This is an in-depth review of the Fujifilm X-M1 mirrorless interchangeable-lens camera, which was released 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.
4) Image Sensor and Autofocus Performance
At the heart of the X-M1 sits the same superb X-Trans CMOS sensor used on the X-E1 and X-Pro1 cameras. While traditional sensors with a repeating bayer-pattern color filter array exhibit moire problems and hence need an anti-aliasing filter to reduce moire by essentially blurring the image, the X-Trans CMOS sensor has a new color filter array that has a more random pattern, which does not cause moire to occur in the first place. Hence, an anti-aliasing filter is not necessary, which in turn translates to sharper, more detailed images.
Here is an illustration of a traditional bayer pattern color filter array compared to the new Fuji color filter array:
Top image: 1) Lens, 2) Sensor, 3) Optical low-pass filter.
Bottom image: 1) Lens, 2) Sensor, 3) Natural random arrangement of the fine grains of silver halide in film.
As you can see, the difference between the two is quite big.
Fuji says that their sensor not only delivers sharper images due to the lack of an anti-aliasing filter, but also has better color reproduction. Does the new X-Trans CMOS sensor work as advertised? It certainly does, in my opinion. The amount of detail from the camera when using Fujinon and Zeiss Touit lenses is very impressive, especially when looking at images at 100% view. As a long time digital Nikon shooter, I am very impressed by what the X-M1 does with the colors. Not only does the camera produce beautiful colors, but Fuji clearly knows how to process skin tones – something Nikon is historically not very good at. This is quite evident even when looking at JPEG images straight out of the camera.
The X-Trans CMOS sensor with a new color filter is a great innovation. Sadly, most digital camera manufacturers today, including Nikon and Canon, still rely on the bayer pattern that was invented back in 1976 in Kodak labs. With all the new ultra high resolution sensors coming out, I believe manufacturers need to start adopting such innovations to get rid of the outdated anti-aliasing/blur filter. Nikon has started removing the AA filter from its cameras to get as much resolution as possible from lenses, but at the expense of introducing moire.
The only problem with the X-Trans sensor is rendering issues of RAW files when using Camera RAW and Lightroom. I am not sure why Adobe has still not worked this out with Fuji, but the RAW processing engine in Adobe’s products introduces artifacts to images and weird patterns in different color channels. I really hope that these issues will soon be ironed out, since I am not very keen on introducing another RAW rendering software package to my workflow process.
5) Autofocus Performance and Accuracy
Thankfully, the X-M1 came pretty much free of all the nasty autofocus issues that plagued the X-Pro1 and X-E1 cameras. My copy of the X-M1 came with the original 1.0 version of the firmware and I have yet to see any serious AF problems. The camera autofocuses as fast as my X-E1 and its autofocus accuracy feels to be the same as well. Lola and I have shot a few weddings with the X-series cameras (including the X-M1) and the cameras did not experience any issues with autofocus performance, even in challenging low-light conditions indoors. In fact, where my Nikon D800E with the Nikkor 85mm f/1.8G suffered in AF accuracy, the Fuji cameras did not! Now I am not here to say that the AF system on Fuji mirrorless cameras is better than on DSLRs, because it is clearly not. Autofocus speed is still pretty slow in comparison. However, seems like contrast detect has its own advantages in low-light situations. Here is an image that was shot with the X-M1 in a very dark environment outdoors:
When compared to the AF speed champ, the Olympus OM-D E-M5, the Fuji X-M1 definitely performs slower and feels a little less responsive when quickly changing from one subject to another – there is a noticeable lag on the X-M1. However, autofocus is not as bad as it used to be on the X-Pro1 when it first came out and it is certainly adequate for most photography needs. I personally would not shoot a sporting event with the X-M1, but as I have already pointed out earlier, the X-M1 is not meant to be for photographing sports and wildlife. The AF-C mode is extremely slow and practically unusable for serious subject tracking. In addition, Fuji does not even have a fast telephoto lens in its arsenal yet (neither the 55-200mm, nor the 50-230mm lenses are suitable for that) and we might not see anything until AF gets faster and lags / blackouts are completely eliminated. I hope that Fuji will incorporate the phase detection system into its future X series cameras and make sports / wildlife photographers happy. For everything else though, the X-M1 performs admirably.
