Fujifilm X20 review: It's all about the experience
It's a compact camera predominantly designed around the experience of taking photos. Why not?
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.
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.
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.
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
(Note: Shot at 3:2 aspect ratio)
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.
(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)
(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.
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
|Nikon Coolpix P7700
|Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100
|Sensor (effective resolution)
|12MP EXR CMOS
|12MP X-Trans CMOS
|12.2MP BSI CMOS
|20.2MP Exmor CMOS
(18.7 x 14mm)
(13.2 x 8.8mm)
|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
|28 - 140mm
|28 - 112mm
|28 - 112mm
|28 - 112mm
|28 - 200mm
|28 - 100mm
|Closest focus (inches)
8 JPEG/ n/a raw
11 JPEG/n/a raw
6JPEG/ n/a raw
(10fps with fixed exposure)
|25-area Contrast AF
|15 - 1/4,000 se
|60 - 1/4,000 sec
|30 - 1/4,000 sec
|30 - 1/4,000 sec
|30 - 1/2,000 sec; bulb
|3-inch fixed 922,000 dots
|3-inch articulated 922,000 dots
|Video (best quality)
H.264 QuickTime MOV
|1080/24p H.264 QuickTime MOV
|1080/30p H.264 QuickTime MOV Stereo
|1080/60p H.264 QuickTime MOV Stereo
H.264 QuickTime MOV
|Manual iris and shutter in video
|Zoom during movies
|Battery life (CIPA rating)
|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
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.