Fujifilm X-E4: An Engaging Experience I'd Rather Not Have

When I’m on a business trip and I go for breakfast at the hotel’s restaurant, I want to take a few photos of the ambience and the food. However, my Nikon D750 feels a bit like an overkill for this job, as does my Nikon D500… or Z6 or even Z50.

What I want for this occasion is something svelte. Like a Nikon Coolpix A or a Nikon J5. Except the former is as usable as a butter knife for carving steak and the latter is often outdone by an iPhone.

For years, I’ve been searching for something that’s compact, elegant and competent – a “Vanity Camera”, as I call it. After much deliberation, I settled on getting the world’s prettiest camera, a Fujifilm x100v. Except, as of this writing, I couldn’t find a new body in three different countries that I looked.

So, I settled for its interchangeable lens sibling, the Fujifilm X-E4. The X-E4 is marginally more compact compared to x100v. It shares the same imaging components as the x100v and only loses out on the sculpted handgrip and OVF.

Fujifilm X-E4 with XF 27mm f/2.8 R WR
Fujifilm X-E4 with XF 27mm f/2.8 R WR

First Use

Unboxing the Fujifilm X-E4 was a delightful experience and the camera looks breathtakingly beautiful out of the box. I got the kit that includes the XF 27mm f/2.8 R WR lens. Sadly, the kit doesn’t come with the lens’s teeny tiny absolute must-have hood.

Being a Nikon shooter, I looked at the lens with envy — so compact, and shiny deep black with an aperture ring around it and its specifications printed boldly in front.

Fujifilm X-E4 with XF 27mm f/2.8 R WR
Fujifilm X-E4 with XF 27mm f/2.8 R WR

As I mounted the lens, turned on the camera and tried taking a few pictures, my heart momentarily sank to the floor. As I half-pressed the shutter, the camera made rattling sounds and (I think) I could feel it vibrating in my hand. Took me a moment to realise that the camera wasn’t broken.

The rattling was the price of the lens’s compactness. The lens uses a noisy motor, reminiscent of the AF-D screw drive motor in old Nikon bodies. Its front element moves in and out while focusing. The last lens I owned that didn’t have internal focusing was the Nikon 50mm f/1.8D that I let go of 10 years ago. Most significantly, even the moving front element of that 50mm lens moved inside a cavity akin to a lens hood and didn’t pop out of its outer barrel.

So, while shooting against a window, I can’t ever touch the lens against the glass as I have been used to doing with every other lens that I ever used over the last 15 years.

Lens construction aside, the camera clearly felt slow compared to the x100v that I had tried in a store, but more of this in the next section.

Handling and Usability

The camera is pretty light and compact, but the lack of a grip makes holding it confidently a bit of a challenge. I got the OEM thumb-rest which, along with a wrist strap, improves the camera’s handling a lot. OEM and third-party front grips are available too but I didn’t get them because I want to keep things compact and I don’t plan on using large or heavy lenses with this body.

Turning on the camera, it starts up pretty quickly – something I can’t say for the Nikon Z6. The LCD monitor looks crisp and clear and I don’t have any complaints against the tiny little EVF either. I do wish the diopter adjustment wheel were a bit more stiff and/or recessed.

A lot of existing Fujifilm users and popular reviewers have panned the minimalistic controls of the X-E4. However, I have no problems with the controls. The joystick is delightfully precise for its size and quite usable. I wish the Z6 had this exact joystick, instead of the mushy rubbery thing that it does have. The other buttons, especially the shutter button, feel very nice to operate. The lack of IBIS is a limiting factor, though.

I am not using any of the 6 possible customisation groups. I’ve set the Fn button to toggle Face/Eye detection. The front dial cycles between ISO and Shutter Speed adjustments. I’ve also set swipe gestures — swipe left, right, up or down for self-timer, horizon, film simulations and white balance respectively.

I primarily use the camera with AF-C in tracking mode and matrix metering. Usually, the tracking works really well, except in some situations where the bigger AF box disintegrates into a group of smaller boxes that try to crawl along some edge. Out-of-the-box, the camera is sluggish in its AF but there’s a funny setting called “Boost Mode” that fixes this. Why Fujifilm decided to cripple camera performance by default is beyond my comprehension, especially considering that the battery life on this camera is quite good.

Fujifilm X-E4 with XF 18mm f/2 R
Fujifilm X-E4 with XF 18mm f/2 R

The matrix meter works well in many situations but the camera doesn’t have highlight weighted metering, which means that I often have to use the EV compensation dial (mostly to under-expose) where I want to preserve highlight detail.

The EV dial also becomes indispensable while using face/eye detection mode, which is this camera’s downfall. It seems like the camera simply doesn’t have enough smarts to handle face/eye priority mode.

One of the challenges is the camera’s inability to detect faces sideways. It also doesn’t like faces with full beards (or certain styles of beard, maybe). When the camera detects eyes, it sometimes becomes indecisive and keeps switching rapidly between left and right eye. Incidentally, there’s a setting to prioritise one eye, but the choice is between left or right eye. This makes no sense to me – the priority should be the eye closer to the camera.

This indecisiveness reaches catastrophic levels in a group setting. Usually the camera prefers to focus on a distant face even if there’s a more prominent face closer to the camera. When multiple faces are detected, the camera sometimes sticks with one (distant) face and sometimes rapidly jumps between faces.

The camera disables all metering choices when face detection is enabled, choosing to ensure good exposure for the face or eye. This is fine in some situations but in other situations – especially with eye detection – the exposure goes dramatically off.

While shooting in continuous mode, there’s no guarantee that consecutive shots in a burst will have a consistent exposure, white-balance or even focus. This is the reason why my Fn button is set to toggle Face/Eye detection off.

Image Quality and Samples

Singapore Changi Airport
Singapore Changi Airport

The X-E4 is not as much a raw shooter’s camera as it is for JPEG shooter’s. I say this for several reasons.

One, the raw files don’t have much exposure latitude either in highlights or in shadows, even at base ISO. There is quite a bit of noise at high ISOs as well. At the back of the camera, and in the JPEG files, even ISO 12800 looks decent. But raw processing doesn’t really bring out anything significant.

Then, the dynamic range management on this camera is unusual. With bayer sensors, you get the best dynamic range at base ISO. With this camera at its base ISO of 160, the matrix meter will happily blow out the sky every time. If you ask the camera to optimise for dynamic range, the camera chooses to shoot at ISO 320. The most aggressive dynamic range prioritisation makes the camera shoot at ISO 640, even in daylight.

Bangalore Sky
Bangalore Sky

Coming to colours, the camera includes the film simulation information into the raw file, which their recommended raw converter (Capture One) faithfully applies. However, the camera also has a feature called “Color Chrome Effect” that beautifully darkens saturated colours (independently controlled for blue and non-blue). This feature can not be emulated in raw and requires painstaking adjustment using saturation masks, which I think only Photoshop and The Gimp support.

Bangalore Sunset
Bangalore Sunset

Lastly, you can not transfer raw files to your smartphone. Only JPEGs can be transferred.

I’ve mostly got reasonably good JPEG results with Automatic DR Optimisation and Color Chrome Effect turned on for all colours.

Talking of film simulations, the Standard (Provia) simulation provides the most versatile results. The Cinema (Eterna) film is great for lo-fi look or softening the contrast. Other colour film simulations are more nostalgic than aesthetic. I haven’t tried much of monochrome shooting.


I use this camera with the XF 18mm f/2 R lens and the XF 27mm f/2.8 R WR kit lens.

These are the smallest lenses in Fujifilm’s lens line-up. As mentioned before, the compact size comes by compromising on conveniences like internal zoom, quiet ultrasonic motors, and stabilisation.

Fujifilm Fujinon XF 18mm f/2 R
Fujifilm Fujinon XF 18mm f/2 R

In terms of rendering, both lenses have pleasing bokeh and are quite sharp. They do have gobs of chromatic abberation and distortion given their compact nature, but that’s taken care of through digital correction. Both lenses also exhibit corner softness, which I understand to be because of field curvature but I don’t know much about it.

The 27mm flares very badly, though, and it does so in a way that even its lens hood can’t really mitigate that. It also doesn’t focus quite close and that’s an annoyance while taking food pics – one of my important use cases.

X-E4 SooC JPG sample with flaring
XF 27mm SooC JPG sample with flaring along the right edge


Fixed Prime Lens Compacts

The Ricoh GR III/IIIx, Fujifilm x100v, Leica Q2 and Nikon Coolpix A are some of the alternatives in that they’re equipped with APS-C or larger sensors and lenses in the 28-40mm (35mm equivalent) range. Of these, I have only tried the x100v and Coolpix A. This camera comprehensively beats the Nikon. Its performance is supposed to be at par with x100v but the latter trumps it in handling and lens quality. The Ricoh GR III is supposedly even more frustrating and quirky.

Nikon Z50 / Z fc / Z30

Compared to the APS-C Nikon mirrorless cameras, the X-E4 is smaller than all except the viewfinder-less Z30. In terms of operation, though, the Nikon Z cameras beat it hands-down. They are significantly more smart (read consistent and accurate) in face/eye detection mode, have comparable AF speed (except non-face tracking AF), and offer a highlight weighted metering option that works even with face detection.

With Nikon’s impeccable exposure metering and the great dynamic range latitude in its raw files, I’ve never ever wanted a dedicated exposure compensation dial. For the Z fc, I wish Nikon had replaced the exposure compensation dial with something more important, like AF-mode or something.

Talking of Z fc, though, the silver finish on that camera looks disgusting compared to the fine finish of the X-E4.

Sony A7C

Perhaps the camera that most closely resembles the X-E4 in form and function is the Sony A7C. Although it doesn’t look as pretty at first glance, it’s actually better built and finished than the X-E4. It has all the legendary AF smarts from the House of Sony that have put the Sony Alpha mirrorless cameras at the top of the market-share. It’s also ergonomically more comfortable due to its front grip and chunky body.

The only challenge with that camera is that Sony doesn’t really know how to render pleasing colours out of the box. However, that’s hardly an insurmountable challenge compared to the shortcomings of the X-E4.


The Fujifilm X-E4 is a small little camera with a highly competent core imaging gadgetry at its disposal. It requires the photographer to be continuously mindful of the shooting parameters, whose operation it makes quite convenient with the well appointed buttons and dials. At the end of the process, it delivers some of the best looking photos when viewed at the back of the camera, triggering a sense of satisfaction that’s hard to achieve. Reviewers often label this experience as “engaging”.

But the good stuff ends there. On the computer, those same photos that looked gorgeous on the LCD screen seem to lose a lot of their flair.

As for the engagement, I want the camera to get out of my way and achieve the results I want without fussing. I need to be able to set the camera and hand it over to anyone, including my 9 year old, and trust that they would be able to shoot the same quality of photos as I can. No engagement necessary.

This is something I am able to achieve with the Nikon Z system. The files from Nikon Z cameras, unlike many others, look better on the computer than in camera. And that’s just the beginning given their immense pliability.

So the Fujifilm X-E4 is a nice camera for those who want a basic, old-school shooting experience along with nostalgic film simulations.

But for me, the Fujifilm X-E4 is as frustrating as it is good looking. Look but don’t touch… or buy.

Sample Images on Flickr

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Tahir Hashmi