Fujifilm X-E3 Field Test Part I

Fujifilm's mid-level X-series ILC delivers great image quality & style

by Jeremy Gray | Posted 12/20/2017

Fujifilm XF 10-24mm f/4 R OIS: 13.2mm (20mm eq.), f/7.1, 1s, ISO 200.
This image has been modified. Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image.

Although Fujifilm has less expensive mirrorless ILC options, the X-E series, including this latest X-E3 model, has always been a reasonably-priced entry point into Fujifilm's X-Trans sensor cameras, all while packing a lot of advanced features from the higher-end models.

This latest version represents the biggest change to the X-E series since the original. The X-E3 has a redesigned camera body with a deeper grip, new front control dial, a new touchscreen interface, eight-way joystick, new imaging pipeline, faster performance, 4K video and more. The camera is very impressive on paper, so let's dig in and see how it performs in real-world shooting.

Key Features and Specifications

  • APS-C mirrorless camera
  • 24-megapixel X-Trans 3 CMOS sensor
  • Native ISO range of 200-12,800
  • Hybrid autofocus system with 325 total AF points
  • 11.9-ounce (337 grams) camera body
  • Touchscreen display
  • 8 frames per second shooting
  • 4K UHD video recording
  • Built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth
  • $900 body-only

Camera Body and Handling

The X-E3 has a retro-inspired design and is a reasonably compact APS-C mirrorless camera. Don't let its small stature fool you, however, as the camera has quite a few physical controls and dials. There are rear and front command dials, both which can be pressed in as well. Along the top of the camera, there are shutter speed and exposure compensation dials and a function button. The dials all feel nice and have ridged surfaces to help provide grip. The function button on top is quite small, though, and can be difficult to press.

The Fujifilm X-E3 shares much of the same styling as its predecessor and looks very similar from the front.

The buttons in general are quite small on the X-E3. To the right of the thumb rest, there are AF-L and Q buttons, which are not only small but sit nearly flush with the camera body. This makes them difficult to press when wearing gloves, even thin ones, which was a small issue during my time with the X-E3 here in Maine.

By far my biggest frustration with using the X-E3 -- which is mostly a very good experience -- is the directional joystick. There is no traditional directional pad on the X-E3, but instead only a small joystick control. When scrolling through the main menus, which cannot be used with the touchscreen functionality, it is very easy to move in the incorrect direction using the joystick.

When looking at the back of the camera, differences are immediately apparent. The X-E3 ditches the four-way directional controller of its predecessor and opts instead for a joystick selector. This change is a mixed bag.

On the topic of the touchscreen, it does work well even though it is not fully integrated into the X-E3's user experience. It works well for scrolling through images during playback, selecting an autofocus area when using the EVF or for touch AF/shutter when using the LCD to frame, but as I mentioned, you can't use the touchscreen to navigate the full menus. Fortunately, the Quick Menu, which is very useful, has touchscreen integration and is a great way to interact with the camera and adjust common settings. The touchscreen also implements four programmable function "keys" by swiping up, down, left or right in record mode which default to AF mode, ISO, film simulation and white balance respectively.

The camera also has an electronic viewfinder, which is a 0.39-inch OLED EVF with 0.62x magnification (35mm equivalent). It works well and looks good, although it is fairly small. Overall, the X-E3 handles well, although it's unfortunate that the joystick selector doesn't work better and that the touchscreen is not implemented more thoroughly.

Image Sensor and Image Quality

The X-E3 utilizes the same image sensor as is found in their top-end X-Pro2, which is impressive considering the X-E3's much lower price point. The 24.3-megapixel APS-C sensor is a Fujifilm X-Trans CMOS III sensor, which has eight more megapixels than the sensor used in the X-E2. Though there are some slight performance differences, the X-E3 uses the same imaging pipeline as the X-Pro2, which means you should expect similar image quality.

Fujifilm XF 10-24mm f/4 R OIS: 10mm (15mm eq.), f/7.1, 1.7s, ISO 200.
I am a big fan how the Fujifilm X-E3 renders colors. Its color accuracy is good and it delivers images with good pop and vibrance without being oversaturated.
Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image.

The image quality from the X-E3 is definitely very good, especially when you consider that the camera body costs under $1,000. As is often the case with Fujifilm cameras, the colors are nice and the files are detailed. I will discuss Fujifilm's excellent Film Simulations in the next Field Test, but suffice it to say that they allow you to get fantastic images straight from the camera.

What about RAW file editing? Software support for the RAW files from Fujifilm X-Trans sensors has been steadily improving over time, but there are still some issues at times with getting the most from the Fujifilm RAW files due to the inherently different nature of an X-Trans sensor and its proprietary color filter array. With that said, when using supported software, the RAW files from the X-E3 provide a good amount of flexibility, and you can perform extensive editing without severely degrading the image quality.

Fujifilm XF 16mm f/1.4 R WR: 16mm (24mm eq.), f/1.4, 1/200s, ISO 200.
Original image. Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image.

Adobe Camera Raw modified image. Adjustments are: +0.9 EV exposure, -100 Highlights, +100 Shadows. Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image.

100% crop of the modified image above. You can see that there is quite a bit of noise introduced when making the adjustments, but that isn't surprising considering the nearly full stop of increased exposure and the +100 shadows adjustment. With that said, if you look at the full modified image, you can see that there is some highlight data recovered even with the increased exposure, particularly in the top left corner of the image. That's impressive. [Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image.]

Getting back to sharpness, straight-from-the-camera JPEGs deliver very good fine detail and sharpness. Below you can see a 100% crop from an unedited JPEG file and as you can tell, the camera is good at applying intelligent sharpening without introducing a lot of unwanted artifacts or other image quality issues.

