Fujifilm have released their smaller entry level X-Series camera, the X-M1. The X-Mini as I like to call it! What’s not to like?! Small and compact, great X-Trans sensor, WiFi, tilting screen, option to use the pro level XF lenses, pocketable with the XC 27mm pancake lens, great price.
Unless stated otherwise, all the images on this write-up were shot with the new XC 16-50mm Fujinon lens. You really must click on the images to see them in higher resolution to check out how good the image quality is from this camera and lens.
I don’t like to call these articles “reviews” any more as they are much more a user write-up about how I personally have used the cameras I write about and what I think of them as a working photographer, rather than a professional reviewer. There is nothing wrong with professional reviews, don’t get me wrong, I’m not having a dig at them by saying this isn’t a review – they can be a great place to look up side-by-side tests and comparisons, but that isn’t my style! This write-up details how I have used the camera for work, play, family, how you yourself might use it out in the big wide world if you decide to buy one! I’ve included a lot of images to help you make up your mind – hopefully the same sort of thing you’ll be taking photos of with your X-M1!
Whilst everyone else was busy building their mirrorless systems from the bottom up, releasing low end models and then progressing to the enthusiast/pro markets, Fuji, rather typically, have done the opposite. First creating a professional high-end product and then working down the market with the X-E1, and now with the obvious progression to the more affordable X-M1. This strategy has proven very successful, with the X-Series generating a huge amount of interest amongst the high-end enthusiasts and many very well known working professionals, giving both Fujifilm and the X-Series a high profile for producing great quality cameras and the best image quality in the compact mirrorless market.
What we have here in the X-M1 is basically an X-Pro1 without a viewfinder. Combine this with any of the Fujinon X-Mount prime lenses and you’ll get exactly the same superb output with those great Fuji colours we’ve had from the X-Pro1, but in a much more affordable package.
Alongside the X-M1, Fujifilm announced a new 27mm f/2.8 pancake and a 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 OIS compact zoom lens. Both of these are aimed more at the consumer market than the professionals they have targeted so far. Neither have dedicated aperture rings, which some people will bemoan the lack of, but it does make them more compact to fit in with the X-M1. Because of the lack of the aperture ring they are unlikely to appeal to a certain type of photographer (perhaps myself to start with!) who bought into the Fujifilm system based on those traditional controls in traditional places, making the camera system easy to use for someone like myself who grew up using the ‘old-fashioned’ system of manual control. However, there are a lot of people out there who want great image quality but don’t really care about such things – every other compact mirrorless system works this way.
The E-M1 is available in a kit with the 16-50mm lens. Buying this kit is pretty much a no-brainer as it is very aggressively priced. X-M1 Body only is £599 in the UK, 16-50mm lens only is £379, but as a kit is it £679 – just £80 for a £379 lens! It is a shame there isn’t an X-M1 and 27mm pancake lens kit because that combination would cost you over £978 – not insignificant! Perhaps that kit will appear sometime in the future. I can only assume that the body only price will be discounted pretty quickly as you can pick up an X-E1 Body for just £629 these days, and I’d personally choose an X-E1 over the X-M1 at that price. As a kit however, it is very good value.
The X-M1 definitely sets itself significantly apart from a dSLR in terms of size, where the X-Pro1 might not be all that much smaller than an entry level dSLR, especially the newer ones coming from Nikon and Canon who seem to have realised that not everyone wants a big camera and are desperately trying to make things smaller, but sticking with the dSLR format at the same time to preserve their own markets.
Fujifilm UK have been kind enough to lend me an advanced copy of the X-M1 and the XC 16-50mm lens to use and write up about. I received it in the morning and pressed it into action that very afternoon for work on a hotel shoot!
I had the X-Pro1 with the usual 14mm lens on it for this sort of job, and the X-M1 with the 16-50mm lens made a great companion. What I liked was that with the same settings I knew I wouldn’t have to calibrate the images from it to match those coming from the X-Pro1 as the inside of the X-M1 is effectively identical to the X-Pro1. Despite the camera being new to me, I had no qualms about using it straight away on a pro shoot and a number of the images from that job shot with the X-M1 went to the client. The OIS (shake reduction) system meant I was able to hand hold it in many circumstances where I put the X-Pro1 + 14mm on a tripod, which gave me a little more flexibility.
