Review: Fuji X-E2S

Introduction and Features

Following the success of the then-flagship X-Pro1, Fuji introduced the X-E1 and X-E2 models as similar, but more affordable, alternatives for the enthusiast user. Now, along with the arrival of the X-Pro2 and X-70 compact, the company has also refreshed its X-E line with the X-E2S.

The X-E2S sits roughly in the middle of Fuji’s X-series line-up, more advanced than the budget X-A2 and, to some extent, the similarly specified X-T10, but less so than the X-Pro2 and X-T1. As such, it’s likely to appeal to those upgrading from junior models or seeking a backup for a more advanced camera. Its chief rivals from other manufacturers include the Olympus OM-D E-M10 II and the Panasonic Lumix GX8.

Fuji X-E2S

As the ‘S’ suffix suggests, the camera is not as significant a step forward from the X-E2 as the X-E2 was from the X-E1, but a number of changes have nevertheless been made. These include a revised autofocus (AF) system, with 77 points (up from 49) and new Zone and Wide/Tracking modes, while focusing speeds are said to have been improved, now as fast as 0.06sec (a 0.02sec improvement over the X-E2).

A new electronic shutter also joins the mechanical one; as well as allowing for shutter speeds as high as 1/32,000sec to be used this also provides a near-silent shutter operation, which may be handy when discretion is key. The camera also now offers a maximum (extended) ISO setting of 51,200 in the JPEG format, and also adds the Classic Chrome option to the Film Simulation modes and an Interval Timer, two features absent from the X-E2 upon launch but made available through a subsequent firmware update.

In terms of features, the rest of what the camera offers is essentially the same as the X-E2. For example, it uses the same acclaimed (if ageing) 16.3MP X-Trans CMOS II sensor, together with the EXR Processor II engine and X-series mount. The 2.36 million-dot electronic viewfinder is unchanged from the version inside the X-E2 (with recent firmware) as is the 3-inch 1.04 million-dot LCD screen on the rear – although changes have been made to the user interface.

Fuji X-E2S

The camera goes on to offer a collection of Film Simulation modes including Astia, Provia and Velvia, although the new black-and-white Acros option seen on the X-Pro2 is not present. Full HD video recording is on offer at a choice of frame rates up to 60p, with the further option of using an external microphone as an alternative to the camera’s own.

Burst shooting at maximum resolution is once again possible at a rate of 7fps, although the burst depth has decreased from 28 JPEGs on the X-E2 to 18 frames here, while the Wi-Fi functionality that allows for image sharing and remote control from smart devices has been carried over.

In a move that will no doubt please X-E2 owners, Fuji has already released a firmware update that brings many of the X-E2S’s advantages, such as the changes to the focusing system and the electronic shutter, to the X-E2.

Build Quality and Handling

The X-E2S continues the largely agreeable design of its forebears, with a sturdy metal top plate complete with milled dials, together with a textured wrap around its body and large, clearly marked buttons on the rear plate. While the camera doesn’t quite feel as solid in the hands as its X-Pro2 elder brother, this is expected for a camera at a cheaper price point and it’s difficult to imagine it coming to any serious harm.

Fuji X-E2S

As the X-E2S has an Auto Macro feature, there’s no need for a dedicated button to enable closer than normal autofocusing. This means that the top direction pad button, as well as the bottom button (marked AF on the X-E2) are more likely to be customised by users. By default, the quartet of direction controls access Film Simulation mode, AF mode, AF point and flash mode, which is a logical set. A further change from the X-E2 concerns the button in the very bottom left hand corner; whereas this was previously a function button, this now accesses a full Auto mode.

What’s particularly nice to see is that the size and torque of the exposure compensation dial means it is nowhere near as prone to being knocked out of place as this type of dial is on many other cameras. The now-finer ridges on the rear command dial also feel nicer to the thumb than on the X-E2, although the Q button occupies the same space beneath the hot shoe as before, which is shame as a control used this frequently really deserves a place where it can be accessed as easily as possible. The hump to the right of the thumb rest, where this control is found on the X-Pro2 is the obvious candidate, particularly as this is home to the less-frequently used AF-L and AE-L controls.

The grip has been slightly reworked, now sporting a flat rubber section on the side closest to the lens. The camera itself is not heavy, although with the XF 18-55mm f/2.8-4 R LM OIS kit lens attached, the grip feels like it ought to be more substantial if it’s to serve its purpose (although this does help to keep its profile down).

Fuji X-E2S

At its default setting the LCD screen appears somewhat underpowered in bright sunlight and it can be difficult to assess some scenes (particularly those with a wider dynamic range). However its brightness can be increased (and decreased) by five levels from the standard setting, which makes a considerable difference. In similar shooting conditions the viewfinder requires a hand cupped around it, otherwise it too can be difficult to see clearly.

In more average conditions, however, the viewfinder performs very well. It’s bright and detailed, and displays very little lag when you change the framing, with the effective lens-based image stabilisation helping to steady the view. Only a little noise creeps in when shooting in darker conditions, with details generally remaining clear enough to accurately assess focus, even when manually focusing the lens (although aids such as the camera’s focus peaking function are available). It doesn’t tilt in any way, although this feature is provided on the X-T10 which has similar specs to the X-E2S and could be a good alternative.

Performance

The camera turns on promptly when set to the High Performance Power management setting, with a noticeable boost in speed over the standard power option. The camera also responds well to differences in the scene as the lens is zoomed or the camera is moved around the scene, adjusting the view fluidly, although one I noticed that, on occasions where the camera was switched back on soon after being switched off (as you would sometimes do when shooting spontaneously), the camera would sometimes fail to power up at all. Shot-to-shot times could also be improved, as the slight blackout between frames causes a slight delay before you can take the next shot.

Fuji X-E2S sample image

  • Spot metering helped to get the exposure right for this scene, which was slightly underexposed with the metering pattern set to the Multi mode. Click here for a full size version.

Fuji X-E2S sample image

  • Captured at a shutter speed of 1/20sec, the 18-55mm kit lens’ image-stabilisation system has done well to retain sharpness. Click here for a full size version.

Fuji X-E2S sample image

  • This was taken at the widest (18mm) end of the 18-55mm kit lens’s zoom range. Click here for a full size version.

Fuji X-E2S sample image

  • And this was taken at the maximum zoom setting (55mm). Click here for a full size version.

With the XF 18-55mm f/2.8-4 R LM OIS kit lens in place the camera’s autofocusing system generally does well. It’s not quite the fastest system of its kind, but for static subjects in good light it’s generally fast enough. As we’d expect this drops a touch against low-contrast subjects or in poor light, but not by much. During this test it did, however, get stuck on the odd occasion – when focusing in low light, for example, it largely performed as expected but occasionally gave a false-positive focus confirmation. Furthermore, even with the focusing point set to its smallest size, it found it difficult to pick out a well-lit subject on which it was focused, preferring instead to focus around it.

The camera lacks sensor-based image stabilisation, although the OIS system inside the 18-55mm lens performed well. Shooting as close to the subject as possible at the 55mm end of the lens, I found the camera delivered acceptably sharp images at around 1/20sec, with usable results at smaller sizes at 1/15sec. This represents an improvement of around two stops, although image stabilisation systems are more effective as subject distance increases, and I found this to indeed be the case with more distant subjects.

While the X-Trans CMOS II sensor and EXR Processor II engine are no longer the most recent of Fuji’s imaging technologies, their partnership is tried and tested. And, as we’d expect, the X-E2S is capable of delivering very pleasing images straight out of the camera.

