FU­JI­FILM X-E3

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.

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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.

TOUCHED UP

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.

MORE SPEED

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.

THE VER­DICT

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.

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.

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 straight out of the camera. Noise is well con­trolled up to ISO 6400 and the im­age qual­ity is still ac­cept­able at ISO 12,800.

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