The Fujifilm X-T20: Suffice to say "classical"

It is like old friend that you can rely every time you are coming back to him. Fujifilm have proposed very attaching digital camera models over more than a decade. Today I am still surprise how good their picture quality output has been punchy, detailed and charming. Without speaking their obsession to produce high level construction-assembly into their appealing product with a photo traditional design. And we are not speaking about their nice and reliable lens line-up.

In the past I just have loved to use their films (color, slide and B&W) on various working situations with success. Thereafter the digital age had taken the stage and Fujifilm were one of the first to offer photo devices that have delivered interesting results.

Today Fujifilm has already almost win every bit of recognition in the photo industry for their products and rightfully the Fuji line-up is very complete and comprehensive. Even a player like Nikon will never try to compete with Fujifilm which had forced them to develop a mirrorless alternative into the other so-call « full frame » sensor format (24 X 36mm).

Among the Fujifilm beautiful line-up  we can find an interesting model under the name of X-T20 (successor of the previous X-T10). Presented by many as a downscaled version of the X-T2, the Fujfilm X-T20 is a very small package designed with a centered viewfinder à la SLR. It is a compact camera smaller and lighter than the MFT format Panasonic Lumix G85 for example. In my sense this represent the very essence of mirrorless camera category (To be compact and lightweight).

I think the best way to approach the Fujifilm X-T20 is to forget all about the previous recent camera models that I have used over time and return to a very basic experience in photography. In doing so I have found that the only missing part of the X-T20 is the rapid wind lever (to advance traditional film!) just to show how this camera model seems to have intentionally or not designed as it use to be for a reflex from the film era.

In fact a more serious exam of the X-T20 proved me wrong in every aspects of it because it is indeed a very contemporary digital camera. The Fujifilm designer department have the very good ability to create that impression of a return of the past by adopting forms and fonction controls that are legendary associated with legends in photo equipment. That can be be deceptive for some people that will strongly underestimate the very modern potentialities of the X-T20. So don’t get a falsely impression at first sight.

The presentation of the basic functionalities of the X-T20 is recalling film camera especially for the shutter speed and EV correction dials. If you combine the X-T20 body with most of the XF lenses the lens aperture can be set by using the ajustement ring present on these lenses which replicate the traditional setting way of the past SLRs or rangefinders of the tradiotonal film era.  In doing so you can preset the X-T20 without actually powering it.  For sure you may have to pay attention for the exposure accuracy of your choices. Furthermore you can manually focus your lens and reproduce the entire past experience.

But The Fujifilm is also a very modern digital photo camera that is giving you access of all the contemporary automatic aids and references that help to perform without bothering with many technical constraints. So again apparences can be deceptive for the fast looker.

Ergonomic notes
Every time we are speaking about the ergonomics of a camera model we have mixed opinions regarding the pure handling of the device and the adaptability of the photographer to use it. At the end we find that confort is ultimately a very personal perception that depends of so many physical and psychological factors that is almost impossible to get a general rule that suit most of us. For myself I have compare the Fujifilm X-T20 with my previous compact 35mm SLR camera experiences. And because we want something small and lightweight it induce to let go some bigger handling exigence like the famous hand grip with sufficient finger space to hold the camera body like a glove. Instead the X-T20 will ask you to pay more attention when you hold and interact with it.

Add-on Grip Volume
Just a short note regarding the optional add-on grip available through Fujifilm official accessories (Hand Grip MHG-XT20) or its third-party clone (Meike XT20G). Some will find and adopt almost full-time the accessory although others will simply discard it when they discover that the add-on grip contradict in part the compact vocation of the X-T20. It is up to you to make your choice of convenience.
With bigger and longer Fujinon lenses the additional grip will certainly increase your confort and you will fell a higher sense of security if you carry the X-T20 with your one-hand. (I’m not fond of the big under opening for the battery/card access but it is a very useful feature for sure). 

Since I have already a previous experience with the Fujifilm X-T10, the X-T20 predecessor, I was familiar with the camera body design and functionalities which are remaining the same for most of it. Attentive viewers will denote the discret disparition of a function button located on the rear bottom far side which has been relocated on the previous video button on the right upper deck. Video is now command by the shutter release button itself through an added option available on the control dial located on the far left of the upper deck.

All control dials and push buttons are reasonably reachable after a short learning introduction to the X-T20 and few  photo sessions. I regret the left position of the reviewing button that prevent us to activate it with our right hand fingers. The shutter release button is not very large too (you can screw in an off-brand enhanced button to improve the situation but at the expense to get a more sensitive « feather » touch). Halfway pressure to activate the focus and exposure functions is easy to master. An old fashion cable release can be use with the X-T20, an option that I have always preferred to the other electronic remote but this is purely personal.

Separated exposure and focus locking push buttons are a very nice idea. To have access to the Quick menu (Q) is also a fine option. The same for the touch back screen. The front focus option dial is a good tool that allows easy and direct permutation.

The very discrete in-board flash is a small extra light unit that can be used for fill-in flash purpose. Just remember that the flash is activated by the camera battery pack. So if you are planning an extended use of an electronic flash it is better to look for an external unit with more light power, separate battery power and have the possibility of different flash head orientations (for bounce task).

I have also appreciated that the Fujifilm X-T20 is not too much crowed with numerous function buttons that generate often on others models accidental activations. The back of the camera is clean, the upper deck functional, and the front very discrete except for the company and model lettering. (« What sort of camera you are using? Fujifilm my friend! Ah??? »)

« What is on the Menu? »
Almost everything is reconfigurable on the X-T20 if you are using the menu. So explorations, essaies and setting can customize the functionalities of the camera. Speaking of that there is also the possibility to register those specific setting on one of the seven Custom menus to be recall later. I leave you the « joy » of discovering all what this interface is able to do for help (or confusing you!). Menu presentation is fairly intuitive even for a past analog photographer like me 😉.

Seing your picture (Electronic Viewfinder and Live Screen).
Working without a viewfinder is more and more popular although I persist to say that it induce a far less efficient camera holding. The electronic viewfinder (EVF) of the Fujifilm X-T20 is a very good visual reference tool with a good reactivity. Once you have adjusted its brightness to your own taste, it give a realistic image  output of your subject with the essential infos with a very handy automatic rotation presentation. It can be customized if you need to do so. Informations are not intrusive of the picture area, a nice attention for the composition effort of the photographer.

Focus appreciation accurancy via an EVF has been always a tricky business even when you attempt to use the differents focusing aids availible through the menu. By far I would prefer the older way by using a fine grain (simulation) focusing screen that permit you to keep the entire view of your picture at any moment. The Fujifilm X-T20 can allow you a moderate rate of success in doing that way. In low light situations it performs well as long you get sufficient contrast from your main subject.

For people like me who are wearing permanent eyeglasses, you will have to really get close to the eyepiece in order to have the full view of the screen. Activation of the exposure correction is clearly illustrated by the illumination of its scale. Viewing modes include the always economical option of the electronic viewfinder use only with the eye detection activation (by far my preference in many situations).

At the end the X-T20 EVF do give an average magnification coupled with a modest eye relief distance that make the thing a bit difficult for eyeglasses wearers but it deliver a fine reproduction of your picture.

The high quality of the rear viewing screen is the other working option. The screen can be tilted for a waist level viewing position or for an « over the crowd » use. The big news is the touch screen possibilities during the picture taking sessions for the focus position, the shutter release, the menu exploration and setting and the picture reviewing. Speaking the last option mentioned the automatic last picture reviewing on screen has to be configured through the menu since it is not settle by default.

Touch screen functionalities are very nice additions included into the X-T20 model. Many users will appreciate to work during their shooting or/and their pictures reviewing as for cruising through the camera menu. Today touch screens are a feature that you are expecting to have a standard access. As usual it can be shut down if you prefer to set the camera with the more traditional fashion way.

The big change of the Fujifilm X-T20 is its new 24MP sensor that give you a better overall definition. Transiting from the previous 16MP version, the new sensor seem to deliver finer definition of your subject nor in final analysis the change appears to be subtil but make no mistake you will obtain an  professional image output that can be printed without restriction on A4, A3 or even A2 paper formats as long you have done a correct exposure and composition of your subject and you have used a stable support to eliminate unacceptable blur effects induced from motion of the camera. Using a top grade lens is another option to reach the maximum definition from the Fujifilm X-T20 image sensor.

