The Fujifilm X-M1 is the third interchangeable lens camera in Fujifilm’s X-Series, following the X-E1 and X-Pro1. While it inherits the same X-mount for lenses and 16 Megapixel X-Trans sensor, thereby delivering essentially the same quality, it marks a bit of a departure from the two previous models which were aimed at the professional and enthusiast markets. Instead, the X-M1 is a more consumer-oriented model, lacking the analogue controls and built in viewfinders of the earlier X-series models and including more novice-friendly shooting modes and features.
Alongside the X-M1, Fujifilm has launched the XC 16-50mm f3.5-5.6 stabilised zoom lens and has followed up with the announcement of another new stabilised XC lens, the XC 50-230mm f4.5-6.7 with an equivalent focal length of 75-350mm. The XC lenses are designed specifically for the X-M1 and other mid-range X-series models that are sure to follow.
Some of the prestige that has built up around the highly regarded X-Pro1 and X-E1 will undoubtedly rub off on the X-M1 – and again all three share the same sensor and lens mount. But there’s a lot more competition in the middle of this market than at the top, and to succeed Fujifilm needs models that will appeal to novices, improvers and enthusiasts in equal measure. It’s made a good start, but the X-M1 falls short in too many areas where the competition really excels to make it a winner. The lack of an optional viewfinder from a company that pretty much redefined the word will be a disappointment to many. Lack of affordable lenses at the time of writing is another issue. And while the X-M1 provides good handling and an excellent level of control in PASM modes, Fuji hasn’t quite cracked it with the fun and friendly features a camera like this needs if it’s to appeal to a wider audience. For example there’s no touch-screen, no auto-panoramas, no built-in timelapse shooting, and you can’t apply effects, like the miniature mode, to movies. I should also mention the built-in Wifi may let you transfer images to your phone, but you won’t be remote controlling the camera with it and the geo-tagging implementation is odd to say the least.
On the positive side, the X-M1 is one of the smallest mirrorless system cameras around to pack an APS-C sensor that produces superb quality images with outstanding high ISO noise performance. So if you’re prepared to wait for affordable lenses or splash out on the high end XF or even Zeiss lenses, and you’re happy to frame up shots on the excellent 3 inch screen alone, and aren’t too worried about effects and the like, it’s a very classy camera with a lot to offer.
Compared to Olympus PEN E-P5
Like Fujifilm, Olympus has a legacy of classic rangefinder styling and the PEN E-P5 puts the emphasis on retro looks and conventional controls. The PEN E-P5 is a more solidly built, bigger and heavier model, but it also provides a much greater degree of physical control with its 2×2 dial system as well as a offering a far higher level of customisation than the X-M1.
Fujifilm has done well to develop a respectable lens catalogue in the relatively short time frame since the launch of the X mount. The addition of the new 16-50mm f3.5-5.6 OIS brings the total number of lenses from Fujifilm itself to 8, five of which are primes, with two more from Zeiss and more on ther way from both. But Micro Four Thirds is the most established of the mirrorless system formats with a much wider choice of more than forty lenses available from Panasonic and Olympus along with third parties including Sigma, Tamron, Samyang, Voigtlander and others. And with the E-P5 you have in-built sensor-shift stabilisation regardless of what lens you have attached, currently only the Fujinon X mount zooms are stabilised.
Like the PEN E-P5, the Fujifilm X-M1 has a 3 inch 3:2 proportioned LCD screen. It has a resolution of 920k dots, close to the 1.03 million dots of the E-P5, it tilts up and down, but it isn’t touch-sensitive. And although the X-series is renowned for its innovative hybrid viewfinders, the X-M1 lacks a built in viewfinder or the option to attach an accessory. With the PEN E-P5 you have the choice of several electronic viewfinders including the latest VF4, the most advanced viewfinder accessory on the market. Both models have a hotshoe for attaching an external flash as well as a built-in one, though.
The X-M1 offers the full range of manual and semi auto shooting modes along with a fully Auto mode, scene modes, and Advanced filters that are broadly equivalent to the PEN E-P5’s Art filters. Its auto bracketing isn’t nearly as versatile as the PEN E-P5, and its continuous shooting performance, tested at 6 frames per second, is slower with a smaller buffer. Both cameras are equipped with wi-fi for transferring images wirelessly, but the X-M1 lacks the smartphone remote shooting of the E-P5 and its GPS tagging feature is, well, a little odd, requiring you to stay in one place while you shoot.
After a lacklustre start Fujifilm has worked hard to bring autofocus on the X-range up to speeds that compete with the fastest mirrorless models around – those from Olympus and Panasonic, and the X-M1’s AF is fast, but not as fast as the PEN E-P5. It has Face detection, but not the E-P5’s ability to pick out a specific eye, it does, however, like the E-P5, provide a peaking display for manual focussing, something that’s becoming increasingly popular. Although sadly neither model offers it for movies.
With a 1080p30 best quality video mode and a dedicated movie record button, something not seen on an X Series camera previously, the X-M1 is more video-friendly than other models in the range, but it lacks the PEN E-P5’s dedicated movie position on the mode dial along with its full PASM (you can only adjust the aperture in A and M modes on the X-M1) exposure modes as well as the ability to plug in an external microphone. The PEN E-P5 also allows use of some Art filters, including Diorama (Miniature) with video, where the X-M1’s advanced filter effect are for stills only.
