Thursday, April 25, 2013

COMPARISON: Fujifilm X20 vs X10 – Have I found my 2013 P&S of the Year? (Updated: April 25th, 2013)

Fujifilm X20
Fujifilm X20 (also available in black)

The Fujiflim x10 was my 2011 point and shoot camera of the year for a good reason. It blew away the competition at the time.  What’s more, its EXR technology pulled off shots that even my best pro DSLR’s today couldn’t do without HDR. This coupled with its cool rangefinder appearance and premium camera construction made buy one for myself. Once it ended up in our household my wife quickly retired our trusty Canon G12 and never looked back. Many cameras have come and gone since that day, but the one she always goes back to is the x10. I felt the same way which is why on our trip to Hawaii I reached for the x10 more than any other camera I had with me (including my cell phone) – despite having easy access to all my pro gear during the entire trip. The x10 was a camera built for people who wanted to think about photography and not cameras, and who insisted on great quality results.

Fujifilm X20 Rear View
Fujifilm X20 Rear View

Fast forward to 2013 and I was crushed to find that the EXR mode that my wife loved so much had been removed from the replacement to our beloved x10 – the x20. I immediately worried that Fujifilm might have tried to improve the x10 so much that they made it like the x100 or X-Pro1 where image quality came at the expense of usability. Their horrible AF systems didn’t exist in my x10, so my bar was super high for the x20.

Fujifilm X20 - Front with lens cap view
Fujifilm X20 - Front with lens cap view

After using the x20 for nearly a month I can say that I’m both very happy and very disappointed in it. I will say up front that it’s too early to declare it my point and shoot camera of the year as it has some flaws that are tough to forgive in today’s market (which is much tougher than in 2011). However, it’s improvements have been significant enough that I personally bought one myself. As a result I’ll start with a high level review here and add some additional content down the road after I’ve had more time living with this camera day in and day out.

What I can say up front is that the x20 is still an outstanding camera that is sure to please anyone that uses it as a device to take photos. I think the video performance with this firmware is abysmal and there seems to be a loss of the video stabilization that seemed to exist in my x10. I’ve got another x20 on the way (the one I purchased for myself) so I’ll do some additional testing, but thus far video feels like a place where this camera has taken a big step backwards.

Comparison: X10 vs X20 – External Design

X10 Left - X20 Right - Front View
X10 Left - X20 Right - Front View

My favorite point and shoot camera is shown on the left next to my review unit x20. Despite spending a rough couple years in my wife’s purse (with lots of sharp objects – some of which did leave their mark), it’s held up well. With this in mind I was so happy to see that Fujifilm didn’t really change much of the ergonomics of the body. Beyond some minor cosmetic changes they are identical. When held in my hands they feel the same weight, size and pretty much like the same camera.

X10 Left - X20 Right - Top View
X10 Left - X20 Right - Top View

Up top my x10 is shown in the “spouse mode” – EXR mode. This was the mode that I told her (and the many people I encouraged to get x10’s) to keep the camera in most of the time. While EXR mode didn’t offer RAW files, I didn’t care because this wasn’t my pro camera – it was our family camera for snapshots and memories that didn’t need DSLR features (otherwise I would have used my DSLR). ‘

The only major change up to for the x20 is the replacement of the EXR mode with a scene recognition mode (SR+) . Fundamentally they are interchangeable, but functionally they are different. In fact, if there’s one thing I’m really disappointed about is that the EXR mode seemed to pull off more amazingly balanced exposures in the most difficult conditions than the X20’s SR+ mode can. The SR+ mode is very good – and some ways better than the X10’s EXR mode, but it did take some getting used to.

X10 Left - X20 Right - Rear View
X10 Left - X20 Right - Rear View

On the rear panel the big news is that the RAW button is now called the Q button which isn’t a big deal since the latest X10 firmware replaces the RAW button with an almost exact Q button menu as the X20. There’s also a swap between the AF Point and AF drive buttons with the latter moving to the dial so that burst mode is more obvious from its new button location.

