Fujifilm 50-140mm f2.8 – first impressions

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Fujifilm X-T1 with 50-140mm OIS WR lens

Although this lens receives rave reviews, I’ve always held off buying one – until now that is… Fuji prime lenses are superb – no two ways about it, but sometimes the convenience of a zoom lens is what’s needed. Quick changes of focal length, or tricky conditions like salt spray or rain mean a zoom is just so much more practical, and to be fair, the image quality from Fuji zooms is not far off that of primes. But the 50-140mm is seriously big – almost 1kg in weight, and 176mm long – that’s almost twice the weight of my 55-200mm lens. The constant maximum aperture of f2.8, and reputed image quality have been a draw, but that bulk and weight have always put me off – not to mention of course a fairly hefty price tag!

But somehow, the 55-200mm hasn’t been working for me – the one I’ve been using is the second I’ve had, and despite the excellent OIS and its excellent reputation, shots I’ve taken have never been quite as crisp as I expected. I don’t think its a faulty copy of the lens – it just doesn’t match the sharpness of my other lenses. I also have the stunningly good 90mm f2 lens, but there are just times when only a zoom will do. I had the opportunity to look at and handle a 50-140mm lens during a recent trip to Scotland, and somehow it just felt ‘right’.

XT105771So, a combination of a bundled deal with the new 1.4x converter, and a hefty discount at last week’s Photography Show was too much to resist, and I came home with one! Unboxing it did reveal just how ‘chunky’ this lens is – it reminded me of my 70-200mm f2.8 Nikon lens, albeit still quite a lot smaller than that brute. Mounted on my X-T1 though (without the detachable tripod foot) it’s beautifully balanced, and the controls are so smooth. The effect of the image stabilisation is obvious even just looking through the camera viewfinder, and the focussing is really fast.

XT105782A combination of lots of other things to do, and poor weather this week means I haven’t been outside yet with the lens, but these are a couple of shots taken indoors. They are wide open (f2.8 of course), 140mm, and 1/125th sec, which is usually ‘marginal’ for getting a sharp photo at this focal length, but you can see just how sharp the images are.

So first impressions are very positive. I can see me using it whenever I am going out with  my ‘full’ kit, either for landscapes or events – it fits neatly in my ThinkTank backpack, or a larger shoulder bag. If I’m travelling and need to keep the weight down, then I may have to leave it at home and take the 90mm instead – I had thought I might sell that, but it really is too good a lens to sell! Hopefully some better weather later this week should allow me to get out and test the lens more fully, but so far, I’m impressed!

Doors…

X10A5728Our little village in France (Montréal, near Carcassonne, in the South West) has a history dating back over 1000 years to Cathar times, and has a pretty eclectic architectural heritage. The Collégiale, or main church, dates back to the late 13th century, although it is thought a primitive church existed here several hundred years before that. Much of the surrounding village was burned to the ground by the Black Prince in 1355, and the next 400 years saw the village repeatedly attacked as a consequence of the religious strife that dominated this part of France. As a result, many of the older houses in the village date back to the 17th and 18th centuries and these sit alongside houses that have been modernised since, often in a haphazard fashion.  There are barely a handful of completely new houses in the main part of the village – all the new development has been carried out further afield.

X10A5653The somewhat diverse architectural styles in the village are reflected in the doors – not just to the Collégiale and the grand houses in the village centre, but all the smaller houses too. Every time I walk around the village I marvel at the sheer variety of styles of door on show, so for a bit of fun decided to do a mini photo project, recording as many of the different doors as I could. Camera used was (as it often is these days) the Fujifilm X-T10, this time with the 18-55mm zoom. No special technique here – just walk up, select a nice view of the door/doorway – often from the side as the streets are too narrow in some cases to use even the 18mm front-on. Photos are all RAW images, imported into Lightroom with a little ‘punch’ added, and some judicious cropping and further adjustment where needed. Here are a few of my favourites from my mini-project.

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The best ‘street’ combo yet?

