Wednesday, 10 September 2014

X20 - The Ideal Vacation Camera?

On Vacation - Is it worth the hassle?

I know we're in a minority these days if we take a real camera on vacation with us, everywhere I looked people were taking snaps with their phones. They seemed to be getting OK pictures, but I was far happier snapping away my arcane looking Fujifilm X20 with it's bright but modest zoom lens. I knew my photos would be far better, but was it worth the inconvenience?

Lets start off with the battery life,.. it can give up a bit short notice, so I took advise and purchased a spare. But the charger's very traveller friendly, being small and light, with no annoying cables to tangle up, and I found that with my moderate use I didn't need it.

I still haven't bought a case so I tended to have it hung around my neck. It made me feel like a tourist (that's for sure) but it's great for those impromptu shots like this one as I was crossing the tarmac to board the plane.

ISO:100, 1/850 sec at F6.4 - EMA Control Tower

Remove the cap, give the lens a quick twist and you're ready to go,.. and the optical view finder worked well in the bright sunlight. There were a few times that I didn't have the camera available and I was forced to reach for my iPhone. But aside from the lower quality the phone was just slow and cumbersome.


Everyone likes sunsets don't they, and the good weather and tropical scenery make for some great opportunities.
It's in low light conditions that I also found the optical view finder helpful. I'm not sure why, but it helps you concentrate on the job in hand, allowing you to check you've framed everything correctly and there's nothing in the picture that shouldn't be. The nearer you get to the equator the quicker the sun goes down so I found it a bit of a mad scramble for those last few moments. Here's one of the shots I took standing on top of the kids water slide. I tried different focal lengths in quick succession and this is the one that worked the best.

ISO:100, 1/300 sec at F5 - Sa Caleta, Menorca
The results are pretty good, giving a good mix of light skies and some detail on the ground without making it too busy. I could have used the Sunset mode which supposed to improve the colours but I was just shooting in regular auto.

Action shorts - 8fps shooting

Aperture Priority

All attempts to shoot in aperture priority mode caused me to get vastly over exposed pictures (even after setting the compensator to -2). At the time I couldn't figure out what I was doing wrong and so mainly stuck to auto mode.

ISO:100, 1/1000 sec at F2.8 - (over exposed)
It was a very bright sunny day, the camera was (later) found to be in spot metering mode which left the background very over exposed with most of the rock blown out. Every picture I took in this mode came out this way and I didn't know how to fix it.

The fix is actually pretty simple, press the AE button and select MULTI. (I wish I'd known that at the time)

Panorama Drama

With some great scenery I couldn't resist taking a few panoramas, and once again the X20 makes this an easy process. But it did get take a few attempts to get it to work. The camera kept telling me I was panning too slowly and refused to save anything. Kinda kills the spontaneity and the kids were getting fed-up of standing still, but I got the knack in the end.

ISO:100, 1/450 sec at F10
 But I'm very happy with the results, no visible joins and a good even exposure across the whole width of the picture.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Pressing all the Right Buttons (Part 2)

Back to the Buttons

After my previous post I'm sure you've started playing with some of the settings, or at very least have some appreciation of what functions are available. You can go through the menu instead if you prefer, but the use of these buttons is quicker.

More buttons on the rear of the Fujifilm X20

There's still a few more on the back that we haven't looked at yet, and as before I'll keep it brief and simple.

Three From the Right

We'll move over to the right hand side of the camera now, and look at the three buttons around the menu selector.

Auto Exposure

The exact function can be set in the menu, but it's use allows exposure and focus to be locked, then the photographer can reframe (or compose) the picture. Also know as centre focus and reframe.

If the camera is set to AE.AF LOCK MODE in the menu, then this button will keep the exposure and focus locked until re-pressed, or until the zoom is altered.

