Fuji X20 Review
Usability - How easy is it to use?
NOTE Given the extreme external similarity to the Fuji Finepix X10, this page is mostly taken from the X10 review. The mode-dial, viewfinder and Q button described below are the only notable changes.
The Fuji X20 has a rectangular design similar in appearance to traditional rangefinders. It feels very solid in hand with magnesium top and bottom plates. There are rounded corners but the X20 is largely made of right angles except for a slight grip to the front. The grip provides little purchase, so the included necks trap is very welcome.
The camera is powered on by turning the mechanical lens from the Off position to the 28mm mark, which is the beginning of the zoom. From there, the lens rotates very smoothly across its zoom range. It is truly a pleasure to use a mechanical lens and it is a shame that only Fuji keeps building cameras with them. This is a substantial usability advantage compared to other fixed-lens cameras, since framing is arguably the most important aspect of photography.
The top plate is split in two levels by a curve. The high side, towards the left, has the hot-shoe and built-in popup flash. The lower side, has a traditional mode-dial, threaded shutter-release, programmable function button and exposure compensation dial. The shutter-release has a moderate amount of travel to the half-point and triggers immediately below. Its position is not very comfortable because the neck strap eyelet digs into your finder while taking a shot.
The exposure-compensation dial is marked ±2 in 1/3 EV increments. This makes EC easily accessible from the back of the camera. The dial has excellent detents to prevent accidental changes. This modal interface is not everyone's favorite but makes it obvious when EC is in effect. A small customizable button labelled Fn sits just in front of the EC dial. There are nine options to choose from for the Fn button but, since the X20 does not provide a direct button for changing ISO, this will be its most likely function.
The mode-dial has 11 positions with good detents. The traditional PASM modes are all there. There are also two custom modes which can be set to any exposure-mode. Since the X20 features an X-Trans sensor instead of an EXR one, gone are the EXR mode which has been replaced by SR+ which stands for Scene Recognition Plus.
There is a completely Automatic mode, labeled by a camera icon, which disables most settings and ignores the EC dial. Still, Film Simulation can be selected but image parameters cannot be set. ISO is always automatic but its behavior can be customized with a default sensitivity between 100 and 3200 in 1/3 EV steps and a maximum sensitivity between 400 and 3200 in 1 EV steps. The minimum shutter-speed can be specified between 1/4 and 1/125s.
The Adv position groups together the advanced modes discussed on the previous page of this review. The SP position groups all Scene modes for those intimidated by manual controls. Now are filter-effects which appear as one of the options under Adv. There are 14 scenes and 13 effects to choose from.
The last position on the mode-dial is for recording video. This lets the camera always show the correct framing before filming. Entering video mode causes the camera menu to change and show options which are relevant to video. Most importantly, video resolution can be set up to full 1080p HD at 60 FPS. There are also a number of odd high-speed modes: 640x480 @ 80 FPS, 320x240 @ 150 FPS and 320x112 @ 250 FPS.
The front of this camera hosts the only remaining control that is not at the back. This is a rotating lever to toggle between AF-S, AF-C and MF focus modes. In Manual Focus mode, the rear control-dial sets the focus distance. The camera not only shows which distance is in perfect focus but also the depth-of-field around it.
The back of the camera includes an atypical 2.8" LCD with 460K pixels. The view is sharp and motion is fluid in High Performance mode. In Power Save mode, it remains relatively smooth in bright light but becomes choppy in moderately low-light. Visibility is good but the screen aggressively dims down to save power. Just tap lightly the shutter-release to brighten the LCD again.
The biggest complaint about this camera is the poor accuracy of the display. The LCD is not Exposure-Priority and the optional Live-Histogram is based on the display brightness, making it useless most of the time. There is also a problem previewing white-balance. In High Performance mode, the preview is usually worse than in Power Save mode. At least coverage of the LCD is accurate.
