Camera Review: Fujifilm X-E3
February 12, 2018
The X-E3 is the Tinder of digital cameras, with a swipe-based interface that lets you quickly find camera settings with a flick of your finger.
The newest member of Fujifilm’s X-series of mirrorless cameras boasts several firsts for the company’s camera line. It’s the first Fujifilm camera to use Bluetooth Low Energy to maintain a constant connection with a paired smartphone and it will automatically transfer images to your phone as you shoot them. It’s also the first with a swipe-based touch interface and a new image recognition algorithm to improve autofocus.
The X-E3 uses a 24.3-megapixel APS-C-sized X-Trans CMOS III image sensor with a native ISO range of 200-12,800 (expandable to 100 and 51,200).
The camera can burst at up to 14 fps using an electronic shutter or at 8 fps using a mechanical shutter. Mechanical shutter speeds reach a maximum of 1/4000 sec. while the electronic shutter tops off at 1/32,000 sec.
In addition to the aforementioned Bluetooth, there’s also Wi-Fi for image transfers and remote control.
The X-E3 is nice and lightweight without feeling shoddily built. Do note that if you’re the type that likes a good, meaty grip, the X-E3 doesn’t offer much beyond a modest frontward protrusion. At 11.9 ounces, the X-E3 is lighter than most new models in its class, including Sony’s a6300, Panasonic’s G85 and Olympus’ E-M5 Mark II.
While all of the camera’s external controls with the exception of the shutter speed dial feel a little small, the camera has several really nice design touches. The first is a joystick which lets you select AF points and quickly navigate through menu functions. The camera has a 3-inch touch display that supports touch focusing and a novel interface that lets you adjust camera settings simply by swiping your finger across the display. You can program those swipes in the menu to access settings like ISO, film simulation mode and more. It worked without a hiccup, though it takes a little getting used to. The display is fixed but at this price point, you’d really expect a tilting or swivel display.
You won’t get a built-in flash, but Fuji does include a hotshoe-mounted flash in the box.
While there’s only one dedicated function button on the camera’s exterior, you can remap named buttons to other camera settings in the menu, making the X-E3 nicely customizable. One gripe though: There’s no dedicated video recording button on the camera and none of the programmable options let you assign video recording to a button or display swipe.
The only other design quibble we had was the location of the tripod socket. It sits almost directly next to the battery and memory card compartments, making them impossible to open when you have a quick-release plate attached. Also, and this could be an issue with our model, we found the memory card literally leapt out of the slot when you applied pressure to the spring-loading mechanism. It was pretty funny when we weren’t expecting it (and it landed safely on the office floor), but it would be less amusing if our card flew from the camera into the mud or down a ravine (though we don’t make a habit of standing over those).
Our subjective measure of the X-E3 found little to disappoint. Colors were richly saturated, skin tones pleasant and RAW files had ample dynamic range to pull back highlights and shadows. JPEG images looked great in the standard film simulation setting, though we noticed a slight tendency to push up the contrast.
There’s very little visible noise as you push the camera into higher ISOs. Image quality is very solid through ISO 6400.
Videos showed a fair amount of contrast and the occasional crushed black but were otherwise also very pleasant and color accurate. Unfortunately, 4K videos are capped to ten-minute clips. We do like the ability to use film simulations during video recording, though.
The X-E3 has a new image-recognition algorithm to enhance AF tracking on moving subjects. Thanks to the algorithm, the camera can track subjects half the size or moving twice as fast as previous cameras. In our experience, tracking was fairly reliable, though definitely not class-leading. You have a generous number of AF points to choose from (325) with about 70 percent of the frame (vertically) covered by AF points. That coverage isn’t comparable to Sony’s APS-C line, but it’s still quite good.
The X-E3 has a fairly speedy burst rate of 8 fps when shooting with a mechanical shutter but you can bump the speed to 11 or 14 fps using an electronic shutter. Unfortunately, you have to first set the camera to electronic shutter mode before selecting these higher burst rates—the camera won’t automatically switch for you (even, curiously, when you set the camera to mechanical + electronic shutter mode).
You’ll enjoy a CIPA-rated battery life of 350 images, which is solid performance for a camera in this class.