Admittedly the PEN E-P5 is around 40 percent more expensive than the X-M1, though that differential is likely to erode over time. It is worth paying the extra? That depends on what you’re looking for from a mirrorless compact system camera. The E-P5 offers better handling, is more versatile in a number of areas and has more to offer enthuiast photographers. The X-M1 is Fujifilm’s attempt to broaden the appeal of the X Series beyond its narrow enthusiast following, in some ways it’s more consumer-friendly, but ultimately, as well as being less expensive, it’s a less exciting, less capable camera than the E-P5.
See my Olympus EP5 review for more details
Compared to Panasonic Lumix GF6
Like the PEN E-P5, the Panasonic Lumix GF6 is based on the Micro Four Thirds standard jointly developed by Panasonic and Olympus. That means it has a smaller sensor than the APS-C sensor in the Fujifilm X-M1, though both models share the same 16 Megapixel resolution. In practice, I found very little to choose between the two in my quality tests, but the Fujifilm X-M1 outperforms the Lumix GF6 by a considerable margin at high ISO sensitivities.
But as a Micro Four Thirds model, the GF6 benefits form the same wide choice of lenses as the Olympus PEN E-P5. Fujifilm has done well to develop a respectable lens catalogue in the relatively short time frame since the launch of the X mount. The addition of the new 16-50mm f3.5-5.6 OIS brings the total number of lenses to eight from Fujifilm itself, five of which are primes, with another three on the way and two already available from Zeiss. But Micro Four Thirds is the most established of the mirrorless system formats with a much wider choice of more than forty lenses available from Panasonic and Olympus along with third parties including Sigma, Tamron, Samyang, Voigtlander and others. Like the X-M1, the Lumix GF6 lacks built-in stabilisation, but again, there’s a wider range of affordable stabilised lenses available for the GF6.
The Lumix GF6 lacks the degree of physical control the XM-1 provides, with two dials versus just the rear control wheel on the GF6. But the GF6’s secret weapon is its touch-screen, which Panasonic has put to good use everywhere from adjusting exposure controls to focussing and navigating menus. You can even use it to zoom with a motorised lens fitted. Another advantage the GF6 screen has over the XM-1 is that you can flip it up and over to self-shoot.
Neither model offers an accessory EVF, so with both you’re restricted to composing shots using the screen, however, the X-M1 does have a built-in hotshoe to which you can attach an external flash. Both models have built-in flash units which are roughly equivalent in terms of power.
Both are fitted with wifi, but the GF6 smartphone app provides much more control for remote shooting, plus the GF6’s use of NFC makes setting up a wifi connection a doddle with compatible handsets, as you just tap the two devices together. While there’s currently only a limited number of smartphones that can use NFC, and iPhones aren’t among them, this is a system that’s bound to gain in popularity.
The video capabilities are similarly matched with the GF6 offering a 1080i50 best quality mode and the X-M1 1080p30. The GF6 saves its HD video files in AVCHD fromat where the X-M1 uses QuickTime files. Both are fitted with stereo microphones, but neither has a jack to attach an external microphone. The GF6 provides, some built-in audio control as well as wider manual exposure control for movie shooting and, as on the PEN E-P5 you can make use of the effects filters for movie shooting. What’s more, you can use the touch screen to focus while recording.
See my Panasonic Lumix GF6 review for more details.
Fujifilm X-M1 final verdict
The Fujifilm X-M1 is an interesting development in the X-series and provides the opportunity for those who hanker after the style and performance of the X-E1, but at a more affordable price. With the concurrent launch of a quality kit lens, a telephoto zoom coming later in 2013, and the promise of more affordable XC lenses to come, it’s clearly a product the company is committed to.
There are some for whom only a big sensor will cut it, and for those the X-M1 has a lot going for it including superb high ISO noise performance and SLR-like handling in PASM modes. But if Fujifilm wants to widen the appeal of its X-series to consumers I think it has a bit more work to do if it’s to compete with the likes of Olympus and Panasonic, not to mention Sony, Nikon, Samsung and even Canon. Once again there’s no touchscreen, no auto-panoramas, no built-in timelapse shooting, and you can’t apply effects, like the miniature mode, to movies. And while the built-in Wifi may let you transfer images to your phone, you won’t be remote controlling the camera with it and the geo-tagging implementation is odd to say the least. The absence of these features may or may not be deal-breakers for you personally, but it is unusual not to have them on a camera aimed at consumers.
Basic feature-set aside though, the X-M1 is a solid performer that remains fun to shoot with and won’t let you down – it’s also the cheapest way to enjoy the superb X-Trans sensor and the small but high quality range of X-mount lenses. But aside from picture quality there isn’t really any one area in which it sparkles, no one feature that’s new and innovative. More than anything, the X-M1 leaves me wondering what Fujifilm has lined up for its second mid-range X-Series system camera. In the meantime, purely on the grounds of its excellent image quality and high ISO noise performance and not forgetting its excellent handling, the Fujifilm X-M1 is a model Cameralabs is happy to recommend, but for the reasons noted above it falls short of our highest award.
APS-C X-Trans sensor.
Excellent high ISO noise performance.
920 million dot tilting LCD panel.
Focus peaking (only for stills).
No optional EVF.
No touch screen.
Poor movie AF.
Poorly implemented geotagging.
No effects or focus peaking for movies.
No wifi remote control.