Hybrid performance at a friendlier price

Hybrid performance at a friendlier price

13 mins read

The Fujifilm X-S20 got me excited when it launched back in May. On paper, it seems like a more affordable alternative to the excellent X-H2 and X-H2S, with hybrid controls and some high-end features in a compact and portable chassis.


The X-S20 gives the photography-focused X-T5 a run for its money, too, offering comparable specifications in most areas, albeit with a lower-resolution sensor.

With an MSRP of $1299, the X-S20 is a lot pricier than its predecessor, which launched at $999, but compared to the rest of the Fujifilm lineup, it seems like a bit of a bargain. Especially when you consider the specs it offers.

The question is, does this camera live up to my high expectations? I’ve been shooting with it over the past few weeks to find out.

Fujifilm

Fujifilm X-S20

Recommended

The Fujifilm X-S20 is a very attractive proposition. It offers a lot of the X-H2 experience at a fraction of the cost, and in a more compact and convenient chassis.

Pros

  • Compact and lightweight body
  • Vastly improved battery life
  • Dedicated headphone socket
  • Improved autofocus performance
  • Up to 6.2K30 / 4K60 video
Cons

  • Single SD card slot
  • Video AF and IBIS lag behind the competition

Design

  • Dimensions: 127.7×85.1×65.4 mm
  • Weight: 491g
  • Mode select and programmable dials
  • NP-W235 battery

The Fujifilm X-S20 looks a lot like its predecessor, the X-S10. This means you get a compact body with a large protruding grip and a familiar hybrid control layout. It has the typical Fujifilm vintage aesthetic, but it’s a touch more modern than the X-T5 with programmable dials and a mode switch in place of the retro control dials on the top.

Fujifilm X-S20 (6)

It has more of a minimal feel than my daily driver, the Lumix GH6, with far fewer buttons to fiddle with. I think it gives the camera a much more pleasing look, but I couldn’t help but miss the rear thumbwheel, which I’m accustomed to from endless Canon and Panasonic bodies. Here, you only get an AF select joystick and six buttons on the rear of the camera body. Still, all of the important functions remain within reach, and of course, the touchscreen aids with additional control requirements.

Compared to other compact mirrorless bodies, it’s the grip that stands out the most, quite literally. This thing is meaty, and it makes it feel really secure in the hand when you’re not using a strap. The only downside is that it can get a bit cramped when you’re using a particularly girthy lens, on the plus side, it also means that there’s room for a hefty battery pack inside.

Fuji has opted to use the same NP-W235 pack as the X-T5 and X-H2 and the result is vastly improved battery life, effectively doubling the runtime of the X-S10. It carries a CIPA rating of 750 shots per charge, compared to just 325 on the older model.

Fujifilm X-S20 (14)

Despite the large battery, the body weighs in at under 500 grams, so if you like to travel light, there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy using this camera. Especially when it’s paired with one of Fuji’s compact prime lenses.

Connectivity and displays

  • Micro HDMI, USB-C, 3.5mm headphone and mic
  • Single SD card slot
  • 3-inch 1.84 million dot flip-out LCD
  • 2.36 million dot OLED EVF

For the most part, the connectivity remains the same as the X-S10. There’s still only a single SD card slot but you benefit from a micro HDMI output, a USB-C port and a 3.5mm microphone input.

Fujifilm X-S20 (10)

What’s new this time, though, is the inclusion of a separate 3.5mm headphone socket – which is very welcome news for video shooters. It’s unusually placed, over on the grip side away from the other ports, which might make it a little cumbersome for run-and-gun shooting, but it certainly beats using a USB-C dongle.

The LCD is a 3-inch flip-out touchscreen unit, just like the older model, but it’s higher resolution, now offering approximately 1.84 million dots, which matches the resolution of the X-T5 and actually beats the pricier X-H models. Of course, the full articulation makes it a bit more versatile than the XT-5’s tilting screen, and it’s great if you ever need to film yourself or take photos from an unusual angle.

Fujifilm X-S20 (19)

The EVF, unfortunately, has not seen such an upgrade. As far I can tell, it’s the same 0.39-inch OLED unit that we saw on the X-S10. It works fine, but it’s a touch less impressive than the newer EVFs that feature on Fujifilm’s more expensive camera bodies.

