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In most ways a strong update to the X10, but the "new" sensor wasn't for me
on 16 December 2014
After I got the X10 it seemed a logical upgrade to move to the X20, there are a number of obvious improvements in this model not least the "optical viewfinder" with shooting information (shutter speed, aperture, ISO) is very welcomed. But the move to the newer X-Trans CMOS sensor brings a very different type of shooting experience from the X10
At first glance this looks very close to the X10 body wise and it is, bar a minor change of buttons (the D pad now has the AF mode on it swapped with the drive mode a minor modification) the camera in other ways is a clone of the prior model (not a bad thing in my view)
You have the same 28-112mm F2-F2.8 lens an excellent optic and fast for a zoom lens. Fuji have re-vamped the menus breaking them into tabs, the RAW button is now the Q button (it brings up the quick menu just like the X10 did after the firmware update)
What's not to like? Well shooting with the X20 proved to be quite a lot different to the X10 and mostly in relation to the sensor.
I'll do my usual summary of good and bad points
+ Handling is mostly good, with plenty of customisation and custom settings bank (2 postions here to store your camera settings)
+ Excellent build quality solid magnesium alloy case, appealing "retro" styling
+ New optical viewfinder overlay is excellent, it shows approx focus point, ISO, shutter speed and aperture very useful, eye sensor shuts down LCD when being used
+ Some new film modes (pro neg) and the option for double exposures
+ Q menu is very useful and avoids the need to dive into the main menu system
+ You can now customise the min and max auto ISO levels as well as set a min shutter speed
+ New sensor outputs at a native 12mp and is capable of good detail reproduction in some cases it resolved details a bit better than the X10's sensor
+ Phase detect AF is now on the sensor, slight speed improvement, less prone to occasional focus errors v the X10 solid performance all round
+ Good flash exposures with intelligent balancing of ambient and flash (a Fuji strong point for a while now)
+ How shoe for external flash
+ You now have an external mic input (but sadly it's not a 3.5mm standard you'll need an adapter)
+ Audio levels can be adjusted in video mode, you can also use creative filters in video mode
+ 12fps continuous shooting, you can develop jpegs from raw in camera
- The X-Trans CMOS sensor can't compete with the EXR in terms of dynamic range there was a notable difference in output between the two with the X20 struggling with shadows and highlights esp at DR 100% and in tricky harsh lighting even at DR 400% wasn't able to match the X10
- Video output is quite weak, worse than the X10 details are poor and false colours are evident odd choice of fps (60fps and full HD no 30fps option) focus still tends to hunt like the X10 despite the new AF system, bar audio levels no manual controls
- Jpeg engine has strong noise reduction/smearing even at the -2 setting, black speckles a problem with higher DR settings
- SR+ is a poor substitute for the X10's EXR mode (really just another advanced auto program)
- Battery life isn't great, I struggled to get 200 shots per charge (below the indicated CIPA rating) even with low flash use
- I noted a loss of saturation at higher ISO levels even in raw most problematic at ISO 1600 and over
- Metering tends to underexposure (by quite a bit esp low light) shadows can be plugged
On paper the X20 does just about everything right and improves on the X10 in every way (some improvements are minor, some very welcomed) The start up times are quicker, card writing is more rapid, the new phase detect does increase accuracy somewhat too, the major one though is the optical viewfinder which was just "bare" on the X10 now has a raft of useful information on exposure which really makes it a more viable option and one you might actually want to use it.
Body wise Fuji got it right ironing out the kinks with this model
In normal light the X20 is capable of good image quality with good detail retention and pleasing colour output. White balance whilst not perfect also seems better in artificial light, though somewhat cool at times in daylight.
