YI Technology are most known for their action camera and home camera range, but back in September they released their first mirrorless camera. It’s a competitive market to face, so it was essential that YI offered something that would set them apart from the mirrorless giants, who are already successfully fulfilling the mirrorless thirst that is passing the DSLR market.
Although I’ve been using the YI M1 mirrorless camera since December, I thought it was only fair that I gave it an in depth review after experimenting with all of its features. I’m by no definitive meaning a professional photographer, and that’s one of the main reasons I thought the YI M1 would be a handy camera side-kick to my amateur photography abilities. It’s essentially a micro four thirds mirrorless camera, and although it’s not cheap, it’s definitely affordable in comparison to its competitors, currently selling at $699 (Camera + two lenses) on Amazon.
Let me start of by saying that if you’re professional photographer then it’s likely you’ll find a few flaws with the YI M1, or that it’s too simple to use. However, if you’re yet to step into the world of professional photography then this camera is definitely going to ease the way if in future you plan to buy a much more (expensive) professional camera. It would be outlandish to buy a Ferrari before you’ve learnt how to drive.
Firstly, let’s go through the nine image capture modes available on the YI M1.
P – Program Mode; on this setting you’re unable to change aperture or shutter speed, but have control over the EV (Exposure Value) and other settings. It works particularly well in low-lighting conditions; keep the ISO on auto and adjust the EV accordingly to achieve the best results.
A – Aperture priority mode; this setting is ideal for the slightly more experienced photographers as controlling aperture can often be tricky. Shutter speed is auto, but aperture and other settings are controlled by the user. Great for shooting outdoors.
S – Shutter priority mode; this is perfect if you want a long exposure time, particularly night time shots and shooting the night sky. User controls the shutter speed, aperture and other settings are on auto mode.
M – Manual mode; as a semi-amateur photographer it was a lot of fun experimenting on this mode. The user must set all the parameters manually, which might take some time to get a good shot, but when you do it will be great. Here’s one of Big Ben I took on Manual mode:
Panorama mode; quite self-explanatory as most smartphones now have this feature. It’s great for those scenic landscape shots.
C – Master Guide; this is a unique setting that I’ve only ever seen on the YI M1. Users can select a template and get their subject to pose accordingly, the camera will automatically set the parameters based on the template you choose. It’s great for beginners that want to improve their compositions, or take lovely shots of their girlfriend! You can also download new templates from the YI Mirrorless App.
SCENE mode; most cameras feature a similar setting. Your YI M1 will adjust the parameters according to the scene you choose, but doesn’t always produce the best images.
Finally is video mode, you can access it by pressing the red dot in the center of the mode dial, it will automatically begin recording, which actually comes in very useful when you don’t want to miss a moment of footage. More on that later.
Mirrorless Camera Highlights
Let’s start with the YI M1’s self-proclaimed best feature that is the SONY IMX269 Image Sensor. Essentially, the image sensor is responsible for the quality of your images, whether that be video or still pictures. The SONY IMX269 is one of the more high-end image sensors mostly found in cameras with much heftier price-tags than the YI M1, such as the Panasonic GX8 (upwards of $1000).
The YI M1 certainly delivers when it comes to image quality; it’s capable of capturing 20MP pictures and can record 4K videos; just make sure you have an SD card with enough capacity to take full advantage. If you’re also into post-production of photos then the ability to shoot in RAW format will come in useful. It can give your images much more detail, but one downside of the M1 is that it can’t shoot in both JPEG and RAW simultaneously. Night time shots are a bit trickier as many pictures showed a bit of noise, but if you want long exposure photos you can just lower the ISO and lengthen the shutter speed.
Overall, you definitely won’t be disappointed with the image quality, so don’t assume that an expensive camera will always produce higher quality images.
It’s a beautifully designed camera, and it isn’t at all intimidating to use, which is often the case with the more advanced DSLRs and mirrorless’. The YI M1 is simplistic, with just two core buttons and then the mode dial and control dial. Most the controls take place on the integrated LCD screen, which makes it easy and simple to navigate through the different screens and settings. The LCD UI can occasionally lag or seem slow to respond, but as that is a software problem I’m sure YI will address it in the next firmware update.
It’s comfortable to hold and extremely lightweight, which is really beneficial when you’re out and about. The common DSLRs can be really bulky and unless you’ve got a suitable carrying case they can be a pain to carry around. The YI M1 comes with a leather neck strap, and although it’s very fashionable, it’s not that secure and came undone at one time, so I recommend buying a sturdier one.
Another great highlight of the YI M1 is it’s connectivity. It has BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) and Wi-Fi built-in, so it can connect to your smartphone enabling you to easily transfer your pictures to your phone and then upload to social media. The YI Mirrorless App can also give you access to other features such as picture editing, and a catalog of templates you can use in the master guide setting. Which brings me on to the next highlight…
It’s a really unique feature, any professional photographer would probably laugh at it, but if you’re a beginner then it’s the perfect tool to improve your composition. By switching to the Master Guide setting, users can select different templates that will show on the LCD screen, you can ask your subject to position themselves accordingly and your camera will automatically set all the parameters. With the Mirrorless app you can choose other templates to download, and each one comes with a short guide on how to take the best photo. I had some fun with it, and over time the templates subconsciously help you to build the right compositions without the Master Guide, so it’s definitely a great feature for the beginners.
Although you can purchase the YI M1 as a body only, the two ‘xiaoyi’ lenses are actually very good, and worth the extra money.
Xiaoyi 12-40mm F3.5-5.6 lens
This is a standard zoom lens, it’s not an extremely wide angle but does the job, and it’s great for shooting landscape shots and scenery. It’s made up of 9 sets of 11 optical glasses, including two ED glasses and four aspheric lens, which essentially minimizes any distortion that might normally occur.
Xiaoyi 42.55mm F1.8 portrait lens
This should’ve been included in the highlights section, as the portrait lens makes it fantastically easy to capture really professional looking portrait and macro shots. It’s almost like having two lenses in one as you can switch between ‘Normal’ (0.5m/1.64ft – ∞) and ‘Macro’ (0.25mm/0.82ft – ∞). I’ll let the photos do the talking:
81 AF points
Another great feature is the 81 AF points, which allow you to manually choose what you want to focus on by touching a focus point displayed on the LCD screen. The M1’s auto-focus isn’t great, particularly in low-lighting but this feature definitely makes up for it. You can also choose different focus points between shots.
Micro Four Thirds System
As you progress with your photography skills you’ll probably want to buy new lenses suitable for different shots. Micro Four Thirds system the M1 is compatible with over 50 lenses, so you’re bound to find a lens you want.
So the mirrorless app was mentioned before, and it’s especially great for downloading new firmware released by YI. With other cameras it can be a real hassle, to the point where people often don’t bother to update. With the YI M1 you only need to download via your smartphone and then connect your M1, so any software problems you might be experiencing are likely to be resolved in future updates.
Let me begin the end, with the flaws. It’s by no means a camera that was made for professional photographers, you just need to hand it to a semi-pro to find that out. There’s no viewfinder, which is annoying if you’re used to using one. So, if you already own a DSLR or other mirrorless, it’s likely the YI M1 will feel like a step-down. Also, the auto-focus isn’t as responsive as one would like it to be, so this can be frustrating at times. However, I think all the other features make up for these flaws.
It does produce really high quality images, and with the two lenses you really won’t find a better deal. If you’re only familiar with using a smartphone or point-and-shoot to take pictures, then this is going to be a perfect step up. It’s got a good battery life, and it’s lightweight and portable, so it’s also a great travel companion.
If you’re not sure what you really want, and don’t want to spend so much money then the YI M1 is a good choice. It will pave the way to your first really professional camera, and is a good start to practice your composition and understanding of how a professional camera really works, in terms of exposure settings and parameters. If you know all the basics, and have experienced using another mirrorless or DSLR, then this would be a better purchase for a good friend or family member who wants to get in to photography.