Fujifilm have finally released their X-Mount telephoto zoom lens to go with the X-Pro1 and X-E1 cameras. The Fujinon XF 55-200mm f/3.5-4.8 R LM OIS to give it it’s full title! XF meaning that it is for the X-Mount cameras, R meaning it has a dedicated aperture ring on the lens, LM meaning it has the newer Linear Motor for AF (quiet and fast) and finally OIS meaning the Optical Image Stability function, which Fuji claim to give a 4 1/2-stop advantage in shake reduction.
I’ve had mine from the first day it was released in the UK as I’ve been wanting a telephoto lens for the X-Series. In fact, I hadn’t realised how much I missed having a telephoto lens until I put this on my X-Pro1 and took a walk down by the river, where I happened upon a brave Sandpiper and I could get back to doing some wildlife photography – something I love, but had given up for various reasons.
Again, as per the 18-55mm, it has the rather dull cheap-kit sounding 55-200mm focal length. Don’t let that put you off though. Whilst a certain type of photographer might sneer at you when you say you’re shooting with a 55-200mm lens rather than say a 70-200 f/2.8, all isn’t what it appears with this lens. I said in my 18-55mm lens review that it the image quality was equal to a professional grade 24-70, I’m tempted to say that the new Fujinon 55-200mm telephoto is, image quality-wise, equivalent to a 70-200 f/2.8 from Nikon or Canon. The only thing that really lets this lens down is that it isn’t a constant aperture fast lens. Having said this, it is certainly faster than a typical kit 55-200, which generally are f/4.5-5.6. The Fuji is f/3.5-f/4.8. That might not sound like a lot, but in real life it’s a good 2/3rds of a stop faster, which although doesn’t mean quite as much as twice the amount of light as a typical telephoto zoom, it does allow significantly more light to enter the camera than you would expect of this type of lens and broadens your options if you need to shoot at a faster shutter speed.
My reviews are solely based on my own opinion and my personal use of the lens. Judge the lens on the images you see from it as what I write might not match how you intend to use the lens. I don’t do scientific tests, if you want those they are to be found elsewhere. I don’t shoot with science, I shoot with my instinct and my eyes! Please do click on any of the images to see larger versions to see just how good this lens is.
What strikes you as soon as you hold the lens is that unlike all other lenses in the X-Mount range so far, the 55-200 comes with a rubber grip on the zoom ring. Fuji doesn’t make it clear why they have done this, but my suspicions are that it is for two reasons. Firstly, with a long zoom, it makes the physical act of zooming the lens in and out easier. Secondly, with a longer zoom lens you tend to support it with your left hand under the lens, that is made a lot more comfortable (especially in the cold!) if the grip is rubber rather than metal. Similar to the 18-55, the aperture ring isn’t marked and spins freely giving you aperture information only on the camera display. The button setup is identical to the 18-55mm, with one switch for manual or automatic aperture and a second button for switching OIS on or off. I did find that sometimes I knocked the aperture switch without realising it, and looking at it closely this switch isn’t quite as positive at locking into position as the OIS switch so it is easier to move. I think this is also due to me carrying the camera by the lens rather than the camera body when this lens is attached due to the size of it.
Is it any good for wildlife?
That all depends on what sort of wildlife you are wanting to take shots of! 300mm (which is the 35mm equivalent of 200mm on the X-E1/X-Pro1) is generally regarded as the minimum requirement for wildlife photographers. Most are using 500-600mm and then even a 1.4x tele-converter on that, so if you’re thinking you are wanting to take professional standard wildlife shots of small animals/birds then this isn’t the combination for you – make sure you have at least £10,000 in the bank to get the type of shots you see from professional wildlife photographers! A 300mm lens does allow you to get some reasonable shots of larger wildlife and small birds if you are patient and can get close enough. AF is good enough for this, and optically the lens is certainly up to the job, with fantastic sharp results even wide open and a beautiful shallow depth of field with smooth backgrounds.