Photo and video performance

  • X-Trans CMOS 4 with primary colour filter – 26.1MP stills
  • Up to 8 fps mechanical burst shooting, 30 fps electronic (1.25x crop)
  • Up to 6.2K 30fps / 4K 60fps (1.18x crop) / 1080p 240fps video
  • 7-stop IBIS and subject detection autofocus

The X-S20 utilises the same 26.1MP X-Trans 4 sensor as its predecessor, but this time it is paired with the X-Processor 5 image processing engine, which we saw on the X-H2S, X-H2 and X-T5 cameras. So while we won’t be getting any upgrade in image resolution, we should see far better autofocus and subject detection speed and reliability.

Fujifilm X-S20 (28)

The burst shooting capabilities are also unchanged from the X-S10, but that’s fine by me – 8 fps with a mechanical shutter and 30 fps electronic are already plenty fast. In fact, it even bests the X-T5 and X-H2 with the electronic shutter, but as always, you’ll need to be wary of rolling shutter effects when shooting in this mode.

I took the X-S20 with me on a trip to a local tropical bird sanctuary to give the autofocus a thorough test, and it did not disappoint. The conditions were extremely challenging, often shooting through wire fences with some strong backlighting to contend with, and the system did an admirable job. I tried it with both automatic subject detection, and with the specific bird subject tracking mode. Both worked, but the bird-specific mode was more reliable, especially with some of the more unusual-looking creatures.

As always, Fuji’s colour science proved to be pleasing across the board, and the usual film simulation modes are present here ready to spice up any photoshoot. When things get darker, the camera handles noise very well, and I found shots around ISO 6400 to still be very usable.

Really, though, it’s the video upgrades that excite me the most. The X-S20 can record at up to 6.2K 30fps in a 3:2 ratio, which is extremely high definition, and suitable for cropping after the fact. If you’d prefer to stick with 16:9 recording, it now maxes out at 4K 60 fps with a modest 1.18x crop or 4K 30fps with no crop. There’s no 30-minute limit on this model, either.

The small crop at 4K 60 fps isn’t enough to deter me from using it, it’s only a minor change to the field of view and not a drastic shift as I saw with the Lumix S5II. Meanwhile, I found that I enjoyed working with the 6.2K footage more than I expected, it’s great being able to shift your framing slightly after the fact with no quality loss, and invaluable for creating vertical videos for social media.

Another new video feature on this model is the introduction of vlog mode. This mode takes some inspiration from cameras like the Sony ZV-1 II, simplifying the settings and moving the most-used modes over to the touchscreen for easy access while filming yourself. Switching to vlog mode gives you quick access to modes like background defocus (which automatically selects the widest aperture possible) and product priority autofocus, making operating the camera much simpler for those who aren’t as au fait with manual camera settings.

In video modes, the autofocus and IBIS are decent but they’re still not on par with cameras from the likes of Sony and Canon. I noticed a bit more focus hunting than I’d like, and the stabilisation has a tendency to jerk a little hurriedly when you move the camera unexpectedly. They’re definitely reliable enough for the majority of situations, but there’s still some room for improvement.

The slow-motion recording is the same old story, too. It’s limited to 1080p, which is expected at this price point, and as I have found with all of Fujifilm’s recent releases, it looks great at 120 fps, but 240 fps is a real downgrade in image fidelity. On the plus side, the fact that it can record 60 fps in 4K means 2x slow motion is possible in much higher fidelity than before.

Verdict

The Fujifilm X-S20 is a great camera, it’s a true-hybrid design that offers serious performance in both photography and video without becoming too costly. It really feels like an X-H2 “Lite” and I can imagine it being a very popular option with those who like to dabble in both fields, but aren’t swayed by the allure of full-frame bodies.

As with all Fujifilm cameras, the styling is excellent and the fit and finish is spot on. Plus, you get an expansive library of quality glass to choose from, not to mention the fact that its lightweight and compact chassis makes it great to travel with.

Of course, it’s not perfect, there’s still plenty of things on my wishlist. Dual SD card slots would be great to see, as would a full-size HDMI port, although the micro port can be forgiven considering the size of the camera. There’s still room for improvement with video autofocus and stabilisation, too.

If you’re in the market for a hybrid APS-C shooter in this price range, I think it’s one of the more compelling options. Competitors include the Canon R7, which outclasses it in the autofocus department, but its limited lens selection really limits its appeal. Then there’s the Sony A6700, which is much more of a contender, but its drastically different styling and control layout means that it might appeal to a different set of users.

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