YI, or Young Innovators, is a China-based company that has already made its mark in the action cam market, earning a recommendation in our recent roundup. But it clearly has ambitions beyond this and has announced its entry into the consumer-level compact ILC market. Yi is well known from the cameras that has made for Xiaomi as and a really cool drone!
Yi Technologies created a stir when it dove into the action cam market with an inexpensive but good competitor to GoPro, the Yi 4K. Now it’s trying the same thing in cameras with the Yi M1, a Micro Four Thirds standard mirrorless interchangeable-lens model. It’s not the first time we’ve seen a manufacturer trying to break in to that segment; Polaroid gave it a shot in 2013 and Kodak/JK Imaging followed in 2014. But those models felt cheap and plasticky. The M1 looks a bit like a Leica. Available in silver or black, the Yi M1 surprised many by being announced at Photokina 2016 as a new Micro Four Thirds compact system camera.
With a 20 megapixel sensor, it offers the same resolution are some of the more premium Micro Four Thirds cameras, such as the Olympus PEN-F, Panasonic Lumix GX8, and the recently announced (but not yet released) Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II. The Yi-M1 also offers 4K video recording, with stereo sound. From the announced price, we see that the camera will cost roughly 3 to 4 times cheaper than the cameras mentioned above!
The big news is the all-touchscreen interface (the body only has two physical buttons), which aims to give a simple, more smartphone-like user experience. However, the company doesn’t treat these users as undemanding, just because they don’t want a conventional camera.
The camera comes with two lenses, a camera strap, USB charging brick and a Micro-USB cable. While the camera sports a hot shoe for an external flash, the current kit doesn’t have a flash included.
Yi M1 features a 20mp Micro Four Thirds CMOS Sensor (Sony IMX269), a 3inch 1040K dot touch-screen
5fps continuous shooting, ISO100 to ISO25600, 4K (UHD) video recording at 30fps, with Stereo sound, Wi-Fi / Bluetooth built-in, a 450 shot battery life. The Yi-M1 doesn’t feature any form of image stabilization built-in, it does offer Wi-Fi and Bluetooth as mentioned, allowing instant sharing or transfer to a smartphone, as well as a 3inch touch-screen, with an interface that should be easy to use for anyone who’s used a smartphone before.
With simple graphical icons, and swiping the way you change modes, the camera is definitely something you can quickly pick up and start using. The Yi-M1 has a number of different scene modes and shooting modes, but also a creative mode, where the camera will suggest different poses and ways to frame the subject to create stylish photographs. All of this is selected using the touch-screen, and there are only two different buttons on the rear of the camera, a playback button and a “home” button.
The two lens choices that come in the kit are a prime len and a zoom in an ILC starter kit. There’s a macro-capable 42.5mm F1.8 prime as well as a more conventional 12-40mm F3.5-5.6 zoom in the box, both equipped with image stabilization, since the body itself does not offer any. The lenses are constructed of a mostly plastic body and are extremely lightweight. I definitely wouldn’t suggest getting them wet, as they don’t appear to have any sort of weather-sealing. The lens mounts are made of a plastic composite material. Oddly, the 42.5mm prime doesn’t offer manual focus – the ‘focus ring’ is purely cosmetic.
In any case offering a prime lens, particularly a portrait-friendly 85mm equivalent one, is a really nice touch and is sure to please folks moving from a fixed-lens smartphone to an ILC platform. Being that this camera is on the MFT platform, YI claims that it will be compatible with more than 50 other lens options. The YI M1 offers five JPEG shooting modes: a high contrast black and white mode, a standard black and white mode, portrait, vivid, and lastly a standard shooting mode. Unfortunately you currently aren’t able to shoot Raw + JPEG, so you will have to decide which format you would like to shoot in before heading out with the camera (though this could be easily fixed through a firmware update).
Both versions of the Yi M1 camera are really very good. The version with the lens give you the ability of taking fantastic shots using the lens. I would recommend buying better this version if you can afford it.
Below you can see some sample images taken with the camera