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Fujifilm X-T20 review: love, rekindled

The junior member of Fujifilm’s high-end camera lineup might be the best

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Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

Strolling through La Rambla in the heart of Barcelona this month, I saw and heard the full kaleidoscope of human cultures around me, but something wasn’t quite right. There was an anomaly about the tourists surrounding me. Not one of them was using, wearing, or carrying a camera. I was, in fact, the sole person with a dedicated camera in hand.

Smartphone cameras have grown so ubiquitous and competent that, even on an evening outing in a city center, most people now trust them to handle their photography needs. I would normally be one of those phone-only casual tourists, but on this occasion I was reviewing the Fujifilm X-T20 camera and was duty-bound to use it. I could anticipate getting better results than from my smartphone, of course, but what I didn’t expect was that the X-T20 would rekindle my love for this old-fashioned method of taking photos.

Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

The Fujifilm X-T20 is everything that is good about technology. It’s a throwback to the days of necessarily rugged metal bodies, optical viewfinders, and entirely physical control schemes replete with satisfying clicks and clunks from mechanical switches and dials. But it elevates those laudable aspects of old-timey film cameras with judicious use of modern technology, including an electronic viewfinder, the same 24-megapixel APS-C sensor as inside the higher-end Fujifilm X-Pro2 and X-T2, and a reliable autofocus system that’s also very amenable to manual adjustment.

At $899 without any lenses included, the X-T20 is certainly a considered purchase for any newcomers to Fujifilm’s wares. I tested it with a set of prime lenses that would multiply its price, but you don’t have to go that far right away. The X-T20 contains Fujifilm’s best imaging processing to date — hardware that’d usually cost much more — and it marks an understandably high entry point into the company’s excellent lens ecosystem. You can have better and you can have cheaper, but this particular Fujifilm camera has proven the Goldilocks ideal for me.

Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

If I were to rank my favorite cameras before coming across the Fujifilm X-T20, they would be the Google Pixel for its convenience, the Canon 5D Mark III for its astonishing sharpness and detail, and the Sony NEX-5N for its balance of the other two cameras’ strengths. The more I saw of what the Pixel could do, the more I thought the future would be exclusively smartphone shooters, on the one hand, and big and bulky full-frame DSLRs like the Canon, on the other. Smartphones have been steadily eroding the space for cameras like my Sony, but Fujifilm begs to differ.

Without exception, all of my reviewer colleagues who are enthusiastic about photography are enthusiastic about Fujifilm’s mirrorless camera range. Sean O’Kane, Sam Byford, and Dan Seifert have been using X-series cameras for years, and Chris Welch recently reviewed the $1,599 X-T2 under the title of “for the love of photography.” In that time, I’ve sat on the sidelines wondering what all the fuss is about. Yes, Fujifilm uses a retro two-tone styling, and it has a contoured grip, physical toggles and switches, and its own range of Fujinon lenses. But that’s the recipe that every other mirrorless camera maker has been following, too. What makes a Fujifilm camera special?

I didn’t understand the pervasive appeal of Fujifilm cameras until I spent some quality time with one

Let’s break down the X-T20 bit by bit. The camera body has a very regular, linear shape and a magnesium alloy frame that makes it feel extremely rigid and robust. The hump in the middle — which simulates the pentaprism chamber of single-lens reflex cameras — houses the pop-up flash and sits only slightly higher than the two large control dials at the top. There are also grip-enhancing protrusions on the right front and rear of the camera, both of them quite subtle. Fujifilm clearly prioritized minimizing size with the X-T20, which is narrower, shallower, shorter and almost 25 percent lighter than the X-T2.

I like the X-T20’s size and proportions because they allow me to detach the lens and store the camera inside slimmer bags and pockets than its larger siblings. That does come with trade-offs, though. The flap covering the battery and memory card slot, for instance, sits right next to the tripod mount — so you won’t be able to swap anything out with the T20 mounted up. You also don’t get the joystick control as you do on the X-T2 or X-Pro2, which is very convenient for shifting your focus point while shooting through the viewfinder. Photographers experienced with those higher-end bodies would tell you that the top control dials can feel cramped — though I, having come from using Sony’s far less intuitive controls, am glad that Fujifilm provides as many clearly labeled dials as it does. My only issue with them has been the rare accidental tweaking of the exposure dial on the far right.

Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

Electronic viewfinders have never previously been convincing enough to get me to switch away from composing images on the rear LCD of the camera, but the X-T20 has converted me. I now shoot exclusively through the T20’s EVF, oftentimes forgetting that it’s not a “real” optical viewfinder. This has marked a revolutionary change in my photography: in previous times, viewfinders have always equated to massive DSLRs that I’d only use on a work assignment. Now I’m finally tasting the hobbyist photographer lifestyle of the film era that I was previously too young and impoverished to know. It’s cool. I’m discovering an intimacy with my subject that no touchscreen LCD can hope to match.

Should you require a touchscreen LCD, though, the Fujifilm X-T20 has one of those too. It pops out and articulates vertically — so it can be used to compose shots far above or below eye level. The touch function allows you to pick a point for the camera to focus on, but I found it frustratingly imprecise on the T20 and just avoided it. It’s fine as a crutch for anyone fully habituated to touch interactions, but I consider it borderline sinful to get a camera as naturally intuitive as this and use it like a smartphone. Bonus reason to switch to the EVF full time: you’ll get a lot more shots out of a single battery charge. The X-T20 has a 1,200mAh battery that is good for somewhere around 300 frames when composing with the LCD and close to double that if you rely solely on the EVF. My trip to Barcelona produced 560 shots before I got the low battery warning.


Earlier this year, I used Sony’s $1,400 a6500 extensively, which is externally indistinct from that company’s a6300 camera that the X-T20 is priced to compete against. I can say with confidence that the Fujifilm X-T20 is a better stills camera than both Sony alternatives. The big Fujifilm advantages are in having a superior EVF, much more logical controls and better-sized buttons, and a body that’s only slightly lighter, but feels dramatically smaller than Sony’s due to its more symmetrical shape. Fujifilm also has a much, much better ecosystem of lenses to choose from — I don’t think it would be controversial for me to say that Fujifilm has the best selection of lenses to buy for any mirrorless camera system on the market today. Where Sony enjoys an advantage over Fujifilm is in autofocus speed and video-recording capabilities, both things that Sony is arguably the world leader in.

Fujifilm’s lens ecosystem is the best among mirrorless camera systems

But let’s talk about those Fujifilm lenses. The most versatile 18-55mm kit lens is highly rated and it’s been discussed in our previous reviews, so I wanted to experiment with some of the pricier and more task-specific glass. For my testing, I used the X-T20 with four prime lenses: the 14mm f/2.8, the 23mm f/1.4, the 35mm f/1.4, and the 56mm f/1.2 APD. It was only after I did most of my shooting that I looked up the prices, which were $899, $899, $599, and, um, $1,499, respectively. Not knowing their prices actually helped me assess each as objectively as possible.

I found the telephoto 56mm, which is equivalent to 84mm on a full-frame camera, to be a fantastic portrait lens. Like a finely-balanced katana, it’s designed to just do one thing and be amazing at it. I took photos with that lens where I could see my reflection in the pupil of my subject’s eye (and I could also see every strand of hair on their face and every imperfection in their skin, which was less awesome). I hoped I could put this lens to use as a pseudo-macro lens, but that just wasn’t happening: its long minimum focusing distance and its somewhat indecisive autofocus were disappointing when applied to anything other than portraits.

Jaguar E-Pace debut in London, July 2017


Jaguar E-Pace debut in London, July 2017
Photo by Vlad Savov / The Verge

The other extreme, the 14mm lens, provided a handy tool for my car photography this month. I shot the majority of my Jaguar E-Pace photos with the 14mm lens mounted on the X-T20 (gallery above, first few photos are with the 35mm lens). This piece of glass is just on the right side of being a fisheye lens: it will distort things a fair amount, but so long as you’re not too close to the subject, that’s tolerable and a worthwhile compromise for being able to fit much more in the frame. One significant observation from my Jaguar shoot: I didn’t have to do any color balance adjustment when retouching the photos. That’s a consistent thread through all of my shooting with the Fujifilm X-T20: this camera’s automatic white balance is highly reliable.

