Fujifilm X-A1 review

The Fujifilm X-A1 is the least expensive X-series camera that Fuji sells;while it doesn't feature the company's unique X-Trans image sensor, it's still a solid performer.
Photo of Fujifilm X-A1

The Fujifilm X-A1 ($599.95 list, with lens) represents the lowest cost of entry into Fuji’s mirrorless camera system. It’s a 16-megapixel APS-C shooter with a traditional Bayer image sensor (more on that later) that delivers impressive images even when its ISO is pushed very high. Aside from the image sensor, it’s the same camera as the X-M1, and suffers from the same issue—a slight lag when it comes to focusing. Aside from that it’s a pretty solid shooter, and a low-cost choice for anyone interested in shooting with Fuji’s strong set of X-series prime lenses. We didn’t like it quite as much as our Editors’ Choice mirrorless camera, the Olympus OM-D E-M10; that one uses the Micro Four Thirds lens system, and includes a built-in EVF. But the E-M10 is more expensive, and if you are intrigued by the X system the X-A1 is a solid starter camera.

Image Sensor, Design, and Features
The X-A1 doesn’t cut the corners that many budget models do; instead Fujifilm has cut costs by including an image sensor with a traditional Bayer color filter array. If you haven’t read up on the X-system, the X-Trans image sensor is one of the things that sets it apart from the crowd. It uses a more complex 6-by-6 RGB color filter array (Bayer sensors use 4-by-4), which promises to deliver images with a more natural look, and makes grain appear more organic and film-like at higher ISOs. The more complex pattern also eliminates the need for a low-pass filter—there’s very little chance of color moiré effects showing up due to the 6-by-6 filter’s more complex design.

I’ve noticed subtle differences between X-Trans images and traditional Bayer images, but have yet to shoot an X-Trans shot that I felt was drastically above and beyond what a Bayer sensor could produce. It’s not like moving to a filterless Foveon image sensor, like the one in the Sigma DP2 Merrill, but like Foveon images, Raw shooters have some additional concerns to think about. Lightroom, which is my preferred workflow application, initially struggled with rendering X-Trans images correctly; it’s gotten better as new versions have been released, but many shooters are still disappointed with the way that foliage is rendered. A competing Raw converter, Iridient Developer, handles X-Trans images much better. Of course, if you shoot JPG, the in-camera processor that’s tuned to work specifically with the camera doesn’t exhibit mushy foliage.

That said, some shooters may consider the Bayer filter housed inside the X-A1 to be a boon rather than a cost-cutting measure. If you’re intrigued by the strong lineup of wide-aperture prime lenses available for Fuji X cameras, the X-A1 is the least expensive way to dip your toes in the water. For most shots, I feel that the latest version of Lightroom does a fine job converting X-Trans images, but in no way did I feel that the Bayer sensor in this camera was lacking.

Like its X brethren, the X-A1 features a bit of a retro design. Its control dials have textured edges that are reminiscent of cameras of yore, and the Fujifilm logo is engraved on the top plate. Even though it shares a body with the X-M1, it doesn’t rock the same color scheme. The X-M1 is a two-tone chrome and black affair, but with the X-A1 you get either an all-black camera or a more modern-looking indigo blue body. It’s pretty small, especially when you consider its SLR-sized APS-C image sensor, at 2.6 by 4.6 by 1.5 inches (HWD), and it weighs just 11.6 ounces sans lens. The entry-level Samsung NX2000 is just a little bit smaller at 2.5 by 4.7 by 1.4 inches, but only weighs 8 ounces.

Controls are laid out in a way that is sure to please demanding photographers. On the top plate you’ll find the power switch, which surrounds the shutter release, the programmable function button (by default it controls ISO when shooting or Wi-Fi sharing when playing back photos), a mode dial, and a control dial. The dial adjusts EV compensation in most modes; in manual mode it controls shutter speed.

