A walk on the ‚wild‘ side – landscapes in black&white

Last weekend I went hiking with my kids through the ‚Kaiserstuhl‘ hills nearby. This time I just wanted to capture anything only in black&white. It is still winter and therefore the landscape is anyway more or less coloured in 50 shades of brown. As a go-to lens I decided to use the little pancake XF27mm attached to my X-T1.  The small little pancake lens performed really well. Fast and accurate autofocus performance and a very high resolution/image quality from the center to the edge of the frame. I will definitely use this lens more often! Later on I changed to a XF10-24 wide angle to capture more of the cloudy sky. All pictures were edited with SilverEfexPro2.

X-T1 + XF27mm
X-T1 + XF27mm
X-T1 + XF27mm
X-T1 + XF27mm
X-T1 + XF10-24mm
X-T1 + XF10-24mm

A ‚Monster‘ goes Zoo – Review of the new Fujinon XF 100-400mm F4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR

Introduction

Yeah! Fujifilm finally made it! More than two years I have been waiting for this lens to arrive in the camera stores. After switching completely from Canon to Fujifilm 3 years ago, I still had no real replacement for  my lovely Canon EF 100-400mm zoom lens except the XF 55-200mm. Don’t understand me wrong, the XF 55-200mm is a fantastic lens, very lightweight and sharp, a perfect lens to travel with. But 300mm (35mm EQ) isn’t really long enough to shoot small birds or do close-up shots of zoo animals. The long awaited XF 100-400mm F4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR now covers a 35mm focal length equivalent of 152-609mm, which is a perfect range for wildlife and also (motor)sports. And with the also available XF1.4TC teleconverter the range even extends to a 140-560mm F6.3-8 (213-853mm!) monster zoom lens. Fujifilm of course promised that the lens quality does not suffer with attached teleconverter. We will see. 😉

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XF 100-400mm F4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR attached to X-T1 with additional XF1.4TC

Build Quality and Handling

The lens is made of very solid high quality plastic and metal and the overall build quality is very similar to white Canon L lenses. For those who think an APS-C lens has to  be much smaller than a fullframe counterpart are ‚unfortunately‘ wrong. Due to optical limitations the XF 100-400mm is pretty silimar sized likemy old Canon EF 100-400mm lens. It is slightly lighter and does not extend as long as the Canon does, but it is still a very large lens. Nevertheless attached to a X-T1 with additional battery grip it is very easy to handle and also balanced very well. The battery grip is not only recommended for a better handling but also for an extended battery life. The OIS really drains a lot of battery power but on the other side is very very efficient. The promised 5-Stop enhancement is not a marketing gag, it is reality. I was able to shot hand-held and with attached teleconverter down to 1/30s. All in all the lens is made as a workhorse for professional photographers.

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Image Quality and Sharpness

I do not want to bother you with test chart comparisons or lines per Inch/centimeter measurements. My approach is much more application related and therefore I went ‚again‘ to the zoo. To cut a long story short, the lens is sharp, very sharp and even wide open completely useable. Ok, at 400mm it is not as tack sharp as with shorter focal lengths (common for such large zoom lenses)  but quality is still on a very high level. Stopping down by one stop improves contrast and also sharpness visibly but not significantly. From my current experience with this lens it looks like Fujifilm has optimized the lens for shorter focus distances (<30m), which is good in my opinion, because most of the photographers will use it in this range. For longer distances it is getting slightly softer and therefore it is better to stop it down a bit. But what finally  impressed me most was the performance with attached teleconverter. I really expected a more than visible degradation in sharpness and contrast similar to my old Canon L zoom. But all I can say for now is ‚hats off‘ to Fujifilm, they really know how to develop optics. If I would pretend there is no visible difference between with or without converter I would lie. But the difference is so small that the increased magnification/focal length more than compensates the reduced sharpness. Yes, the aperture increases to f/8 at the long end, which transforms the lens into a fair-weather optic, but you still have the amazing OIS aside to help to gather every remaining ray of light to be able to keep the ISO low.

As a summary the zoom performs very good in terms of contrast, color reproduction and sharpness for almost the entire focal range. The bokeh is very nice for a zoom lens and has the known Fuji like soft touch. At the longer end you may sometimes have to stop down a bit to squeeze out every remaining bit of resolution especially for longer focus distances. Surprisingly there is no mentionable impact of the teleconverter on the overall image quality, therefore it is attached most of the time when I use this lens.