The XC 16-50mm lens is a cheaper alternative to the XF18-55mm X-E1 kit lens. It is built from plastic rather than metal, has a plastic mount and is quite a bit lighter. Initially I wasn’t sure how it would perform, but after using it for a while now I can report that it is optically very good. When I get the chance I will do a side-by-side with the 18-55, but I think many people will be impressed with the image quality coming out of Fuji’s cheaper kit lens. The one downside is that the aperture ring has been removed, both the reduce costs and lens size. You control the aperture from a vertical dial on the back of the X-M1. In practice it works well. On the X-M1 it makes sense, but I’d still prefer the 18-55mm on the bigger X-Series cameras because personally I like the aperture ring on the lens. Of course, if you mount any of the XF lenses, you can control the aperture from the lens on the X-M1 and not the controls on the back.
The 16mm wide angle is nice though – I said in my 18-55mm review that I wished it was a 16-50! 16mm gives you the equivalent of 24mm full-frame and just opens up a few more options. 2mm extra might not sound like much, but at the wide-angle end on a crop sensor it does make enough of a difference. I do wish that Fuji’s more expensive standard zoom was 16-50 and this cheaper version was 18-55, but given the image quality coming out of this lens I have to say I’d be temped to take it out as a single travel lens instead of the 18-55mm just because of that slightly wider angle option. I don’t think I’d be disappointed by the results.
The zoom allows you to get a nice range of shots, from close up details to wide interiors.
What are the best features of the X-M1?
WiFi – At last, an X-Series with WiFi!! Fuji have finally accepted it is a feature we want! If you want to get people away from their smartphones, this is exactly what you need to do it with. The built in WiFi provides a quick way to share your images through your phone on Facebook, Twitter etc. It is a fairly simple system to use that requires no complicated setup, you simply download the App and authorisations for connections from phones are handled from the camera and not the phone.
GPS – Whilst it doesn’t have GPS built in, presumably to save both money and battery life, you can geotag your images from the GPS information in your phone using the WiFi connection. I love geotagged images for travel shots, it makes arranging things easy and if you ever want to return to exactly where you took that shot, you can.
Face Detection – Brilliant! I’ve been waiting on this one too for a while. A good face detection AF system makes shooting family, especially kids, so much easier. You don’t have to focus and re-compose, something that might mean you miss the moment you were after, you don’t have to move the AF point, again, something that takes up valuable time when getting that shot you want.
Tilting Screen – I’ve always been a fan of tilt-screens on consumer cameras (though not necessarily on professional cameras). Shoot down low, shoot up high with ease.
Minimum shutter speed for Auto ISO – Alright Fuji, we have it on the X-M1, that must mean it’s possible to bring it to the X-Pro1 and X-E1! I don’t get why this has been ignored for so long whilst so many people ask for it.
Built-in Flash – The built in flash and exposure system that comes with it works very well. It has a super intelligent exposure something or other I don’t understand, but it works very well! I used it in the shot below to balance out the bright sunlight, and even though the subject was quite close, it hasn’t burnt it out. The flash also pops up quite high to reduce red-eye, and it comes out quite far forward too so that the lens doesn’t cast a shadow. The X-M1 still retains a full-sized hotshoe, compatible with the Fujifilm TTL external flashes.
No EVF? Pffff, that’s a no-buy for me then!
Well that may be how you feel, and if that is the case then simply buy the X-E1! The X-M1 is an entry level model to get people into the interchangeable X-Series. None of the other CSC manufacturers adds an EVF until you get to the top end of the range. It’s a trade-off that needs to be made against price and size, the X-E1 lost the OVF of the X-Pro1 for the same reason.
