Basic Specifications
Full model name: YI M1
Resolution: 20.16 Megapixels
Sensor size: 4/3
(17.3mm x 13.0mm)
Kit Lens: 3.33x zoom
12-40mm
(24-80mm eq.)
Viewfinder: No / LCD
Native ISO: 100 - 25,600
Extended ISO: 100 - 25,600
Shutter: 1/4000 - 60 seconds
Dimensions: 4.5 x 2.5 x 1.3 in.
(114 x 64 x 34 mm)
Weight: 9.9 oz (280 g)
includes batteries
Availability: 12/2016
Manufacturer: YI
Full specs: YI M1 specifications

Your purchases support this site

Kit with 12-40mm lens (Black)
  • Kit with 12-40mm lens (Black)
  • Kit with 12-40mm & 42.5mm lenses (Silver)
B&H Sweepstake Rules M1 Deals
20.16
Megapixels
Micro Four Thirds 4/3
size sensor
image of YI M1
Front side of YI M1 digital camera Front side of YI M1 digital camera Front side of YI M1 digital camera Front side of YI M1 digital camera Front side of YI M1 digital camera

M1 Summary

The Chinese made-and-designed YI M1 (or YI Camera) offers a quality, name-brand Four Thirds-format Sony Exmor sensor and a broadly-supported Micro Four Thirds lens mount at a jaw-dropping sub-$300 pricetag, and that's with a 12-40mm kit lens. So is there a catch, and if so what is it? You can find the answer to this and plenty else besides in our YI M1 review!

Pros

Cheap as chips (and with a kit lens!); Quality Sony Exmor Four Thirds sensor; Widely-supported Micro Four Thirds lens mount; Good image quality from raw files; Reasonable burst performance for price; 4K video capture

Cons

Poor ergonomics; Controls too easily bumped; Frustrating user interface; Mediocre JPEG image quality; Heavy-handed noise reduction; Unreliable white balance; No raw+JPEG; Buffer is almost nonexistent; Focus confirmation beep happens while still focusing; AF is poor in low light; Laggy user interface in playback; Extreme crop for 4K video; Kit lenses feel cheap; No bundled flash

Price and availability

The YI M1 started shipping in October 2016 in three different kits. The 12-40mm zoom kit had a suggested retail price of around US$500, the 42.5mm prime kit at around US$600, and the twin-lens kit at around US$700. As of this writing (September 2017), street pricing has been slashed by almost half from the list pricing, with the 12-40mm kit now costing around US$300, and the twin-lens kit around US$380. Curiously, the 42.5mm kit is still retailing at US$450, meaning that you actually pay an extra $70 not to have the 12-40mm zoom in the kit. That likely suggests the prime-only kit isn't actually being promoted any more in the US market. Available colors are "Ice Silver" and "Storm Black".

Imaging Resource rating

2.5 out of 5.0

YI M1 Review

Updates:
03/21/2017: Gallery posted
03/28/2017: Field Test Part I posted
07/31/2017: Field Test Part II posted
: Conclusion posted

Yi M1 Review -- Product Image

Not familiar with the YI Technology brandname? Fear not, you haven't missed anything: The Chinese company is a newcomer to the interchangeable-lens camera marketplace, and to the Micro Four Thirds mirrorless format in particular. The YI-M1 is YI Tech's first interchangeable-lens model, and offers quite a lot of camera -- including the same image sensor as in the Panasonic GX8 -- for a whole lot less money. What do we think of it? Read on and find out!

 

YI M1 Conclusion

by | Posted:

The YI M1 is the first Chinese designed-and-made camera we've reviewed...

When I started my review of the YI M1, I really wanted to like this super-affordable, compact little camera. It's the first entirely Chinese-derived standalone camera I've reviewed, being not just manufactured but also designed by XiaoYi, a company that's built quite a reputation in the smartphone space. (You may also know them by their original name, XiaoMi, as well as by their overseas brand, YI Technology.)

And as it happens, XiaoYi's headquarters in Shenzhen is just a stone's throw from my one-time home in Hong Kong, where I was born and spent the first half of my life. With Shenzhen being almost an extension of Hong Kong on the mainland, the Yi Camera felt almost like a home team effort to me.

YI-M1 review -- Sample photo

34mm-equivalent, 1/800 sec. @ f/6.1, ISO 200
(click image above for out-of-camera JPEG. Click here for
separately-shot raw file and Adobe Camera Raw default conversion.)

And I know from experience that Shenzhen can turn out some seriously impressive products. For example, DJI Technologies is now known internationally for its drones and camera stabilization rigs, but it, too, is a Shenzhen-based company. (In fact, DJI stands for "Da-Jiang Innovations".)

