- 20MP Four Thirds sensor
- 3″ 1.04M-dot touchscreen LCD
- 81-point Contrast Detect AF system
- Touch-to-focus and one-touch image capture
- 5 fps continuous shooting
- 4K/30p video recording capability
- Built in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth LE
YI is a China-based company that has already made its mark in the action cam market, earning a recommendation in our recent roundup. But it clearly has ambitions beyond this and has announced its entry into the consumer-level compact ILC market.
We were lucky enough to get our hands on the YI M1, the company’s first-ever mirrorless camera. YI has attempted to capitalize on an already well-established camera mount, but decided to put a new spin on it in the form of an almost entirely touchscreen-based user interface.
YI tells us its name refers to ‘young innovators,’ so its no surprise its target demographic is a group that is looking to move on from their smart phone based camera, but perhaps isn’t ready or interested in, taking the plunge into the realm of a traditional DSLR or mirrorless platform.
|The YI M1 features an all-metal lens mount and a 20MP CMOS sensor.|
The YI M1 is built around a Sony-designed 20MP Four Thirds CMOS sensor that boasts Raw capability in the form of DNG output files and the ability to shoot 4K/30p video. As with its action cameras, YI publicly lists where its key components come from and the Sony IMX269 instantly suggests good things about the camera’s potential.
The big news is the all-touchscreen interface (the body only has two physical buttons), which aims to give a simple, more smartphone-like user experience. However, the company doesn’t treat these users as undemanding, just because they don’t want a conventional camera.
The camera comes with either the 12-40mm zoom, the 42.5mm prime or a kit that features both the prime and the zoom, a camera strap, USB charging brick and a Micro-USB cable. While the camera sports a hot shoe for an external flash, the current kit doesn’t include a flash.
The two lens choices that come in the kit were a bit of surprise for us, and in a very good way. It’s not too often that a camera company decides to include a prime lens and a zoom in an ILC starter kit, but that’s just what YI has done. There’s a macro-capable 42.5mm F1.8 prime as well as a more conventional 12-40mm F3.5-5.6 (24-80mm equiv.) zoom in the box, both equipped with image stabilization (although this is claimed by the company, we’ve found that the IS doesn’t work well, if at all), since the body itself does not offer any.
|The 42.5mm F1.8 (85mm equiv.) prime lens can be seen on the left and the 12-40mm F3.5-5.6 (24-80mm equiv.) can be seen on the right. The focus ring on the 42.5mm prime doesn’t actually move – it’s just for show – although the camera does allow for ‘manual focus’ via the touchscreen.|
The lenses are constructed of a mostly plastic body and are extremely lightweight. I definitely wouldn’t suggest getting them wet, as they don’t appear to have any sort of weather-sealing. The lens mounts are made of a plastic composite material.
Oddly, the 42.5mm prime (85mm equiv.) doesn’t offer true manual focus – the ‘focus ring’ is purely cosmetic. You are able to adjust the focus with an up and down arrow via the touchscreen interface. In any case offering a prime lens, particularly a portrait-friendly 85mm equivalent one, is a really nice touch and is sure to please folks moving from a fixed-lens smartphone to an ILC platform.
Being that this camera is on the Micro Four Thirds platform, YI claims that it will be compatible with more than 50 other lens options. We’ve tried several Panasonic and Olympus MFT lenses and they all seem to work well, so that’s very promising.
The YI M1 offers five JPEG shooting modes: a high contrast black and white mode, a standard black and white mode, portrait, vivid, and lastly a standard shooting mode. Unfortunately you currently aren’t able to shoot Raw + JPEG, so you will have to decide which format you would like to shoot in before heading out with the camera.
In terms of autofocus the YI M1 has an 81-point contrast-detect AF system with touch-to-focus/shoot. It also offers face detection and both AF-S and AF-C shooting modes. It’s also important to note that the AF also lacks any sort of subject tracking outside of face detection.
Autofocus is possible during video capture, but only in a complete auto mode where you have no ability to specify your subject. Unfortunately, the YI lacks a dedicated AF control switch, which makes switching AF shooting modes a bit difficult. Novices coming to the YI may find they’ll need to pay more attention to their autofocus point placement than they did with their smartphone.
The M1 has several video shooting modes- the highlight of which is its ability to shoot in 4K/30p. It also offers 2K/30p, Full HD 1080p and 720 at 60, 30 and 24p. Autofocus is available while shooting video in the form of complete auto AF-C, but if you’re using the 12-40mm F3.5-5.6 zoom lens you will also have the ability to use manual focus with focus peaking, which can definitely come in handy because the autofocus is fairly slow to lock focus while in video mode.
