DCRP Review: Minolta DiMAGE X20
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: September 2, 2003
Last Updated: September 3, 2003

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The Minolta DiMAGE X20 is a lower cost, lower resolution version of their popular DiMAGE Xt model (see our review). While the Xt is 3.2 Megapixel, has an optical viewfinder, and uses a proprietary battery, the X20 is 2 Megapixel, lacks an optical viewfinder, and uses AA batteries. It also costs just $250 -- half of the (list) price of the Xt. Both cameras use Minolta's unique vertical lens design, which has the lens elements traveling down the length of the body, rather than the front-to-back system found on every other lens. This lens allows for the ultra-thin body.

The X-series cameras aren't nearly as impressive as they once were, especially after the Pentax Optio S and Casio Exilim EX-Z3 were introduced. But they're still quite small.

There are plenty of compact 2MP cameras out there -- how does the X20 compare? Find out in our review!

What's in the Box?

The DiMAGE X20 has an average bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 2.0 (effective) Mpixel DiMAGE X20 camera
  • 8MB Secure Digital card
  • Two AA alkaline batteries (not rechargeable)
  • Neck strap
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • 115 page camera manual + software manual (both printed)
  • DiMAGE Viewer Utility + DiMAGE Software CDs

The X20 includes a rather skimpy 8MB Secure Digital (SD) card. That's just enough to get started with, but you'll want a larger card in a hurry. I'd recommend 64MB as a starting point. The camera can also use slower, lower capacity MultiMediaCards (MMC).

The DiMAGE X20 is the first ultra-thin camera (that I can think of at least) that uses AA batteries, instead of a proprietary lithium-ion battery. This is good news, in my opinion. First, AA's are much cheaper than lithium-ion batteries. Second, if you're ever in a jam, you can buy regular alkaline batteries to get you through the day.

That said, Minolta gives you two non-rechargeable alkalines in the box, which will quickly find their way into your trash (please recycle them!). Since the camera only uses two batteries, picking up a four-pack of NiMH rechargeables and a fast charger seems like a wise idea to me.

Minolta estimates that you can take about 230 shots, or spend 300 minutes in playback mode, using NiMH batteries. That's considerably longer than the proprietary battery lasts on the DiMAGE Xt.

The X20 has as built-in lens cover, so there is no need to worry about lens caps. As you can see, it's a very small camera. More on those weird circles in a bit.

The only accessories I could find for the X20 include a metal chain neck strap (ooo!), a carrying case, and an AC adapter. You can't use the waterproof case like you can with the DiMAGE Xt.

Included with the camera is version 2.2 of the Minolta DiMAGE Viewer software. It's certainly not a substitute for something like Photoshop Elements, but it does basic editing fairly well. The software is Mac OS X native. If you're just looking to connect your camera and transfer files, you'll be pleased to hear that it's Windows XP and OS X compatible -- and you probably won't have to install any drivers.

The DiMAGE's manual is pretty good as well, with long explanations and not a lot of fine print. Much better than the average camera manual.

Look and Feel

The DiMAGE X20 and the DiMAGE Xt look quite similar. The two main differences are the lack of the optical viewfinder and two mysterious circles on the X20. More on that in a second.

The engineering behind the DiMAGE X series is very impressive. Minolta has managed put a 3X optical zoom lens into a camera less than an inch thick. What they've done is put a prism at the back of the lens, and then put all the moving parts and additional optics down the camera body. The CCD sensor is actually on the bottom of the camera. This page explains it visually better than I can describe it in words.

The X20 has an all-metal body, which, as you might imagine, feels very solid. Do watch out though, as metal cameras can scratch easily. The camera fits into your pockets with ease. The official dimensions are 3.4 x 2.6 x 0.9 inches (W x H x D) and it weighs just 115 grams empty. For the sake of comparison, the numbers for the DiMAGE Xt are 3.5 x 2.6 x 0.8 and 120 g, respectively.

Let's begin our tour of this camera now.

The DiMAGE X20 has the same F2.8-3.7, 3X optical zoom as the DiMAGE Xi/Xt. The focal range of the lens is 4.8 - 14.4 mm, which is equivalent to 37 - 111 mm. Not surprisingly, there are no lens accessories for this camera available.

