Fujifilm X-M1 review

The mirrorless Fujifilm X-M1 features a big APS-C image sensor that's capable of capturing some excellent images, but it's just a little slow to focus and fire.
Photo of Fujifilm X-M1

The Fujifilm X-M1 ($799.95 list) is the current entry-level body in the company’s mirrorless camera system. As a point of entry, it’s priced a bit high, but it does deliver excellent image quality, built-in Wi-Fi, and an impressively sharp kit lens. The only real issue with the camera is its focus speed; there’s a bit of lag, even when working in bright light. And it takes a little long to get started when you switch it on. Similar cameras at this price point, like our Editors’ Choice, the Samsung NX300, utilize a hybrid AF system with phase and contrast detection for near-instant results. If you’re enamored with its 16-megapixel X-Trans image sensor and you can live with a third of a second passing between pressing the shutter and firing off a shot, the X-M1 is worth consideration.

Design and Features
Like other recent Fujifilm cameras, the X-M1 is wrapped in a retro chic exterior. Its top and bottom plates are silver in color, but they’re plastic, not magnesium like they are on the more expensive Fujifilm X-E1. The X-M1 is fairly compact at 2.6 by 4.6 by 1.5 inches and weighs about 11.6 ounces without a lens. Compare this with the X-E1, which is 2.9 by 5.1 by 1.5 inches and weighs in at 12.3 ounces. In addition to the standard all-black and black-and-silver finishes, Fujifilm also offers the camera in a silver-and-brown version.

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 on par with the best displays on cameras in this class, including the similar display on the Sony Alpha NEX-6. That camera, and the Fuji X-E1, both have excellent built-in OLED EVFs, but there’s no viewfinder built into the X-M1. Nor is there a way to add one, like there is with the Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5, so you’re limited to using the LCD for focus and framing.

The X-M1 is the first Fuji interchangeable lens camera with Wi-Fi. The very basic implementation allows you to transfer JPG images to your iOS or Android device. You’ll just need to 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 X-M1 is a little slow to start up; it takes 1.7 seconds to turn on and capture a shot. When paired with the kit lens, the shutter lag is a little longer than we’d like to see. There’s a 0.3-second delay between tripping the shutter and confirming focus; focus in dim light slows to about 1.4 seconds. The burst shooting rate is 5.5 frames per second, and it can keep up that pace for about 40 JPG, 12 Raw, or 12 Raw+JPG captures. Capture slows after that, but you’re only looking at 3.5, 6, or 7.4 seconds to write all of the files to a SanDisk 95MBps memory card, respectively. The Samsung NX300, which has on-sensor phase and contrast detect focus, cuts shutter lag to just 0.1-second, though it also requires about 1.4 seconds to focus in dim light. The NX300 is faster to start at 1.1 seconds, and rattles off more limited bursts of shots at a faster 7.2fps rate.

I used Imatest to check the sharpness of the included Fujinon XC 16-50mm F3.5-5.6 OIS lens. It’s an impressive performer, bettering the 1,800 lines per picture height that we require for a sharp photo at every tested aperture and focal length. At 16mm f/3.5 it manages an impressive 2,299 lines, with edges that approach 2,000 lines. Zooming to 35mm narrows the maximum aperture to f/5, but images are still sharp at 2,600 lines, with edges that hit 1,900 lines. At 50mm the maximum aperture is f/5.6, and sharpness is impressive at 2,800 lines with edges that once again hover around 2,000 lines. Distortion is well controlled throughout the range; it’s not an issue when shooting JPG. But if you shoot Raw you will deal with a bit; there’s about 2 percent barrel distortion at 16mm, but that’s easy enough to fix in Lightroom or another Raw converter. The distortion goes away as you zoom. If you aren’t in love with the kit lens, you can buy the X-M1 as a body only for $100 less, but the kit does represent a $300 savings over purchasing the components separately, and the 16-50mm is a good performer. The Sony 16-50mm bundled with NEX cameras is a lot smaller, but it doesn’t deliver nearly the sharpness as Fuji’s take on the design and distortion approaches fish-eye levels when shooting Raw.

