Fujifilm X20 review

The Fujifilm X20 premium compact camera is a great choice for those who demand an optical viewfinder, but it can't keep up with the Sony DSC-RX100 in low light.
Photo of Fujifilm X20

The Fujifilm X20 ($599.95 direct) is an entry in the crowded premium compact camera market that has a couple features that set it apart from the crowd. It’s one of the few cameras of this type with a large optical viewfinder, and its X-Trans image sensor promises to deliver film-like images that competing Bayer sensors can’t match. The 12-megapixel camera does grab images that are quite sharp, and its lens captures plenty of light, but it struggles at higher ISO settings. Our Editors’ Choice is still the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100, which still holds the edge in this category thanks to its 1-inch image sensor—its surface area is twice that of the X20′s 2/3-inch sensor. The Sony is a little more expensive and lacks a viewfinder, but it’s smaller and does a better job in low light.

Design and Features
The X20 may feature the latest in image sensor technology, but its design is retro to the core. It’s styled like a classic rangefinder camera, with its eyepiece located on the rear top left corner of the camera. Black leatherette covers the camera body. The X20 is available with a matching black top plate and lens, as well as a version that features a chrome finish. The X20 is one of the larger cameras in its class; it measures 2.7 by 4.6 by 2.2 inches (HWD) and weighs in at 12.4 ounces. The Canon PowerShot S110 is a much smaller camera. That one features a 1/1.7-inch image sensor that’s nearly as large as the one in the X20, but it measures just 2.3 by 3.9 by 1.1 inches and weighs a mere 7 ounces.

The Fujinon lens is a 4x design and is a manual zoom design. It also acts as the power control for the X20. There’s an Off position marked on its barrel; twisting the lens extends it and powers on the camera. It covers a 28-112mm zoom range with a variable aperture. At 28mm it is rated at f/2, and it loses only a stop of light when zoomed all the way in, hitting f/2.8 at 112mm. In this regard it’s a better performer than the Sony RX100; that camera’s 28-100mm lens starts at f/1.8 but closes down to f/4.9 when zoomed in. This gives the X20 about a 1.6-stop advantage in terms of light gathering when zoomed, although the larger sensor in the RX100 allows it to create a shallower depth of field at equivalent focal lengths, apertures, and shooting angles.

The viewfinder is large and bright. It zooms along with the lens and, unlike the finder in the old Fujifilm X10, the shooting mode, aperture, and shutter speed are displayed. The active focus area is also indicated; it can be adjusted, but you’ll have to use the rear LCD to do so. The overlay graphics turn green when focus is locked, and are displayed in red when the camera is unable to obtain focus. This generally happens when you are attempting to focus on an object that is too close to the front of the lens. The camera has two macro modes, but you’ll need to use the rear LCD to obtain accurate framing when focusing on objects that are close to the lens. Because the viewfinder is above and slightly off-axis with the lens, its framing will be way off when working close due to parallax.

The focus confirmation is a big improvement over the X10. I found that camera to have quick and accurate focus, and if anything the X20 is a bit quicker and just as accurate, but the only way that camera let you know that your focus was locked when shooting with the viewfinder was an audible beep. This wasn’t bad, but there was no way to enable that beep and to disable a fake-sounding shutter noise that played when a picture was captured. The X20 also supports playing sounds when focus is locked and when an image is captured, but unlike the X10 you can enable one or the other discretely.

Using the lens to turn the camera on and off can be a bit awkward, and the zoom action will often cause the finder to be blocked by your finger as it turns the lens. But aside from that, the X20′s control layout is nothing short of excellent. The top plate houses the shutter release (it’s threaded so you can use a standard release cable), the mode dial, an exposure value compensation dial (it goes from -2 to +2 in third-stop increments), and a programmable Fn button. By default Fn adjusts ISO, but you can change its functionality via the menu system.

