Fujifilm X-E3 review

The X-E3 is the latest X Series mirrorless camera from Fujifilm to get the company's 24.3MP X-Trans CMOS III sensor, and replaces the ageing X-E2S.

While the likes of the X-T2 and X-T20 take on a DSLR-style design, with a raised, central viewfinder, the X-E3 follows the model of a classic rangefinder-style camera in a similar vein to the X-Pro2.

Whereas the X-Pro2 is aimed at professionals and keen enthusiasts, the X-E3 has been designed to appeal to a slightly broader audience, with more diminutive proportions and streamlined controls.

The specification hasn't been compromised to achieve this, however, with the X-E3 sharing an almost identical set of features with the X-T20, along with a few tricks of its own. 

Features

  • APS-C X-Trans CMOS III sensor, 24.3MP
  • 3.0-inch touchscreen, 1,040,000 dots
  • 4K video capture

As we've seen with every Fujifilm X Series camera since the X-Pro2, the X-E3 features the company's 24.3MP X-Trans CMOS III APS-C sensor, which delivers a decent boost in resolution over the X-E2S’s 16.3MP sensor.

This also means it gets a moderate increase in ISO range over its predecessor, with a native sensitivity range of ISO200-12,800 (compared to ISO6400 on the X-E2S), while the expanded range now runs to ISO100-51,200. And where the X-E2S was restricted to JPEG-only files at the extended range, the X-E3 supports raw files as well.

Like the X-E2S (and the X-T20 for that matter), the Fujifilm X-E3 features a high-resolution 2.36 million-dot OLED electronic viewfinder (EVF) with a 0.62x magnification, while the rear of the camera is furnished with a 3.0-inch touchscreen display with a resolution of 1,040,000 dots. 

Unlike both the X-T2 and X-T20, the X-E3 forgoes a tilt-angle display in favor of a flush-fitting design. The touchscreen functionality builds on the system seen on the X-T20 however, offering a greater depth of control. As on the X-T20, then, you can tap the display to acquire focus and trigger the shutter, as well as being able to swipe through and pinch-to-zoom when reviewing images.

There's still no direct control for navigating the menus, but the X-E3 does let you use flicking motions to activate pre-assigned functions, while you can also adjust settings in the Quick menu. 

The touchscreen functionality builds on the system seen on the X-T20, offering even a greater depth of control

As we've seen with other X Series cameras, there's Wi-Fi and NFC connectivity, but a first for the range is Bluetooth. Once you've paired the camera with your smart device and downloaded the accompanying Fujifilm Camera Remote app you should be able to easily transfer your images seamlessly, to share on social media.  

The X-E3 also offers 4K video capture (3840 x 2160) at 30p as well as Full HD (1920 x 1080) at 60p, with both formats supporting film simulations. There’s a 2.5mm jack input for a microphone, but not for audio monitoring.

Finally, there’s just a single SD card slot on the X-E3, and the camera doesn’t support the faster UHS-II cards.

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Build and handling

  • Magnesium top and bottom plates
  • No weather sealing
  • Weighs 337g

While the X-E2 and X-E2s followed much the same design as the X-E1, the Fujifilm X-E3 is markedly different. Noticeably smaller than the X-E2s, the X-E3 takes the crown as the smallest X Series camera with a viewfinder currently available. Partner it with a couple of Fujifilm's neat f/2 primes, like the 23mm or 35mm, and you've got a great little camera system. 

Don't think the reduction in the X-E3's footprint has compromised its handling; there's a decent handgrip that's pretty much identical in size to the one on its predecessor, while the raised thumb rest on the rear of the camera makes it incredibly comfortable to hold one-handed. 

As we've come to expect with X Series cameras, the fit and finish are very nice. It may not be weather-sealed, but the magnesium alloy top and bottom plates, along with the machined dials, give the X-E3 a lovely premium feel. 

With the X-E3's body shrinking compared to the X-E2s, the built-in flash has had to be sacrificed, to be replaced by a pocket-sized hotshoe-mounted flash. Otherwise, the top plate of the X-E3 remains the same as on the X-E2, with shutter speed and exposure compensation dials complementing the shutter button and small function button. 

The shutter speed dial offers settings running from 1 to 1/4000 sec plus Bulb, Time and Automatic, with the exposure compensation dial running from -3 to +3EV. As we've seen with other X Series cameras, there's also now a ‘C’ setting on the dial, which lets you set compensation up to ±5EV using the camera's new front command dial. 

A subtle change is the arrival of a small rocker switch round the shutter speed dial, with the option to set the camera to a full Auto mode – perfect for new users who just want to start snapping and without getting bogged down wondering which aperture or shutter speed to use.

The four-way controller on the X-E2 has completely disappeared on the X-E3

The biggest changes, though, are at the rear of the X-E3, with a much more streamlined layout than we've seen previously. 

The display now butts up to the left edge of the camera, while the four-way controller from the X-E2 has disappeared. Instead, you can use the touchscreen control to flick right, left, up or down with your thumb to access four different functions or settings, which can be tailored to your preference in the menu. 

The X-E3 also benefits from the focus lever we first saw on the X-Pro2, enabling you to toggle quickly to the desired AF point, while you can also use it to navigate the camera's menu system if you prefer that to the touchscreen. 

As we've seen with other X Series cameras, the level of customization impresses, while the overall handling is very satisfying. The absence of a four-way controller isn't an issue, while there are plenty of body-mounted controls to make this a quick camera to operate.

