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.

In hand

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.

User Interface

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. If you hold down the photo selection button with a long press you are able to bulk select photos and download them together.

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 1920x1440 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.