Like with the other X-series models, you really have to watch out for your finger. It's very easy to put your finger near the lens and thus into the picture, especially at wide-angle.

To the lower-left of the lens, you'll find one of the two mysterious circles on the front of the camera. This one is actually a small, convex mirror that you can use for self-portraits. It's quite small, and I found it pretty hard to see unless the camera was right in your face (or maybe my vision is poor). This feature works best in the self-portrait mode that you can activate in the menu system. If you squint, you can see the reflection of my Canon D60 in the mirror.

Continuing to the left, we find the X20's built-in flash. The flash has a working range of 0.1 - 3.6 m at wide-angle, and 0.1 - 2.7 m at telephoto. The camera does not support and external flash.

To the left of that is the microphone. Below that, in the other circle, you'll find the indicator lights. These blink (in multiple colors) when you turn the camera on, or when the self-timer is being used. It's not an AF-assist lamp, nor is there one of this camera, which is a shame.

Perhaps to make up for the lack of an optical viewfinder, the DiMAGE X20 actually has a larger LCD than the Xt (1.6 vs. 1.5 inch). Minolta does not publish the resolution of the screen, but I'd consider it to be pretty high. Images on the screen are bright and fluid, as well. You can adjust the LCD brightness in the setup menu.

As I mentioned, there is no optical viewfinder on the X20. You must rely on the LCD display, which can be difficult when you're outdoors. The need for an optical viewfinder is clearly a subjective one -- for me, it's a deal-breaker. I was surprised that the X20 lacked one, as there's definitely room for a small one here.

Directly to the right of the LCD, you'll find the speaker.

Moving now to the upper-right of the photo, you can see the four-way controller, plus menu and playback mode buttons. I'm not a huge fan of how Minolta put the up/down keys in the middle of the left/right keys, rather than the typical "plus layout" that I'm used to. This controller is used for controlling the zoom, and moving through the menu system.

On the top of the camera, you'll find the power and shutter release buttons, as well as a switch which moves the camera between still photo and movie mode.

There's nothing to see here, but I will make my usual "boo, hiss" comment regarding the labeling of the camera. Minolta should have "3x zoom" in big print -- instead of including the useless digital zoom like they do here.

On this side of the camera, you'll find a whole bunch of interesting things. That includes the I/O ports, memory card slot, and battery compartment.

The I/O ports include a dual A/V and USB port (normally covered by a plastic slider), as well as a DC-in port for the optional AC adapter.

To the left of that is the SD/MMC card slot. The included 8MB card is shown as well.

Below that, under a sturdy plastic cover, you'll find the battery compartment. The X20 uses two AA-sized batteries.

Finally, here is the bottom of the DiMAGE X20. The only thing to see here is the plastic tripod mount, which is located right in the center of things.

Using the Minolta DiMAGE X20

Record Mode

Like the other DiMAGE X-series cameras, the X20 starts up very quickly, in about 1.6 seconds.

In good light, the camera locks focus quickly, usually in about half a second. In lower light, where the camera has to "hunt" to lock focus, expect it to take a second, or a little longer.

Shutter lag is very short when a fast shutter speed is used, but you'll definitely notice it when a slow shutter speed is used. You'll want to use the flash or a tripod in those situations.

Shot-to-shot speed is very good. If you turn off the instant playback feature, you can take another shot in under 2 seconds. If you're using instant playback, you can half-press the shutter release to go back to shooting immediately.

There's no option to delete a photo right after it is taken.

Now, here's a look at the resolution and quality choices on the DiMAGE X20:

Quality Resolution File Size Images on included 8MB card
Fine 1600 x 1200 990 KB 6
1280 x 960 660 KB 10
640 x 480 210 KB 31
Standard 1600 x 1200 520 KB 12
1280 x 960 360 KB 18
640 x 480 130 KB 48
Economy 1600 x 1200 290 KB 22
1280 x 960 210 KB 31
640 x 480 90 KB 68

Unlike the DiMAGE Xt, the X20 does not have a TIFF mode.

