My Fujifilm X20 Review
I've been a Pentax user since I started my photography seriously 5 years ago. However, my very first digital camera was actually a Fujifilm, which my wife bought 10 years ago. Now, after a decade since my last compact camera from Fujifilm, comes my latest compact, the Fujifilm X20.
* Note: photos taken with Pentax k-5 with Tamron Adaptall SP 60-300mm f3.8-5.4 (model 23A) in macro mode. Not bad for an old lens eh? ;)
|New and old|
Why I bought the X20
I always thought that if you are serious in photography, you need a DSLR. Compact cameras will never cut it. Generally, that statement is probably true a year or two ago but the advancements in technology is so great, that I am very surprised how well compact cameras are in terms of image quality.
As a Pentax k-5 user, I have been proud of its small body compared to its nearest competitors. And I loved the weather sealed magnesium alloy body in the k-5 which is only found in much more expensive DSLRs. Although it is lighter than a full frame Canikon behemoth, it is still very tiring to lug the camera around even with just one lens. Most of the time, I just want to bring my camera for family outings and I really don't need all that resolution from my APSC sensor. However, I really didn't like the thought of using a compact camera and I do not want to invest in a micro 4/3 system either. What I wanted was a compact with the features of a DSLR with high image quality and having a simple point-and-shoot mode which will please non-photographers (aka my wife). And preferably not something that look like a every other point-and-shoots out there.
Enter Fujifilm. When I first saw X-series, I just knew, this is something I wanted. The beautiful design and classic look. The excellent prime lenses it came with. But alas, the price is something that I cannot justify owning one. Then, I saw the X20.
Although I have seen the X10 before, I have never really wanted one. For one, it didn't come in silver. Secondly, the original price of the X10 is much higher than the X20. But when I saw the X20 and read through the brochure, I was amazed at the quality of the prints it is capable of.
There are other advanced compact camera which is of similar price and image quality. The closest is the Pentax MX-1, and the Sony RX100 and Lumix LX-7 (what's with all the X-es???). The X20 has a bigger 2/3" sensor vs LX-7 and MX-1 with 1/1.7", but is smaller than the Sony with a 1" sensor. Nonetheless, none of them looks as pretty as the X20 (MX-1 is close). Dpreview shows a great comparison of these cameras (http://www.dpreview.com/previews/fujifilm-x20) and you can see what is the aperture and focal length of the lenses for each camera.
And after much consideration, I took the jump and bought a silver X20. To my surprise, the price of the X20 here in Malaysia is a little cheaper than in the US (Pentax stuff here is so expensive compared to US) and mine came bundled with a 8GB Sandisk Ultra and an original Fujifilm leather case (it is actually the X10 leather case model which doesn't have the opening for the battery and SD Card compartment).
The DesignThe X20 is a beautifully designed camera. It simply oozes with quality and you can just feel that they got their best engineers working passionately to make it a great product. It has almost every feature that a DSLR has but in a very compact form factor. The camera is made in Japan, as opposed to China, Thailand, Indonesia or the Philipines which most other cameras now are being manufactured. Simply beautiful. Now, to be honest, its design isn't something that everyone would love. For example, when my wife first saw it, she was surprised at why I would want to buy a camera that looked so "old".
|The Fujinon Lens System|
|Made in Japan!|
The camera is just like a mini DSLR. I would say it has at least 80% of what a DSLR can do. Here are some comparisons of what it can do its limitations against a normal DSLR.
- Aperture: goes from f2.0 to f11. Normally DSLR lenses goes up to f22 or f32.
- Shutter speed: goes from 30s to 1/4000. However, the maximum shutter speed depends on the aperture set. Open wide, the maximum shutter speed is only 1/1000. There is also no Bulb mode. A typical DSLR will have Bulb and can go up to 1/4000 to 1/8000 and does not have the dependency on aperture settings.
