Fujifilm’s entry-level ILC drops the finder and the price
In the span of just a few years, Fujifilm has built an impressive series of interchangeable-lens compact (ILC) cameras. The pricey X-Pro1 followed on the success of the X100 and would have been enough to make a lot of people happy, if somewhat less wealthy. Then came the X-E1, which translated much of what people loved about the X-Pro1 into a more affordable body.
Now comes the X-M1. Ditching the electronic viewfinders found in the prior two X-series ILCs, the X-M1 breaks even more ground in price-cutting, streeting for $699, body only, or $799 with 16–50mm f/3.5–5.6 O.I.S. kit lens. At the same time, by relying on the same 16.3MP X-Trans imaging sensor as the X-E1, the new camera offers the same high level of imaging and lets photographers use the same great X-mount lenses that helped establish Fujifilm’s system as a major force (Not to mention third-party lenses, such as the fabulous Touit lenses Carl Zeiss recently introduced).
But will all that great glass help you get great images? We gave the X-M1 the once over in the Popular Photography Test Lab and out in the field to find out.
In the Test Lab
At the heart of the Fujifilm X-M1 is the same X-Trans sensor found in the X-E1. While based on the same CMOS technology used to capture images in almost all DSLRs and ILCs, the X-Trans sensor does its imaging in a different way than the Bayer-array sensors in most cameras. The X-Trans uses a more complex array of red, green, and blue filters than the Bayer to generate color information while purporting to minimize aliasing. Hence, this sensor does not have an anti-aliasing filter to prevent artifacts, such as moiré patterns.
Our tests show that, for the most part, this approach works. Our resolution test images still showed some aliasing, but shots from field testing didn’t show any prominent artifacts that could be attributed to a lack of the aliasing filter.
As did the X-E1 before it, the Fujifilm X-M1 earned an Extremely High rating in overall image quality at ISO 100 and 200. Color accuracy measured an average Delta E of 6.8, for an Excellent rating. So, even though the new filter array doesn’t benefit from the many years of refinement that the Bayer array has had, you can still expect remarkably accurate colors. (As always, we recommend setting white balance from a gray card to ensure the most accurate color.)
In our resolution test, the X-M1 turned in 2370 lines per picture height at ISO 200. (Though the camera offers ISO 100, you can capture at this sensitivity only when shooting JPEGs. Since our standard procedure is to test RAW images converted to TIFF, we’re reporting resolution at the lowest sensitivity at which you can capture RAW. Furthermore, the ISO 100 JPEG we captured for this test ended up with about 100 fewer lines per picture height.)
Resolution remained quite solid up to ISO 800, where the camera achieved 2350 lines. By ISO 1600 it fell to 2280 lines, while at ISO 6400 (the highest sensitivity that allows RAW capture) it was down to 2190 lines. At the X-M1’s top sensitivity of ISO 25,600, the JPEG we captured showed 2060 lines.
Like most manufacturers that ship a version of Silkypix software for RAW conversion, Fujifilm doesn’t apply much noise reduction in the default settings. No change is made to the basic noise-reduction settings until ISO 1600. From there through ISO 6400 a modest 20 points of noise reduction is applied. This makes for test results that look noisier than expected. We suspect that Fujifilm does this to eke out as much resolving power as possible—a noble goal, but we also wish the company could see fit to include a better RAW conversion option, such as Adobe’s Photoshop Lightroom.
That said, the camera kept noise to a Low or better rating at it ISO 100 and 200 and didn’t reach an Unacceptable rating until ISO 3200. Beyond that, noise never reached a very extreme level, so if you’re not picky, you may not have a big problem with the X-M1’s noise. We expect that, with some moderate fiddling with noise reduction during RAW conversion, you can achieve a very pleasing balance of high detail and well-controlled noise.
In the Field
With a design that suggests the style of a rangefinder, and a size small enough to stuff into nearly any bag larger than a clutch purse, the X-M1 won’t give you an excuse to leave it at home.
That small size, though, does present some design challenges. The grip is of the barely-there variety, consisting of a slight protrusion from the front of the right-hand side of the body. If you want a beefier protrusion, Fujifilm offers the HG-XM1 accessory grip ($90, street), which screws into the camera’s tripod socket. Not only does this give you a much better handle, it also has its own tripod socket that ends up more centered under the lens than the built-in tripod threads.
Despite limited real estate, the X-M1 still has a fair number of buttons for dedicated access to certain essential camera functions. The direction buttons that let you navigate the menus double as access to settings for autofocus, white balance, macro mode, and drive mode. A pair of command wheels—one on the top of the camera and the other mounted upwards on the camera back—make it easier to set aperture and shutter speed in manual shooting.