Smaller To Bigger
I remember back to what seems like an eternity ago to the early cell phones. I had a cell phone or more like a suitcase phone that I could carry in my briefcase. I always thought it couldn’t get any better than this. Then phones started to get smaller, and the race was on to make phones as small as possible. The iPhone, my phone of choice, got so small I once again thought it couldn’t get any smaller. And, what do you know, smaller is no longer the in thing as we have all seen by the popularity of the iPhone 6+ and its size. Now this is not an article about cell phones but the same kind of trend from small to big is true with cameras and lenses.
Kevin’s Short Introduction
In the last few years, we have seen the birth of a new line of cameras that the industry calls mirrorless. That term is so new it doesn’t even show up as the correct word in spell checkers. With the introduction of mirrorless cameras, the lenses got smaller. Fuji as well as Olympus, Panasonic and Sony have introduced a line of mirrorless cameras. Mirrorless cameras are quickly being adopted as the go-to camera systems for many reasons. The biggest reason other than the state of the art Electronic Viewfinder is weight and size.
The introduction of the Fuji X-T1 in 2014 was heralded as a major breakthrough. This little camera is quite the rave. I own two of them, and Michael owns one. Not to mention a number of wonderful lenses. I can take the kit with 4-5 lenses and two camera bodies in a small kit bag and it weighs less than ten pounds. The 55-200mm zoom is only a few inches tall and is small enough to fit in a jacket pocket. This is great when doing street photography.
All has been well with these nice small lenses and cameras until Fuji released their 50-140 mm zoom lens. Now, like the iPhone, things are large again. Is the 50-140mm lens on the caliber of the iPhone plus as far as feature benefits vs. size? This is a large lens compared to its earlier brethren. I love my large iPhone 6+ and as it turns out I love the Fuji 50-140mm. But as with all love, there is some give and take.
There is no question in the full-frame DSLR world the 70-200mm 2.8 lens is one of the all-time most popular go-to lenses ever made. I am sure if you took a poll of photographers with DSLR systems that the 70-200mm would be in just about every kit. The angle of view and versatility encompasses just about any short to medium telephoto lens need there is. The f/2.8 aperture allows for low-light shooting as well as a compact field of focus for great background separation.
Both Olympus and Fuji know the popularity of this zoom range and the needs for fast glass with a maintained f/stop through out the zoom range. Olympus shipped their 40-150mm lens earlier in the Fall of 2014 followed recently by Fuji with their version, the 50-140mm. The chart below will give you some idea of weight, price, and zoom equivalents. The image above will give a good size comparison. The Fuji lens is big, and while a lot lighter then the DSLR versions of the same glass it is still a lot heavier than any previous released Fuji glass. Is it worth the trade-off in size, especially when compared to the Fuji 55-200mm lens at nearly half the weight and cost? Let’s take a look and see.
The Build and Feel
The 50-140mm lens feels good and solid. It’s a mix of metal and plastic but well built. The tripod foot is attached with two removable thumb screws which stay attached to the bracket when detached. Unlike many lenses that have a wrap-around collar this lens has a bracket make of solid metal, and it attaches by two screws to the bottom of the lens. The brackets screws into the collar that then can be rotated and tightened down with another thumb screw. I like this set up. The tripod plate is designed to keep the camera level when sitting it on a table as long as the vertical grip is attached to the camera. (See the pictures at the top of this article). I have removed the tripod plate as most everything I shoot with this camera is hand held.
The main difference with this lens vs. others is there is an F/stop ring. It is well positioned on the lens and easy to reach with the thumb and fore finger of the supporting hand. The zoom collar is big and has a nice rubber finish. What’s great is that it is only a quarter turn to cycle through the entire zoom range of the lens. You won’t have to feel awkward when zooming as with lenses that require a full 360-degree turn. The focus ring at the very front of the lens feels good and is very smooth to use when in manual focus mode.
The real disappointment is the lens hood. After the beautifully well-engineered lens hood on the Olympus lens, all others are put to shame. This is a cheap feeling almost after-thought lens hood. I would have expected, especially considering the price of the lens, a metal lens hood that feels more substantial. I know this lens hood will break the first time I hit something with it. I mights as well order and have a replacement on hand. The lens hood is hard to put on and twist to lock. I will be taking a look for an alternative. Because it is a deep lens hood, removing the lens cap is a bit tough with the hood on especially for those of us with big hands. There is a removable little door though on the bottom of the lens hood so that if you were using a polarizer you could use a finger to rotate the filter. I’ll give Fuji a plus for that, but a minus for the door as I know I’ll end up loosing it after removing it the first time.
There is an OIS switch on the lens too that activates the image stabilization feature. In your hands, the lens feels good though and is a breeze to operate.
