Quick first thoughts – Nikon Coolpix A and Fuji Finepix X20

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I recently picked up review units of the Nikon Coolpix A and Fuji Finepix X20 at B&H – the store itself is an incredible experience for any photographer, by the way – after a few days of intense shooting during my Making Outstanding Images workshops, I’ve had a chance to put together a few quick thoughts on the two cameras. I will be doing more complete reviews once I get a chance to shoot further with them and pore through the hundreds of images. Until then, this should tide over the curious.

Let’s start with the Fuji X20*:

  • Build quality appears to be a notch up from the X10 I handled: everything that appears to be metal, is. It’s cold to the touch and doesn’t seem to have the thick paint I remember my X100 having. It’s a very high-quality item. 
  • Focusing is fast and accurate. The phase detect sites added to the sensor do really make a difference; this is one of the fastest compacts I’ve used in that regard.
  • It’s a really enjoyable camera to handle and shoot with; very tactile and the controls operate with solidity. Everything is snappy. You can’t shoot it one-handed, though: no way to use the zoom ring. And it isn’t really pocket friendly, either.
  • The JPEGs are still excellent…ACR has improved RAW processing from the XF1, but they’re still very noisy and a little soft.
  • Image quality-wise, the sensor appears to be the same or very slightly better than the XF1 (they’re both 12MP, 2/3″ types). I think ISO 800 is the cutoff point for clean images. 1600 is usable in a pinch.
  • You have to be careful with DR auto: it will pick much higher ISOs than required in an attempt to retain highlight detail, though this appears to only increase noise in RAW. I’ve got some poor images in bright sunshine from the first day because the camera chose ISO 400 instead of the base 100; my recommendation is to leave it on DR100 and use the spot meter instead.
  • I’m not using the OVF as much as I thought due to very poor (75-80%?) frame coverage. However, it does have very helpful shooting info and AF point overlays – too bad they’re not that visible.
  • IS is very effective.
  • At a guess, battery life is about 350-400 frames per charge – not bad considering how tiny the battery is.

Many of you are wondering why I didn’t review the X100s; with the 28mm converter it would make a much better comparison against the Nikon Coolpix A. The simple answer is – I requested one, but none were available. I’m still curious about this one and will try to get one to review in the future as soon as it is available. The only downside I see is that it’s rather large; enough so that I might as well have a second OM-D. To me, this rather puts it out of the running in the pocketable category.

The following series was shot with the X20 in Midtown New York City:

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And now the Coolpix A:

  • Build quality is similar to, or perhaps slightly better than the X20; spatter-paint finish black magnesium, with a similar feel to the pro DSLR bodies. (Both are made in Japan) 
  • The menu system and UI logic are identical to the DSLRs – a very easy transition, for the most part. Unfortunately, some of the more questionable decisions carry over too – the inability to zoom in to the focus point with the OK button, for instance; redundancy of the second control dial in anything other than M mode, for another.
  • Focusing isn’t as fast as the X20, or the OM-D I’ve also got with me. It’s about the same as the Ricoh GR-Digital III, I think. But unlike the GRD III, it doesn’t remember the manual focus distance when switched off, nor does the distance scale also have a depth of field scale. These two minor changes would make a HUGE difference to speed – just shoot it zone-focused; an 18mm real focal length is ideal for this. Actually, I could live with just the former…at least the manual focus ring is sensibly geared, though.
  • Everything else about the camera is blazing fast – startup time, burst mode, writing, reviewing, menu navigation…
  • The bit you’ve been waiting for: image quality is stunningly good; slightly better than the D7000, not quite as good as the D7100. Probably about on par or slightly better than the OM-D. ISO 3200 is not too bad, and ISO 6400 usable in a pinch. The files have lots of latitude and are handled well by the latest versions of ACR.
  • The camera really needs VR; on a windy day, 1/50s or higher is required for critically sharp images at 100%.

The following series was shot with the Coolpix A in Midtown NYC:

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And a 100% crop from the previous image:

Personally…I’m still trying to decide which one to keep to replace the Sony RX100 – these are big (small?) shoes to fill, but it appears that there is no Goldilocks camera – in every case, there’s a tradeoff of some sort. The RX100 doesn’t focus close and has a rather slow optimal aperture for maximum image quality, but this is offset by a sensor that is happy even at ISO 3200 and has fantastic resolution. It’s also the smallest of the bunch. The X20 has the weakest image quality by some margin and is neearly as large as an OM-D, but it’s also the most fun to use, has a built in optical finder, mechanical zoom, a mechanical exposure compensation dial, and the fastest and most accurate focusing. The Coolpix A leads the pack on image quality and UI, but lags on focus speed and VR/IS. I think the dissonance comes from what I think I want (small, fast prime, high IQ, fast AF, optical finder) vs. what I actually tend to use (small, flexible lens range, taking my time to frame and shoot precisely using the LCD, high IQ). Honestly, perhaps the trouble is I like them both – but for different reasons. My heart says ‘buy both’, my wallet says ‘pick one’. Choices, choices…MT

The Fuji X20 is in stock and available from B&H or Amazon; the Nikon Coolpix A is available here from B&H or Amazon.