Pricing and Availability
The YI M1 is available in three different kits. It will cost $499 for the kit with the standard zoom lens (12-40mm F3.5-5.6) and $599 for the kit that comes with the 42.5mm F1.8 prime. If you wish to purchase the camera and both the zoom and the prime lens it will set you back $699 USD. It will be offered in two colors: Ice Silver and Storm Black.
|Body type||Rangefinder-style mirrorless|
|Body material||Composite and Metal|
|Max resolution||5184 x 3888|
|Image ratio w:h||1:1, 4:3, 3:2, 16:9|
|Effective pixels||20 megapixels|
|Sensor photo detectors||22 megapixels|
|Sensor size||Four Thirds (17.3 x 13 mm)|
|Color space||sRGB, Adobe RGB|
|Color filter array||Primary color filter|
|White balance presets||4|
|Custom white balance||No|
|JPEG quality levels||Superfine, fine, normal|
|Optics & Focus|
|Autofocus assist lamp||Yes|
|Number of focus points||81|
|Lens mount||Micro Four Thirds|
|Focal length multiplier||2×|
|Screen / viewfinder|
|Screen type||TFT LCD|
|Minimum shutter speed||60 sec|
|Maximum shutter speed||1/4000 sec|
|External flash||Yes (Hot-Shoe)|
|Flash modes||Auto, On, Off, Slow Sync, Red-Eye Slow|
|Flash X sync speed||1/125 sec|
|Continuous drive||5.0 fps|
|Self-timer||Yes (2 or 10 secs)|
|Exposure compensation||±5 (at 1/3 EV steps)|
|AE Bracketing||(3 frames at 1/3 EV, 2/3 EV, 1 EV steps)|
|WB Bracketing||Yes (3 frames up to 6 shots)|
|Storage types||SD/SDHC/SDXC card|
|USB||USB 2.0 (480 Mbit/sec)|
|HDMI||Yes (Micro HDMI)|
|Wireless notes||801.11b/g/n with Bluetooth LE|
|Remote control||Yes (via smartphone)|
|Battery description||BXM-10 lithium-ion battery & charger|
|Battery Life (CIPA)||450|
|Weight (inc. batteries)||281 g (0.62 lb / 9.91 oz)|
|Dimensions||114 x 64 x 34 mm (4.49 x 2.52 x 1.34″)|
|Timelapse recording||Yes (JPEG)|
Body and Handling
The build quality of the YI M1 is quite impressive for an entry-level ILC. It feels very well-built in-hand and the majority of the components of the body itself appear to be constructed of a very sturdy composite material coupled with an all-metal lens mount. It’s not weather-sealed at all, but nor are its rivals at this price.
|The camera features an anti-slip rubber grip, so holding it like this for long periods of time is very easy. The large 3″ LCD screen makes composing images fairly simple.||The dial located just to the right of the flash hot-shoe acts as your shooting mode selector. The red video record button can also be found in the center. The button just under the finger is used to adjust shutter speed and aperture.|
The grip has an anti-slip rubber coating for easy handling and the mode dial is fairly easy to access and adjust with one hand while holding the camera. The main mode dial offers a variety of shooting modes including a ‘super professional guide’ that works with templates that you will be able to download from the YI app. The company claims that you will be able to ‘create high quality images just as you are having a master by your side.’ The video recording button can be found in the center of the mode dial.
|The camera’s Micro-USB and Micro-HDMI ports can be accessed via the memory card slot door, and the camera utilizes SD/SDHC/SDXC storage cards.|
The Micro-USB and HDMI ports can be found in the same location as the memory card slot. This can be a bit cumbersome for charging the camera and leaves the memory card slot exposed. The YI M1 can utilize SD/SDHC/SDXC format storage cards. The camera comes with a built in hot shoe for a flash but YI has made no mention of a flash on their website and the current kit doesn’t include one.
The concept of using a touchscreen almost exclusively isn’t necessarily a new idea. That being said, it would have been nice to include a few more buttons to make accessing frequently used functions such as AF modes and the ISO settings a bit easier. The 3″ LCD touchscreen is large and fairly responsive, but often feels laggy next to better implementations (like your smartphone).
|In this screen capture you can see the various exposure controls on the left side of the M1’s touchscreen. The ‘F’ stands for Aperture, the ‘S’ for shutter and ‘EV’ displays the real time metering for exposure control.|
Exposure parameters are changed via a combination of the top dial and touchscreen. In P mode, the dial controls exposure compensation, which frankly makes more sense than the ‘Program Shift’ behavior of the main dial on most cameras. In A/S/M modes the top dial controls the main exposure parameter (F-number in M mode), while the remaining parameters (exposure comp. in A/S modes, exposure comp. and S in M mode) are controlled by first tapping the associated on-screen icon. This can be a bit cumbersome, as you have to very deliberately and precisely press the associated icon on-screen so the camera doesn’t accidentally interpret your touch as an attempt to move the AF point. If you want to change the ISO you will need to navigate to the menu to do so, as there isn’t a dedicated ISO button.