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560mm – F8 – ISO 1250 – 1/100s hand-held through a cabinet glass
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100% crop of picture above

Focusing Speed and Accuracy

Although I praised the lens to haven up to know, there are also some points for criticism. The focusing speed is fast but not as fast as with comparable DLSR models. I am pretty sure this is mostly due to the camera itself and not because of a slow optic. The X-T1 is unfortunately no high level performer in terms of autofocus speed. This may hopefully change with the upcoming X-T2 and has been already proven with the now available X-Pro2. Most of the time I do not really care about the speed but sometimes there is the wish to capture moving objects and the successrate of the X-T1 is often pretty low. Nevertheless for such a large lens the autofocus speed is still very fast, perfectly silent and smooth. Due to the very small deep of focus for shorter distances you really have to take care where you place your focus square. Sometimes the autofocus gets fooled by an overlaying background pattern or differences in motive contrast. If you want for example to focus on a small birds eye you should really use the smallest focus area available, otherwise you will be very disappointed while screening your pictures at the home monitor.

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560mm – F8 – ISO 400 – 1/640s
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100% crop of picture above

PRO

+ Very good and solid build quality
+ Water and dust proof housing
+ Very good sharpness for all focal lengths even with attached XF1.4TC
+ Neutral colors and high contrast
+ Very silent and accurate autofocus
+ Incredibly well performing optical image stabilizer

CONS

– Autofocus could be faster (mostly camera related)
– Slightly softer images at the long end and longer focus distances (optimized for shorter distances)
– Not cheap….but worth every penny 😉

Summary

It was really worth to wait more than 2 years for this incredible piece of glass. The final production performance really exceeded my expectations and I am still convinced it was a very good decision to switch from Canon to Fujifilm 3 years ago. During the last few years Fujifilm has successfully build up an incredible lens lineup, which should satisfy most of the photographers out there. And I am furthermore convinced Fujifilm will suprise us with more nice optics in the upcoming months and years.

Supplement

All shown pictures were developed in Lightroom 6.x from RAW.

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560mm – F8 – ISO 400 – 1/240s
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100% crop of picture above
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560mm – F8 – ISO 400 – 1/420s through a fence
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560mm – F8 – ISO 400 – 1/450s
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560mm – F8 – ISO 400 – 1/500s through a fine mesh
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560mm – F8 – ISO 200 – 1/180s through a fine mesh
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560mm – F8 – ISO 320 – 1/100s
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560mm – F8 – ISO 640 – 1/100s
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452.5mm – F7.4 – ISO 1250 – 1/80s through a mesh
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560mm – F8 – ISO 5000 – 1/100s
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560mm – F8 – ISO 800 – 1/100s
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560mm – F8 – ISO 2500 – 1/100s
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560mm – F8 – ISO 4000 – 1/80s though glass
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436.8mm – F7.3 – ISO 500 – 1/100s through glass
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560mm – F8 – ISO 6400 – 1/80s thtough glass
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560mm – F8 – ISO 200 – 1/220s through glass
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400mm – F5.6 – ISO 200 – 1/750s

The Fujifilm X-Series goes Zoo!

Long and heavy or light and sharp?

For several years I love taking photographs of all kinds of animals at Zoo’s nearby. Before I more or less entirely moved to Fujifilm I have used Canon camera equipment like the Canon 1DMkII, 5D and 600D paired with the lovely EF100-400mm, the 100mm L macro and many other Canon L and third party lenses. One of my main concerns entirely moving to Fujifilm was a missing telephoto zoom (>300mm) to replace my „old“ 400mm Canon gear. Unfortunately the highly awaited Fujinon telephoto lens was shifted to the end of 2015. At the moment I have the choice to still use my 100-400mm together with the 1DMkII (8MPx) or the somehow focal length limited but very sharp XF55-200mm zoom lens paired with a Fujifilm X camera. I have to admit at all last three Zoo visits I have only used the much lighter Fujifilm equipment of course only to treat my back with respect 😉

Panthera tigris altaica -Reloaded
Zoo Duisburg: Fujifilm X-E1 + XF55-200mm @ 200mm (ISO1000)

Equipment to go

Starting 2013 with a X-E1 and the 18-55mm kit zoom lens and subsequently exchanging my Canon stuff with Fujifilm equipment, I am now able to use a pretty much complete body (X-T1, X-E1, X100s) and lens (XF10-24mm, XF18-55mm, XF55-200mm, XF35mm, XF60mm) lineup. The new XF10-24 super wide angle zoom is gorgeous and I already work on a in-use report with many sample Pictures to be released in a few weeks. In the current report I will mainly focus on the XF55-200mm lens paired together with the X-T1 and X-E1.

