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Fujifilm FinePix F20

6.3-megapixel camera with ISO 2000 sensitivity and plenty of technology
(by Conrad H. Blickenstorfer)

Sometimes it is not easy to figure out why manufacturers offer a variety of different cameras in the same price and megapixel range. Consumers may get confused and simply pick whatever is available or costs the least. That's not a bad strategy that sometimes works out just fine. Other times, it'd be a mistake. Say you have your heart set on a Fuji camera and need to decide between the FinePix 650 with its 5X optical zoom and giant 3-inch LCD, and the FinePix F20 shown below. Depending on where you shop, they cost about the same, so why pick the F20 with a smaller screen, a smaller zoom and less internal memory?

Well, the answer is that the FinePix F20 is geared towards a different user. While no one will argue with a big zoom and large LCD, to some people it's more important to get the finest and most advanced technology available. Technology that can result in better pictures, and pictures that otherwise would not be possible. And some other features that quietly make life easier, such as long battery life, compact size, light weight and so on. The FinePix F20 excels in those areas.

What you get when you go for the FinePix F20 is stellar sensitivity going all the way up to ISO 2000. That means you can take natural looking pictures without flash in low light situations. The F20 also uses Fuji's heralded Super CCD HR technology that employs a diagonally mapped, octagonal sensor arrangement where primary and secondary photodiodes operate separately at lower and higher sensitivity on the same area and then merge the output for extra sensitivity and image quality. The F20 further employs Fuji's "Real Photo Processor" that brings high quality pictures without the need of a tripod or flash by using a set of "intelligent" filters that boost weak signals and use short shutter speeds to reduce blurriness and minimize noise.

In the flash department, the F20 comes with Fuji's "i-Flash intelligent flash system" that recognizes lighting conditions and determines the best possible flash output. That works by the camera scanning and analyzing the subject area with an AF illuminator light. That can be somewhat annoying to some subjects, but it really works. Between the huge sensitivity and the intelligent flash, you're generally covered in any lowlight condition.

A pass around the FinePix F20

The F20 may not be one of those wafer-thin cameras, but it is definitely small and light enough to fit into most pockets. We're talking a footprint of 3.7 x 2.2 inches and a thickness of just over an inch. Including its powerpack, the F20 weighs 6.1 ounces. That makes it quite a bit more compact than the large FinePix F650. As far as design goes, the F20 uses Fuji's current pallette of powdercoat and chrome finishes, and combination of curves and straight lines to make a basic box-body more interesting. The result is a bit average, but not unpleasant. The camera feels very solid and trust-inspiring. As long as the F20 is powered off, nothing sticks out and nothing can get caught when you carry it around in your pocket. Turn it on, though, and the lens barrel motors out a full inch, the same as that of the F650 with its longer 5X zoom.

Today's generation of Lithium-Ion-powered digital cameras are often so small and slender that they look more like a piece of high tech jewelry than a camera, and some can be difficult to use because of that. This is not the case with the F20. For the most part form follows function, and the designers only had to make a few concessions to the camera's small size.

Most of the bottom of the F20 is taken up by a large battery and storage card compartment cover. It is large for two reasons. First, due to the F20's wrap-around design, it needs to be pushed against its hinge to open instead of the other way. And second, the F20 has a rather large and potent 3.6 Volt and 1150 mAH power pack (neatly kept in place by a retainer). That's over 50% more capacity than the FinePix F650 and rates 300 images per charge. This arrangement means that the camera's plastic tripod mount is almost all the way to the left. For balance we prefer it in the center.

Controls and menus

We almost always complain about designers' tendency to mix all sorts of text, icons, colors and embossing when labeling cameras and their controls. That is no different with the F20. Fortunately, the camera doesn't have all that many controls, and so the result isn't too confusing.

On top, the F20 features a recessed on/off button, but not the mode ring of its F650 cousin. Apparently the camera is too slim for that. So the shutter sits all by itself and there is a slider that moves between still pictures and movies. Individual shooting modes are selected via on-screen menu.

The picture to the right shows the primary controls layout. It's almost the exact same as the one on the FinePix 650, with just a few exceptions. Instead of the comfy round indentation below the zoom rocker that the F650 uses, the F20 has a bunch of irritating little rubber nobs. Why needlessly confuse the thumb? Below that are the replay and Fuji "F" button that brings up menus for image quality, ISO sensitivity and color settings. The industry-standard four-way navigation disc has the usual Menu/OK button in its center. Pushing the disc lets you navigate menus and also toggle through macro, flash and self-timer settings, and boost LCD brightness should the need arise. Below the disc are two more buttons. One serves double duty as a display function toggle both in record and playback modes, the other is an anti-blur button. All it really does is select a faster shutter speed; it's not true optical image stabilization.

As far as ports and jacks go, the F20 has DC-in and a combination USB 2.0/AV-out port. They are covered by a small rubbery plastic flap.

Using the F20

Due to the lack of a mode wheel, using the F20 requires going to on-screen menus a bit more often. That can be a drag when the LCD washes out in certain lighting conditions. And we don't like the method Fuji chose to go between recording and playback mode: there is a playback button, but to go back to recording, you need to halfway depress the shutter. That doesn't make much sense because it is far too easy to take a picture by mistake (and possibly make the flash go off in the process, disturbing a subject).

Ergonomics are decent for such a small camera. It feels good in your hands, and you don't constantly fear you'll drop it as can be the case with some of those slender designer cameras. Amazingly, the F20's 2-1/2 inch screen now looks small in comparison to the F650's 3-incher. Its 153k pixel resolution is adequate for its size.

