As the Fujifilm X-Series mirrorless system grows, Fuji has seen fit to diversify a bit from what was previously a system that catered entirely to enthusiasts and professionals. Recently, Fuji has released its latest X-Series camera: the X-M1. While the X-Pro 1 and X-E1 were targeted distinctly at the high-end, the X-M1 seeks to court a slightly different demographic. However, it still offers the same excellent sensor as its older brothers, and includes a few improvements on those bodies as well as a few new features. It’s available in three colors: Silver (with black leatherette), Black, or Silver (with brown leatherette). The camera retails for $699 for the body only and $799 in a kit with the new XC 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 OIS (reviewed here). Is this just a cheap low-end body to court the average photographer, or is it more than that?
If you’re not familiar with my reviews, I review from a real world shooting perspective. You won’t find lens charts or resolution numbers here. There are plenty of other sites that cover those. I review products on how they act for me as a photographic tool. I am not a videographer, so my reviews concentrate on the still imaging capabilities of a camera.
Body and Ergonomics
When I first saw the X-M1 in person, I was struck by its graceful design. It is a very attractive camera, a combination of retro and modern. It’s also a very small camera. When the X-Pro 1 was first released, it packed some unique features in a rather large body for a mirrorless camera. The X-E1 that followed last year reduced that size a fair bit. The X-M1 is significantly smaller than both, and is actually about the size of some of the smallest mirrorless cameras in production. It’s almost exactly the same size as the Panasonic GX1 for Micro 4/3. It’s nice to have a Fuji body this small, though the size reduction comes at the expense of a viewfinder.
The second thing that strikes you about the X-M1 is that it feels pretty cheap. The body, aside from the lens mount and the two top dials, is entirely finished with plastic and is extremely lightweight. Due to the choice of a smooth plastic and a very smooth plastic feel on the black leatherette, it feels less than expensive. The good news is that while the materials feel cheap, the actual construction seems quite solid. There is no flexing, the buttons have good tactile feel, the dials operate with positive clicks and without wobbling. Unlike my X-E1, all the seams are properly aligned and everything seems quite tightly assembled.
The X-M1, due to its smaller size, features a modified interface from its brother cameras. Fuji has removed the shutter speed dial and replaced it with a standard mode dial like the ones found on nearly every digital camera in existence. The exposure compensation dial has simply become an unmarked command dial that generally still serves as an Exposure compensation dial (in Program, Aperture Priority and Shutter Priority modes), and acts as the shutter speed dial in Manual mode. Also on top of the camera is the shutter release and power switch, along with one programmable function button.
The bottom of the camera has the door for the battery and SD card compartment, and the tripod mount is located off-center of the lens, extremely close to the door. Thus you won’t be able to access the battery or card door if the camera is mounted on a tripod.
All the rear camera controls except for the flash release have been moved to the right side of the camera, with the four-way controller now taking direct access controls. There is a second command dial that sits vertically behind the thumb rest, and is a particularly brilliant implementation for a rear dial, as it is extremely easy to access and operate, but is positioned in a way that makes it quite difficult to accidentally operate. Like the command dial on the back of the X-Pro 1 and X-E1, the rear dial on the X-M1 can be pushed down to activate magnification of the live view during manual focusing or magnify the image during image review.
While this concentration of controls makes the right side of the camera more crowded, the X-M1 fits comfortably in your hand. The front grip is subtle, but provides a decent hold on the camera, at least with most of the Fuji prime lenses and the 16-50mm kit zoom. There is easy access to all the controls just by using your right thumb. The movie record button (a first on the Fuji X-series mirrorless cameras) sits inside a recessed rim, making it difficult to engage accidentally. Overall, the X-M1 feels good to hold and operate.
As part of the size reduction of the X-M1, the camera contains no viewfinder. To compensate for this, they’ve added a much higher resolution rear screen to the X-M1, a 920,000 dot LCD panel that can tilt up over 90 degrees and down about 80 degrees. It’s got a wider range of travel than other tilt-only screens I’ve used, such as those on the Olympus OM-D E-M5 or E-P5. The rear screen is bright, clear and sharp, and composing images using the rear screen is quite easy. It took me a little while to get out of bringing the camera to my eye on certain shots, but eventually I became accustomed to it again. The tilting feature is extremely useful for capturing photos at waist level or close to the ground, as well as if you need to hold the camera well above your head.
In bright sunlight, the screen on normal brightness can become a little difficult to see. Fuji includes a setting, however, that boosts the brightness for outdoor shooting in bright sunlight. This works well, allowing you to compose easily even in noon-day sun, at the expense of an accurate image preview. When the screen has this mode engaged, bright areas of the scene appear blown out on the LCD, though they are accurate in the final shot. It’s best to use the on-screen live histogram when shooting with the outdoor brightness setting in order to ensure proper exposure.
Unfortunately, the rear screen is not touch sensitive. Touch capability would have made a lot of sense for a camera like this, as being able to move focus points or use touch shutter is wonderful when you’re not shooting with a viewfinder. I also would have like to have seen the option for a removable external EVF via hot shoe/accessory port. Unfortunately, there is no such option, nor the capability for it in the future.