It's officially here, and the 70-200mm F2.8 equivalent focal length lens from Fujifilm is ready to rock the boat. All adventure, portrait and sport photographers have been eagerly awaiting this one, and we managed to get our grubby little hands on one early to figure out how it handles. Canon and Nikon have been producing the leading lens designs in this focal length for years and it is probably fair to say that every professional photographer has one of their own.
Note: The lens focal range is 50-140mm, but with the 1.5x camera sensor crop factor applied it equates to 75-210mm, close to the ever so popular 70-200mm zoom range.
We have never been the biggest fans of the zoom lens and have mostly kept our distance from the current Fujifilm zoom lens lineup. But the versatility of a high performance telephoto option from the underdog was too exciting to overlook and pass up. If first impressions are anything to go by, this lens is stiff competition for any prime lenses which fall in its wake.
The first thing you notice when grabbing for the lens is its weight, it is not light by any definition of the word. Even though it has an engineered plastic shell, the lens is very front heavy, even when mounted to an XT1 with the optional battery grip (a combo which is only too suited). But the weight should not deter you. The lens is packed with an OIS (optical image stabilisation) system delivering five additional stops of hand hold ability in low light, matched with a maximum fixed aperture of F2.8 over the entire focal range and there is nothing you cannot accomplish with this setup.
Sadly we only had the lens for one weekend. It was a rush to line up a couple of shoots so we could make the most of our time together. On Saturday we started with a little studio work. Although the lens was set at a reasonably small aperture in order to obtain the exposure we desired (F7.1), the images came out no less detailed than the 56mm lens, which is our studio standard for all portraiture. An incredible optical achievement!
Another point worth noting, the resolution across the entire focal range is consistent. Typically cheaper lenses lack sharpness and detail at the longer end of their focal length. But the 50-140mm lens performed consistently throughout, so you can zoom without having to concern yourself with the 'sweet zone'.
Having a fixed maximum aperture (F2.8 for this lens) across the entire focal length is essential for working in a studio environment. The last thing you want while changing composition through zoom, is for the exposure to change due to a variable aperture. When in the studio you want to be focusing on making your client look their very best, not readjusting your lighting setup every time you zoom in or out!
The lens also does not extend while zooming, a personal pet peeve of ours. if we had it our way, no lens would ever extend while zooming through the focal length scales. It is a sign of professional quality and long term durability.
Like all true 70-200mm equivalent focal length lenses, this one also has a tripod mount. This allows for quick vertical, horizontal composition adjustments and helps hold the lens. Like we mentioned earlier, this lens is no light weight; after a full day of shooting you will definitely earn your fee and grow strong.
The focus throw on this lens is massive, perfect for accurate and precise manual focus when the occasion calls for it. In the studio we frequently use manual focus to ensure the eyes are the point of focus and not the nose bridge or the eye brows. Hence a finely tuned manual focus ring is essential; this lens has the most precise and reticulate focus ring out of all the Fujifilm lenses we have had the pleasure of using (sometimes too fine when trying to get something into focus quickly).
With such nice weather outside, it would be a shame to sit inside the studio all weekend long and watch it pass by, so it was time to head outdoors and enjoy it. To finish up our hands-on experience with the lens we headed out to 'Goldies Bush' in the Waitakeres, Auckland, New Zealand (our favourite local hiking trail).
This was not our first time on the trail, we have gone through many times before and carried a camera. But the 50-140mm lens provided a whole new set of obtainable images thanks to its versatile focal range and the built in OIS. The image stabilisation is excellent, if you look at the slow shutter speed images (capture settings are under each image), you can see just how slow you can go and still get usable images. Capturing movement and water flow has never been so easy. A feature we are not used to having (the Fujifilm prime lens range does not have OIS), so we tried to make the most of it.
Our only concern would be the additional battery drain from the OIS gyroscopic motors. For this trip we had two batteries in the camera, one in the body and another in the battery grip. There was no unexpected battery drain other than what we considered 'normal', a pleasant surprise.
Outdoor environments are great place to test a lens for CA (chromatic aberrations), contrast and colour. All three are properties of a lens and can be detrimental to image quality if not managed properly. Fujifilm have always produced phenomenal lenses and this one is no exception, I am sure you will agree that the colour rendition is spot on, contrast is well managed but most importantly the CA is virtually nonexistent. Usually this sort of optical performance is what you expect from a prime lens and not from a zoom, yet here we are!
This is the very first Fujifilm zoom lens which we are able to take seriously and are also seriously considering adding to the toolkit once it becomes available for purchase. The only slightly disappointing thing about the lens was the engineering plastic outer shell, with the majority of the Fujifilm gear receiving a metal finish, a premium lens such as this should have received the same treatment. Nit picking aside, this is a stellar performer and will make many in the Fujifilm camp ecstatic, including us!