What started as a short post aiming at showcasing a couple of videos/slideshows I uploaded recently on Youtube (->insert here an hypnotizing smiley that will get readers to subscribe to my channel<-) became some sort of mini-essay. So if you are a busy person or someone who does not like to read, let me summarize it for you: I love this lens, but I am not in love with it. If that makes any sense. Well, if it doesn’t, then i guess you have to read what follows to see what I mean 🙂
Thanks for your interest in this independent (aka I buy my own gear and I am not sponsored in any way so I remained to my own opinions) look at the latest member of the Fujifilm X-Series family. This is an opinion piece, so feel free to disagree entirely, no hard feelings 🙂
I have now been shooting with the Fuji XF 50-140mm f2.8 lens for roughly a month, which gave me more time to forge my opinion on the lens, while giving me opportunities to use it in various type of situations.
I used it in the controlled environment of a studio such as in this shoot with Akimoto Rui-san, where we also took the liberty to venture just outside of the studio for some natural light portraits as well:
But more than anything, I wanted to test this lens in a reportage/event situation, which I did while strolling within the Meiji Jingu vicinities on the Coming of Age Day (a Japanese holiday celebrating those who have turned 20 years old over the previous year as they have become “adults”). Busy crowd who has the right to enjoy their special day without obtrusive photographers getting the way, so being quick and effective is of the essence.
More samples on my Flickr page.
First of all, build quality feels solid (waiting for clumsy people to change this feeling into certainty), as you would expect from a highly priced weather-sealed lens. The lens is a beast by “mirrorless” standards, so not one for those who desire to remain conspicuous, people will notice you. On the other hand, the system as a whole remains compact enough so that after a moment of doubt you are put in the “non-threat” category by most people.
In terms of weight, if you jumped into mirrorless for the higher portability and all you have been carrying around so far is a XF 35mm f1.4, well, this lens is in a completely different league. I will say that though: I have been carrying this lens throughout entire days and always reached the evening ready to do the same thing all other again on the following day, while all I can think after an hour of running and gunning with a full frame DSLR with a 70-200mm f2.8 is that I really need a break. Yes, a comparison with a 70-200mm f4 would be more fair, duly acknowledged, but I never had any of those (the same way I would go for the faster version if Fujifilm had a zoom faster than f2.8).
Moving on to the most important part: image quality. Let me say this first, in this day and age, there is not a single manufacturer that produces lenses that are not “sharp” or with distortion such that you can’t circumvent it in post. Some though, still go a little extra further than most, and this zoom justifies its price tag with very limited distortion at both end of the zooming range, and a sharpness that will make anyone go “I think I just cut myself” the first time they load on their screen an image taken with this lens.
This might sound like a fanboy praise, but in fact it is quite the opposite. My prints don’t go onto giant billboards, and like any sane photographer I don’t spend my days shooting brick walls while putting the detail I want to be the center of attention of my photo right into the corner of the frame (no offense if that is what to do, diversity is a gift). While utterly impressed by the technical qualities of the lens, I don’t need that much optical perfection, and would have happily traded some of it for a smaller size or a cheaper price. The one thing I wish was better with this lens is the bokeh quality. The bokeh circles can look very harsh at times, with in some cases thin but dark circles around the edges of the lighter color discus, which can make your eye wander away from the main subject of the picture in order to investigate what is this contrasty cluster. Isolating your subject with the combination with the combination of the zoom (more often than not I will be at 200mm equivalent) and blurry background is what I am (personally) looking for with such zoom. The weird thing though, is that you still get some separation with the background because the subject looks so super sharp (call it personal taste, but I’d rather have a less sharp subject and a less ominous bokeh than the opposite). But it feels at time that Fujifilm is trolling so much the idea of making sharp lenses that even their booked is sharp…
Granted, from the get-go this zoom designed for a cropped-sensor could not shine beyond reason with its bokeh, when our eyes are now so used to the smooth and silly backgrounds we are abounded with the f2.8 full-frame lenses. Yet, I feel like this lens could have used a little bit more of sensitiveness and delicacy instead of going all out in a blaze of technical perfection glory. What can I say, that’s the Bon Jovi side of me perhaps 😉
This should not come as a surprise though, so can’t complain, as the firm has been very clear about its strategy: no compromise on the optics quality. The company even used this as the reason behind the size of the upcoming XF 16-55mm f2.8 and why the lens will not have OIS. Speaking of OIS, as we are used to now it works wonderfully. I have done some shots at 1/20 @ 200mm equivalent (not willingly to be honest, but by pure thoughtlessness…) and OIS saved the day.
This lens is definitely excellent – from an optical point of view that is, while aesthetic would be better if the bokeh was less “contrasty”. This lens is a must-buy for its purpose: weather-sealing and zooming versatility. It is a great piece of glass, there is no doubt about that. But… While the 70-200 zoom was attached to my body 75% of the time back in the days before I transited into the X-series cameras, I feel like this XF 50-140mm is a technical beast with a massive built that I will only use when there is no alternative (which is still a lot, mind you). My thoughts will go on what primes I have at my disposal first, and I see myself using the 56mm more than I thought, even in cases where 56mm does not sound like the most flattering choice of focal length, at least until the 90mm f2 is out (my interest in this one has grown up, while initially I doubted I’d need it in my bag. I wish it was designed with a faster aperture though, it would make the choice even more obvious). Conversely, my interest in the soon-to-be-available 16-55mm f2.8 is at record low. Image quality will be even better technically (and I can see why you would want a fixed aperture if you have a lighting setup in your studio and don’t want your exposure to change every time you move the zoom, compared to the “kit” lens), but while I tip my hat to the technical prowess, my mind is respectfully currently set in a different direction. I love that lens, but I am not in love with it. I hope it makes sense now.
Here you go freedom of speech! We all are Charlie…