Imatest also checks images for noise. The X-M1 uses an X-Trans image sensor, which has a more complicated 6-by-6 color filter array over the image sensor; most cameras use a 4-by-4 Bayer pattern. Fuji claims that this delivers a more organic film-like grain pattern, and we tend to agree from what we’ve seen with the X-Trans cameras that have passed through our testing labs. Lightroom still isn’t the perfect Raw converter for this type of camera; there are still some issues with detail when shooting scenes with foliage, and we noticed some loss of color vibrance when processing high ISO Raw images in Lightroom 5.2 RC. But if you’re willing to work outside of the Adobe world, the Iridient Developer software does a noticeably better job, and JPG shooters will be happy to know that the X-M1′s firmware handles leaf detail just fine.

The X-M1 keeps JPG noise below 1.5 percent through ISO 3200, and manages a respectable 1.7 percent at ISO 6400. We did notice a drop in image detail when shifting from ISO 1600 to 3200, but not a drastic one. Detail does start to get smudged away at ISO 6400, and photos have a soft, hazy look at ISO 12800. This is all using the default JPG noise reduction setting; you can dial that down via the Q menu, or shoot in Raw. We noticed some loss of color vibrance at ISO 6400 when shooting in Raw and looking at photos in Lightroom, but a slider adjustment brought the images back to life. If you really want to push the ISO limits of this camera, you’ll want to shoot in Raw, or reduce in-camera noise reduction for JPG images; you can always apply noise reduction on your computer if you feel that a photo is too grainy.

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. 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 X-M1 is your least expensive entry point into Fuji’s X family. It cuts a few corners compared with the X-E1; the kit lens, while sharp, isn’t as impressive as the Fujinon XF 18-55mm F2.8-4 R LM OIS, it loses the magnesium top plate, and there’s no built-in EVF. But it’s still on the pricey side. If you’re set on an X-Trans sensor camera, you’re probably better off spending a bit more up front and going with an X-E1 or X-Pro1; the former has a pretty impressive EVF and is built a bit better, and the latter gives you the option of using an optical finder or EVF—just flip a button to switch between them. Despite its entry-level status in the Fuji lineup, the X-M1 is priced more like a midrange camera, and its design is one that’s more appealing to shutterbugs than casual shooters.

If you’re in the latter category you’ll likely feel more comfortable with our Editors’ Choice Samsung NX300; it’s packed with a more robust Wi-Fi system and is a bit snappier in terms of focus. If you demand an EVF, but can’t afford to move up to the X-E1, there’s the Sony Alpha NEX-6—it’s another solid performer with Wi-Fi. The Olympus PEN E-PL5 is a little less expensive, is compatible with Micro Four Thirds lenses, and offers in-body image stabilization and a tilting screen. You can add an EVF to it if you’d like, but there’s no Wi-Fi; you’ll have to use an Eye-Fi memory card for wireless transfer.

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
Touch Screen No
Media Format Secure Digital, Secure Digital High Capacity, Secure Digital Extended Capacity
Maximum ISO 25600
Type Compact Interchangeable Lens
Sensor Type X-Trans CMOS
Optical Zoom 3 x
Boot time 1.7 seconds
35-mm Equivalent (Wide) 24 mm
Weight 11.6 oz
Lens Mount Fujifilm X
Video Resolution 720p, 1080p
Lines Per Picture Height 2299
LCD Aspect Ratio 3
Image Stabilization In-Lens
35-mm Equivalent (Telephoto) 75 mm
Shutter Lag 0.3 seconds
Sensor Size APS-C (18 x 24mm) mm
GPS No
Viewfinder Type None

Verdict
The mirrorless Fujifilm X-M1 features a big APS-C image sensor that's capable of capturing some excellent images, but it's just a little slow to focus and fire.
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