Fuji X-M1 Review -- Now Shooting!
by Mike Tomkins
Preview posted: 06/24/2013
Since their debut in early 2012, Fujifilm's X-series mirrorless cameras have proven rather popular with experienced photographers. Both the Fuji X-Pro1 and X-E1 pair excellent image quality from a proprietary Fuji X-Trans image sensor, and a rangefinder-like design with generous external controls. Unfortunately, both are larger and more expensive than most compact system cameras, and that's kept them out of the hands of many aspiring amateurs and less deep-pocketed enthusiasts. The Fuji X-M1 aims to change all that, and as such it's an important camera for Fujifilm, seeking to bring both the combination of an X-Trans sensor and Fuji X-mount to the mainstream.
Smaller. The newly-designed body of the Fujifilm X-M1 incorporates more polycarbonate plastic (and less metal) than previous X-series models, but it's quite a bit smaller and lighter. Dimensions are approximately 4.6 x 2.6 x 1.5 inches (117 x 66 x 38mm), which is around half an inch narrower and a third of an inch shorter than the X-E1, while retaining the same depth. Compared to the X-Pro1, the difference is even greater: The X-M1 is 0.9 inches narrower, 0.6 inches shorter, and 0.2 inches slimmer than the flagship model.
Lighter. The difference in weight is equally significant, and that's likely thanks in large part to the use of polycarbonate in the design. The Fuji X-M1 weighs 11.6 ounces (329g) with battery and flash card, as compared to 12.3 ounces for the X-E1, and 15.9 ounces for the X-Pro1.
Design. Although it's smaller and lighter with more use of plastic in its construction, Fujifilm still described the X-M1's construction as premium, and it still offers twin command dials in a rangefinder-style body. The design should help the X-M1 handle more like a piece of photographic equipment, and less like a computer with a lens. The basic layout places most buttons and controls at the right side of the camera for one-handed operation, and there's a physical Mode dial that makes it quick and easy to double-check your current operating mode. Sadly, this replaces the shutter speed dial of previous models, but the change likely makes sense if Fuji wants to attract a wider audience to the X-mount.
Sensor. Behind that lens sits the very same 16.3 megapixel, APS-C sized image sensor featured previously in the X-Pro1 and X-E1. It's a proprietary X-Trans CMOS chip, featuring a Fuji-designed 6x6 X-Trans color filter array that is designed to better emulate film, and in the process to reduce the incidence of moiré patterns.
Although X-Trans sensors initially weren't as well-supported as the much more common Bayer color filter array in third-party software, Fuji has recently made big steps forward in this area, working with software manufacturers to greatly improve X-Trans image rendering in popular applications such as Lightroom, Capture One Pro, SilkyPix, and Aperture.
Just as in the X-Pro1, there's no resolution-robbing low-pass filter in the Fujifilm X-M1 -- and the X-Trans CFA really does seem to help in reducing the incidence of moiré and aliasing patterns, despite the lack of that filter. (By contrast, moiré can prove to be a much more significant issue with Bayer-type cameras that lack an optical low-pass filter.)
Processor. In place of the EXR Processor Pro used in the X-Pro1 and X-E1, the X-M1 uses the EXR Processor II chip that debuted earlier this year in the fixed-lens X100S and X20 models. It isn't immediately clear how performance of the EXR Processor II compares to that of the Pro variant, as Fuji has only made a direct comparison with the EXR Processor used in cameras including the X100.
However, performance seems swift, with a manufacturer-claimed 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.
Sensitivity. The Fuji X-M1 offers a sensitivity range of 100 to 25,600 equivalents, of which the default range tops out at ISO 6,400. (Although we don't yet know for certain, it's likely that raw files cannot be shot beyond this limit, as that's the case with both the X-Pro1 and X-E1.) ISO sensitivity is set in 1/3 step increments.
Optics. Like its predecessors, the Fuji X-M1 features a Fujifilm X-mount bayonet, for which the company now offers a total of six lenses. Four of these are primes, and two are zooms; together they cover everything from 14 to 200mm. That will jump to eight lenses when the camera ships, courtesy of two new optics.
