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Fuji X-A1 Preview

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If you're shopping for a new mirrorless camera, Fujifilm really wants you to consider its X-mount compact system camera lineup. An indication of just how much the company wants your business can be seen in the Fujifilm X-A1, its second entry-level mirrorless model to be announced in less than three months.

The 16.3-megapixel, APS-C sensor-shod Fuji X-A1 shares a lot with this June's X-M1, yet manages to shave one-quarter off its sibling's price tag. And when we say it shares a lot, we mean it appears next-to-identical in most respects. Both cameras feature what appears to be the exact same body design, save for the texturing of their grips. They also share the same processor, display, flash, Wi-Fi radio, and basic feature set.

Spot the difference. So what's changed -- how did Fujifilm manage to take what was already a pretty affordable camera, and then bring it down to an entry-level price point? There's really only one major change we can spot, and that is in their choice of image sensor.

The Fuji X-M1 is based around the company's proprietary Fuji X-Trans image sensor. Its more affordable X-A1 sibling, meanwhile, is based around a standard Bayer-filtered CMOS chip.

Fuji X-A1 review -- Front view

The sensor is the story. That difference means that there will likely be a noticeable variance in image quality between the two cameras. Fuji's X-Trans sensor is designed to minimize the incidence of moiré and aliasing patterns, and in our experience, does a pretty good job of it. That lets Fuji remove the optical low-pass filter, maximizing image sharpness in the process.

With a standard Bayer-filtered CMOS sensor, the arrival of the Fuji X-A1 will likely either mark a return of the OLPF (and a corresponding -- if slight -- reduction in resolution), or a greater susceptibility to moiré, false color, and the like.

But enough of the sensor: let's take a look at what else we know -- and we'll give you fair warning now that if you've read our first-look Fuji X-M1 review, this is almost all going to look mighty familiar, bar the price tag and one or two other tiny tweaks.

Lightweight, compact body. Like the X-M1 before it, the Fuji X-A1 sports a smaller, lighter body than those of previous X-mount cameras, attributes that will be quite desirable in an entry-level consumer camera. The difference in weight comes than to judicious use of polycarbonate plastic in the design, and not at the expense of an authentic, retro film camera-esque feel.

As in the X-M1, you still get a photographer-friendly design with controls including twin command dials. (And as in the earlier model, the fact that the Fuji X-A1's controls are almost all to be found on the right side of its body should make it quite conducive to single-handed shooting.) There is, as you'd expect in a consumer-oriented camera, also a Mode dial.

Fuji X-A1 review -- Top view

X-mount optics. And this wouldn't be a Fuji X-series mirrorless without the company's well-received X-mount sitting front and center. Its presence means you can pair your Fuji X-A1 body with nine different lenses, with a 10th on the way.

Of these, two are more affordable, lighter XC-series models which -- like the X-A1 and X-M1 bodies -- use polycarbonate to reduce weight. The remainder, though, are all XF-series optics -- predominantly, a raft of some very impressive prime lenses.

If you want a lens mount that gives you the promise of good things to come, the XF-series lens lineup is proof positive that the X-mount fits the bill. Over at Imaging Resource sister site SLRgear.com, we've reviewed quite a few XF-series lenses, and we've come away impressed by every single one, be it a prime or a zoom. Sure, they have high price tags to match, but you don't have to buy them all at once. (And for many photographers, it will be enough simply to know that the aspirational lenses are there, should they one day decide their hobby has grown into something more.)

Affordable lenses, too. It's the XC-series lenses most Fuji X-A1 owners will likely start their collection off with, though. The Fujinon XC 16-50mm F3.5-5.6 OIS was announced alongside the X-M1 last June, and only recently started shipping. We've yet to review it, but as the kit lens for the Fuji X-A1, you're going to find it in your camera bag -- and with a bundle price of US$600 including the camera itself, you won't pay a whole lot to put it there. It'll be followed from November by the FUJINON XC 50-230mm F4.5-6.7 OIS lens, priced at just US$400.

Fuji X-A1 review -- FUJINON XC 50-230mm F4.5-6.7 OIS lens

That means the Fuji X-A1 plus both XC-series lenses should cost you under US$1000, less than some enthusiasts cameras would sell for body-only. Between the two lenses, you'll have optically-stabilized coverage of everything from a generous 24mm-equivalent wide angle to a fairly powerful 350mm-equivalent telephoto. Of course, you'll also have consumer-lens maximum apertures, rather than the much brighter apertures of the XF-series lenses, but the stabilization will to some extent help out with that.

Sensor and processor. As noted, we can't yet definitively state that the Fuji X-A1's image sensor is a standard, Bayer-filtered CMOS chip, but it seems pretty likely. Its 16.3-megapixel resolution is identical to that of the X-Trans chip in the X-M1. It also has the same sensitivity range of ISO 200 to 6400 equivalents, expandable to an ISO 100 to 25,600 range if needed.

