In 2014 I purchased a Fuji X-E2 camera, primarily for travel photography. I am somewhat of an introverted person and photographing in the street and on holiday with a large DSLR camera has always made me feel self conscious, too self conscious to get the photos I was after.
The appeal of the Fuji X-E2 and similar appearing cameras is their smaller size, less intrusive and retro appearance. People will often glare at you when you hold a large DSLR up facing their general direction (even from quite some distance), some have even walked up to me and given me significant verbal abuse even when I wasn’t including them in my photograph. In contrast with a small camera like the Fuji they think much less of you even though little do they know it’s still a professionally capable camera.
As with any camera I own the Fuji X-E2 has been put through its paces for astrophotography, and the X-E2 has impressed. Fuji uses a different design of sensor based on standard sensor technology but with subtle changes which has good potential for astrophotography. The change most notable to astrophotography is the X-Trans II CMOS sensor’s lack of a low-pass filter. This is different to the Nikon and Canon “cancellation” of such a filter, it is the complete removal of it. Removing the low-pass filter is nothing new to astrophotographers but to have a camera which is built from the ground up without one and works well for terrestrial photography is rare. If want to read more about how the low-pass filter is removed check out Fuji’s information about its X-Trans II sensor technology.
Why rejoyce the removal of the low-pass filter in the X-Trans II? Well the low-pass filter in most other digital cameras is responsible for cutting out certain portions of the light spectra. Those areas are useful to astrophotography. Nebulas which should appear pink and bright, instead appear fainter and blue because the near-infra-red light emitted by the nebulas is blocked by the low-pass filter.
My Canon 6D requires significant editing to counter the effects of the lowpass filter. In contrast I often use the JPG’s out of the Fuji X-E2 because they are so good straight out of the camera. I find the colour balance straight out of the camera is much better with the Fuji files than that of the Canon.
Here’s a good example. It’s a simple photograph of the Large Magellanic Cloud centered on the beautiful Tarantula Nebula (NGC2070). In the Canon 6D image you can see the nebula, but it’s very blue. In the Fuji X-E2 image the nebula is a more appropriate red/pink and there is more nebulosity visible in the image.
[sample image – LMC comparison]
And here is a few example images taken using the Fuji X-E2, straight out of the camera as a single JPG image:
[sample images – eta, SC&P, Running Chicken, Orion)]
The removal of the low-pass filter allows for great possibilities with this Fuji camera (and any other Fuji camera featuring the X-Trans sensor). Essentially any astrophotography you would take with a DSLR having a low-pass filter (such as the Canon 5DMkIII, Canon 6D, Nikon D800, etc) will not show as much nebula colour or detail as you will see in a photograph from the Fuji X-E2.
However, there’s always more to the store and other factors to consider! Let’s go through a few of them.
One thing I have learned to be careful of when using te JPG files from the Fuji X-E2 is noise control. Even with the camera set to -2 on the noise control level (minimum amount of noise reduction imposed) the files will often be softer than desirable for astrophotography. As such I do in some situations use the RAF (raw) files not the JPG, just to reinstate the desired sharpness. If Fuji were to implement a “noise reduction off” setting I am quite sure I would never bother with the RAF files, the JPG’s are perfect in other respects.
Maximum ISO & Noise Control
The Fuji X-E2 supports ISO up to 6400. It is quite clean and noise-free at 6400ISO also. In comparison to my Canon 6D it is quite respectable. I find that 6400ISO on the 6D returns more data but is more noise than the Fuji X-E2, the Fuji X-E2 might not have as bright an image at 6400ISO but the noise is not a problem and the images can be pushed more than the 6D. The below is a 30s exposure from the Fuji X-E2 and the Canon 6D, shot in RAW with absolutely no processing applied – simply the raw image:
[sample noise image – 30s exposure Fuji vs 6D]
The Fuji X-E2 is 16.3MP. That is quite respectable, but is less than the new trend of DSLR’s being 30MP+. If Megapixels matter to you, to that extent, you might not like the Fuji X-E2. Personally I find 16.3MP is no problem especially when you consider advanced rescaling techniques.
Weight & Size
The Fuji X-E2 is a very lightweight and compact camera when compared to any pro-sumer DSLR. The lighter weight means your tracking mount (if you use one) and tripod are under less strain, which will reduce your risk of startrails due to flexure or such.
The lighter weight and size mean I find that I can comfortably leave the X-E2 attached to my Vixen Polarie when walking around from location to location. The similar setup with my 6D and 1kg F/2.8 lens requires me to detach the camera between locations, or else it is very likely to fall or cause damage or misalignment in one way or another. This is a boost to convenience.
+1 for the Fuji
The Fuji X-E2 has bulb capability and you can use cable (and wireless) intervalometers with the camera. The intervalometers suitable to the fuji are harder to come by than Canon and the choice of which to buy is more limited. In the end I found there was only the choice of a couple on eBay as compared to the myriad of options for Canon. This means I am stuck with an intervalometer which uses AA batteries and needs to be switched off after use or the batteries go flow. Many Canon Intervalometer use small button batteries which last for years and the units don’t need to be turned off.
As of a 2015 firmware update the Fuji X-E2 sports built in intervalometer functionality via menus within the camera. This is good, but for the purposes of astrophotography it is very limited as it does not support bulb mode. The maximum exposure length when using this internal intervalometer is 30 seconds. Using a standard cable connected intervalometer there is no practical exposure time limit.
Something I like about the Fuji camera is that they regularly update the firmware and not only that, they add important new functionality. Two significant improvements I’ve noticed in the time I have had my X-E2 is the introduction of the built-in intervalometer (even though it doesn’t do Bulb mode, it is still useful and nice-to have now and then), and full-time-manual-focus (the ability to manually focus once the autofocus has completed when shutter button is half pressed).