The first new lens will be offered in a kit with the X-M1 body. The new Fujinon XC 16-50mm F3.5-5.6 OIS zoom lens, like the X-M1 body, uses more plastic to reduce weight -- including in its lens mount. It has a 35mm-equivalent range of 24 to 76mm. Unlike XF-series optics, there are no aperture markings on the lens barrel. It's an external zooming design with 2.5 stop image stabilization. Its optical formula features 12 glass elements in 10 groups, of which there are three aspherical elements and one extra-low dispersion element. There's also a seven-bladed, rounded aperture which allows a 17 stop range in 1/3 EV increments.
The second new lens is the Fujinon XF 27mm F2.8 prime, with a 41mm-equivalent focal length. A pancake type, this is just 0.9 inches (23mm) in length and weighs only 2.75 ounces (78g). It has seven elements in five groups, including one aspheric, along with a seven-bladed round aperture diaphragm. Other features include a high-torque DC autofocus motor, a metal focus ring, and a Super EBC coating -- but to keep the size down, there's no aperture ring.
Autofocus. Unfortunately, we currently have little information about the X-M1's autofocus arrangement. The company is claiming fast autofocus, but then it made the same claim of the X-E1, and our lab testing found that camera's autofocus performance to be rather mediocre. Worryingly, we're led to believe that the Fuji X-M1's autofocus system will not be as fast as that in the X-E1. Hopefully that will turn out not to be the case. One thing we do know is that the Fuji X-M1 includes face detection technology.
Display. There's one area in which the Fuji X-M1 bests its predecessors, and it's perhaps a surprising one, given the fact that it is both smaller and lighter. Unlike the fixed-position displays of the X-Pro1 and X-E1, the Fujifilm X-M1 now features a tilting monitor that helps out with framing shots over your head, or low to the ground. It's also a slightly larger, noticeably higher-resolution panel than that in the X-E1, although at 3.0 inches in diagonal and 921,000 dots, it's about par for the course on a premium camera these days. And it does need to be a good display, because there is no viewfinder on this model, one of the key differences from the earlier cameras.
Note that, while the display on the X-Pro1 also had a three-inch diagonal, the X-M1's display is a standard LCD rather than an RGBW type, and so won't offer the same combination of brightness and low power consumption of the X-Pro1 display.
Flash. The Fujifilm X-M1 includes both a built-in, popup flash strobe and a hot shoe 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 X-E1.
Creative. There's a healthy selection of creative options on offer in the Fuji X-M1. As we've grown to expect in Fujifilm's cameras, this includes the ability to 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.
Wireless networking. That could prove handy, thanks to another feature new to the X-M1: 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. We don't currently have details of supported frequencies and network types, but we do know that the Fuji X-M1 can transfer images wirelessly to 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. (That's 1,920 x 1,080 pixels with a rate of 30 frames per second, commonly known as 1080p.) The frame rate is increased from the 24p offered by previous 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.
Price and availability. The Fuji X-M1 compact system camera ships in the US market in black and two-tone silver body colors from July 2013, and a light brown, leatherette body color follows from August. Body-only pricing is set at around US$700, well below the US$1,000 price for a body-only X-E1. The Fujinon XC 16-50mm kit lens will add only US$100 to the pricetag, for an anticipated price of US$800 all-in. We understand that silver and black variants of the lens will be available, but it isn't yet clear if the brown body color will also be available as a kit, and if so whether it will ship with a silver or black lens.
Accessories. Optional accessories for the Fuji X-M1 include a leather case, hand grip, and a clip-on flash. Pricing and availability for these items hadn't been disclosed at press time.
An affordable X-Trans mirrorless camera? Seems to us that could be pretty popular!
If you want to get your hands on the Fujifilm X-M1 as soon as possible, you'll want to stand at the front of the queue. Place your pre-order with Imaging Resource affiliate Adorama now: