickly and then hangs on tenaciously, particularly if the ‘AF-C Custom Settings’ scenario is well-matched. Fujifilm’s hybrid AF system is easily on a par with what’s on offer in any comparable D-SLR, and arguably superior in low-light conditions.
The combination of the 24.3 megapixels ‘X-Trans CMOS III’ sensor and ‘X-Processor Pro’ engine is already well-proven in the X-Pro2, X-T2, X-T20 and X100F, in particular for the excellent JPEG performance. The best quality JPEGs deliver lots of crisply-defined detailing, pleasing colour reproduction across the spectrum, punchy contrast – especially with the Velvia/Vivid ‘Film Simulation’ preset – and plenty of dynamic range (without resorting to any expansion processing). It needs to be noted again here that as we noted with the two higher-end cameras, Fujifilm’s ‘Film Simulation’ profiles are far more sophisticated than most, having been designed to balance colorimetric colour – or ‘real’ colour – with expected or ‘memorised’ colour. Consequently, colour saturation and contrast are much better managed, thereby balancing realism with a more visually appealing rendition. And as these are proper profiles, the parameters can be adjusted postcapture when shooting RAW files.
Noise is well handled all the way up to ISO 6400, balancing the sharpness and saturation with the reduction processing. Due to the architecture of the ‘X-Trans’ sensor, the image graininess that is a manifestation of luminance noise is less objectionable, something Fujifilm exploits with the ‘Grain Effect’ processing which gives a much more textured look. As per its siblings, the X-E3 delivers one of the best high ISO performances of any ‘APS-C’ format camera, and the ‘X-Trans CMOS III’ sensor remains at the top of the class.
So it’s back to our introduction and the choice of either X-E3 or X-T20. If your past experience is with reflex cameras, you’ll probably still find it hard to go past the X-T20, such is its classic SLR-type experience combined with all the conveniences of the mirrorless design. On the other hand, if you want so make the most of what the mirrorless configuration can deliver externally in terms of a rangefinder-style camera then the X-E3 has to be the one finding a new home in your camera bag.
Particularly when mated with any of the more compact XF lenses, this is the camera to have when you really want something that’s easy to carry, fast, efficient and capable of delivering great results in any situation. The expanded touchscreen capabilities over the X-T20 are a big plus, but if you’re still more of a traditionalist, the external controls (particularly the navigator joystick) and menus are intuitive enough to work together efficiently.
Comparisons aside, that the X-E3 is using much of what makes the pro-level X-Pro2 and X-T2 models tick makes its compact size, light weight and affordability even more appealing. It is, undoubtedly, one of those cameras you’ll end up falling in love with.
Test images captured as JPEG/large/ fine files with the Fujinon Nano-GI XF 16-55mm f2.8 R LM WR zoom lens. JPEG image quality is exceptional with lots of crisply-defined detailing, pleasing colour reproduction, punchy contrast and good dynamic range...
New joystick-type controller enables the more efficient selection of AF points, but also serves as the navigator.
The compact EF-X8 accessory flash is bundled with the X-E3 to make up for the deletion of the built-in flash.