+1 for the Fuji
PC and Device Connectivity
The Fuji X-E2 has fantastic interoperability with devices, but not to a PC. My iPad and iPhone have apps on them that allow full control of my Fuji X-E2, and very simple transfering of pictures from camera to device.
The remote control aspect of the apps could be improved however, particularly in the area of focusing. To be used seriously there really needs to be a way to zoom in and focus on fine detail on the device, but this is not yet possible. Knowing Fuji and their regular firmware and app updates I’m sure it will be in the future, hopefully soon!
Fuji has a fantastic range of high quality XF lenses compatible with the X range of cameras. I own only the 27mm f/2.8 pancake at this stage and while not perfect for astrophotography it’s quality is certainly on par with the best Canon lenses. Coma on the 27mm F/2.8 pancake produces small cross shaped stars, sometimes extending to seagulls, in the extreme corners. The coma is better controlled than in equivalent lenses such as the Canon 50mm F/1.4.
Samyang and other 3rd party manufacturers produce lenses for the X-mount. I own the Samyang 12mm F/2.0 NCS NS lens, which is quite good. Coma is evident in the corners but is reasonably well controlled if you focus the lens appropriately to minimise the effects.
There’s also the consideration that you may simply be mounting your Fuji to a telescope where no lens is required, only the telescope. In this case you need a X-mount compatible T-ring Adapter and these are readily available on ebay.
I have used my Fuji X-E2 with the 27mm f/2.8 pancake lens, the Samyang 12mm F/2 lens (fully manual as is standard for Samyang lenses), and on my various telescopes (primarily the William Optics Megrez 90 APO). Some thoughts:
- The Fuji XF 27mm f/2.8 is suitably fast, and sharp. It exhibits some distortion on the edges if focus is slightly off, but otherwise is perfect. Focus is very hard to achieve with this lens because the step size of the motorised manual focuser (the lens is fly-by-wire) is a bit on the course side, and there is no dynamic resolution.
- The Samyang 12mm F/2 lens is essentially flawless and suits the Fuji very well. It is fully manual, but this is no problem for astrophotography. There is some slight CA but this is easily corrected in software processing.
- The Fuji XF 18-55, 16mm, 14mm and 18mm all seen quite usable for astrophotography by the average photographer, based on reviews I have read elsewhere. They exhibit some degree of coma and distortion but it seems to be relatively well controlled. I have not chosen them because I am after a flawless field across the image and happy to compromise in other areas (automatic focus, aperture, CA, etc) for that. Coma is what I hate.
Below you can see a photograph of my Fuji X-E2 mounted to my Megrez 90 APO using a Fuji X-mount T-adaptor purchased from eBay, and a fitting machined locally to adapt that t-adaptor to my telescope’s 2″ focuser draw tube.
Probably the biggest problem I have with the Fuji is it’s general usability. This probably stems from the reduced number of physical controls in its smaller form factor, but also from some annoying software “features”.
I find I am often stumped, unable to change a setting but not knowing why. For example:
- I have in the past been unable to set the Bulb exposure mode longer than 30 seconds. After several days hunting and much frustration this turned out to be because the drive mode was in continuous not single frame. If I turn the dial to Bulb, I want Bulb thank you very much – do what you need – change the drive mode – to make that happen.
- I sometimes find myself unable to use the flash. No matter what I do, the flash functionality is disabled and there’s no explanation as to why. This turns out to be when the camera is in “Silent Mode”.
The screens on the Fuji cannot be turned off. When you use intervalometer mode (built in menu or cable) the screen will remain on. I have found battery life is very good even with this, but it is an annoyance and I wonder if it is introducing unnecessary noise in to my long exposures.
Focusing is frustrating with the Fuji X-E2. The introduction of full-time-manual focusing via firmware update improved the situation, but I still find:
- Manual focusing on stars is hard, it needs to allow zoom at 200% to see fine detail changes on the rear screen.
- Auto focusing often “gets it wrong”. It will finish the focus hunt very quickly, but finishes it out of focus. The problem is only rectified by re-framing to focus on something different.
- Switching focus modes and focus areas is somewhat cumbersome.
- There’s no concept of focus zones, only specific squares or anywhere.
- Focusing with the 27mm f/2.8 pancake is tricky. It’s motor is not fast enough when you want to quickly rack the focuser and is not fine enough when you want super fine focusing near-focus. Like a mouse with dynamic resolution the lens needs dynamic resolution to improve this situation.
OK, so you couldn’t be bothered reading what I took time to write above and you’ve skipped right to the bottom? Fine! that’s OK with me.
Should you use the Fuji X-E2 for astrophotography? Absolutely! It picks up awesome detail which other DSLR’s like the Canon 6D simply miss. It has all the basic controls you need for astrophotography, even if a litlte more cumbersome than a DSLR.
Would you alway buy a Fuji X-E2 over a DSLR such as a Canon 6D? Of course not! So, here’s a list to help you:
The Fuji X-E2 is good for these reason:
- Comparable ISO performance to the best out there.
- Great sensitivity across the spectrum to get all those nebulas and detail you miss with the standard DSLR having lowpass filter.
- Light, compact and unobtrusive.
Stick with a Canon EOS for these reasons:
- PC Interoperability. Do you want to control it remotely, or from a nearby PC?
- Planetary imaging – PC Interoperability advantages mean you can record high resolution planetary, lunar and solar videos straight to PC and ata resolution not psosible with the Fuji.
- Lenses and standard equipment – pretty much everything supports Canon, not as much supports or is available for Fuji.
- Megapixels. The EOS cameras are typically 20MP+ where as Fuji is 16.3MP.