Sunday, September 1, 2013

Fuji X-E1 vs Sony Nex-6 - a hands on comparison review

Before I get into this, let me say these are both excellent cameras capable of exceptional photos for their size and weight class, which is on the smaller side of APS-C sensor mirrorless systems. What I wanted to determine through using these cameras together for over a week is if one is more comfortable to use than the other. I presumed going in that the image results would be of similar quality, although I found one surprise on my high ISO tests. In the end, the question came down to this: If I were to buy one of these cameras over the other, which would it be?

The Fuji X-E1 is the second highest camera in the X series lineup, after the X-Pro1. 
The Fuji X-E1 and Sony Nex-6 have very similar specifications. Both were brought out as smaller versions of a bigger, more full-featured model, but because they came out later they also incorporated some features that were more advanced than their older siblings. Most pro photographers I know want to have a carry-around camera that is small and light, yet produces professional results in a pinch, and if they come with a full complement of quality lenses and accessories so much the better. These two cameras fit that description perfectly. Previously, I had presented the Sony RX100 II as a camera that could fulfill most of that definition. These two cameras are one step up from that in terms of size and accessories, and could actually be used as a complete system in and of themselves in a travel photography kit, for instance.

Although the dimensions of the two cameras are very close on paper, the Nex-6 does appear to be smaller when you are comparing the two in hand. I think one reason for this is the narrow part of the body that then juts out to serve as a hand grip. This is a good example of industrial design that is both appealing and practical. By keeping part of the camera body narrow the over all package is smaller when a lens is mounted on it.

At the time of this writing prices were around $800 for the X-E1 and $750 for the Nex-6 with special offers available.

The Sony Nex-6 camera shown with a 16-50mm medium zoom lens.
The Nex-6 is a more compact body, but does not have nearly as many menu buttons available because of its small size.
This comparison photo really shows off the more compact design of the Sony Nex-6. Whether of not this difference is really important to you is another matter. I did find the Sony to be much easier to tuck into a bag or large pocket, particularly because its kit zoom was also much smaller.

The body design of the Nex-6 has a slimmer profile where the lens mount is located, which results in a smaller overall package. The X-E1 has more mechanical control dials available on top. This is something I think pros would prefer, as it allows for quicker manual changes without having to take your eye away from the viewfinder to search through a menu screen.
There are more manual control dials on the X-E1 including two on the top, one for shutter speeds and another for exposure compensation. The Nex-6 has only one top dial for mode selection. I think more experienced photographers will find this to be an important feature difference as it allows the X-E1 to be set much more quickly and instinctively.

Battery life on both of these cameras is very limited and far below reports I had read, although the X-E1 battery performance was better during my practical usage tests. Electronic finders use up a lot of battery juice. In both cases, you should be prepared to carry at least one spare battery with you.

On the left is the main menu of the Fuji X-E1. It is clear and easily navigated. On the right is the Sony Nex-6 menu, which is less intuitive and more cumbersome to navigate.
In addition to its regular menu system, the Fuji X-E1 has a quick menu accessible with a press of the Q key on back of the camera. This immediately brings up a set of the most commonly used menu items, which are very easily navigated with the selector buttons and command dial. I have found this to be one of the handiest and well thought out menus on any camera.
Below is the ISO test for both cameras. I began at ISO 400 and went all the way to ISO 25,600. Normally I wouldn't even bother with anything above 6400 because it is normally not practical without some very serious post-processing noise reduction, and even then it is almost impossible to eliminate all the artifacting brought on by noise. With the Fuji X series cameras, however, these extremely high ISO levels are attainable with good results, and I have included them here. I did not include anything below ISO 400 because you really wouldn't see much difference on either of these cameras.

The Fuji X-E1 clearly delivers better results in these noise tests. In extended mode above 6400 it shifts from RAW to smaller jpg resolution file. So the comparison between it and the Nex-6 is not exactly apples to apples at ISO 12800 and 25600. Nonetheless, Fuji has managed to accomplish acceptable results from extended high ISO ranges by accepting the practical conclusion that pushing cameras to these extreme ranges is going to seriously compromise image quality, and making allowances that take this into consideration.