Since there are only 3 buttons and two dials on this camera, the menu layout and behavior is extremely important to its overall usability. There are two menus that you are able to navigate to by simply swiping your finger left or right on the main live view screen. If you swipe to the left you will have access to the five main JPEG color modes mentioned earlier and the various ‘Scene’ modes should be in that shooting mode. If you swipe to the right of the live view screen you will enter the main menu screen. The swipes need to be somewhat deliberate, so you may find yourself repeatedly swiping from time to time, especially if you happen to change your focus point while doing so.
The menu items are actually laid out nicely and are really quite easy to navigate (if a little reminiscent of another primarily touchscreen-operated camera). They almost look like App icons, similar to what you would see in a smartphone. The menu items that can be accessed are illuminated in white while the menu items that cannot be accessed are greyed-out. If you plan to shoot in Raw and or in ‘Auto’ mode, be aware that the HDR and Exposure Bracketing menus will all be inaccessible. The ‘Time Lapse’ mode can be used In Raw provided that the camera is set to ‘Program Mode’, ‘Aperture Priority’, ‘Shutter Priority’ and ‘Manual’ modes. Switching to JPEG shooting mode will allow you to utilize all three of these shooting modes in addition to the others in the main menu.
Navigating the sub-menus within the main menu items is very straightforward. The whole experience is similar to navigating the settings menus and Apps in your phone – which is exactly what YI has set out to do.
Connectivity and the YI App
The YI M1 comes with built in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.1 LE, which when paired with the YI app, allows for firmware updates, photo sharing and the use of the ‘Super Professional Guide.’ Connecting with the app took a few tries, but once it was connected transferring the full-res JPEGs was a fairly quick process.
|The M1 will first pair to the camera’s Bluetooth LE. The screen shot taken here depicts that the camera was successfully paired with the App on my iPhone.||The YI App will then pair your phones with the camera’s built in Wi-Fi. After this screen appears you have to go to your Wi-Fi settings and paste the password in the field to connect.|
To transfer photos you will first need to generate the JPEG previews on your phone via the app and select the photos which you wish to download. Unfortunately there isn’t an automatic or bulk download feature, so you will have to download each photo one by one.
|To transfer a photo simply tap on the JPEG preview and a large preview will appear.||Once the preview appears, select download, in either full-res or 1920×1440 JPEG, and the download process will begin.|
If a firmware update is available for your camera the app will prompt you to upload the update to your camera once the app has established a secure connection. It takes about 30 seconds for the camera to complete the update via the app, which is really quite convenient.
|You can choose from a variety of poses that you can upload to your camera via the YI App.||This is what the ‘Super Professional Guide’ looks like when it’s used on the M1. In theory you would line up your subject with this template and take your photo.|
The ‘Super Professional Guide’ feature is based around downloadable templates that act as a guide for composing photos. The templates available so far offer several guides for taking portraits in a variety of settings and we would really like to see YI expand the guides to other forms of shooting such as landscapes and cityscapes. After downloading, these templates will become available on the camera once you switch to the ‘Guide’ shooting mode on the main control dial.
Auto ISO Behavior
The M1 offers an Auto ISO range of 200 to 25600. Unfortunately, the ‘Auto’, ‘Scene’ and ‘Panoramic’ shooting modes, likely to be used by many novice users, caps Auto ISO to 3200 and there isn’t currently a way to change that in the settings.
Auto ISO automatically raises ISO once the shutter speed falls at or below 1/100th of a second. Unfortunately, there is no way to change or bias this minimum shutter speed setting. Manual mode doesn’t offer Auto ISO, which means that you will have to manually adjust the ISO in the menu since there isn’t a dedicated ISO button on the camera. This is unfortunately cumbersome.
The Auto ISO settings and behavior make shooting in low-light, or adapting to moving subjects, fairly difficult; the default behavior almost always forced shutter speeds to be fairly slow while in ‘Auto’ mode, which could cause motion blur at times if your hand wasn’t steady enough or if your subject moved. Inability to adjust the minimum shutter speed threshold also means you can’t adapt Auto ISO to deal with fast moving subjects.
