Fujifilm X-M1 at a glance:

  • 16.3-million-pixel, APS-C-sized X-Trans CMOS sensor
  • 3in, 920,000-dot tilting screen
  • Wi-Fi enabled
  • ISO 100-25,600
  • Street price: around £599 body only

Fujifilm X-M1 review  – Introduction

What started with the Fujifilm X100 and a series of premium compact cameras has proved to be a big success for the company. From the initial success of the X100 compact came the X-Pro1, a compact system camera designed to look and handle like a vintage rangefinder camera. Both the look and handling of the X-Pro1 won it many fans, but it was the unique X-Trans sensor that convinced many to buy it. This sensor uses an unconventional colour filter array over the photodiodes that appears more random than the conventional Bayer pattern filter arrangement. This means there is less cause for an anti-aliasing filter, so Fuji has removed it from the sensor to give more detailed images than could previously be resolved using a 16.3-million-pixel camera.

Following on the X-Pro1’s heels came the X-E1, which uses the same sensor technology as its predecessor, but has an electronic viewfinder, rather than the hybrid optical/electronic unit found in the X-Pro1. Now, the firm has released the Fujifilm X-M1, which has no viewfinder at all.

The Fujifilm X-M1 is the smallest and most affordable X-system camera yet. It has all the retro style and charm of its two stablemates, and most importantly shares the same 16.3-million-pixel X-Trans CMOS sensor. Essentially, the X-M1 should produce the same quality of images as the other two X-series models, but without the use of a viewfinder and at a cheaper price.

Fujifilm X-M1 review – Features

As already stated, the Fujifilm X-M1 uses a 16.3-million-pixel, APS-C-sized X-Trans CMOS sensor. The unique X-Trans colour filter uses a 6×6 grid arrangement instead of the standard 2×2 grid used in a conventional Bayer-pattern sensor. The result is that the pattern of the filter array looks a lot more random than on a conventional sensor. This is designed to improve colour rendition, but it also has the advantage that the sensor does not require an optical low-pass (anti-aliasing) filter. The result is that images produced reveal much more detail than using conventional 16-million-pixel sensors.

The sensor and processing of the Fujifilm X-M1 allows for a sensitivity range of ISO 200-6400, which is expandable to ISO 100-25,600. The maximum resolution of images is 4896×3264 pixels, and images can be saved as raw or JPEG files, with the raw files saved in Fujifilm’s proprietary RAF format. Up to 30 JPEG images, or 10 raw images, can be shot in a burst, with a 5.6fps maximum continuous shooting speed.

Unlike the other cameras in Fujifilm’s X-series, the Fujifilm X-M1 has built-in Wi-Fi connectivity. This enables the camera to be connected to a smartphone or tablet via Fujifilm’s proprietary application. I found that the Wi-Fi connectivity works well, although it can take a little time to figure the correct sequence to connect the devices. Once connected, it is possible to browse or transfer images between the camera and a smart device, and it is even possible to use the GPS information from the smart device to geotag photos taken on the camera.

Fujifilm X-M1 review – Fujinon XC 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 OIS lens

Alongside the X-M1, Fujifilm released the Fujinon XC 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 OIS lens. Although this is really a kit lens, Fuji was keen to describe it as ‘a more affordable lens’ when sold separately, which is understandable given the reputation that some kit zoom lenses have gained over the years.

The new lens has a 16-50mm focal length, which is the equivalent of a 24-76mm lens on a full-frame camera. The lens aperture is a reasonable f/3.5-5.6, with a design encompassing seven rounded blades.

The lens is constructed from 12 elements in 10 groups, with three aspherical lenses and one extra-low dispersion element, which helps to reduce curvilinear distortion and chromatic aberrations The lens is also optically stabilised and has a minimum focus distance of 30cm when the camera is set to macro mode.

Unlike the excellent XF 18-55mm f/2.8-4 R LM OIS, the 16-50mm lens has a plastic construction, although it is very well made. What is more telling of the budget build of the lens is that it doesn’t have an aperture ring, which all other X-mount lenses do, except for the XF 27mm f/2.8, which is also new. The 16-50mm lens can be used on the X-Pro1 and X-E1 cameras, but because of the lack of aperture ring these cameras must be updated to firmware version 3.00 and 2.00 respectively (visit www.fujifilm.com/support/digital_cameras/software/#firmware).