A telephoto lens with a wide aperture allows for a nice shallow depth of field to isolate your subject.
OK, these next two aren’t really wildlife, but they are animals you might want to take photos of! Check out the detail on the cow by clicking to get the higher resolution image. This is an unsharpened JPEG straight out of the camera.
Piggy in the middle – there is always one that has to be different!
For wildlife you often need to shoot in low light. The two images below aren’t great, I was just showing off how good the X-Pro1 was at high ISO. I wish my D300s was anywhere near this when I was shooting wildlife! I used to max out at ISO 800 on that.
This was a shy Heron (as they tend to be) who flew away as soon as he turned his head around!
Is it any good for portraits?
I think this could be one of the great uses for this lens. Fuji don’t do a long portrait lens yet. This lens could fill that gap until Fuji get around to producing a good 75-90mm lens (105-135mm-ish equivalent in 35mm terms) fast portrait lens. For the studio you don’t generally need a fast lens as you shoot between f/11 to f/16 to get nice crisp shots, what matters is optical performance and whilst the lens might not quite be up to the classic 85mm portrait lenses, it is pretty damn good, and unless you’re a top end professional I think you’d be hard pushed to complain about it.
A quick couple of shots with my daughter – bribed into standing still with chocolate!
I managed to meet up with a model/dancer locally and we went down to the edge of Windermere to do some shots with the XF 55-200mm on the X-Pro1. I wouldn’t have been able to shoot some of these with any of the other lenses, so the 55-200 was essential to get the reach I needed. Below are just a small sample of those. None of them have been sharpened, the camera was set to sharpness 0 and in fact the post processing of these images has, if anything, reduced how sharp this lens really can be. Do click on at least the first image in this set below and look at it in higher resolution – just see how sharp those eyes are, and I haven’t fiddled with anything on this no overall or selective sharpening has been applied.
As I said, this lens could be a great portrait lens until Fuji or someone else comes out with a nice fast long portrait length prime. Many of the shots I took on this shoot I simply wouldn’t have been able to get without the 55-200mm as there was nothing that had this reach before. Certainly for studio work where you have plenty of light and a fast lens isn’t necessary it has the optical performance to produce professional level images. This lens will add more options to the X-Pro1/X-E1 portrait shooter, giving more a flattering perspective for head shots.
What else have you shot with it?
All sorts! Take a look at some of these samples below.
Optically it is hard to fault this lens, I’ve used it for shooting everything from pseudo-macro shots of flowers to vast landscapes. It appears to perform superbly right across the range.
This shot is stitched in CS6 from several taken as a pano at 55mm
I found this lens a fantastic way to shoot flowers and other small wildlife, being able to zoom to 200mm and get just 1.1m away gives the effect of a very shallow depth of field, meaning you can really isolate your subject.
The bokeh is a little fussy if there are leaves/grass in the not too distant background (maybe 1/2 a metre) but that is quite typical for any zoom lens.
Get a little more separation and you can get some super smoooooth backgrounds!
Tell us what we all want to know – how is the AF?!
Auto focus on this lens is about on a par with the 18-55. It is just as silent, so would work well for video, especially with the OIS system. It isn’t super snappy as you will get on a 70-200 on a DSLR, but it’s quick enough to capture most subjects. Occasionally it will hunt, especially if you’re waving it around to try to follow something. I guess that’s one of the big downsides to contrast-detection AF, but there are ways around that such as pre-focusing. The AF hunting can be typical for zoom even with a DSLR too – when I had a Nikon D300S and the 200-400mm f/4 lens it would sometimes drive me insane and it racked back and forth trying to lock focus. In that respect, I’d say and X-Pro1 with this lens is actually less frustrating than that combination!
You said it was good for video, do you have any samples?
Here you go! A random set of clips I put together from around Windermere.
Does the OIS really work?
Well yes of course it does!
Does it really give a 4 1/2 stop advantage?