DJI's kit is among many Chinese designed-and-made products I've appreciated over the years, and while I'd not personally used XiaoYi's smartphones, I had found myself rather impressed by their Android-based Miui operating system, which in some respects seemed more polished than Google's own effort.

YI-M1 review -- Sample photo

34mm-equivalent, 1/100 sec. @ f/4.2, ISO 320
(click image above for out-of-camera JPEG. Click here for
separately-shot raw file and Adobe Camera Raw default conversion.)

So you might say that I was rooting for the Yi Camera to do well, and hopeful that in writing the conclusion to my Yi M1 review, I'd be writing a glowing recommendation for a camera that can now be picked up for just US$300 new. (And that's with a compact, retractable 12-40mm zoom lens, too!)

...and there's plenty to recommend it, on paper at least. The real world has its own story to tell, though.

And to be sure, there was plenty to recommend the YI M1 beyond its low pricetag alone, on paper at least. At its heart is a 20-megapixel, name-brand Sony Exmor IMX269 image sensor in the Four Thirds format, and it sits behind a standard Micro Four Thirds lens mount compatible with a vast array of optics. And while the kit lens feels rather cheap and insubstantial, the camera body itself is solid and creak-free, yet also compact and very light, by interchangeable-lens camera standards.

YI-M1 review -- Sample photo

66mm-equivalent, 1/100 sec. @ f/5.4, ISO 3200
(click image above for out-of-camera JPEG. Click here for
separately-shot raw file and Adobe Camera Raw default conversion.)

But once I took it out of its premium packaging -- and those aren't words I can ever remember having used for an entry-level camera before -- my concerns immediately began. XiaoYi's inexperience in standalone camera design showed immediately in a body that's simply not terribly comfortable in-hand. And despite an extremely minimalist control layout, the YI M1's few controls didn't wow me, with the power switch, movie record button and especially the far-too-easily bumped control dial all coming in for criticism in my first field test.

The predominantly touch-based interface isn't pleasant to use, and often feels downright slow and awkward

The YI M1's focus, instead of dedicated controls, on a touch-controlled interface on its LCD monitor is perhaps also indicative of XiaoYi's heritage in smartphones, rather than in standalone camera design. And I wasn't thrilled with this interface either, as its use involved far too much swiping for my liking. Unlike on the Android or iOS smartphone you likely use every day, the interface doesn't lend itself well to a camera, as it draws your attention away from your subject and can't be operated by feel, let alone if you were to wear normal gloves.

YI-M1 review -- Sample photo

80mm-equivalent, 1/100 sec. @ f/5.6, ISO 6400
(click image above for out-of-camera JPEG. Click here for
separately-shot raw file and Adobe Camera Raw default conversion.)

And I found that even with my bare fingertips, the YI Camera far too often mistakenly detected my swiping as taps on the touch screen instead, changing my focus point when I didn't want it to. Nor were things any better when it came time to review my images, because unlike a modern smartphone, the YI M1's interface often lagged well behind my on-screen interactions, making it feel slow and awkward to use.

Unfortunately, the YI Camera's menu system demands frequent interaction unless you like to fly on autopilot

This is made all the more frustrating by the fact that the YI M1's design often forces you into the menu system more often than you might like. For example, if you want to enable bracketed exposures, you'll have to reenable them after every single series, because the YI M1 will disable the function by itself after the last shot in each bracketed series. And there's no raw+JPEG capture mode, either, so if you want to mix up the file formats as appropriate to your shot (or simply capture both), you're left constantly switching between JPEG and raw capture through the touch screen display.

YI-M1 review -- Sample photo

24mm-equivalent, 1/100 sec. @ f/3.5, ISO 2500
(click image above for out-of-camera JPEG. Click here for
separately-shot raw file and Adobe Camera Raw default conversion.)

XiaoYi told us to expect these concerns to be addressed in firmware updates last spring, but many months later they haven't been. At least, other than the addition of a Quick Menu which does make it slightly easier to switch between raw and JPEG formats on the fly, but which still doesn't offer raw+JPEG capture. And nor does it do anything to make bracketed shooting easier.

Clearly, the YI M1 is a camera aimed at less experienced photographers who will mostly want to let the camera make the decisions for them, and who chose to purchase an interchangeable-lens camera more for its large-sensor image quality and the ability to change lenses, than for its creative possibilities. And the end result is that if you're not an inexperienced shooter, you constantly feel that the camera is working against you, doing its utmost to persuade you to just stop fiddling and let it take charge.

