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 😉
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.