The YI M1 has an 81-point contrast-detect AF system with touch-to-focus/shoot. The ‘touch’ features make choosing your focus point fairly easy, but if you swipe to access either of the main control menus you can end up moving your focus point by accident in the process. It’s also worth mentioning that the M1 lacks a dedicated AF control switch, which makes switching AF shooting modes a bit difficult.
The M1 also offers face detection and both AF-S and AF-C shooting modes. The face detection works fairly well: once a face has been detected the camera does a fairly good job at following the face throughout the frame, although getting the face in focus could be a bit problematic at times. It’s important to note that the AF lacks any sort of subject tracking outside of face detection.
We found the AF to be fairly accurate in good light, but it would occasionally fail to focus on the desired target. While in AF-S, the M1 sometimes resorted to focusing on a target in the distance or just wouldn’t refocus at all, which made capturing subjects exhibiting anysort of movement fairly difficult. As expected with a contrast detect system, locking focus on low-contrast subjects proved to be somewhat difficult for the M1, although this has seen considerable improvement with progressive firmware updates. In terms of AF-C performance, we found it to be very unpredictable and mostly unusable due to slow and inconsistent focusing. In fact, the camera completely failed every iteration of our bike test, so we’ve chosen not to include a rollover of (very) unfocused shots here. We would recommend sticking to AF-S.
It’s worth noting that the AF indicator light would sometimes blink ‘green’ for focus confirmation even when the desired target was still slightly out of focus while shooting static or moving subjects. This resulted in capturing out of focus shots that you had assumed were actually in focus at the time of capture.
Magnifying while in live view to determine if your subject is in focus isn’t currently possible while shooting with autofocus enabled, which can be frustrating if you want to make sure that your subject is in focus before taking a photo. If you’re shooting in manual focus mode the camera offers 2x and 4x magnification, which unfortunately is fairly low in resolution, so it’s quite hard to tell if you’re actually in focus, even with peaking enabled.
The 42.5mm F1.8 prime kit lens doesn’t have a true manual focus ring as the ring is there purely for cosmetic purposes. As a work-around YI developed an interesting way of ‘manually’ focusing the lens via the touchscreen which features an ‘Up-arrow’ and a ‘Down-arrow’ when the prime lens is attached to the camera and you are shooting with manual focus enabled. Using these arrows you are able to adjust your focus point by making small, or very large adjustment in focus via a short or long press of the button, respectively. This feature can also be used while using the 2x and 4x magnification mode via a press of the ‘O’ button on the back of the camera. Unfortunately these features are not available during video capture.
Focusing in low light proved to be fairly difficult for the M1, as the AF often struggled to acquire focus and would sometimes miss its mark. The AF started to fail between 1 and 2EV, which is slightly worse than we would expect from a contrast detect AF system. It often took more than one try to acquire focus in low light and sometimes the AF would just give up all together. Occasionally the camera would even confirm focus when an object was still clearly out of focus in the resulting image.
Novices coming to the YI may find they’ll need to pay more attention generally to autofocus than they did with their smartphone, checking to ensure focus or selecting high-contrast targets for the camera to more easily focus on.
The M1 has several video shooting modes, the highlight of which is its ability to shoot in 4K/30p, albeit with a severe crop. It also offers 2K/30p, Full HD 1080 and 720 at 60, 30 and 24p. Unfortunately, the M1 doesn’t offer any video stabilization while in 4K mode but it does offer a very rudimentary form of digital image stabilization (sensor stabilization is not available) while shooting in Full HD mode that seems to be very inconsistent. Unfortunately, neither lens offered by YI appears to offer any stabilization of its own (despite their claims). If you hold the video record button down you are able to preview the crop mode in each of the video recording formats. Once you begin recording, you can start and stop the video by pressing the record button a second time. The video doesn’t feature any menu settings outside of choosing your recording format and the video itself is shot in full-auto mode.
In terms of video quality thelooks quite good and keeps up with the competitors in the market. The sharpening isn’t quite as aggressive as some of the competitors, but the footage does look fairly nice. The 4K video footage shot with the YI 42.5mm F1.8 prime is really nice: the lens exhibits some ghosting but, overall, the in terms of detail. Ultimately, though, it still falls behind the industry leading Sony a6300.
It’s also worth noting that the M1 has difficulty controlling the white balance while in 4K recording mode. The fluctuation of the white balance causes flickering in the video that is not evident in the 1080/60p footage.
It’s important to mention that the 4K video is automatically shot with the lens set to the maximum aperture, meaning the quality ends up being defined by how good the lens you use is when it’s shot wide open. This is fine with either of YI’s own-brand lenses but may not be with all the lenses you mount, since you don’t have the control to stop down for a better result. The additional demands on the lens brought by the aggressive crop only exacerbate the issue.