YI-M1 review -- Sample photo

80mm-equivalent, 1/100 sec. @ f/5.6, ISO 20,000
(click image above for out-of-camera JPEG. Click here for
separately-shot raw file and Adobe Camera Raw default conversion.)
Inexperienced shooters will find themselves frustrated by poor JPEG image quality, however

But there are two flies in the ointment if one wants to think of the YI M1 as a camera for casual snapshooters who want to stay in Auto mode most or all of the time. The first is that the YI M1's autoexposure and white balance systems just aren't as good as those of its nearest rivals. While not terrible, the Yi Camera's exposure metering just feels "good enough", and stumbles more often than we're used to.

And its white balance system occasionally delivers truly shocking results, especially in scenes with relatively few colors. More difficult subjects like these will force the user to take charge if they want a worthwhile result, and inexperienced shooters who have to rely on Auto mode likely won't want to do so.

YI-M1 review -- Sample photo

80mm-equivalent, 1/100 sec. @ f/5.6, ISO 4000
(click image above for out-of-camera JPEG. Click here for
separately-shot raw file and Adobe Camera Raw default conversion.)

Nor are these same beginner photographers likely to want to deal with the extra work of shooting in raw format, and yet the YI M1's in-camera JPEG processing is a decided weak spot. Shooting in JPEG mode, especially at higher sensitivities, yields subpar image quality not only compared to its rivals, but even compared to what can be derived from its own raw files if you know what you're doing and are willing to put in just a very little effort.

Good results are possible with the YI M1, but you must stop, think, and put in some effort...

All of this isn't to say that the YI M1 is necessarily a bad camera, per se. If you're willing to shoot in raw format and put in the effort to process your images manually, you can certainly get good results out of it. And when you do, these can be far better than its pricetag would suggest -- at least, so long as you're interested in stills only. (Video mode is a decided weak spot, with a strong crop in 4K mode, a clumsy user interface and weak autofocus conspiring to ruin the shooting experience.)

YI-M1 review -- Sample photo

80mm-equivalent, 1/80 sec. @ f/5.6, ISO 25,600
(click image above for out-of-camera JPEG. Click here for
separately-shot raw file and Adobe Camera Raw default conversion.)

As was pointed out by a reader (and YI M1 owner) in our comments section after my second field test, this camera's quirks could perhaps even be seen in a positive light. With its clumsy interface and its image quality concerns, the YI M1 in a way reminds me of the experience of shooting with a film camera, back in the day. Albeit unintentionally, the YI M1 forces you to slow down and think about every single shot, and how to extract the best results from its images, despite the unnecessary obstacles it places in your way.

If you have the patience and time, that can actually prove to be fun. And you can certainly end up feeling very accomplished for the results you can derive from a camera which costs so relatively little, and yet which can accept a vast array of quality Micro Four Thirds lenses. Heck, if this shooting style works for you, then you could even put the money you saved on better ergonomics, a friendlier interface and smarter algorithms into buying an extra lens or accessory of some kind, instead.

YI-M1 review -- Sample photo

48mm-equivalent, 1/100 sec. @ f/5.2, ISO 12,800
(click image above for out-of-camera JPEG. Click here for
separately-shot raw file and Adobe Camera Raw default conversion.)
...but most photographers simply aren't going to want to shoot this way, and for them the YI M1 will disappoint

But most photographers aren't going to want to deal with using their camera in this way, and frankly, nor did we. For the price-conscious, entry-level customer who this camera it so clearly targets, there are certainly better choices out there on which to spend your hard-earned cash. And with just a little work, you can find much better cameras than the YI M1 for not a whole lot more money.

That's especially true if you're willing to look a year or two back, and choose a camera whose remaining stock retailers want to clear from their shelves in favor of a newer model. And if you're lucky, you might even find that you can get a larger APS-C sensor and significantly better low-light capabilities for your money, too. (I'm not going to attempt to list alternatives here, though, because deals such as these tend to come and go with great frequency.)

YI-M1 review -- Sample photo

54mm-equivalent, 1/100 sec. @ f/5.5, ISO 6400
(click image above for out-of-camera JPEG. Click here for
separately-shot raw file and Adobe Camera Raw default conversion.)

The YI Camera is not to be recommended for most, but if you have the patience and are budget-driven, may be worth a look

At the end of the day, I can only recommend that you purchase the YI M1 in two specific circumstances. You might want one if price is absolutely the most important thing for you, and yet you absolutely need a large sensor and an interchangeable-lens design. Or you might decide to buy it if you actually see the challenging "Stop, think, then stop and think again" experience of shooting with it as a positive thing -- which indeed, some photographers may.

But for the average photographer, and especially for the entry-level customer it targets, I simply cannot recommend that you purchase the YI M1. Frankly speaking, you'd do better to defer a lens or accessory purchase, and put a bit more of your cash into buying your camera body instead. And if you can't afford to do so, I'd suggest that you look for an older (but still recent) camera instead. You'll get better photos with less fuss, and you'll enjoy the shooting experience a whole lot more.