This is a consumer-focused camera. It will and has drawn a lot of criticism from people who have already bought into the X-Series. “It doesn’t have an EVF.” “It doesn’t have dedicated dials.” etc. etc. Well, you know what? Fuji still make cameras that do! Just because this one doesn’t, that doesn’t mean you have to go and buy it if it does not suit your needs and wants – they still make high end X-Series cameras for you! For many consumers, they don’t care about dedicated dials and EVFs. What a lot of people want is something portable with good image quality. Something significantly better than their camera-phone, but that they can just press the shutter button on and not worry about all those funny looking dials marked with numbers they don’t necessarily understand. That’s fine, I see some great photos taken by people who don’t fully understand how their camera works. You only have to look at the explosion in the CSC market and collapse of the compact market to see where people want to be. Until now Fuji have only had the X10/X20 in the more advanced compact market. The X-M1 has pushed that boundary to the next level with an APS-C sized sensor in a body that fits in-between the X20 and the X-E1, not only in price, but also in size it is almost exactly in the middle of these two cameras.
The X-M1 is a great entry into the world of more advanced cameras, someone who wants to up their photography, and one that will lead them into something like an X-E1 or even X-Pro1 without having to re-invest in an entirely new system.
What’s it like?
To be honest when I heard about it I thought it would be a cheap plastic body with little substance but as soon as I got hold of it it felt much more solid and weighty than I expected. That’s not to say it is heavy, but that it feels solid, well built, with good quality construction. It doesn’t have the pavement bashing ability of the X-Pro1, but it will certainly stand up to normal daily use.
Anyone used to an X-Pro1 or X100 will have to spend a little time familiarising themselves with it – buttons have moved, dials do different things. People moving up from and X10 or X20 will find themselves much more at home, with a familiar mode dial on the top and the scroll dial for adjusting aperture etc.
On the whole the buttons are similar, but there are little oddities like if you want to change things like the AF mode on the X-M1 there is no button on the front, you have to go into the Quick menu and change in there. For people who have not been using X-Series cameras for the past couple of years this will be totally irrelevant because it will be ‘normal’ to them, but for me it took a little learning how to access all the functions I wanted.
Fuji have also managed to fiddle with a perfectly good menu system and hide some of the functions away. For example image preview, which was nicely on the main menu, has now been hidden on the screen setup option for no apparent reason! That’s kind of what we’ve come to expect from Fuji menus though! Once set up though, I personally rarely fiddle with things so after the initial period of time getting things just as I like them I don’t find it an important day-to-day issue. If you’re spending so much time in the menu system to get annoyed with it, then I think you’d be better off spending more of that time pressing the shutter button and not worrying about it!
In Daily use…
Day-to-day this camera is as easy as any other, point it at something and press the button! AF, whilst not blazingly fast, is more than good enough for pretty much anything you want to shoot with this camera, and with the addition of face detection, shooting family has become a whole lot easier, no focus and recompose necessary. The face detection works really quite well and managed to pickup even when a face isn’t straight on to the camera.
Shooting something like my little girl below means I don’t have to focus and re-compose with face-detection AF. This shot was also taken using the built-in flash for fill.
I’m not going to go on about how great the image quality is – it’s a Fujifilm X-Series, the image quality is stunning and exactly what we have come to expect. I can’t think of any situation in which you’d be disappointed. Take a look at the images on here, and be sure to click on them to get much higher resolution versions. In such a small bodied camera, it’s hard not to be impressed!
Fuji make much of the one-handed operation ability of the X-M1, having moved all of the controls over to one side of the camera.
It makes things look cleaner, simpler, and in practice it works well. I have to say out of all the X-Series cameras, the X-M1 is the camera I least accidentally press buttons on thanks to the nice chunky protruding thumb grip that keeps my thumb and palm away from the buttons – a constant source of frustration on the X-Pro1. Whilst it can be operated ‘one-handed’, it is still sensible to hold it with two! The one-handed operation means you don’t have to remove your left hand from the camera to adjust the settings, rather than that they expect people to be waving it around in one hand. I like the vertical scroll wheel, it doesn’t get knocked and is easy enough to move your thumb over to operate.
