The smallest X-mount camera yet: Fujifilm X-E4 initial review

Introduction

Product photography by Dan Bracaglia

The Fujifilm X-E4 is a lightweight, rangefinder-styled camera built around a 26MP APS-C sized sensor that uses the company’s X-mount lineup of lenses. Billed as a fun-to-use and compact photographic companion, the X-E4 is the smallest X-mount camera yet, encouraging you to keep it around wherever you wind up.

With Fujifilm’s latest sensor and processor combo, the X-E4 inherits a lot of the goodies from the most recent Fujifilm cameras, including updated autofocus, solid video specs and really impressive burst shooting rates. And if you’re a JPEG shooter, you now have eighteen of Fujifilm’s excellent film simulations to choose from.



I’ve always found the X-E series to be a fun companion for photo walks. Out of camera JPEG from a pre-production camera using the Provia or standard film simulation.
ISO 160 | 1/480 sec | F8 | Fujifilm XF 35mm F1.4 R

I’ve been a fan of Fujifilm’s X-E series since I reviewed the X-E2S back in 2016. I’ve liked the size, controls and styling, and the image quality has always been solid. But since the release of the X-T3, the first Fujifilm camera to use the newer 26MP sensor, the X-E series has lagged behind the updates in other areas of Fujifilm’s lineup, so I was glad to see the X-E4 announced with the latest tech.

Key specifications:

  • 26MP APS-C sensor with X-Trans color filter array
  • 3.0″ tilting touchscreen with 1.62M dots (can tilt up 180 degrees)
  • 2.36M-dot electronic viewfinder, 0.62x magnification
  • DCI 4K/30p, 4:2:0, 8-bit internal video recording (4:2:2 10-bit over HDMI out)
  • Full HD video at up to 240p, for 10x slow motion
  • 8 fps burst shooting with mechanical shutter (20 fps with electronic)
  • CIPA rated to 380 shots per charge (NP-W126S battery pack)
  • 121mm x 73mm x 33mm
  • 364g (12.9oz)

On the inside, the X-E4 is more or less a Fujifilm X-S10 (and therefore much of an X-T4) minus the image stabilization Does it have what it takes to be considered for your next camera purchase? Let’s find out.

The X-E4 will be available in March of 2021 at a price of $849 body-only, and $1,049 when kitted with the XF 27mm F2.8 II pancake prime lens.


What’s new and how it compares

The 26MP sensor at the heart of the X-E4 is excellent, offering great dynamic range and fast readout speeds.

Relative to the Fujifilm X-E3, the X-E4 brings a suite of updates, the most important of which is the latest 26MP X-Trans sensor and quad-core X-Processor 4. This means the image quality and, in some cases, performance of the X-E4 will be a match for the best that Fujifilm has to offer in its X-mount lineup. The camera’s body and controls have also been slimmed down relative to its predecessor, but we’ll delve into those details in the next section.

That 26MP sensor brings with it really solid image quality, a native base ISO of 160 (down from 200 on the X-E3), and super-fast readout speeds that let the X-E4 fire away images at 20fps with the electronic shutter (or 30fps if you opt for a 1.25x crop). You also get super-fast electronic shutter readout that tops out at 1/32,000 sec, handy for shooting wide-open in bright daylight if that’s your thing.

I’ve found that Fujifilm’s film simulation options can really alter the ‘feeling’ of a scene. Out-of-camera JPEGs from a pre-production camera.
ISO 640 | 1/32000 sec (yes, you read that right) | F1.4 | Fujifilm XF 35mm F1.4 R
Fujifilm’s DR400 mode was enabled, which raises the effective base ISO from 160 to 640.

The quad-core processor keeps everything moving pretty swiftly, and though you’ll want the fastest memory card you can afford for those bursts, you won’t gain any benefits from faster UHS-II compatible cards with the camera’s UHS-I slot (it’s still a good bet to get the fastest UHS-I card you can, though). The X-E4 also comes loaded with Fujifilm’s latest film simulations, including Eterna, which is a favorite for video recording, as well as Classic Neg. And being able to re-process Raw files in-camera to try out the different film simulations is a fun way to find what looks you like best.

You also get an updated autofocus system with phase-detection coverage extending nearly to the edges of the frame, as well as the improved tracking interface and performance we first saw on the X-T4. We’ve found it’s a very capable AF system but may require some tuning to get the most out of it, and we’ll confirm this when we get a final camera for full review.

Fujifilm includes a USB-C to headphone port adapter in the box with the X-E4 for audio monitoring while shooting video.

The video on the X-E4 should be a match for the X-S10, meaning it looks to be really solid. You’re getting DCI 4K/30p footage without a crop, F-Log recording (8-bit internally, 10-bit to an external recorder), impressive slow-motion in Full HD, and capture aids like zebra warnings. You also get both headphone and microphone ports, using the included USB-C to headphone adapter. But that lack of in-body image stabilization will mean that, for handheld footage, you’re going to want to make sure you pick up a stabilized lens to keep your shots steady.


How it compares

The X-E4 slots in to a pretty competitive segment in the camera market; we consider it’s most direct competitors to be the Nikon Z50, the Sony a6400 and the Canon EOS M6 Mark II, all of which are within $50 USD of the X-E4’s MSRP. All of these options use APS-C sensors, and none offer in-body image stabilization.

Fujifilm X-E4 Nikon Z50 Sony a6400 Canon EOS M6 Mark II
MSRP (body) $849 $859 $899 $849
Sensor res. 26MP X-Trans 21MP 24MP 32.5MP
LCD type Tilting Tilting Tilting Tilting
LCD size/res 3.0″ / 1.62M-dot 3.2″ / 1.04M-dot 3.0″ / 921k-dot 3.0″ / 1.04M-dot
EVF res / mag
(equiv.)
2.36M-dot
0.62x
2.36M-dot
0.68x
2.36M-dot
0.68x
Optional 2.36M-dot
Built-in flash No Yes Yes Yes
Burst w/AF 20 fps 11 fps 11 fps 14 fps
Video res. 4K/30p 4K/30p 4K/30p 4K/30p
Log F-Log (8-bit internal, 10-bit over HDMI) No S-Log (8-bit) No
Mic / headphone socket Yes / Yes (with adapter) Yes / No Yes / No Yes / No
SD card speed UHS-I UHS-I UHS-I UHS-II
Battery life (LCD) 380 shots 320 shots 410 shots 305 shots
Weight 364g (12.8oz) 450g (15.9oz) 403g (14.2oz) 408g (14.4oz)

As you can see, the X-E4 really offers a lot of bang for your buck in this market segment, coming in with at least competitive specs in every category. It’s worth mentioning, though, that for another $150 USD, you can get into Fujifilm’s X-S10; that camera has very similar core features to the X-E4, but adds in-body image stabilization and a bigger grip. The tradeoff is that of course it’s a larger camera, and the ergonomics and handling are strikingly different.

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Body and handling

Gone from previous X-E models is the minimal front grip; but the optional MHG-XE4 accessory grip shown here inspires some more hand-holding confidence if you’re not concerned about traveling as light as possible. the grip adds an Arca-style plate to the base of the camera, for easy mounting onto most tripod systems.

Just as the X-E3 saw the slight diminishing of size and control points relative to the X-E2S, so does the X-E4 relative to the X-E3. You get a slightly smaller (though a touch heavier) camera body than the outgoing model. This is ostensibly for the purposes of being more pocket-friendly (though such a claim is obviously going to be pretty darn lens-dependent). With the new XF 27mm F2.8 R WR lens attached, it’s lighter than Fujifilm’s own fixed-lens X100V.

In use I find that the camera itself is reasonably comfortable in the hand with just a wrist strap as long as you’re sticking to a compact lens. If you’re eyeing larger lenses, the optional MHG-X34 nor TR-XE4 thumb rest will help there. Just don’t expect ultimate comfort from a camera whose shape resembles a large bar of soap.

The X-E4 is the first X-E series camera to offer a tilting screen, which sits flush with the rear of the camera when folded away.

But really, I find this to be a really attractive little camera. The faux-leatherette looks and feels nice, the magnesium-alloy top plate is lovely and the camera body feels solid. The fold-flush rear screen is a real joy, and makes the X-E4 much easier to work with at high and low angles than its predecessor. The threaded shutter button is always a nice touch, and the dials have just the right amount of resistance.

Unfortunately, Fujifilm is making no claims of any weather resistance on the X-E4, despite doing so for its XF 27mm F2.8 R WR kit lens. And on our pre-production model at least, the ‘Menu/OK’ and ‘Disp/Back’ buttons on the rear plate are a little too mushy and a little too shallow. It’d also be nice if the shutter speed dial could spin 360 degrees like the exposure comp dial; once you hit ‘P’ or ‘B’, you can’t keep turning it.

I’m not personally sold on the disappearance of the ‘M-C-S’ (‘Manual,’ ‘Continuous’ and ‘Single’) focus mode control which was on the front of the X-E2. This switch was a quick way to adjust a major autofocus setting depending on your subject matter, and since Fujifilm’s autofocus system has historically benefitted from a bit more involvement on the part of the photographer in our testing, we’re sad to see it go.

At the very least you can now assign autofocus modes and area settings to a custom setting bank to assign to a button for quick toggling, but again, you’re low on buttons to assign an ‘access custom settings banks’ function to. We also lose the rear dial from the X-E3, which does leave more room for your thumb, but again, it’s one less control point.