Autofocus is available while shooting video in the form of full-auto AF. You can choose your focus point prior to entering video mode, but the M1 takes control thereafter giving the user no ability to choose or modify the focus point while recording. Generally speaking, the AF tends to hunt a fair bit before locking focus and this becomes even more apparent in low-light, which can give your footage a distracting, wobbly appearance. The AF point isn’t visible during video capture, which makes determining what you’re actually focusing on impossible. If you’re using the 12-40mm F3.5-5.6 zoom kit lens, you have the ability to use manual focus with focus peaking, which can definitely come in handy. The M1 only offers red focus peaking, which can be a problem if it matches the subject you’re trying to focus on.
The video sample below was shot in 4K/30p and it demonstrates the tendency of the AF to hunt. The color shift in that the auto white balance causes can also be seen in the video footage. Also, note the lack of any apparent image stabilization while in 4K video mode (shot with kit lens).
Video demonstrating quality, autofocus hunting and white balance shifts during 4K/30p video capture
An interesting glitch occurs when shooting video with variable aperture lenses. The camera’s exposure gain appears to lag behind the aperture changing as you zoom in; resulting in flickering as you zoom.
|This is a portrait sample taken with the 42.5mm F1.8 prime kit lens that is available to purchase with the YI. Edited to taste in ACR. Photo by Chris Williams
42.5mm lens (85mm equiv.), 1/250, F1.8, ISO 200
The M1 delivers some fairly impressive Raw results for a Four Thirds CMOS sensor. The camera offers a nice amount of latitude in terms of Raw processing which enables you to recover shadow detail from the DNG files that the camera produces.
|This is an un-edited JPEG conversion of the original Raw file. As you can see the photo was exposed for the highlights, leaving the shadows fairly dark. YI12-40mm F3.5-5.6
Photo by Chris Williams
40mm (80mm equiv.), 1/640, F5.6, ISO 200
|Through ACR I was able to push the shadows +73 to recover much of the shadow detail from the original Raw.|
The latitude found in the M1 DNG files allows you to push shadows to (we found around 2EV was often possible) with minimal cost to detail and limited additional noise in base ISO shots. The Raw files also handled higher ISOs fairly well, up to an ISO of around 6400.
|Edited to taste in ACR. As you can see a lot of the detail is still evident in this painting and the file is still very useable even though it was shot at ISO 6400. YI 42.5mm F1.8 Prime
Photo by Chris Williams
42.5mm (85mm equiv.), 1/100, F1.8, ISO 6400
The JPEG engine in the M1 produces JPEGs that are full of detail, but lack vibrant color and contrast. I found that leaving the camera in ‘Auto’ mode often clipped some of the highlights in an effort to expose shadows and mid-tones in the photo correctly. That works fine if you’re planning to shoot the camera in Raw full time (remember that you can’t shoot in Raw + JPEG), since you can recover shadow detail through post processing, but if you’re planning to shoot in JPEG only this can become problematic, especially in high contrast scenes.
|This is a straight-out-of-camera JPEG shot in the ‘Vivid’ color mode and the ‘Auto’ settings. As you can see here the colors are very ‘natural’ with the majority of the reds and yellows fairly muted. The ‘Auto’ mode tends to produce brighter images that can sometimes leave the highlights blown out. YI 12-40mm F3.5-5.6
Photo by Chris Williams
25mm, 1/500, F5.4, ISO 200
The colors that the JPEG engine produces in the ‘Standard’ profile mode are fairly flat and they don’t seem to change much at all when changing the shooting mode to ‘Vivid’, but the reds and yellows do see a slight increase in saturation. Since most shooters using this camera will primarily be shooting in JPEG, they may be underwhelmed by the colors in the images.
|This is a straight-out-of-camera JPEG shot in the ‘Vivid’ color mode and the ‘Auto’ settings. Reds seem to fair a bit better with respect to vibrance and saturation. The scene here wasn’t quite as contrasty is the above example and the M1 did a much better job of handling the exposure. YI 12-40mm F3.5-5.6
Photo by Chris Williams
40mm (80mm equiv.), 1/1000, F5.6, ISO 200
The camera also doesn’t offer any control over in-camera Raw processing (you can just convert a DNG to a default JPEG), which can be an issue if you’re someone with limited post processing experience. There are, however, several JPEG-only ‘Scene’ modes such as ‘Sunset’, ‘Snow’ and ‘Sport’. The scene mode that offered the most colorful and punchy JPEGs was the ‘Sunset’ mode in which the saturation of the reds, yellows and other colors in the scene saw a very pleasing increase. Unfortunately, this mode is only available in the ‘Scene’ shooting mode, which means that it isn’t available for other JPEG shooting modes like HDR, Time-lapse and Exposure Bracketing.