I ran the X20 head to head with the X10 and found both cameras are very different animals and require a unique way of working. Firstly the X20 has the much heralded X-Trans CMOS sensor this has proven popular with Fuji's APS-C line of ILC X cameras, here though it doesn't seem to do as well, at least that's what I found field shooting the cameras
In harsher lighting the X20 was prone to blowing out the highlight end and crushing the blacks, not helped by the cautious metering, you do have DR 200/400% just like the X10 but there is no option to shoot at 6mp (sensor is a non bayer but the EXR has a unique layout designed for big dynamic range) this means the X20 ramps up the ISO levels (ISO 200 at DR 200% ISO 400 at DR 400%) with images degrading due to noise. At full resolution DR 400% did improve the DR quite a lot, but it was no match for the X10's EXR sensor which even at full resolution was able to pull in more shadow and highlight details. In 6mp EXR mode the X10 hands down thumped the X20 esp raw where there was quite a significant gap between the two models. In normal light DR 200% might prove adequate for dynamic range on the X20, but the option to shoot at 6mp with the EXR sensor is sorely missed.
At full resolution the X20 in "some cases" was able to show better details than the X10, but the difference was not large, and in some shots the X10 seemed to do better. Either way it's not significant and didn't yield a huge step up despite the lack of AA filter on the X20
At high ISO levels the metering of the X10 worked better (it's more generous and aggressive which helps reduce noise) I had to add most times about a stop more exposure to the X20 to match the X10, whilst colour noise was less than the EXR sensor, colour fidelity and saturation took a dive (even using raw with no NR at all) The X20's sensor seems to lose vibrancy at high ISO levels more than the X10's. I would have to say that the X10's low light image quality is better than the X20's in both raw and jpeg
A special note on this one, the X10 had good jpegs not perfect but an ideal balance between detail retention and noise reduction (my setting was -2 for more details) some noise but details were maintained. This has changed entirely ont the X20 at normal settings the NR is strong even at lower ISO levels, setting the camera to -2 did improve things but artefacts and speckles were noted in images, quite a lot of smoothing. Most users want a choice so it's odd even the lowest NR setting still has strong smearing of details.
I don't shoot much video but was very surprised to see a notable downturn in video quality on the X20, whilst this isn't that important to me it's hard to be comfortable with the step backwards, whilst you can adjust sound levels and the built in mic is quite good (captures a decent frequency range in stereo), the footage lacked definition (false colours) and had a hazing when shot in low light. The choice of only 60fps for Full HD is also a strange one, there is no option for 30fps. Quality is significantly worse than the X10 video output (which itself was far from a benchmark in a premium compact)
I liked the X20 in every way except the change to the new sensor, whilst I've personally used the X-Trans CMOS sensor on some of the APS-C offerings for some reason this smaller sensor just doesn't seem to benefit from the technology. The EXR sensor is in my view better suited to this size of sensor.
Had I not shot with the X10 extensively for some time I might be happy enough with the X20 in normal shooting it does quite well, but when the tables turn and you face harsher contrasty lighting, the EXR sensor just stretches it's muscles and can deliver class leading dynamic range. With the X10 you can set the camera to 6mp DR 400% and in almost all situations hold highlights and shadow details very well, in raw the latitude goes beyond what you would expect from a small sensor camera. Shooting with the X20 you will have to try to hold the highlights and pull up the shadows in post, this camera favours raw shooting over jpeg (by some margin) the jpegs themselves are not up to the usual Fuji standard either with aggressive noise reduction and smearing fine details.
Both cameras demand their own way of working, if you have used the X10 then you cannot apply the same shooting methods to the X20, you will have to be much more careful with exposures, shooting the X10 is like shooting negative film, the X20 much closer to slide the latitude is less.
Fuji have improved the X20 in almost every way over the X10, except in the most important aspect and that is the sensor. For whatever reason the X20 just doesn't manage to match the X10's impressive tonal and dynamic range, and at the end of the day this matters more than the other improvements. The X20 is a camera that if you've never shot an EXR Fuji you may get along with quite well, but the X10's ability to tame difficult exposure situations and offer a solid performance in lower light remains unchallenged.
I sold the X20 and replaced it with another X10, I honestly just prefer the images from the X10. If you don't need a big dynamic range compact and are happy to shoot raw and video output isn't important the X20 is a solid enough camera, but if you want a compact that punches up with bigger sensor cameras at least with dynamic range, albeit with some warts and niggles the X10 is the one to hunt out, or look at some of the ILC models from various makers which feature bigger sensors.