I was recently looking for a compact camera as an alternative to my SLR so I surveyed the field and settled on a Fujifilm X20. I wanted a small camera that I can easily carry with me on casual outings in which photography is not the primary goal. I also wanted a camera that looks less formidable than a big SLR with its larger lenses. For street photography or just to put people at ease a compact camera is just the thing. A stealth camera is also useful in situations where persnickety officials want to deny you the right to take photographs in a public place. I was once told by a security guard that I had to leave the grounds while photographing the exterior of a performing arts center with my SLR. However, in situations like this you can usually get away with using a compact camera.
A wide range of compact cameras is available these days and many deliver outstanding image quality. At the low end, with prices beginning around $100, there are point-and-shoot models which differentiate themselves from cell phone cameras by providing higher resolutions, optical zoom lenses and better image quality. At the upper end are mirrorless cameras like the micro four thirds cameras which feature interchangeable lenses and image quality approaching and even attaining SLR quality and resolution.
I quickly eliminated point-and-shoot cameras because they lack the kind of controls I wanted, including aperture- and shutter-priority and manual modes. They also lack the ability to get RAW format files and that was an important consideration for me. The micro four-thirds cameras were attractive because of their sophistication, the option to use interchangeable lenses, and the high-quality images they offer. But I didn’t want to pay as much for a compact camera as I did for my Nikon D7000. At about $600 the Fujifilm X20 fell within my price range while providing enough of the features and quality I was seeking.
Fujifilm X20 Features
I had heard about the Fujifilm X100 on photography podcasts and I knew it was well regarded. But with a price tag equal to what I paid for my D7000 and its kit lens the X100 was out of the question. And, if price alone hadn’t been enough of a deterrent the single focal length lens—and no lens mount—was a deal-breaker. I know it’s popular to say that a single focal length lens inspires creativity and that may be true but there are some shots, many shots, that you just can’t get with a 35mm-equivalent focal length even if you do “zoom with your feet.” And you can’t always zoom with your feet anyway. If I was going to get a camera to serve as a substitute for my SLR and two zoom lenses then that replacement would need to be versatile.
The X20, at about half the price of the X100, was much more attractive. And its fast f2.0-2.8 28-112mm equivalent zoom lens was also appealing. The X20 includes all the PSAM exposure modes along with a slew of automatic modes, the ability to deliver RAW files, and according to what I had heard, good image quality. Also, the X20 is an updated version of the X10. The X10 was a flawed product with some significant problems that would have disqualified it from consideration. But, according to reports, the X20 fixed all those problems and delivered additional enhancements. The willingness of Fujifilm to listen to customer feedback and follow up with fixes impressed me.
Also, the X20 features an innovative “X-Trans CMOS II” image sensor which reportedly leads to sharper images than is possible with conventional sensors. Finally, the X20 includes an optical viewfinder, something which is uncommon in compact cameras. Since a lot of my shooting is done outdoors I was concerned about the difficulty of composing photographs on a washed-out LCD screen. With the optical viewfinder that wouldn’t be a problem. So, in addition to Fujifilm’s demonstrated commitment in fixing the X10’s problems, I was also impressed by their innovation and willingness to create products that stand out from the pack. These things, combined with the list of features, the quality of both the camera and its images, and the reasonable price led me to purchase an X20. In an upcoming post I’ll provide my first impressions of shooting with the X20. In the meantime, if you’re interested in more details you can read a review of the Fujifilm X20 camera on the DPReview website.