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Fujifilm X20 review: It's all about the experience

It's a compact camera predominantly designed around the experience of taking photos. Why not?

Lori Grunin Senior Editor / Advice
I've been reviewing hardware and software, devising testing methodology and handed out buying advice for what seems like forever; I'm currently absorbed by computers and gaming hardware, but previously spent many years concentrating on cameras. I've also volunteered with a cat rescue for over 15 years doing adoptions, designing marketing materials, managing volunteers and, of course, photographing cats.
Expertise Photography, PCs and laptops, gaming and gaming accessories
Lori Grunin
8 min read

Fujifilm's X20 advanced compact gets to play in the same sandbox as the company's higher-end cameras, thanks to the incorporation of the X-Trans sensor technology that originally debuted in Fujifilm's interchangeable-lens models. To fit into the camera body -- and price segment -- this replacement for the X10 incorporates a new 2/3-inch version of the sensor, albeit at the same 12-megapixel resolution.

The Good

A new sensor lets the <b>Fujifilm X20</b> deliver better photo quality than its predecessor, and tweaks to the design improve the shooting experience significantly.

The Bad

The lens-twist-to-turn-on is getting old fast, and the feature set provides just the basics. Plus the video quality disappoints.

The Bottom Line

The Fujifiilm X20 is a great choice for people looking for a well-designed photographer's camera, but the basic feature set and disappointing video might not be for everyone.

But while the X20's image quality is much better than the X10's, it's still only about the same as its competitors'. On the other hand, enhancements to the design and interface, including a settings overlay in the viewfinder and a quick control panel, deliver a more enjoyable, streamlined shooting experience.

Image quality
The X20's photos are far better than the X10's, but at best they match those from competing cameras like the Nikon Coolpix P7700 and Canon PowerShot G15, both of which are a bit cheaper, and the X20's are not quite as good as what you can get from the larger-sensored Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100. For JPEGs the camera peaks at ISO 200; beyond that images get quite mushy. The slight extra sharpness conferred by the X-Trans sensor doesn't carry through enough to compensate. Nor is there much you can do with the raw files without trade-offs, which is typical for cameras with small sensors.

Fujifilm X20 photo samples

See all photos

Exposures look good with a reasonably broad tonal range despite the propensity for blown-out highlights that is also typical for these models. It renders pleasing colors, though I still wish it had a neutral-color option. And the film-simulation metaphor is becoming increasingly creaky in a world where most people have never shot film and can't tell their Velvia from their Astia.

Click to download ISO 100

(Note: Shot at 3:2 aspect ratio)
ISO 800
ISO 1600

The lens is quite sharp from f2 through f8 and tends to fall off after that (it maxes out at f11). It remains wide throughout the zoom range, a nice feature.

Complicating matters, the video looks, well, meh. The lack of an antialiasing filter on the sensor results in video prone to moire and jaggies, plus there's visual noise even in good exposures. The audio is surprisingly good, though.

Unfortunately, I don't have directly comparable numbers for the X20 and the X10 (I left them in the chart for reference, however), but overall I believe the X20 is faster. In general, the autofocus and shooting are pretty zippy, though the processing seems a little slower than I'd like. It takes about 1.5 seconds to power on, focus, and shoot, though the clunky lens cap and twist-lens-to-power-on design make it nearly impossible to go from pocket to photograph really quickly. Time to focus, expose, and shoot takes about 0.4 second in both bright and dim conditions, while sequential shots run about 0.7 second for either JPEG or raw. While that's not great for a dSLR, it's quite good for this type of camera; although the aforementioned processing holds up reviewing, it doesn't slow down shooting. Enabling flash bumps that up to 2.1 seconds.

There are several continuous-shooting options matched with buffer tradeoffs: 12fps for 11 JPEGs, 9fps for 14 JPEGs, 6fps for 20 JPEGs, and 3fps for 39 JPEGs. I tested at the 6fps rate -- that should be fast enough to capture action with enough shots to cover a few seconds. As tested, I managed 6.3fps for 16 shots, after which it slowed to about 1.2fps. Raw maintained about 7fps for 8 frames, after which it dropped to 2.9fps.

In practice, the autofocus locks quickly enough to grab almost any shot, and if you prefer to shoot with manual exposure and focus, it shouldn't hold you back at all. The LCD remains sufficiently visible in bright sunlight, and the viewfinder, despite the typical direct-view limitations like 85 percent coverage and framing issues when you zoom in, helps a lot.

Shooting speed (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Time to first shot
Raw shot-to-shot time
Typical shot-to-shot time
Shutter lag (dim)
Shutter lag (typical)
Canon PowerShot G15
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100
Fujifilm FinePix X10
Nikon Coolpix P7700
Canon PowerShot G1 X
Fujifilm X20

Typical continuous-shooting speed (frames per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

Design and features
The X20 is very similar in design to the X10, except for some important changes that make the X20 even more enjoyable to shoot with. The body has the same magnesium alloy chassis and an aluminum front, and the black-and-silver version shares an aesthetic with its sibling, the X100S. New to the X20 is an overlay in the viewfinder that makes it slightly more useful; in addition to delivering a readout with the mode, shutter speed, and aperture, it provides an autofocus area display and focus lock indicator -- though it's not a through-the-lens viewfinder, the focus area really helps.

Another change which greatly enhances the camera's appeal is the addition of manual focus peaking (highlighting of in-focus edges); as a result, I found myself using and trusting the manual focus a lot more with the X20 than the X10.

The third important change stems from the sensor change from the X10; the X20 uses an X-Trans sensor instead of the X10's EXR sensor. That means there's no more confusing choice for the auto or reduced-resolution mode necessary to deliver the optimal photo quality depending upon the scene, one of the things I really disliked about the X10. Now the mode dial has the usual array of auto, manual, and semimanual shooting modes, plus two custom settings slots; movie mode; and the "Advanced" shooting modes.