Using this button is like half pressing the shutter button, so you'd wonder why they provided it. But it does allow more flexibility if you want to split auto focus and auto exposure. This would result in a three stage process for taking a photo:-
  1. Centre on the object you want the camera to meter on and hold the AEL/AFL button.
  2. Centre on the main object, half press and hold the shutter too.
  3. Reframe the photo and take the picture.
Seems like a lot of work, but can help with more extreme lighting conditions and reduce the amount of manual exposure compensation twiddling you have to do.

At first this wouldn't do anything for me, but then I realised I had face detection turned on which silently overrides any exposure or focusing settings.

 Display or Back

This is another one of those buttons with multiple functions depending on what mode you're in. In shooting mode this will allow you to select the LCD display mode, and so choose how much information is shown when taking a shot. My preference is for Information2, but I also like the Custom setting with it's live histogram and spirit level function. These settings include the exposure compensation, which is handy as a reminder if you've altered the setting. (well it often catches me out!)

Another function in shooting mode (that's not obvious) is enabling silent mode. Press and hold the display button and the camera speaker, flash and auto-focus lamp will be disabled. This is great when I was taking pictures at a school show and didn't want to annoy my fellow audience members with my frequent snapping.

Lastly it's the back button when using the camera's menu.

Quick Menu

Settings are important to get your camera configured how you like it, and with the X20 there's a lot of customisation that you can do to make it better fit your needs. But although the menu's well laid out, it's pretty typical that you'll hunt a little before you find what you need. This is why many pro cameras have plenty of external controls, but it makes the camera more expensive and overwhelming to use.

The Q button effectively gives you access to 16 different options, yet still keeps the back of the camera looking relatively simple. In practice I find the grid format to be tricky to use, but that's partly because I don't use it much. Use the menu selectors to move about, and rotate the sub-command wheel to alter the setting.

Selector Buttons

Now we've got the obvious buttons out of the way we'll look at the menu selector with it's direction buttons their secondary roles.

 Auto Focus

Allows you to select the focus point in shooting mode, which will default to the centre of the frame. Use the selector direction buttons to move this, or command dial (the one at the top) to resize the focus frame. I gotta say I don't think you'll need this much. It's far easier to use the "centre focus and reframe" method, and under most circumstances you shouldn't have any focal plane shift focus problems.


Used to delete the picture currently displayed on the LCD screen. There's also a delete all option which is a good way of blanking the memory card.

You can continue going through your photos deleting with the OK button as required, and then press the shutter once you've finished.


It quickly becomes apparent that you must raise the pop-up flash before this can work, but once done this gives you access to the following modes:-
  • Auto Flash - Flash fires only when required. (the manual recommends this)
  • Forced Flash - Ideal for back-lit subjects where the flash wouldn't ordinarily fire, or in very bright light where shadows can become a problem. Most people dont think of using the flash in daylight, but in bright light this can be a real Help.
  • Slow Synchro - Captures the main subject and background under low light to try and retain some of the original lighting.
Don't forget (like I did) that silent mode disables this function. It won't tell you if you make that mistake, and it can be quite frustrating to figure out.

 Self Timer

There are two options available, plus the default off. I won't go into detail because it's pretty obvious:-
  • 10 second delay
  • 2 second delay
Find yourself somewhere to place your camera, or use a tripod and you can be in your own pictures. You can also use this to help get sharper pictures when using a tripod, eliminating any chance of motion blur.

Macro Mode

If you want to take really close-up photos then you've found the right camera. Macro mode enables to camera to focus at much closer ranges.

There's also a Super Macro mode that enables you to get down to 1cm from your subject but the following restrictions apply:-
  • The lens must be zoomed all the way out.
  • The flash is disabled.
You get the standard restrictions with macro photography, the depth of field will be quite small, and the camera will use a slow shutter speed so try and avoid camera shake. The camera's on-board flash is likely to cast a shadow at these distances, and you're advised to use the LCD screen rather than the view finder to avoid parallax problems. But I've found it works very well.


Well that's all the buttons on the camera back, although I did skip the menu button. There's still a few more controls remaining that we can look at another time, and I hope you've find this blog useful.