Notes from the TIPA Test Bench
PDN is a member of the Technical Image Press Association, which has contracted with Image Engineering for camera testing. Click here for the full lab report.
Resolution and Sharpness
At lower ISOs (e.g. ISO 200 and 400), the camera uses more than 100 percent of the theoretical maximum available from its 24.3-megapixel sensor (2094 line pairs per picture height)—better than its predecessor.
The X-E3 is also very consistent: all resolution measurements from the Fujifilm X-E3 show 95 percent or more of the sensor being used. Even at ISO 12,800, 1903 line pairs per picture height are captured, representing 95 percent of the theoretical maximum. In comparison, the X-E2S captured 1531 line pairs per picture height at the same approximate ISO and 1549 line pairs per picture height at its top native ISO of ISO 6400. The X-E3’s resolution measurements also show better performance than some recent cameras in the same megapixel class by other manufacturers.
The Fujifilm X-E3 can handle both high- and low-contrast portions of scenes well. At ISO 200, high-contrast areas of the scene are recorded with a MTF50 (a sharpness measurement) value of 1139 line pairs per picture height, and 1090 line pairs per picture height in low-contrast portions of the scene. This represents an improvement over the X-E2S, which produced images in which the MTF50 at ISO 200 was 983 line pairs per picture height in high-contrast parts of a scene photographed and 929 in low-contrast scenes.
The Fujifilm X-E3 produces a moderately strong degree of sharpening, albeit milder than its predecessor.
Noise, Color & Dynamic Range
Visual noise assessed in Viewing Condition 1 (a modelled viewing at 100 percent enlargement), shows noticeable noise at all ISOs—ranging from hardly observable (1.1) at ISO 200, to 1.5 at ISO 800, and 1.8 at ISO 3200. At ISO 6400, visual noise is disturbing in its obviousness when viewed at 100 percent.
In Viewing Condition 2 (mobile screen or postcard-sized print), visual noise is only obvious in the extended ISOs of hi1 and hi2. Similarly, in Viewing Condition 3, modelling the conditions of a large print 40cm in height, visual noise is not observable through ISO 6400. Only at ISO 12,800 does the noise measurement rise to 1.0.
Visual noise is most noticeable in the mid-tones, especially the darker portions of mid-tones.
The dynamic range of the X-E3 is good, and, at most ISO speeds, very slightly improved from the X-E2S. The exception is at ISO 200, where the X-E3 shows a smaller dynamic range than the X-E2S (9.6 f-stops compared to 10.7 f-stops in the X-E2S.). At ISO 400, the E-X3 has a dynamic range of 9.8 f-stops. At ISO 1600, 10.8 f-stops and at ISO 6400, 9.0 f-stops.
Color reproduction is very good, with only two colors tested showing strong deviation when reproduced by the Fujifilm X-E3. The automatic white balance in the X-E3 is good, especially at ISOs between ISO 1600 and hi2.
As this is a mirrorless camera, the autofocus time was measured using Live View. At 300lux, the autofocus takes only 0.24 seconds, with a total shooting time of 0.36 seconds. In low light, the autofocus in Live View takes 0.27 seconds for a total shooting time of 0.38 seconds.
The X-E3 records 1078 line pairs per picture height (100 percent of the theoretical maximum) in frames grabbed from a video recording made at ISO 200, and 1024 (95 percent of theoretical maximum) at ISO 1600.
Sharpening in video is stronger in the X-E3 than the previous model, but dynamic range is also better: 8.7 f-stops at ISO 200 and 8.0 at ISO 1600, compared with the X-E2S’s 6.3 at both speeds. Visual noise is slightly improved as well.
If you want the classic styling and image quality that Fujifilm’s mirrorless models are known for, the X-E3 gets you there on a budget. You won’t get the same video features, AF and tracking performance as you would on Sony’s a6300, but you do get a nicely well-rounded camera.
PROS: Excellent resolving power; one of the lightest cameras in its class; excellent image quality and dynamic range; novel swipe-based interface; Bluetooth Low Energy for image transfers.
CONS: 4K video clips capped at 10 minutes; no assignable video recording button; fixed display.
PRICE: $900 (body)
Lab Test: Fujifilm X-E3