Autofocus

  • 325-point AF
  • Eye-detection AF
  • 5 AF-C presets

The Fujifilm X-E3 uses the same 325-point AF system as the X-T20. This is broken down into 169 phase-detect points set out in a grid of 13 x 13 in the middle of the frame, with an additional two grids of 6 x 13 contrast-detect points on either side to make up the 325 focusing points. 

That's if you're using the X-E3's single-point AF mode. When you opt for Zone or Wide/Tracking, coverage drops to a still-decent 91-point AF arrangement. In this instance, there's a central 7 x 7 grid of phase-detect points.

For static subjects, focusing is swift – the X-E3 happily locked onto a variety of subjects under a range of lighting conditions, while switching to continuous AF saw a welcome improvement in focusing accuracy over the X-E2. 

This is thanks to a new AF algorithm that takes three parameters into consideration. These are Tracking Sensitivity (how long the camera waits before switching focus), Speed Tracking Sensitivity (determines how sensitive the tracking system is to changes in subject speed) and Zone Area Switching (whether bias is towards the center, auto or front).

With five presets to choose from depending on how erratically your subject is moving, AF tracking is much improved. Focusing speed could be a bit quicker (it's not quite a much for the likes of Sony's Alpha A6300), but it's a very solid performer. 

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Performance

  • 14fps burst shooting (electronic shutter)
  • 8fps burst shooting (mechanical shutter)
  • 350-shot battery life

Thanks to Fujifilm’s X-Processor Pro imaging engine the X-E3 takes 0.4 seconds to power up, compared with 0.5 seconds for the X-E2s, while the shutter lag remains the same at just 0.05 seconds. 

While the X-E3 isn't marketed as a action camera, it is capable of shooting at a very fast 14fps using the electronic shutter, or at a slightly more restrained 8fps if you'd prefer to use the camera's mechanical shutter – if you do, expect to be able to shoot 23 raw files or 62 JPEGs before the buffer slows up.

The X-E3 uses Fujifilm's tried and tested TTL 256-zone metering system, which in the main performs very well. As we've found before, when presented with a high-contrast scene it can sometimes underexpose the shot a touch, but this is easy to correct thanks to the well-positioned exposure compensation button – or you can simply lift the shadows in post-processing if you wish.

The electronic viewfinder is the same unit found on the X-T20. As we've found with that camera the viewfinder image is lovely and bright, and, thanks to the 2.36m dot resolution, rich in detail. 

Toggling through the X-E3’s settings is pretty painless when combined with the rear joystick

While there's no tilt or vari-angle positioning of the rear display – either would have come at the expensive of the X-E3's compact build – the 3-inch touchscreen is very good. It would be nice to see the menu system integrated into the touchscreen interface, but toggling through the X-E3's settings is pretty painless when combined with the rear joystick.

One area where there's room for improvement is battery life. At 350 shots per charge, it's certainly not bad for a mirrorless camera, but when compared to a DSLR rival such as the Nikon D5600 and its 820-shot battery life there's certainly room for improvement. It's nice to see a dedicated charger bundled in the box, while you can charge via USB as well.

The upgraded connectivity options of the X-E3 work well. It's easy to pair the X-E3 with your device, and provided Bluetooth is turned on on both devices an automatic, low-powered connection is established every time you fire up the Camera Remote app. 

Image quality

  • ISO200-12,800, expandable to 100-51,200
  • Film simulation modes
  • +/-5 EV exposure compensation in 1/3 or 1/2-stop increments

The Fujifilm X-E3 uses the same X-Trans CMOS III sensor as we've seen in the X-Pro2, X-T2, X-T20 and X100F, which means the image quality from the X-E3 is some of the best available from an APS-C-based camera.

Detail is excellent, while those not wanting to spend time sitting in front of a computer will enjoy the X-E3's range of film simulation modes. With 15 effects to choose from there's a wealth of options available, with the likes of Velvia great for enhancing colors in landscapes, while mono shooters will enjoy the Arcos mode. 

Another area where the X-E3 excels is dynamic range. There's plenty of flexibility for recovering detail in the shadows and highlights of images – especially raw files, with about four stops to play with at low ISOs.

Available for both JPEG and raw files is the X-E3's Dynamic Range mode, with the highest DR400 setting preserving plenty of detail in both the highlights and shadows, though this comes at the expense of the base sensitivity available in this mode, with only ISO800 or higher available.

As we've found with other X Series cameras that use this sensor, the X-E3 handles image noise very well. At the lower end of the sensitivity range files look very clean, with no signs of luminance (grain-like) noise in our shots.

It's only really at ISO3200 that luminance noise becomes noticeable, and its organic appearance means it's not a big issue, while even up to ISO12,800 results won't be unusable – you'll need to be prepared to tweak files in post-processing if you're planning to shoot at this sensitivity though.

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Verdict

The Fujifilm X-E3 is a cracking little camera. The premium finish is complemented by an array of tactile controls and a touchscreen interface that make this camera a joy to shoot with. 

There are no complaints when it comes to image quality either – photos are rich and detailed, while the film simulation modes can add a lovely twist to your shots. And, thanks to the improved connectivity, it's possible to share striking-looking images straight out of the camera before you're even home.

We'd avoid pairing the X-E3 with some of Fujifilm's larger zoom lenses – it's really a camera to enjoy with some neat prime lenses – while the battery life means you might want to invest in an extra battery or two.

Fujifilm may have shrunk the camera, but it hasn't sacrificed performance, and the X-E3 is everything you'd want in a compact-sized mirrorless camera.

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