Welcome to IRL, an ongoing feature where we talk about the gadgets, apps and toys we're using in real life and take a second look at products that already got the formal review treatment.

IRL Timbuk2's Commute Messenger and Fujifilm's EFX20 flash

When he's not copy editing Engadget, Philip Palermo likes to write about his gadget collection. And that gadget collection includes an impressive pile of camera gear (like this and this and this). Now he's back, taking Fujifilm's EF-X20 flash for a spin alongside his X-E1. Meanwhile, Dan's found a bag spacious and compartmentalized enough to fit several days of clothing and all his trade show gear. Not an easy feat, folks.

Timbuk2 Commute Messenger

IRL Timbuk2's Commute Messenger and Fujifilm's EFX20 flashI'm a firm believer in traveling light, so it's rare that I'm seen with anything larger than a flight case, often to the surprise and bemusement of my colleagues. I decided to see if I could cover this year's CeBIT with nothing more than one of Timbuk2's OG Commute messenger bags, and the results were surprisingly positive. Despite its TSA-approved fold-out laptop sleeve, Luddite security personnel still insisted my tech had to be removed from the bag, but you can't legislate against that.

Otherwise, I was able to cram in five days' worth of clothes, a Canon DSLR, laptop, two phones, chargers, cables, adapter plugs, business cards and my rather large supply of toiletries. While tromping around the show floor, it was extraordinarily useful to have so many pockets and zipped compartments for all of my various gadgets, although I did lament the lack of a built-in camera pouch rather than an accessory; I was instead forced to wrap my secondary NEX-C3 camera in a T-shirt to keep it safe during the week. Either way, it's certainly a lot more versatile than other bags I've tried, and has been a great choice for shorter trips.

-- Dan Cooper

Fujifilm EF-X20 flash

IRL Timbuk2's Commute Messenger and Fujifilm's EFX20 flashThe miniaturization of my traveling photo kit continues. Next up under the shrink ray: the external hot shoe flash. Fujifilm's EF-X20 has been out for about a year now and continues the company's push to build out its retro-style X-series line. While it might make more sense on the X-Pro1 (which lacks a built-in flash), I've found it to be plenty useful on my X-E1.

The EF-X20 is a surprisingly small flash unit, given what it can do. While it's roughly the size of an old-school pager, it's slightly chunkier. The top and sides are wrapped in metal while the bottom has a soft-touch rubber coating. There's no LCD to be found -- just a few switches and a rotary dial to control both TTL and manual settings. Exposure values on the TTL side can be dialed up (or down) a full step in one-third increments while the manual side ranges from full power down to 1/64. A lever on the right side controls an internal wide-angle diffuser if you need to alter the light coverage.

The bottom houses a three-mode switch that allows you to use it as a remote flash (aka slave mode). It's an intriguing feature for such a tiny flash and it's honestly one of the main reasons I chose it over more powerful (though bulkier) options. As a remote flash, its portability and simple controls work very well. A built-in sensor detects when a main flash has fired and triggers the EF-X20 accordingly. Granted, it does look a little silly mounted atop an 8-foot light stand -- from a distance, you might actually mistake it for the small platform on which you'd mount a "real" flash.

Of course, there are compromises. With a guide number of just 20, it's certainly not the most powerful flash out there, but it's plenty capable of lighting up portrait subjects or serving as a fill light. There's also no bounce function available, though the X-E1's undocumented bounce technique (i.e., holding the spring-loaded, built-in flash so it points upward) has worked well for me. Really, the biggest drawback here is its reliance on AAA rather than AA batteries. That's two types of batteries I now need to carry around. The $200 asking price may net you larger, more powerful flashes, but the EF-X20's small size and versatility are winners in my book.

-- Philip Palermo

0 Comments

IRL: Timbuk2's Commute Messenger and Fujifilm's EF-X20 flash