This is an in-depth review of the Fujifilm X-M1 mirrorless interchangeable-lens camera, which was released by Fuji on June 24, 2013 together with the Fujinon XC 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 OIS lens. After the success of the X series cameras including the X100, X-Pro1 and X-E1, Fuji decided to expand the line of interchangeable lens mirrorless cameras by introducing a more affordable mid-range version, the X-M1. While the X-Pro1 and X-E1 are targeted at professionals, enthusiasts and serious amateurs, the X-M1 is designed to attract a broader audience.
Priced approximately $300 cheaper than the X-E1 (at launch, the difference has been reduced to $100), the X-M1 sports a plastic body and has no built-in electronic viewfinder. With the loss of such important features, however, come a few gains – the X-M1 has a completely redesigned camera body with some new features. First, the camera has a high resolution 3″ 920K dot tiltable LCD screen (the X-E1 has a lower-end 2.8″ LCD screen at 460K dots). Second, the X-M1 is the first Fuji mirrorless camera to come with Wi-Fi for wireless connectivity with computers, tablets and smartphones. Third, the X-M1 is very compact and light, thanks to its plastic construction. Lastly, the camera ergonomics are quite different compared to the X-E1 and the X-Pro1, as discussed in the Handling section of this review. The X-M1 debuted in three different colors: silver top in black and brown colors and fully black body. In this Fuji X-M1 review (based on original Firmware 1.00), I will provide detailed information about the camera, along with some image samples, and compare it to other cameras from Nikon, Canon and Olympus. I have been shooting with the X-M1 for the last three months, during which I have used it for photographing landscapes, events, weddings and other photography projects, so by now I have a pretty good idea about its strengths and weaknesses.
1) Fujifilm X-M1 Specifications
Main Features and Specifications:
- Sensor: 16.3 MP (1.5x crop factor), 4.8µ pixel size, same as on X-E1 and X-Pro1
- Sensor Size: 23.6 x 15.6mm
- Resolution: 4896 x 3264
- Native ISO Sensitivity: 200-6,400
- Boost Low ISO Sensitivity: 100
- Boost High ISO Sensitivity: 12,800-25,600
- Sensor Cleaning System: Yes
- Lens mount: FUJIFILM X mount
- Weather Sealing/Protection: No
- Body Build: Plastic
- Shutter: Up to 1/4000 and 30 sec exposure
- Shutter Control: Focal Plane Shutter
- Storage: 1x SD slot (SD/SDHC/SDXC compatible)
- Speed: 5.6 FPS
- Exposure Meter: TTL 256-zones metering
- Built-in Flash: Yes
- Autofocus: Yes
- Manual Focus: Yes
- LCD Screen: 3 inch, approx. 920,000-dot tilt type TFT color LCD monitor
- Movie Modes: Full 1080p HD @ 24 fps max
- Movie Recording Limit: 29 minutes
- Movie Output: MOV (H.264)
- GPS: No
- WiFi: Yes
- Battery Type: NP-W126
- Battery Life: 350 shots
- USB Standard: 2.0
- Weight: 280g (excluding battery and accessories)
- Price: $699 MSRP body only (at launch)
A detailed list of camera specifications is available at Fujifilm.com.
2) Camera Construction and Handling
Unlike the Fuji X-Pro1 and X-E1 cameras that sport magnesium-alloy frames and covers, the X-M1 has an inferior build. With the exception of the control dials, the flash socket and the mount, the rest of the camera is mostly plastic. This does not mean, however, that the camera feels cheap in any way. The front plate and the sides are covered with high quality synthetic leather, which feels just like the one on the X-Pro1 / X-E1. The control dials, along with the shutter switch and release have the same excellent feel to them.
As I have pointed out before, the X-M1 has been completely redesigned. On the top of the camera, the main shutter speed rotary dial to the right of the flash socket has been replaced with a PASM mode dial that contains a number of scene presets. The exposure compensation dial has been replaced with a simpler unlabeled multi-purpose dial, which changes in functionality depending on which mode you are in. On the back of the camera, the small thumb dial has been re-positioned vertically right above the rest of the controls. The style of the buttons on the back of the camera has been completely changed as well – instead of the protruded button area, now the buttons are just sticking out of the body. Each button, however, is now labeled and as you can see from the below image, the buttons now serve different functions. Here is a comparison between the X-E1 and the X-M1:
As you can see, the two look very different on the back, with a lot more functional buttons on the X-M1 concentrated in the same area to the right of the LCD. Personally, I prefer the functional buttons to be to the left of the LCD, probably because I am so used to them on my Nikon DSLRs. In addition to the standard buttons, there is now a dedicated video recording button for those that want to quickly start shooting videos. To be honest I do not like the fact that I have to dig through different drive modes in the menu to start recording videos – I think every future X series camera should have a dedicated video recording button.
