Fujifilm X20 Ken McMahon, October 2013
 
 

Fujifilm X20 verdict

The Fujifilm X20 is an advanced compact with a larger sensor than a typical point-and-shoot camera, a built-in advanced optical viewfinder and a 4x zoom lens. It replaces the X10, substituting the older model's EXR sensor with a 12 Megapixel X-Trans sensor of the same architecture used in the X-Series mirrorless compact system cameras and the high-end fixed-lens compact, the X100S. But rather than use the same 16 Megapixel APS-C sensor, Fujifilm has developed a new smaller 2/3 inch 12 Megapixel sensor for the X20. The new sensor is also equipped with Phase-detect AF points, providing the X20 with fast dual-mode autofocussing.

Fujifilm is well-known for innovation in viewfinder design and the X20 features a new Advanced optical viewfinder which overlays exposure and other information. It's not as sophisticated as the hybrid viewfinder of the X100S and lacks an EVF, but it's a big advance on the plain optical window of the X10.

Like its predecessor, the X20 features a fixed 2.8 inch 460k LCD screen and a standard hotshoe for mounting an external flash, there's also a built-in pop-up flash. Other refinements include full resolution 12fps burst shooting, Advanced filter effects, Motion panoramas and focus peaking to help with manual focus adjustment. Video has been upgraded with the addition of a 1280p60 best quality mode and Auto exposure with scene detection for movies. But with no direct movie record button, no PASM exposure control and very short single clip recording times, video remains a bit of a second string as on other X-Series models. Before my final verdict, lets see how the Fujifilm X20 compares with the Sony RX100 II and Nikon COOLPIX A.

   
 

 

Compared to Sony Cyber-shot RX100 II

     
 
 
     
     

Like the the Fujufilm X20, the Sony Cyber-shot RX100 II is an advanced compact with a fixed zoom lens and a larger than average sensor. But rather than retro rangefinder styling and plenty of physical control, the emphasis is on compactness and portability. Put crudely, the X20 is bigger and heavier with more knobs and dials.

The differences go beyond the exterior appearance. The X20 features the same unconventional X-Trans architecture as the X-Series mirrorless compacts including the X-Pro1, but this isn't an APS-C sized sensor, it's a 2/3 inch sensor which is smaller than the 1 inch sensor in the RX100 II. It still produces excellent quality images, but it can't match the RX100 II for high ISO noise performance or shallow depth of field at wide angle. At 12 Megapixels it also produces much lower resolution images than the 20 Megapixel RX100 II, but that's only really going to be an issue if you like to make big prints.

Which brings us on to the lenses. The X20's fixed zoom has an equivalent range of 28-112mm, which closely matches the 28-100mm range of the Sony RX100 II. But where the Sony's zoom is powered, the Fujifilm X20 has a physically coupled manual zoom operated by a zoom ring which also extends the lens and turns the camera on. The X20's f2-2.8 lens isn't quite as bright as the RX100 II's f1.8-4.9 lens at the wide angle setting, but is almost two stops brighter when zoomed-in. So, despite its smaller sensor the X20 can throw backgrounds out of focus for portraits a little more effectively and its very close focussing makes it a better choice for close-ups. For low light shooting though, the RX100 II's brighter maximum aperture at the wide angle setting, combined with its larger back-illuminated sensor and wealth of stacking modes wins out.

The Sony RX100 II has a new flip-out screen which is also bigger and higher resolution than the fixed 2.8 inch 460k dot screen on the Fujifilm X20. But Fujifilm, renowned for innovation in viewfinder design, has equipped the X20 with an advanced optical viewfinder that overlays exposure and focus information. You can add a very good optional EVF accessory to the RX100 II via its new multi-interface hot shoe, but it's not as convenient as a built-in viewfinder and adds extra expense, plus you can't then attach an external flash. Like the RX100 II the Fujifilm X20 also has a hot shoe.

Both models offer the traditional PASM shooting modes in addition to Auto modes and effects filters, the Sony also has easy-to-use Photo creativity modes, Sweep panorama and a range of stacking modes. In its favour, the X20 has Advanced filter effects and a very capable Motion panorama feature that produces higher resolution panoramas than the RX100 II and can shoot seamless looping cylindrical panoramas.

The RX100 II is a much more capable movie camera than the Fujifilm X20. It has a dedicated movie record button and a wider range of HD recording modes. You can use many of the RX100 II's Picture effects (though not Miniature) on movies and it offers full PASM exposure control in movie mode. The X20 has no dedicated movie record button, lacks anything other than auto exposure control and you can't use any of the Advanced filter effects for movies. The X20 does offer three high speed video modes though.

And, as always, there's cost to consider. With the Fujifilm X20 currently priced around 25 percent lower than the RX100 II, it looks like a very attractive alternative. But before even considering the X20, you need to think carefully about what you want from an advanced compact and whether the X20 will provide it.

See my Sony RX100 II review for more details.

