Fujifilm X20 – a summary of my thoughts

©Neil Turner, May 2013. Mudeford Spit, Dorset

©Neil Turner, May 2013. Mudeford Spit, Dorset

Just over five weeks after taking delivery of my Fujifilm X20 I’m sitting here trying to gather my thoughts and opinions about this intriguing little camera. It is far from perfect and it doesn’t fulfil all of the requirements that I thought that I had when I bought it. In several areas its performance is below par and working with the RAW files is not as easy as it could or should be. All of that having been said, it has become my constant companion almost everywhere I go and I still find myself adoring using it.

Put simply, there’s something about this camera that you’d struggle to put your finger on but that makes taking pictures with it an absolute pleasure. A couple of weeks ago I posted my first update about the X20 and my experiences using it. I tried to summarise the good and the bad points of the camera. You probably won’t be surprised to find out that my opinions have barely changed:

  • The video is still a pain to use and a bigger pain to import and edit.
  • The high ISO performance is still no better than any other camera with a small chip – awful.
  • The RAW file format .raf is not particularly easy to work with and the screen resolution previews in Adobe Camera RAW are worse than slow to generate.
  • The battery life has graduated to awful from appalling now that I have the menus set up better. I have twice got through two batteries in a single day.
  • The build quality of the battery clip is still suspect.

In fact I could have just cut and paste what I wrote back in April with the slight change that the battery life is marginally less awful than first thought. So those are the negatives. What about the positives? You’ll probably have guessed that they have barely changed either. Colours, tonal range, handling and the sheer joy of using it are all very positive comments that I made before and would support still.

©Neil Turner, May 2013. Mudeford Spit, Dorset

©Neil Turner, May 2013. Mudeford Spit, Dorset

I guess that I will never make it as a camera reviewer. The thought of shooting test charts and ISO range comparisons fill me with dread. In a digital world where figures and absolute measurements are the lifeblood of so many websites you should definitely go to DPReview if you want the numbers laid out and explained.

As someone who owns and uses some of the finest DSLR cameras ever made on a daily basis I want something very different from my compact ‘walkabout’ camera. I make the vast majority of my income from taking pictures and I make the rest from teaching, writing and consulting about photography. For me to want to go out and just take pictures for the joy of it, the camera has to be fun to use. And it is on that simple point that Fujifilm are getting it so completely right with their x-series range. The X100 was a great start and the X10 was a brilliant companion. Since then we’ve had the X Pro1, the XE1, X100s and this X20 to enjoy. The single factor that unites all of these cameras is the pleasure you can take from using them when you spend so much time using other (better?) cameras.

That brings me to the next point. There’s no way that I’d use the X20 instead of a Canon EOS5D MkII or MkIII for a normal assignment but on my own time, taking pictures for pleasure and for the family the Fujifilm X20 is wonderful. It will be beaten at some point and it remains true that it isn’t the best compact  in terms of image quality, speed, flexibility or any of a dozen other quantifiable factors. I propose to introduce a new scale based on the likelihood that you’ll actually bother to take the camera out and use it willingly and with a smile on your face. On that measure, and that measure alone, the Fujifilm gets a perfect ten. Right now, I’m off to the shops to get my morning paper; on foot and with my X20 over my shoulder…

©Neil Turner, May 2013. Stourhead, Somerset.

©Neil Turner, May 2013. Stourhead, Somerset.

Final footnote… I was disappointed with the built-in flash and so I decided to buy a small hot-shoe unit to supplement it. I found that one online retailer was selling the Fujifilm EF20 flash that was designed for the X series cameras at under £90.00 and so I bought it. Not a bad investment; I’ve used it quite a bit and it makes a lot of sense to have it because it fits into a pocket without too much difficulty and even has a limited bounce facility. I’ll try to post something cool shot with it soon.

15 comments

    1. I find it hard to express just how much I actually enjoy the feel, handling and shutter sound of this camera. Need to get a couple more batteries though…

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  1. I bought a Fuji X10 when it first came out in Nov 2011 but had to return it due to the “orb” problem. I waited patiently for the X20 but didn’t buy straight away this time. The fact that these cameras fit in a coat pocket (no 1 priority for me, best camera is the one i have with me) and have amazing handling is what sold me on this form factor. But alas too many reports of the poor high ISO and battery life put me off, as well as it seeming expensive compared to its peers.

    On the weekend I tried a Sony NEX 3N (£330) whilst in Currys. It has a compact kit 16-50mm (24-75mm) Power Zoom lens that can be zoomed and manually focused by turning the zoom lens. The motorised zoom even keeps up with the speed that I turn the ring by. Years ago I ignored the NEXs due to the big lenses making it no more pocketable than an SLR. On further researching the NEX range they seem to tick all the boxes for me and fix what is not so great in the X20. It fits in my coat pocket, APS size sensor, tilt screens, great high iso, great video, good handling. So it looks like I will be going for the NEX 6 (£650) as it has an EVF built in. Yes it costs more than the X20 but I can perceive better value here and I don’t want to be without a walkabout camera this year. Of course the merry go round starts again if Fuji get it right with the X30. Oh I do love those Fuji colours.

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    1. There’s no such thing as the “best” camera in any class. I dislike EVFs and so the Sonys were never an option. It’s amazing that I shot the first 20 years of my career without even thinking about going beyond 400 ISO unless I was desperate and having the X20 has made me think about that kind of thing again.

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      1. Yes there isn’t a ‘best’ camera, always a compromise. This may be the ‘best’ compromise for me.

        In film I never went above ISO 400 either, but today’s digital easily allow that with a turn of a dial. So why not have your cake and eat it too.

        Have you tried taking indoor shots of people under home lighting, what kind of ISO is the camera choosing for an appropriate shutter speed? Can you get away with ISO 400 without flash?

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      2. I have shot a lot at 400 ISO hand held at 1/30th of a second and f2.0 in the last few weeks. Some frames have motion blur of course but some are fine. I’ve even fitted an old Leica soft shutter release button to help out with the slow stuff. You are right about having cake and eating it. I think nothing of using 2000+ ISO on my FF Canons.

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  2. Well Niel there’s is a part of the camera I can put my finger on, the shutter, sure it’s got it’s eccentricities but those aside, it’s still a great camera, not an excellent one but good enough and unlike using my top end Canons, it makes me stop and think and plan not just instinctively react but respond to a situation. Nice review Niel enjoyed reading it…

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  3. Oh and I agree about the flash and got mine from the same place you suggested, when bounced it gives a nice even light shame it can’t swivel for portraits…

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  4. I’m hoping my review of the X20 will appear on the Wex Photographic blog very soon. It’ll be interesting to compare notes…

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      1. Well of course I don’t want to break the exclusivity of the article, but many points in my review are a comparison with the X10 which I also owned and I point out some improvements which most of the mainstream reviewers don’t seem to have picked up on but which I believe make the X20 more usable. Until my X20 review goes live, you can have a read of my thoughts on the X10 (some of which I adjust in my X20 review after more extensive use). X10 review: http://www.wexphotographic.com/blog/fuji-x10-review

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