is the Fuji X20 a worthy upgrade to my X10 ? my short review

This entry is part 1 of 3 in the series Fuji X20 review

When the new Fujifilm X20 camera was announced I asked myself: is it time to upgrade from my old Fuji X10? If you want the quick answer you can go directly to the Fuji X20 review conclusion. I really like the Fuji X20 camera:  maybe not at DSLR level for image quality or AF speed, it is a camera I enjoy shooting with. The Fuji X20 has the beautiful colors and great JPEG engine I love. Shooting with the Fuji X20 mean I have to spend less time processing the images on my computer.

9 May Update: the Fuji X20 gets the TIPA “best expert compact camera” award.
The “FUJIFILM X20” is a premium compact camera equipped with an optical zoom and a viewfinder in a desirably compact body. It offers excellent operability and image quality and has won the award in recognition of its newly-developed 12 million pixel 2/3-inch X-Trans CMOS II sensor […]
– source: Fujifilm TIPA Awards news

Update: the Fuji X20 is finally available at Amazon

The X20 will be my low-weight travel partner. When I do not want to carry my X-E1, the Fuji X20 will have to do as my only camera. What is not to like about the Fuji X20? The low weight, silent operation, solid build and classic design allow me to take teh camera everywhere. Of course, like all camera, it is not perfect.

mountain trekking
mountain trekking
I was eager to replace my old Fujifilm X10 camera. When a friend of mine asked me “if you love that camera so much, why are you getting a new one?” I couldn’t point to any flaw. But the Fuji X20 solved my two main issues with the previous Fuji X camera: optical viewfinder with no information and slow autofocus. But for a long time the Fuji X20 was only a rumor so in the meantime I bought a Fujifilm X-E1 that I really like.

the Fujifilm X20 – what changes

What I want to write in this post is about the announcement, features and discussions about the now-available Fujifilm X20.

travel photography with the Fuji X10 in Venice travel photography with the Fuji X10 in Venice travel photography with the Fuji X10 in Venice travel photography with the Fuji X10 in Venice travel photography with the Fuji X10 in Venice travel photography with the Fuji X10 in Venice travel photography with the Fuji X10 in Venice travel photography with the Fuji X10 in Venice

These pictures were shot with the Fuji X10, my favorite travel camera.
Will it get replaced by the now available Fuji X20?

This post will list the new features of the Fujifilm X20. Some of these I think are important and some are just nice upgrades. I will try to keep things simple and just list the things I think are the real upgrades over the earlier X10. Further below I list my opinions on each improvement.

Fuji X20 changes over the earlier model

  • 12MP 2/3″-type X-Trans CMOS sensor
    compared to the old EXR sensor, megapixels and size remain unchanged
  • on-chip phase detection autofocus
    digital compact cameras usually have the much slower contrast detect autofocus
  • ‘Advanced Optical Viewfinder’ with electronic information overlay
    the Fuji X10 has an optical viewfinder with absolutely no information superimposed
  • full HD 1080/60fps movie recording (36Mbps bitrate)
  • for a digital compact camera the bitrate is very good, which should translate into high quality videos with very few artifacts
  • in-camera RAW conversion with all processing parameters adjustable
    with Fuji cameras I switched from RAW to JPEG – the files are so nice that I did not miss the headaches of shooting RAW.
    I do find it useful to be able to shoot RAW and use that as a base to test different looks, all in-camera.
  • focus peaking display for manual focus
    I was never a fan of manual focus, but this means that those who use this feature can now do it easier.

new optical viewfinder with shooting information

If I had to pick the best reason to upgrade to the new Fujifilm X20, this would be it. Instead of the barely usable optical viewfinder in the earlier Fuji, we now get the a full-fledged viewfinder almost like in a DSLR.  In harsh light the LCD of the X10 felt inadequate, and I was unhappy with the lack of information as I had no focus confirmation. Fujifilm added focus confirmation and the metering information familiar to DSLR users!