|This is a straight-out-of-camera JPEG taken at an ISO of 3200. YI 42.5mm F1.8 Prime
Photo by Chris Williams
42.5mm (85mm equiv.), 1/100, F3.5, ISO 3200
In terms of high ISO performance, at sensitivities beyond 1600 the JPEG engine takes a fairly aggressive approach to noise reduction, yielding fairly muddled details. There is an additional 50MP JPEG ‘Interpolation mode’ which uses in-camera software to digitally increase the resolution of the image. I would suggest staying away from this mode as you lose a lot of detail in the resulting image.
|This is a straight-out-of-camera JPEG shot in the High Contrast Black and White Mode. YI 42.5mm F1.8 Prime
Photo by Chris Williams
42.5mm (85mm equiv.), 1/640, F4.1, ISO 200
The YI M1 offers five JPEG color modes: a high contrast black and white mode, a standard black and white mode, portrait, vivid, and lastly a standard shooting mode.
Our latest test scene simulates both daylight and low-light shooting. Pressing the ‘lighting’ buttons at the top of the widget switches between the two. The daylight scene is manually white balanced to give neutral grays, but the camera is left in its Auto setting for the low-light tests. Raw files are manually corrected. We offer three different viewing sizes: ‘Full’, ‘Print’, and ‘Comp’, with the latter two offering ‘normalized’ comparisons by using matched viewing sizes. The ‘Comp’ option chooses the largest-available resolution common to the cameras being compared.
The JPEG engine produces JPEGs that arebut some of the tends to get a bit muddled as it appears that they are applying larger radius sharpening during JPEG processing. The colors that the M1’s JPEG engine produces aren’t quite as as those seen in the E-PL7. The yellows and reds in particular .
In terms of noise reduction the M1’s JPEG engine takes a fairly lazy approach, leaving behind a lot of noise and generally not balancing detail retention and noise reductionwith its context-sensitive approach. Color noise can be problematic with the M1, particularly , although it starts to become evident by compared to the . It’s also worth mentioning that the M1’s JPEG engine also doesn’t completely eliminate all of the .
The M1’s Raw performance is quite good. If you compare its images shot at ISO 3200 to an ISO 200 shot taken at the same exposure and pushed 4EV, you see very little difference, which demonstrates the camera is adding very little electronic noise (it’s nearly ISO-invariant). You can push the Raw files to around +2EV with minimal problems. As you can see in this comparison the M1 performs well, similarly to the class leading Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mk II. Essentially, there’s plenty of latitude in the M1 Raw files for pulling data up out of the shadows. Low light Raw performance isn’t quite as good as the competition, with the M1 falling behind. Additionally, the aliasing seen in the M1’s Raw images is than that exhibited by the Olympus.
Overall the YI M1 has some very nice Raw performance, especially in terms of Raw DR. It’s worth noting however, that the Raw files are quite large as it doesn’t appear that the M1 is doing any sort of Raw compression, so that’s something to keep in mind if you plan to shoot Raw on a continuous basis. The sharpening in the JPEGs yields fairly nice details, although some of the finer detail is a bit muddled at times due to larger radius sharpening. The overall JPEG performance was somewhat lackluster in terms of noise reduction, color saturation and vibrancy.
For YI’s first attempt at a Micro Four Thirds mirrorless camera they got a lot of things right, but there’s still room for improvement. The biggest problem at this point is the autofocus. It’s an area where the camera really struggled, especially in low-light or when it came to low contrast subjects, which made shooting in dim or challenging light difficult at times. The M1 can produce some impressive Raw files, but its target audience is going to be geared more toward shooting JPEG with the ‘Auto’ settings that the camera offers. This is another area where unfortunately the camera falls a bit short. The JPEGs that the camera produces are full of detail, but are underwhelming with respect to color and contrast, and the camera offers no in-camera Raw processing to make use of that excellent Raw performance.
|The Raw files really offer a nice amount of latitude with respect to post processing. Edited to taste in ACR. Lifted shadows, adjusted exposure, added color and contrast. YI 12-40mm F3.5-5.6
Photo by Chris Williams
40mm (80mm equiv.), 1/640, F5.6, ISO 200
Users moving from their smartphones to the M1 will appreciate the fairly easy to use touchscreen interface, but may find the camera’s responsiveness, or lack thereof, frustrating. The price point makes this a very attractive option for those looking for an affordable, lightweight Micro Four Thirds camera with very nice Raw capability, but there are other options to keep in mind. The Olympus E-PL8 has a 16MP Four Thirds sensor and comes kited with a 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 lens for $649.99. It also comes with 3-axis in-body image stabilization, an external flash, a fully articulating touchscreen and an 81-point AF system (though it’s worth noting it lacks any 4K video capability).
