Fujifilm announced a slew of new products this week, including the long-awaited X-E4, the latest in a line of cameras that has been pronounced dead more than once during its existence. Its release is noteworthy for a couple of reasons, first, it confirms the X-E line of cameras persists and secondly, it charts a very different design direction compared to its predecessors. But perhaps most notably of all, the X-E4 demonstrates that we are almost certainly at the end of ‘image quality’ being a useful arbiter of the quality of a camera. To swap a well-worn cliché around, it’s what is outside that counts.
Push my buttons
At its core is the same 26 megapixel APS-C sensor as the top-of-the-line X-T4 and X-Pro3. In fact, this sensor is now used in seven Fujifilm cameras (including the X-E4). For most purposes, there is no difference in the image quality between the highest end and the lowest end cameras featuring this sensor.
These days, the biggest difference between models is how they’re packaged. Whereas the X-T4 and X-Pro3 feature a swathe of buttons and dials all over the camera, the new X-E4 has pared controls back an almost absurd degree. The rear loses three buttons plus the control dial plus the front MCS (manual/continuous/single) focus switch. In this humble Fuji shooter’s opinion, that’s too much to lose.
And, while the camera may look undeniably beautiful, it seems eminently uncomfortable. The front of the camera is now entirely flat, meaning there is no grip for photographers to actually, you know, grip the camera. This, of course, can be rectified with an optional grip available from Fujifilm which adds bulk and heft to this svelte package. Talk about an answer to question no one asked…
Advocates for ‘clean’ designs love to talk about ‘minimalism’ and ‘simplification’ and being able to ‘focus’ on the photography—and they’re all important things—but they seem to neglect the fact that, fundamentally, digital photography is not a ‘simple’ thing.
Maitani-san could get away with a beautifully pared-back SLR design in the 1970s with the Olympus OM as photographers only had to deal with two settings of the exposure triangle: shutter speed and aperture. The Fujifilm X-S10, on the other hand, has a three-page menu devoted to the 19 different focus settings and options available. And that’s just one section of a very extensive and rather confusing menu (my cursory count tallied up 34 menu pages containing 214 individual settings).
It’s the segmentation, stupid
This camera feels like Fujifilm trying to re-segment their product lineup and create a bit of space between the X-E4 and the cameras above it. Whereas, in the prior generation of X-series cameras, you could have used an X-E3, X-Pro2 or an X-T2 and had much the same shooting experience, the X-E4 is a substantially lesser camera than the X-T4 in every way bar image quality: IBIS, weather-sealing, viewfinder, video quality, controls, ergonomics, build quality etc. This isn’t a criticism of the X-E4 as such (it is US$850 cheaper than its top-of-the-line sibling), rather an observation that Fujifilm has made the deliberate decision to remove certain functionality from this camera to, perhaps, make the higher-end models more appealing.
But I digress, the X-E4 looks like a lovely bit of kit for some, but not for me. While the thing looks plain lovely, it appears to have sacrificed some useability for design. I know I’m a sample size of one but I’m not alone when I say Fujfilm needs to put back a button or two and a dial. Oh, and weather-sealing would be great. But this isn’t about me, it’s about the market. It’s about Fujifilm re-segmenting a sometimes confusing line-up of products. With the entry-level X-A and X-TXXX cameras seemingly ignored for now, the X-E becomes the new entry-level X-series camera.
On the plus side, however, the camera ‘debate’ on the internet has well-and-truly moved on from image quality (as I’ve said before, you can’t buy a bad camera today). Most of the discussion I’ve read has been about the camera’s design and design omissions rather than sensors and autofocus and that is a very good thing. While advances will no doubt continue around imaging technology, I think it’s quite something that we’re talking more about how we’re taking photos, rather than pixel-peeping at image files. Well, until the next big technological development, anyway.