6) Fujinon Lenses
As of October, 2013, the Fuji lens line has expanded from the three initially launched lenses to ten. Fuji has done a great job with the lens line in my opinion, first introducing prime lenses and then following up with some zooms later. This basically showed that Fuji’s target market was professionals and enthusiasts that were looking for a serious mirrorless system. I had a pleasure of shooting with all three initially launched lenses and I have recently received every Fuji lens for proper testing. In addition, I have also been shooting with the new Zeiss Touit lenses (a number of newly uploaded images in this review are from the Zeiss lenses). All these lenses will be reviewed individually very soon and I cannot wait to test them all in my Imatest lab. So far, my experience has been very positive on the entire line of Fuji and Zeiss lenses.
Having gone through a couple of weddings and portrait shoots, a true portrait lens is something I missed. While the 35mm f/1.4 and the 60mm f/2.4 macro are great, I would love to see a fast f/1.2-1.4 prime in the 50mm+ range for portraiture. The good news is, looks like such lens is coming next year (Fujinon 56mm f/1.2), which will fill a big hole for many pros that want to shoot with the Fuji X line professionally.
7) Metering and Exposure
While the Fuji X-M1 does not have a sophisticated meter as the latest generation Nikon and Canon cameras, it actually works surprisingly well in most situations. The camera does have a tendency to overexpose and underexpose in unusual lighting situations, but that happens even with advanced DSLRs, so it is not anything unusual. Gladly, you can easily tweak the exposure by using the unlabeled dial on the top of the camera, which functions as exposure compensation when using the camera in Aperture Priority or Shutter Priority modes.
If you are a Nikon shooter, you will notice odd behavior on the Fuji, similar to what you see on Sony cameras as well – when the shutter is half-pressed, metering gets locked by the camera. Trying to rotate the aperture on the lens or moving the right dial will do nothing and the exposure will remain locked. The only thing you can do is release the shutter, adjust your exposure, then half-press again to get a different meter reading. On Nikon DSLRs, once you half-press the shutter, you can still continue to adjust the exposure and the meter will continue to adjust automatically. This is not a big problem for me, since I do not mind releasing the shutter and half-pressing it again, but it might annoy others that are used to the DSLR way of things.
8) Shooting Speed (FPS) and Battery Life
The Fuji X-M1 is a pretty fast camera that can shoot at 5.6 frames per second, which is just a tad slower than what the X-E1 and the X-Pro1 can do. The good news is that when the camera is shot in burst mode, the memory card write process does not freeze the camera like it did before on the initial firmware releases on the X-Pro1. If you want fast writes, make sure to get a really fast SD card. I used some 45 MB/sec class 10 SD cards and there was definitely noticeable difference between those and SanDisk Extreme Pro 95 MB/sec cards. When shooting in bursts, Fine JPEG images will shoot approximately 14-16 images before the buffer gets full. It then takes approximately 10 seconds for buffer to clear out and memory writes to complete. If you shoot in RAW, the buffer will fill up at about 12-14 images and takes good 20+ seconds to clear out. These numbers are based on approximate calculations using the fastest SanDisk Extreme Pro SDHC 95 MB/sec cards. Slower cards will take even longer to empty the camera buffer.
In terms of battery life, the X-M1 specs state 350 frames before the battery runs out (same as on X-E1), which is in line with other mirrorless cameras and more than what you would get on the X-Pro1 (rated at 300 frames).
9) Video / Movie Recording
It seems like all modern digital cameras are coming out with movie recording options and the Fuji X-M1 is not an exception. It can record either 720p or 1080p high-definition video at 24 fps with stereo sound and offers some control of exposure before recording (not during). You can choose a desired aperture, adjust exposure compensation and a few other camera settings, but you cannot adjust the shutter speed and ISO – those are chosen automatically by the camera based on the camera meter reading. Unlike the X-E1, there is no input for an external microphone on this camera. Recording movies is much easier with the X-M1, because there is a dedicated button for movie recording on the back of the camera. All you have to do is press this button and the camera will immediately start to record videos. On X-E1 and X-Pro1 cameras, you have to fiddle with the “Drive” button and the menu system to change to movie recording mode. There is no support for capturing images while recording a video. The really slow manual focus adjustment through lenses is frustrating when recording anything that moves relatively fast. Lastly, forget about subject tracking in AF-C / Continuous mode, since the camera cannot automatically track subjects and the autofocus speed / accuracy are pretty bad with a single focus point in the center.
