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Recently there has been a flurry of what we’re now calling ‘high-end’ compact cameras… namely models with the features and performance to meet the demands of enthusiasts and pro-level users. The idea of a very small, but very capable camera has always been appealing and the digital imaging technologies now make it possible to shoe-horn a lot into a very small package.

With the low end of the compact camera market now severely eroded by smartphones, many manufacturers are taking refuge on the higher ground, but some understand the demands better than others. Fujifilm is one of them, but it’s the retro-styled X100 and its successor that have been making most of the headlines in the fixed-lens sector, so the original X10 flew under the radar despite being a very interesting little package. Its replacement, the X20, builds on this, but like the X100S, it basically does everything better than its predecessor… a lot better. Like the X100S, the X20 has the same bodyshell and lens as its predecessor, but on the inside a whole lot has changed, including the sensor, the autofocusing system and the viewfinder.

The styling is still very classical, but it’s more compact than the X100S and, while not by much, the X20 has a 28-112mm (35mm equivalent) zoom rather than a fixed focal lengths lens. Externally, it has a main mode dial and one for applying exposure compensation plus it has the combination of both a built-in flash and hotshoe. True, the sensor is smaller than the X100S’s ‘APS-C’ device, but as the X-S1 proves, Fujifilm knows a bit about making small imagers that are big on performance.

Furthermore, the X20 graduates to an ‘X-Trans CMOS II’ sensor which employs the same RGB filter array as the larger ‘APS-C’ devices used in the X100S, X-Pro1 and X-E1. However, at 8.8x6.6 mm in area, the X20’s sensor certainly isn’t the smallest in this class of camera, and it manages to squeeze maximum effort out of its 12 million effective pixels by virtue of the 6x6 ‘X-Trans’ filter pattern which eliminates the need for a low-pass filter. It’s also a ‘backside illuminated’ design which means the pixels are as big as they can be. And, as with the X100S, the sensor incorporates dedicated arrays for phase-difference detection autofocusing, enabling a hybrid AF system which is faster than relying on contrast-detection measurements alone. This alone puts the X20 into a league of its own, but perhaps more significant is its built-in viewfinder. For starters, it actually has one which is a big plus, but it’s not just a plain old optical tunnel as was the case on the X10.

Instead, the X20 has the grandly-named ‘Advanced Optical Viewfinder’ which incorporates another piece of clever Fujifilm design in the form of a digital display overlay generated via a ‘Digital Trans Panel’. This isn’t as sophisticated as the hybrid optical/electronic finder in the X100S, but it still works extremely effectively, superimposing a selection of read-outs and icons over the optical image. These include the exposure settings, the exposure mode, ISO settings, exposure compensation, the active AF frame (but only a 5x5 points array rather than the full 7x7) and an in-focus indicator. There are also status indicators for the flash mode and self-timer plus warnings for parallax error, out-of-focus range and camera shake. Additionally, there an optional 3x3 grid pattern and the colour of all the displays changes from black to green in low light situations to aid legibility. And everything switches to red if there’s a problem with either the focusing or the exposure.

Thank-you for looking up our  Fujifilm FinePix X20 Review. This equipment review is currently available only as a low-resolution pdf version of the original magazine pages originally printed in the March / April 2013 issue.

You can download it here: Fujifilm FinePix X20 review.pdf