The Zoom Range
Putting it To The Test
Like you, I usually read a lot about something before I purchase it. I read a lot about this lens before its release and while visiting with Fuji at Photokina. I have been impressed by Fuji and their engineering. During Photokina, I sat through a presentation where very proud engineers and optical designers talked about what they have been accomplishing not only with the X series cameras but the lenses. These guys were proud of the 50-140mm lens as well as some other lenses coming soon. They had MTF charts, diagrams, cross sections and talked about coatings of lenses and how the lens was a challenge to design for the zoom range, wide continuous f/stop and OIS. You could see the pride and also see they thought they had a winner. I don’t pretend to understand all the jargon like ” . . . one aspherical glass molded lens element and two extra low dispersion lens elements . . . two extra-low dispersion lens elements and three cemented lens elements, chromatic aberrations are greatly reduced and we will cap it off with . . . new Nano-GI (Gradient Index) coating technology, that alters the refractive index between glass and air to reduce ghosting and flare”. It sounds good and the engineers did a decent job of explaining all of this, but in the end I just want to see an image. Go to the link below to see the specs and charts on Fuji’s site.
That evening at Photokina Michael and I had dinner with the Fuji design and sales group, and I was impressed by how much they listened. We mentioned the things we thought were missing and why they were needed, and the Fuji guys all took out notebooks and took notes. I can only hope that the notes made it back to Japan. I have to say though that all of these Fuji guys were determined to put out the best products possible.
The only way in my opinion to test a lens is to use it. I’m not one for MTF charts and such. Yes, they show how the lens performs on a bench, but I want to know how it does in my hands and style of photography. I’ll cut to the chase here and say that this lens does perform.
I spent a few days running around to different locations shooting with this lens. I particularly wanted to see how the OIS performed under low light. How it did with auto-focus and the kind of images that would result. This lens has not disappointed me in any way performance-wise. Let’s look at some images, and I’ll summarize my findings below.
Good News and Bad News . . . Bad First
Let’s get the bad out of the way first. When Olympus introduced their comparable zoom the 40-150mm, they set a new benchmark in lens design. Not only did the lens perform well but it was engineered to the max. It was compact and had a good build and feel to it. Its nice features were a Fn button on the lens, a clutched Auto Manual Focus ring (push – pull for AF/MF) and one ingenious lens hood. As far as I’m concerned Olympus shows they are designing lenses properly for the Pro designation. They also introduced a 1.4X tele-extender, which extends the reach of their zoom lens. In simple terms, I consider the bar raised to a new height for all lens manufacturers based on what Olympus did.
So, taking this all into consideration I am disappointed by the Fuji’s lens shade and somewhat the feel of the lens. It is built well but lacks the sports car feel of the Olympus Pro Zoom. If you want to change to AF/MF you still have to use the Single / Continuous / Manual AF switch on the front of the camera. It’s not all that big of a deal, especially if you haven’t worked with the Olympus lens, but I am just saying.
It would also be nice if Metadata showed whether an image was shot with the Mechanical or Electronic Shutter.
The Good News
The biggest feature we look at in a new lens is performance and IQ – Image Quality. This lens is incredible. The sharpness and contrast delivered at all focal lengths are superb. There were times while shooting at a high frame rate that I thought I might have missed the focus. Low and behold the images were sharp and focused well. Along the way I tested the AF, especially at wide open or near wide open F/stops. The focus worked great here too. The new recently released firmware makes it a lot easier to select a focus point if the camera doesn’t find the spot you are looking for. I also did quite a few images focused manually. With focus peaking in combination the magnified focus area, I was able to get great in focus images that would have been difficult without an EVF.
I have a 5K iMac as my main edit machine these days and like it a lot. The clarity of the screen is amazing. I use Capture One to edit my Fuji files. I have done a lot of comparisons and as I emphasized in a previous article, you should look at C1 especially if you are working with the Fuji system. I know a number of people who have converted, and they are all saying the Fuji files work very well with C1. By way of a plug, we do have a C1 tutorial in our video store. With the 5K Mac when I edit these files I am editing at just about a 100% setting. It’s so easy to evaluate, rate and make adjustments with a system like this. I found myself on numerous occasions pixel peeking and viewing the images at 200 – 400% and I just sat there shaking my head at the how well the images held up and how sharp and nice the images looked.
There has been a lot of chatter on forums about smeared greens, and strange swirly looks to detail areas on images shot with the X-T1. I saw none of this. I believe it is all a matter of the RAW processor being used. I have now printed images to 17×22 on my Epson 3880 and 24×30 on my Epson 9900. They look great. I am confident that if I output an image at 200% from Capture One and let ImagePrint do its thing on the printing side that I may be able to make a good 30×40. I’ll be trying that in the next week or so. I have seen 6×10 foot images that Fuji has from this camera and lens setup that are amazing.
