Reconsidering the Fuji XE-3. Bought as an emergency back up camera but winning me over as a general "walk around" tool.

I think my writing will be conceptually blurry today because I spent the first five waking hours at jury duty. No big murder case. No industrial treachery. Just a couple of people in civil court with their respective attorneys trying to convince the six person jury whether or not the plaintiff should have her (very inexpensive) medical expenses and lost work time paid for by the defendant.

It's interesting to come out of my comfortable cocoon to see what the real world feels like. It's not nearly as glamorous out there as I wish it was... I can't believe the jury worked for nearly five hours with nary an offer of a cappuccino or some fresh croissant. Call me spoiled but when the attorneys are getting paid, as are the judge and his staff, I think it's a bit much to ask taxpaying citizens to drop everything, rush to the courts and decide the futures of our fellow persons in exchange for nothing more than $10 from the state of Texas. Really? Would it take much effort for them to at least buy a nice coffee making apparatus for the jury? I don't think so...

But, as some bitchy reader out in the webspace instructed me to stop talking about anything not directly related to photography I guess we won't go into any more detail about the care and feeding of the people ensnared in the production and delivery of justice.  To the reader who "suggested" that I get back to writing just about photography I say, "Have A Nice Day."  

Housekeeping. See below for our standard policy on you directing my writing. It comes from the footer of the comments section:

Comments. If you disagree do so civilly. Be nice or see your comments fly into the void. Anonymous posters are not given special privileges or dispensation. If technology alone requires you to be anonymous your comments will likely pass through moderation if you "sign" them. A new note: Don't tell me how to write or how to blog!

Now, on to the topic of the day; that cute little APS-C camera from Fuji; the XE-3. 

Last fall I made the "mistake" of buying a Fuji XT-3. I say mistake because I liked the files I got from that camera and wanted to bring it along and incorporate it into a project that was already in progress. But I have a and hard and fast rule about not going on assignment without a back up camera that will take the same lenses. Even better, the same accessories and batteries. 

I trudged back to the camera store to spend more money that I really didn't want to spend and opted for what I thought would be only a dire emergency back-up camera, the XE-3. It had a very similar menu, the same battery and everything else that would make it a functional reserve camera so all the boxes were checked and it rode up mountain roads and into rough weather with us, unused until the end of the year. During the holidays I was looking for a camera that was small and light and unobtrusive enough to take everywhere and I rediscovered this one in the side pocket of one of the camera bags.

So, what is it? The XE-3 is a small, light, rangefinder-styled APS-C camera that trades a bit of functionality for a diminutive overall package. The camera uses the same 24 megapixel sensor you'll find in Fuji's XT-2 or the X-Pro-2. From what I can get in my research it also has the same imaging hardware as the bigger cameras in the Fuji family. You still get the exterior dials for shutter speeds and exposure compensation and you still get to control aperture via the ring around the front of the lens. You just get to do this with a camera that has a fixed rear LCD (the anti-blogger-cam) and a usable but fairly pedestrian EVF. That's pretty much it. 

If you are truly a minimalist and looking for the highest imaging performance in the smallest and simplest package (and one that's not too menu driven) then this camera, or one like it should be on your list of camera to evaluate. While it's a bit small for a heavy duty user camera (and I say this only because a camera this small is harder to hold at times) it absolutely disappears at the end of the camera strap; in a good way. 

There are a few indications that this is not meant to be your "flagship" camera, such as the top manually settable shutter speed is 1/4000th of a second, and the top flash sync speed of 1/180th of a second. The EVF is also a bit small and allows too much ambient light to interfere with comfortable viewing on bright days. The flip side is that, when used with the best Fuji lenses, the image quality is just as good as all the current higher end cameras. Well, maybe the XT3 is a bit better but if it is it's not by much. 

I started taking this camera out for walks in late December and have paired it with a number of different lenses. My favorite Fuji lens on this one is the Fuji XF 23mm f2.0. It gives me all the automation  needed and matches the camera for size and low weight. But the most fun for me is pairing the camera with the new generation of inexpensive but ridiculously fast-apertured, manual focus lenses that mostly come to us from China and Korea.

In the image above the camera is sporting the 7Artisans 35mm f1.2 lens and it makes for a nimble package. Since there is no in body image stabilization in the camera (or lens) there's no reason to set things like a focal length in the menu. I turn on the focus peaking and, when I really care if something is OCD sharp I use the back dial up near the top right of the camera to punch in to maximum magnification. In that mode it's pretty obvious when you get focusing just right. 

Another favorite is the 7Artisans 55mm f1.4. It's actually a good performer once we leave the maximum aperture and venture into the more useful ranges. But please note, while I have weird and cheap 25mm, 35mm, 50mm (Kamlan) and 55mm lenses that remind me of my misspent youth with Leica rangefinder lenses I am rational enough to have the Fuji XF AF 23mm, 35mm, 50mm and longer auto focus, auto everything lenses for those times when it's time to stop experimenting, and playing around, and I have to actually deliver results of which I know clients will approve. 

It's nice for all of us artistes to pooh-pooh sharpness with a Cartier-Bressonian dismissal when we notice that the corners of the images we're taking with the cheap, junk lenses aren't as sharp as we thought they'd be but when the petite bourgeoise are actually the ones writing the checks then corner sharpness may become much more valuable than manifesto.