YI-M1 review -- Sample photo

54mm-equivalent, 10 sec. @ f/7.1, ISO 200
(click image above for out-of-camera JPEG. Click here for
separately-shot raw file and Adobe Camera Raw default conversion.)

 

Pros & Cons

Image Quality

  • Good image quality to be had from raw files
  • Mostly reasonably good exposure accuracy
  • Mediocre JPEG image quality, especially at higher sensitivities
  • Noise reduction could better be called detail reduction
  • White balance struggles badly with challenging subjects

Performance

  • Reasonable burst performance for its price
  • Miniscule buffer depths of as few as 4-6 frames
  • User interface lags well behind your interactions in playback mode
  • Contrast-detection autofocus is slow compared to rivals

Video

  • 4K video from a sub-$300 interchangeable-lens camera with kit lens
  • Video image quality is pretty good for the price point
  • Extreme crop for 4K video
  • 4K framing can't be confirmed until a second or two after capture has already started
  • Video autofocus is prone to hunting
  • 2K video isn't much used for creating stabilized HD clips, so what's the point?

 

User Experience

  • It's cheap as chips!
  • Relatively small and lightweight
  • AF point selection is easy with the touch screen (but also easy to accidentally change)
  • No deeply-nested menus, just a brief few pages of options
  • Poor ergonomics
  • Power switch is clumsy and easily bumped
  • Control dial is very, very easily bumped
  • Video button is poorly-positioned
  • Touch-screen interface is clumsy and frustrating, often misdetects swipes as taps
  • Poorly-chosen on-screen fonts and colors
  • No raw+JPEG shooting
  • Have to reenable bracketing after every series
  • Promised firmware improvements haven't materialized
  • Indicates a focus lock well before focusing even finishes
  • Often claims to have locked focus in low light when it's obviously nowhere near from the LCD, without even zooming in

Optics

  • You can get a zoom kit for under $300
  • Decent image quality given the cost
  • Accepts a huge selection of Micro Four Thirds lenses
  • Kit lenses feel cheap and insubstantial
  • No focus ring on the prime lens; must use clumsy on-screen controls instead

Flash

  • A hot shoe is provided for external strobes
  • No flash in the product bundle

 

YI M1 Field Test Part I

It's amazingly affordable, but are its quirks worth the money you'll save?

by Mike Tomkins |

YI M1 field test photo"Made in China": It's a label which often comes in for derision, but that's largely unfair. Truth be told, China is just as capable of producing a quality product as any other major manufacturing center, if not more so. We've reviewed many excellent Chinese-manufactured cameras over the years. And every day, quality products such as Apple's incredibly popular iPhone series are shipped from Chinese factories, yet nobody suggeststhoseto be somehow subpar.

Truth be told, China's unwelcome reputation for subpar quality has more to do with companies aiming to manufacture their products at a bargain-basement pricetag than it has to do with the factories turning them out. Spend enough on getting the right design and production processes in place, and "Made in China" can be a mark of quality. Skimp and cut corners, and your product would likely have been a disappointment even were it made in a country with a better reputation like Japan, Germany or the United States. (It's just that companies choosing to build products in those countries are already paying more than they would to do so in China, and so cutting corners likely isn't in their nature.)

YI M1 Field Test Part II

Can firmware updates fix the Yi Camera's frustrating user experience?

by Mike Tomkins |

YI M1 field test photoIt's been quite a while since I posted my first field test of XiaoYi's eponymously-named Yi M1, also known as the Yi Camera. The initial reason for the delay in returning with my second field test was that I was waiting on the arrival of updated firmware, which the company's booth staff had told me was on the way back at the Consumer Electronics Show in early January. And as time rolled on, other, newer cameras ended up being a higher priority for review, leaving our Yi M1 review awaiting the remainder of its writeup. I don't like to leave things half done, though, and so I'm now returning to wrap up with my second field test!

A quick recap of my first Yi Camera field test
In my first test, I noted that while the fact that it's made in China is not really that unusual these days, the Yi M1 is definitely noteworthy for the fact that it was also designed in China. But while its extremely affordable pricetag impresses -- it can be picked up new and with a zoom lens for under $300, another $50 cheaper than at the time of my last field test -- I wasn't such a fan of its ergonomics and user interface.

The Yi Camera's build is pretty solid, admittedly, and it looks reasonably attractive too. But it's uncomfortable in-hand, and I had concerns with its controls as well. (And I've continued to do so in shooting my second field test, frequently bumping the too-easily-turned exposure compensation dial by mistake, in particular.)

 

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