Fujifilm X20 – the first update

So here is what I’ve decided to do about writing an X20 review: it’s actually going to be a series of short (ish) updates as, and when, I have got something new to say about it.

Typical UK road sign: the weight is given in metric units whilst the distance is in imperial. Are we European or aren't we? ©Neil Turner, April 2013

Typical UK road sign: the weight is given in metric units whilst the distance is in imperial. Are we European or aren’t we? ©Neil Turner, April 2013

I have been shooting with the new camera as much as I can and in as many different situations as I can. I’ve even used it as a third camera on a live commission. Most of the time I have been using the Fuji RAW mode so that I can get the most out of the files and so that I can compare the different ways that you can choose to work with the images. Most people prefer not to have to read long and drawn out musings when they look at reviews – they just want to cut to the chase and so here are a few likes and dislikes in the form of bullet points:

LIKES

  • The colours – straight out of the camera you have clean, realistic and accurate colours. This shouldn’t be a surprise from the company that brought you Fujichrome all of those years ago.
  • Smooth tonal range – at low ISOs the files have a wonderfully smooth tone
  • Handling – the X20 feels good in my hands and it is very easy to hand hold down to some pretty slow shutter speeds.
  • The manual zoom – it is a model of how other manufacturers should be building cameras – enough said.
  • Buttons and dials – related directly to handling but I felt that the way that Fuji have kept the number of buttons down whilst giving you a lot of freedom to customise deserves credit.
  • The optical viewfinder –  it works really well and the addition of shooting information in the viewfinder is a big bonus.
  • Auto Focus – it is good for a compact and tracks moving subjects rather well.

DISLIKES

  • The battery life is not good when shooting with the LCD screen on. It’s a good job that after market NP-50s are so cheap.
  • The Fuji RAW format (.RAF) takes a lot of computing power and a lot of getting used to.
  • Low light performance – I was expecting this camera to be a couple of stops behind a DSLR but I would estimate that it is at least fours stops worse than a Canon EOS5D MkII
  • Video – it is just not that good or easy to use… and don’t get me started on playback!
  • Battery clip – if the small clip that holds the battery in place lasts as long as I tend to keep my compacts I will be surprised.
  • Buil-in flash – it is as weak as consumer models and you have to remove the lens hood if you don’t want horrible shadows across your pictures when shooting flash.
  • Auto white balance – it isn’t that bad actually, except under mixed lighting when it is a bit unreliable.

I like this camera… a lot. That having been said, I am genuinely disappointed with the files at anything over 640 ISO and there is a build quality question mark on the battery clip – especially as you are going to be swapping the battery out for charging with great regularity. If I needed to, I could shoot some editorial assignments with the X20 and that isn’t something you could say about many compacts. More importantly, I would quite enjoy doing so and that isn’t something you could say about any other compact that I’ve used. Professional photographers talk about their “walk about” cameras and the X20 is certainly my choice for that task. It isn’t the “best” at anything but it does represent a good set of compromises and that, at the end of the day, is what you want from a small camera.

As I said in the opening paragraph, this will be a series of updates rather than a single “this is my opinion” review. At the recommended selling price the Fujifilm X20 is a little expensive but the price is coming down on a weekly basis and once it dips under £400 it will become a well-priced piece of kit.

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9 comments

  1. What if any experience do you have of 4/3 cameras?
    I have an E-PM1 and I like the colour rendition – and the file quality is great.

    I have a Panasonic GF1 as well but don’t like the colour rendition as much (strangely – except in muted light, where it is good).

    Like

  2. Hi Neil! Did you have the X10? I sold mine today and just this minute put in an order for the X20 (black of course!)

    I have to say, when I got the X10 I was pleased that the files were so much better than from my Canon G11, but when they did keel over (low light) they did so in a different way to the G. Instead of noise, there was a strange clumpiness to the grain structure.

    Sometimes though I would take a shot in low light and be stunned at the quality. Sometimes in good light I was slightly disappointed. But still an impressive and capable camera and I’m looking forward to having things like a focus point in the viewfinder!

    I look forward to seeing more updates from you. I’ll be writing a review of the X20 in due course.

    Like

    1. I think that I’d rather have the larger sensor but not at the cost of the larger camera with less flexibility. I had the Canon G1X with a big and beautiful sensor that produced lovely results. The snag was that the camera was horrible to use and so I left it at home. The X20 is ultra-portable and a joy to use and for that I am prepared to sacrifice a bit of image quality.

      Like

  3. So how do you find straight out of camera JPEGs? A lot of people are saying the noise reduction is too aggressive and foliage tends to get smeared. I really liked the high ISO output on the X10 as it had a film grain look. How is the X20 in this respect as it has a noisy sensor?

    Just waiting for the price to drop below £400 before I buy one. What sold me on the X10 was purely the handling and manual zoom. The most enjoyment I ever had taking photos was with my first film compact which was a Rollei. Never had as much joy with SLRs, it feels like the camera gets in the way of what I am trying to capture.

    I recently dug out my Rollei compact and looked through the viewfinder, it’s about a quarter size of the X20 and looks made of plastic. Can’t believe I took my best photos using it.

    Like

    1. I haven’t really shot any Jpegs with the camera. I’m very much a RAW photographer. There is definitely a texture to the images which isn’t there on my Canon DSLRs.

      Like

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