10) WiFi / Wireless
The Fuji X-M1 comes with a built-in WiFi antenna, the first in X-series line of cameras. While it is great that you can save your pictures to your computer, upload images to your smartphone / tablet, look through the images on the camera or even Geotag your images, there is no way to control the camera through Fuji’s provided camera app. That’s very unfortunate, because I expected this feature to be available when I first heard of the WiFi capabilities of the camera. As a result, I did not play much with the WiFi features of this camera or the app. Hopefully the Fuji development team will make WiFi more useful in the future by enhancing its features / speed and adding the ability to control the camera. Until then, WiFi is more of a marketing highlight as far as I am concerned. Studio photographers might be excited about the transfer of pictures to the computer, but sadly, the camera does not transfer images automatically. Again, I am hoping to see these types of issues addressed in the future. Ideally, I would like to be able to have the software place images in a computer folder each time an image is taken, so that Lightroom can pick up the images from there automatically.
Just like all other Fuji X series cameras, the X-M1 comes with a standard size hotshoe that can be used with Fuji’s flashes such as EF-20, EF-X20, EF-42 and third party flashes and radio triggers such as PocketWizard Plus III. The X-M1 lacks the PC sync port on the side of the camera, but it won’t be a major issue for many of us that like to use external flash. I have used the X-M1 with my Nikon speedlights and PocketWizard triggers and it performed very well. The only downside is the sync speed, which is limited to 1/180 of a second. The X100 and X100s are amazing in this regard, thanks to their leaf shutter mechanism that sync at super fast shutter speeds.
For me, having a standard hotshoe is a big plus, since I do flash photography quite a bit. Here are some sample images taken with external flashes and off-camera flashes using the X-M1:
12) Dynamic Range
When it comes to dynamic range, from what I can tell from the JPEG images, the new X-Trans CMOS sensor seems to deliver great dynamic range in photographs at even high ISO levels. It is no Nikon D800, but you can still recover plenty of details from the shadow areas without adding too much noise. I have been waiting for test results from DxOMark, but they have not released any information on any of the new Fuji mirrorless cameras with the X-Trans sensor, probably due to RAW file support issues.
13) ISO Performance at low ISOs (ISO 100-800) – JPEG
Some technical information:
- White Balance: As Shot
- EXIF information is preserved in the images
- Focusing was performed through Live-View Contrast Detect
- Long exposure NR: Off
- High ISO NR: Off
- Image Format: JPEG
- Imported images into Lightroom 4 and normalized to 16.3 MP resolution
- All images shot in JPEG
- Lightroom export: sRGB JPEG Quality 80
Here is the full image, showing which area of the image I cropped below:
Both are very clean, but the boosted ISO 100 looks much more overexposed when compared to ISO 200 for some reason. I would avoid using ISO 100 on the X-M1 for this reason.
JPEG output on ISO levels 400 and 800 looks as clean as ISO 200.
14) High ISO Performance (ISO 1600-6400) – JPEG
High ISO performance is a very important measure of sensor quality for low-light photography. Here is how the Fuji X-M1 performs at high ISO levels between ISO 1600 and 6400:
Again, going from ISO 800 to ISO 1600 practically does not add any noise to the image, even in the shadows. ISO 3200, on the other hand, adds a little bit of noise and here we can see the effect of noise reduction applied by the camera on JPEG images – clarity is slightly reduced as a result.
At ISO 6400 some details get washed away and we are starting to see some artifacts here and there. Still, the performance at ISO 6400 is excellent. Whatever Fuji does with its JPEG processing is very impressive.
15) High ISO Performance “Boost” (ISO 12800-25600) – JPEG
Fuji X-M1 has two extra ISO “boost” levels – ISO 12800 and ISO 25600 for extreme situations. Take a look at these:
Boosting ISO to 12800 results in more noise and much more aggressive noise reduction by the camera. Noise is apparent in the shadows (although noise reduction makes it look a little “muddy”) and more artifacts are visible throughout the image. Still ISO 12800 is very usable in my opinion, especially when down-sampled. ISO 25600, on the other hand, looks too muddy and washed for my taste.
16) ISO Performance at low ISOs (ISO 100-800) – RAW
Some technical information:
- White Balance: As Shot
- EXIF information is preserved in the images
- Focusing was performed through Live-View Contrast Detect
- Long exposure NR: Off
- High ISO NR: Off
- Image Format: RAW
- Imported images into Lightroom 4 and normalized to 16.3 MP resolution
- All images shot in JPEG
- Lightroom export: sRGB JPEG Quality 80
There is a slight difference in noise between ISO 200 and 400 in the shadows, but both look very clean overall.
ISO 800 clearly adds more noise to the image (especially in the shadows), as can be seen from the sample crop above.
17) High ISO Performance (ISO 1600-6400) – RAW
Here is how the Fuji X-M1 performs at high ISO levels between ISO 1600 and 6400 in RAW:
As we increase ISO, the amount of noise also increases – ISO 1600 only marginally increases noise over ISO 800. ISO 3200, on the other hand, adds more noticeable noise that looks significantly worse in comparison to ISO 1600 – shadow details are getting lost as a result.
At ISO 6400 the amount of noise doubles throughout the image and much more shadow details are lost. Interestingly, the JPEG version of ISO 3200 and 6400 shots looks much cleaner in comparison. Also, ISO 12800 in JPEG looks better than ISO 6400 in RAW (due to noise reduction applied on JPEGs), except there is a significant amount of detail loss in the shadows.
18) ISO Performance Summary
The Fuji X-Trans sensor is capable of excellent image quality at ISO levels all the way to ISO 12800. To date, I have not seen a camera that can render such beautiful, noise-free JPEG images – I am simply amazed by how good the JPEG output of the Fuji X-M1 is. Fuji definitely knows how to apply noise reduction on JPEG images. However, the same cannot be said about its RAW files – as you can see from the above crops, the RAW output looks quite disappointing in comparison, with plenty of visible noise at higher ISO levels.
Now let’s take a look at how the Fuji X-M1 compares to the Nikon D800, Canon 5D Mark III and Olympus OM-D E-M5.
Please note that the camera comparisons are only based on image quality, based on RAW files. Also note that all images are down-sampled to the size of the Fuji X-M1 sensor.
Compared to Canon 5D Mark III
Let’s see how the Fuji X-M1 compares to the Canon 5D Mark III. Below you will find image samples normalized to 12 MP by down-sampling.
19) Fuji X-M1 vs Canon 5D Mark III ISO Comparison at low ISOs
Take a look at the below crops at 200, 400 and 800 (Left: Fuji X-M1, Right: Canon 5D Mark III):
As expected, ISO 200 on both cameras looks very clean. However, if you look close enough you will see that the Fuji X-M1 RAW image looks cleaner in comparison – and that’s with a down-sampled Canon 5D Mark III image. Considering that the Fuji X-M1 is an APS-C sensor (more than twice smaller in size than full-frame), normally there should be a similar amount of noise at low ISOs, especially in the shadows. This difference we are seeing either has to do with Fuji’s new color filter array, or Fuji is “cooking” the RAW files (meaning it is applying some noise reduction on RAW level). Note that both RAW files had exactly the same Lightroom settings – no additional sharpening or noise reduction was applied to the image (all default settings).
A similar thing happens at ISO 400 – the Fuji RAW looks a tad cleaner overall.
And we see it again at ISO 800. The Canon 5D Mark III crop has very fine grain in the shadows, while the Fuji X-M1 crop has a smoother feel to it.
20) Fuji X-M1 vs Canon 5D Mark III High ISO Comparison
ISO 1600 still looks better on the Fuji X-M1.
At ISO 3200 both look somewhat comparable, but the look of the grain is very different. The Fuji X-M1 has bigger and smoother grain, while the Canon 5D Mark III has finer and more detailed grain.
