At US$599/£499 with the 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens the X-A1 represents a significant saving on the X-M1, which retails for around US$799/£679 with the same optic.
With the exception of the sensor design, the X-A1 has exactly the same specification as the X-M1, which means you get quite a bit for your money. The build quality is excellent, start-up and response times are snappy and there's a high- resolution LCD screen that tilts for easier viewing from above or below when shooting landscape images.
Naturally a drop in price means that there is a compromise, and with the X-A1 it's made with detail resolution and raw signal to noise ratio. However, this difference is only really visible in lab conditions when looking at a perfectly illuminated black and white target. This difference exists because the X-A1 has a standard Bayer pattern sensor that requires an anti-aliasing (or low-pass) filter rather than a X-Trans CMOS sensor which doesn't need a filter to avoid moiré patterning.
While the X-M1 can resolve more detail than the X-A1 in laboratory conditions, there's also slightly less noise visible in images when they are viewed at 100%. In reality these differences are unlikely to be noticeable at normal print sizes.
The X-A1 produces superb images that most photographers will be extremely happy with, especially if they shoot raw files.
Fuji has translated its rugged retro build to a smaller camera aimed at those on a budget or who don't want to carry a bulky camera. Thanks to the provision of a Mode dial the controls are also simpler for less experienced photographers, but the enthusiasts' favourite options of shutter priority, aperture priority and manual are still available quickly.
As with the X-M1, the X-A1 has no viewfinder and there's no optional one available so images can only be composed on the screen, which isn't entirely without issue in bright ambient light.
We'd also like to see a rubberized pas on the thumb-rest to give it a little more grip.
Most photographers will tell you that image quality is their biggest consideration when selecting a camera, but the build and functionality of the camera are also key factors along with the price. Many manufacturers reduce the functionality and build quality of their more entry-level cameras in order to keep cost down, but Fuji is in the unusual position of being able to achieve the same thing while keeping these two elements the same.
The X-A1 scores well for build and functionality and price, which makes the slight (and some might say theoretical) dip in image quality in comparison with the Fuji X-M1 much more palatable. It also provides a step into Fuji's X-system, which has a growing collection of lenses (set to reach 11 by the end of the year) and some great step-up cameras if you feel the need.
Fuji is to be congratulated for sticking to its X-series design principles for it's entry-level model. It would've been easy to compromise on build quality, but it hasn't. It has also managed to keep the same traditional look of its other models such as the Fuji X-E1 and Fuji X-Pro1 while making the X-A1 and (X-M1) more accessible to novice photographers.