Fujifilm X-M1 Field Test | Pro Image Quality in an Entry Level Package

The entry-level Fujifilm X-M1
The entry-level Fujifilm X-M1
The entry-level Fujifilm X-M1

I got to give it to Fujifilm. When they entered the mirrorless camera market, they entered in a way that piqued the interest of old-school photographers yearning for a retro rangefinder-like camera digital body. Indeed, the launch of Fujifilm X100 and succeeding interchangeable cameras like the X-E1 and X-Pro 1 made a lot of pro photographers happy by harkening back to the good old analog camera controls (like shutter speed dials and aperture ring on lenses) in now digital format. With the Fujifilm X-M1, they hope to capture a much broader market and appeal to the mass consumers who are highly connected compact camera and mobile phone users. With a different build, controls and features, let’s see how this entry level Fujifilm X-M1 performs from my recent real world test from city walks and trips to Calaguas Islands and Iligan City.

The 920k dot 3
The 920k dot 3″ tilting LCD

Main Features

Fujifilm X-M1 may be entry-level but it didn’t scrimp down on sensor quality. The 16MP X-Trans APS-C CMOS sensor with EXR Processor II is the same one from its high-end siblings. The native ISO is 200-6400 with expanded “ISO Boost” modes of 100-25600. The camera can shoot up to 5.6 fps of continuos shooting. Video recording is 1080 Full HD at 30fps. Like its high-end siblings, the Fujifilm X-M1 still has focus peaking (for manual focusing) and Film Simulations (pared down to 5 against 7 of X-E1). For RAW shooters, the X-M1 has excellent in-camera RAW processors to convert to different Film Simulations at effects to JPEG.

Noticeable with the X-M1 is the lack of viewfinder which may be a big issue for those who are used to one (like me) but it does add a handy titling 920k dot 3″ LCD to make up for it. The XM-1 also has a built-in flash and it’s tilt-able for bounce flash. Fujifilm also has a Super Intelligent Flash system that automatically adjust flash output depending on different situations. It can also act as master and slave for off-flash or strobe work. I think one of the strongest suite the X-M1 has is its wifi capability and dedicated wifi button. When on the same network, I was able to transfer images to my android smartphone via their uninspiring app-name, Fujifilm Camera Application App. There’s also an option to save on a computer automatically and also share images to facebook within the camera. A feature I’m sure would be very handy for bloggers and social media people. There’s no option to control the camera though through wifi and the smartphone.

The X-M1 in hand
The X-M1 in hand

Built and Handling

The Fujifilm X-M1 is built with plastic, but it doesn’t feel cheap. On hand, it feels light yet solid and well put together. The leather-like texture actually feels good when handled. Among the X-Series, I think this is the smallest (along with the recently announced X-A1), but I had no problem on accessing the control wheels, buttons and dials except for the rear wheel which I sometimes forget and feels out of place. The “Q” button is nifty for quick access to menu and changing settings. The Mode Dial would be handy for beginners and enthusiast to access different scene modes and P/A/S/M. The only struggle I had with the controls is moving the focus point on where I want it to be. I usually get this on different cameras but it took time for me to find out on this one.

While I still prefer a viewfinder, the tilting LCD makes for creative angles. I can shoot from the hip, low to the ground and even above head. One thing it can’t do though is to flip back, so no selfies for this camera folks. The 920k dot screen is bright and impressive that I had no problems using it in broad daylight. It’s too bad Fujifilm didn’t add a touch-screen feature as it would be perfect for this type of screen and to completely make up for the lack of viewfinder.

Another qualm I had with the X-M1 is that the SD Card slot is alongside the battery compartment which can be a hassle especially when I have it mounted on a tripod. I would have to remove the tripod release plate and open the battery compartment.

The kit lens
The kit lens

Fujifilm XC 16-50mm F3.5-5.6 OIS Kit Lens

This is the only lens I used with the X-M1. I like that it’s wider than the usual at 16mm (24mm equivalent) and can do decent portraits at 50mm (75mm equivalent). It’s small, lightweight and basic but delivers decent sharpness. I have some issue though with its close-up distance as it can’t get close unlike other kit lenses but its still an all around performer.

The battery and sd card compartment (left) the micro-USB and HDMI compartment (right)
The battery and sd card compartment (left) the micro-USB and HDMI compartment (right)

Performance and Image Quality

Now let’s get to the heart of this review. My forte is travel, so I do a lot of scenic landscapes, long exposures, streets and candid portraits. I like that I can easily access my camera and ready to shoot in an instant. Fujifilm X-M1 has a good start up time, from a flip switch of the power it was ready to shoot in an instant. AutoFocus was fairly decent though, not as snappy as my OM-D or Micro Four Thirds yet. In low light it does not have problems focusing which is good. Despite the relatively average AutoFocus speed though, the continuous burst shooting at 5.6 fps has most of the shots in focus.

I enjoy doing astro photography and usually I would turn ISO sensitivity up to 3200 and 6400. I found the ISO performance from my nightshots to be exceptionally good. Noise was impressively controlled and grains has a pleasing pattern to it. For all around street shooting, I would usually turn on the AutoISO and limit the highest to 6400 since I was quite confident with its high ISO already. On landscapes I usually go for the lowest ISO but I just can’t get why Fujifilm didn’t allow the boosted ISO 100 settings when shooting RAW so I settled for just ISO 200. Also when shooting long exposure, the lowest shutter speed is at 30seconds, go longer than that you have to be in Bulb setting so I’d recommend getting a remote trigger which Fujifilm has a an additional accessory.

White Balance by default is doing very well on its own. Metering has been good all around but there were tendencies that underexpose and overexpose on some of my shots which I had to be careful with, especially on high contrast situations. The X-M1 does have a DR (Dynamic Range) option which you could configure from 200% to 400% when the situation arises. This will help in recovering details on both shadows and highlights.

At full charge, battery life can go at least 300 shots even when shooting raw which is good.

Going for low angles for street photos
Going for low angles for street photos (16mm, f9, 1/15sec, ISO 800)

Verdict

I like it that Fujifilm started on top with their pro line and trickled down the heart of their technology to a more consumer oriented camera like the Fujifilm X-M1. Yes, gone is the viewfinder (which really is a deal breaker for me as there are no options for attachment at the moment), Autofocus speed is decent, Dynamic Range is just average but the one that truly matters is the image quality and that is where the X-M1 truly excels. The JPEG engine is excellent resulting to punchy colors and great of level on details that working with RAW files has become an option, not a necessity. For those moving up from compact cameras or mobile phone photography,the Fujifilm X-M1’s stunning output is certainly worth the premium price tag for an entry-to-mid level camera. However DSLR users who are used to composing shots through a viewfinder may think of spending a little more for the X-E1 instead.

What I liked

  • Pro image quality output (JPEG and RAW)
  • Impressive High ISO performance
  • Retro design and solid build despite the plastic construction
  • Very good tilting LCD screen. Good brightness and viewable even in the outdoors
  • Quick Startup
  • Continuos Autofocus
  • WiFi sharing and transfer to Android, IOS or computers
  • Decent kit lens
  • Focus peaking on Manual Focus

What I didn’t care for

  • No viewfinder and no option for attachment
  • Tilting LCD would have been more functional if it was touch screen
  • Autofocus speed is just average, not as snappy as the other mirrorless offerings
  • No electronic level for a camera at this price point
  • Placement of SD Card in the battery compartment

The Fujifilm X-M1 with XC 16-50mm F3.5-5.6 OIS kit is available in the Philippines for a suggested retail price of Php 39,990. It comes in Black, Silver and Brown options.

Street lowlight handheld
Street lowlight handheld (16mm, f3.5, 1/30sec, ISO 4000)
Pampam Falls jump
Pampam Falls jump (16mm, f4, 1/125, ISO 200)
Dyandi Performer
Dyandi Performer (50mm, f5.6, 1/3500, ISO 400)
Dyandi Streetdancing
Dyandi Streetdancing (50mm, f5.6, 1/2400, ISO 400)
Badjao young performer
Badjao young performer (50mm, f5.6, 1/800, ISO 400)
Tinago Falls
Tinago Falls (16mm, f22, 10sec, ISO 200)
Calaguas nightscape
Calaguas nightscape (16mm, f3.5, 30sec, ISO 3200)
Calaguas Nightscape 2
Calaguas Nightscape 2Β (16mm, f3.5, 30sec, ISO 3200)
Calaguas Boat
Calaguas Boat (16mm, f7.1, 1/400, ISO 200)
View from the ridge
View from the ridge (48.4mm, f9, 1/400, ISO 200)