I normally used to carry at least 4-5kg Canon equipment with me during a normal Zoo visit. Some may know this is a real pain after 5 hours running, kneeling, cowering etc. The Fujifilm gear weighs only arround 2kg and I still have two cameras and at least 2 lenses with me. My current „equipment to go“ for Zoo purposes consists of a X-T1 with a XF55-200mm and a X-E1 with a XF60mm macro attached. Depending on the shooting conditions and motive  I also use them vice versa.

Northern Gannet
Zoo ‚Wilhelma‘ Stuttgart: Fujifilm X-T1 + XF60mm (ISO400)

The X-T1 shines in the dark

One will ask why I still use the X-E1 instead of buying a much faster X-E2. The X-E1 is still a very capable camera with the same brilliant sensor as the X-T1. Well, it is still no speed demon but after many firmware upgrades it has at least a similar feature set like newer models. Focus peaking for example is very handy feature for macro shoting, where a high speed autofocus is not needed anyway. And during normal daylight conditions the autofocus of the X-E1 is still pretty usable. But if the sun goes down and/or you have to shot indoor the X-E1 easily lose the race against the newer and in every way better X-T1.

The X-T1 in fact got rid of my last reason not to switch completely to Fujifilm, the autofocus performance. Of course it is still not perfect for every action and sports photographer, but sufficiently perfect for my personal needs. I do not regret the change and do not miss any of my former Canon gear including the 1DMkII, which still has upper class AF performance. In a Zoo, where all animals live in dedicated housings, the light conditions are very often not perfect at all. You will always struggle with dim and particularly different light sources, where you have to rely on a accurate and snappy autofocus and not to forget a good sensor dynamic range.

Butterfly
Zoo ‚Wilelma‘ Stuttgart: Fujifilm X-T1 + XF55-200mm @ 200mm (ISO6400)

Low light – High ISO –> No Problem 😉

Since I am using Fujifilm cameras I do not have to worry about my ISO settings anymore. I simply use Auto-ISO 200 to 6400 and only adjust the minimum shutter speed according to the shooting conditions or the focal length I use. The XF55-200mm zoom is a reasonably fast and especially sharp zoom and it’s minimum aperture is lower than of comparable lenses from Canon or Nikon…but it is still only f/4.8 at 200mm. Which implies you need a very slow shutter speed or a high quality high-ISO sensor to be able to acquire sharp and noise free images. The OIS (optical Image stabilization) of the XF55-200mm zoom is easily as good as other companies counterparts (roughly 3 stops) and for still life photography this is fine enough. But what happens if you need to use at least 1/200s because the animal is moving? Therefore you need to use higher ISO values to compensate for the shorter shutter speed. In this case the Fujifilm X-Trans-Sensor shines and delivers even at very high ISO settings clear and crisp details and most important a very accurate color rendering.

Pigeon
Zoo ‚Wilhelma‘ Stuttgart: Fujifilm X-T1 + XF55-200mm @ 200mm (ISO6400)

In the fields

The XF55-200mm mounted to the X-T1 still appears not too large but close to the limit I would accept for such a mirrorless combination. In my opinion the X-T1 is better suited for the larger zoom lens than the more seemingly fragile X-E1. It is still possible to carry camera and attached lens with a strap arround the neck all day Long, without getting any muscular problems. From a battery point of view you will need at least 2 spare batteries for a day trip in the Zoo. If you excessively use the LCD (X-T1 or X-E1) maybe even more. I do really think about buying the additional battery grip for the X-T1 to double the battery power and also gain more overall stability.

Flying fox
Zoo ‚Wilhelma‘ Stuttgart: Fujifilm X-T1 + XF55-200mm @200mm (ISO4000)

How did the X-T1 perform in the field? As I can say so far all available light conditions (daylight sun, cloudy weather, indoor with dim light, indoor with bright light) were easily mastered by the X-T1 and the XF zoom. More than 95% of the pictures were perfectly in focus as they were intended to be. This is something which I did not experienced with with my high priced Canon gear so far. Of course you have to take care to properly adjust the autofocus field size but this is also valid for normal DLSR’s. Honestly I do not have to complain about the autofocus perfomance at all. Even through enclosure bars the autofocus found it’s way to the target without getting confused by the varying contrast conditions. The camera and lens system is so handy that you can even use it above the head with help of the nice tiltable LCD screen. Please try this with a 1D and a 100-400L lens attached! And yes, also the ‚little‘ X-E1 is doing is Job well under normal bright light conditions and deserves to be a valuable backup body.