I love the tilting screen! I still have reservations about the ability of it to withstand the abuse my X-Pro1 gets, but on this camera it’s fantastic and means you can get some great low down angles and still be able to frame it. It goes nearly 180 degrees from pointing straight up to straight down.
The only issue is that it doesn’t rotate as well. When you put the camera into portrait it suddenly leaves you wishing you could twist it similarly in that orientation too!
Shooting from the hip in town is a really nice way to use it too.
In the shots below the camera was nearly touching the water (nobody tell Fuji – I’ve dried the strap off so they won’t notice!) but I was still able to frame them with the screen tilted up towards me as I hung over the side of the RIB.
One thing I do find frustrating is that the electronic level isn’t present on the X-M1. As someone who likes to get things straight, I find it a very useful tool, especially for landscapes.
Oddly there is no panorama mode either – I stitched the one below together using Photoshop.
FUJIFILM X-M1 (22.2mm, f/7.1, 1/320 sec, ISO200)
The X-M1 uses the same battery as the X-E1 and X-Pro1, which is great news as anyone with those cameras and spare batteries doesn’t have to re-invest in another set of spares. It’s also good for anyone who may buy an X-E1 or X-Pro1 in the future as they can buy spares now knowing that they will fit a future potential purchase. I have yet to find a 3rd party W126 battery that works anywhere near as well as the Fuji ones, so I’d suggest you buy originals. They may appear expensive, but nowhere near as much as some dSLR batteries, and why would you risk not being able to take photos for the sake of £30 after spending all that money on a great camera?! I have found very good 3rd party batteries for the X100 and X20, but none that I could recommend as alternatives to the Fujifilm W126 X-Pro1/X-E1/X-M1 battery. One battery will last you through most of a normal day of shooting, but I’d recommend getting a spare, just in case.
WiFi – this caused me some frustration to start with, and still isn’t prefect even after a while of getting used to it. Once you have the camera and phone connected it works brilliantly, it’s just getting that connection that causes the issue. Firstly you have to preview the image on the camera, then press the WiFi button. The camera then fires up its own hotspot (which you can rename if you want) and then you have to connect the phone to the WiFi of the camera, go into the App and press Connect, at which point the camera then recognises a phone and requests you confirm the send, you stop there, or can run through and send multiple images. The other way is to ‘browse’ the camera from the phone and choose which images to pull off it. There is the option on the camera to downsize images to 3Mb for sending to the phone, which is very sensible. It’s quite a simple process.
The frustration comes when connecting to the camera’s hotspot. At home once you’ve got the WiFi going in camera it means going into your phone settings, disconnecting from your home WiFi and connecting to the phone hotspot before then firing up the App – if you’re not quick enough the camera times-out before you get back to the App and you have to start all over again because the camera powers down the WiFi connection immediately after an aborted connection attempt. Outside where there are no other WiFi networks that your phone is familiar with it isn’t as much of a problem as long as your phone finds and automatically connects to the camera WiFi hotspot quickly enough, but that isn’t always the case. The biggest issue here is not that the system does not work, it works very well, the problem is in the implementation of the WiFi hotspot being powered down far too quickly. It’s obviously done to save battery life, but just causes frustration! I’m sure a firmware update could at least give the option of leaving the WiFi powered up for longer at the expense of battery life. I’ve got the whole process down to a fine art now and it works 90% of the time now I’ve figured out the routine!
The X-M1 has an array of fun filter modes as seem to be popular these days. You access these by rotating the mode dial to Adv. where you can then choose from a variety of colour and black and white filters, including partial colour modes if that’s your thing.
Below are some samples taken using a couple of the filter modes. Toy camera, Dynamic Tone and Miniature in that order.
The SP mode on the dial allows you to choose from different scenes, helping you get the most out of the camera by setting it up for you with the most suitable settings for what you are taking photos of. SR+ mode even makes the decision for you on what it thinks you are taking photos of, and is probably the best setting to leave it in for the amateur wanting to just point-and-shoot. It works well and greys out any menu options you don’t necessarily need in that mode, leaving things pretty simple.