Some strange things are starting to happen to the Fuji X-M1 at ISO 6400 – the grain pattern looks rather erratic, which at this point I am pretty sure is happening due to noise reduction. Noise levels on both cameras are very comparable…
21) Fuji X-M1 vs Canon 5D Mark III Summary
It is hard to understand whether Fuji is applying some kind of noise reduction to its RAW files at all ISO levels, or perhaps the new color filter array is the reason why the RAW files look less grainy. Despite the fact that I down-sampled the Canon 5D Mark III images from 22.3 MP to 16.3 MP and there is a significant difference in sensor size between the two cameras, the Fuji X-M1 seems to be producing very impressive images at both JPEG and RAW level. Overall, I find the Fuji X-M1 to be superior at low ISOs and about the same above ISO 3200.
Compared to Nikon D800
22) Fuji X-M1 vs Nikon D800 ISO Comparison at low ISOs
The Nikon D800 has a much higher resolution 36.3 MP sensor, so heavy down-sampling was applied to the Nikon D800 image. As a result, the Nikon D800 image looks very crisp and practically noise-free compared to the Fuji X-M1 at ISO 200. Still, the RAW image from the Fuji X-M1 looks a tad cleaner.
ISO 400 looks very similar to ISO 200.
At ISO 800 we see a little finer grain on the D800, but both are still very comparable in terms of noise, even in the shadows.
23) Fuji X-M1 vs Nikon D800 High ISO Comparison
At ISO 1600 we see a similar thing as with the 5D Mark III – the Fuji X-M1 crops looks a little more “washed”, with very little noise throughout the image.
At ISO 3200 the Fuji X-M1 starts to lose plenty of data as can be seen from the shadows. The Nikon D800 retains a lot more detail overall and the grain looks more natural.
And finally, increasing ISO to 6400 again results in larger and smoother grain on the Fuji X-M1, while the Nikon D800 is still retaining a lot of shadow details with finer grain. The down-sampling process is clearly advantageous for the D800 in this case.
24) Fuji X-M1 vs Nikon D800 Summary
Comparing RAW files between the Fuji X-M1 and the Nikon D800 yields very similar results as with the Canon 5D Mark III. Despite having a sensor more than twice smaller in size, the RAW output from the Fuji X-M1 looks very clean in comparison to the D800. I prefer the look of the images from the Fuji X-M1 at lower ISO levels below ISO 1600, but not above. At higher ISO levels, I find the Nikon D800 images to be better, because they have finer and more natural-looking grain. I am not sure if this kind of output is the result of noise reduction applied to RAW files by Fuji, or if it is the magic of the new color filter array. Whatever it is, it looks great for a small sensor! It is no secret that many RAW files from cameras are “cooked” nowadays – take a look at the Nikon 1 V1, for example. Nikon clearly applies noise reduction at higher ISO levels. As long as manufacturers can do this without losing image detail, who cares if RAW files are treated? The Fuji engineers clearly developed a great algorithm that can do magic to the RAW files and we can see it from the above comparison. If Fuji released a full-frame sensor with the same noise characteristics as the sensor on the Fuji X-M1, it would be a serious challenge for both Nikon and Canon DSLRs in my opinion.
Compared to Olympus OM-D E-M5
Let’s take a look at how the Fuji X-M1 fares against the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Micro Four Thirds camera (see my review). Since both cameras have very comparable 16 MP resolution, the below image samples are 100% crops, without any down-sampling applied. Images were converted from Fuji’s RAW “RAF” to JPEG format using Lightroom 5.2.
25) Fuji X-M1 vs Olympus OM-D E-M5 ISO Comparison at low ISOs
Both start out very clean at ISO 200.
At ISO 400, however, we can already start seeing slight differences in ISO performance. The Olympus OM-D E-M5 shows a slight hint of noise in some areas, while the X-M1 is very clean (see the blue disk on the bottom of the screen).
As ISO is increased to 800, we can now see even more differences between the two cameras – the X-M1 is clearly cleaner.
26) Fuji X-M1 vs Olympus OM-D E-M5 High ISO Comparison
Pushing ISO to 1600 results in some noise in both cameras, but the X-M1 still renders a cleaner image throughout the frame. The grain looks a little washed, but it is not distracting.
We see a very similar situation at ISO 3200 – the X-M1 clearly looks better, especially in the shadow areas.
