Fujifilm X20 Review

March 28, 2013 | Mark Goldstein |


The Fujifilm X20 is an advanced compact camera that offers a retro design, new 12 megapixel 2/3-type X-Trans CMOS II sensor with built-in Phase Detection pixels and no low-pass filter, a 4x, 28-112mm, f/2.0-2.8 zoom lens with a manual zoom ring, optical viewfinder with a newly developed Digital Trans Panel, 1080p movie recording, hybrid auto focus system, 12fps burst shooting and a 2.8-inch LCD monitor with a resolution of 460,000 dots. Other key features of the Fujifilm X20 include an ISO range of 100-12800, full range of manual controls, Focus Peak Highlight feature, optical image stabilisation, raw image capture, a hot-shoe, an integrated manual pop-up flash, film simulation modes, 360° motion panoramas, 1cm macro mode and an electronic level gauge. The Fujifilm X20 is available in black priced at $599.95 / £519.99.

Ease of Use

The Fujifilm X20 is outwardly virtually identical to the X10 model that it replaces, so a lot of the comments that we made about the X10's features and ease-of-use apply equally to the new X20.

Available in all-black or silver and black, the Fujifilm X20 is a classically styled camera that recalls film rangefinders from the past, with a beautiful retro design that can't fail to impress everyone that sees it, and definitely everyone that holds it. In an age where digital cameras are virtually ubiquitous, the Fujifilm X20 stands out by a mile thanks to it unique styling and bullet-proof build quality, not to mention a wealth of photographer-friendly features.

Where the more expensive Fujifilm X100s is very much a niche product thanks largely to its non-interchangeable 35mm fixed focal length lens and strong emphasis on a manual way of shooting, the new X20 is aiming at a wider market, instead sporting a 4x, 28-112mm zoom lens that will instantly appeal to more people. The Fujifilm X20's lens has a fast aperture of f/2.0 at the 28mm wide-angle setting and f/2.8 at full telephoto, which in combination with the extensive ISO range of 100-3200 at full 12 megapixel resolution makes the X20 well suited to low-light shooting, allowing you to hand-hold the camera in places where you'd usually be reaching for a tripod (if allowed) or other support, especially as the camera also features built-in optical image stabilisation.

The Fujifilm X20 is an amazingly well-built camera, with absolutely no flex or movement in its chassis thanks to the die-cast magnesium alloy top and base plates and machined control dials. At the same time, it's actually a little lighter than a first glance might suggest, weighing in at 353g with the battery and memory card fitted. Measuring 117.0(W) x 69.6(H) x 56.8(D) mm, it's not that much smaller than the X100S though, and is also larger than its principal rivals, making it best suited to life in a small camera bag or large coat pocket. There are some plastic buttons and controls on the X20, most notably the memory card / battery compartment door and the rear circular control wheel and buttons, but other that that the X20 offers incredible build quality considering its price-tag.

Canon PowerShot A2100 IS Canon PowerShot A2100 IS
Front Rear

The X20 is supplied with a push-on, lined metal lens cap to help protect its 4x optic, although there's no way to connect it to the camera. You can use filters with the X20, but only by buying the optional LH-X20 Lens Hood and Adapter Ring set accessory, which allows you to fit 52mm filters. There's a subtle but effective hand-grip at the front of the X20 and a rubber thumb-rest on the rear, with your grip helped in no small part by the textured faux-leather surface that runs around the full width of the camera. Two small metal eyelets on either side of the body are used for connecting the supplied shoulder strap, which isn't quite as luxurious as the rest of the package. A metal tripod mount is positioned off-centre from the lens away from the memory card / battery compartment, so you don't have to remove the camera from the tripod to change either of them.

At the heart of the X20 is the brand new 12 megapixel 2/3-type X-Trans CMOS II sensor, a size that was used by several bridge-style compacts in the past but which has recently fallen out of favour. This sensor is larger than those in most compact cameras and promises to deliver better image quality, although not the equal of a compact system camera or a DSLR. Note that this isn't an EXR sensor, as used by the X10, so the innovative EXR options aren't present on this camera.

We ran into some issues in bright sunlight when shooting in aperture and shutter priority modes, where the top shutter-speed limit of 1/1000th second at f/2 or f/2.8 often caused under-exposure. Unlike the X100S, the new X20 still doesn't feature a built-in Neutral Density filter (something that we complained about with the X10), so you'll have to stop-down the aperture and sacrifice some depth-of-field to avoid blowing out the highlights. Alternatively you can switch to the Manual shooting mode, which rather bizarrely allows a faster shutter-speed of 1/4000th second. The X20 does offer a fantastic close focusing distance of 1cm, so macro shooting is definitely on the cards.

The Fujifilm X20's auto-focusing speed is even quicker than its already responsive predecessor. The X20 has an ultra-fast hybrid AF system with both a conventional contrast-detection system and built-in Phase Detection pixels which enables the camera to achieve a focus lock in as little as 0.06 second. If you mostly use auto-focus rather than manual then this one improvement alone is reason to upgrade to (or indeed buy) the X20.

Canon PowerShot A2100 IS Canon PowerShot A2100 IS
Pop-up Flash Side

Manual focusing is activated by setting the focusing switch on the front of the camera to Manual and using the rear thumb-wheel to set the distance, with the LCD display automatically zooming in on the subject to help you judge the sharpness. There's a handy blue distance scale along the bottom of the LCD screen with a red bar indicating the the focusing distance and a white bar showing the depth of field, which actually changes in line with the current aperture - very handy.

We criticised the X10 for taking a lot of turns to change the focus from 0.1m to infinity, commenting that it was a much better idea to use the AFL/AEL button on the rear of the camera to set the focus automatically, then use the focusing ring to micro-adjust the focus manually, if required. This is still a viable technique, but is perhaps no longer required as Fujifilm have cleverly made the focusing ring more sensitive to how you use it - turn it slowly and the focusing distance changes slowly, but turn it more quickly and the camera quickly moves through the distance scale. It now takes less than 2 full turns and a couple of seconds to jump from the closest focus distance to infinity, a big improvement on the X10.

The X20 also now offers a Focus Peak Highlight function, which displays a white line around the subject when it's in focus, something that Sony NEX users in particular have been enjoying for a while. This addition makes manual focusing on the X20 more of a pleasure than a chore, although the revised fly-by-wire manual focusing ring operation is arguably more important.

The Fujifilm X20 offers not one, not two, but three ways of composing your images. In addition to the high-resolution 2.8 inch LCD monitor on the back, which has 460k dots and offers 100% scene coverage, the X20 also features an optical viewfinder. Optical viewfinders are something of a dying breed amongst modern cameras, so it's very refreshing to see X20 feature one, offering 85% scene coverage, diopter control, a bright display and zooming in and out as the focal length is changed. There's also a eye sensor alongside for enhanced usability, and even better, Fujifilm have added the curiously named and newly-developed Digital Trans Panel. Essentially this is a super-thin transparent panel which overlays the viewfinder and displays a host of shooting information, including the shutter speed, aperture, ISO, and focusing area. It even displays the information in one of three different colours, depending on the scene and shooting conditions - black in good light, green in bad, and red if an error occurs. Note that the viewfinder is fixed in the 4:3 ratio, making it trickier to use with 3:2 or 16:9 ratios. Still, we'd rather have an eye-level viewfinder than not, and the X20's is a marked improvement not only on the X10's but other camera's with a similarly bare-bones viewfinder.

Canon PowerShot A2100 IS Canon PowerShot A2100 IS
Front Top

In terms of operational speed, the Fujifilm X20 has some real standout highlights and very few weak points. Shutter lag is virtually non-existent on this camera, so once you have set the focus, you'll never miss the moment because the camera can't fire the shutter quickly enough. Continuous shooting speeds are much better than the X10, with a top rate of 12fps for 11 JPEGs. Note that if you're shooting RAW, the fastest possible rate is a slightly slower 9fps for 14 frames, although commendably still at full resolution. Note that both the focus and the exposure are set according to the first frame in each series, so it's not a particularly good system for tracking fast-moving subjects in varied lighting conditions.