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Images and content copyright Ming Thein | mingthein.com 2012 onwards. All rights reserved


  1. I have had my Fuji X20 for about a week and sadly must return it, because it is unusable on bright sunshine in Missouri. I wanted to use it at f/2.0 to f/4.0 as I walked, but the camera will not allow me because it is limited to a shutter speed of 1/1000 at these fast apertures. It is impossible to shoot at 1/2000 or 1/4000 like most cameras. The lens is beautiful and provides smooth bokeh inside when I can use the lens at a large opening. I keep my ISO at 100 outside and I constantly overexpose my images. It works great as I get up to about f/5.6 or slower, but that is not the “Look” I bought this camera for. Apparently the leaf shutter is not fast enough to clear the the aperture blades at the faster openings. With no built in Neutral Density filters, it is not the camera to use in the bright sunshine. Great build quality and stunning quality when used indoors.

    • I can’t imagine you’ll get that much bokeh off those aperture settings unless your subjects are very close; however, things definitely get soft due to diffraction at smaller apertures; enough to be noticeable. I found the same thing with my test camera.

    • Joachim says:

      I own the X20 since early April and was near to returning it due to the limited shutter times. But what I’ve learnt is that the X20 also offers an electronic shutter (or an electronic shutter supporting the leaf shutter) – in S and M modes you can select up to 1/4000s at every focal lenght and from the fastest aperture. The exposure time in M + S is displayed in red, but it obviously works well. Right now this seems more like some kind of “random feature” (or not yet finalized feature) and I’d wish Fuji implements some extra parameter to allow using the e-shutter also in A and P modes (like e. g. Pentax did with the Q).

      • That’s interesting, I wonder if it’s something that works in conjunction with high DR modes and Auto ISO (so is a processing implementation) or is a real electronic shutter…and if the latter, why not just use it all the time?

    • Why not just get a regular screw-on ND filter?

  2. When I first saw a Sigma DP-1 Merrill, I was intrigued. Most reviewers didn’t get it. For me, though, it appealed to the part of me that loves simplicity. Now I see almost everyone is in on the game, and they’re getting better and better. These two are both fairly useable! I can’t wait until there are full frame versions. A fixed fast lens, full frame, almost pocketable compact camera would be ideal for me. And make it monochrome only! Just so it restricts its appeal to me and 5 other people in my city of 1,000,000+ citizens. Yes, then I will have found compact camera nirvana.

    • We’re getting there. But if only 5/1,000,000 buy it, then there won’t be enough economic justification to build it – either that, or you’re going to pay through your nose for the privilege.

  3. “You have to be careful with DR auto: it will pick much higher ISOs than required in an attempt to retain highlight detail, though this appears to only increase noise in RAW. I’ve got some poor images in bright sunshine from the first day because the camera chose ISO 400 instead of the base 100; my recommendation is to leave it on DR100 and use the spot meter instead.”

    Thanks for informing this! this is why i got so much pic noise in daylight shoot especially in the shadow.


  1. [...] Source: http://blog.mingthein.com/2013/04/07/nikon-coolpix-a-fuji-finepix-x20/ [...]

  2. [...] – mingthein has to make a choice: buy the Nikon Coolpix A or the Fuji X20 to replace the RX100 ? “Quick first thoughts – Nikon Coolpix A and Fuji Finepix X20“. Read here. [...]

  3. [...] Just saw this on Ming's site. Quick first thoughts – Nikon Coolpix A and Fuji Finepix X20 – Ming Thein | Photographer [...]

  4. [...] a formidable camera. Ming Thien, a Pro photographer out of Malaysia who I really respect, has a preliminary report on the Coolpix A and compares it with the Fujifulm X20. In theory, this expensive point and shoot would exceed my Olympus E-PM2 setup in image quality [...]

  5. [...] countable on the fingers of one hand; I had a feeling this one might be special. I picked up the Nikon Coolpix A, set it to manual and a 15s exposure, chose ISO 800 and f2.8 and gave it a shot, bracing the camera [...]

  6. [...] I recently picked up review units of the Nikon Coolpix A and Fuji Finepix X20 at B&H – the store itself is an incredible experience for any photographer, by the way – after a few days of intense shooting during my Making Outstanding Images…  [...]

  7. [...] wait ages and ages and ages…and suddenly we now have no less than three APS-C options: The Nikon Coolpix A, The Fuji X100s with wide converter, and (drumroll please): the brand-spanking-new Ricoh [...]

  8. [...] Fuji Finepix X20 (<a href=”B&H” target=”_blank”>B&H | Amazon) – A very enjoyable camera to shoot with due to the mechanical zoom lens and tactile feel, but ultimately one I did not land up keeping as the size/ image quality tradeoff wasn’t really a good one – it was big enough (nearly as big as the OM-D and a small lens) to be unpocketable, required two-handed operation, and has somewhat weak battery life. Really fast to focus, though, and the lens is pretty good. Fine if you’re not carrying a larger camera and don’t intend to do any processing of your images – best for the JPEG shooters. [...]

  9. [...] Nikon Coolpix A Pros: That sensor: 16MP APS-C; outstandingly good image quality; excellent lens – not that fast (f2.8) but compensated by the sensor; just about pocketable; buffered RAW; good UI; great build-feel Cons: No VR; high price; sometimes you need more than 28mm; not the fastest at focusing; price. [...]

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