Output from the new image sensor is handled by the same EXR Processor II image processor from the X-M1, which debuted earlier this year in the fixed-lens X100S and X20 models. Fuji's claimed performance figures for the X-A1 are identical to those of the X-M1, with a startup time of 0.5 seconds in Quick Start mode, a prefocused shutter lag time claimed at 0.05 seconds, and a rated 5.6 frames per second burst shooting for as many as 30 JPEG frames, when using a Class 10 Secure Digital card.

Display. Like the X-M1 before it, the Fuji X-A1 features a tilting monitor that helps out with framing shots over your head, or low to the ground. It's based around the same 3.0-inch diagonal, 921k-dot LCD monitor, as well. That's much the same panel type as used on most premium cameras, and has higher resolution than some of its entry-level brethren. And that resolution is good news, because there is no viewfinder on this model, a difference from the earlier X-mount cameras which the X-A1 shares with its entry-level X-M1 sibling.

Fuji X-A1 review -- Rear view

Exposure. Although we don't yet have details on variables such as shutter speed and life, nor on metering, we do know that the Fuji X-A1 sports the exact same range of exposure modes found in the X-M1. These include Program, Aperture-priority, Shutter-priority, Manual, Custom, Portrait, Landscape, and Sports, plus several Auto modes including Fuji's Advanced SR Auto, which attempts to recognize and account for the scene type you're photographing.

We did spot one difference in the Scene-mode options listed for the X-A1 and X-M1, but it could easily be a spec sheet error. Still, with so little different between the two cameras, it's worth mentioning. The X-A1 spec sheet lists a Portrait Enhancer mode, in place of the X-M1's Smile and Shoot mode. Portrait Enhancer aims to smooth skin tones on detected faces, while Smile and Shoot captures an image when your subject is smiling.

Flash. The Fujifilm X-A1 includes both a built-in, popup flash strobe and a hotshoe for external strobes. The internal strobe has a rather weak guide number of seven meters at ISO 200, equivalent to about five meters at ISO 100. That's the same guide number as the flash in the more expensive X-E1 and X-M1, however.

Creative. A rather healthy selection of creative options are on offer in the Fuji X-A1, and all of them are inherited intact from the X-M1. As we've grown to expect in Fujifilm's cameras, you can emulate the look of classic Fuji films from days gone by, with Film Simulation modes including Velvia, Astia, Provia, Sepia, and Black & White available.

There's also an Advanced Filter function which provides access to eight effects: Toy Camera, Miniature, Dynamic Tone, Pop Color, Soft Focus, High Key, Low Key and Partial Color. You can also superimpose two shots upon each other, using the Multiple Exposure function.

And for RAW shooters, you can process your images in-camera.

Fuji X-A1 review -- Tilting display

Wireless networking. The ability to send your images and movies winging their way to smartphone or tablet without cables, too, is inherited from the X-M1. The Fuji X-A1 provides Wi-Fi wireless networking connectivity, complete with a Wi-Fi button on the top of the camera body, which serves double-duty in Record mode as the Function button. The Wi-Fi radio works hand-in-hand with iOS or Android phones and tablets, using the company's free Fujifilm Camera Application app. Up to 30 JPEG images can be transferred at a time, and you can also transfer movies, although iOS devices are limited to 720p resolution for movie transfer.

Movies. If you're not planning to transfer your movies to an iOS device by Wi-Fi, though, then you can feel free to shoot clips at up to Full HD resolution, just as in the X-M1. (That's 1,920 x 1,080 pixels with a rate of 30 frames per second, commonly known as 1080p.) The Fujifilm X-A1's frame rate is faster than the 24p offered by higher-end X-mount models, and matches what most consumers will expect, although videographers might prefer the more film-like 24p. Audio comes courtesy of a built-in stereo microphone, and there's no external microphone jack.

Accessories. Optional accessories for the Fuji X-A1 include a leather case, hand grip, and a clip-on flash, all shared with the X-M1. Pricing and availability for these items still hadn't been officially disclosed at press time. However, the leather case is already shipping to X-M1 owners for around US$100, and the hand grip for around US$90. Several strobes are offered, ranging from US$100 to US$220. (The best pairing is probably with the retro-styled EF-X20, available immediately and priced at US$200.)

Price and availability. We mentioned that there would likely be other differences between the Fuji X-A1 and X-M1, and here, indeed, is one. The X-A1 compact system camera ships in the U.S. market in black and indigo blue body colors, where the X-M1 is sold in either black, two-tone silver, or light brown, leatherette body colors.

And as previously mentioned, the Fuji X-A1 is quite a bit cheaper. Unlike the X-M1, it's not being offered body-only, at least for now. Kit pricing with the Fujinon XC 16-50mm lens is set at around US$600, well below the US$800 for an X-M1 with the same lens.

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