The X20 saves images with a name of PICT####.JPG, where #### = 0001-9999. The camera will maintain the file numbering, even as you erase/replace memory cards.

The DiMAGE X20 has a rather bizarre menu mode, which has many of the items which are usually buttons on the camera body. There's the "quick menu" shown above left, and a full menu (activated by choosing "Menu") on the right. I would've preferred having some of the items on the quick menu as buttons instead. However, you can customize the left/right buttons to control the flash, exposure compensation, or white balance, so you can get around this.

The items on the first menu screen are (left to right, top to bottom):

  • Toning (Monochrome [black & white], sepia, red monochrome, blue monochrome, green monochrome) - those last three are interesting
  • Portrait
  • Image size (see chart)
  • Flash setting (Auto, auto w/redeye reduction, fill flash, flash cancel, night portrait [flash slow sync])
  • Full menu
  • Drive mode (Single-frame, self-timer, continuous, multi frame, self-portrait)
  • White balance (Auto, daylight, cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent)
  • Exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV, 1/3EV increments)
  • Image quality (see chart)

The DiMAGE X20 is a pure point-and-shoot camera. There are no manual controls of any kind -- even white balance.

The continuous shooting mode will take photos at a maximum rate of 1.5 frames/sec. The total number of shots varies depending on the selected image resolution and quality. For the highest resolution/quality, it's just 3 shots... and for the lowest of both, it's 22.

The multi frame option will take nine shots in a row and put them into one image -- like a collage.

Let's take a look at the full menu now:

  • <> Key function (Flash mode, Exp. compensation, white balance, drive, white balance, off) - define what the left/right buttons on the four-way controller do.
  • Sensitivity [ISO] (Auto, 64, 100, 200, 400)
  • Auto reset (on/off) - whether camera saves settings when powered off
  • Color mode (Color, black & white, sepia)
  • Voice memo (on/off) - add a 15 second sound clip to each photo
  • Date imprint (on/off) - prints the date/time on your photos
  • Digital zoom (on/off) - using this lowers the photo quality
  • Instant playback (on/off) - show the photo on the LCD after it is taken
  • File number memory (on/off) - whether camera maintains the file numbering
Everything there should be self-explanatory, so let's continue on to the setup menu now. The interesting setup options include:
  • LCD brightness
  • Language (Japanese, English, German, French, Spanish)
  • Audio signals / Shutter FX - mess around with beeps and phony shutter sounds; You can even record your own sounds.
  • Volume (1-3)
  • Power off (1, 3, 5, 10, 30 mins)
  • Video output (NTSC, PAL)
  • Transfer mode (Data storage, remote camera) - see below

The "remote camera" option lets those with Windows-based PCs use the camera for videoconferencing, using software like Microsoft NetMeeting. Being a Mac guy, I did not try it.

Let's move on to photo quality now!

The DiMAGE X20 has an automatic macro mode -- you don't turn it on like with most cameras. You can get as close to your subject as 10 cm. The X20 produced a nice photo of the usual test subject -- it's quite "smooth". The colors look pretty good, though the red seems a little orange to me.

Despite not having any manual controls, the X20 did a nice job with the night test shot. It's not razor sharp, but it still took in enough light, and noise levels are low. This was a four second exposure, which is the slowest shutter speed available on the camera.

Small cameras usually have redeye issues, and the X20 is no exception. It's not horrible, but not good either. You can usually clean it up in software. I used the Auto ISO setting here, since the shot was just too dark at ISO 64. Also, please note that I enlarged the crop slightly so you can make out the detail.

The distortion test shows many issues that come along with the fancy lens system in the X20. The first is higher-than-average barrel distortion at the wide-angle end of things. Second, you can see just a hint of vignetting, or dark corners. Finally, there's also blurry corners, especially on the lower-right (see this shot for a real world example).

On the whole, image quality is good, but not as good as you'd get from a camera with a more "traditional" lens system. Images are quite soft to begin with, and the blurry corners don't help matters. Purple fringing was also seen, though it's not bad enough to attain "problem status" (see this shot as an example). Noise levels were low. The photo quality is more than adequate for both websites and 4 x 6 inch prints.