While Canon and Olympus take the approach of using a ring on the dial for adjusting settings, Fujifilm is using the lens ring to power on and manually zoom. In fact, this is the only thing I still don't like about the design. It's especially annoying if you just want to review your images; you have to remove the large lens cap and twist on the lens before you can view them. I do like that there are focal-length indicators on the barrel, and the zoom has a good fee l-- not too tight and not too loose. The grip is small but in combination with the rubber thumb rest proves sufficient for single-handed shooting.

The X20 has the same shooting quick menu as Fujifilm's other cameras.

Like many of its competitors, the X20 has an exposure compensation dial on top. On the back you'll find the usual array of buttons and dials. Fujifilm has replaced the raw override button with a quick-menu button. The navigation dial is a tad loose and its associated buttons -- macro, drive, flash, and self-timer -- feel a bit too flat too use without deliberation. All the important shooting options are directly accessible via buttons, except perhaps ISO sensitivity, and you can program the Fn button for that.

One note for tripod users: the mount sits way to the left of the camera. That means that you can swap the SD card or battery while it's attached to the plate, but it might affect your camera placement.

Canon PowerShot G15 Canon PowerShot G1 X Fujifilm X10 Fujifilm X20 Nikon Coolpix P7700 Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100
Sensor (effective resolution) 12.1MP CMOS 14.3MP CMOS 12MP EXR CMOS 12MP X-Trans CMOS 12.2MP BSI CMOS 20.2MP Exmor CMOS
1/1.7-inch 1.5-inch
(18.7 x 14mm)
2/3-inch 2/3-inch 1/1.7-inch 1-inch
(13.2 x 8.8mm)
Sensitivity range ISO 80 - ISO 12800 ISO 100 - ISO 12800 ISO 100 - ISO 3200 ISO 100 - ISO 12800 ISO 80 - ISO 3200/ 6400 (exp) ISO 100 - ISO 25600
Lens 28 - 140mm
28 - 112mm
28 - 112mm
28 - 112mm
28 - 200mm
28 - 100mm
Closest focus (inches) 0.4 7.9 0.4 3.9 0.8 1.9
Burst shooting 10fps
10 frames
8 JPEG/ n/a raw
11 JPEG/n/a raw
6JPEG/ n/a raw
(10fps with fixed exposure)
Viewfinder Optical Optical Optical Optical None None
Autofocus n/a
Contrast AF
Contrast AF
Contrast AF
Contrast AF
25-area Contrast AF
Metering n/a n/a 256 zones 256 zones n/a n/a
Shutter 15 - 1/4,000 se 60 - 1/4,000 sec 30 - 1/4,000 sec 30 - 1/4,000 sec n/a 30 - 1/2,000 sec; bulb
Flash Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Hot shoe Yes Yes Yes yes Yes No
LCD 3-inch fixed 922,000 dots 3-inch articulated 922,000 dots 2.8-inch fixed
460,000 dots
2.8-inch fixed
460,000 dots
3-inch articulated
921,000 dots
3-inch fixed
921,600 dots
IS Optical Optical Optical Optical Optical Optical
Video (best quality) 1080/24p
H.264 QuickTime MOV
1080/24p H.264 QuickTime MOV
1080/30p H.264 QuickTime MOV Stereo 1080/60p H.264 QuickTime MOV Stereo 1080/30p
H.264 QuickTime MOV
1080/ 60p/50p
AVCHD Stereo
Manual iris and shutter in video No No No No Yes Yes
Zoom during movies Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
(Auto only)
Mic input No No No Yes Yes No
Battery life (CIPA rating) 350 shots 250 shots 270 shots 270 shots 330 shots 330 shots
Size (WHD, inches) 4.4 x 3 x 1.6 4.6 x 3.2 x 2.6 4.6 x 2.7 x 2.2 4.6 x 2.7 x 2.2 4.7 x 2.9 x 2 4 x 2.4 x 1.4
Weight (ounces) 12.3 18.8 12.4 12.8 13.9 (est.) 8.5 (est.)
Mfr. price $499.99 $799 $599.99 $599.99 $499.95 $649.99
Availability October 2012 February 2012 November 2011 March 2013 September 2012 July 2012

The X20's Advanced shooting modes add a very basic multiple exposure -- double exposure, actually, with no way to adjust the exposure -- and a typical set of special-effects filters. Retained from the X10 are Fujifilm's "Pro" multishot modes. Pro Low-light combines four shots to improve noise in low light and Pro focus combines up to three shots to perform what other cameras call background defocus. The third multishot mode, Motion Panorama 360, is one of those panorama modes where you pan the camera while holding down the shutter button, a la Sony's Sweep Panorama. Fujifilm does let you save the individual images in addition to the automatically combined one, which is a nice feature. Face recognition has been dropped, if you care.

The feature set delivers everything a serious photographer might want -- except perhaps a built-in neutral-density filter and tilting flash -- but it's still pretty basic; no articulated LCD, wireless, geotagging, or even manual video controls. While significantly improved over the X10, the shooting design is still pretty typical for this crowd, though the nice viewfinder implementation elevates it above the competition.

For a complete accounting of the X20's features and operation, download the PDF manual.

There's a lot to recommend the Fujifilm X20, especially if you're looking for a more old-school shooting experience in a digital compact or want an optical viewfinder and can't afford the X100S. It delivers very good performance, a nice feel, and a streamlined interface. But its image quality -- while very good -- doesn't make it stand out from the competition, and its video disappoints.

Fujifilm X20 (Black)

Fujifilm X20

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 7Performance 8Image quality 8