Fujifilm XF 10-24mm f/4 R OIS: 15mm (23mm eq.), f/7.1, 1/500s, ISO 500.
Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image.

The Fuji X-E3 captures a lot of very fine detail. 100% crop of the above image.
Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image.

What about low light performance? At high ISOs, the X-E3 is quite impressive, and the camera does a good job at reducing visible noise while retaining good detail in JPEG files. It is not the best APS-C sensor I've used, but it's an excellent 24-megapixel crop sensor nonetheless. I was able to comfortably shoot the X-E3 at ISOs as high as 6400, although for more critical applications, ISO 1600 or 3200 would be as high as I'd want to go.

Fujifilm XF 10-24mm f/4 R OIS: 21mm (31mm eq.), f/6.4, 1/500s, ISO 3200.
Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image.

100% crop of the above image from the original JPEG file.
Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image.

100% crop of the above image from the original JPEG file.
Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image.

100% crop of the above image from a converted RAW file with Adobe Camera Raw defaults applied.
Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image.

100% crop of the above image from a converted RAW file with Adobe Camera Raw defaults applied.
Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image.

Overall, the X-E3 delivers very good image quality, particularly for a sub-$1,000 APS-C camera. The 24-megapixel sensor delivers good, high-quality files and despite some RAW file compatibility issues with Fujifilm X-Trans sensors, the X-E3 is a versatile camera.

Performance

The X-E3 shares the same image sensor and processor with the X-Pro2 and despite costing $600 less (as of December 2017), the X-E3 delivers very similar performance to the X-Pro2. The continuous shooting speeds with a mechanical shutter are almost identical, and the RAW buffer depths are very similar. The only noticeable performance advantage that the X-Pro2 has its larger JPEG buffer and slightly faster buffer clearing. On the other hand, the X-E3 has the advantage of a 14-fps shooting mode with its electronic shutter and slightly better battery life when using the electronic viewfinder and LCD monitor.

The camera can capture full-resolution files at just over 8 frames per second, which is about a frame per second faster than the X-E2. The X-E3 has good buffer depth, too, at around 50 frames for JPEG images and around 25 frames for RAW, and buffer clearing times, provided you have a fast card, are pretty good. Your own results may vary depending on what you are shooting and the card you're using, but in my experience, the X-E3 felt plenty quick and snappy out in the field.

The X-E3 also offers an electronic shutter, which lets you capture images at over 13 frames per second. That's very quick. You can of course expect potential issues with rolling shutter when using the electronic shutter.

Fujifilm XF 10-24mm f/4 R OIS: 10mm (15mm eq.), f/6.4, 1/500s, ISO 800.
Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image.

There aren't any serious downsides with the X-E3's performance, but I did find the battery life to be a bit wanting. It offers around 350 shots of battery life in the standard mode (260 shots in the High Performance mode). This is about average, but this means that you will need a spare battery for extended outings. Regarding the High Performance mode, it improves the refresh rate of the camera's displays (LCD and electronic viewfinder) and is said to improve autofocus, but I've never found that to be noticeably the case with Fujifilm cameras. I usually leave this mode off, but if you don't need the battery life, feel free to enable it.

Autofocus

Autofocus performance with the X-E3 is very good. The camera has 325 total autofocus points, 169 of which are phase-detect points, and the autofocus modes are plentiful and work well. The X-Pro2 offers the same number of phase-detection points, but provides less overall AF areas at just 273.

In most shooting situations, the autofocus was quick and accurate. The camera is able to quickly make small adjustments when your subject is moving and continuous autofocus performance proved to be pretty good in most cases. Low light autofocus performance is not that great, but it proved to be sufficient for me and was comparable to other Fujifilm cameras I've used, including the X-T20.

The X-E3's touchscreen works very well for autofocus and was my go-to method for moving the autofocus point around, particularly when shooting on a tripod. When shooting handheld, the new AF joystick is fantastic. While I found the AF joystick to be difficult for navigating the camera's menus, I found that it works very well for moving the autofocus point around the frame. With that said, you can use the display and touchscreen for moving the AF point even when shooting through the electronic viewfinder. You can set the camera's touch-sensitive area (AF Touchpad) to be the entire screen, either half or disable it entirely.

Fujifilm XF 18-55mm f/2.8-4 R LM OIS: 37mm (56mm eq.), f/3.6, 1/60s, ISO 1000.
Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image.

Overall, the Fujifilm X-E3 delivers good autofocus performance in low and normal light situations, particularly when using AF-S. When using continuous autofocus, performance drops off a bit, especially in low light, but remains pretty good nonetheless. The touchscreen functionality for autofocus works great, and the new AF joystick is very good.

Field Test Part I Summary

The X-E3 delivers improved ergonomics, great image quality and good performance

What I like:

  • Stylish and compact APS-C camera
  • Joystick control works well for moving the AF point
  • Very good image quality
  • Impressive continuous shooting speeds

What I dislike:

  • No four-way directional pad makes full menu navigation a bit difficult
  • Touchscreen is underutilized
  • X-Trans RAW file support is getting better but is still an issue
  • Mediocre battery life
  • Continuous AF is only okay

So far so good with the Fujifilm X-E3. The new camera delivers great image quality with its 24-megapixel X-Trans sensor, and the camera is generally a joy to use. It's not perfect, however, but it's impressively good considering its price point and the sheer number of improvements it has over its predecessor.

In my Field Test Part II, I take a closer look at the shooting experience with the X-E3 and discuss video and wireless functionality. Click here to read Part II now!



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