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Yi M1 mirrorless camera - a brave first attempt

The Yi M1 looks uncannily like the Leica T mirrorless camera.
The Yi M1 looks uncannily like the Leica T mirrorless camera.ST PHOTO: TREVOR TAN

Yi Technology, backed by smartphone maker Xiaomi, marks its entry into the mirrorless camera market with the M1.

On paper, the Yi M1 sounds quite formidable. It has a 20-megapixel Micro Four Thirds (MFT) image sensor, which means it is compatible with over 50 MFT lenses. It has 81 contrast-detect autofocusing (AF) points and a fixed 3-inch touchscreen display.

The M1 also looks uncannily like the Leica T mirrorless camera. Talk about being a poor man's Leica.

It has the same classic rangefinder-like looks of the T and also almost the same button layout.

Instead of the T's two command dials, the M1 has only one sitting close to where your thumbrests at the rear. In front of the command dial are the shutter release, power lever switch, the Mode dial and a dedicated video-recording button.

  • TECH SPECS

  • PRICE: $699 (with 12-40mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens) or $979 (with 12-40mm f/3.5-5.6 and 42.5mm f/1.8 lens)

    SENSOR: 20-megapixel Micro Four Thirds CMOS

    DISPLAY: 3-inch touchscreen with 1,040,000 dots

    SENSITIVITY: ISO 100 to 25,600

    SHOOTING SPEED: Up to 5fps

    WEIGHT: 281g (with battery and memory card)

  • RATING

  • FEATURES: 4/5

    DESIGN: 3/5

    PERFORMANCE: 3/5

    BATTERY LIFE: 4/5

    VALUE FOR MONEY: 3/5

    OVERALL: 3/5

There is no Menu button. You swipe right on the touchscreen display to get to the Menu settings. Swipe left for picture modes like standard, black and white or vivid.

I find it rather unintuitive to have some of the settings on the touchscreen. For example, in Manual mode, you have to use one hand to tap on the shutter speed option on the screen before turning the command dial to change its setting. Likewise for aperture settings. Yi should have followed the T's design of two command dials

The largely plastic build of the M1 does not inspire much confidencebut makes it lightweight and easy to carry around, even with the 12-40mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens (used in this review) attached.

Operation wise, the M1 is quite slow for a mirrorless camera. It takes around 4.5sec to power up and 2.5sec to shut down, when the competition usually takes around 2sec for each operation.

Using an SD card with a writing speed of 94MB per second, the M1 is able to shoot four RAW images in 0.7sec before the buffer runs out. That is close to advertised speed.

The AF is slow when compared with the competition. At times, the M1 took 1sec to secure a focus under bright sunlight. In dim conditions, it can take up to 3sec to get a focus even with the aid of AF assist light.

However, the still images are rendered with crisp details and great tonal range. But the ISO performance could be better. I saw noise artefacts from as low as ISO 800, especially in the darker areas. At ISO 1,600 and above, the detail loss becomes more evident.

Battery life is better than most mirrorless cameras. It can capture 450 still images on a full charge while most mirrorless cameras can shoot only 300 to 350.

The biggest downer about M1 is its pricing. At $699 with the kit lens, M1 is only $100 cheaper than, say, a Sony a5000 that has a kit lens of similar focal range but with a bigger APS-C image sensor.

• Verdict: The Yi M1 camera is a brave and decent effort for a first timer. Pity about the AF speed.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 30, 2016, with the headline 'Yi M1 mirrorless camera - a brave first attempt'. Print Edition | Subscribe