Selecting Exposure mode (manual, semi-automatic, program, dedicated)
Exposure can be set in every ways, from complete programmed (including dedicated and special effect modes) to fully manual setting of the aperture, shutter speed and ISO. All semi-automatic modes are present by simply disengage the shutter and aperture control dials from the « A » position. This is very efficient and straightforward although the ISO has to be selected with the aid of the EVF or the Live screen. Exposure correction factor can be set with the rotating dial or the front multifunction dial.

The exposure metering system the Fujifilm X-T20 is reliable but don’t prevent yourself to evaluate it with the EVF or the Live screen and be able in doing so to alter the final result in regard of your own taste or bias. Since the camera sensor has a good dynamic range you can exposure (and memorize) for the high lights (to prevent the super-white clipping effect) and then correct your shadow areas during the post-processing of your final picture. It works well even with the JPEG files.

Focus (Automatic, Tracking, Manual w/aids)
Another great improvement is the newest algorithm used to calculate and set the autofocus. More reactivity and better tracking are always appreciated by photographers « on the sport ».

The ISO scale of the Fujifilm X-T20 is giving you a good latitude of exposure without strong degrading quality when you are using the more sensitive part of it. I have very manageable image results from ISO 200 up to ISO 3200. B&W pictures are awesome in any cases.

Image quality (Color, B&W)
Almost all my picture are registered on JPEG files since I prefer not to post-edit them too much (except for very caricatural effects). The Fujifilm cameras are fulfilling exactly that way of producing very fine images right from the start without painful and long post processing. Colors, details, finesse are there and rewarding for the photographer.
The different film simulations recreate beautiful bias without  too fuss. The monochrome rendering is fantastic at such a high level that some people were asking Fujifilm to offer exclusive monochrome versions of their camera models « à la Leica ».
On a very personal note I find that Fujifilm APS-C sensor format picture files to be superior to what I have previously experimented into the MFT format (may be the new MFT 20MP sensor is the most similar). Provia/Standard in color and Acros in B&W are the film simulations that have my preferences by far.
A carefully compose and exposure picture with good image stability should give a high level of quality sufficient to get an very good printable result in paper format of A4, A3 and even A2.

As usual since I am not a videographer the Fujifilm X-T20 video features wont be part of this personal review.

Others details
The off-centered tripod screw hole at the bottom plate of the Fujifilm X-T20 can be bothering in specific combination with a telephoto lens and a monopod for example if you intend to do a panning of a moving subject. That can be partly addressed by using the optional grip  (MHG-XT20). Action (sport, nature, performance) photographers need to have a help when you working long hours with heavier lenses. In that sense, the add-on grip may became a full-time part of the X-T20.

The Fujifilm X-T20 is not a weather-resistant camera and precautions have to be taken when using it in adverse conditions. The X-T20 seems to be a solid device but exposing it to water, very high humidity, sandy or high winds can be hazardous even lethal for the electronics of the model. So keep a safe use of the X-T20 (Improvise a camera raincoat with a clear bag and seal the front end of the lens with a rubber band surrounding the lens hood, a protective neutral filter is also recommended).
In cold climate conditions, freeze battery pack and internal condensation are others sources of disruption to be aware. A warm extra battery pack in your pocket could solve the problem. Not exposing the camera to sudden shift of temperature from cold to warm (be progressive) will help also.  There is no reason to miss photo opportunities because a more difficult weather, just be prepared and in worst case scenarios just put the camera gear in weather seal case.

Final note
After all this small study on many aspects of the Fujifilm X-T20 the most important I retain of the experience is the pleasure of using a very creative tool with real personality.

Fujifilm is not only a designer/manufacturer/marketer of nice cameras and lenses, Fujifilm is also a trade name under which many communities of photographers of everywhere became reunited into their commun passion of doing pictures and share their joy of using a niche product like all the Fujifilm cameras and Fujinon lenses. So be aware to not becoming yourself an active member of their photo sect!

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