Tuesday, February 19, 2013

NEW! Fujifilm X100S and X20

[update: our price-list from Fujifilm has been revised - the X20 will sell for only $599.95]

Fujifilm has announced successors to the X10 and X100, the new X20 ($649 $599) and X100S ($1,299) respectively. I had a chance to see some prototype cameras the other day and I am looking forward to both shipping in March some time. We are taking pre-orders for them now.

The X100S might only look like a subtle upgrade from the X100, but under the skin things have changed substantially and the same goes for the X20 as well, perhaps even more so. You can't see it in photos, but in person both cameras have a truly gorgeous new metal finish. Something to do with the texture, which seems slightly different from my X100, which you can't see on the above photos, but both cameras just have this beautiful metallic glow or sheen. The X20 especially has got to be one of the absolute best looking cameras I have ever laid my eyes on. Hmm, I have no idea why it looks so good to me but in any case, Fujifilm sure got it right on the X20 styling in my opinion. Photos don't do these cameras justice! Okay, enough about the styling, now onto the more significant changes...

The major change in the X100S would be moving from a conventional Bayer-pattern 12 megapixel CMOS sensor to a new version of the 16 megapixel X-Trans sensor that is used in the X-E1 and X-Pro1. As I understand it, the image quality will be on the same high level with clean high ISO and superb dynamic range. The changes have to do with Fujifilm adding phase-detect pixels on the X-Trans sensor. These extra pixels allow the camera to acquire focus much more rapidly and the drive the lens to the correct position instantly, without any hunting, much the same way that conventional phase-detect systems on DSLRs work. Since the camera was a pre-production unit, I won't comment in detail on its performance, but it certainly seemed snappier than my X100 is.

The second advantage of having the phase-detect pixels is a "virtual split image" display in the viewfinder. If you've ever used an older film SLR, you may be familiar with focusing screens that have a central round spot, with a horizontal line running through? Sometimes the split is diagonal. If you position that line across a vertical edge for example, then when the camera is out-of-focus, you'll see a split in the vertical edge. Once you bring the lens into focus, you'll see the two split images get closer and when the edge is an unbroken line again, you know you have achieved accurate focus. The Fuji works in a similar way, but rather than having a single split, it actually has four sections rather than two, and thus three "splits" to help line up your focus.

I have tested it, it does work and I can definitely see it helping in some manual-focus situations, but unlike a traditional focusing screen where the split images in the central spot stay sharp even when wildly out of focus, the X100S split areas get progressively blurrier, the more out of focus they are. This is because the image components for the electronic split are read off the digital sensor and when the image is out of focus, the digital split areas will be as well. However it does still work, just not quite as clearly perhaps as a traditional focusing screen.

In addition to the electronic split image, the X100S also has an extremely effective focus peaking display, basically a high-contrast white outline that highlights edges and details that are in focus. You can switch between either digital-split-image or focus-peaking mode on the fly and use whichever option suits you the best. Now all these manual focus assist features would be pretty useless with the slow focus indexing on the original X100, which required many turns of the focus ring to get anywhere. Well thankfully this has been fixed in the X100S, and it is now just as responsive in MF as, for example, the X-E1 is. Definitely a huge improvement overall!

The two pre-production cameras: X100S and its baby brother, the X20

The new X20 is also substantially upgraded from the X10. While the external controls and image-stabilized zoom lens (28-112mm f/2-2.8) are the same, the body now comes both in black and in the gorgeous new silver finish. The sensor is all new, a 12 megapixel 2/3" X-Trans which, like the X100S, also has phase-detect pixels. In use, I thought the early pre-production X20 had extremely snappy AF for a point & shoot camera, faster even than the X100S in the case of these pre-production models. We have yet to see how well the smaller P&S sized X-Trans sensor will perform, however Fujifilm says it will be a substantial upgrade from the sensor in the X10: less noise, better dynamic range and much sharper since it does not have an anti-aliasing filter either.

The new viewfinder is wonderful as well. The X10 always had a big, bright, sharp, best-in-class optically zooming viewfinder. However the issue with the X10 was zero viewfinder information. You could only judge your composition; there was no info about exposure, focus point in use, exposure compensation or anything like that. The new X20 has a transparent LCD overlay on the viewfinder that gives f-stop, shutter speed, focus points and focus confirmation info, as well as numerous other indications. The indicators also light up in green when focus is achieved, or red if the X20 cannot lock focus. For someone who eschews using a camera at arms-length (like me), this upgraded viewfinder is just the ticket!

Lastly, in handling the pre-production X20, I was impressed at how snappy its overall performance was. Everything from AF, to shooting, to image playback and so on, was very snappy and quick. The camera never felt sluggish in any way. Looking forward to putting the new X20 through its paces when I get one that's closer to production level...

That's the summary for the major changes in the X100S and X20. There are other subtle changes, but I believe I've covered the most important ones. Again, shipping in March and we're taking pre-orders now. Here are a few more comparison shots of the new cameras that I took with my X-E1 today...

The black X10 beside the new silver X20 (also available in black)

The new X100S and the new X20
New X100S (no hood) versus the old X100 (with hood)

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