- ISO: goes from 100 to 12800. There is a very useful feature for users to set in Auto ISO what is the maximum limit you would like the ISO to go to (for PASM modes). I have chosen 100-1600. From 3200 onwards, picture quality will degrade quite significantly. Note that in full auto mode (the point and shoot mode), the maximum ISO the camera will choose is 800.
- Program mode: When you want to control everything else, but leave the aperture and shutter speed to the camera. All DSLRs have this feature.
- Manual mode: provides full manual settings, just like a DSLR, but with an added feature of having AUTO ISO which means you can focus on just getting the aperture and shutter speeds right while the camera decides the ISO for you. Something like the TAV function found in Pentax cameras.
- Auto mode: This is the mode I normally use. I find the camera really does a good job in deciding everything for me, and I can just focus on my composition. So yeah, I just point-and-shoot, unless it's a shot which requires more control.
- Advanced SR Auto: The mother-of-all Auto. This is full power auto in which the camera will review the scene in real time to see what is the best settings for you. Sounds great, expect it really drains out the battery since it has use a lot of processing power deciding all that stuff for you every second.
- Advanced mode: This is where you can use really neat filters or effects on your photos. Compared to my Pentax k-5, the X20 has more filters and effects and is overall better implemented. There is no lag time in processing the effects and you can see the effects real time on the LCD.
- SP mode: Abbreviation for "Scene Position". I think there must be a better label for this, but hey, it's still a Japanese product. Anyway, in this mode, you can select what kind of scene you plan to shoot, e.g. Portrait, Food, Snow, etc. This is more geared towards a consumer feature and is sometimes found in beginner DSLRs (e.g. Pentax k-x).
- Custom mode. Another very DSLR-like feature, but I don't really use this even with my k-5.
- Flash: Comes with a small little pop up flash. Not too useful, especially compared with some competitors which allow a user to tilt the flash up. But, it does come with an intelligent feature which controls the flash from overexposing photos even though the subject comes very near. This is something most compact cameras will fail miserably.
- Flash Hotshoe: Another feature which is only found in DSLRs. With it, I can mount an external flash for more demanding shots. I have tried it with a YongNuo 560II and it works fine in Manual mode. But of course, it will look weird having a big flash on top of a small camera like the X20.
- Exposure compensation: A dedicated dial which makes the X20 such a classy looking camera. Allows changes from -2.0 to +2.0 EV, with 1/3 steps. The dial however can be a little to tight to rotate in my opinion. Also, I sometimes find that the camera tend to under expose by 1/3 to 2/3 EVs.
- White balance: Just like a DSLR, there is a wide selection of WB. Auto WB works fine most of the time.
- Focusing: Comes in three modes, single, continuous and manual. This sounds like what a DSLR has, but is is not really so. In continuous mode, the AF literally focuses continuously even when the shutter button is not pressed. This will take up precious battery life. In manual mode, because there is no way of focusing from the lens barrel, you can focus by using the wheel dial (what Fuji calls the sub-command dial). I didn't really find manual focusing a great experience, even with the focus peaking feature. In the single mode, you are allowed to select either Area, Multi or Tracking modes. There is also a Face Detection AF which is great for group shots and works very well for me. However, when Face Detection is set, you cannot change any auto focus and auto exposure metering settings even when in AF-S mode.
- Viewfinder: Unlike a DSLR, the X20 viewfinder is not TTL (through the lens). It is an approximate and gets less accurate as your subject comes nearer to the frame. Generally, the viewfinder is like a crop of the final shot, and the crop happens at the bottom of the frame. So you will see about 20% more in the final photo. The viewfinder is pretty bright and there is some electronic technology behind it that makes it bright. If you take out the battery, you will notice that the viewfinder becomes very dim.
- Film simulation: This is one of my favorite features on the Fujifilm X-series cameras. You can take pictures and have it processed to look like classic Fujifilm films. I find the colors taken from the X20 really pleasing. I use mostly Provia which is the standard film simulation it's just lovely.
