Fuji X-M1: First Impressions

I’ve had my Fuji X-M1 for about a month now. That’s been plenty of time to get out and about shooting with it. Enough time that I can start spouting off what I think of my new possession. Let’s start at the beginning. First impressions.

Build and Feel

The XM-1 is largely constructed from plastic. It looks like a traditional, metal camera from a distance but don’t think anyone would be fooled upon taking it in their hands. I don’t think anyone would be too bothered, either. It feels robust. It doesn’t rattle when you wave it about. It feels like it could survive a few bumps too. Although I don’t intend putting it to that sort of test.

It feels like a camera should. It doesn’t have the solidity of a Sony Nex6. When picking up the Sony you can tell straight away that one is made of metal and one is not. There’s extra heft to the Sony, although neither camera weighs enough to cause anyone back ache.

I have seen reviews suggesting Fuji designed the camera with the intention of making one handed operation easy. If that was their intention, then they got it spot on. It fits in a single hand easily and all the key buttons are placed ‘just so’.

WiFi and GPS

I was pleased to see that the Fuji incorporated WiFi, with a GPS solution built in. I say ‘solution’ because the GPS isn’t itself built in. I also have to say that the WiFi/GPS is the biggest – actually, the only – disappointment I have had with the X-M1. You can connect the camera to your smartphone, once you’ve downloaded the Fuji app, although this in itself is a fiddly and slow affair. NFC would have been a nicer solution.

Once you’ve made the connection, you can use the GPS on your smartphone to embed your location directly into the photos. However, if you’re off on a long walk or trip, the Fuji app on the phone will stop recording location data after just 99 minutes. Which could prove annoying. It’s safer and simpler to just record my location through Google Tracking and then embed the data into the photos in Lightroom later.

I do like the ability to send photos from my camera to my smartphone though. It’s a nice way to kill a long journey home – editing a few shots and posting them to Instagram. This is the one WiFi feature that I will use. I do hope that Fuji revisit the WiFi capability of the X-M1 though. I’m sure it has potential for  better GPS tagging . It would also be nice to be able to use the smartphone as a remote for the camera too.

Menu System

Fuji have excelled in their menu systems. One of the biggest pains I’ve experienced in digital photography is having to sift through menus trying to get at the setting I want. There’s nothing more frustrating that an important setting being buried five deep in the menu system.

The X-M1 has most of the key settings on the dial. But for those you need to access through the LCD, its just one button to a smart layout that reveals all the key settings. Each setting can be changed by moving to it via the arrow buttons and then scrolling the thumb wheel. Sure, a touch screen would have made it easier still, but in reality the menu as it is works so sweetly that there’s no reason at all for any serious grumbling.

The LCD

I really wanted an electronic viewfinder with my next camera. But when I chose the X-M1, I did so knowing that this was a feature I’d have to sacrifice. So the quality of the LCD really is important. The LCD on my old Olympus Pen E-PL1 was a major weakness with that camera. One of the delights of digital photography is the ability to see if you’ve got a good shot there and then. Instant gratification.

The screen on the back of the Pen was so poor that I really could not tell if the shot was any good or not. As a result, I’d often take a batch of shots, each exposed differently. And yet I’d get home to find that the lot of them were either under or over exposed or out of focus. I don;t like having to put in extra effort and still not get a result.

The screen on the Fuji is, happily, a good one. With more than 900 million pixels you can see what you’re shooting. Sometimes, light areas look as though they’re over exposed, but are actually fine when viewed on the computer. This isn’t a problem then, as the results are consistent from shot to shot. This means that I can trust the camera. Which is rather important.

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The Flash

Ideally, I try not to use the flash. Sometimes it’s necessary. I tried to use it on the X-M1, but for neither love nor money could I get it to work. Sure, I could press the button and get the flash to physically pop up. Sure, I could find it in the menu. But could I turn it on or off in the menu? Nope. I scratched my head plenty. Then I ventured online to see if there’s a reason for the non functioning flash.

There was. You can put the X-M1 into Silent Mode for some stealth photography. Which I had done. The flash will not operate in stealth mode. Problem solved. But it was a kinda weird problem. This should be fixed. If I have popped the flash up, it’s clear I want to use it. The camera should recognise this and switch out of stealth mode.

Focussing

Other than the LCD, my old Olympus Pen had another issue. It wasn’t the quickest out of the blocks as far as focussing is concerned. In fact, it was often downright slow. The Fuji is such a huge leap forward compared the the Pen. Sure, it is not on a par with Sony or the modern Olympus and Panasonic compact system cameras. But it’s quick enough.

How big a difference is this? It’s like a race between Usain Bolt, Johann Blake and little old me. With me being the E-PL1 Pen. I’ve now been upgraded to Blake. So, ok, I still might not win, but at least nowadays when I cross the line, my competitors are still catching their breath as opposed to being showered, dressed, interviewed and half way home.

Satisfaction Rating

I love the Fuji X-M1. That’s for sure. It’s a lot more complex than the Pen and I’ll have to study the camera and its manual a little more and use it in a smarter way to get the best out of it, I also really want to get a couple of new lenses for it at some stage. They are key to maximising this cameras full potential. The pancake-ish 27mm f2.8 would be a nice addition. But I’m really craving the XF 35mm f1.4 prime lens.

But the 16mm-50mm kit lens is a decent piece of kit, an I’m looking forward to the free telephoto lens when it finally arrives. They will be good enough to keep me going for now. Can I recommend the X-M1. Sure, why not? It has to be said though, that it depends on your budget. It was the promise of that free telephoto lens, worth more than £300 in its own right, which swung the deal for me. Without that offer? I may well have held out for an XE-1 or looked harder at a Sony Nex6/a6000.

But regardless of the competition, I’ve gotten myself a superb little camera with the same fantastic sensor that’s fitted in Fuji’s more illustrious and substantially more expensive big brothers.

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