Cameras to travel with: the Fujifilm X-T20

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For my recent cruise to the Eastern Caribbean, I wanted to bring along a camera that was small and light enough to take to the beach, versatile enough to handle different shooting conditions, and still give me top-quality shots. I chose the Fujifilm X-T20. How did it measure up? The results are mixed.

Looking at the camera

Fujifilm X-T20 front

Like some of Fuji’s other mirrorless cameras, the X-T20 sports a retro, rangefinder look that resembles the small but versatile cameras of the 1960s. Fuji supplied me with a black model for the trip, but there’s also a very classic-looking silver edition.

The camera is compact, not much bigger than my point-and-shoot, though its does have some heft, even with the relatively light 16-50mm “kit” lens (which translates to an effective 24-75mm). I found it fit my hand fairy well, although a thicker grip would have been nice – I’m told you can buy a third-party add-on grip for this camera.

I could have chosen Fuji’s less expensive X-E3, but I liked the fact that the X-T20 has a viewfinder (though it’s an electronic one), and not just a rear monitor. But there is a big, 3-inch LCD, which tilts up and down for high- and low-angle shots and offers touch-screen functions (though there’s no selfie mode). And there’s a handy control screen that lets you change settings on the fly.

Fujifilm X-T20 back

As well, this is a camera made for hands-on photographers, with lots of old-style mechanical dials to adjust things the way you want them. Looking from the left, there’s a drive dial that lets you set burst modes, movie mode, and panorama modes, as well as things like filters, bracketing and even multiple exposures. On the right side, there’s a big dial for setting your shutter speed manually, and another one to adjust the exposure up or down. There are also rollers on the front and rear of the camera, which have a dozen different uses.

Fujifilm X-T20 top view

The X-T20 is often called a lightweight version of Fuji’s pro-quality X-T2. And accordingly, this camera is no lightweight. It boasts a high-quality, 24-megapixel, APS-C CMOS sensor to turn out good-looking shots, and a host of advanced features, including ultra-hi-def 4K video capture and your choice of mechanical or electronic shutters.

There’s also RAW capture for maximum-quality photos, a robust focus engine with 325 available focus points, a burst mode that will capture 8 frames a second with continuous autofocus (up to 14 fps without it), and an amazing five focus-tracking modes, for following a subject in different situations.

Add a three-level HDR mode for dealing with difficult lighting situations, 14 scene modes, and Fuji’s patented picture modes that mimic its famous legacy film brands, and you’ve got a very capable camera. And like all “prosumer” cameras, it’s endlessly customizable if you want to dig into the menus.

Shooting with the Fujifilm X-T20

Though it’s not small enough to fit in a pocket, the X-T20 was pretty handy to carry around on the road. And in action, it focused quickly and shot fluidly. The viewfinder was sharp, the monitor was vivid and comparatively easy to see in bright sunlight. And the amazingly fast burst mode fired off shots in machine-gun fashion,

That said, I found the camera a bit sluggish. Once it went into sleep mode, it took a couple of good pushes on the shutter to wake it up – and by then, the shot was sometimes gone. That’s exactly what you don’t want in a travel camera.

In fact, I found this camera a bit of a puzzle to understand and operate. I’ve reviewed well over 100 cameras over the years, but this is the first one whose controls just left me confused.

While the X-T20 aims to make things simple with its hands-on dials, it ends up making them more complex. The main control dial offers an “A” position, plus a series of shutter speeds. But unlike with most cameras, the “A” means “aperture priority” rather than “auto” mode – that selection is on the mode lever just below.

That’s confusing enough, but when I chose shutter-priority, I sometimes found myself in manual mode, setting both the shutter speed and aperture myself.

According to the camera’s manual, I learned It can take a combination of three controls — the Auto lever, the shutter speed dial and a switch on the lens — to get the setting you want. And since the kit lens doesn’t have this switch, I was left scratching my head. I often just put the camera in Auto or Advanced SR Auto and fired away, using the exposure dial to adjust the brightness when needed.

On the good side, the battery did manage to get through the day on a single charge – something you can’t say for a lot of mirrorless cameras, even the high-priced ones. Still, I took a spare battery along, and was happy I did.

Looking at the pictures

Those issues aside, the proof of the pudding is in the photos. And they were good – vivid, with rich colours and acceptably sharp, considering I was using the inexpensive “kit” lens. I’m sure you’d get considerably better results using one of Fuji’s more expensive lenses.

This photo of the Black Rocks in St. Kitts shows the camera at its best. The highlights are well controlled on a sunny day — generally, I found the camera average in this regard. And this shot from Saint John’s, Antigua provides a look at the X-T20’s colour palette. (Note: the photos below have not been edited, though they have been resized to fit the page; click on them and enlarge to see them in detail).

St. Kitts Back Rocks

Saint John's Antigua shot

The real test, however, is taking photos in low light. And on a night walk around Toronto after my return, I got some good-looking shots, with no visible murkiness and no false colours (other than those from the artificial lights).

Yonge-Dundas Square

Surprisingly, however, when I viewed my low-light shots at 100-percent magnification, I found evidence of noise and noise reduction at ISO levels as low as 1250. The photos started looking a little painterly, with detail lost and people’s faces looking like masks (photo below). That said, I got some usable photos right up to ISO 3200 and beyond.

Fuji X-T20 ISO 1250 detail

I didn’t take much video, but the clips I did take looked sharp and crisp – no complaints there. Here’s the traffic at one of the busiest corners in downtown Toronto.

The verdict

The Fujifilm X-T20 is a handsome and powerful camera, with a lot of sophisticated features. But its sluggish wake-up time and its complex control system makes it an iffy choice as a travel camera, in my opinion. There are other cameras on the market that can deliver the same quality photos with less of a learning curve.

Of course, if you’re looking for top-quality photos and are willing to pay more for a pro-quality lens, you could get some fine results using the X-T20’s RAW mode and its film simulation modes. On the whole, though, I think I’d look elsewhere for a travel camera.

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About Author

Paul Marshman is a retired journalist who spent 30 years as a writer and editor on Canadian newspapers, while travelling to the ends of the earth. Now he continues to travel while passing on his travel experiences to you.

4 Comments

  1. Dear Paul, thanks for the excellent review. I was confused between getting either the Olympus O-MD E-M5 mkII or the Sony A6300 or the Fujifilm X-T20 as a travel camera. Which one of these would you recommend? Or do you have a different suggestion?
    Thanks!

    • I haven’t tried the Sony, and I used the first version of the Olympus. But after consulting with my friend Maarten Heilbron, a camera reviewer who’s used all three models, the consensus is the Olympus. Personally, though, I’d probably pick a small DSLR like the Nikon D5600.

  2. Thanks for the review. We’ve been debating the move to mirrorless, settling (we think) on the Sony A6300 because of the larger CMOS sensor. Olympus does offer image stabilization, though, which most at that pricepoint don’t. Tough decision! We do like the retro look of the Fuji, though. Very cool. 🙂

    • Thanks for the feedback. In truth, I don’t think you really lose any photo quality because of Olympus’ somewhat smaller sensor. It has more to do with what the camera does with the signal it gets from the sensor.

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