The rear controls are laid out for two-handed operation, but those on the left side of the LCD won’t need to be accessed while you’re adjusting the zoom. They include the Play button, a button to adjust the metering pattern, another to change the drive mode, and one to control white balance. To the right of the LCD you’ll find two control wheels and buttons to lock exposure, adjust the focus point, enable macro focusing, control the flash output, set the self-timer, and access the menu. There’s also the Q button, which brings up an on-screen menu that allows you to quickly adjust a number of shooting settings. These include Fuji’s film emulation settings, which set JPG output to match classic film stocks. These modes are named for Astia, Provia, and Velvia slide film.

The rear LCD itself is 2.8 inches in size, but only boasts a 460k-dot resolution. It’s quite bright, so you won’t have any problem using it on a bright day—you can always switch to the optical viewfinder under harsh, direct sunlight. But the LCD isn’t as sharp as the 3-inch 922k-dot display found on the Canon PowerShot G15. That camera also features a zooming optical finder, but it’s nowhere near as large as the X20′s.

Performance and Conclusions
The X20 starts and shoots in about 1.3 seconds, manages a short 0.1-second shutter lag, and can rattle off a burst of shots at just over 9 frames per second. If you’re shooting in Raw or Raw+JPG that burst will be limited to about 8 shots, but it can be extended to 11 shots by shooting JPG only. You can keep shooting at a reduced rate once the initial burst is done, but if you’d like to clear the buffer expect to wait about 4 seconds for JPG, 4.8 seconds for Raw, or 9.5 seconds for Raw+JPG; all tests were performed using a SanDisk 95MBps memory card. This makes it one of the speedier cameras of this class we’ve tested; the Nikon Coolpix P7700 requires 1.8 seconds for startup, shoots a 6-shot burst in a second, and has a longer 0.3-second shutter lag.

The X20 uses an X-Trans image sensor, a design developed by Fuji and first seen its XPro-1 interchangeable lens camera. It uses a color filter with a 6-by-6 grid design rather than the traditional 4-by-4 Bayer grid employed by the vast majority of digital cameras. There’s no optical low pass filter in this design, and unlike Bayer sensors that take that approach, the more complex color filter promises to eliminate color moiré issues. The X20 is the second X-Trans camera that we’ve reviewed—the X-E1 was the first. The JPG output is quite impressive, and Adobe has updated Lightroom to better support the Raw files captured by X-Trans cameras since we looked at the X-E1. In most instances the software does a great job, and as promised the digital noise that we see in X-Trans files have a more natural, film grain like appearance. Even at lower ISO settings there is a pleasant, natural grain to images, especially noticeable in bokeh, that gives photos a different character than those captured with Bayer sensors.

Unfortunately this doesn’t translate into superlative low-light performance, at least not in this sensor size. Imatest shows that the X20 only controls noise through ISO 800. It just barely misses the 1.5 percent cutoff at ISO 1600, recording 1.6 percent there. Both Raw and JPG output are excellent at ISO 800, and despite being just a smidge noisy, JPG output at ISO 1600 is also very good; although you do start to see some loss of detail at this setting. Raw files at 1600 are a bit of an issue; there’s more detail there than in the JPG, and also more noise. But the real issue is that, with default develop settings, colors are washed out at when viewed in Lightroom on a calibrated NEC MultiSync PA271W LCD display. Removing Lightroom’s default Color Noise Reduction setting brings color back to where it should be, but also leaves you with an image with distracting colored noise specks.

Let’s make it clear: This is really Lightroom’s fault. The engineers at Adobe have not perfected the software’s noise reduction algorithm for the X-Trans sensor as they have with cameras that use Bayer sensors. And Lightroom is likely to improve its handling of X-Trans files in the future. But as it stands, if you’re looking at this camera as a Raw shooter and use Lightroom as your workflow application, be prepared for some extra work in terms of noise reduction at higher ISO settings. At ISO 6400 and 12800 the X20 shoots in JPG only, so it’s really only going to be an issue at 1600 and 3200. To compare with a Bayer camera, the Sony RX100, which uses a 20-megapixel image sensor that is roughly twice the physical size as the X20′s, keeps noise below 1.5 percent through its top setting of ISO 6400. It does show some loss of detail there, but it still enjoys about a 1-stop advantage when compared to the Fuji. Images from the RX100 at ISO 3200 deliver similar sharpness and detail to those shot with the X20 at ISO 1600.

We also used Imatest to look at the sharpness of images captured by the 28-112mm f/2-2.8 zoom lens. It’s an impressive performer, doing much better than the 1,800 lines per picture height that we use to mark a sharp image at every tested focal length. At 28mm f/2 the lens manages 2,297 lines, and improves to 2,560 lines at f/2.8. Stopping down to f/4 and below starts to hurt resolution a bit, although just barely, due to diffraction. Edge performance at f/2 is good—1,746 lines—and improves to 1,896 lines at f/2.8. There is a bit of barrel distortion at the 28mm. It’s only 1.2 percent, which can be noticeable in some architectural shots, but is likely a nonissue for most shooters. It can be corrected with ease in Lightroom.

Zooming to the 50mm setting reduces the maximum aperture to f/2.2, but resolution is still quite good at 2,558 lines. Stopping down to f/2.8 improves that score to 2,745 lines. Edges are also good wide open, 1,783 lines, and improve to 1,970 lines at f/2.8. The aperture closes down to f/2.8 at 112mm, but the lens is still solid there. It records a center-weighted score of 2,312 lines, with 1,855 lines at the edges. Distortion is a nonissue at 50mm and 112mm. It’s good to see a premium compact that delivers consistent sharpness throughout its zoom range. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX7 disappointed in that regard. It was impressively sharp at its widest angle, but images were quite soft at its maximum 70mm zoom setting.

Video quality is quite strong; the X20 records footage at 1080p60 or 720p60 quality in QuickTime format. The footage is crisp and smooth, and the camera is quick to refocus. There are also a few low-resolution slow-motion modes available—480p80, 240p150, and 112p250. There’s a mini HDMI port to connect to an HDTV, and a proprietary USB port. A dedicated battery charger is included with the X20, and the camera supports the standard memory card formats—SD, SDHC, and SDXC.

The Fujifilm X20 is an improvement over its predecessor, another camera that we liked. It’s got the same big optical viewfinder, but it now displays current shooting settings and visually confirms focus lock. There are plenty of physical controls, and a hot shoe if you’d like to use an external flash. It’s still easy to block the viewfinder when adjusting the zoom, and if you’ve got clumsy fingers like mine you may end up smudging it with frequency. The X-Trans sensor lives up to its promise of producing images with a more natural, film-like grain; but at this point in time, Lightroom struggles a bit with noise reduction of Raw files shot at ISO 1600 and above. We really liked the X20, but it doesn’t manage to edge out the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 as our Editors’ Choice for premium compact cameras. The RX100 has a larger 1-inch image sensor that gives it a one-stop advantage in terms of image noise control, records images at 20 megapixels, and it’s noticeably smaller. But if you value the optical viewfinder and manual zoom control, and if you can afford it, the X20 will pay you back with excellent images.

Specifications
Dimensions 2.7 x 4.6 x 2.2 inches
Interface Ports Proprietary, mini HDMI
Sensor Type X-Trans CMOS
Megapixels 12 MP
Battery Type Supported Lithium Ion
Recycle time 0.11 seconds
LCD dots 460000
LCD size 2.8 inches
Touch Screen No
Media Format Secure Digital, Secure Digital High Capacity, Secure Digital Extended Capacity
Maximum ISO 12800
Type Compact
GPS No
Optical Zoom 4 x
Boot time 1.3 seconds
35-mm Equivalent (Wide) 28 mm
Weight 12.4 oz
Waterproof Depth (Mfr. Rated) 0 feet
Video Resolution 720p, 1080p
Lines Per Picture Height 2297
LCD Aspect Ratio 4
Image Stabilization Optical
35-mm Equivalent (Telephoto) 112 mm
Shutter Lag 0.1 seconds
Sensor Size 8.8 x 6.6 (2/3") mm
Viewfinder Type Optical

Verdict
The Fujifilm X20 premium compact camera is a great choice for those who demand an optical viewfinder, but it can't keep up with the Sony DSC-RX100 in low light.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc