Fujifilm X20 review
The Fujifilm X20 is the successor to one of our favourite cameras of 2012. The Fujifilm X10 was a delight to use with its luxurious retro design, plentiful controls and large optical viewfinder, and image quality was among the best we've ever seen from a compact camera.
These are big boots to fill, but with the X20, Fujifilm delivers some significant improvements. Performance is faster, the controls are more responsive and photo and video quality are both higher.
The viewfinder now shows exposure settings, the autofocus area and various other useful information, overlaid directly onto the viewfinder image. This information appears in black when shooting in bright conditions but switches to green in low light, and red when the autofocus is unsuccessful. This isn't an SLR, of course, so the viewfinder has its own window on the front of the camera to gather light, and its own 4x zoom lens, which moves in tandem with the main lens. One downside of this is that – as with the X10 – the lens obscures the bottom-right of the viewfinder view at wide-angle settings. Another is that shooting nearby subjects can lead to parallax errors, where the viewfinder and lens see different slightly things. However, the overlaid information warns for that too. Not everyone needs a viewfinder on a compact camera, but this one is second only to the Sony NEX-6 and its 2.4-million dot electronic viewfinder.
Another big change is the introduction of a Q (short for quick menu) button, which replaces the X10's dedicated raw button. Pressing it reveals a grid of settings, which are navigated with the pad and adjusted via the rear wheel or command dial. It greatly speeds up access to the settings that don't have a dedicated button. Elsewhere, the Auto ISO function now has customisable minimum and maximum ISO speeds, as well as a minimum shutter speed.
The accessory shoe is primarily designed for external flashguns, but it can also accommodate the MIC-ST1 external microphone. We weren't able to get our iShoot wireless flash trigger to work with the X10, but we're happy to report that it worked perfectly with the X20. It even let us achieve flash sync with shutter speeds up to 1/1,000s. This let us control the amount of captured ambient light much more effectively than with an SLR, which typically has a sync speed of 1/250s or slower.
We're relieved to find that the X20 allows settings to be adjusted while photos are being saved to memory card. This is impossible in all of the Fujifilm cameras we've seen in recent years. They're generally quick to take photos in quick succession, but taking a photo and then realising you need to adjust a setting before taking another isn't so immediate, especially when shooting in raw mode.
PERFORMANCE AND FOCUS
The X20 was also quick to switch on and shoot, taking 1.3 seconds to the X10's 3.3 seconds. As before, powering up simply involves rotating the lens barrel from its retracted position. It captured a photo every second, and unlike the X10, it didn't slow down when shooting in raw mode. Continuous mode is twice as fast as before, capturing ten frames at 12fps before slowing to a still-fast 3.3fps. Continuous raw mode set off at 9fps and slowed to 1.2fps after eight frames. These are brilliant results that put many SLRs to shame. Various other compact cameras lay claim to a 10fps continuous mode, but most only last for a few shots before stopping for a rest. The X20's optical viewfinder comes in really useful here, too, giving an uninterrupted view of the action. The only disappointment is that there's no option to update the autofocus between frames in continuous mode.
Autofocus was impressively quick in normal use. This may be thanks to the new phase-detect autofocus points that are integrated into the sensor, although the X10 was pretty quick to focus without them. Focusing errors were slightly more common than we'd like but it wasn't a big concern – they were usually pretty obvious from looking at the screen so it wasn't much trouble to take the shot again. It's easy to move the autofocus point to any part of the frame, and the subject tracking autofocus mode was extremely responsive and accurate. Face detection is available too, but it's a bit annoying that enabling it disables the autofocus and metering options. We prefer to be able to set the autofocus area manually, and for the camera to override it when it spots a face in the scene.
IMAGE QUALITY - CLICK SAMPLES TO ENLARGE
The X10's sensor used a technology called EXR, with an unusual layout of red, green and blue photosites that's designed to reduce noise and increase dynamic range when the resolution is halved to 6 megapixels. However, one downside was that its 12-megapixel output wasn't up there with the best cameras at resolving fine details. For the X20, Fujifilm has adopted a different sensor technology called X-Trans. Once again, this uses a non-standard layout of photosites, but in this instance it's designed to minimise moiré interference – swirling patterns of distortion that appear on finely repeating textures such as fabric and bricks. Virtually all digital cameras use an optical low-pass filter, which softens focus a little to reduce moiré. However, the X-Trans sensor design has allowed Fujifilm to do without an optical low-pass filter to improve sharpness.
We didn't have the X10 to test alongside the X20, but we were able to compare it to the Fujifilm XF1, which uses the same sensor as the X10. The result was a significant improvement in the X20's ability to capture fine details. It wasn't so noticeable on bold, high-contrast details, where the XF1 (and X10) already coped well, but the X20's handling of dense textures was significantly improved.
Both the XF1 (and X10) and the X20 handle high-contrast details well, but the X20 is able to resolve more definition in the statue and the bricks just below the chimney. There is no sign of moiré, despite the lack of an optical low-pass filter
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