- RAW support. Another DSLR feature which allows you to edit RAW photos from your computer. Lightroom 4.4 supports Fujifilm RAF files now (yay!).
- Lens hood and filter thread. The good new is, you can have a hood and use standard filters with the X20 (yay)! The bad news is, you need to buy an additional accessory for it (boo!). But because the X10 is so popular, you can get this accessory from ebay for cheap and use it on the X20! I've just ordered the hood/filter accessory from China and will give a review of it once I get it.
- Video mode. The X20 is able to record movies in MOV format and can be played directly from my Panasonic Viera LCD TV. In full HD mode, it only allows on frame speed setting, which is 60fps. Although I really want to love taking videos with the X20, there is a big issue with the autofocus locking which consistently struggles to stay focused on a subject. And because there is no manual focus for video mode, I really find it difficult to take a good sharp videos. Also, there is a lack of any other manual controls like aperture or ISO here. Additionally, the camera seem to limit it's ISO to 800 (my guess) in video mode, causing very underexposed videos in darker scenes. You can however, take a snapshot while taking a video by pressing the Menu button. There is a limit to how many photos you can take however.
- Battery life. One major gripe I have read from other reviews is how abhorrent the battery life is on the X20. It comes with a battery rated less than 1000mhA which is really quite small by today's standards. I have however not fully drained the battery before since most of my shoots are about a couple of hours, but I can see that the level is already at a two thirds to a third. The good news is a new battery doesn't cost too much, especially in eBay. ;)
- Shutter sound. I love quiet shutters. My k-5 is really quiet for a DSLR. The X20 is a whisper in comparison (after you turn off the default shutter sound)
- LCD monitor. The X20 has a 460k dot 2.8" TFT LCD monitor. My Pentax k-5 has a 921k do resolution. At first I thought this would be a bad experience, but I have taken it out to bright daylight and I have found the LCD very usable. I actually can't practically tell the difference between the X20's 460k vs the k-5's 921k LCD unless I put them side by side. I also wished that the LCD monitor can tilt, just like the Pentax MX-1, but that may just mean a bigger camera and make it a little more fragile.
Well enough about all the talk. Photos speaks a thousand words, so for the rest of the review, it is all about the photos. All the below photos are simply resized and perhaps cropped or rotated a little. Other than that, it's straight from the camera.
|Black and White film simulation. Really good dynamic range.|
|At the widest 28mm using Provia film simulation|
|Mugshots of my colleagues, demonstrating excellent details and colors. I call this piece, Cannot Recall.|
|At 112mm f2.8|
|Autofocus gets it right, especially with Face Recognition|
|Velvia's vivid colors|
|Advanced filter showing only yellow|
|The X20 provides beautiful and rich colors|
|And is also an excellent macro lens! I already have a 90mm 1:1 macro lens, but this is so much more fun!|
To summarize, I can now see how the X20 has garnered such excellent reviews and how Fujifilm can command such a price tag for a compact camera. From the design to the image quality, the X20 is simply amazing with very little to complain about.
As a Malaysian, I am also happy that Fujifilm has decided to make the price of the camera similar to that in other countries, unlike how Pentax has priced their cameras. Fujifilm has a sales office here (not just a distributor office) and I have met with their Marketing Manager and I know they can provide good after sales service. My X20 comes with a year warranty.
Here are my final take for this lovely camera:
- Excellent design and craftsmanship. Made in Japan.
- Superb image quality and Fujifilm colors
- Lots of controls for advanced users, yet it is able to have a very effective point-and-shoot mode for the casual shooter
- Great lens with macro capabilities
- Whisper silent shutter
- Third party accessories like hood and batteries can be found for cheap because it uses the same parts as the already popular X10.
I have yet to receive my hood so this may become a con because the originals are really expensive!My hood has arrived! Reviews in the next post.
- Video mode is the Archilles' heels of the X20. The autofocus hunts continuously and there is no control for aperture or ISO
- Short battery life
All-in-all, highly recommended for the discerning photographer!