As hard as I tried to pixel peep issues I found none that would bother me. I was expecting to see fringing and diffraction issues, but I saw none. The one thing I did run into was some moire. It was made under fluorescent light with the electronic shutter turned on. (see image above) As nice as the electronic shutter is for speed and silence it does not do well with certain lighting conditions. I am confident that outdoors it will perform well, but I saw all sorts of rolling bars and such when used with different types of artificial lighting. This has to do with the way the chip dumps its pixel information. We’ll have more to report on the Electronic Shutter feature in the future.
A performance plus for this lens is OIS. I for one have always been wary of such claims as a four stop advantage using OIS. Wow, was I surprised. In my article on the X-T1, I mention how well the 18-55mm lens did at 1/8th of a second in street shots I was doing in Amsterdam. After receiving this lens I was in my Man Cave and was trying to get acquainted with how well AF worked and how well OIS worked. I aimed the camera and the 50-140mm zoom at different objects to see how fast auto focus locked on in dim light. The speed was impressive especially when moving subject to subject. The one shot that really showed its capability is above. I shot a light fixture and focus was right on. Then took the shot handheld at 1/10th sec. If you didn’t know better, you would have thought I that I’d shot this on a tripod. I’m sold. Also, I did this shot with the Electronic Shutter as it has less vibration, or should I say no vibration.
The last couple of years I have come to love the compact 55-200mm Fuji zoom. It has performed well and has a very nice coverage in a compact size. Now I have this new lens that is twice as large, doesn’t have the reach the 55-200mm does and is a lot more visibly noticeable especially if I am out shooting street photos like I like to do. This is not a lens I am going to stick in a pocket as I do with my Fuji lens. But I am not going to get rid of the 55-200mm It is just too good to replace. Thinking about the new zoom and the old zoom I have come to some conclusions. The old zoom is great working outdoors and doing street type of photography. What the lens lacks in large f/stop is certainly handled well by OIS and clean high ISO ability. The new zoom is for pros migrating from a DSLR system that want lenses comparable to those that they are accustomed to. The 50-140mm fills the 70-200mm range that many of us have come to depend on. It is also fast, and sharp. Shooting wide open it gave nice background separation and will work really well for the journalist and portrait photographers. I’ll certainly use it for landscape and a lot of other typs of photography. It will be good to have both lenses in my kit.
I’m super-excited about this lens. In a few weeks, I am heading to Antarctica and this trip I am going totally mirrorless. I’ll be taking my Fuji X-T1 kit as well as the new Sony A 7 II. I am looking forward to several weeks of mixing it up and seeing how both systems perform in that environment. While in Antarctica I plan to get married on a beach and thus I am taking my fiancé Debra. She is quite a good photographer, and she will be shooting with the Olympus kit. So, we’ll have a good mixture of mirrorless cameras, and we’ll see how they do. Look for a detailed trip report upon our arrival home.
Since my Fuji article was written, Michael has purchased an X-T1 as well a number of lenses along with the 50-140mm lens. I know he has had some great experiences with it too.
The bottom line is this is a super nice lens. It misses the mark on a few things that are kind of trivial. Where it hits, the mark is on performance and IQ. I am looking forward a long relationship with this lens and now anxiously await some of the other Fuji zooms that will be introduced soon.
As Kevin has mentioned, I recently acquired a Fuji X-T1 Graphite and recently used it along with the new 50-140mm Fuji lens on my shoot on The Big Island in Hawaii.
My take on the X-T1 is pretty much the same as Kevin’s. It’s a real pleasure to shoot with – light, compact and able to produce extremely high quality images – punching well above its weight.
But, if anything my feelings for the XF 50-140mm f/2.8 lens are even more enthusiastic than Kevin’s. This lens matches or exceeds the image quality of any 70-200mm full frame DSLR lens that I’ve used; either Canon’s, Sony’s or Nikon’s.
On my helicopter ride over the fresh lava flows on my last morning on The Big Island, this was the one lens that I chose to use. (Changing lenses on a helicopter while flying with the doors open is a very bad idea). It provided the reach as well as wide-enough coverage needed for this shoot, and even working close to wide-open provided exceptionally sharp images.
This was also the lens that was on the camera when we were driving, available quickly when a shot presented itself unexpectedly, such as the rainbow image above.
My main camera on this shoot was the Pentax 645z. But, the Fuji X-T1 and 50-140mm were my go-to set-up for quick shots and special situations. It didn’t let me down.