YI M1 Full Review

We took a first look at the YI M1 roughly a month ago and have had some time to put it through it’s paces in full. And for those worried it might not come out as rosy as the preview painted it the M1 came through with flying colors as a still camera.

Lets take a look at the M1 kit again

I know I covered this in the first impressions but YI made their packaging a work of art.It’s simple but elegant with the camera well protected inside foam. In addition to the camera was every accessory you need to get shooting save for a memory card. In hand the camera feels solid in spite of it’s plastic exterior. Some of the exterior appears metallic and from what I can tell there’s a metal subframe a good balance of materials. The lenses themselves are a bit light though they use metal where it matters but have quite a bit of plastic otherwise, good for cost and durability but it detracts from their handling feel. With the camera not offering a built in flash it would have been nice, especially for the larger kit to include a small one although users are free to use any hotshoe flash they desire.

External Ports

Hidden behind a door on the side of the My is a small port array. The same door hides the full size SD slot as well as micro USB and micro HDMI. USB as a charging standard means this can easily be kept running as long as you want without needing much beyond what you might already carry for your phone. The SDXC slot claims compatibility with cards up to 512GB and I’m inclined to believe them. That said the largest card I had on hand was a 256GB card which worked just fine, if and when I get anything larger I’ll be sure to try it.

The kit lenses

Having had time to play with them the kit lenses hold up quite well over time. There’s an excellent 12-40mm zoom lenses which will cover a wide variety of common focal lengths and a 42.5mm prime. The zoom lens offers a 3.5-5.6 minimum aperture while the prime offers a fast 1.8. The Prime also offers a macro toggle bringing it’s minimum focal distance from 1.64 ft down to .84ft. After using both lenses for a while I do wish that the prime lens was different. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with it but it feels too close to the zoom lens, had it been either much smaller(say 6.5mm) or a second zoom(like a 45-150) it would feel much more capable but as it is it feels redundant unless you want to use that 1.8 aperture. That said, the 1.8 aperture makes for some impressive shallow depth of field effects especially for macro photography making it not a bad lens, just not one I would have picked for the kit personally.

Controls

It is amazingly simple to just pick up the M1 and go like you would with a regular point and shoot or your phone. It seems like one of the primary goals of the engineers at YI was to ensure that their prosumer level camera was as intuitive as possible and quite frankly they nailed it. You have an easily accessible set of controls on the camera itself made up of two dials, three buttons and a single switch. The on off switch allows for easy activation of the camera with a single satisfying click, the focus/shoot button(half press to focus) is surrounded by this switch making it very easy to find by feel. There’s your typical dial to select a shooting mode which also has the video toggle located in the center.

Rather than list all the modes it seems more appropriate to include an excerpt from the user manual with their descriptions. I’ve found the priority modes quite handy. The manual mode is excellent although lacking control over the EV setting for some odd reason, I’ve heard there is going to be a new firmware in the next month or two and hope that it unlocks further manual controls. Finally the last of the dials is satisfyingly quick dial that allows changes to the selected on screen control be it shutter speed, aperture or iso. I would prefer that this dial also allow manual focus control when using that although I generally found the auto focus quick an accurate as such I wasn’t tweaking focus often enough for that to be a significant problem.

File formats

Before jumping into any discussion related to the cameras performance it’s important to note that a users choice of file format will have an impact on this. The M1 offers 3 different variant of JPG from “normal” to Super Fine in addition to RAW. It also offers JPG+RAW at all 3 quality settings. Some users may be tempted by the JPG-S(normal) offering the highest number of photos on a memory card however these will also be the lowest quality photos that the camera can produce. With the cost of memory cards being so low I see little reason to settle for anything but the best. I chose, and encourage most users to select JPEG+RAW as their primary option as this gives the most flexibility. This setting produces a “Super Fine” JPG for immediate sharing if transfered to the phone along with a high quality DNG to be tweaked after the fact.

 

YI DIGITAL CAMERA(42.5mm lens)
YI DIGITAL CAMERA(12-40 at 12mm)
YI DIGITAL CAMERA(12-40 at 40mm)

Photo performance

Still photography is the bread and butter of the M1 and where it punches above it’s weight. Presented with our test scene the M1 takes some absolutely photos and highlights the versatility of the included lenses. The prime lens is nice and clear and captures a ton of light. Looking a bit deeper into the brush you still get clear definition on individual leaves. The 12-40 lens shows an impressive dynamic range(and a nearby restaurant) with both photos taken at the same distance. Zooming like that without a decrease in detail is something phones have tried to replicate to little avail. Noise at least in our test photos is something that’s nearly non existent. What little there may have been is indistinguishable from the JPG compression naturally present in any photo.

Video performance

To say that the M1 performs like a smartphone in video mode would be underselling the camera but it’s unfortunately the closest comparison I have. Where the last ILC we looked at offered a way to tweak almost every bit of a video the settings available for the M1 are mostly limited to resolution and frame rate. It lacks a microphone in forcing you to rely on the body microphones. Also missing is the ability to control things like the shutter angle or any changes to color grading like log. These don’t exempt it from video use, I was more than happy to see the results it’s capable of producing and it’s well above what you can do with a typical smartphone by virtue of it’s improved sensor and optics. Furthermore the addition of stabilization lets the M1 demonstrate it’s video prowess above what a phone could as well. However I would love to see YI take time to address video more in depth either in a new firmware or a second camera as some features(like an audio input) may require new hardware.

The App

Where other devices(the E1) take an everything and the kitchen sink to app controls the M1 sticks to the basics. Clearly evolved from similar software used for action cameras the controls are streamlined to avoid overloading the user. The controls are carried over from the camera itself in a fairly logical manner. We also get a glimpse of the Master guide feature which allows us to use template for professional looking results without the time for a full photography course. Overall performance in the app was smooth and predictable with the phone automatically connecting when it was launched something other cameras have struggled with.

Closing Thoughts

Amatures and prosumers alike will be more than impressed by how capable the M1 is. Although it’s controls are streamlined for the comfort of a smartphone user that does not detract from it’s photographic prowess. Armed with a massive 20mp sensor the M1 takes superb photos regardless of lighting condition. With a solid albeit light in hand field coupled with an a versatile lens kit the M1 is impressive. Looking at it on amazon today(shown below) the single lens kit is seling for 349.99 and the dual lens kit is selling for 439.99 both of which are impressive prices. These keep the M1 comforatable below it’s competition from the likes of Panasonic and Olympus(the two largest micro 4/3 manufactures). Personally, I would suggest the smaller kit along with a 40-150 from olympus at 99.99 or a 45-150 from Panasonic at 147.99 to offer a greater amount of flexibility unless you plan on using the very fast 1.8 aperture on the prime. The bottom line? If your phone isn’t cutting it and you need something light for still photos be they family, school sports, or bird watching this is where to start. If you’re planning to do a lot of video and need an audio input? Go back and give the E1 a look.





Daniel Smith

Daniel Smith is a full time IT administrator at a medium sized private business former FRC coach and technology enthusiast.