Let’s talk about a very important feature that is missing on the X-M1 – the electronic viewfinder (EVF). Being a mid-range mirrorless camera, the X-M1 was designed to be used like traditional point and shoot cameras, by looking at the LCD of the camera for framing. Unfortunately, there is no option to attach an electronic viewfinder either, like on some Micro Four Thirds cameras. While for some people it is not a problem, this is almost a deal breaker for me. I am so used to composing images through the viewfinder, that I just cannot frame an image by looking at the LCD. It took me a while to get used to the X-M1 for that reason – I kept wanting to look through the viewfinder that is not there! If you are a DSLR junkie like me, just keep this in mind. Also, I know that some people complain about framing through the LCD during daytime conditions when it is very bright. I have used the X-M1 during my landscape workshop when it was very sunny and also used it for other projects outdoors and I can tell you that the LCD is very bright, so there are really no concerns there. The biggest thing you need to be comfortable with is looking at the LCD for framing / composing shots. The good news is, in situations where I did need to use the LCD (such as photographing people on the dance floor during a wedding), I loved the ability to tilt the screen. So the tilt screen is definitely a very useful feature and the 3″ display with 920K dots makes images appear very crisp and beautiful. I would love to see Fuji implement a tilt screen in addition to a high resolution EVF in the future versions of their higher-end X series cameras, similar to what my Olympus OM-D E-M5 offers.
Size-wise, the X-M1 is smaller than both the X-E1 and the X-Pro1. Take a look at the following comparison:
The X-M1 comes with a similar thin strap as the X-E1 and the X-Pro1, which is pretty uncomfortable to wear in my opinion. I would highly recommend to replace it with something better and thicker. Personally, I am a huge fan of neoprene straps from OP/TECH. The classic version of the strap would probably be ideal, although if you feel that it is too thick or too big for the X-M1, they have all kinds of smaller sizes too. Just make sure to pick up a strap that is thin enough to go through the “ears” on the sides of the camera.
The X-M1 also comes with a compact built-in flash. It is operated manually by pressing the small flash button on the back of the camera. Compared to DSLR built-in flashes, this one is tiny and not very powerful. Do not expect it to light up a room for you, as the flash is only meant to be used occasionally. It works great as fill flash, although you should be careful when using it with large lenses with attached hoods. At wide angles, you might see a huge shadow that occupies half of the frame. The good news is, you do not have to rely on this built-in flash if you like working with flash – the standard hot shoe on the top of the camera will work with any speedlight or flash trigger system like PocketWizard. I have used the Fuji X series cameras with my Nikon speedlights and while TTL does not work, manual flash works great. See the Flash section of this review for some more information and sample images.
Similar to other X series cameras, the X-M1 is not designed to be a weather-proof camera, and I would not expect it to be. Since other manufacturers like Olympus are pretty successful at making their camera bodies weather resistant, I hope it is a matter of time until Fuji starts doing the same. If you are too worried about shooting in extreme conditions, the Fuji X-M1 is probably not for you.
My biggest handling complaint on the X-M1 is the tripod mount placement and the fact that the memory card is located in the same place as the battery. This issue is rather annoying, because the tripod mount socket is located off the center of the camera close to the battery/card compartment, making it painful to remove the card or battery while the camera is mounted. I use the Arca-Swiss quick release system and using a generic plate keeps the camera way off center. It would be great if Fuji could move the card slot to the side of the camera, or move the tripod socket away from the battery compartment.
3) Camera Controls and Menu System
Let’s now talk about the camera controls. The X-M1 is the first X series interchangeable lens camera to incorporate a PASM dial. I think this was a good move, because it is easier to use rather than the rangefinder-like controls, especially for beginners. And it is great that Fuji also added a bunch of different presets to the dial, making it easy to use scene modes, rather than messing with Aperture/Shutter Priority and Manual modes. This does not mean that the camera lost any of its important functionality. The programmable Function (Fn) button is still there and the dedicated exposure compensation dial now serves different purposes, depending on which mode you are in. I really like this approach, because it opens up more opportunities for changing camera settings. Sony has been doing the same on its NEX-series cameras and my Olympus OM-D E-M5 also works the same way. Don’t get me wrong, I really like the old rangefinder like controls on my X-E1, but the fact that the dials only serve a single function does not make them very useful for other things. In addition, the shutter dial only shows values in full stops, which takes more time to set up a shot if I wanted to go in smaller increments when shooting in shutter priority or manual modes. Hence, the dial design of the X-M1 would probably be easier to use for beginners and those used to DSLR cameras.
Operating the camera and navigating the menu system is a breeze. While the camera technically has ISO boost levels up to 25,600, you cannot shoot anything above ISO 6400 on the X-M1. Unfortunately, the same problem is present on all current X series cameras. I do not understand why Fuji does not allow shooting RAW at boosted ISO levels such as ISO 100, 12,800 and 25,600. There might be a technical reason for this, but it pretty much makes the camera useless for shooting high ISOs above 6400 for those that prefer RAW over JPEG.
One feature that has been enhanced on the X-M1, is a more enhanced version of Auto ISO. You can now finally set different thresholds for Auto ISO such as the minimum shutter speed and maximum ISO. To date, neither the X-Pro1, nor the X-E1 have this implemented (the X100s is the only other camera that has it). It should be a simple firmware update, so I am not sure why Fuji has still not taken care of it. The new Auto ISO function works much better than the automated version on the X100/X-E1/X-Pro1, because you have much more control. In my experience, the shutter speed on previous implementations was not fast enough in auto mode, causing blur that could simply be avoided with a faster shutter speed. This new Auto ISO implementation is much better, but still does not beat the Auto ISO functionality of my Nikon D800E, where the camera can adjust the shutter speed depending on the focal length of the attached lens. Again, I hope Fuji will work on this feature more and make it even more useful.