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Fast Enough for Street Photography
Most digicams suffer from frustrating shutter lag that makes action photography almost impossible. The X20 is nearly as fast as a DSLR. An external control selects among AF-S (single), AF-C (continuous), and MF (manual) focus modes. You can let the camera select the focus point or use the default center point. If you want, you can move the focus point anywhere in the frame and adjust its size.
In AF-S mode, the X20 usually locks focus very quickly, even indoors. The instruction manual recommends AF-S for stationary subjects and AF-C for moving subjects, but AF-S is so fast that it’s suitable for almost any subject. As one of our test photos shows, the X20 locked focus on the legs of a tattooed man who was walking briskly on a city sidewalk. Even though both the photographer and subject were in motion, the X20 captured a sharp image of the Blues Brothers tattoos on the man’s calves. The subject was not a model and was unaware he was being photographed. And this photo wasn’t cherry-picked from a multiframe burst—it was the only frame.
Even in AF-S mode, the Fujifilm X20 was fast enough to lock focus on this man’s rapidly moving legs. A high shutter speed helped freeze a sharp image of the tattoos on his calves. (ISO 100, 1/550 second at f/5.6.)
So yes, the X20 is a good choice for urban street photography. Any camera fast enough for street photography is fast enough for almost anything else. For rapid sports action, DSLRs are still faster, and they accept longer telephoto lenses. But a honking-big DSLR with zoom lens can be intimidating on the street or attract too much attention when traveling abroad in nontourist areas. The small X20 is much stealthier and less obtrusive.
Almost Too Many Controls
Diving into menus to access vital functions is a pain in the butt, so cameras designed for advanced amateurs and pros have numerous “hard controls”—external buttons, knobs, rings, and switches. The X20 has plenty of those. Like almost all digital cameras, however, it omits the straightforward shutter-speed dials and f/stop rings of classic cameras. (Fujifilm’s higher-end X100, X100S, XPro-1, and XE-1 are rare exceptions.)
The X20’s top mode dial includes the M(anual), S(hutter-priority), A(perture-priority), and P(rogram) exposure modes that enthusiasts demand. Of course, the camera also has full-auto and automatic scene-selection modes, so you can hand it to anyone for a casual snapshot.
Unlike most digicams, the X20 also has a top-mounted exposure-compensation dial that adds or subtracts up to two stops of exposure in 1/3-stop increments in the auto and semiauto modes. During testing, the X20 fiercely resisted the blown highlights of overexposure, consistently delivering correct exposures or slight underexposures. If your experience varies, you can use the compensation dial to bias the exposures either way.
On the camera’s back, a control wheel, control ring, four-way cursor switch, electronic-flash switch, and eight buttons provide additional inputs. The most vital of these controls is a little wheel recessed horizontally above the thumb rest. In shutter-priority mode, it controls the shutter speed; in aperture-priority mode, it controls the f/stop. In manual mode, it controls both, because it’s also a click wheel—press it once to switch between the two settings. You can also use the control ring surrounding the four-way switch to change these values, but the wheel is handier when using the OVF.
When shooting, the four-way switch lets you move the focus point, change the flash mode, enter the macro-focus mode, or activate the self-timer. A center button displays the menus on the LCD. A nearby button lets you lock the exposure, the focus point, or both. Another button alters the information displayed on the LCD; pressing it for a few seconds longer forces the camera into “quiet mode,” suppressing the flash, focus-assist light, and all sounds. Next to it, another button opens a single-screen Quick Menu containing 15 important functions. To the left of the LCD, four more buttons let you review pictures or change the white balance, drive mode (single shot, burst, etc), or metering pattern (matrix, averaging, or spot).
The electronic-flash switch manually raises or lowers the built-in flash—with the X20, you need never worry about the flash popping off when you don’t want it to. In addition, the X20 has a standard hot shoe, so you can attach any accessory flash unit. (In another homage to classic cameras, the X20’s shutter button is threaded for a standard mechanical cable release.)
What’s missing? A dedicated ISO button is the most notable omission. However, the Quick Menu includes this setting, and a programmable function button on the top deck provides even quicker access, if you want. The previous X10 model had a RAW-format button, but the X20 replaces it with the Quick Menu button. (You can select RAW or RAW+JPEG format in the menus, or program the function button for this purpose.)
Overall, the X20’s controls are far better than those on typical digicams and rival those on DSLRs. The absent ISO button was missed most, but the alternatives are tolerable. Indeed, the X20 has almost TOO MANY controls for such a small camera. It’s easy to accidentally bump a control when handling the X20. Fortunately, pressing the menu button for a few seconds disables the four-way switch and Quick Menu button. (Hint: because the control ring is rarely needed, it can be discreetly disabled with a piece of electrical tape.)
Small cameras are understandably popular, but the X20 is one digicam that could stand to be a little larger. It’s slightly too large to be a true pocket camera, anyway (except for coat pockets), so a bit more girth would make it easier to handle.
Click the next page to read about the X20's image quality.