Body, Handling and Performance
The YI M1 features an almost entirely touchscreen user interface with the exception of a mode dial, a control dial used for adjusting aperture and shutter speed, and two buttons on the back of the camera. These buttons are used for playback, AF area selection and magnification during manual focus. The camera comes with a built in hot shoe for a flash but YI has made no mention of a flash on their website and the current kit doesn’t include one, so that will be a downgrade for most smartphone users.
The touchscreen works fairly well and is moderately responsive to touch, although not nearly as responsive as something like an iPhone, and can be a bit frustrating to use at times. Settings live in two menus with app-like icons that you navigate to by swiping your finger left or right on the main screen. You’ll have to navigate to these menus frequently since so many camera settings live in them (as opposed to being accessed via direct controls). This can often be cumbersome, especially when a swipe is interpreted as an attempt to move the AF point.
In hand the camera is easy to hold and the dials are easily accessible which makes switching shooting modes fairly easy. It would have been nice to have included a way of accessing frequently used settings like ISO and AF mode without navigating to the designated menu screens. In general, you won’t find direct access to many controls, and that can make for a cumbersome shooting experience, particularly due to the lagginess of your primary interface: the touchscreen.
In terms of Image quality the Raw files that the YI M1 produces are really quite nice for a Four Thirds sensor. The DNG files offer quite a bit of latitude with respect to post processing; you can easily push the files with minimal cost to detail and little additional noise in base ISO shots. The Raw files also handle higher ISOs in low light fairly well, but fall a bit behind its Micro Four Thirds and APS-C contemporaries.
|This is a single Raw exposure edited to taste in ACR. Increased contrast, decreased highlights and adjusted exposure followed by a black and white conversion. YI 12-40mm F3.5-5.6
Photo by Chris Williams
12mm (24mm equiv.), 1/640, F4, ISO 200
The JPEGs left a bit more to be desired, particularly in terms of color saturation and contrast, as well as low light performance. The detail was quite nice, but the photos felt a bit flat at times. In low light, high ISO noise reduction is fairly lackadaisical, leaving behind considerable noise compared to more sophisticated, context-sensitive approaches that balance detail retention and noise reduction better. The camera also had a tendency to slightly overexpose while trying to properly expose shadows and midtones. This occasionally left the JPEGs looking a bit blown out in areas.
Unfortunately the M1 doesn’t offer any in-camera Raw processing control, which can be an issue if you’re someone with limited post-processing experience or no access to the required software. This is something that smartphone users may find frustrating since photo processing Apps and in-phone processing is fairly common place in the market today. The camera does offer a number of JPEG processing settings in the ‘Scene’ mode that can help lift the colors and contrast. We found that the ‘Sunset’ mode seemed to do the best job in that regard.
|This is a straight-out-of-camera JPEG taken in downtown Seattle during some ominous lighting conditions. YI 12-40mm F3.5-5.6
Photo by Chris Williams
40mm (80mm equiv.), 1/800, F6.5, ISO 200
The M1 utilizes an 81-point contrast-detect AF system with touch-to-focus and shoot. The ‘touch’ features make choosing your focus point fairly easy. The M1 also offers face detection and both AF-S and AF-C shooting modes. Subject tracking (tracking your subject around the frame) isn’t offered in the camera, save for when it comes to detected faces which the camera will follow. The lack of general subject tracking is a shame given how easy it is to specify a subject you might want to track by tapping on it.
Autofocus performance is, simply put, class-trailing. Often the M1 resorted to focusing on a target in the distance, instead of your desired subject. In this day and age, AF-S should never miss, and yet with the M1 it often did. Focus is often so slow that capturing subjects exhibiting any sort of movement is very difficult. Worse, continuous autofocus (AF-C) is so slow as to be outright unusable: the camera garnered a 0% hit-rate in our bike test, with continuous focus that is literally slower than the smooth refocusing most modern cameras exhibit in video mode (itself entirely unsuitable for stills.) We advise you stick to AF-S, as AF-C, apart from not refocusing on moving objects quickly, often results in worseperformance than AF-S due to hunting after focus acquisition (presumably because it thinks your subject has moved, whether or not it actually has).