Finally, while ISO 6400 is pretty grainy on both, the X-M1 certainly retains more data and colors. The OM-D E-M5 loses details and has much more visible grain, as evidenced from the above crops.
27) Fuji X-M1 vs Olympus OM-D E-M5 Summary
The Olympus OM-D E-M5 has an impressive sensor that is capable of producing very good images at high ISOs. However, as you can see from the above image crops, the X-M1 renders images with more details, colors and less noise when the two are compared. Performance differences are already visible at ISO 400 and they become more apparent as ISO is increased. Keep in mind that the above comparison is between RAW files from both cameras. If I compared the JPEG performance of the X-M1 against the OM-D E-M5, the performance difference would have been even greater, since Fuji knows how to handle JPEG images very well.
The Fuji X-M1 is yet another superb camera in Fuji’s X camera line. Built on the success of the X-Pro1 and X-E1 cameras, the Fuji X-M1 delivers the same outstanding image quality at a smaller and cheaper package. While it does not have the same magnesium alloy build as its bigger brothers, has slightly slower frame rate and has no built-in electronic viewfinder, Fuji threw in a couple of new features to compensate for the loss. First, the X-M1 comes with an upgraded processor, the EXR PROCESSOR II that is used on the X100s. The 3″ LCD tilt screen with 920K dots is gorgeous (better than on the Fuji X-E1) and is very useful for photographing at odd angles and recording videos. The X-M1 is the first Fuji X-series camera to feature built-in WiFi, which can be used for transferring photos to phones, tablets and computers, along with the ability to geotag pictures, although I was disappointed by the inability to control the camera. The design and layout of the camera are more user-friendly for beginners. And lastly, the X-M1 is both smaller and lighter than both X-E1 and X-Pro1.
Thanks to Fuji’s commitment to the X line, many of the autofocus issues have been ironed out through firmware updates and the X-M1 received all of those at launch. I found autofocus performance and accuracy of the camera to be very similar to that of the X-E1 and X-Pro1 cameras, which is great news. Autofocus speed is still a little sluggish when compared to current Micro Four Thirds cameras like Olympus OM-D E-M5, but it is still a world better than what it was when the X-Pro1 was released. And given the fact that the X100s has a hybrid AF system that uses phase detection, it is only a matter of time before it is added to other X-series cameras in the future. Hence, from the autofocus perspective, I am sure Fuji will soon catch up with the competition.
While usability, autofocus and other features are great, it is the outstanding image quality of the X-Trans sensor that makes the X-series cameras stand apart from the competition. Fuji was able to achieve amazing performance results with the X-Trans sensor, which delivers beautiful out-of-camera JPEG images and superb RAW files that are comparable to the performance of full-frame cameras, as shown earlier in this review. The only real issue today is Adobe’s inability to properly render RAW images. Although the quality has gotten better with the latest versions of Lightroom and Camera RAW, there are still issues with artifacts and outlines in different color channels. Hopefully Fuji will collaborate more with Adobe in making sure that the RAW output matches the output of its SilkyPix software.
My biggest gripe with the X-M1 is the lack of an electronic viewfinder. Since I am so used to composing and framing shots using a viewfinder on my DSLRs and other cameras, it was hard to get used to looking at the LCD of the camera and having to extend the camera away from my face. Although the LCD’s brightness can be adjusted in daylight conditions to make it easier to look at, I still prefer having a built-in viewfinder. It might not be a big deal for many photographers out there, but it sure is for me. For that reason, I personally prefer shooting with the X-E1 instead, especially with only a $100 difference in price between the two (as of October, 2013).
Overall, the X-M1 is an excellent camera that is very intuitive and easy to use, with superb image quality. Despite the fact that it lacks an electronic viewfinder, it is still equally as addictive as other X-series cameras from Fuji.
29) Where to buy and availability
B&H is currently selling the Fuji X-M1 body only for $699.
30) More image samples
All Images Copyright © Nasim Mansurov, All Rights Reserved. Copying or reproduction is not permitted without written permission from the author.
- Build Quality
- Focus Speed and Accuracy
- Image Quality
- High ISO Performance
- Size and Weight
- Metering and Exposure
- Movie Recording Features
- Dynamic Range
Photography Life Overall Rating