I wonder whether Fujifilm went a little too minimalist on the X-E4

The viewfinder is par for the class of cameras, though not outstanding. The bigger issue is that, even though you’ll want to press the Drive/Delete button with your left thumb, you’ll almost certainly trigger the eye sensor to switch from the rear screen to using the EVF. It’s a pain. And while the camera doesn’t automatically switch to the EVF when you trigger the sensor with the screen tilted out, it does rotate the screen 180 degrees; the info display is flipped to seemingly prepare you for taking a selfie.

The 2.36M-dot resolution of the X-E4’s viewfinder is par for the segment; some users might find the 0.62x magnification on the small side.

Basically, I’m wondering whether Fujifilm went a little too minimalist on the X-E4. It took me a while to get it set up to where I could easily access all of the settings I want (and there are lots of things to assign to buttons, just not lots of buttons).) In the end, I enabled the touch-swipe for custom functions to get a little more control, meaning you can swipe up, down, left or right on the rear screen to trigger a function. It works pretty well.

Lastly, Fujifilm’s Auto ISO behavior is unchanged, meaning that you can set upper and lower bounds on ISO values, and then either specify a minimum shutter speed threshold or select ‘Auto.’ But there’s still no way to bias ‘Auto’ to be faster or slower than 1/2*Focal Length, as you can on most other competitors. On the other hand, you do get three banks of separate Auto ISO settings you can quickly swap between.

The X-E4 also has a new ‘P’ mode on its shutter speed dial. Selecting it will override whatever the lens’s aperture ring is set to, and will put the camera into the Program Automatic mode. You can accomplish the same thing by setting both the aperture and shutter speed dials to ‘A’.

Battery and storage

The Fujifilm X-E4 uses a familiar NP-W126S battery pack to achieve a CIPA-rated 380 shots per charge. As with most cameras, this is likely to be an underestimate in real-world use (how often do you shoot with flash and enter playback?), but it gives a reliable measure of comparability among related cameras.

This rating is likely to get you through a weekend’s worth of casual shooting should you be on holiday (hopeful thoughts for the future). And, probably thanks to increased processing efficiencies, the X-E4’s rating puts it near the front of its pack in this regard. You can also charge the battery via the camera’s USB-C port.

The UHS-I slot means you won’t get any speed benefits if you use faster UHS-II cards

The X-E4 uses SD cards for storage; they’re inexpensive and ubiquitous, but the X-E4 only supports UHS-I speeds. You can of course use UHS-II cards in the camera, you just won’t necessarily see any benefit.

Informal testing with a SanDisk Extreme Pro UHS-I U3 card shows that you can shoot losslessly-compressed Raw and Fine JPEG images for between 1 and 1.5 seconds of burst shooting at 20fps, and wait then a little under 10 seconds for the buffer to clear. Shooting JPEG-only gets you around 2.5 seconds of shooting before the buffer fills, and then it clears after around 8 seconds.

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Initial impressions

As I alluded to at the outset, the X-E4 is a camera I’ve been waiting for Fujifilm to release for a while now. It’s my favorite form-factor among X-series cameras, though of course, it won’t be for everybody (particularly left-eyed shooters). But I really like its blend of classic looks and dedicated dials, and I appreciate the smaller form factor.

But (and I’m sure people at Fujifilm will just love me for this), while we’ve said the latest X100-series cameras might just have too many control points, I can’t help but wonder whether Fujifilm’s gone too far the other direction with the X-E4. Maybe, though, that’s just because of how they’re expecting people to use it. After all, it’s supposed to be the casual, ‘fun-to-use’ option and, for ‘photo walk’ types of photography, I enjoyed it overall.

I usually shoot Fujifilm cameras in ‘Provia,’ but I think I’ll be experimenting with ‘Classic Neg’ a lot more. Out-of-camera JPEG from a pre-production camera.
ISO 160 | 1/6400 sec | F1.4 | Fujifilm XF 35mm F1.4 R

But in my experience, Fujifilm’s continuous autofocus still isn’t quite reliable enough to leave on all the time, so I find myself wanting the X-E3’s front focus mode control back for the occasional shot. Between the top and rear plates, we’ve lost two reassignable buttons and a control dial, so you may find yourself wanting to set up custom settings banks, and assign the ability to switch those to a button. That’s potentially a lot of setup for an ostensibly casual, fun-to-use and approachable camera.

The X-E4 is an attractive camera that takes great photos and is easy to keep with you

I might just be thinking about it all wrong, though. As I said, overall, I enjoyed the experience of using the camera. Just because it can shoot really solid 4K video, and really fast bursts with good zone AF, doesn’t mean I need to have those settings at my fingertips all the time. That’s what the higher-end and higher-priced X-T4 is really for.

But in the X-E4, those features are there if I need them, and when I don’t, I’ve got an attractive camera that takes great photos and is easy to keep with me. And for many people, that’s a winning combination.

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Sample gallery

Photos are from a pre-production camera. At Fujifilm’s request, Raw images are not available for download. Please do not reproduce any of these images without prior permission (see our copyright page).

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