To help you access certain scene modes quickly without having to go through the menu, there are three presets on the mode dial, sports, landscape and portrait. There is also a custom setting. To alter this custom setting, you set the camera up as you want it, then go into the menu and choose Custom Set -> OK. It will then store those settings to be recalled when you turn the mode dial to the C position. There is only one custom preset on the X-M1, unlike the X-Pro1 and X-E1 where we get three, but have to call them up in the Quick menu rather than from a dial.
The remainder of the mode dial is taken up with the usual PASM modes. M mode still allowing full manual control of all settings on the camera. Despite the lack of dedicated dials, manual settings are quite easy to control.
The unmarked dial on the top acts primarily as an exposure compensation dial, but in manual mode it switches to being the way of setting shutter speed as you don’t need exposure compensation in manual.
The programmable Fn button is set to ISO by default, and WiFi connection when previewing an image. This can be changed to something more suitable for you if you wish by simple long-pressing on the button and choosing the option you want.
A video mode is included and this is the first X-Series camera with a dedicated video record button. No need to choose a video mode, just press the red record button and it starts. The X-Series cameras have never been touted as serious video cameras, and the X-M1 is no exception. Whilst the video output is actually very good, video options are limited and have just two modes on the X-M1. HD at 1080 30fps and 720 at 30fps. To be honest the majority of people probably don’t need any more than that, but for someone who like to take their video serious they may find that a little limiting.
A very quick sample video I shot just to give you some idea.
The threaded remote release has not been included on the X-M1, but there is a USB remote release available (the RR-90) which hopefully will be compatible with a 3rd party remote allowing the use of an intervalometer at some point in the future.
FUJIFILM X-M1 (16mm, f/5.6, 1/110 sec, ISO400)
Black and white images come out great, as they do with all the X-Series cameras. The three images below are JPEGs converted in LR5. I can’t yet process RAW files as LR5 doesn’t recognise the camera because it hasn’t been officially released yet, although you could use the bundled Silkypix software if you need to.
The shot below is show in colour and then the B&W conversion – shot at ISO 3200! I have no problem using the X-M1 on AutoISO up to 3200. Images are still perfectly useable. I set noise reduction to -1 by default in my cameras, and haven’t applied any noise reduction in LR. Personally I prefer a little grain than the mushy look you can sometimes get from an over-noise reduced image. The Fuji’s are pretty good at not doing that even in default settings (unlike Sony) but I tend to think that I can perform noise reduction in post if I feel the need.
The large APS-C sized sensor allows you to get great shallow depth of field, even without necessarily having the lens wide open, giving you the option of having nice out of focus backgrounds.
The out of focus areas (bokeh) is surprisingly good for what is the cheaper kit lens.
One problem I did find was that the Auto White Balance function was a little inconsistent – you could shoot the same scene several times and get slightly different results each time. It didn’t happen every time, and admittedly the lighting in the shots below was quite complex. This is probably an issue with the early firmware and I expect Fuji will have a look at is because the other X-Series cameras don’t have this problem. Occasionally the image on the LCD before you shoot also has a different colour balance to the one taken once you’ve pressed the shutter button. The three images below were all shot pretty much one after the other in the same setting and as you can see, each has a slightly different colour cast. Each image in isolation is fine, it’s only when you put them together that you realise they are different. No Auto-WB system is foolproof, and if you want consistent results I’d always suggest you use a fixed WB preset, or create you own custom setting as I tend to do where colour reproduction is critical, which despite being a consumer oriented camera is still an option on the X-M1.
The autofocus system on early X-Series cameras was something of a sore point. Fujifilm have steadily updated their AF algorithms and lenses, and the X-M1, where not as quick as the X100s when in phase-detection mode, is at the higher end of the X-Series range, and with the XC 16-50mm lens attached is on a par with the other recent mirrorless camera systems – with the sole exception of the newer speed-demons from Olympus, which appear to use some form of witchcraft in their AF! It is more than good enough for the majority of applications and I was using it quite happily to shoot sailing yachts as they raced by without any issues. I certainly wasn’t aware of an issue with the AF – it just got on with the job, which wasn’t the case with earlier X-Series cameras, and in day-to-day use it appears to be very accurate.