Around back you’ll find a second control dial, playback and display controls, and some shooting controls. The AF button allows you to select the active autofocus point, and there are also buttons to start video recording, adjust white balance, enable macro shooting with select lenses, and control the drive mode. There’s also the Q button; it brings up an on-screen menu of shooting settings. From that screen you can adjust the focus mode, ISO, dynamic range settings, noise reduction, image quality, film emulation modes, highlight and shadow levels, color output, and sharpening. It also lets you set the self-timer, enable or disable image stabilization, adjust flash output, and control the LCD brightness.

The rear display is hinged so that you can view it from above or below. It’s a good size at 3 inches, and very sharp thanks to a 920k-dot resolution. It’s not quite the equal of the 3-inch, 1,037k-dot display on the OM-D E-M10, and it doesn’t support touch control like the Olympus. That may sound like a minor quibble, but I did miss the ability to tap the rear display to select the focus point when shooting with the two cameras side-by-side. The screen is quite bright—I had no issues using it on a winter afternoon—but there’s no EVF, nor can you use an add-on EVF like you can with the Olympus PEN E-PL5.

Like the X-M1, the X-A1 has integrated support for Wi-Fi. The very basic implementation allows you to transfer JPG images to your iOS or Android device. You’ll just need the free Fujifilm Photo Receiver app or the Fujifilm Camera App from your device’s app store. Photo Receiver is a simple program that just receives photos from the camera, while the Camera App also allows you to browse the photos on your memory card from your phone and geotag transferred photos using your phone’s GPS radio. Transfers are quick and painless, but you’ll need to shoot in JPG mode or convert Raw files to JPG manually in-camera in order to copy them to your phone; there’s no automatic Raw to JPG conversion available to speed transfers. It doesn’t offer the more advanced Wi-Fi features that you get with Samsung cameras like the NX300, which allows you to post directly to social networks and control the camera using your phone as a remote with a Live View feed.

Performance and Conclusions
The weakest aspect of the X-A1 is its speed. It requires 1.7 seconds to start and capture an image. There’s also a wait to focus and fire in bright light (0.2-second), and in dim light that stretches to 1.3 seconds. Burst shooting speed is different story—the X-A1 can shoot at 5.5 frames per second, and it can keep that pace for 40 JPG shots, or 12 Raw/Raw+JPG shots before slowing down. When paired with a SanDisk 95MBps memory card it requires 3.9 seconds to clear a full JPG burst to the card; that increases to 6.2 seconds for Raw and 8 seconds for Raw+JPG. The focus speed may be attributed to its contrast detect system. Mirrorless cameras that also employ phase detection, like the Samsung NX300, tend to be a bit faster. The NX300 focus and fires in just 0.1-second in ample light, but it too slows when it gets dark, requiring 1.4 seconds to lock in and fire. The Samsung is also faster to start at 1.1 seconds, and rattles off shots at 7.2fps, but its burst mode slows after only a handful of shots.

I used Imatest to check the performance of the included Fujinon XC 16-50mm F3.5-5.6 OIS lens. I had looked at this lens previously with the X-M1, and the results were very similar with the copy that I tested with the X-A1. At its widest angle and aperture it scores 2,173 lines per picture height via a center-weighted test, with edges that approach 1,800 lines. That’s better than the 1,800 lines average score that we use to mark a sharp image, and even though the edges are just a bit below that, they look good to my eye. At 33mm f/5 the lens scores 2,374 lines, with edges that top 2,000 lines, and at 50mm f/5.6 it scores 2,531 lines, with edges that are once again over 2,000 lines. Distortion is kept under control when shooting in JPG, but if you shoot in Raw you’ll have to deal with noticeable (2 percent) barrel distortion at the 16mm setting. You can correct the distortion with a few clicks in Lightroom. The 16-50mm is one of the better kit lenses out there, both in terms of optics and build quality. The Olympus M.Zuiko ED 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 II R that is bundled with cameras like the E-PL5 is also impressively sharp, and uses a plastic lens mount just like the Fujinon 16-50mm, but it just doesn’t feel as well built, and because it covers a smaller image sensor, it can’t create as shallow of a depth of field under the same conditions.