The metering system is largely sound, doing particularly well when shooting a backlit subject, although the screen’s visibility in bright conditions can make assessing this accurately somewhat tricky without the assistance of a histogram. Thanks to a good choice of Film Simulation options and a capable auto white balance system the camera appears render colours as expected straight out of the camera, and I found it performed well under the mixed natural/artificial conditions under which it was tested.

Fuji X-E2S sample image

  • Noise is kept low throughout much of the ISO range, making settings such as ISO 3200 perfectly acceptable for general nighttime shots without the need for processing. Click here for a full size version.

Fuji X-E2S sample image

  • There is some slight pincushion distortion visible at the 55mm end of the 18-55mm kit lens, but this is easily corrected (Monochrome mode). Click here for a full size version.

Fuji X-E2S sample image

  • Images straight out the camera show good detail, pleasing colours and accurate exposures (Provia mode). Click here for a full size version.

Fuji X-E2S sample image

  • Faced with a combination of fading daylight and various artificial lighting sources, the Auto White Balance system has done well to reproduce the scene accurately. Click here for a full size version.

Noise is very well controlled throughout the ISO range, and I was impressed with how well this was suppressed in much of the four-figure sensitivity range, with just a slight texture visible. This, together with lower chroma noise than expected, suggests clever in-camera processing. Naturally, at settings such as ISO 6400 this is more apparent, and at the highest setting of ISO 51,200 (which is JPEG-only), heavy noise suppression, detail loss and colour shifts are noticeable. Still, in images captured at more moderate sensitivities, I was pleased at how easy it was to successfully remove this noise without degrading the images as whole.

While traces of chromatic aberration remain in JPEG images, comparison with raw counterparts show the majority of this to be successfully removed, and the detail left behind in high-sensitivity images is also very good, with noise-reduction doing what it’s supposed to without robbing significant detail. JPEGs captured on the Provia/Standard setting show good saturation and a gentle boost to contrast over raw files, although this process does tend to block shadow areas and reduce the fine detail present on default settings.

The 18-55mm kit lens is reasonably consistent with the level of detail resolved throughout the frame, although the slight softness observed at its maximum aperture at telephoto (f/4) means that stopping down a touch is necessary to better define details – but that’s not unusual. At the wideangle end, however, details are good across the frame, at even wider apertures. Distortion is also low throughout the range and practically non-existent at 25mm, although a little pincushion distortion can be seen at the 55m end of the lens.

Overall, images from the X-E2S are very good, characterised by low noise, good colour and largely fine metering. Default JPEG output makes this reliable enough for everyday images, although it’s possible to regain more fine detail, particularly in the shadows, by shooting raw.

Lab tests: Resolution

We test resolution using an industry standard ISO test chart in laboratory conditions. We check resolution across the camera’s ISO range, and for both JPEG and raw files. The figures are quoted in line widths/picture height, which is a measure now widely adopted by image testers as it allows direct comparisons between cameras, even those with different sensor sizes.

This means we can compare new cameras against others in our lab test database, and in our charts we include the results from three key rivals. In this instance, we’ve chosen three other mirrorless cameras:

Fuji X-Pro2: This is the latest and best Fuji mirrorless camera and the first to come with Fuji’s new 24-megapixel X-Trans sensor – that’s a 50% increase in resolution over other Fuji X-mount cameras, including the X-E2S.

Olympus OM-D E-M10 II: The E-M10 II looks like a miniature DSLR camera rather than a rangefinder design, but its price and performance make it a strong rival to the X-E2S.

Panasonic GX8: Panasonic also has a new sensor, this time a 20-megapixel Micro Four Thirds sensor used for the first time in the rangefinder-style GX8. This is a smaller sensor format than the APS-C sensor used in the Fuji X-E2S, but the GX8’s results are impressive nonetheless.

Fuji X-E2S lab tests

JPEG resolution analysis: The Fuji X-E2S is a distinctly average performer in this group. Its resolution is good, but it’s beaten by both the X-Pro2 and the Panasonic GX8 – perhaps not surprisingly, since they have higher resolution sensors.

