Fuji’s latest X-series camera, the X-M1, is a less expensive entry-level CSC that’s designed to appeal to a wider audience than the X-Pro1 and X-E1.
The X-M1 is the third compact system camera to be released in Fuji’s celebrated X-series range. It’s intended as an entry-level model to compete with CSCs like Panasonic’s GF6 and Olympus’ E-PM5, and so has a less advanced feature-set than the other two X-series cameras, the X-Pro1 and X-E1, which are very definitely enthusiast models. That said, it does come fitted with exactly the same award-winning 16.3MP APS-C X-Trans CMOS sensor. This means users will enjoy image quality that’s comparable to the more expensive X-series cameras, and plenty of the same features, all packed into a body not dissimilar in size to a premium compact.
The X-M1 has a 3in 920k-dot TFT LCD that tilts through an impressive 180 degrees for shooting at difficult angles. The screen is sharp, has accurate colour rendition, and doesn’t display excessive glare in bright sunlight. This is especially important, because unlike on the X-Pro1 and X-E1 this model doesn’t have a viewfinder, so all image composition and reviewing has to be done using the LCD. This may drive some users towards the Fuji X100S, a luxury compact with an optical viewfinder and the same sensor, though the higher price-tag and lack of interchangeable lens are big drawbacks, as they put a limit on how much creative freedom you can enjoy.
Kit lens quality
The X-M1 is available body-only for £600, or for around £80 more with a 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 lens with image stabilisation. The full-frame focal length equivalent is around 24-75mm. The overall build quality is good, with very little unwanted play in the zoom or focus rings, and a fairly smooth zooming and focusing action. It also comes with a lens hood. The barrel of the lens is plastic, as is the mount, and there is no form of rubberised coating for a more comfortable grip. Despite this, the lens is pleasant to use and has an appropriately expensive appearance. In the lab, it performed extremely well on our test charts, showing virtually no chromatic aberration, even in the corners at wider apertures. Sharpness is also excellent across the board at all apertures and focal lengths, with only slight corner softness at f/3.5. Barrel and pincushion distortion is minimal right across the zoom range.
The XM-1 has a built-in flash (guide number 7 at ISO 200), which pops up quite high above the camera body so there’s no shadow cast by the lens. However, with the lens hood on there is a shadow cast at wider focal lengths. Next to the flash is an accessories shoe, which is not always included on entry-level CSCs. This allows a more powerful external flashgun, radio triggers, or an external microphone to be connected.
The camera’s 49-area contrast AF system is responsive and almost always finds focus in low light conditions. The rest of the camera’s operating system is equally responsive, with the camera reacting quickly to commands. The TTL 256-zone metering system also works well, with default metering getting the exposure right almost every time, even in difficult lighting situations.
Battery life is 350 images from a single charge, and the camera is fairly light at 537g with lens and battery. The X-M1 has Wi-Fi connectivity built-in (though no in-app control), and also geotagging capability, but no Near Field Communication (NFC).
The X-M1 shoots video at 1080p full HD for up to 14 minutes, and 720p HD for up to 27 minutes. It records in MOV format with H.264 compression.
The camera’s build quality is very good, with an all-metal top-plate and metal dials. The controls on the back of the camera are plastic, as is the lens barrel and mount. The plastic coating around the body gives the camera a less expensive feel than the other X-series models, but then it is a less advanced model. The X-M1 comes with a few extra features, such as focus peaking highlights and bracketing settings for ISO and HDR. It also has some advanced filters such as Toy Camera, Pop Colour and High Key for various creative effects. The camera’s film simulation modes will mimic the look of classic film like Provia, Velvia and Astia to give your images a retro look.
The X-M1 is comfortable in the hand and is very easy to operate right from first use. There is a small finger grip on the front, which helps the user hold the body securely, though in fact it’s not coated with a particularly grippy material. On the top of the camera is a mode dial to quickly change between automatic and manual modes, or to switch to a range of shooting pre-sets including sports, landscapes and portraits, though there’s no panorama mode available. The X-M1 also has a large thumb dial on the top and one on the back for changing important camera settings such as aperture, shutter speed and exposure compensation. Often on entry-level CSCs only one dial is built-in, so having two on this camera is a huge plus.
All of the other external controls are on the right-hand side of the screen, leaving the left hand free to operate the lens. Buttons include white balance control, macro settings, autofocus options and shooting modes. The X-M1 doesn’t have a dedicated ISO button, though the function button on the top-plate can easily be programmed for direct ISO access.
There’s also a Q menu button on the back for direct access to all the important settings without having to search through the main menu. For controls that can’t be accessed through the Q menu, the main menu is easy to navigate.
Overall, the X-M1 is comfortable to hold and is very ergonomically designed, with the external controls perfectly placed for quick and easy access. The two thumb dials, easy to reach on/off switch and intuitive menu system demonstrate that the camera has been very carefully designed to be as easy to use as possible.
ISO performance test results
In the lab, the X-M1’s 16.3MP X-Trans CMOS sensor was tested for low light performance to find out how noisy images are at different ISO settings. At ISOs below 400, as you would expect, the sensor displayed virtually no noise, producing clean, high quality images. At higher ISOs, where noise levels often become more significant, the X-M1 can still produce very useable, clean images at ISO 6400, or even ISO 12,800 at a push. Up at ISO 25,600 the noise is more severe, with images less useable at any great size. Overall, noise levels are extremely low, allowing users to push up the ISO confidently in low light situations. Note: ISO expansion isn’t available when shooting RAW or RAW+JPEG.
The X-M1 is a very attractive entry-level compact system camera that borrows many features from its more advanced X-series stablemates, including the award-winning X-Trans CMOS sensor. While the camera is missing some of the more advanced features found on the X-Pro1 and X-E1, such as a viewfinder and an aperture ring, its image quality is exceptional, and it has excellent low light performance so is a very good deal for £679. Yes, its main rivals, the Panasonic GF6 and Olympus E-PM5, are around £300 cheaper but the X-M1 will drop in price and its sensor and image quality are truly exceptional. Currently there are 11 lenses available for this camera, and this is set to grow, so users wishing to buy into the Fuji system have plenty of X-mount options available. If you’re in the market for an entry-level CSC that offers excellent image quality in a compact, lightweight and stylish body, the X-M1 is a superb option.
- Street price: £329 (As of July 2016)
- Effective resolution: 16.3MP
- Sensor type: 23.6x15.6mm X-Trans CMOS
- Kit lens: 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 OIS
- Image stabilisation: OIS on lens
- Autofocus: 49-area contrast detection
- ISO range: 200-6400 (expands to 100-25,600 in JPEG)
- Metering: TTL 256-zone
- LCD: 3in 920k-dot tilt
- Viewfinder: No
- Flash: Yes, guide number 7
- Shooting speed: 5.6fps
- Minimum start-up time: 0.5sec
- Video: Full HD (1080p)
- Battery life: 350 shots
- Card type: SD, SDHC, SDHX
- Weight: 537g with lens
- Visit: www.fujifilm.eu/uk
This review was first published in the October 2013 issue of Digital Photo - download back issues here.