Part 1

Monday, 2 June 2014

Pressing all the Right Buttons (Part 1)

Can You Make it Go?

Shortly after getting my X20 I lent it to a friend, he liked it so much he decided to buy his own. But not coming from a dSLR background, (he uses it in auto mode) he confessed to not really understanding what all the different buttons do. I figure he's not alone, we're all used to modern cameras (and phones) doing everything for us, so I've put together a few notes on the X20's rear panel buttons in case you want to tinker.

Buttons on the rear of the Fujifilm X20

From The Left

This time I will limit myself to the left-most four buttons, because this blog would get too big otherwise. I'll attempt to give you an idea about what each control does, and how or why you might use or alter the setting. I'll keep it brief, so if you want more details then there's loads of good sites if you don't mind googling.

Playback Button

Let's start out with an easy one (and perhaps obvious one),... press it to view that last picture taken.

Use select left/right to view other pictures and press AF button if you want to delete. This is pretty standard and I've only included it for completeness.

Auto Exposure Button

The AE button allows you to choose how your cameras light meter works. By default this will be set to Multi but let's have a look at the options:-
  • Multi: Uses automatic scene recognition, so it should be a good general setting.
  • Spot: Forces the camera just to look at conditions at the centre of the frame, which is good for situations where the background it either much darker or brighter than the main subject.
  • Average: Takes an average across the whole frame, which can be useful for landscapes or portrait shots (according to the manual). Normally you would avoid this setting.
NB. If face detection is turned on then any faces detected in the frame will be used for spot exposure instead.

nb. In playback mode this button allows you to zoom in to the picture to examine details.

Shooting Mode (Burst Mode and Bracketing)

This button controls how many pictures are taken when you pressure the shutter, but there are a number of different modes that perform different tasks. See overview picture for the options:

The Different Shooting Modes
  • Still Image: When you press the shutter just one photo is taken. (normal)
  • Top: Takes a number of pictures as fast as it can (depending on exposure settings).
  • Best Frame Capture: Starts capturing shots as soon as the focus has locked (ie half pressed the shutter) and continues taking them afterwards. (You must select the number of images you wish to take and the camera will try to give you an even number of before and after shots)
  • AE BKT: (Exposure Bracketing) Takes three shots; one normal, one over exposed and the other under exposed. This can be useful for difficult lighting situations where you may not get a second chance.
  • ISO BKT: (ISO or Sensitivity Bracketing) Varies the sensitivity across three shots so that you can decide whether you'd like a grainy but better lit photo, or a darker less noisy photo.
  • Film Simulation BKT: Tasks one shot but processes it differently using the Film Simulation settings you have selected. If you like these inbuilt filters then you might find this useful, but it's the sort of thing you'd normally add afterwards on your PC.
  • Dynamic Range BKT: Again takes three shots but this time at 100%, 200% and 400% dynamic range. This enables you to choose afterwards how you'd like to cope with high contrast within your photo.
Wow there's a lot there, so let me summarise it for you...

We have two sets of methods here; burst mode and bracketing. Bracketing helps you cope with difficult lighting conditions, whereas burst mode enables you to capture the moment better or can increase your chances of getting a sharp photo when taking hand held photos in low light conditions.

nb. In playback mode this button allows you to zoom out.

White Balance

Remember in the old days when you took a photo inside and everyone looked yellow, or slightly green. This was because the light available was not pure white, and while your eyes will compensate for this, the camera will not. By default white balance will be set to Auto, and this should cope with most situations. But if you want to be more specific there are plenty of options available to you.

Custom White Balance: Tell your camera what is really white by taking a photo of a white object that fills the frame.

Colour Temperature: Enter the light colour in Kelvin (K). Useful if you know it, but there are a number of scales that you can use as a guideline.

Then there's various scene type options that really don't need much explanation; Direct Sunlight, Shade, Daylight Fluorescent, Warm White Fluorescent, Cool White Fluorescent, Incandescent Lighting (old fashioned bulbs) and finally Underwater lighting that removes the blue cast from aquarium type photos.

It's worth getting this right because colour cast can be difficult to fix afterwards, especially if using JPG files rather than RAW. So far I've found that the default Auto setting is absolutely fine.


What I've found is this camera really excels in Auto mode, switch it to manual and you lose a lot of what makes it great. (This was all too obvious in low light settings) But sometimes you find yourself in a situation where the camera struggles, and it's here that knowing what these controls do can really help. Next time we'll look at some of the other controls and how they interact.

Part 2

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Playing with Advanced Filter Modes


As a way of getting to know the camera better I delved into the Advanced Filter modes to see just what the X20 could do. Much of the effects show here can be done external processing, but some settings (to my surprise) use multiple exposures. I picked out a few samples, and posted them here without any post processing, other than scaling them down a little.

Pro Focus

Intended for portrait photos where the background is blurred out to make the subject pop, and it does a pretty good job (here using natural light). The camera claims to be able to use multiple shots (here using just one) to create the a better soft-background image.

Pro Focus (this time clean faced Shiela)
It's a nice photo but I'm not seeing any nice boke in the background. Maybe I'm expecting too much of the little lens!.. but it is the sort of shot I'd get from my SLR. The depth of field is not too shallow so that his ears are still reasonably sharp. Also nice detail on the little chap's freckles and catchlights in the eyes. There's also sharp definition on his shirt, but the door in the background has slight amount of noise if you zoom in.

This next picture had the effect turned up full,and shows much more blur in the background. You could hear the shutter firing three times and even though the camera was hand held it looks great.

Pro Focus (Level 3)
The bookshelf and flowers in the background appearing very soft, but the foreground still nice and sharp. I'm not sure what magic's going on here but it's all clever stuff.

Motion Panorama 360

I was quite intrigued by the panorama mode as I've often used a panorama app on my iPhone to capture scenery on holiday. Here's the start screen which assumes you're going to pan to the right.
Display in Panorama Mode
After pressing the shutter button the camera starts clicking multiple times per second, and then you sweep right using the yellow centre line to keep it straight. It does a much better stitching job than my free phone app and if you go all the way round you'll get a seamless 360 degree photo.

Panorama Photo
When viewed on the camera you can play them (as if they were videos) and they auto-pan across the image. 360 images will keep going indefinitely but partial ones stop when the reach the far edge.

Partial Color (Red)

These partial colour photos are nice, I think the first time I saw this effect was in the Schindler's List film. My son's Nikon S3300 also does this and you can select red, orange, yellow, green, blue or purple. The colour really jumps out but there's no adjustment over the set colours or thresholds.
Partial Colour Effect
Here's my wife's array of Mother's Day cards and nick-nacks as made by the kids. The red in the apples didn't show, neither did the more orangey reds.

Super Macro

Not really and advanced filter mode this one, but I wanted to see how the super macro feature would work. Again it's using compact fluorescent lighting (which generally gives quite a strong yellow cast) so it's maybe not quite as sharp as a natural light shot.

Macro shot of my Harmony Remote Control
To give you and idea of scale, that "zero" button is just 8mm across, and to take it the camera lens was almost touching at the bottom edge. I didn't buy the camera for this ability but it's just another string to the X20's bow. It might come in handy from time to time.


I'm guilty (like many) of treating my camera just like a tool, trawled out for special occasions and days out. But it really doesn't have to be that way. Fuji have provided some real fun with their Advanced Filters (and there's plenty that I haven't mentioned), so it really does provoke a desire to experiment. Photography can be a really fun rewarding hobby and I'm starting to feel that spirit again, like when I got my first SLR back when I was 16 years old.

Early Frustrations

Taking Over

I can't fault the quality of the photos, but I'm starting to get this feeling that I'm not totally in control. While playing about last night I really struggled to get the flash to fire as the override control on the menu wheel was just failing to do anything. I think this is the main difference from the D70 where you have absolute control, this camera's smart and won't let you do things that it doesn't think makes sense.

The X20's Perfectly formed flash

Initially my problem was that I'd put the camera into silent mode, which also disables the flash. My brighter than average seven you old son soon pointed this out to me, but rather than pop up a reminder when you press the button it just does nothing. Not something I'd expect from what the manual calls "Super-Intelligent Flash". Later I'd set the camera set to aperture priority and it also refused to respond to the flash control. In fact it seemed to only work in Advanced SR Auto mode, but then I tried again later and it worked in Aperture priority for fill-in flash (so I wonder if it was too dark earlier)

Maybe this makes sense, but as a noobie to the camera it's annoying to restrict the actions and not tell me why.

The other thing I found was turning the face detection on is buried in the menu, which is different to most other cameras I've seen with this function. If you turn this on is does stop you from altering the focus points, but that kinda makes sense. I did find however that you can remap the function button as a quick way of turning this on and off but in the long term I might find the default of ISO is more useful. Face detection can be a real boon in point and shoot scenarios, so maybe I can set it up in one of the custom settings.

Going Manual

I played around a little bit using manual focusing, using the sub-command dial (the spinny wheel control around the menu controls) and while the auto-zoom in and focus peak highlight makes it easy in low light conditions it requires lots of turns. The manual suggests pressing the AEL/AFL button to roughly set the focus first. It's slightly tedius and not as intuitive as an SLR, but it does work well.

X20 Menu controls and sub-wheel.

OK, I'm being picky now because I haven't read the manual yet. And how refreshing it is to see that the camera industry is keeping the practice of supplying a good quality manual alive. From what I've seen the Fujifilm X20 can do some really great stuff that my SLR can't, so maybe I'll prepare some demos and we'll look at some of those next time.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Hello X20

Taking the Plunge.

After spending two or three weeks reading camera reviews and ultimately deciding which retro camera to buy, I found myself in the electronics shop today looking at the Fujifilm X20. As a looked at the display model there was something very familiar about it, like I'd already owned it but had lent it to a friend.

I have an old Nikon D70, but typically when we go out I tend to leave it at home. It's starting to get a little long in the tooth (I bought it second hand 7 years ago), and although it takes great pictures I find it a little too bulky and obtrusive for everyday use. Then I saw the Pentax Q10 and the current crop of retro styled cameras and fell in love. In my eyes these are what cameras are supposed to look like. Just like the ones we grew up with. But ultimately the range finder and the great reviews for Fuji's X20 swung it for me.

The Fujifilm X20 alongside my D70

First Impressions

If you read a few reviews on the X20 you find yourself reading over and over again how the weight is just right and how nice it feels to hold. And after removing mine from the box I can see why, it feels solid and sturdy, with quality machined controls, plenty of quick setting buttons (like I'm used to on my Nikon), yet weighs a modest 350 grams. I won't go into all of the technical specs because there's loads of good professional reviews that probably do a better job, but here's a few test shots to show off what it can do.

My First Test Shots

Macro mode:
Camera set to 28mm at F2 gives these great shots in normal macro mode.
Macro Mode

This shot shows off the great colours in natural light. There's also a super macro mode that enables you focus down to 1cm from the object.

There's a neat little pop up flash to the right of the range finder although there's also a standard hotshoe mount for a full size flashgun.

Flash Photo

This photo was from about about one and a half meter away and shows no signs of over exposing or red-eye.

Fluorescent Lights:
To give an idea of how the camera handles auto-white balance I asked my son to take my photo under the kitchen strip lights.

Fluorescent Lighting

Seems to show a pretty good skin tone despite the hash lighting, again doing a good job of setting the right exposure and producing a sharp picture.

(NB. All of these photos have had the minimum of tweaks so you get a good idea of how the camera handles the different shots.)


Well I can't find anything bad to say about it so far. It's taken some good photos without really trying hard and didn't break the bank. It's got plenty of manual controls for camera geeks who are used to SLRs, yet my seven year old son was able to use it without problems. I can't wait to start taking more photos and exploring what it can do. What a fantastic little camera!