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Fujifilm X-T10 and 35mm f2 lens

All photographers have their favourite cameras, and to be fair, their allegiance will often change over time.  Sometimes its a dissatisfaction or a bad experience with a particular model; sometimes its a case of ‘the grass is greener on the other side’.  But sometimes, a camera comes along which, for a particular use, is a real game changer. After years of shooting with Nikon cameras, I switched to Fuji – not because I was unhappy with the Nikons, far from it, but because my poor old back was no longer up to carrying a full size DSLR and its lenses. The Fuji X cameras work for me in pretty much every way, and are about half the size and weight.  Maybe if I was shooting sport, I would have stuck with the Nikons for their AF capability, but for my uses, Fuji cameras work perfectly.

Saturday Market, RevelEncouraged by attending a couple of excellent workshops and photo walks with Matt Hart of Fujiholics, I have been doing much more ‘street’ photography. For me this means candid photos, mostly of people going about their daily business, and generally in mono. The key here is that whatever camera I use has to be discreet – no good toting a full-on DSLR with zoom lens – you are not going to melt into the scenery with one of those!  It needs first and foremost to deliver exceptional image quality, but must have decent AF, be small, and certainly as quiet as possible so as not to draw attention to yourself.

Saturday Market, RevelShooting at street markets in France is a case in point – French people, in my experience, are not at all keen on candid photos.  Whether its a national sense of privacy, or because some of the traders at the markets are working ‘on the black’, I don’t know, but be prepared for some hostility if you are seen overtly photographing them!

So enter my current weapon of choice, and probably the best camera I have ever used for ‘street’, the mirrorless Fuji X-T10 paired with the new 35mm f2 lens.  Image quality from the camera is excellent – on a par with the larger Fuji X-T1, but in a surprisingly small package – quite the smallest SLR style camera I have used.  The focussing of the new 35mm lens is so much faster than the ‘old’ f1.4 lens, and its a fair bit smaller too as well as bitingly sharp.  The whole camera/lens package weighs just 550gms and is so discreet its not true.

Saturday Market, RevelI took this rig out this weekend to shoot the lively Saturday market in Revel in the Haute-Garonne in France. Using the LCD screen tilted at 90deg I could shoot pretty much at waist level, and with the electronic shutter activated, the camera was virtually silent.  Of the 50-60 photos I took, only this one guy realised I had taken a photo! AF was set to zone focussing, ISO was auto 3200 max, and the aperture either f5.6 or f8.  I would say that focus was spot on for 90% + of the shots I took, exceptional given that I was mostly shooting from the waist and there was little opportunity to refocus or recompose each shot. Generally I use the RAW images from the camera and convert them using Silver Efex Pro, but with so may to process this time around, these are from the in-camera mono JPG images.  A little bit of cropping in some cases, and the clarity and contrast pushed a little in Lightroom, but pretty much as the camera produced them. I’m very happy with these photos.

I have to say I am really enjoying this setup for street photos – all the required quality and performance is there, and its in such a neat unobtrusive package. The lens is newly introduced, so still around the £300 mark, but the X-T10 body can be had for about £450, and there is presently then a £50 cash back offer from Fuji which makes it extremely good value for money for a camera, which to my mind, beats anything else out there.

Here are my favourite photos from the day.

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A tip: if you plan to go to Revel for the market, do get there quite early – it was in full flow at 1030-1100am, and by noon was thinning out.

At last, a Fujifilm Trouser-Pocket Camera…

To quote an old saying – ‘the best camera is the one you have with you’. For most of us the camera we usually carry around is the one in our smartphone, and to be fair, they are pretty good these days. But for us self-styled photographers, the tiny sensor and limited functions in smartphones just don’t cut the mustard.  We want a sensor that will support at least a high quality A3 size print, a superb quality wide aperture lens, RAW file capability for editing, and of course high ISO sensitivity without image noise that looks like marbles. And a few other features would be nice too… No smartphone offers all this – the tiny sensor and limited space for processor chips just makes that a no-no.

Sure, there are plenty of compact cameras that offer the larger file sizes and options, but find one that has the required image quality, and is still genuinely pocketable? No – either the image quality isn’t there, or they are just too big to slip in a trouser pocket… so they get left at home. There are so many occasions when I wished I had a decent camera with me instead of it being on a shelf at home.  For me, the closest to this elusive beast is the Ricoh GR Digital (actually, in days gone by, I had a GR film camera and that was truly special) but I was put off buying a GR because of their reputation for dust ingress – no point in having a super-pocketable camera if you have to keep it in a bulky case all the time to protect it is there?  I had a Fujifilm X100T camera for a while, but  it was just a little too big to be properly pocketable, so again, it frequently stayed home.