The 23mm lens was, for whatever reason, the least exciting one for me, but the real star of the show was the 35mm XF lens. It’s probably because 23mm (equivalent to 35mm on a full-frame sensor) is the most common and versatile focal length that I found it boring to shoot with; the more zoomed-in 35mm let me compose photos that felt more active and dynamic. I can envision myself happily using the X-T20 with just the 35mm prime. It’s the smallest and lightest of the set I tested, and where it’s not able to fit everything in the frame, I can either use my legs to zoom out or, alternatively, live with a narrower snapshot.

Buying the camera body is just the start of a long and enjoyable adventure

It’s a little amusing that I enjoyed the cheapest Fujinon lens the most, but maybe that makes sense. Even though I shoot photos professionally, I still consider myself mostly a casual photographer — and as such it makes sense that I’d gravitate toward lower-tier products first, my needs aren’t that great. That’s also probably why I can be forgiving of the relatively slow autofocus speed from all of the Fujinon lenses I tested. This is not a sports photographer’s camera or lens kit at all. But for me, being patient with the autofocus and even manually finessing it on occasion — not because it was necessary, but because the focus rings on the lenses are a tactile delight and I really like the focus-assist highlight that shows up in the EVF — was just part of the ceremony of shooting with this camera.

I can’t explain why I was more patient with the X-T20 than I was with the far faster Sony a6500. Fujifilm’s camera just made me much more willing to forgive its shortcomings than Sony’s did, and that has to do with the imperceptible aspects of good design.


Other than my observations about image quality above, you already know you’ll get Fujifilm’s best because the image sensor and processing engine from the company’s flagship cameras have been brought down in price and size with the X-T20. If you love the output of the Fujifilm X-T2 or X-Pro2 — and you really should, they’re technically fantastic cameras that produce beautiful images — you’ll feel the same way about the X-T20. Except this newer camera costs $700 less. Given the choice between a heavier and bulkier X-T2 (with admittedly more accommodating ergonomics) and an X-T20 plus my favored 35mm f/1.4 lens, I’m taking the latter combo any day of the week.

The X-T20 captures beautiful images by default, which you can take up a few notches in Lightroom

The major difference for me personally, in stepping up from my finely aged NEX-5N camera, is that the Fujifilm X-Trans sensor gives me a ton more ISO room to play with. I can shoot at ISO 3200 and even 4000 without having to worry about excessive noise ruining the picture. I made the decision early on with the T20 to shoot in RAW format, and that choice was rewarded in Lightroom when I saw how easily I could recover detail from highlights and shadows, and how natural the results looked. The color fidelity in low-light photos and the dynamic range of this camera are both outstanding, and there’s vast room for retouching improvement with Fujifilm’s .RAF files, which hit a whopping 50MB per frame if you opt to keep them uncompressed.

It’s tough for me to decouple the pleasure of shooting with the X-T20 from its eventual results. The process of capturing images with this camera is more satisfying than any other I’ve known (except maybe Fujifilm’s own X-Pro2, which I’ve only flirted with). Smartphones feel impersonal and, if I’m honest, kind of half-assed, like I don’t really care about the photo I’m taking. Full-fat DSLRs, on the other hand, would suggest that I care too much.

As for other mirrorless camera systems like those offered by Sony or Olympus, I’d go with Sony if video was my priority — the X-T20 can shoot very reasonable 4K video, but it’s not in the same class as Sony’s cameras. Olympus has previously tempted me with the endearingly tiny and affordable OM-D E-M10 Mark II, but that just doesn’t feel like enough of a step up from smartphone photography for me. No alternative camera system feels as sound an investment of my money as Fujifilm does.

Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge