This weekend I took my new mirrorless camera out for a spin, it’s the YI M1 Digital Mirrorless Camera created by YI Technology, whom are probably better known for their 4K Action Camera, rightly named the “Best action camera ever. Period.” Well now they’re trying to convince the world that they can also make great digital cameras, and to be honest, they’ve convinced me.
Let me start by saying that the YI M1 is a Micro Four Thirds camera, meaning you don’t have to limit yourself to the two lenses (yes, two!) that YI offers. However, being a beginner in photography I don’t own any lenses, so I opted for the two lens package at £629.00 (€749.00/$549.00) from Amazon UK, which includes a 42.5mm F1.8 macro lens (more on that later) and a 12-40 mm F3.5-5.6 lens.First impression was of course the packaging, it came neatly packaged in a YI box, with the two lenses and camera on display, while the other accessories are underneath (neck strap, micro USB cable, power adaptor, user manual.)
Upon taking the camera out it was quite a surprise just how light and compact it was, and the lenses aren’t particularly heavy either. If you’re used to carrying around a DLSR then this will certainly be a light comparison, and much less awkward to carry. If however you are still snapping photos on your iPhone then owning any digital camera of any kind will take some getting used to, but this won’t be a pain. The YI M1 doesn’t come with any internal storage, nor does it include an SD card.
It was only after inserting my 2GB SD Card that I realized I would need to purchase a much higher capacity one if I wanted to take advantage of the YI M1’s 20M quality photos. The YI M1 also has the ability to record in 4K/30fps, however, even after inserting a 32GB SD card I was only able to record under 3 minutes in 4K, so be prepared for this if you want to make good use of the 4K video resolution.
As I mentioned before, YI offers two different lenses for their mirrorless camera. I began with the 12-40mm F3.5-5.6 lens, on auto mode; all the settings including ISO, aperture and shutter speedare automatically controlled; I just wanted to get a feel for the camera. It’s very comfortable to hold, and that’s partly down to its size, and the materials used to make it.Apart from the on/off switch (and two dials) it only has two physical buttons, as most the settings are controlled on the LCD touch screen (which at times had a very slight lag).
The most noticeable thing about the first few pictures I took was the clarity, they were incredibly clear pictures even in conditions that weren’t ideal for photographing. The YI M1 features the Sony IMX269 image sensor, so you know that you’re getting value for money.
Once I got a feel for the YI M1, I decided that I wanted to take full control and switch the settings to manual, which means you set the aperture, shutter speed, ISO and the other shooting parameters yourself. The aperture and shutter speed can be conveniently controlled on the Live View screen with the help of the control dial, but to change the ISO you’ll need to swipe right to access the settings, which was slightly frustrating. The shooting mode dial gives you numerous options to decide which shooting mode is ideal for you, including Aperture-priority mode, Shutter-priority mode and Panorama.
For video mode there is no need to turn the shooting mode dial, instead you can very conveniently tap the video button during the live screen display and it will start recording. This is excellent if you don’t want to miss a moment, just make sure you set the parameters to your preference in advanced.
Now I want to get on to the important stuff, as an amateur photographer it’s important that I can quickly gain experience without relying so much on the guidance of others. And with the intuitivism of the YI M1 I can do this, I can take a picture, view it, the quickly adjust the settings accordingly. Here’s an example of me trying to get the right exposure for this particular scene:
If you’re used to using your smartphone camera or a point-and-shoot then this is going to be the perfect upgrade, simply just keep it in automatic mode with the 12-40mm lens (or similar) and you’re good to go. You’re going to have the simplicity and UI of a smartphone, but with the image quality (with the right settings) of a professional camera.
As for the focusing you have four options (Single Auto Focus/Continuous Auto Focus/Manual Focus/Manual Focus+Peak Focus) that you can set in the Settings/Focus Mode screen by swiping right from the Live Screen. The best feature of the M1’s auto focus has to be the sensor’s 81 focus points you have, giving you more control to change your focus point while shooting. If you’re not used to manual focus, or want to take a few quick snaps then this really is a great feature, as it feels you’re in full control, without having to manually use the focus ring.
Another mode that is quite unique to the YI M1 is the ‘Super Professional Guide’, which gives users the ability to download Master Learning templates, with exposure parameters and color tune automatically set. This really is for beginners, so I didn’t spend much time interacting with this as I felt it was mostly to help users with their composition. With the YI M1, users can also download the YI Mirrorless app giving them the ability to send their pictures directly to their smartphone, the only problem I had with this was that I had to reconnect a few times, as it lost connection. This could have been down to my iPhone 5 or the M1, so I won’t hold this against them.
It wasn’t until I switched to the YI 42.5mm F1.8 that I really began to have fun with the M1. The auto focus, with the shallow aperture gives you an incredible depth of field. The lens has two settings, one is the normal setting, which is suitable for portrait shots, and the macro setting is perfect for taking of close up shots of small objects, for me, this is definitely the most exciting feature. Take a look below.
So let’s do a quick recap. The YI M1 is affordable, especially when comparing it to other mirrorless cameras on the market, for less than £700 you’re getting the camera body and two interchangeable lenses. It has an excellent IMX269 image sensor, which is found in far more expensive cameras on the market, including the Panasonic GX8 (which starts at£699.00, for the camera body only). It’s design and intuitive LCD screen makes it simple to use, and comfortable to hold. If you’re a professional photographer then you’re going to still enjoy it as a personal camera, but perhaps it’s much too simple for your professional shoots (though it can shoot in RAW and Jpeg, just not at the same time.)
If you’re a beginner and have only ever photographed with a smartphone or point-and-shoot then this will be a great camera for you; it’s easy to use, fun to use, and you’ll be able to capture some great photos, even on the auto settings. With the YI Mirrorless app, you can download templates and practice your composition and learn new, exciting techniques to improve your pictures. As well, you can experiment with the different shooting modes, so over time you’ll become more familiar with the camera, and it will show in your photos. If you’re a professional photographer/videographer, then you’re going to find a few flaws, such as no external mic port. We must remember that the most popular brands aren’t always the best, and YI Technology proved this against the GoPro, with their 4K Action Camera, so if you’re not looking to fork out a lot of money but still want a good camera, then you’re definitely getting your money’s worth buying the YI M1.
George Finlayson is an educator and professional writer with a BA in Creative Writing. He was born in London, England but currently resides in Shanghai, China. He has recently developed a great interest in photography and has begun a new venture into writing about photography and videography for beginners, and related topics. With so many technical details in digital photography, George likes to keep things simple so that everyone can understand and feel a part of the ever-growing global photography community.