To select shooting modes, you press the menu button. I did not find the aperture and shutter priority modes listed on the website, so that may have been a mistake or misinterpretation on my part. There is a manual mode that, when selected, will bring up additional controls next time you enter the menu. You can then set exposue compensation, white balance, high speed shooting, continuous shooting, center/multi/continuous autofocus, and multi/spot/average metering. You can also select auto or one of the 15 scene modes. One that is particularly interesting is "Natural and Flash." This is for situations where you're not quite sure whether you have enough light even for the F20's ISO 2000 capability. So the camera shoots two pictures. One with and one without flash. We got excellent results with that. Under virtually any lighting condition, at least one of the two pictures turned out to be good.

Startup takes about 2.5 seconds. Autofocus operation was quicker than the F650, and the camera felt quicker overall as well -- likely due to its high tech Real Photo processor.

Amazingly, while the F20 lets you shoot 640 x 480 pixel videos with sound and at 30 frames per second, you can't zoom during video recording. That's not so high-tech. The mere 3X optical zoom may or may not be an issue. It feels limiting when you use the F20 right after the FinePix F650 with its 5X optical zoom, as we did. However, thanks to the anti-shake mode at least part of the 6.2X digital magnification is actually usable without tripod. There's less internal storage -- just 10 MB -- but whether it's 10 or 30, either is just an emergency fallback until the data on a full xD-Picture card can be uploaded or the card replaced with an empty one.

Like almost all Fujifilm cameras, the Z20 comes with a very good manual. You get 147 pages of useful, helpful information. And for software, there are FinePixViewer for the Mac and Windows, and ImageMixer LE for Windows.

Taking pictures and picture quality

This is where the F20 is expected to shine, and it does. It does use Fuji's highly lauded Super CCD HR technology. Combine that with the extreme ISO 2000 sensitivity and the Real Photo Processor II, and you have reason to smile. The much higher ISO sensitivity provides superb flexibility. Image quality was generally excellent, with vibrant colors. The auto-focus was quick and didn't hunt around much. The F20 only has one macro mode, but it lets you get as close as two inches.

We did miss the 5X zoom of the FinePix F650, but the anti-shake mode and high speed operation, thanks to the camera's very high sensitivity, more than made up for it.

Bottom line

The FinePix F20 is for those who appreciate high-tech in an affordable package. Fuji includes its Super CCD HR imager technology for optimal pictures, adds the Real Photo Processor for speedy operation and improved image quality, and throws in an intelligent flash that delivers the proper light all the time. The F20's beefy battery lasts a long time, its 2.5-inch LCD is large enough, and we love the "dual mode" where the camera takes one natural light picture and one flash picture when you push the shutter. As a result, you almost always end up with good to excellent pictures and rarely ever strike out completely. The onscreen menus are a bit confusing and we'd like to see more manual control. But overall, the FinePix F20 delivers very good images from a small, lightweight high-tech package at an amazingly affordable price. -- Conrad H. Blickenstorfer

We like:

  • Very clean ISO 2000 sensitvity
  • "Intelligent" i-Flash markedly improves flash shots
  • Super CCD HR technology and Real Photo processor add a lot
  • Powerful battery
  • Helpful "Flash + natural light" scene mode
  • Handy push-button LCD boost
  • Anti-blur mode
  • 640x480 movies at 30 fps
Not so much:
  • No true manual modes
  • Some menus/operations counter-intuitive
  • No optical viewfinder
  • No zoom in movies
  • Only 3X zoom
Specifications Fujifilm FinePix F20
Status Added 11/2006
Camera Type Compact
Size 3.7 x 2.2 x 1.21
Weight (oz.) 6.1 (with battery)
Effective Pixels 6.3 mp
CCD Type 1/1,7"
Max pixel size 2848 x 2136
File formats JPEG, AVI (Motion JPEG), WAV
Compression fine, normal
Movie recording (best) til full at 30 fps with audio
Max movie pixels 640 x 480 (no zoom)
Voice recording yes (up to 30 seconds)
Lens Fujinon
Focal length 8.0-24mm (36-108mm)
Zoom (optical/digital) 3X/6.2X
Aperture f/2.8 - f/5.0
Focus modes Auto/Macro
Focus minimum/macro 2.0 inches, 2.0 feet
Shutter speed 1/2000 to 4 sec
Sensitivity (ISO) auto/100/200/400/800/1600/2000
Autofocus system Single, Continuous; Center, Multi, AF assist illuminator
Metering 256-zones TTL metering (Multi/Spot/Average)
White-balance modes Automatic, Preset (Fine, Shade), Fluorescent light (Daylight, Warm White, Cool White), Incandescent light, Custom
Shooting modes Auto, manual, Natural light, naatural + flash, Portrait, Landscape, Sport, Night, Fireworks, Sunset, Snow, Beach, Museum, Party, Flower, Anti-Blur Text
Exposure compensation +/-2EV in 1/3 steps
Viewfinder Type None
LCD size 2.5" LCD (153k)
LCD construction fixed
Flash type built-in
Flash range up to 21 feet
Flash modes Auto, Red-eye Reduction, Forced Flash, Suppressed Flash, Slow Synchro. Red-eye Reduction + Slow Synchr
Camera internal memory 10MB
Storage Medium xD-Picture Card
Battery type Li-ion NP-40N (3.6V, 1150mAH), AC/DC adapter
CIPA Battery life (LCD/off) 300
List Price from US$175 (pricescan.com), $249 (JustFuji), $229 (Target)
Contact www.fujifilmusa.com

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