Imatest also checks for noise, which increase along with a camera’s sensitivity to light (ISO). The X-A1′s sensor has a native ISO 200 sensitivity, and records very little (0.4 percent) noise there. When shooting JPG, it keeps noise under 1.5 percent through ISO 6400, and manages to keep it to just 1.7 percent at ISO 12800. A straight noise test isn’t the only thing that determines image quality at these ISOs; in-camera noise reduction often washes away detail. I took a close look at the images from the X-A1 using a calibrated NEC MultiSync PA271W and was happy to see that image detail holds up quite well through ISO 6400. There’s a drop-off in detail at ISO 12800, and things get downright mushy at the top ISO 25600 setting. If you opt to shoot in Raw, the maximum settings is ISO 6400; detail is impressive there, although there is noticeable noise. The X-A1 is up there with one of the better APS-C mirrorless cameras we’ve tested, the Sony Alpha NEX-6, in terms of noise control.

Video is recorded in QuickTime format at 1080p30 or 720p30 quality. The footage is crisp and, while the camera is snappy to refocus as the scene changes, there is the in-out-in focus effect that comes with any contrast detect focus system. The real issue is the evidence of the rolling shutter effect. You’ll notice this when capturing action or panning the camera; the bottom part of the frame advances more quickly than the top. This can give your footage the look of the classic rubber pencil optical illusion; rolling shutter is often an issue with cameras with large sensors when panning quickly, but it’s apparent here even in slow pans and gentle camera movement. There’s no mic input, but you get mini HDMI and micro USB ports. Standard SD, SDHC, and SDXC memory cards are supported, and an external battery charger is included.

The Fujifilm X-A1 impressed us with its image quality, but it’s not without its foibles. The camera is a little slow to focus and fire compared to the competition, and its video is marred by motion artifacts caused by the rolling shutter effect. If you’re willing to live with those issues, and are interested in Fuji’s X lens system, the X-A1 is a solid entry point. But you may find it worth your while to spend a bit more to move up to the X-M1, or if you’re in want of an EVF act quickly and track down last year’s X-E1 at a bargain price while it’s still available in stores. If you’re just in the market for an affordable mirrorless camera and aren’t married to a specific lens system, consider our Editors’ Choice Olympus OM-D E-M10, which focuses faster and includes an electronic viewfinder, or a former winner in this category, the Samsung NX300, which is now selling for a good deal less than its initial asking price.

Specifications
Dimensions 2.6 x 4.6 x 1.5 inches
Interface Ports micro USB, mini HDMI
Megapixels 16 MP
Battery Type Supported Lithium Ion
Recycle time 0.18 seconds
LCD dots 920000
LCD size 3 inches
Lines Per Picture Height 2173
Touch Screen No
Media Format Secure Digital, Secure Digital High Capacity, Secure Digital Extended Capacity
Maximum ISO 25600
Type Compact Interchangeable Lens
Sensor Type CMOS
Optical Zoom 3.1 x
Boot time 1.7 seconds
35-mm Equivalent (Wide) 24 mm
Weight 11.6 oz
Lens Mount Fujifilm X
Video Resolution 720p, 1080p
Waterproof Depth (Mfr. Rated) 0 feet
LCD Aspect Ratio 3
Image Stabilization In-Lens
35-mm Equivalent (Telephoto) 75 mm
Shutter Lag 0.2 seconds
Sensor Size APS-C (16.6 x 23.6mm) mm
GPS No
Viewfinder Type None

Verdict
The Fujifilm X-A1 is the least expensive X-series camera that Fuji sells; while it doesn't feature the company's unique X-Trans image sensor, it's still a solid performer.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
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