I have no idea, and no interest in spending hours testing that fact out! From experience with other manufacturers it seems they tend to overstate the advantage by about a stop, so if we say that it gives at least a 3-stop advantage in the real-world I’d say that is probably accurate. Given that this is a telephoto zoom and the lens where the OIS will have the biggest advantage, I did go out and shoot some images handheld to try to give you some idea. Convention dictates that you should shoot at a minimum of 1/300th at full zoom to get sharp shots, now I’m someone who can hold a lens fairly steady, but at 200mm (300mm 35mm) there is no way I can keep it still enough to get sharp shots under say 1/50th, and that is where the OIS really comes in to help. I had to shoot a lot of these at around f/22 to get the shutter speed slow enough, even early morning it’s pretty bright at the moment being near mid-summer!
I took 5 shots without OIS and five with OIS and picked the best of each. They are all 100% crops of the same part of the image. The left hand side is my best effort without OIS and the right hand side is with OIS. Image data can be seen from the Lightroom notations.
Most of the images were taken at full zoom – 200mm, and some of these shots are taken at silly shutter speeds that you’d just not normally use with a lens like this, a couple are shot at around a half second shutter speed! I wanted to go to the extreme to see what was possible, even at that slow shutter speed I was able to get sharp shots.
Even down to 1/7th of a second on full zoom, it is possible to get sharp images with the OIS system. As I said, I can naturally handhold steadily to a fairly low shutter speed anyway – I practiced enough doing wildlife photography! – so your own use might yield different results. The OIS seems to do a pretty damn good job in my opinion.
What would you have liked to see in the telephoto zoom?
A little faster, or at least a fixed aperture, a fixed f/4 would have been nice through the range. The reason that a fixed aperture is useful is if you are shooting video and zooming in and out allowing the aperture to remain fixed. Of course you can do this with a variable zoom, but you have to use the lowest common aperture value, in this case f/4.8. Fuji haven’t really promoted their cameras at the video market, so I suppose that isn’t a huge problem for most people, it’s just nice to have! I suppose a larger constant aperture didn’t happen for two reasons – firstly size, it already feels like quite a big lens even on the larger X-Pro1, and cost – wider apertures means more glass, more expense. I don’t know if Fuji are planning a “pro” range of zooms in the future, but for the moment this one if pitched about right and will allow Fuji to produce zoom kits with an X-E1 + 18-55 and 55-200.
In a number of respects this lens isn’t going to match the performance of a professional 70-200 f/2.8, but bear in mind that this lens costs £599 and a Nikon 70-200 f/2.8 AF-S VRII is thereabouts £1600 (RRP of over £2000!), and the Canon version of a similar price. I don’t think it’s fair to compare this to the 70-200 anyway, as I said, it isn’t anywhere near the price, and the zoom range is much greater on the XF lens, being approximately 85-300mm equivalent. The more obvious comparison to make is with something like a Nikon 55-200 f/4.5-5.6 on a crop sensor dSLR, but that doesn’t really match up either with the Nikon being around the £200 mark, it is very much a cheap plastic kit lens that has nowhere near the build quality, optical performance or wider aperture of the Fujinon XF lens. The Fuji 55-200 therefore sits somewhere in between these two options, with a very solid metal body that feels like it will last, and superb professional standard image quality.
With the release of the XF 55-200 lens, it proves one less reason for someone to choose a traditional dSLR over the Fujifilm X-Series cameras. Whilst it isn’t the smallest or lightest of lenses, combined with the 18-55mm, it means that you could carry an X-E1 and just these two lenses to cover pretty much all your needs. Where it will prove it’s worth is on holiday where you don’t necessarily need to take your entire set of top quality primes with you. The XF 55-200 still retains that spectacular image quality we have come to associate with the Fujifilm X-Series cameras.
If you can get hold of one (at the time of writing this lens is in such demand that I’ve seem some places charging a £100 premium if they have stock!) you can get the Fujinon XF55-200 mm lens from…
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