The write speeds from pressing the shutter button to recording to the SD / SDHC / SDXC memory card are now perfectly respectable. Shooting a single RAW + Fine JPEG takes about 6 seconds to record to the card, although thankfully you can take another shot almost straight away (with a delay of just 0.5 second). Taking a 12 frame burst took the camera around 5 seconds to save, during which you can take more pictures, but not at the 12fps rate, while shhoting a burst of RAW files at 9fps took around 10 seconds to save.

One area in which the Fujifilm X20 excels is its handling, thanks in no small part to the numerous external controls that make changing the key settings a breeze, especially when holding the camera at eye-level. Surrounding the lens is a manual zooming ring, with 6 markings including Off, 28, 35, 50, 85 and 112mm. This ring performs two functions - it powers the camera on by turning it from Off to the 28mm setting, denoted by a definite click, and turns the camera off again by turning it in the reverse direction. Very clever.

It also allows you to quickly zoom the lens and set the focal length by turning it, with a short and tactile movement that works particularly well when you hold the camera up to eye-level. It's a little more awkward to use when holding the camera at arms length though, where a more conventional zoom lever would be preferable, although markings helpfully now appear on the horizontal zoom scale along the bottom of the LCD screen. All in all, though, the manual zooming ring works very well, practically begging you to hold the camera up to your eye.

Canon PowerShot A2100 IS Canon PowerShot A2100 IS
Memory Card Slot Battery Compartment

On top of the X20 are tactile dials for changing the exposure compensation and the shooting mode, the tiny Fn button which by default provides quick access to the ISO speeds, but can be customised to suit your own needs from one of 10 different settings, a small but responsive shutter release button with a thread for a very traditional mechanical cable release - there's no need to buy an expensive dedicated accessory for this camera - an external flash hotshoe for suitable dedicated external units, and finally the camera's built-in pop-up flash, which cleverly only appears when a flash mode is selected and which has a range of 50cm - 7m at ISO 800.

The X20's LCD screen is large enough at 2.8 inches and of sufficiently high resolution (460k dots) to match the rest of the camera's high specification. I actually found myself using it less than with a DSLR, due to the ability to use the optical viewfinder, and you could conceivably turn off the LCD altogether to help eke out the 270 shot battery life even further. The LCD screen does have a handy Info view which presents all of the key settings at once, or you can switch to the Standard or Custom Live View modes, with the latter offering a multitude of customisable options. To make the camera less obtrusive, there's a Silent menu option which turns off the speaker, flash, AF-assist lamp and most importantly the artificially-created shutter-release sound, instantly making the X20 perfectly suited to candid photography.

The Fujifilm X20 can now record full 1080p movies at 60 with stereo sound, turned on by selecting the Movie option on the shooting mode dial. There are also several slow motion options - 30fps or 80fps at 640x480 pixels, 150fps at 320x240, and 250fps at 320x112. You can set the aperture and shutter speed before recording begins, but not during, and you can also set the Film Simulation mode, so black and white footage is possible. Continuous auto-focusing is possible, and you can now manually focus too, which encourages some more creative effects. There is a HDMI port for connecting the X20 to a high-definition TV, although as usual there's no cable supplied in the box. Also missing is a paper copy of the otherwise helpful manual, which is supplied on CD-ROM instead, along with the consumer My software the slow and rather unintuitive RAW converter (essentially a specially customised version of the commercial Silkypix application).

The X20 has a logical rear control layout. There's a vertical row of four buttons on the left of the LCD screen for image playback, exposure modes, drive modes, and white balance. On the right are the rear control dial and customisable AEL/AFL button, a circular control wheel which can be used to change the shutter speed and aperture and select other settings, and four options around it for setting the AF point, flash mode, self-timer and focusing mode. In the middle of the control wheel is the Menu button, which accesses the Shooting and Set-up main menus. Underneath are two buttons, the first for changing the LCD display or going back, and the second for enabling the new Q button. New to the X20, this calls up the very handy Quick View screen, a feature borrowed from the X-E1 and X-Pro1 mirrorless cameras, and also newly incorporated on the X100S. Opened via the Q button on the rear, this provides quick access to lots of frequently used shooting settings including the ISO speed, White Balance, File Size and File Quality, with the 4-way controller and command dial used to quickly change them.

The Fujifilm X20 is a much faster version of the original X10, with a few handling tweaks that make it even more intuitive to use. Now let's take a look at its image quality...