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The new Fujifilm X70

So yesterday,  Sarah from Cambrian Photography loaned me the newly launched Fujifilm X70 camera to try for a few hours while we wandered around Liverpool on our Fujiholics Photo Walk. The camera has been described in the photo press as a ‘cut-down’ version of the X100T, and it definitely has Fuji genes – it does indeed show a marked similarity to the X100T, but in a smaller form factor and without the viewfinder.  All the other Fuji X-series hallmark features are still there though – the superb APS-C sized sensor that powers the X-T1 and X-T10, combined leaf and electronic shutter, processing engine and AF from the excellent X-T10, a newly developed 18mm f2 lens, and Fuji’s excellent build quality. It feels like a Fuji camera. Ah, and did I forget to mention, that LCD screen on the back can flip right round to 180° AND is a touch screen – not only can you adjust the AF target point using the touch screen, but you can fire the shutter too – very handy. This isn’t a detailed review of the camera and all its features so I won’t bore you with the whole specification – here is the link to the Fuji website.

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Cool but still retro – a black X70

I have to say my first reaction when I handled the X70 was a little muted – it wasn’t quite as small as I had imagined it was going to be, and the first few times I shot with it, I raised it to eye level before realising it didn’t have a viewfinder – just the LCD screen on the back. Not sure how my less than perfect eyesight was going to manage that (there is an optional optical viewfinder that fits in the accessory shoe, but I didn’t fancy that). It definitely fits in jeans or jacket pocket though… But, it felt good in the hand, all the controls and menus felt familiar, the AF is quick, very quick, and like all Fuji cameras, when it does find focus, it is deadly accurate. Even reviewing my first few shots on the screen, I could see they were going to be sharp.

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Happy chappy!

The Photo Walk in Liverpool was all about street photography, capturing those little cameos of people and the city but without drawing attention to yourself, and I found I was increasingly reaching for the X70 rather than the X-T10/35mm combo I had with me. I could reach into my pocket, switching the camera on at the same time, and be ready to shoot immediately. I found I took quite a few shots from waist level, using the flip screen, and that too worked well.  For some shots the 18mm lens of the X70 was a little wide, but mostly I preferred it to shooting with a longer lens, and with 16Mp, there is the option of cropping and still getting a great image. (The camera has a ‘crop’ image option, but I didn’t try that on the day..) Another feature I loved was the electronic shutter – switch to that and turn the other camera sounds off, and its completely silent – great for close-up candids.

Of the 60 or so shots I took during the day, there wasn’t one where the exposure was significantly wrong, and the 3-4 shots that weren’t sharp were down to subject movement  or me ‘snatching’ as I took the photo. All the images (I didn’t even change the base settings on the camera, so all were colour JPEGs) were bright and crisp and useable straight from camera. The lens is definitely very sharp, and there is no obvious vignetting or quality fall off at the edges. With that lens, sensor and processing engine, any images are clearly going to be of comparable quality to those from an X-T1, X100T or X-T10 so no compromises there. Handling of the camera is great, and while the lack of a viewfinder may be a problem for some, the flip/tilt LCD screen is a very useful feature. The field of view of the 18mm lens is incredibly useful, and the ability to focus as close as 10cm is great too.

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Girls out on the town

So during the day, the camera grew on me, and I went from ‘nice, but not for me’ to ‘when can I have one’. The launch price of £549 is pretty much to be expected for the quality and features on offer, but I would expect some softening of the street price over the next few months. Expect to see it at maybe £475 to £499 by the end of this year, at which its a definite purchase for me. Don’t forget to carry a spare battery though – the battery in mine was flat after a day’s shooting.

Here are some more images from the day (and BTW, I’d definitely recommend trying one of the Fujiholics Photo Walks – great fun, great company, and FREE – and you don’t have to use a Fuji camera either, although you’ll probably end up buying one afterwards!)

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