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Field test: X-Pro2 + XF 100-400mm F4.5-5.6 – Birdwatching in Tokyo

For my second visit to the bird sanctuary of the Kasai Rinkai park in Eastern Tokyo, I brought with me an X-Pro2with the XF 100-400mmF4.5-5.6 “super telephoto zoom lens” to put them to the test. Below is a summary of my thoughts on the newest and most expensive lens for X-mount cameras. All the sample images used in this post are straight-out-of-the-camera JPEGs (Velvia film simulation), without any additional processing. You can click on them for full size images.

The FUJINON XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR is the long awaited super telephoto zoom lens for X-Series cameras. One of the reason behind the delay of the release of this lens, compared to its first appareance on the official Fuji roadmap, seems to have been a complete redesign of the lens somewhere along the development cycle. As a reminder, the first time I saw a prototype of the “super telephoto zoom lens”, as it was dubbed on the roadmap, it was supposed to be a XF140-400mm f4-5.6 lens, with a shorter size but a wider diameter (86mm). It looked like that (the lens on the right side):

The final design is slimmer but longer, and covers a longer focal range but is slightly slower when zoomed out. I cannot know for sure, but I would bet that the final design is probably lighter than the initial version too.

While the lens got longer, the tripod foot that comes with it became shorter, which seems like a odd decision to me, although arguably I am no lens engineer, as one would think that  a bigger tripod foot would offer a better stabilization once attached to a tripod head. If you don’t have any, Fujifilm sells a lens plate (MLP-75XF) that you can attach to the tripod foot to make it compatible with ARCA SWISS tripods. Personally, I also don’t see the point of having included the 100-140mm focal range compared to the initial design, as this part of the focal range is already covered by so many XF lenses.

Beyond those small reservations, there are mostly positive things to say in terms of design and handling. The smaller filter thread of the final version (77mm) will enable you to use common filters you might already own (I personally buy all my filters in the 77mm size, with a set of cheap step-up rings to use them on smaller lenses). The built quality feels good, with attention to details. There is a lock button to avoid any zoom creep, but the small feature that makes a big difference to me is the lens hood that clips on the lens. The last thing you want when you are on the side of a race track or a football field is for your lens hood to fall over every time you knock something or someone runs into you.

Coupled with the XF 1.4x teleconverter, the lens become a 140-560mm f8 equivalent lens. I shot the sample pictures in this post using an X-Pro2, with the XF 100-400mmF4.5-5.6 mounted on the 1.4x teleconverter, as I was trying to get as tight and as far as possible. All these shots were taken in very good lighting conditions (although between 6-9AM, so still in somewhat soft light), and in these ideal conditions the combo camera + teleconverter + lens was very responsive. The autofocus in particular did a perfect job on relatively still or slow moving subjects, despite of the addition of the teleconverter theoretically making it harder for the autofocus to work (it was much slower and hunted back and forth when I tested it indoor in poor lighting conditions, which is a totally normal thing). The autofocus struggled much more on flying birds, which was mainly due to my sheer inability to keep flying birds for an extended period of time in a tight composition when using such a long lens.

Here is what both extremes of the focal range look like when using the X-Pro2 + XF 100-400mmF4.5-5.6 + XF1.4x teleconverter:

Zoomed out:


Zoomed-in:

When shooting at 560mm with f8 maximum aperture, it can be difficult to obtain a shutter speed fast enough for handholding without raising the ISO setting higher than one might want to. This is when the image stabilisation of the lens kicks in. The image stabilisation of the XF 100-400mmF4.5-5.6 is to be commended for its effiency, in effect improving the quality of the images by allowing to use lower ISOs while still taking sharp pictures. The quality of the image stabilisation can also be seen in action in the video clips included in the video at the top of this post, inbetween still samples.

Additional samples gallery:

In conclusion, I really enjoyed my time with this lens. I usually don’t go birdwatching, so it gave me a good excuse to do so. With the addition of the XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6, X-mount lenses can now cover a huge focal length, and even more when you add the 1.4x teleconverter. It’s a great lens to handle with efficient image stabilisation for handholding and nice finishing touches such as the clipping hood with a small trap to adjust your filter if you are using a polariser. I personally don’t need to own such a long lens for 99% of what I shoot, but for the few times I would need it I will be absolutely confident to rent it – apart for indoor sports for which the faster XF50-140mmF2.8 will be a better option if you don’t want to focus manually.

Mount Fuji behind Shinjuku

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I have been spending most of my free time working on a personal project about the shrines and temples of Tokyo, which you might have already guessed if you follow me on Instagram. While I was on my way to the Yushima-Tenmangu shrine, I stopped by the Bunkyo Civic Center to capture this view of Mount Fuji (Fuji-san, 富士山). The observation deck of the Bunkyo Civic Center is one of the most well-known spots to capture breathtaking images of Mount Fuji from Tokyo, and has the advantage of being completely free.

