Compact cameras don’t all have to feature a minimalist design with a point-and-shoot attitude. We took the Fujifilm X20 – a compact camera that shoots RAW, offers full manual control and looks great – out to see how it fares in this competitive market.
The compact camera market is suffering in the face of improved camera quality and functionality in mobile phones. So traditional camera manufacturers are having to come up with innovative features and functionality to tempt consumers back to dedicated compact cameras.
Fujifilm is at the forefront of the small camera market, using classic styling alongside hands-on controls to give photographers a traditional level of control over their cameras. The X20 is the latest compact from the manufacturer, including all of the above and features found on the high-end Fujifilm X-Series. The X20 features a 12MP 2/3in X-Trans CMOS II sensor powered by the EXR Processor II. This sensor has the same technology as the flagship X-Pro1, which includes a unique colour filter array with a random pattern. This means that the optical low-pass filter can be removed for improved image quality, sharpness and resolution.
The standard ISO range extends from 100-3200 for RAWs and JPEGs. You can extend up to 12,800 but only for JPEGs. Continuous shooting is possible up to 12fps for a maximum of 11 frames. Incremental speeds are available at 3, 6 and 9fps, with 3fps possible for a maximum 39 frames.
The X20 features all the automatic and manual controls you could need, including advanced filters for a range of creative options, film simulation modes replicating some of Fujifilm’s most popular films, Multiple exposure mode, Motion Panorama 360 and full HD video with hybrid AF that continually focuses during filming. The feature that stands out, particularly for a compact, is the hotshoe, which allows the use of a flashgun and other hotshoe-based accessories such as wireless triggers.
The X20 looks fantastic and feels equally good in the hand. The array of direct access controls are a pleasure to use, and while they aren’t as extensive as the higher-spec X-100S or X-Pro1, they still provide a shooting experience reminiscent of film cameras. This is something that makes Fujifilm cameras stand out from the crowd and the X20 certainly follows suit. Shutter speed and aperture are both controlled using the same thumbwheel on the back of the camera, which is simple and convenient to use.
These days it’s rare to see a compact, or even compact system camera, with an optical viewfinder. So it’s great to see Fujifilm bucking the trend and incorporating a clear and bright viewfinder into the X20. It’s on the small side, but zooms smoothly with the lens when this is zoomed in and out to aid composition. However, at just 85% coverage we found the viewfinder to be practically useless because every time you take a shot you end up with 15% extra around your original composition, meaning cropping becomes a necessity. And by the time you’ve factored in parallax error you’re getting a lot more in the frame than you bargained for. It’s a real shame because it’s a great feature, but not entirely useful if you value precise compositions.
For a compact camera with a small sensor, ISO response is very good, with sharp images up to ISO 800. ISO 1600 is certainly useable but overall sharpness does begin to drop off at this point, as increased noise creeps into images. ISO in RAW can be set up to 3200, but to exceed this setting and shoot at up to ISO 12,800 you have to set the camera to JPEG capture mode.
The X20 doesn’t quite live up to the high bar set by other Fujifilm cameras. It’s certainly a great-looking camera, with superb handling in the majority of areas. Considering the small sensor size, image quality is very good, but noise levels mean you wouldn’t really want to push it much higher than ISO 800. Beyond this, overall image sharpness drops off quickly, as noise begins to creep into images. At £479 the X20 is expensive for a compact camera, but one of the redeeming features is the optical viewfinder. Unfortunately, this provides only 85% coverage, making composing successfully when using it near impossible. Overall it’s an attractive camera with great image quality for a compact, but its price means it will face some very stiff competition from the CSC market.
- Street price: £294 (Secondhand price as of July 2016)
- Visit: www.fujifilm.eu/uk
This review was first published in the June 2013 issue of Practical Photography - download back issues here.