The only other major external change is the addition of the sensor that detects when your head (or hand) is close to the viewfinder. For most, disabling that sensor will be the first thing they do after getting their camera because it’s so annoying.

X20 Real World Sample Images

As always, these images ALL RIGHTS RESERVED (yes, even the lame ones <g>). You may not save, edit, print, redistribute or otherwise use them without expressed written permission.

The full set of images is available at, but here’s a few noteworthy images. Click the image for the original and view using the gallery to see EXIF information. All major settings were camera defaults and in most cases I’m using the new SR+ scene recognition mode that replaces the old EXR mode that I loved.

I’ll be adding more images while I do my long term testing.

One of the first shots I took from the x20 that made me say WOW, this isn’t the x10!
f/5.6 @ 21.9 mm,1/600, ISO 100

Delicious in-camera color, check!
dynamic range? You bet!
f/5.6 @ 8.6 mm,1/340, ISO 100

Shot by my wife from a SUV doing 60 mph (window closed)
f/3.6 @ 28.4 mm,1/300, ISO 100

x20 in Super Macro mode rocks for flowers!
f/3.2 @ 7.1 mm,1/250, ISO 200

Panos still impress
f/3.2 @ 7.1 mm,1/250, ISO 100

I’m always impressed with how well it handles moving people
f/6.4 @ 7.1 mm,1/450, ISO 100

Great color and detail are obvious in all low ISO shots
f/6.4 @ 7.6 mm,1/640, ISO 100

The x20 isn’t a miracle worker though – it couldn’t help these ugly Easter bunnies
f/2.2 @ 7.9 mm, 1/30,ISO 100, No Flash

Blistering fast AF even in non-ideal light!
High ISO performance still sucks though
f/2 @ 7.1 mm, 1/340,ISO 1600, No Flash

f/2.2 @ 10.8 mm,1/60, ISO 2500, No Flash (taken by my wife)

f/2.2 @ 7.9 mm, 1/30,ISO 1600, No Flash (taken by my wife)

f/2.2 @ 7.9 mm, 1/60,ISO 1000, No Flash (taken by my wife)

My old X10 gallery can be found here where you can see some sample images form the older camera at various ISO’s for offline comparison.

UPDATE: April 24, 2013 – Here’s another article with even more images:

Living with the Fujifilm X20 (and letting your spouse use it) vs Fujifilm X10

As always, these images ALL RIGHTS RESERVED (yes, even the lame ones <g>). You may not save, edit, print, redistribute or otherwise use them without expressed written permission.

Bookshelf Test (Updated April 25, 2013)

My top level findings are that there are no obvious resolution advantages of the X20 over the X10, despite the removal of the low pass filter in the x20. I expected a big advantage for the X20, but I didn’t observe that in my testing. The metering is more accurate in the x20 which creates better contrast and accurate color, whereas the X10 overexposes by a stop more.

The in-camera noise reduction of the x20 is so bad that it should be set to –2. Since this can’t be done in Scene Recognition mode (SR+), you end up with details being smeared in that mode versus crisp sharp images with the x10. 

X20, f/2 @ 7.1 mm, 0.7s,ISO 100, No Flash

X10, f/2 @ 7.1mm, 1.5s, ISO 100, No Flash
The X10 in Aperture Priority chose a longer exposure for identical conditions

While there are plenty more shots at (and x10 Bookshelf files are here), the big takeaway right now is that the bookshelf test results are very good for low ISO’s with in-camera JPEG’s. The RAW (RAF format) files are very soft out of the camera and rely on post-processing, but they clean up real well (much like a kit lens for lower end DSLR’s). As you’ll see with the samples the images get so ugly after ISO 3200 that few would be able to use them. ISO 12,800 is a joke – it’s the worst I’ve ever seen so consider this an ISO 3200 (6400 in a pinch) camera.

