The Fuji X10 was the leader of the retro revolution currently under way in the world of expert compacts, sealing its success with a sleek and original old-school look and the return of the genuine optical viewfinder (finally!). The Fuji X20 is based on the same broad outline as the X10 but big changes have been made inside, with a new sensor, a new processor and a new viewfinder. So in spite of its X10-like appearance, the X20 is effectively a brand new camera. Welcome to street photography 2.0.
There's not much to say in this part of the review, as the X20 is very much like the X10 but for a few minor updates. There are clearly no major changes in design on the cards for this generation of Fuji X cameras. Build quality is still very good, which gives the pleasantly reassuring feeling that you're holding a real camera—a trusty camera that's always ready for a slice of the action. The optical viewfinder is back again, only this time real-time shooting info can be displayed over the top of your subject, showing you the focus area, focus mark, exposure, shutter speed, aperture, exposure mode (PSAM), flash, self-timer, parallax warning and camera-shake blur warning. The colour of the data overlay varies in relation to the shooting conditions too—it's black by default, green in low light or for AF confirmation, and red for a focusing error. This is definitely a welcome update, but the viewfinder is still plagued by a slightly more trivial problem: fingerprint marks, which soon turn this small VF into an grubby little porthole.
Apart from the viewfinder, Fuji hasn't made many changes to the camera body. The "RAW" button in the bottom right corner has been replaced with a "Q" button for access to the "Quick Menu" of basic settings. This may be a small tweak, but it makes changing the settings smoother and more effective.
Otherwise, we've only got two—OK, two and a half—bad things to say about the X20. First of all, the "half" bad thing: you have to turn the dial anti-clockwise to increase the ISO setting. That's nothing serious in the long term, but it can be confusing for the first few days. Still on sensitivity, it's more annoying to see that the lowest (100 ISO) and highest (6400 ISO and 12800 ISO) settings can't be used in RAW mode (or even in RAW+JPG). They can only be used when shooting JPGs, which is really quite strange. Finally, the settings wheel on the back of the camera (over the four-way arrows) is still as rickety and imprecise as in the X10. This can make browsing through the menus a bit haphazard, and it can take several attempts to get the cursor pointing over the right menu or option.
The new X-Trans CMOS II sensor used in the X20 incorporates photosites for phase detection. Their mission is to keep the autofocus working in speedy times of just 0.06 seconds. On top of that, the EXR II processor promises start-up in 0.5 seconds and almost instant photo-shooting. It's basically the same story as with the X100s. But, as with the APS-C model, those promises aren't quite kept.
OK, so the start-up time seems to be around a second faster than with the X10, but that's mostly down to the "Quick Start" mode which was already a feature of the previous model. The only truly noticeable improvement is that the autofocus is around 25% faster in low light. Otherwise, the X20 doesn't take things a whole lot further than X10. That's still good enough for a five-star score based on our review criteria, but we were kind of expecting more in light of Fuji's lofty promises.
The more you look at photos from the X20, the more you find it hard to believe that they were really taken by a compact camera with a small-format sensor. However, the EXIF and Lightroom data confirm that this is definitely the work of the X20, just like the X20's spec sheet confirms that this Fujifilm expert compact has a 12-Megapixel 2/3" sensor. So what's the secret? Easy—a total revamp on the inside.
The anti-aliasing filter has gone and the Bayer filter has been replaced by the X-Trans matrix (in line with the rest of the Fuji X range). So with its EXR II processor leading the way (as seen in the X100s), the Fuji X20 runs circles around any competitors claiming to deliver top-end picture quality in a compact casing.
The only slight damper on our enthusiasm came from the ISO test results. There's no problem at all up to 800 ISO. However, the X20 seems to reach a first visible limit at 1600 ISO, with a clear drop in contrast saturation. At 3200 ISO, speckles of noise appear in areas of flat, block colour, and the two highest ISO settings are practically unusable, even for post-card-sized prints. You should only use them if your really don't have the choice, or if you're taking miniature-format shots for a business card or something ... and still. It's therefore even more of a shame to see that these two ISO settings aren't available in RAW mode—a rather strange restriction.
Now that we've got the negative bit about sensitivity out of the way, we can get back to singing the praises of the Fuji X20's excellent image quality. The X10 was already a pretty sharp shooter on picture quality, but we scaled back its score when the Sony RX100 came along and changed the game. However, the X20 rises to Sony's challenge with style and success.
The 28-112mm, f/2-2.8 lens was already excellent, so Fujifilm has concentrated on tweaking the electronics (as outlined above) to further improve picture quality here. The old and new models make for striking comparison and serve to remind us just how much digital photography is about balancing several factors to get the best possible result. In fact, the X20 has progressed in every way compared with the X10.
The X20 is less prone to moiré effects.
100 ISO, f/4, 28mm.
The X20 corrects chromatic aberration that sometimes appeared at the widest aperture setting.
100 ISO, f/2, 28mm.
The X20 out-performs the X10 over the entire focal range—even at the maximum zoom setting and at all aperture settings.
100 ISO, f/5.6, 112mm.
100 ISO, f/2.8, 112mm.
100 ISO, f/2.8, 112mm.
Faced with quality like this, a minor defect in the X20 tends to raise a smile rather than a frown. Here, JPG shots taken directly from the camera tend to be a bit too smoothed for our liking. It's almost as if the JPG processing is trying to curb the excessive enthusiasm of Fuji's lens and sensor. Thankfully, using a RAW file and suitable image processing software gets around this nicely, leaving you with a well-earned smile of satisfaction.
While the photo mode in the X20 may be awe-inspiring, the video mode will soon bring you crashing back down to earth. The X20 gets off to a good start, doubling the bitrate from 14120 Kbits/s to 38210 Kbits/s, although that's essentially because the video framerate has been upped from 30 frames per second to 60 fps. As a result, moving subjects look a bit smoother and there's no aliasing. Those are the only two improvements in the X20 compared with the X10. The rest stays the same ... or gets worse!
One thing that definitely hasn't changed is the dynamic range, which still isn't great here. Highlights are overexposed and blacks are washed out. The contrast isn't up to much either. Sound is still recorded in stereo and hasn't changed in quality compared with the X10.
The main problem is video picture quality. The X20 may be able to rival certain SLRs in photo mode, but in video mode picture quality seems closer to a smartphone. There are moiré effects, shimmer, blurring, coloured artefacts, rolling shutter—the lot! That's a real disappointment and it can't help but sour our overall impression of this top-end camera. Video may not be the main vocation of the X20 (there's still no separate video record button!), but that's no reason to let quality slip to this extent. Let's hope that an upcoming firmware update will put things right (we tested our X20 with firmware 1.01).