 

Compared to Nikon COOLPIX A

     
 
 
     
     

Like the Fujifilm X20, the Nikon COOLPIX A is targetted at enthusiasts, but it takes a different approach to the X20, offering DSLR quality in a compact format with no compromises. The COOLPIX A is all about the sensor, so let's start there. It's the same APS-C sized sensor as used in Nikon DSLRs and indeed is probably the very same 16 Megapixel sensor as in the old mid-range D7000, although deployed here without a low pass filter for crisper results. Bottom line, it's substantially bigger than the 2/3 inch sensor in the Fujifilm X20 and in my tests it simply resolved more detail with less noise.

With a bigger sensor you'd expect a bigger body, but the COOLPIX A is actually quite a bit more compact and lighter than the Fujifilm X20. Having made the decision to go for the big sensor, Nikon then made every effort to keep the size of the COOLPIX A to a minimum. For Fujifilm, though, handling is a bigger priority and the X20 provides more physical controls. But there are two other important factors that add to its bulk.

Firstly the X20 is equipped with a 4x zoom lens with a very useful 35mm equivalent range of 28-112mm. The lens has a manually coupled zoom ring which also acts as the camera's on/off switch. One of the ways Nikon has achieved the minimal proportions of the COOLPX A is to equip it with a 28mm f2.8 fixed focal length lens. While there are many enthusiast photographers who will happily get by without a zoom, few would consider a 28mm wide-angle a good choice for general purpose shooting though. So while it's great for landscapes and interiors, the COOLPIX A can't compete with the X20's 28-112mm zoom for portraits and its big sensor advantage doesn't translate into shallow depth of field other than for very close subjects.

The other factor affecting the respective size of these two models is the viewfinder. Fujifilm, renowned for innovation in viewfinder design, has equipped the X20 with an advanced optical viewfinder that overlays exposure and focus information. The COOLPIX A doesn't have a built-in viewfinder, though for almost half the price of the camera you can fit an optical viewfinder accessory to the hot shoe.

The COOLPIX A has a fixed 3 inch 921k dot LCD screen with 3:2 proportions that match the sensor's and this provides a visibly bigger picture area than the 2.8 inch 460k dot LCD screen on the Fujifilm X20. However, the X20's combination of viewfinder and screen is much more versatile, allowing you to display information on the screen while using the viewfinder to compose. The X20's optical viewfinder is also invaluably in bright sunny conditions when it's difficut to see what's on the screen.

The X20 has more to offer in terms of shooting modes and features than the COOLPIX A. Like the Sony RX100 II it has effects filters and a very capable panorama mode as well as much faster continuous shooting, albeit for a much shorter sub 1-second burst.

On the other hand, the X20 has less to offer videographers than the COOLPIX A which has a dedicated movie record button, offers some control over movie exposure and longer single clip shooting. It's also worth noting that despite good performance for stills, the X20's continuous AF functions quite poorly in movie mode.

Finally, the COOLPIX A is more than twice the price of the Fujifilm X20, that's quite a hefty margin, but it's not really about the price. There's a pretty clear dividing line between these two models. There are those for whom sensor size is the most important factor, who are prepared to compromise on other things for a compact that delivers DSLR quaility with no caveats. The Fujifilm X20 offers an alternative that places more emphasis on handling and control. There's a marginal cost for that in terms of image quality, but it's a price many people will be prepared to pay.

See my Nikon COOLPIX A review for more details

 

Fujifilm X20 final verdict

The Fujifilm X20 is a major upgrade to the X10, with a brand new 12 Megapixel X-trans sensor and EXR II processor providing improved image quality and low light performance as well as new shooting modes, 1080p60 video and faster continuous shooting. The new sensor's phase-detect AF points provide the X20 with one of the fastest and most accurate AF systems around, at least for stills.

The other big improvement is the viewfinder, now enhanced with a digital overlay providing exposure and AF information. The viewfinder isn't as sophisticated as on some of the more expensive X-Series models and it's by no means perfect, providing only 85 percent coverage and suffering from parallax at close distances. But it's a big step up from the plain optical viewfinder of the X10.

Few manufacturers have managed to achieve the blend of style, handling and technology innovation that Fujifilm has combined in the X20. With an Advanced optical viewfinder, super-fast hybrid AF and superb design touches like the combined zoom ring and on/off switch it provides the opportunitiy to get your hands on some of the best of what the X-series has to offer at a more affordable price.

A viewfinder that displayed a 100 percent (or greater) view would have been even better and Fujifilm's continued indifference to video is disappointing, as is the absence of built in Wifi. If these things bother you, then models like Sony's RX100 II could be a better bet, but if you're not bothered by their absence, the X20 remains a cracking enthusiast compact well deserving of Cameralabs' Highly recommended Award.



Good points
2/3 inch X-Trans sensor.
Fast hybrid AF with on-sensor phase detect points.
Advanced optical viewfinder with LCD overlay.
360 degree Motion Panorama mode.
Focus peaking.

Bad points
Poor video performance.
85% optical viewfinder coverage.
No Wifi.




Scores

(relative to 2013 advanced compacts)

Build quality:
Image quality:
Handling:
Specification:
Value:

Overall:

17 / 20
17 / 20
18 / 20
17 / 20
17 / 20

86%
 

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