The 2 best cameras that I have ever owned…
Let me begin by saying that I have no stake in any camera company. I am professional photographer and have been for 12 years. What you will read is a reflection of my experiences and how I work. This will reflect in my biases and opinions. These may or may not align with your way of thinking or working or even your findings.
I have never been a big fan of comparing apples to apples so I thought it would be more interesting to see how Fuji’s latest release (The X-E2) compares to a work horse DSLR like the Canon 5D Mark III. The reasoning behind this is that the majority of professional photographers out there love photographing even when it isn’t for clients. The problem is that we hate carrying around that heavy gear when we don’t absolutely have to. I know what I’m talking about since I carried a 5D, a 70-200mm, a 16-35mm, and a 50mm to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, and again on a 300km hike in Nepal. Both times I felt the urge to heave my gear over a cliff and enjoy a nice light walk for a change. While the effect isn’t as dramatic for a weekend get away, the urge to leave the gear behind is always there. This results in wanting a smaller/lighter alternative while not giving up on quality, especially when attempting to continually document your own life and family.
The other side to this story is that great number of photographers also want to have a smaller, high quality camera on hand even during professional shoots to lessen the load that we are required to carry. Needless to say, quality is very important in this situation since it’s for a paying client.
My quest for this type of camera started 2 years ago when Olympus released the OMD EM5. Operationally, this camera is fantastic but personally, I didn’t find that the image quality was up to par for professional use. Around the same, Fuji released the X100 (with a fixed 35mm lens). This was a 12Mp shocker of a camera since it bundled a very cool, retro look with a surprisingly great sensor that produced beautiful images. The problem? (you knew there had a be a problem) The camera was just too slow for someone who photographs people who happen to be moving (which people do). Move ahead to now since this is not a history lesson, and we see that Olympus has the crazy good OMD EM1 and Fuji has gone through many great firmware updates, released the X100S and now, finally, has released the Fuji XE2 which takes the best of everything that Fuji has AND includes interchangeable lenses. The image quality has jumped significantly, and the operational speed has improved dramatically.
At least enough to make a ridiculous comparison like this…
This doesn’t mean that there are not other players out there of course. There are offerings from Sony in the shape of the full frame 7r and from Olympus with the OMD EM1. My issue with Sony is that they currently have very few native lenses, and while I have always had very good experiences with Olympus (especially with camera operation) they have never quite had what I wanted.
Size and Weight
The biggest reasons for wanting one of these cameras when you already have perfectly great gear is size, weight and convenience. Why not use a phone? Print an image from an iPhone and you will see why. iPhone images are great when viewed on an iPhone. There is nothing wrong with that of course, they just have different uses.
Here is what a 5D Mark III and Fuji X-E2 look like size by side with a similar lens configuration (Image created from Camera Size):
A typical body and lens ‘kit’ compared by weight:
Fuji XE2 Body + 18-55mm + 23mm F1.4 + 35mm F1.4 = 1.17Kg or 2.58lbs
Canon 5D Mark III + 24-70mm + 35mm F1.4 + 50mm F1.2 = 2.84Kg or 6.26lbs
The Fuji kit is 40% the weight of the Canon kit (less than half). I can attest that carrying the 5D around all day in the above configuration is not my favourite thing in the world. On the other hand, I have been carrying my Fuji X-E2 with me at almost every possible moment over the last month and have yet to wish it was somewhere else.
Professional gear is expensive but when you use a tool for work, you have to have the gear that reliably gets results. Personally, if I were not photographing for a living and required a camera that was as fast as my own reaction time, I would not have a full sized DSLR. The cost to quality ratio is just not justifiable.
Fuji XE2 Body + 18-55mm + 23mm F1.4 + 35mm F1.4 weight comparison = $2900
Canon 5D Mark III + 24-70mm + 35mm F1.4 + 50mm F1.2 = $7840
The Fuji kit is 37% of the cost of the Canon kit (almost a third)
This is where things get interesting and where the XE2 doesn’t match up to the 5D. The 5D has been evolving for for 4 times longer than the XE2 and also borrows some serious technology from the 1D line of high speed professional cameras. The Mark III (which I use many times a week) is highly configurable for quick access to often used functions. You can map a back button for focus, you can map another to instantly toggle between one shot and continuous focus, you can switch the focal point very fast with the mini joy-stick, and of course the focus speed and accuracy has evolved to a point where you don’t really think about the gear – you just shoot. Canon also has the incredibly powerful 600EX speed lights that have become the envy of the industry for off-camera-wireless lighting but that’s as far as we will discuss that.
On the other hand, the X-E2 focuses at what I estimate to be, roughly twice as long as the 5D. In bright light and with a fast lens (like the 23mm F1.4, this means that you don’t really notice much of a difference). In dim light, and with a zoom like the 18-55mm, you will notice a BIG difference. “BIG” might be splitting hairs for a landscape photographer, but for a wedding photographer in a dark church or reception venue, the difference is huge. The other noticeable negative to the focus ability is the difference is speed and ability between the centre focus point and the outer focus points. All are great in bright light but get into low light and even worse, backlight and the outer focus points are verging on terrible. Thankfully, the centre focus point is fast enough and very accurate regardless of the conditions.
My biggest pet peeve in operational speed comes from how you switch the focal point position. This requires the push of a button, followed by clicking 4 other buttons to change the position. This is not great for photographing people and constantly changing situations and would be much better achieved though a joy stick type toggle or even better, like the Olympus cameras which use touch screen selection.