Contrarily to the LCD, the optical tunnel viewfinder only shows 85% coverage, putting it in useless territory. Not only that, pulling a screw-up from Canon, the lens obstructs the view when the zoom is between 28 and 45mm. The two new elements to this optical viewfinder is that there is an Eye-Start sensor and an LCD overlay which highlights the focus point and shows exposure parameters. Even those who do not use the optical viewfinder may like to keep the Eye-Start sensor active since it turns off the rear LCD automatically when the camera is hanging against your chest.
The back of the camera includes dual controls dials, a 4-way controller and no less than 7 buttons. The upper control-dial is found right next to the thumb. It has soft detents and is actually clickable. Normally the upper one sets the main exposure parameter, such as the aperture in Aperture-Priority mode. In Manual mode however, clicking the upper control-dial toggles the parameter being changed. The other parameter then gets changed by the lower control-dial, except if focus is set to MF. In that case, the lower control-dial sets the focus distance.
The lower control-dial is located around the 4-way controller. It is rather slim and moves freely, so it is a good thing that it is not used most of the time. With detents, Fuji could have added ISO control on that dial to free the Fn button. About of the 4-way controller, each direction is assigned a function:
- UP: Sets lets the user select the AF-point, when applicable. Once pressed, the AF point can be moved to any of 49 areas using the 4-way controller. The size of the area is controlled by the lower rear-dial.
- RIGHT: Selects the flash mode between Auto, On and Slow-Sync. These only apply with the flash raised.
- DOWN: Sets the self-timer between Off, 2s and 10s.
- LEFT: Sets the macro mode to Off, Macro or Super-Macro. This last one can focus down to 1cm but only with the lens at its widest.
Above the 4-way controller is the customizable AE-L/AF-L button. It can be set to hold or toggle exposure, focus or both. Below the 4-way controller are the DISP and Q buttons. The DISP button cycles through various display modes, one of which can be customized to include the single-axis digital level.
The Q button invokes the Quick Menu which is more like an interactive status screen. Once pressed, the LCD shows 16 settings, always highlighting the last one used. The 4-way controller selects a setting and the upper dial changes it. This is very efficient and a welcome replacement for the X10's RAW button.
To the left of the LCD is a vertical column of 4 buttons: Play, AE, Drive and WB. As usual, Play enters and exists Playback mode. One can also exist Playback mode with a tap of the shutter-release. AE brings up a menu to select the metering mode between Multi-Segment, Spot and Average. Drive brings up a menu of no less than 7 drive modes, several of them configurable. When a mode is selected which is incompatible with current camera settings, the camera highlights in yellow settings which get automatically changed. Going back to the previous drive mode reverts the change. WB, as expected, selects White-Balance.
The bottom of the X20 has a metal tripod mount which is neither inline with the optical axis nor the center of the camera, meaning it is not ideal for anything. With a small tripod head, it could be possible to change memory and batteries without removing the camera. Just like the top, the bottom is sturdy. Even the plastic compartment door is more durable then usual.
Overall, the Fuji X20 handles extremely well. Ergonomics are not perfect but the mechanical zoom is probably enough to excuse everything else. The lower dial can certainly be improved and the upper dial be made more useful since its clickable feature is only used in Manual mode. Also, to be able to wake up camera up from sleep with a half-press of the shutter, one has to enable Quick Start Mode.
The most serious usability issue is the poor accuracy of the image preview which can hopefully be corrected via a firmware update. For now, this forces the photographer to review his images more often than usual. The OVF is not every useful, complex and takes up space. It would be immensely better if Fuji included the EVF part of the X100S instead.
Fuji X20 Facts
Medium digital camera
|12 Megapixels Fixed Lens||ISO 100-12800|
|4X Mechanically Linked Wide Optical Zoom||Shutter 1/4000-30s|
|Built-in Stabilization||Full manual controls, including Manual Focus|
|Automatic Eye-Start sensor||Custom white-balance|
|1 Axis Digital Level||Spot-Metering|
|12 FPS Drive, 11 Images||Hot-Shoe|
|1920x1080 @ 60 FPS Video Recording||Stereo audio input|
|2.8" LCD 460K Pixels||Lithium-Ion Battery|
|Secure Digital Extended Capacity|
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