Opening hours:  9:00 to 20:30 every day of the week (closed on the 3rd Sunday of May, and between the 29th of December 29 and the 3rd of January)

Access:
1-minute walk from the Korakuen Station (Marunouchi line and Namboku line)
1-minute walk from the Kasuga Station (Mita line and Oedo line)
9-minute walk from the Suidobashi Station (JR Chuo Line and Sobu Line)

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DPReview interview with 2 senior Fujifilm executives in Tokyo

After a hectic period of going through the bazillions of first-looks and previews of the newly announced Fuji cameras and lenses, I am going back to basics and simplicity, taking the good old X100s on photowalks with me (you can follow my Instagram feed for some of these pics as I upload them in the coming days). I have also been able to sell my X-E1 and X-E2 (which used to be my back-up camera, currently replaced for that purpose by the X100s… until the X-T2 is announced and the X-T1 becomes the back-up?), and used the proceeds to order the XF90mmF2 (primes are really where the Fuji X-Series shines in my opinion), which is currently on its way home.

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Meanwhile, DPReview has published a very interesting interview with 2 senior Fujifilm executives (see at the bottom for details) they met in Tokyo during the celebration of the 5th anniversary of the X-Series. You can read the full interview by clicking here.

What stands out is that the Fujifilm executives are not only very ambitious for the X-Series, but there are not shy in expressing these ambitions and discussing the competitive landscape.

We’d like to be at least in the top three companies in the camera business by market share.

Mr Toru Takahashi

The strong domination of the 2 giants Canon and Nikon might come to an end some day, but for the moment they have more than enough room to stay well ahead of the rest in the near-future (to give you an idea, Canon and Nikon combined accounted for more than 75% of the interchangeable-lens camera market by volume in 2014, while Sony came third with 13%, according to data compiled by the market research company IDC).

With Canon and Nikon at least temporarily out of reach, if Fujifilm wants to achieve its ambition of being in the top 3, that means they will first need to win the battle of the mirrorless market, to complement the staggering success of Instax cameras (which are dominating on the market they have created themselves).

Regarding Sony, the executives recognize that the fact that they produce their own sensor gives Sony an edge. However, they also very candidly (and unusually) point out what they think are the weaknesses of Sony.

Sony has a big advantage, they make their own sensors. That is a very big advantage for them, but they are weak in lenses.

Mr Toru Takahashi

They are weakened by having so many formats. APS-C, full-frame, [across both] DSLR and mirrorless.

Mr Toshihisa Iida

While I personally prefer the lens lineup of the X-Series and trust in its future expansion, Sony’s recent effort to tackle the argument of the lack of lenses should not be underestimated. This argument is becoming less true and Sony now also offers some clarity regarding the future with a lens roadmap, similar to what Fujifilm did when they started the X-Pro1 with only 3 prime lenses.

In any case, the Fujifilm executives seem very confident that Fujifilm will win the longer game while Sony will squander because of a lack of focus. I have always been confused by the number of models with different mounts that Sony has been releasing over the past few years, and they would logically benefit from focusing on a single system and lens mount. However, I would not discount as much Sony’s potential as the Fujifilm executives are doing. By experimenting in so many markets, Sony has found one domain in which they are more or less alone and that could be very profitable to them if they were to direct all their efforts into it: full-frame mirrorless cameras. They still haven’t found the magic formula that would allow them to mix their technological advance with some photographic mindset, but if they can find a way to do it…

As far as Micro 4/3 are concerned, they are not discussed in the interview, but I personally hope that a in-body image stabilization similar to the one developed by Olympus would make its way into a Fujifilm body. Also, in terms of video capabilities, Panasonic has a lot to teach to Fujifilm.

Overall, the competition is fierce, with many actors targeting the same market with different strengths. While I am not convinced that Fujifilm will achieve its objective to be in the top 3, the fact that they are trying to achieve it by deliberately focusing on one system thought for everyday photographers, rather than packing a ridiculous amount of megapixels on a tiny sensor, makes me confident that the X-Series is at least the right choice for me. Let me know what you think in the comments below 😉

Mr Toru Takahashi, Director, is Senior Vice President and General Manager of Fujifilm’s Optical Device & Electronic Imaging Products Divison. Mr Toshihisa Iida is General Manager of the Sales and Marketing Group of Fujifilm’s Optical Device & Electronic Imaging Products Division.

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Photographing the Autumn leaves in Nikko

A few pictures from a day-trip to Nikko last Autumn that I did not have the opportunity to post on this blog earlier (this article has been in draft mode for 3 months now!). This was not my first trip to Nikko, so, rather than trying to hit all the “must-see” spots in the area, I took my time to explore the area above the Ryuzu waterfalls, though I did not have enough time to go hiking in the Senjogahara Marshland (戦場ヶ原, Senjōgahara) and will have to go back for that.

Gear: Fujifilm X-T1 + XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR

If you are visiting Japan, Nikko is really worth the trip (for a long day or 2 days) if you are worried you allocated too much of your time to Tokyo. Unfortunately, some of the shrines are being renovated at the moment, so make sure you double-check for that before planning your visit. For an exhaustive guide of “What to see” in Nikko, check the excellent japan-guide.com.

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Coming of Age Day (2016)

Coming of Age Day is held every year in Japan on the second Monday of January, to celebrate those who have become “adults” over the past year. The city townhalls hold ceremonies where the “new adults” are invited to receive some encouragements for their future. Many attend the event wearing traditional clothes, though this is mainly true for ladies (wearing the furisode, a long-sleeved kimono for unmarried woman), while the guys are mostly wearing suits. Here is a typical illustration of this:

 

Many people will couple this event with a visit to the shrine/temple with either their family or friend, to make wishes for the new year, so I usually go to Meiji Jingu to take portraits of them.

 

The complete gallery of portraits:

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