AF performance also struggled in low or challenging lighting. In low-light or backlit situations, the M1 had difficulty acquiring focus on low contrast subjects, often missing its mark after multiple attempts. Sometimes it would simply give up, and other times it would think it had acquired focus, but the resultant shot would be anything but in-focus.
The M1 has several video shooting modes; the highlight of which is its ability to shoot in 4K/30p, albeit with a severe crop. It also offers 2K/30p, Full HD 1080 and 720 at 60, 30 and 24p. The 4K/30p footage is quite nice when shooting with the kitted lenses, although the footage does vary a great deal depending upon your lens choice, since the video is automatically shot with the lens wide open (which exacerbates the already high demands placed on the lens due to the crop). The Full HD 1080p footage looks great and is able to keep up with the competition. It is worth noting however that the M1 doesn’t offer any sensor based video stabilization (rudimentary digital stabilization is available in Full HD shooting modes but it’s very inconsistent) beyond what might be offered by the lens, and neither lens offered by YI appears to offer any stabilization of its own. Video mode doesn’t feature any menu settings outside of choosing your recording format, and the video itself is shot in full-auto mode. No access to ISO, shutter speed or aperture. The video toolset is limited as well, with no zebras or log gamma to deal with challenging, high contrast light.
Autofocus in video is severely limited, with only a completely auto AF-C option that offers no ability to specify your subject. Manual focus with focus peaking is available, provided of course that you are using a lens with a movable focus ring (which the YI 42.5mm F1.8 prime lacks). Autofocus struggles a fair bit while shooting video; it tends to hunt and has trouble locking focus, especially in low light. When using variable aperture zoom lenses (including the 12-40mm F3.5-5.6 lens in this kit), video can flicker while zooming.
The Final Word
|This is a straight-out-of-camera JPEG taken in Leavenworth, WA. YI 12-40mm F3.5-5.6
Photo by Chris Williams
12mm (24mm equiv.), 1/640, F5.1, ISO 200
I think it’s important to realize that this is YI’s first foray into the world of mirrorless ILC technology and they really got a lot of things right for their first go. Frankly, I’m excited to see another camera company entering the market. The M1 has some very nice features, including a Sony sensor that produces some very nice DNG Raw files and a touchscreen based user interface that is very friendly to potential buyers moving from a smartphone platform, bearing in mind of course that the touchscreen isn’t nearly as responsive as their smartphones. But the camera is not without its shortcomings and frustrations.
Autofocus is the area in particular where the M1 seems to struggle the most. The camera’s hesitation and inability to lock focus on low contrast or moving targets is only exacerbated in low or difficult lighting conditions, and the continuous AF mode is, frankly, unusable. With respect to image quality, the JPEG engine biases toward a more subtle result in terms of color saturation and contrast which can leave the photos feeling a bit flat – an odd fit for the target consumer. Low light JPEG quality suffers due to unsophisticated noise reduction that leaves much of the noise behind. The inclusion of 4K/30p is nice considering most competitors at this price point don’t offer anything above 1080, but video is somewhat unimpressive: the severe crop combined with wide-open apertures (you can’t change this) limits sharpness of footage, and robs you of wider angles. You also have no control over exposure or what to focus on, and a fairly limited video toolset.
The M1’s price point and lens availability (the Micro Four Thirds platform gives you access to a large number of lenses) makes this this an attractive offering for those with little to no autofocus requirements looking for a light-weight camera with an excellent sensor, 4K video capability, and a rock bottom price. That said, we’d strongly advise you also look at other choices available on the market at this price, some offering far more capability for little to no extra cost.
The M1 is built around a 20MP Four Thirds sensor that produces excellent Raw files offering good latitude. JPEGs are subtle in color, but full of detail in good light. Low light JPEGs suffer due to unsophisticated noise reduction. Autofocus routinely fails even on still subjects, while continuous AF is unusable; these problems are only made worse in low-light. The M1 produces some nice Full HD video and the 4K/30p video is capable, but can be very lens dependent and shaky due to the lack of stabilization while in 4K mode and the inconsistent rudimentary digital stabilization found in the Full HD mode. The autofocus is mostly unusable in video mode as it hunts a great deal and you have no control over what the camera is focusing on.
Beginners looking to move from their smartphone to a platform that delivers higher quality photos, bearing in mind that the autofocus is severely limited. Photographers who manually focus and want excellent quality Raw files in a small, low cost package
Not so good for
Someone with more experience looking for direct control or capable autofocus. If you’re looking for a camera to capture erratically moving subjects, like small children, this camera isn’t a good fit.
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