While the sharpness and resolution of the 16-50mm lens produces good results when paired with the X-M1’s 16.3-million-pixel sensor, there is noticeable curvilinear distortion. Barrel distortion at the wide end is worse than the slight pincushion distortion at the 50mm setting. The distortion seems to level out at around 40mm.

On the whole, the Fujinon XC 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 OIS is a nice lens for the X-M1, being small, light and sharp.

Fujifilm X-M1 review – Build and handling

Fuji’s X100 premium compact camera was one of the models that kicked off the current trend for styling compacts and CSCs like vintage cameras. Fuji’s other X-series cameras have continued in the same vein, including the new X-M1. The camera looks fantastic, and would be as much at home in a display cabinet as it would in a photographer’s hand. However, cameras aren’t there just to be looked at, and while style is important for some, it is how the camera handles and the quality of the images it produces that really matter.

To keep the cost of the X-M1 down, the camera’s body is constructed from a rigid plastic rather than the magnesium alloy used for the rest of the X series. The retro style of the camera fools you into thinking that the camera will be of a reasonable weight, but when you pick it up it is actually far lighter than you anticipate. The construction of the camera presented no problems and I found it to be sturdy, with no rattles or creaks.

The general layout on the rear of the X-M1 will be familiar to most photographers, with a directional control and shortcut buttons providing access to the camera’s menu system. There is a separate quick-menu button, which gives direct access to the most commonly changed shooting settings. Image settings can also be accessed in this way, which is useful for changing options like dynamic range optimisation and image styles without having to navigate the main menu.

Two dials on the X-M1 are used to change the various exposure settings. The dial on the rear of the camera is the most commonly used, while the dial on the top-plate is set by default to adjust exposure compensation. I found that using these two dials allowed exposure settings to be changed very quickly. However, I did have an issue with the dial on the top-plate, which moved rather too easily. This meant that often I would remove the camera from my bag to find that the exposure compensation had been nudged slightly to a new setting. While this isn’t the end of the world, it did result in some overexposed shots before I realised the error and adjusted it back to the correct position.

In common with many cameras at this level, Fuji has included an articulated screen on the X-M1’s rear. A few years ago, these screens tended to increase the depth of the camera significantly, but improvements in technology mean that this screen is only 1-2mm shy of being completely flush with the back of the camera.

Overall, the X-M1 handles very well, although the lack of viewfinder means that it doesn’t quite replicate the experience of using a film camera in the same way that the other X-series models do.

Fujifilm X-M1 review – Metering

Image: Metering is generally very good, and even when dealing with fairly high-contrast scenes it strikes a good balance between highlights and shadow details

Having tested the Fujifilm X-M1 in a variety of lighting conditions, I found that the evaluative metering system generally produced excellent exposures. When taking photos of white swans on a bright sunny day, I found that exposures needed to be slightly darkened to ensure that highlight detail was retained.

Conversely, when dealing with very bright overcast skies, the X-M1 tends to err on the side of caution and darkens the exposures to preserve some highlight detail. In both these situations, a quick adjustment of the exposure-compensation dial makes it easy to produce a more pleasing exposure, with the on-screen histogram allowing you to check for blown-out highlight detail. Of course, both these shooting situations are tricky for metering systems to handle, regardless of how sophisticated they are. When dealing with more complex scenes, or when a lot of accuracy is required, centreweighted and spot metering are also available.

Fujifilm X-M1 review – Autofocus

Unlike the recent Fujifilm X100S premium compact camera, which uses a 16-million-pixel phase-detection AF sensor, the X-M1 uses the more standard contrast-detection AF with 49 user-selectable AF points covering an area around 80% of the image frame.

Overall, I found the focusing speed to be acceptable. From pressing the shutter button down to seeing the on-screen AF point indicate that focus has been achieved takes around 0.3secs, which is a reasonable speed for most photographic situations, although hardly lightning fast.

In addition to the user-selectable AF area mode, other focusing modes are available. In multi AF mode, the X-M1 will automatically select the appropriate AF points, while continuous and tracking AF provide further options.

When switching to manual focus, there are a few features that aid the user in getting sharp images. One of these is the magnified display on the rear screen. However, it is a shame that this magnified view option must be selected, rather than being automatically activated with a turn of the manual-focus ring on the lens.

There is also the option to use focus peaking, which creates highlights around any edges within the frame that are in focus. In combination, these features make manually focusing with the X-M1 a reasonably fast task, and most importantly, accurate.

Fujifilm X-M1 review – White balance and colour

Images: The differences between the image styles can be quite subtle and they are all related to their film counterparts. The Velvia setting is my personal favourite

Of all the cameras on the market, the colours produced by Fuji’s X-series cameras are among my favourite. As you would expect from a company with a heritage of good-quality photographic film, colours from its digital models have realistic hues, with in-camera styles named after Fuji’s films: Provia (standard), Velvia (vivid) and Astia (soft), with additional black & white and sepia modes. Sadly, the Pro Neg High and Pro Neg Standard modes that feature on the X-Pro1 and X-E1 are missing from the X-M1, as is the option to apply a red, green or yellow filter effect to black & white images. This is disappointing given that they are software-based effects that could easily have been added, but it is obviously a decision Fuji has made to help distinguish this camera as an entry-level model in the line-up.

As with the rest of the series, I really like the colours produced by the X-M1, particularly in the Velvia (vivid) mode, where colours are rich without looking oversaturated. Astia is also nice, particularly for natural-looking, low-key portraits.

Auto white balance works well and tends not to remove too much of the dominant colour in a scene, which is good when photographing scenes like woodland where AWB might otherwise remove too much green from the image. Another example is under tungsten light, where the system retains the light glow of yellow/amber, as it does when the camera is set to its tungsten setting. Should you wish to remove any colour casts completely, the custom white-balance feature is extremely easy to use. From shooting in AWB, it takes just three button presses and a press of the shutter button to set a new white balance from a neutral subject.

Fujifilm X-M1 review – Dynamic range

Images: The amount of detail that can be recovered from shadow areas is very impressive, as can be seen in the difference between this JPEG and edited raw image

The dynamic range of the X-M1 is in line with other 16-million-pixel cameras. It is generally very good, with a lot of detail recoverable in shadow areas without introducing too much colour or luminance noise.

Highlights were recoverable from raw files, and it is worth noting that the rear of the camera shows the histogram of the JPEG file, not the raw file. This means it is worth taking the highlights up to the point where they clip, knowing that this detail can be recovered when editing the raw image.

Fujifilm X-M1 review – Noise, resolution and sensitivity

These images show 72ppi (100% on a computer screen) sections of images of a resolution chart, captured using the 16-50mm lens set to 35mm and f/8 . We show the section of the resolution chart where the camera starts to fail to reproduce the lines separately. The higher the number visible in these images, the better the camera’s detail resolution is at the specified sensitivity setting.

As it has no anti-aliasing filter, the Fujifilm X-M1 produces images with more detail than we would expect from a standard 16-million-pixel sensor. This does make a difference when viewing images at 100% on screen or when making large prints, but if you only ever print at 6x4in or view your images in a window on a computer screen, you really won’t be making the most of the extra detail that this sensor can produce.

Under the default noise-reduction settings, luminance noise is well controlled, with the first signs of noise reduction arriving at ISO 400. At about ISO 800, the noise reduction starts to take the edge off fine details, and when the sensitivity reaches ISO 1600 there is very little difference between the X-M1 and most other cameras with 16-million-pixel, APS-C-sized sensors.

The ISO 100 setting displays a level of detail that is indistinguishable from the ISO 200 setting. The very highest settings, ISO 12,800 and ISO 25,600, are available only when shooting JPEGs.

Images produced are about on a par with the equivalent settings from other cameras: they look quite speckled, and there is a significant amount of noise reduction taking place that reduces all the fine details to a blur.

That said, there is virtually no colour noise, even at the highest sensitivity settings.

I felt that setting the camera’s noise reduction to its low setting produced slightly better JPEG images. The noise reduction didn’t really appear to make much of a difference until ISO 800, and at sensitivities higher than this, more detail was visible than in a comparable image with the noise reduction set to default. Of course, luminance noise is more prominent in the low setting, but I feel this is a good compromise between noise reduction and image detail.

It is when shooting raw images that the level of detail resolved by the 16.3-million-pixel sensor really comes into its own. At low-sensitivity settings, raw images require very little, if any sharpening. At around ISO 1600, images can be adjusted so that colour noise is completely removed and luminance noise reduced, and with a slight nudge of the sharpening slider there is still a good level of detail.

Overall, the performance of the X-M1 is very good. Throughout the ISO range, images are usable, although perhaps the ISO 200-6400 range available with raw shooting should be the working range of most photographers. I would feel completely confident using the camera to shoot raw images at between ISO 200 and ISO 800, which is similar to the performance we have seen from other cameras with 16-million-pixel APS-C sensors.

Fujifilm X-M1 review – LCD, live view and video

Unlike the other cameras in Fuji’s X series, the X-M1 does not have an optical or electronic viewfinder. Instead, all images must be composed on the rear 3in, 920,000-dot tilting LCD screen. Being able to articulate the screen through 90° for shooting at low angles or from above head height is particularly useful, and it is a feature that I miss on other cameras.

The screen was difficult to see in bright sunlight, although there are five different levels of brightness it can be set to, as well as a dedicated sunlight mode. This mode increases the brightness of the screen in sunny conditions to enable better composition. However, I did found that the increase in brightness was a little misleading when it came to setting the exposure. This is not necessarily a complaint about the X-M1 in particular, just a note that it is always worth checking the histogram to see whether an image is in reality as bright or dark as it seems on screen.

Video footage can be captured at 1920×1080-pixel full HD resolution at 30fps, and saved as an MOV file with H.264 compression. Around 14mins of continuous footage can be saved at full HD setting, or around 27mins if resolution is reduced to 1280×720 pixels.

Fujifilm X-M1 review – The competition

The Fujifilm X-M1 is entering into one of the most hotly contested sectors of the compact system camera market. The main rival for the X-M1 is the Olympus Pen E-PL5, which features a 16.1-million-pixel, micro four thirds sensor, although it lacks dedicated in-camera Wi-Fi connectivity. However, the E-PL5 is cheaper than the X-M1, with a street price of around £485 including kit lens.

Another rival is the Sony NEX-6 with 16.1-million-pixel, APS-C-sized sensor. The NEX-6 also has Wi-Fi connectivity built in, and costs around £650 with a kit lens. The X-M1, however, has the advantage of no anti-aliasing filter, so it should resolve more detail than either of its competitors.

Fujifilm X-M1 review – Our verdict

With the success of Fuji’s X-Pro1 and X-E1, the X-M1 was always likely to be the next logical step for the company. It has all the classic looks and stylish design we have come to expect from the X series, and includes the same excellent sensor as used in these two more advanced models, which means that the image quality and colour rendition of the X-M1 are just as good. However, there is a catch.

The X-M1 cries out to be held up to the eye, but without a viewfinder it loses something of the essence of the X-Pro1 and X-E1. The largely polycarbonate body also detracts slightly. That said, the addition of Wi-Fi is a big selling point, particularly in this entry-level section of the market.

Overall, the X-M1 is a fine entry-level compact system camera. In fact, it is one of the best we have tested, combining good handling, style and great image quality. However, oddly, it is currently only £30 cheaper than the metal-bodied and EVF-equipped X-E1, so until the X-M1’s price falls, the X-E1 will be the better option for most enthusiast photographers.

Fujifilm X-M1 key features:

The in-camera, pop-up flash has a guide number of approximately 7m @ ISO 200.

Wi-Fi button
On the camera’s top-plate, near the shutter release, is a dedicated Wi-Fi button, which allows quick access to the camera’s Wi-Fi features.

Lens mount
The X-M1 uses Fuji’s X mount, which makes it compatible with the eight lenses in this range, and a further three lenses, including a 56mm f/1.2, that are planned for release between autumn and spring next year. A Leica M-mount lens adapter is also available.

Fujifilm claims that the battery life for the X-M1, when using the 35mm f/1.4 lens, is around 350 shots.

On the side of the camera are HDMI, Micro USB 2.0 and remote-release sockets. The X-M1 is compatible with the Fujifilm RR-90 remote release, which costs around £85.