Sharpness-wise the x10 and x20 seem to be about the same to my eyes, but the X20 in-camera noise reduction sucks. As you can see in the image below it smears the detail as ISO’s increase. The x10 has a tendency to over expose by about a stop over the x20 which may make some x10 users feel like he x20 images are darker. This can be compensated for by using the exposure dial on the camera, but honestly I think the x20 has more accurate metering.

SR+ vs EXR Mode – Not even close to the same

The X20 SR+ mode on top vs X10 EXR mode on bottom

The more accurate metering accounts for the faster shutter speeds and darker x20 image because the X10 has a tendency to overexpose. When side by side it will feel like the X20 is underexposing because the X10 image is so bright, but when you let your eyes adjust the X20 looks more accurately metered to my eyes (or perhaps –1/3ev).

The brighter images of the X10 give the perception that it does a better job because we often like brighter images. To compensate for these problems I did exposure matching below where I still think EXR has something special with the perceptual dynamic range. I couldn’t reproduce that mojo with the X20, so I’ll probably still keep my X10 as an extra camera for when I need this extra range.

X10 EXR Exposure vs X20 Aperture Priority matched

imageX10 EXR mode vs X20 Aperture Priority Exposure Matched (DR400)
Click to see full size of 1x crops
Cameras are reporting same focal lengths but they are visually
off with the same lens so I think it’s a bug in one of them

What I see here is that EXR mode definitely using more sharpening, and as I’ve suspected it seems to have a broader dynamic range. The colors on the X20 just feel a bit more bleached out. The less aggressive noise reduction also preserves more detail.

X10 Aperture Priority matched to X20 SR+ Exposure

YOU MUST click to view original
X10 Aperture Priority Exposure Matched (DR400) setting vs X20 SR+
Click to see full size of 1x crops
Cameras are reporting different focal lengths but they visually
match with the same lens so I think it’s a bug in one of them

I should note here that both cameras were using the latest firmware at the time this test was done. The X10 is on 2.0 and the X20 was on 1.01. You have to click the image above to get the full size version. What you’ll see is that there’s a tad more noise in the X10 which makes sense because x20 SR+ noise reduction sucks. The noise reduction of the x20 causes some detail smearing but the details that are left feel a tiny bit sharper. The X10 has better all detail preservation which is simply due to less aggressive noise reduction. Beyond that they seem pretty close.

RAW via Lightroom 4.4

Here’s Lightroom 4.4’s post-process of a RAF file with develop tab defaults:

X20, f/2 @ 7.1 mm, 1/42,ISO 3200, No Flash – Zoomed to 100%

Above is a 100% crop above of the full shot shown earlier in this section. I definitely prefer the in-camera JPEG version, but if you must only use RAW files this gives you an idea of your starting point.

About Real World Sample Images

I sometimes am asked, “what do you mean by ‘real world’ sample images?” Some have even taken a poke and said “does that mean photos that suck?”

The truth is that as a consumer one of the things that has always annoyed me is when I see the images from a camera on a web site that look fantastic, but when I get it home and use it under normal everyday conditions the photos just don’t have the same “oomph”. As a blogger  I began to investigate “why” there were these discrepancies and I discovered three things:

  1. Some sites doctor their photos so what you are seeing is an edited image that used the camera in question, but that’s not an image you’ll really ever get out of the camera. To me this is useless.
  2. Some sites only show you photos taken in beautiful surroundings and lighting conditions. While these may be real images, they aren’t the type of image the average person will be taking. This leads to massive disappointment when you get home and are shooting around the house in very difficult lighting and non-ideal locations and think “gosh, this camera sucks compared to what I saw on the web”.

All of the images I feature for all my camera reviews are only impacted by the in-camera processing which is also what you see on your camera’s LCD (even when you shoot RAW). There is NO post-processing and what you see is what you can expect to get. While I do try to get some images in nice settings so you can see what a nice photo will be like, I also work hard to stress the camera to see how it performs under difficult situations (i.e., backlight, mid-day sun highlights, tungsten lighting, indoors with high ISO, etc…).

It’s my opinion that real world shots really tell you what you want to know about a camera and keep you from being surprised when you get it home. It does mean that I have to take some criticism for shots that aren’t always cropped perfectly (what you see is EXACTLY what came out of the camera), and I show image failures. However, my goal is to be the place that you can trust for a REAL assessment of a camera and a place you can trust.


My basic advice is that owners from other platforms who don’t use video much will be very happy with the X20. X10 owners will miss their EXR mode and video performance, but otherwise will love this camera in every way. The AF is improved and it is SOOOOOOOOOO much faster in every way. The 9fps burst mode rocks and the start/stop as well as time waiting between shoots feels like it’s a 100x faster. As a result, I can actually use this camera to photography my active son in a variety of scenarios that the X10 could never handle.

Is the x20 my point and shoot camera of the year? Sadly, no. This is a great camera, but the poor in-camera noise reduction and video hold it back in this super competitive market we live in these days. With tough competitors like the Nikon COOLPIX A, Sony RX100, Olympus XZ-2  and Panasonic DMC-LF1 makes it hard to forgive these faults, but Fujifilm seems to respond to feedback so hopefully firmware updates will resolve these problems.

In then end, the x20 is still the camera that I bought for myself because it is great in the areas that I find most important – especially when I set the in-camera noise reduction to –2. I’m hoping that firmware updates will improve the SR+ mode and noise reduction issues as well. I will admit that I tested the x20 around the same time I tested the phenomenal x100s, so my expectations were super high for the x20. However, it’s half the price but not half the camera so I can still highly recommend it as an excellent compact camera.

Where to order

Click here to order the Fujifilm X20 from B&H web site.

Click here to order from Adorama.

Click here to order from Amazon.

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I was provided with a loaner camera by B&H for this review. If you make a purchase using links found in this article, I may make a commission. It doesn’t cost you a penny more, but it does help to support future articles like this.

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The opinions provided are of Ron Martinsen alone and do not reflect the view of any other entity


Peter A. Jensen said...

I bought the X20 and love it for the pictures, however the video performance was extremely disappointing as you noticed. The autofocus on the video is what struck me, it was very erratic and lost focus of my subject very easily. Have you heard anything about a firmware fix?

Shane Wickramasuriya said...

I looking at one of these to get myself. Which would you recommend, considering that the X10 is now about £100 cheaper than the X20.


Shane Wickramasuriya said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Ron Martinsen said...

Shane - you can't go wrong with an X10 since it has EXR and better video, but the X20 is faster which can make the difference between getting the shot and not.

It depends on your needs and budget.

I own both because I still like my X10, but the reality is that I don't think i've shot a frame with it since the month of this review. We've used the X20 exclusively since then.

Anonymous said...

It says x20 is mirrorless camera. Can I change the lens

Ron Martinsen said...

No, you can not change the lens on the x20. It's technology is mirrorless, but it is not a MILC -

Sarah Jones Saddleton said...


I appreciate this article. You give good, actual advice and details which I find absent in many camera reviews! I have been pouring over information on the web and I thought that the x20 was going to be the answer for me. I am looking for a new camera to be my main shooter. I currently have a complete piece of junk Kodak...embarrassing, I know.I mainly shoot my toddler son and general everyday pictures. Do you have a recommendation for me? Speed is a priority, not concerned with an extreme zoom. Something easy to use. I don't want to get into the DSLR world, would like something more portable. $250-$500 range. I am not an aspiring photographer but I need to capture fast, clear memories.


Ron Martinsen said...

Hi Sarah,

I'm thinking that your best bet would be either a used x10 in EXR mode or a Sony a3000 is going to be your best bet.

wilco said...

Does XE-1 color comparable to X10?

Ron Martinsen said...


The X-E1 is significantly better than the X10 or X20.

Click here to see my review.