Don't just take my word for it, though -- have a look at the photo gallery and decide for yourself!

Movie Mode

The DiMAGE X20 lets you record movies until the memory card is full, making its movie mode about average (these days). There are two resolutions to choose from: 320 x 240 and 160 x 120. Sound is recorded as well. The included 8MB card can hold just 19 seconds of video, so you'll want a larger card if you're serious about movies.

As with most cameras that record sound with movies, the optical zoom is disabled during filming. You can, however, use the digital zoom.

Strap on your seatbelt, this is one exciting sample movie. Actually, I'm kidding. Enjoy:


Click to play movie (3.2MB, QuickTime format)

Can't play it? Download QuickTime.

Playback Mode

The DiMAGE X20's playback mode has the same dual-menu system as it does in record mode.

Basic playback options include slide shows, DPOF print marking, image protection, voice annotations, thumbnail mode, and zoom and scroll.

The zoom and scroll feature (my term) allows you to zoom in as much as 6X (in 0.2X increments) into your photo, and then scroll around. This feature is well-implemented.

Some of the more unique features include:

  • Favorites - Copies a 640 x 480 (economy quality) photo into a special favorites folder
  • Image rotation
  • "Image pasting" - crop a photo and then "paste" it into another. Not sure how useful this one is.
  • E-mail copy - makes a 640 x 480 or 160 x 120 copy of a selected image for easy e-mailing

One other feature that I appreciate is the ability to delete a group of photos, instead of just one or all.

Unfortunately, the X20 doesn't give you any information about exposure settings in playback mode.

The camera moves between photos very quickly, taking about 0.5 second to switch to the new photo.

How Does it Compare?

The Minolta DiMAGE X20 is a good, ultra-compact 2 Megapixel camera -- as long as you don't miss the optical viewfinder. The X20 is purely a point-and-shoot camera, with no manual controls. The new menu system is clearly aimed at beginners. Photo quality is good, though not as good as a camera with a regular lens (for reasons described earlier). Where previous X-series cameras had an optical viewfinder, the X20 only has a 1.6" LCD display -- which may be a deal breaker for some people (myself included). Camera performance is quite good, especially startup and playback speeds. The X20's low light performance was not great, due in part to the lack of an AF-assist lamp. The movie mode is decent, but not as nice as it would've been last year. Finally, I must compliment Minolta on switching to AA batteries. Now if I could only get them to include rechargeables in the box. If you want a pocketable camera for web photos and small prints, then the DiMAGE X20 is worth a look. If you're doing larger prints and like the design of the camera, try the DiMAGE Xt. If you want manual controls, you'll have to find another camera altogether, as none of the X-series cameras have them.

What I liked:

  • Generally good photo quality
  • Ultra-thin body with 3X zoom lens
  • Fast startup, shot-to-shot, playback speeds
  • Movie mode can record until card is full, with sound
  • Mirror for self-portraits on front of camera. Interesting? Yes. Useful? Not sure.
  • Uses AA batteries instead of proprietary lithium-ion
  • Can be used for videoconferencing (Windows only)

What I didn't care for:

  • Some vignetting, fuzzy corners in images; images on the soft side
  • No manual controls
  • No optical viewfinder
  • Some redeye and purple fringing
  • I'm not a huge fan of the four-way controller and the new menu system
  • No AF illuminator
  • So-so bundle

Other ultra-small 2 and 3 Megapixel cameras with a zoom lens include the Canon PowerShot SD100, Casio Exilim EX-Z3, Fuji FinePix A205 and A210, HP Photosmart 635, Kyocera Finecam S3L, Nikon Coolpix 2100, 3100 and 3500, Olympus Stylus 300, Panasonic Lumix DMC-LC33, Pentax Optio 33L and S, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P72 and DSC-P8. A long list, yes, but there are lots of quality cameras in this class.

As always, I recommend a trip to your local camera store to try out the DiMAGE X20 and its competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

Want to see how the photo quality turned on? Check out our photo gallery!

Want a second opinion?

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Feedback

Jeff welcomes your comments or questions. Send them to jakeller@pair.com. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation.

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