All of the above tends to push you in the direction of using a focus and recompose technique. Not great for very shallow depth of field but workable.
Fuji does make up some ground with the excellent auto-iso implementation and with the very handy aperture ring on each lens.
Canon’s EF lens line up is nothing short of spectacular. From fish-eye to extreme telephoto, there is a lens for every possible situation, every price point, and in recent years, these lenses have been getting upgraded to match the ever increasing resolutions of cameras and expectations of pixel-peeping photographers. The new ones however, get increasingly more expensive and really big. Even the prime lenses (think 85mm F1.2) are heavy.
Fuji lenses are known for their high quality and when it comes to the size for the X series cameras, they are tiny and inexpensive by comparison. Fuji has managed to fill in most lens niches but still has some holes. With a new 10-24mm ultra-wide coming out shortly, and 56mm F1.2 expected early next year, most of the bases will be covered for 80% of photographers. Those needing tilt-shift or fish-eye lenses are out of luck until further notice. There are some third-party, manual focus alternatives out there so all is not lost.
Canon certainly wins in choice and variety, Fuji wins in size and price. In the high end of the spectrum, both have quality.
Image quality in general is hard to compare so much of this will be done simply by looking at photos. After shooting with the XE2 for a few weeks now, I have seen what it can do in a wide variety of shooting situations. The camera has been around my neck for 90% of the time that I have been out and about, at parties, walks, lunches, gymnastics, and anything else that will allow me to test out the capabilities of this device. This is important since a camera is only as fast as your ability to use it and without knowing it inside and out, you spend much of your time looking for settings while missing shots.
The following examples are rather different from my usual work mainly because I have been shooting non-stop portraits before Christmas and haven’t been able to get some comparisons at weddings. The conditions do approximate those at a wedding since many are of my daughter who does not excel at being stationary. Surprisingly, this has not been an issue.
Other Potential Issues
There are a couple of weird little things that can ruin the idea of an XE2 for some people and I have heard this from a few people.
- For anyone who is into making panoramas, the tripod mount is not centred with the lens mount. The mount issue can be fixed with a bracket but it’s still annoying.
- Exposure bracketing is limited to 3 images at a maximum of 1 stop increments. This is essentially useless for HDR especially when the 5D Mark III can take up to 7 images at up to 4 stop increments Hopefully there will be a firmware fix for the bracketing limitation.
- Battery life – this seems to be an issue for all mirrorless cameras since they rely so much on LCDs and electronic view finders. You can hope to get 300-400 images per battery charge. This is not a consideration for casual shooting but if you want to use something like this for a wedding or a long trip with few charging opportunities, prepare to have a bag of batteries. By comparison, it’s possible to take up to 2000 images on a single charge on a 5D Mark III if not using image stabilization.
The X-E2 has a crop factor of 1.5x so the lens “equivalents” of the lenses used below are as follows:
23mm F1.4 = 35mm on a full frame sensor. The depth of field equivalent is equal to F2.2
35mm F1.4 = 50mm on a full frame sensor. The depth of field equivalent is equal to F2.2
18-55mm F2.8-4 = 27-82.5mm on a full frame sensor. The depth of field equivalent is equal to F4.2 – 6
23mm F1.4 – Processed in ACR
18-55mm F2.8 – 4 – JPG from camera. No processing. Bright sun with lots of contrast and no problem.
23mm F1.4 @ F1.4 800iso – Like every shot from this lens, tack sharp. No noise at 800iso. JPG converted to B&W in ACR.
Samyang 8mm Fish-eye F8, 20 seconds. JPG colour corrected in ACR.
23mm @ F1.4. My talented assistant humouring me with a quick snap shot at the studio.
Samyang 8mm Fish-eye. Heavily processed to show how much detail and dynamic range these files have.
23mm @ F1.4. Surprisingly low distortion for such a close photo at a 35mm equivalent.
23mm @ F1.4 Try nailing the exposure on a shot like this without live view and with less than a second to shoot. JPG converted to B&W in ACR.
35mm F1.4 – Minimal processing in ACR.
23mm @F1.4 in the worst ambient indoor light. Easily corrected in ACR.
23mm @F1.4. No problem catching the movement or focussing.
35mm @ F1.4 – This shows how much depth of field control you have if you need it. Also tack sharp wide open.
23mm @F1.4. Again, little distortion close up.
While I’m not including any side by side comparison shots from the 5D Mark III and the Fuji X-E2, suffice to say that I have not found a single instance where the quality of the X-E2 was such that I could really tell the difference between the 2 cameras. Again, operationally speaking, the 5D is a true work horse that you can be 99% sure to get any shot you try for. The X-E2 doesn’t quite reach that level of confidence but I would estimate it as 80% of the time in even the worst conditions, you can count on getting the shot. This of course comes with the assumption that one has learned how to use either camera in the most efficient manner possible.
In the case of taking static portraits, landscapes, or anything with little or no movement, I would have no issue using only the XE2. For my particular range of photography which includes weddings, events, and other photo-journalistic styles, I would not consider using only the XE2.
All this to say that all of my photographic needs are finally taken care of by having both systems.
Andrew Van Beek is an Ottawa Wedding Photographer, Ottawa Commercial Photographer, and Ottawa Portrait Photographer with 12 years of professional photography experience, and over 30 years of general photography experience.