Fujifilm’s X-A1 is the newest model in the company’s X Series of CSCs (compact system cameras) – and this latest release occupies the entry level slot in the mirrorless line-up. The X-A1 perseveres with the popular vintage-inspired design, but on this outing it has been given a modern twist by introducing a range of colours: red, blue and black. The body design and button layout are almost identical to the well-received mid-range X-M1; and a glance down the spec sheet reveals few technical differences. With this in mind, is this more affordable camera a better deal for those photographers looking to start shooting with a CSC?
Features & Build
Comparing the specs of the entry level X-A1 with the mid-range marketed X-M1 is a strenuous game of spot the difference. With all of the features to examine, we could only spot two differences; one at the heart of the camera, and the other on its casing.
The key difference of the X-A1 to its pricier predecessor is the sensor. It may be the same size – a respectable 16.3Mp APS-C size chip – which offers images with a resolution of 4896x3264 pixels, but Fuji has returned to using an optical low pass filter to combat moiré rather than the new filter array favoured in the X-M1. What this means is that there may be a slight reduction in image quality over models in the X series that don’t utilise a low pass filter – some argue sharper images can be produced by eliminating the filter – though whether most users would be able to tell the difference is another matter.
The second difference between the X-A1 and its sibling – the X-M1 – is much more superficial. Instead of the body being wrapped in a faux leather skin, which gave it a more stylish, higher-end aesthetic; the X-A1 has a uniform, raised dot wrapping to provide a textured grip to the body.
Fuji has retained the impressive EXR Processor II which boasts start up times of 0.5secs and a shutter lag of 0.05secs. The speedy engine also allows shooting of up to 5.6fps for a burst of 30 frames to ensure you don’t miss the action.
The ISO range is the same, offering 200-6400, and up to 25,600 in its extended mode (JPEG only), so it can be used to capture images in low light.
The X-A1 utilises a contrast-detect AF system, and includes a variety of focusing modes such as Manual Focus, Area AF, Multi AF, Continuous AF and Tracking AF – again, identical to the X-M1.
As with other streamlined CSCs, the X-A1 lacks an EVF; instead shots are composed using the 3.0inch, 920k-dot LCD screen, which can be tilted to help you to frame images from high or low angles.
All of the buttons and controls are smartly grouped together on the right-hand side of the body, and the thinking behind this is to make the camera operable with just one hand – so you can easily adjust your settings without shifting from your shooting position. The top-plate houses a mode dial, a command dial, and a Wi-Fi/Function button, as well as a hot shoe and pop-up flash.
The on-board menus give access to the camera settings, and navigation is controlled with the D-Pad as the X-A1 doesn’t have a touchscreen. A selection of 13 Advanced Filters are included, such as Toy Camera and Pop Colour, for instant artistic effects on your images.
Performance & Handling
The X-A1 fits snugly in the hand, and the rear thumb pad and textured surface of the body help facilitate a firm grip. The 518g weight (including the 16-50mm lens, battery and SD card) is finely balanced to assist with stable shooting and comfort.
The layout of the control dials and buttons makes for a very fast operation – it’s easy to switch settings with just one hand – meaning your left hand remains under the lens, so you’re always primed for capturing the action.
When shooting in any of the creative modes, the wheel nestled in the rear thumb pad controls your shutter/aperture settings, while the command dial on the top-plate adjusts exposure compensation. If you’re shooting in full Manual mode, the rear wheel sets your aperture and the top dial is devoted to controlling shutter speed.
The Function button on the top-plate can be set to manage a range of controls; including ISO, metering, image quality, focus mode and many more, depending on your own preference.
The rear of the body is dominated by a sharp and bright 3.0in screen – so reviewing your shots is easy. The ability to tilt the screen through 180° also makes for easy composing from unusual angles to help you shoot with more artistic framing.
The AF system performed well; it locked onto subjects – even those lacking any real contrast – with speed and accuracy. In low-light situations there was a minor hesitation as it waited for the AF-assist lamp to illuminate the scene – but even in that situation the focus didn’t hunt around significantly.
The processor also performed well in our tests, kicking out a burst of 35 Large Fine JPEGs at the top speed of 5.6fps, with a write time of 8.6secs. We recorded 12 RAW files before the buffer filled, and these took 8.3secs to be written to card. When shooting single images, a Large Fine JPEG took 0.9sec to be written, and a RAW file took 1.3secs. These test findings are nearly identical to the X-M1 results we obtained in our test in the October issue, which makes sense considering the cameras share the same processor and output the same image size.
Value for Money
The X-A1 is currently priced at £499 with the 16-50mm lens, which makes it the least expensive of all of Fuji’s X series CSCs. In fact, it retails for £180 less than the X-M1 – which is remarkable considering the enormous similarities between the two models. Aside from the addition of a low pass filter over the chip, and a minor cosmetic tweak, there’s no discernible difference between the models. In our eyes it would make sense to opt for the least expensive model – the X-A1 – which represents excellent value for money.
Other options to consider would be the Panasonic Lumix GF6, a CSC with very similar features to the X-A1. The Lumix is currently priced at £379. Alternatively, the Canon 100D is available for £519 with an 18-55mm lens. It was the world’s smallest and lightest D-SLR at the time of release, and wouldn’t take up much more space in your camera bag than the X-A1.
If you’re after one of Fuji’s impressive X series CSCs, then the X-A1 is an excellent starting point at an attractive price.
The X-A1 is the fourth model in the X series and is the least expensive so far. It shares an almost identical spec sheet to the pricier X-M1, and features the same sized sensor and an identical processor. The performance is matched, though the X-M1 has the potential to offer marginally sharper shots due to the lack of a low pass filter. That said, sharpening can be added in post production and as such the X-A1 offers a real bargain for those after a Fuji CSC.
- Street price: £285 (Secondhand price as of July 2016)
- Resolution: 16.3Mp (4896x3264px)
- Sensor: CMOS (23.6x15.6mm)
- Lens mount: Fuji X
- ISO range: 100-25,600
- Shutter range: 30secs - 1/4000sec & Bulb
- AF system: Contrast AF
- AF points: 49 AF points
- Face detection: Yes
- Burst rate: 5.6fps or 3fps
- Write speed: 0.9sec Large Fine JPEG; 1.3secs RAW
- Monitor: 3in 920k-dot LCD
- Flash: Yes, pop-up
- Wi-Fi: Yes
- Hotshoe: Yes
- Video: 1080p Full HD @ 30fps
- Storage: SD, SDHC, SDXC
- Weight: 330g (body-only)
- Dimensions: (WxHxD) 116.9x66.5x39.0mm
- Visit: www.fujifilm.eu/uk
This review was first published in the September 2012 issue of Digital Photo - download back issues here.