The camera is small and light. Purists will hate that the SD card lives in with the battery. Fuji users will love that they camera's battery is the same as the battery in most of the rest of Fuji's serious cameras. Impatient users like myself will grouse about the start movie function being rudely hidden in the drive menu. Fuji lovers will continue to love the color and tonality of the files. 

If you want to join the ranks of indecisive camera owners with your own Leica M4 substitute you can pick up a new body at one of the usual camera stores for around $700. If previous gens are any indication then this is a body style that depreciates like all hell so if you're a cheap bastard just wait until the XE5 comes out and go to town in the used market. No predictions on how long you'll have to wait for that one. 

One more vital point: the camera fits with much room to spare in the center console of my new Forester automobile. And.....Subaru and Fujifilm are both owned by the same corporate conglomerate. Isn't that weird coincidence? 


Peter Williams said...

I continue to enjoy my X-E3 for the same reasons you do.
My favourite (currently available) lens is probably the XF 18/2, and the XF 23/2 is in second place.
But I'm expecting the (soon to be released) XF 16/2.8 to become my favourite and most used lens for the X-E3.
On my Nikon full-frame camera the Sigma 24/1.4 Art is my favourite and most used lens.

Travis said...

Regarding the "suggestion" that you only write about photography... I come here because I enjoy your writing, full stop. The variety of topics is welcome.

- a Subaru-driving, Fujifilm-shooting reader.

MikeR said...

"Have a nice day??" Maybe this is an East Coast Yankee stereotypical view of SW style, but I thought the proper response might have been, "Well, bless your heart."

btw, I have Lumix LX-7 and LX100 for my walking around cameras, as well as any travel that involves flying, to keep the load light. No need to even think about lens selection. Makes me wonder why I bother with anything bigger.

PacNW said...

"Subaru and Fujifilm are both owned by the same corporate conglomerate."

It may seem that way but they are entirely separate. Subaru's parent company used to be called Fuji Heavy Industries. It has since changed its name to Subaru Corp. It was never related to Fujifilm (Fujifilm Holdings Corp.). I do like both the cameras and the cars though (but I happen to like Mazda just a bit more). Best regards.

Anonymous said...

Amen re LX-7

Dogster said...

I stop by this blog everyday to see and read Kirk Tuck. I love that he mainly talks about photography, especially lighting, cameras and working, but I do believe I would find anything he writes about interesting.

Doug Vaughn said...

The X-E3 is a wonderful camera. I bought one in a kit with the 23mm f/2 before going to Cuba 15 months ago. I had the X-T2 and wanted an affordable backup that I could also keep a second lens permanently mounted on. It was the perfect combination of cameras for keeping the weight down as I walked 5-7 miles a day. My lenses were the 23mm, 35mm, 50mm, and 90mm... all f/2. I eventually sold the camera a couple months ago after continually reminding myself it was purchased as a short-term solution. It went on 2-3 more trips with me after that one and performed very well.

Karl said...

Thanks for the heads up. I have jury duty in a few weeks, will bring my own coffee and danish. The 27mm Fuji lens is very low profile and very sharp, makes the XE3 very pocketable. My only gripe is there is no aperture ring, it is set electronically and works fine, just prefer using a dedicated aperture ring like the other Fuji lenses.

Anthony Bridges said...

A few years ago I bought the Fuji XE2 for only one reason - the Fuji lenses. I bought the XE2 used along with a new XF 35mm f/1.4. Love that lens. It's sharp wide open and has a really nice rendering for portraits in natural light.

Well, the hot shoe stopped working on the XE2. I didn't feel like investing the $200 on having it fixed. The camera works well otherwise but I lost confidence in it for photo sessions. My Canon and Olympus gear took over.

All this talk about the XE3 makes me think about donating the XE2 and finding a good used XE3. That XF 35mm f/1.4 needs more use!

Alex Bush said...

Kirk, I know it might be outside your normal comfort zone but I'd really like to see your comments at some point on one of the more recent 'super'compacts as a walk around. Something like a Panasonic LX or TZ series or a Sony RX100? On limited funds I run a GX8 and a TZ90 and I'm constantly pleasantly surprised by the quality of the latter (I expect great quality from the GX8). Unfortunately, I'm not offering to buy one for you!

Charlie said...

Kirk, I am a FUJI early adopter, have a XE1 and XE2 as well as a XT2. The XE2 is the "emergency" and car camera. To keep the size down I use a XF 27mm f2.8 lens. Well written up in Optical Limits.
Always enjoy reading you blog, appreciate the dose of reality.

Anonymous said...

Just recently sold my xt2 and got a silver XE3 paired with a 27mmf2.8 for every day carry and I´m loving the setup, I also have a XT3 and just recently did 2500 or so photos on a 3 day summit event and my xe3 was a really nice light backup and quick grabber with different focal lenghts. Really happy with this little camera.

Unknown said...

I also have the XE3 as both a personal/travel camera and as a back up at work for my XT3 and XH1.
I use mine with the dinky 15-45mm zoom.
OK, it's not fast in low light situations being f3.5 at the wide end, but it does have OIS and as a personal/travel camera, is better than just about any zoom compact.
As a back up for work, it will take any of my lenses.