Squirrel Monkey
Zoo ‚Wilhlema‘ Stuttgart: Fujifilm X-T1 + XF55-200mm @200mm (ISO320)

Conclusion

The Fujifilm X-T1 and the XF55-200mm lens are best fellows. Together with the drastically improved autofocus module and the high optical lens performance this combination is well suited for zoo photography and of course many other shooting events. In meantime I do not worry too much about the shorter reach in comparison with my Canon gear anymore. The final results completely convinced me that my last years decision to change the camera System was right. Of course I still cannot wait for the longer telephoto zoom to be released next year. Until then I am very happy with the available Fujifilm setup. And if I really do need a longer reach I still have the possibility to crop. Even 12MPx are good enough for larger prints, believe me. 😉

Whether you agree with me or not, in any case you are welcome to leave a comment and/or give me like on my Facebook page.

Black bird
Zoo ‚Wilhlema‘ Stuttgart: Fujifilm X-T1 + XF55-200mm @200mm (ISO5000)
Koala - Reloaded
Zoo Duisburg: Fujifilm XE-1 + XF55-200mm @200mm (ISO1000)
Koala #2 - Reloaded
Zoo Duisburg: Fujifilm XE-1 + XF55-200mm @128mm (ISO1250)
Chilling Pelican - Reloaded
Zoo Duisburg: Fujifilm XE-1 + XF55-200mm @200mm (ISO400)
Meekat
Zoo ‚Wilhlema‘ Stuttgart: Fujifilm X-T1 + XF55-200mm @200mm (ISO200)
Octopus
Zoo ‚Wilhlema‘ Stuttgart: Fujifilm X-T1 + XF55-200mm @200mm (ISO6400)
Phyllomedusa bicolor
Zoo ‚Wilhlema‘ Stuttgart: Fujifilm X-T1 + XF55-200mm @200mm (ISO1000)
Flying fox
Zoo ‚Wilhlema‘ Stuttgart: Fujifilm X-T1 + XF55-200mm @200mm (ISO6400)
Flying fox
Zoo ‚Wilhlema‘ Stuttgart: Fujifilm X-T1 + XF55-200mm @200mm (ISO4000)
Flying fox
Zoo ‚Wilhlema‘ Stuttgart: Fujifilm X-T1 + XF55-200mm @200mm (ISO5000)
unknown bird
Zoo ‚Wilhlema‘ Stuttgart: Fujifilm X-T1 + XF55-200mm @164mm (ISO1600)
flower
Zoo ‚Wilhlema‘ Stuttgart: Fujifilm X-T1 + XF55-200mm @200mm (ISO4000)
Acryllium vulturinum
Zoo ‚Wilhlema‘ Stuttgart: Fujifilm X-T1 + XF55-200mm @200mm (ISO1250)
No cheese
Zoo ‚Wilhlema‘ Stuttgart: Fujifilm X-T1 + XF55-200mm @200mm (ISO6400)
Macroscelides proboscideus
Zoo ‚Wilhlema‘ Stuttgart: Fujifilm X-T1 + XF55-200mm @200mm (ISO6400)
Danger!!!
Zoo ‚Wilhlema‘ Stuttgart: Fujifilm X-T1 + XF55-200mm @164mm (ISO6400)
Flower
Zoo ‚Wilhlema‘ Stuttgart: Fujifilm X-T1 + XF55-200mm @164mm (ISO400)
Laughing kookaburra
Zoo ‚Wilhlema‘ Stuttgart: Fujifilm X-T1 + XF55-200mm @200mm (ISO400)
Ara ararauna
Zoo ‚Wilhlema‘ Stuttgart: Fujifilm X-T1 + XF55-200mm @200mm (ISO2500)
Lizard
Zoo ‚Wilhlema‘ Stuttgart: Fujifilm X-T1 + XF55-200mm @200mm (ISO800)
Trachycephalus resinifictrix
Zoo ‚Wilhlema‘ Stuttgart: Fujifilm X-T1 + XF60mm (ISO1000)