The X-M1 & 16-50mm lens picks up great detail, even at high ISO values.
Too much choice! Which should I buy?!
I can’t answer that for you! I can try to help you make a decision though. The X-Pro1 is still ahead in terms of professional level features and handling. It’s still my number one choice for people who work with their cameras and serious enthusiasts. It’s built like a brick, has the upper hand with concrete on impact (don’t ask me how I know!) feels right in the hand. The X-E1 is what I would buy if you really need/want an EVF, and it has a mostly metal body. The X-M1 is basically good enough for everyone else!
X-M1 with a 27mm pancake or an X100S? The X-M1 is smaller, but gives (almost) the same great image quality and has the advantage of allowing you to upgrade in the future. If all you want and need is a fixed 35mm lens, then the X100S is still the camera to buy. The X100S has the newer sensor coupled with an amazing quality lens and the OVF/EVF, not to mention a certain spark of something not fully realised in the other X-Series cameras. The X-M1 with a 27mm pancake lens makes for a very tempting alternative though with the ability to upgrade to other lenses in the future, and as an entry into the X-Series range.
Time to take a relax in the bar and look back on using the X-M1.
The X-M1 is another fantastic camera at a great price and any of the criticisms I have written about are hard worked on to find, and probably mostly irrelevant for most people who would be buying into the X-M1.
Fujifilm are definitely aiming this at people who are looking for compact and light over what they may perceive to be unnecessary complexity and heavy. I know a lot of people look at the X-Pro1 and wonder what all those dials are for and think it is too complicated for them to use. Try explaining to many people about aperture, shutter speed, ISO, exposure compensation and they’ll just look back blankly at me. Tell them this single dial on the top makes the image brighter and darker and they can cope with that! The X-M1 is designed mostly to suit that type of photographer. However for people who want more advanced manual controls, the X-M1 still provides that level of control, just in a slightly different way to the X-E1 and X-Pro1, so it means that anyone from the amateur to the seasoned pro can get what they want out of the X-M1. For the more serious photographer I’d probably still suggest the X-E1 if your budget allows, but I don’t think you’d be disappointed with an X-M1. Certainly in terms of image quality there is nothing to choose between them.
The X-M1 gives you the ability to buy into the X-Series XF-Mount ecosystem more economically, giving you the option to expand into the range if you choose to do so later on, much like the beginner buying an entry level dSLR. My personal choice for a single travel camera is the X100S, but that doesn’t suit everyone. For people wanting something more affordable and more flexible, the X-M1 provides them with a great all-round family and travel camera packing a full set of pro level features but with the easy of use of a point-and-shoot at the same time. Small and compact yet with the stunning image quality from the larger X-Pro1 that many people have come to love. As I said at the very start, what’s not to like?!
This write-up may appear like a trumpeting for Fujifilm, and in a lot of ways it is, but only because I truly believe and feel in what I write. It is becoming harder and harder to criticise anything coming from Fujifilm in the X-Series range of cameras and lenses recently. Early developments had their quirks and issues that were easy to pick up on. Fuji have worked hard with photographers to address those to create much more polished and useable (less frustrating!) cameras. As Zack Arias said in his X100S write-up, Fuji are the new Leica. I think a lot of people took that the wrong way. Fuji are producing the solid high quality working professionals camera that people can save up to afford – ones that are inspiring to work with and at a price people can actually justify buying. Leica have moved their M-Series way out of the affordable range for most photographers, certainly in terms of return on investment. The X-Series cameras are now the choice of many professional photographers who want the best image quality but don’t want the size and weight of a dSLR, much the same reason Leica film cameras were originally chosen for in their early days when large format was the norm. Leica changed photography by showing there was a different, easier, smaller, simpler way by choosing the 35mm single lens format over their much larger contemporaries, and combining it with high quality optics. Fuji are doing the same now in the digital camera world, producing innovative sensors in smaller cameras, giving us some stunning lenses, and showing us that big isn’t always best. That is what I believe Zack was getting at when he said Fuji are the new Leica, and he’s exactly right.
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