Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Fujifilm XF 50-140 mm f/2.8 R LM OIS WR

Fujifilm XF 50-140 mm f/2.8 R LM OIS WR

One thing that doesn't seem to translate well between full frame and crop-frame shooting is the use of the classic 70-200mm f/2.8 workhorse zoom. This is a versatile focal length that does well for portraiture and event photography, but the equivalent crop-frame focal length of 50-140mm has never quite caught on. Crop users tend to be more casual in how they use their gear; as a collective group they tend to prefer longer focal lengths over mid-range quality. You often see DSLR users mounting those 70-200 f/2.8 onto crop-frame cameras, but that gives the effective field of view of 100-300mm on full-frame, which is somewhat awkward to use if you are moving in and out of a crowd during a social function. This comes back to the idea of the field of view for a classic working-zoom; it isn't so much about dealing with distance as it is with creating compression and isolation. To that end, the Fujifilm Fujinon XF 50-140 mm f/2.8 R LM OIS WR fits the bill.

Build and Desgin

This is a large lens, not just for the Fujifilm system, but for any lens of this focal length. It's longer and heavier than the venerable Tokina 50-135mm f/2.8 for APS-C DSLR's, and is approximately the size size and heft as the Sigma 50-150mm f/2.8 OS HSM. The XF 50-140mm is an internal focus/internal-zoom design.

For comparison, it absolutely dwarf's the XF 55-200mm R; it's as long as that lens is when it is fully extended, but with considerably more bulk.

Left: XF 55-200mm   Right: XF 50-140mm

Though aesthetics are minor concern on a lens of this type, it is generally a good-looking down to business type of lens. The downside is that the lens hood and the tripod foot seem out of place relative to the rest of the lens body. This is especially true of the tripod foot, which appears a bit too angular; one could make argument that Fujifilm made the same "mistake" for the detachable X-T1 flash. Speaking of which, the tripod foot can be detached from the collar by releasing two screws at the bottom of the assembly.

Image Stabilization and Autofocus

This lens is rated at 5-stops of image-stabilization advantage. Stated another way, the theoretical minimum shutter speed for hand-held use at 140mm is 1/6s. This is stretching it a bit; if you have exceptionally steady hands you can get a sharp image at 1/6s, but back off to 1/12s-1/25 and the keeper rate becomes quite high. This is impressive stuff, but it isn't the only lens that is as good. A Fujifilm body with this lens has roughly the same (probably a little bit better) performance as the full-frame Sony A7 Mark II equipped with a Sony FE 70-200 f/4 G OSS, the exception being that the Fujifilm accomplishes it purely in-lens, whereas the Sony relies on a combination of in-body and in-lens stabilization.

Focus speed with the XF 50-140mm is quick and precise in good to mediocre light, slowing down in dimmer light. There isn't any quibble with how the autofocus system on this lens works; unlike some of Fujfilm's earlier X-system lens offerings, this one seems like it was purpose designed for speed.

Image Quality

Because lens optical performance is a complex topic, the objective description of such is beyond the scope of this blog. Though there are many aspects to quantify (resolving power, field curvature, distortion, aberrations, etc.), a general sense of a lens’ character can be determined without resorting to lab testing. The following is one aspect; bokeh and apparent background blur with the subject at short distances.  For reference, Pikachu is approximately 5 feet away; the lens is set at 200mm.

With the aperture held fully wide-open, the bokeh is good for taming the busy background, though there is a moderate amount of business to the quality of the blur. Highlights will stretch into oblong football shapes towards the corners at f/2.8, giving the bokeh pattern a "swirly" look. This effect isn't apparent at 50mm, but it increases as you zoom the lens out. Some may find this off-putting, but it does add quite a bit of character to portrait photography. 

Image sharpness is excellent from f/4 on. Like most zooms it's sharper at the wider end than it is the long end, but the difference isn't dramatic by any means. There really isn't much to say about the image quality, and that's a compliment. Colour fringing, geometric distortion, vignetting... the lens is very good at f/2.8 and generally excellent from f/4 onward. In this regards, the 50-140mm f/2.8 is truly a professional quality lens, as it's character is "transparent"... you don't notice the lens flaws as much as you would with a lesser lens, and you spend less time shooting around those flaws. If this is Fujifilm's answer to Canon and Nikon's 70-200mm working zooms, then it pretty much nails the essence of what these lenses are about. (Click on each image for a larger view.)



Concluding Thoughts

This is the natural companion to the XF 16-55mm f/2.8R LM WR. Both of these lenses are large and heavy for the Fujifilm X-system, but they serve a more work-oriented shooting style that until now hasn't been full addressed by Fuji's existing lenses. This really isn't about the "small but good" ethos of high-end mirrorless anymore; an X-T1 with this lens is still lighter than an equivalent DSLR system. The problem is that it isn't significantly lighter, and the combined cost is very close to a DSLR system as well. If this lens doesn't fit into the existing X system framework (small, light, street-shooting, etc.) then it is because it expands the scope of the lens system, as opposed to being in opposition to it.

Xf 50-140mm on X-T1

If you are wondering whether the price of this lens is worth it over the XF 55-200mm, the answer is situational. Obviously, the 50-140mm is geared towards a higher quality of photography, but it's not just a case of "more is better". Think about it this way: if you are taking pictures for yourself (pleasure), it is a different matter compared to taking pictures for others (work). Certainly, this is a "more is better" lens, but more than just being a better optic, it is an appropriate one for work applications.

With thanks to Broadway Camera 

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