High Res ISO tests for each camera are available below for downloading.
High Res ISO tests for the Fuji X-E1:

High Res ISO tests for the Sony Nex-6:

An important consideration for choosing one of these cameras over the other would be lens lineup available for them. Sony's lineup is more extensive and includes multiple quality options. The Fuji lineup is currently more limited, but is expanding methodically as you can see from the Fuji lens roadmap. I have tested all of the Fuji lenses and have found them to be of excellent quality. I have not had the opportunity to test the full range of Sony optics, but was not impressed with those I did test. Several other manufacturers are now making lenses specifically for these two camera formats. the Zeiss Touit lenses, for instance, fit both camera and are exceptional. You can read my review of them here.

The electronic finders on these two cameras deliver different visual experiences from similar OLED finders. Nex-6 finder is very good. It presents a large, colorful image that is very appealing. The image on the X-E1 is smaller and more contrasty in comparison. However, it is easier to take in the complete frame on the X-E1 without having to move your eye around. Eyeglass wearers may have a more difficult time seeing the whole Nex-6 viewfinder.

The Nex-6 has an articulating LCD screen, whereas the X-E1 has not.
Resulting images taken under normal exposure circumstances are going to be very close in terms of quality with the main difference coming from the lens you are using rather than from the camera itself. I have included some sample images here, all of which show good results. There is no doubt in my mind that both of these cameras produce excellent results to a very high professional standard. 

The X-E1 does not have a kit zoom lens that is as small as the 16-50mm Sony zoom. This lens mounted on the Nex-6 makes for a very compact, transportable package as you can see in the photo above.
A natural window light scene taken with the Sony Nex-6
The same scene taken with the Fuji X-E1. In both cases I had to open the exposure by one full stop to compensate for camera meter readings that over adjusted due to the large white areas of the photo. No post-processing adjustments were made for color. If I didn't tell you which image came from which camera, I doubt if anyone could tell the difference.

Sample images from the Sony Nex-6:

In this shot of the Intrepid the Nex-6 shows good dynamic range on a very sunny day with plenty of shadow detail and no blown out highlights.

Sample images from the Fuji X-E1:

One area where the Fuji X series cameras shine is in low light capability making dark interior, ISO 1600 shot like this a breeze.

The Fuji X-E1 shows even better dynamic range in this sunny day photo with excellent shadow and highlight detail.

Bottom line on this comparison is that I don't think anyone is going to be disappointed from the results of either of these cameras. With the exception of low light capability where the X-E1 out performs the Nex-6, the ultimate choice between them is more a matter of features than image quality.

If compact size is a prime consideration, then the Nex-6 is clearly the winner, especially when outfitted with its smaller kit zoom lens. When it came down to actually using the cameras,  however, I found myself always preferring the handling quality of the X-E1. Its controls and menus are more extensive, more intuitive, and extremely well thought out, something an experienced photographer will appreciate. I would have no trouble taking along a Fuji X-E1 as my only camera on a travel shoot. Plus, as Fuji and other manufacturers expand the quality lens lineup, this camera system is going to get even better.

In the end I found myself constantly gravitating towards using the X-E1. It was such a comfortable and impressive camera to use that I decided to add it to my already too large assortment of camera systems. I suppose that sums it up best. 


  1. Tom, I just wanted to say, that I really appreciate your blog. Your "real life" (and pro) view on cameras is such a good alternative to standard "tech-reviews".
    And - since I like NY a lot - I love your website and pictures (being a pure amateur myself).


  2. You need to verify the shutter speed and ISO readings of the Fuji. Fuji is notorious for having ISO values that are one stop higher than the actual ISO. In essence, for the same ISO value, the Fuji's shutter speed is one full stop slower, thus allowing in more light. This creates the impression of better resolution at the same ISO, when in reality, the true ISO of the Fuji is one stop slower. Example, both cameras show ISO of 3200, but the Fuji's shutter speed makes it really 1600. That is the reason why Fuji's look so much better than the competition. However, when shots have the same the aperture and shutter speed, the Fuji is always at a lower ISO (ex: Fuji at 3200 vs Sony at 6400 ISO when both have the same shutter speed and aperture settings).

    1. Looks like that is true. I have an extension in my browser that displays the EXIF data for photos. As an example @ ISO 3200 the Fuji's exposure is f8 @ 1/5th, the Sony's is f8 @ 1/10. My friend's Fuji has really impressed me with its low light capabilities, but now when I compare the SAME EXPOSURE here Sony looks slightly better. Take a look at competing camera's taken at f8 @ 1/5: that would be Fuji @ ISO 3200 and the Sony @ ISO 1600.

      I do like some of Fuji's lenses better though! Plus Sony's confusing menu's are a huge pain. But both are very good cameras for sure.

  3. Great review, as and XE-1 owner I enjoyed reading about the strengths you've found in the camera.

  4. The lack of dials on the Sony is a big issue. Fuji all the way.

  5. I narrowed down to the Sony and Fuji when buying - brought the Fuji entirely because the knobs make it feel like a real camera rather than a point and shoot. Been very happy with that choice.

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. The ship's image from Nex6 and Fuji-XE1 is so different lens (zoom range) .The XE-1 used the longer zoom lens. So the image from Fuji XE-1 should be more detail.
    This picture i taken from the old lens Canon FD 200 f4 by Nex5N ( the discontinous model).How do you feel it?

  8. Really nice photo you have there -- very sharp, good color, and great bokeh!

  9. I appreciated your review very much. Thank you for taking the time to thoroughly evaluate both cameras. When I buy a camera, I think I will go with the X E1.

  10. What case is the Nex partially in?

  11. Nice review. I'm curious if you tried both cameras with old manual lenses? It seems that the focus peaking feature on the Sony cameras is a real killer feature for people interested in that route. I miss the focus screens on my old Minolta and suspect it would be frustrating using manual lenses on the Fuji with only the maginifcation feature to speed the process.

    Viet Tri Nguyen your photo is crisp and wonderful, a perfect reminder that there are LOTS of great lenses available for these cameras that you can get almost for free, as long as the camera can help you manual focus.

    The issue with potentially-misrepresentative ISO values is really distracting, I hope Fuji isn't being intentionally manipulative (the way Apple was with their signal strength indicators on pre-antennagate iOS). The comparison widget on dpreview makes it seem like the Fuji X-trans offers a whole other world of noise quality.

  12. Just wanted to say I own a Nex-6 with focus's a very, very nice feature...and it turns out the XE-1 also has the feature, which came as a firmware update around July 2013:

  13. Tom, what is that canvas and leather pouch NEX 6 is in? I've been looking for something like that ever since I got myself my camera. Thank you.

  14. It is a pouch made by Fogg ( Can be worn with a shoulder strap or attached directly to a belt, which is how I use it. Expensive, but very well made. A less expensive alternative is made by Billingham bags.

  15. Tom, thank you for the comparison. I do wish to point out one issue with the review that you, along with many reviewers, seem to overlook. This is the issue associated with Fuji's overinflating of ISO values.

    I used your own pictures to illustrate this issue. Your 6400 ISO pictures show that the Fuji is metering the same scene a full 2/3 of a stop slower than the NEX at 6400 ISO. When you compare the NEX 3200 ISO picture, they both have the same aperture and shutter speed. This basically shows that the Fuji, though stating 6400 ISO, is actually shooting at what Sony labels a 3200 ISO.

    When comparing the 6400 ISO pictures, the Fuji looks to be the clear winner...and it should, it's allowing 2/3 of stop more light. However, when comparing both at the same aperture and shutter speed (i.e. Nex 6 at ISO 3200 and Fuji at 6400), then the images look very close to one another. If I had to pick, I would still choose the Fuji, but it's really a toss up.

    This proves that Fuji's reputation for excellent high ISO performance is as inflated as their ISO values. They still perform well, but no head and shoulders above the competition. The Nex meters similar, if not exactly the same, as my Nikon and Canon APS-C cameras. This tells me that their ISO values are closer to what a light meter would produce.


    1. You make a good point, Andres. I am intrigued enough to look into it further. I'll do a comparison test with a Nikon and a Fuji. Thanks for sharing your observations.