For the past months, I have spent time on the streets with a mighty and adorable camera. Mighty because it packs with power. Adorable because it is compact, light and stylish. Best of all, I don’t have to sell one of my kidneys to buy it.
The beauty of this camera isn’t just its price or its retro design. The X-M1 features the same APS-C size sensor and processor that found on the X-100s and the X-E1. With the X-Trans CMOS sensor and the EXR Processor II, the X-M1 is capable to capture low noise image, true-to-scene color, and to produce high-resolution JPEG files. The Fujifilm X-M1 shines when it pairs with the Fujinon Super EBC XF 27mm 1:2.8—the smallest X mount lens at this time. I am not saying that the X-M1 is the best camera for street photography, nor I would replace my X-Pro1 with it. However, this compact camera system is no doubt a convenient tool for street and travel photographers.
While the X-M1 is made in Thailand, the pancake size Fujinon Super EBC XF 27mm 1:2.8 is made in China. Both have the plastic casings; feel cheap, I admit. But that doesn’t stop me from enjoying the image quality of the camera and the sharpness of the lens.
Measured less than an inch deep, this lens is obviously the chosen one for my non-obtrusive photographic moments. The lens integrated 7 elements in 5 groups, including 1 aspherical element and a 7 rounded blade diaphragm. On top of these, the autofocus is fast and silent. Its outstanding optical performance delivers both excellent detail and smooth bokeh. At f/2.8, the lens is slightly soft at the corners, but that happened in all lenses. The XF 27mm is equivalent to the 41mm on a full-frame sensor, which is roughly close to the angle of view of our eyes. With the Macro mode turned on, the closest distance from camera to subject is approximately 10.25 inches. Perfect for capturing my food-of-the-day photos.
The XF 27mm shares the same electron beam coating process used on the Fujinon broadcasting video and large format camera lenses. Basically, the electron beam coating helps to eliminate flares and ghostings, to improve color and sharpen detail. According to Fujifilm, the Super EBC transmits 99.8% of the light, only 0.2% is reflected off the Fujinon optical surfaces.
One reason for me to rely on the Fujifilm X series for street photography is the Intelligent Hybrid AF system. Depending on the subject and the scene, the Intelligent Hybrid AF will decide and instantly switch between the Contrast and Phase Detection to optimize the focus. So far, I don’t have any autofocus slip-up with the XF 27mm. The Focus Peak Highlight works great with legacy lenses. I just wished that the X-M1 sports the Digital Split Image feature.
The Advanced Filters are fun but they aren’t for serious photography. Pop Color, Soft Focus, Partial Color and Dynamic Tone effects look horrible. The High Key filter works great for food and portrait photography. The Miniature and Toy Camera filters are workable with some street scenes. However, the preset exposure for the Toy Camera filter seems to be too dark. I often add +1⅓ EV to the Toy Camera filter and sometime +⅔ EV to the High Key filter.
The Advanced SR Auto or SR+ allows me to select a wide range of shooting modes. The Autofocus becomes noisy and since the camera focuses continuously in SR+ mode, a fully charged battery is completely drained in less than 200 shots. With the Power Management sets for 2 min and Quick Start Mode is on, I managed to capture 347 shots in one photo walk. In fill flash or the Flash Commander mode, a fully charged battery would last around 320 shots. Fujifilm claimed that the NP-W126 battery life is 350 shots.
Unlike its expensive siblings, the X-M1 lacks of the built-in B/W+Filters. However, it looks like the X-M1’s Monochrome is the B/W+Ye Filter Simulation. Quite many people complained that the black and white jpeg from the X-M1 is too gray, dull, lacks of contrast, etc.. A simple fix to this problem is to choose the correct White Balance or make a Custom White Balance using either the 18% gray or the 90% white card. My settings for black and white jpeg for this review are,
Shooting Mode: Aperture Priority
White Balance: Auto
Dynamic Range: 200
Metering: Multi Pattern
Highlight Tone: -2
Shadow Tone: 0
Noise Reduction: 0
As for shooting in color, Auto White Balance is pretty reliable in most scenarios. It seems to be a bit warm under very dim restaurant light. But the WB Shift can quickly fix the problem. Without the Pro Neg S, the Astia Film Simulation is my choice since it renders the most true-to-scene color. With the Provia or Velvia Film Simulation, I intentionally shoot at least +⅔ EV to avoid the unrealistic look of red, green and magenta colors.
Few Fujifilm X series users have asked if the Super Intelligent Flash on the X-M1 worked as advertised. The answer is “Yes”. I’d say the i-Flash on the X-M1 is a stupendous asset for food and portrait photography. With the Commander mode, I can wirelessly control an external Fujifilm flash, or any brand that has the remote feature built-in. I have successfully used the X-M1’s flash to control a Nikon Speedlight SB-900 and two SB-800 in one portrait session. Since the i-Flash itself is a lengthy subject, I’m going to save this topic for another entry.
I’m pretty much happy with the Fujifilm X-M1. Especially, with the high refresh rate, 920k dot resolution, 3-inch tilting LCD. I don’t use the Monitor Sunlight mode because it’s too bright. For outdoor visibility, I set my LCD Brightness to +3. The Autofocus is accurate, quick and quiet. So far, I’ve not missed any shot with any of the Autofocus mode. Even when I’m in a dimly lit restaurant. My only complaint is that the Geotagging Setup and Wi-Fi Image Transfer are clunky and not as convenient as Fujifilm has claimed.
To sum up, Fujifilm has set its mind to conquer the hearts of enthusiastic photographers with the X-M1. At the 700 dollar mark, the Fujifilm X-M1 doesn’t have all the bells and whistles like its expensive siblings. Still, the camera retains many features of the high-end X series. Contrary to the plastic casings and NOT made in Japan, the X-M1 and the XF 27mm are solid and capable of producing high quality JPEG files. Although this compact system lacks some pro-spec features, it really should not be overlooked. Even at ISO 6400, the X-Trans CMOS sensor still produces well-defined photographs with true color rendering. Small, light weight, fast autofocus and clarity are the factors that make the X-M1 and the XF 27mm the best compact camera system for street and travel photography.
Yes, the Fujifilm X-M1 and the Fujinon Super EBC XF 27mm 1:2.8 are the best X compact camera system that I’ve recently used.