Street shooting, ISO capability and Xpro1 comparison
Fuji X20 Review: In a couple of weeks, my wife and I are going traveling around Vietnam (*update – some Vietnam street photography shots can be found here). SLR’s have long been the camera of choice for most travel photographers (or an expensive Leica!), and I have always taken an SLR away with me on our travels. However, for this trip I’ll be taking my trusty Fuji X-Pro 1, and yesterday we received a brand new Fuji X20, with the idea that Laura will use this to shoot with. She was looking for a compact camera with the ability to shoot manually, an optical zoom, decent ISO performance, and high quality images. Have we found the perfect travel camera for amateurs?
This is more of a practical review, and won’t be “pixel peeking” in detail. I took the Fuji X20 out into Manchester city centre, and did some street photography to really put the camera through its paces. I’ve shared some of my street shots and thoughts below, as well as some examples of high ISO performance. I have owned a Fuji X100, and now regularly use the XPro1 to shoot weddings. I’m a big fan of the Fuji System, and these cameras are the only benchmark in which I have to compare the X20 with. I always shoot in manual or aperture priority, and have not tested any of the auto modes.
Size and Style
The first thing I noticed about the Fuji, was its small size – and looking very similar to the X100, it is very stylish too. You can easily hold the X20 and shoot one handed if desired, and it fits in your pocket if you want to keep it out of sight.
Before I get into a little more detail on the review, I took the camera into the city centre and tested its performance under travel photography conditions – street shooting. Street photography is one of the most demanding tests of a camera, so it was with some trepidation I took this little camera out. The images were all shot in jpg, with slight contrast and B&W conversions performed in LR.
I was actually very very impressed with its performance, and although I was only shooting for just over 2 hours (then the battery ran out!), I managed to get some frames I would have been proud of with my XPro 1.
You have 3 shooting options in relation to the viewfinder… unfortunately you have to go into the menu system to alternate between these, which is a bit of a pain when shooting using the optical viewfinder only.
Personally I always like to use an optical viewfinder. When I read that the X20 displays digital shooting information inside the optical viewfinder, I was expecting something similar to the hybrid viewfinder of the X100 and XPro 1. Its not quite the case, the information displayed is very basic: aperture, shutter speed and ISO. It does not show exposure compensation or the current exposure level. A small arrow points “up” or “down” to inform you if the scene is under or over exposed (as a leica does), but its not particularly useful for todays cameras, as you have no idea how far under or overexposed you are! When shooting using the eyepiece you have to just hope your exposure is correct. However, having said this, I found the optical view finder very easy to use, and this extra information is a great improvement on the X10.
Using the LCD screen, you are presented with much more shooting information. You can see the focus point at all times (and you can move this), as well as most of the more complex information I’m used to with the 100 and XPro1 (such as exposure compensation). Using the LCD screen drains battery and can be hard to use in direct sunlight – but it does what it says on the tin, and the LCD provides a nice image.
*update, I have been using the X20 with an expert shield LCD screen protector, a great value little investment, easy to fit and protects the screen from scratches.
In this mode, you are shooting in “LCD screen mode” but this switches to optical viewfinder when you bring the camera to your eye. In an ideal world, I would have the camera to “Eye sensor” at all times, I could therefore see my exposure and other settings on the LCD screen, then bring the camera to my eye and shoot using the optical viewfinder. But this will drain the battery quickly, so a couple of spares will be needed (the batteries are very small, so this is no issue!)
I fully charged the camera before setting out, and shot most of the time using the optical viewfinder. The camera lasted just over 2 hours, which is not great, but I captured 322 frames in that time. I imagine turning off some features like the image stabilisation would help in this regard – but you will need some spare batteries if taking the X20 on your travels or street shooting for the day.
Focusing + Shooting
Fuji seem to release their X series cameras with a few quirks, and this is no different. On more than one occasion, I rotated the barrel to turn the camera on, and nothing happened. I’m hoping issues like this will be fixed via a firmware update soon.
When looking through the optical viewfinder, there is no focus point, and the area of focus is only shown after you have achieved focus (a small green light does confirm focus). This took some getting used to for me, as a XPro 1 shooter, I am used to a small focus point being visible at all times. However the focus worked really well via the optical viewfinder, and I hit focus most of the time. If struggling to get the right focus, the LCD screen is more useful.
The speed of focus is outstanding. Switching focus from close, to a distant object, appears immediate, much faster than my Xpro1! Focusing is absolutely silent too, this is great for street shooting!
When you press the shutter, there is no mechanical sound. The X100 and XPro1 have quiet shutters, but the X20 is absolutely noiseless – great for capturing street images of people without them knowing. The only downside to this silent shutter is when using the optical viewfinder, you have no confirmation an image was taken. Indeed on several occasions, I pressed the shutter, assumed the shot had been taken, but upon reviewing the LCD screen, found nothing there.
I was very impressed with the ISO capability of this camera, and ISO 3200 is very usable. These are jpg images straight out of camera. The following images have been resized to 900px for web viewing – but I’m happy to provide full size jpgs if you just leave a comment below – I’ll send some across.
The Fuji provides a really nice zoom range, 28mm – 112mm (35mm equiv). See the two sample shots below, at full wide angle (28mm) and full zoom (112mm). You can see a full size jpg straight out of camera here.
Pros + Cons
- Very small, lightweight
- Excellent focus speed
- Optical viewfinder “semi electronic”
- Good ISO performance
- In-built flash
- Good zoom range
- Poor battery life
- Difficult to control in manual mode using optical viewfinder
This is an excellent compact camera. For its size and price, it performs brilliantly. If I was asked to recommend a camera to amateur photographers, wanting to get into street photography, or serious about their travel photographs, then this is a great place to start.