Is the X20 one of the best compacts in its class?
This camera is well suited for a lot of people. If you’re a pro or enthusiast photographer on the lookout for a slim option to your SLRs, this camera gives you the manual control you need, along with great picture quality. In fact, this is a camera with such a classy look that you can comfortably use it in a pro setting and nobody will blink an eye.
On the other hand, this camera is a perfect choice if you’re a enthusiast or intermediate photographer looking to step your level up. The X20 is the successor to the X10, with real improvements in image quality.
Fujifilm is a company that listens to photographers’ needs, and this shows in its camera lines.
Look and Feel of the Fujifilm X20
Gotta love that classy retro design
The camera has a stylish retro-shaped body, fast lens, and a full suite of manual controls, adding an improved sensor and Auto Focus (AF) system.
The body is made of a magnesium alloy and has a robust feel to it, with a firm grip for the right hand. No cheap plastics here – the build materials are truly premium.
The controls are well placed, with the twin aluminum dials (these feel great to the touch) on the top doing almost all the heavy lifting.
There’s a customizable Fn button handy, and the the manual focus ring that also serves as an on-off switch is a nifty gimmick that helps save space and keep the controls uncluttered.
Body Color Options
The manufacturer offers a choice of colors between all-black and silver/black body.
Key Features and Improvements
The X20 suffers from no shortage of controls
While the body styling stayed pretty much the same, the main improvements are in terms of sensor and AF system. The lens itself offered little room for improvement. With a maximum aperture range of F2.0-2.8, this 28-112mm equivalent lens is well-suited to low light photography.
It also takes beautiful macro shots, the quality of macro photos leaving many specialized lenses in the dust. This is one of the best lenses found on cameras of this class. An advanced optical image stabilization system reduces the risk of blurry shots.
The zoom is 4x optical, and it’s limited there so it doesn’t compromise quality. High zoom multipliers may be great eye catchers for most buyers, but it must be known that a compact camera lens cannot realistically be pushed to high zooms without a loss in picture quality.
The sensor was upgraded to a new 2/3-inch X-Trans CMOS II sensor with 12MP, allowing for excellent image quality. The X20 generally yields sharper, high detail, and less noisy pictures, although the aggressive noise reduction can sometimes cause a smudging of fine details (for instance in pictures of grass or vegetation).
The Auto Focus upgrade consists of a hybrid AF system. This combines contrast detection, which is found in all compact cameras, with phase detection, which is a higher-end DSLR feature. The result is fast and accurate AF tracking in stills and video.
The X20 in Use
The X20 has manual modes of operation, as well as semi or fully automatic modes.
The start-up time is short, about 1/2 second, which allows the capturing of fast-occuring events. There is no shutter lag in most of the modes, and the autofocus is very quick, one of the quickest I have seen on many cameras.
The new hybrid AF system is a real improvement, not just marketing speak. There are 49 focus points selectable on the LCD screen, all of which seem to be very accurate. One nifty feature is the Tracking Autofocus, where you can lock the focus on an object, and the camera is able to steadily track that object inside the view. This is an excellent feature for street photographers and action shooters.
As mentioned, the X20 has two twin dials on the top. One is for picture mode switching (aperture/shutter priority, manual, and special modes), while the other dial is entirely dedicated to exposure compensation from -2 to +2. It may be a little surprising at first that Fuji dedicated a dial to this one feature, but it may be a useful thing in the end, as you’ll start paying more attention to obtaining the perfect exposure than you’d normally tend to.
The Scene recognition (SR+) mode can choose from no less than 64 different scene modes. The cool thing is that you can preview your setting before taking the shot.
The Fn button is set by default to bring up the ISO selection menu, but it can be custom programmed for other functions.
A big plus from many compact cameras, the X20 has an optical tunnel viewfinder that covers 85% of the view. It also displays useful information like ISO, focus stop, shutter speed, allowing you to adjust controls while looking through. There’s a sensor that detects when you take the camera to the eye and turns off the LCD screen – this saves battery life. There’s also a dioptric adjustment dial next to the viewfinder.
The X20’s Image quality
The X20 takes the ISO sensitivity range up to 12800, but for best results, you may wish to keep between ISO 100 and 800. At ISO 1600 details begin to soften and some fine grain starts to show. Above ISO 3200, contrast drops and noise becomes quite apparent. These are subjective observations however, and your level of acceptability may be different.
ISO 3200 is the highest available in RAW mode shooting, as opposed to 12800 in JPEG mode. In my experience this is no big deal, as most situations won’t demand high ISO values anyway. ISO 800 and 1600 are quite acceptable, but the jump from 1600 to 3200 brings along a pretty sharp difference in noise. I find the ISO 800 and ISO 1600 noise pleasing to the eye, whereas ISO 3200 adds muddy tones, especially to low light and dark objects.
The panorama setting is found in the Advanced mode and allows shooting in a full 360° circle.
The Advanced Filters selection offers more tools for artistic creativity. There’s a choice of eight artistic effects, and you’ll be able to preview your chosen effect before you take the shot. These filters cover Pop Color, Toy Camera (adds shaded borders), Miniature, Dynamic Tone, Partial Color (keep a color of choice and change the rest of the image to black and white), High Key, Low Key, and Soft Focus. I have found the Dynamic Key and High Key filters to be surprisingly creative for in-camera work.
A separate Multiple Exposure function lets you combine two different subjects into one photo, perfect for adding people or objects into photos where they’re missing. Feel free to get your creative juices flowing while exploring these artistic functions.
The built-in flash does a decent job for close snapshots. Should you need more light, you can always mount a hot shoe flash. But for the quick shot, you pop the flash up from the rear switch, then select from a number of modes from the push selector to the right of the menu button, such as Auto Flash, Forced Flash, Suppressed Flash, Slow Synchro, and Red Eye Removal. These do the job and the red eye removal works well.
When shooting in sequence, the speed is 9fps for RAW and 12fps for JPEG. Shooting is fast, but having a high write speed SD card helps reduce save times. There is lagging of around 20 seconds after shooting RAWs in a sequence, which can be a turn-down if you use this feature a lot.
The X20’s macro mode is excellent, letting you take the shot from as little as 0.4 inches away from your subject. The subject separation is great, with fantastic-looking bokeh. A big A++ to the camera on this one.
Video shooting and quality
The camera can record 1080p or 720p HD video at 60 frames per second with stereo sound. Video quality is good, with sharp details and excellent colors. The 36 Mbps bit rate is one of the highest to be found on a compact camera, and that’s another reason why a high speed SD card is a must. Recording time at 1080p is limited to 14 minutes. You can shoot longer at 720p or in VGA resolutions.
The camera lacks a dedicated button for movie recording and you must select this position on the mode dial. Once in video mode, recording becomes a pure point-and-shot experience. You can adjust the level of the microphone, but you can’t adjust exposure.
The X20 also has a ‘high speed’ movie mode. It can record at 80, 150 or 250 fps at low resolution (640×480 and below). These videos are played back at normal speed, creating a slow motion effect.
Verdict and some helpful notes
Fuji did a truly exquisite job on this camera. You will have a hard time finding a compact with a 4x lens that’s better than the X20’s. With great image quality, fast performance, stylish look and sturdy build, this is a camera that’s hard to pass by. It also makes a perfect choice to replace that bulky DSLR on casual shooting sessions. The picture quality will satisfy even the most critical of photographers.
Important to keep in mind: the battery will last you for some 200+ shots only. You will need an extra battery, or even a couple, for extended shooting sessions.
If you want to use lens filters, you will need a step-up ring to take you from 4.0mm to 4.5 or 5.0mm, which is the size of most filters.