Pros Cons
  • Excellent Raw DR performance
  • Four Thirds platform compatible with a large number of lenses
  • App coupled with Bluetooth LE & Wi-Fi allows for easy photo sharing
  • Nice 1080/60p video quality and 4K/30p footage can look good
  • Useful starter guides for shooting portraits
  • Innovative 'manual' focus feature for kitted prime lens that doesn't feature a true focus ring
  • Mediocre overall AF performance
  • Unusable continuous AF in stills
  • No subject tracking
  • Laggy touchscreen impacts entire user experience
  • Mediocre JPEG engine performance
  • Limited video control and toolset
  • AF in video is unusable
  • Rudimentary digital image stabilization in Full HD video, none for 4K
  • No Raw + JPEG shooting capability [Addressed with f/w 3.0]
  • No in-camera Raw processing
  • Neither kitted YI lens offers image stabilization
  • Unsophisticated Auto ISO
  • Flickering in video while zooming with variable aperture zooms
  • No built-in or kitted flash

Overall Conclusion

November 2017: Several issues raised in this review have been addressed in recent firmware. We are now shooting with an updated camera and hope to revise the review to reflect current behavior.

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.

Image Quality

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

Autofocus

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 worse performance 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.

Video

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, if you're willing to spend a little more money, there are other choices on the market offering far more capability.

YI M1
Category: Entry Level Interchangeable Lens Camera / DSLR
Build quality
Ergonomics & handling
Features
Metering & focus accuracy
Image quality (raw)
Image quality (jpeg)
Low light / high ISO performance
Viewfinder / screen rating
Performance
Movie / video mode
Connectivity
Value
PoorExcellent
Conclusion
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.
Good for
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.
69%
Overall score

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