Fuji X-E2S lab tests

Raw (converted to TIFF) resolution analysis: The X-E2S fares rather better when shooting raw files. The X-Pro2 still has a resolution advantage, but it’s smaller, and while the Olympus and Panasonic are a little sharper at low ISOs, the X-E2S beats them at ISO 1600 and beyond, probably a reflection of its larger sensor.

Lab tests: Dynamic range

Dynamic range is a measure of the camera’s ability to capture a wide brightness range without losing detail in the brightest or darkest areas. It’s measured in EV (exposure values, or ‘stops’), and the higher the value the better.

We test dynamic range in laboratory conditions using DxO Analyzer hardware and software.

Fuji X-E2S lab tests

JPEG dynamic range analysis: Both Fuji models do comparatively poorly in this test, but it’s something we’ve come to expect because Fuji’s JPEG images tend to be tuned for strong mid-tone contrast.

Fuji X-E2S lab tests

Raw (converted to TIFF) dynamic range analysis: The X-E2S doesn’t fare much better when shooting raw files, though. Even the tiny Olympus starts to creep ahead at ISO 800 and beyond. The X-E2S saving grace, though, is its expanded dynamic range mode (not tested) which is common to all Fuji cameras.

Lab tests: Signal to noise ratio

The signal to noise ratio compares the level of random digital noise in the image to real image data. The higher the number, the lower the visible noise levels in pictures. The signal to noise ratio is measured in laboratory conditions using DxO Analyzer hardware and software.

Fuji X-E2S lab tests

JPEG signal to noise ratio analysis: In this test, all four cameras are remarkably evenly matched. The results are so close that you couldn’t say any of them had an advantage.

Fuji X-E2S lab tests

Raw (converted to TIFF) signal to noise ratio analysis: The raw files, though, do start to show some clear differences. The Panasonic has by far the lowest noise levels, despite the relatively small size of its Micro Four Thirds sensor. The Olympus OM-D E-M10 does quite well in second place, and the X-E2S and X-Pro2 are left trailing in last place, with nothing to choose between them.

Verdict

When you consider that the v.4.00 firmware update allows the X-E2 to more or less match the X-E2S in many respects, you start to wonder why Fujifilm chose to release the X-E2S at all (and whether it’s worth going for the cheaper X-E2 and just upgrading its firmware instead). Still, when viewed in isolation, anyone seeking a capable and handsome camera should find plenty to like here.

Although only a few changes have been made from the X-E2, its current RRP-level street price is reasonable when you consider that this will no doubt soon start to drop. It strikes a good balance between offering the ease of use and approachability of the entry-level models while offering enough from more advanced siblings to warrant its mid-range billing.

That said, at its current price, it goes up against cameras that manage to offer a little more for the money. The Olympus OM-D E-M0 II has the advantage of a sensor-based, five-axis image stabilisation system and a tilting touch-sensitive LCD screen while the Panasonic Lumix GX8 includes these on top of 4K video recording. As members of the Micro Four Thirds system, the pair are also compatible with a wider range of lenses than the X-E2S, although Fuji’s own range is fast developing and widely respected.

Fuji X-E2S

We liked

The X-E2S has a great design and an approachable control layout, and the fine performance and a tried-and-tested imaging pipeline makes the X-E2S a well-rounded enthusiast’s camera.

We disliked

The grip could be more substantial and the Q button isn’t as convenient to access as it could be. The screen can also be difficult to see in bright sunlight, and while this can be rectified using its brightness controls this obviously comes at the expense of battery life.

Final Verdict

The X-E2 is well-designed and pleasing to use, with the advantage of very good image quality straight out of the camera. While it lacks some of the functionality of rival models, its agreeable price point makes it more accessible to those upgrading from more junior models, while also being a fine contender as a backup body for cameras higher up in the Fuji family.

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