About the optical viewfinder in the Fujifilm X20:

  • just 85% frame coverage
    So you have to compose tight. When you download the images on the computer, you might discover elements in the frame that you didn’t see.
  • parallax errors
    Is a physics limitation that is important to consider in macro mode and in close-up shots. The image in the viewfinder does not come through the lens, but from a little glass window on top and to the left of the lens. When you capture a photo however the camera records what it sees through the lens. And the two images are not the exact same thing. The best way to compensate for this is to compose with the LCD when in macro and close-up mode.
  • the lens barrel is visible in the frame
    At its wide setting and up to 35 – 40mm focal length you can see the part of the lens barrel in the down-right corner of the frame (only in the viewfinder, of course).
  • electronic info present in the viewfinder
    focus area, shutter speed, aperture, ISO, shooting mode (MASP) – so you have everything needed. The focus area is approximated I think. You can change the size of the focus area on the LCD, but not on the viewfinder. This means that for critical work the LCD is more precise – good too keep in mind especially when shooting macro.
  • low light, eye-sensor and diopter adjustment
    In low-light the colour of the information changes to green, which is easier to read. Remember that an optical viewfinder has not way to brighten the frame like an LCD does. A diopter adjustment is on the left of the viewfinder and an eye-sensor is on the right.

Here you can see the new viewfinder with information overlay.

a new X-Trans sensor

Fujifilm has become famous for the design of its sensors – and the X-Trans technology is related to the one used for the  Fujifilm X-PRO1 and X-E1.

I am sure that the new sensor will take great pictures, I am sorry to lose the 6MP EXR dynamic range mode of the Fujifilm X10. The earlier Fujifilm with its quirky EXR sensor could expose correctly half of the photo-sites  and underexpose (I think by 2 or 3 stops) the other half. This meant that at the price of halving the resolution you would get about 3 more EV stops in dynamic range. Personally I really loved this mode. So the question is: does the new sensor of the Fuji X20 is so much better that it has the dynamic range of the Fuji X10 EXR DR mode? I really hope so, but we shall see. I hope DPReview will finish their review of the Fuji X20, and compare jpegs from both generations of Fuji cameras.

The new X-Trans sensor has no lo-pass filter so the new camera has the potential of great micro-contrast. Backside illumination design should allow more light to gather on the photosites and have better high ISO capabilities.

My feelings are that ISO 800 and ISO 1600 on the Fuji X20 are as great, while ISO 3200 and ISO 6400 struggle a bit. Especially in dark settings, and with low contrast scenes. Converted to black&white the images have nice-looking “grain” though.

Piatra Mare (Bucegi mountains) with the Fuji X10 Piatra Mare (Bucegi mountains) with the Fuji X10 Piatra Mare (Bucegi mountains) with the Fuji X10 Piatra Mare (Bucegi mountains) with the Fuji X10

Fuji X20 promises increased autofocus speed and faster operation

I never found my earlier Fuji slow but I never tested it at a sport event. For travel and street photography the autofocus speed was good enough. But faster speed can only be a good thing, right? So I am very happy about the improvement.

The Fujifilm X20 comes with hybrid phase detect autofocus, which should really speed things up. DSLRs are famous for their hi-speed phase detect autofocus. Compact digital cameras usually have the much slower (but very precise) contrast-detect system. By combining the two, Fuji X20 should have fast autofocus and great precision.

I feel this is the second most important upgrade, as it will allow Fuji X20 to be successfully used in settings where the predecessor struggled. Early reviews of the Fuji X20 compare it comparably even to m4/3 bodies.

it keeps the same excellent 28-112 Fujinon lens with F2.0-2.8 present on the Fujifilm X10

The 2.8 aperture shouldn’t fool you – subject separation from the background like on a DSLR is almost impossible on a compact digital camera. The Fuji X20, like it’s predecessor, should offer the same depth-of-field possibilities like a m4/3 kit lens. But such a bright lens has a hidden advantage: in low light the Fuji camera can gather a bit more light and thus keep ISO low.

To get an idea of the creative capabilities of the Fujinon lens on shallow depth of field photos here are a few example photos I have.

Fuji X10 in Vama Veche Fuji X10 in Vama Veche Fuji X10 in Vama Veche Fuji X10 in Vama Veche

You can order the Fujifilm X20 at Amazon for $599.

Update: Adobe has started the beta test for Lightroom 5 and it offers good support for Fuji X-Trans sensor cameras (like the Fuji X20). I tested the 4.4 version with some X-E1 Raw files and the results are promising. I still prefer the ease of shooting JPEGs.

Lightroom 5 also brings a few upgraded features: a more powerful spot removal tool,  a new tool in the form of radial gradients, a perspective correction in the form of upright and the possibility to edit offline files!

 

Series Navigationalternatives to Fuji X20: the competition »

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