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Review Fujifilm X-M1 and XC 16-50mm F3.5-5.6 OIS

Yes, I’m a Fuji fan boy.

No, I’m not getting paid by Fuji.
Yes, I got this camera for free 
No, that won’t hold me back to give you my honest opinion.
Yes, I know there will be always people who don’t believe that.
No, I don’t care.
 
With that out of the way, let’s see what I think about the X-M1, the youngest and cheapest Fuji X-camera with interchangeable lenses. 
 
When the X-M1 was announced, I was’t exactly excited. At first sight it seemed just a dumbed down cheaper version of the X-E1 and in many ways it’s exactly that. Not that there is anything wrong with that. I can only applaud Fuji for making it easier for people to enter the X-world. But I was a bit worried that the X-M1 could be the first sign of Fuji loosing it’s great design philosophy and start compromising in order to conquer the lower end of the market. I wasn’t really considering even trying out this camera, let alone, add one to my gear bag. It just didn’t seem like a camera for me.
 
During our visit to the Fuji Tokyo headquarters, mr. Tanaka, the Digital Camera Business Unit President, gave each of us an X-M1 with the 16-50 as a present. We all were very honored by this gift, certainly when we found out they came with a personalized serial number (mine says “Bert S.”)

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To be brutally honest, I considered the serial number to be the real present and thought the camera would be great for my wife to use (as long as there was no risk damaging that serial number). But thanks to the jet lag, I started to appreciate this camera. That same night, I couldn’t sleep and intrigued by the wifi button, I started to make some long exposures through the window of my hotel room and see if I could publish a nice picture without the use of a computer. 

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After playing around with it for an hour, sleep finally came to me. Unfortunately it left me already a couple of hours later leaving me wide awake many hours before breakfast. Another computerless experiment through the window later, I decided to hit the streets to turn my insomnia into productivity. 

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The X-M1 definitely grew on me during those sleepless hours. But let’s get back to the fact that it’s clearly positioned below the X-E1 and the X-Pro1. At first glance, the camera looks like it’s bigger brothers but when you look at them side by side, it becomes clear that the X-M1 is not built to the same standards. It’s all plastic and the buttons and dials don’t feel as sturdy as the other X-cameras. Mind you, I’m not saying it’s badly built, it’s probably pretty good in it’s price range. It’s simply a matter of “you get what you pay for”. 

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And you actually get quite a lot for what you pay for this camera. After all, it shares the same sensor and internals as it’s bigger brothers. That means that you could get the exact same image quality out of the X-M1 as you would get out of the X-E1 or X-Pro1. 

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I really like that idea of not compromising on image quality and still offering a significantly cheaper body. The compromises are made on build quality and handling. The camera is a bit smaller than the others witch doesn’t really improve handling. I kept bringing the X-M1 to my eye only to realize there’s no viewfinder, only the LCD. I’ve really come to love the old school clearly marked dials on my other X-cameras, the X-M1 has another approach. Instead of the shutter speed dial, there’s now a mode dial and things like shutter speed and exposure compensation are now controlled with two unmarked multifunctional dials. It seemed like a big deal breaker to me, but honestly I adapted pretty quick to it. I still prefer the old school dials but the multifunctional dials are not unworkable at all. 

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So far this compromise, make the X-M1 the perfect companion for people on a budget who are looking for a small camera system with great image quality. But there’s more, the X-M1 is not all compromise, it has two features that none of the other X-cams have: a tilting screen and build-in wifi. 

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Kevin, Zack, David and I were all surprised about how handy we found this tilt screen. It allowed the three hobbits to hold the camera above their head to shoot an eye level picture of me and it allowed me to keep the camera at my waist to shoot an eye level picture of them ;-)
I really dig how I can shoot with the screen like it was a Hasselblad-style* waist level finder. And it also proved very helpful to shoot candid pictures of the very camera-shy people on the streets of Tokyo. 
 
(*) Hard to use the words “Hasselblad” and “Style” in one sentence these days

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The second feature that’s currently unique in the X line-up is the build-in wifi functionality. Once set up, the Fujifilm Camera App works pretty well to move pictures between your camera and your iPhone/iPad. I’d like to see some more functionality in the app and we’ve been feeding the guys at Fujifilm lots of ideas. But the really good thing about the app is that it simply works. I’ve been playing around with other wifi solutions but I usually find them fiddly and temperamental (trying to avoid writing “fucking frustrating” here). I can definitely see interesting options here and I’m pretty sure I’ll be doing something fun with it soon. 

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I’ve really come to like this little camera despite it’s obvious compromises on build quality and handling. I doubt it would handle the knocks and bumps of every day professional use but that’s not what it’s made for. However, having the same sensor as my main camera, the X-Pro1, it is well suited as a backup camera. The extra functionality with the tilt screen and wifi, gives me extra options that my current backup camera, the X-E1, doesn’t offer. 

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About the 16-50 lens: it is a true kitlens, cheap and plastic. You can’t expect such a cheap lens to perform just like the 18-55 but if you take the low price into account, I believe it’s not a bad deal at all. The image quality is surprisingly good. It’s a great starting all-round zoom for photographers on a tight budget. And if you add some better, more expensive lenses over time, it’s still a good backup lens. 

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Despite my initial reservations about the X-M1 I’ve decided to give it a permanent place in my bag where it will replace my hardly used X-E1 as my backup camera. 

 

 

 

 

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