Equipment & Software Reviews

The Fuji F20, A Real Gem

Subsequently Fuji introduced the F20, F30 and F31 which all used the same sensor and all produced amazing image quality for a compact. Unfortunately Fuji then got fired up in the pixel race so all subsequent F models have had poorer low light performance and in many folks minds were a backwards step.

The F30 and particularly the F31 are cult cameras, currently being the only digital cameras I know of that are actually worth more 2nd hand than new and in some cases they go for double the price of a new top model F camera.

So this leaves the F20, and unlike the others it is still possible (just) to buy a new one and I have bought 3 in the last 8 months.

The F20 lacks some manual controls of the F30/31 but other than that the sensor, processing engine, body and lens are the same, in other words its a bargain basement F30/31.

So how does this little gem actually perform?

First of all it is not without its faults and to my mind there are two. One, it uses xD memory cards and they are much more expensive than SD cards. The second issue is that under certain high contrast situations the chromatic aberration (purple fringing) is a bit on the high side.

The F20 redeems itself with amazing real world performance.

Focusing and exposure, start up times and features are all adequate and pretty much like most other good compacts.

Image quality however is quite exceptional for a 6 megapixel compact camera.

First the lens is very very good, somewhere I read that its resolving ability was pretty much about the best ever tested on a compact camera, well I can’t confirm that but I can say it is very very sharp.

Image noise at all ISOs is much better than almost any other compact I have used ISO for ISO and in fact it is maybe even as good as say an old 6.3 megapixel Canon 300D DSLR iso for iso.

The exposures are very consistent and it seems to capture shadow and highlight detail very well providing you set the EV value to –1 and leave it there and are prepared to do a little post editing.

In fact I will go as far as to say that the files from the F20 are the most editable files I have ever got from any compact, in other words if you want, you really can push these files for superb results.

Battery usage is pretty good, but not as good as the stellar F30/31, still it’s better than most compacts.

The lens is not flare prone and remains sharp at all focal lengths but typically is best at around max telephoto, and when I say best I mean it is truly amazing for the pixel count, but even the wide angle setting is excellent.

Maximum lens performance is obtained when the aperture is around f4 and it falls off at f6.3 and above, so using high ISO’s in good light is not best for ultimate results as it will tend to needlessly push the aperture setting higher.

At the wide angle setting an aperture of f2.8 yields quite incredible quality for a compact.

An interesting aspect is that F20 is the only compact I have ever tested where the digital zoom was actually superior to cropping and up rezzing in Photoshop or a similar editing program. Once you get zoomed right in of course it falls apart but at around 6 –8 times it is definitely a Photoshop beater.

The scene modes can make a big difference to the dynamic range of the photo and portrait mode is very neat if you want to lower the contrast a bit for improved post editing options.

I doubt most folk who have F cameras have realised the full image quality they offer, this is because the camera has such high resolving power the edge is really knocked off by any camera movement. The shutter on the F20 is a little stiff so the casual shooter will almost always have some slight image degradation due to this.

I shot a series of images with the camera, shooting a scene at 1/400 sec and there was a noticeable increase in clarity between the supported, semi supported and unsupported images, so the lesson here is, if you want what this camera has to offer you need to pay a little more attention to your technique.

White balance is very accurate under most circumstances but once again a little extra effort applied to using the custom setting can make for exceptional colour straight out of the camera.

So you have probably gathered I love this camera, and you’re right, everyone needs a “take anywhere” camera and this one is just perfect for my needs and it would probably suit lots of folk perfectly, the only problem is supply is now very tight. eBay will be your best bet.

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