Saturday, December 6, 2014

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Preview: Fujifilm XF 50-140mm f/2.8R LM OIS WR Zoom

(click on above image to open a high-res version in a new window)

I recently had an opportunity to briefly test Fujifilm's new professional level zoom, equivalent to a 75-210mm in full-frame terms. I tested it on my X-E2 body but above, you can see it mounted to an X-T1. While the lens is indeed quite large and has substantial mass, it is actually not as heavy as it looks, in other words, its density doesn't seem all that high, a welcome fact thankfully. I have Fujifilm's extra hand-grip on my X-E2 and with it, I found the lens fairly well balanced and easy to handhold.

This is constant aperture f/2.8 zoom with a properly marked aperture ring on the lens, a first for Fujifilm zooms and hopefully the beginning of a future trend! It has a linear-motor (LM) for fast and quiet focusing, it boasts weather-resistant (WR) construction and has an optical image stabilizer (OIS) that is rated for 5-stops of extra stability. The tripod mount is detachable with two thumbscrews but it is also a nice way to carry the lens with attached body, to avoid stress on the body's lens mount from the relatively heavy lens.

The lens is beautifully constructed with a fully internal zoom mechanism and a silky smooth zoom ring with absolutely consistent tension that doesn't get tight anywhere within its range or towards either end of the zoom. In addition, it has a perfect feeling aperture ring with nice, crisp detents and excellent tension. In terms of its mechanical operation, it may just be the nicest feeling lens so far for Fujifilm's X-system. Personally, I take great pleasure in the mechanical and tactile feel of a camera's controls, one of the attractions of Fujifilm's X-system for me, and this lens absolutely does not disappoint. Finally, even the lens hood is thoughtfully designed, with a small slide-out portal that allows one to adjust a polarizing filter when the hood is mounted.

While I only shot a dozen or so test frames, what was immediately apparent is not only how sharp it is wide open but also how good its micro-contrast was. How sharp was it? Well honestly, I was blown away. The same day I shot with it, I also compared a preproduction copy of the XF 56mm f/1.2R APD with the regular 56mm f/1.2, and I would say that neither of those lenses were any sharper than the zoom, although of course they had completely different bokeh characteristics and could achieve a much shallower DOF, at least compared to the zoom at 56mm. Here is a shot, taken with the 50-140mm at 110mm, wide open at f/2.8 and handheld. Click the image to open a full resolution copy (3296x4936 pixels - 5.3MB - EXIF data intact) in a new window, raw file processed in PhotoNinja 1.2.4...

To open a version solely processed in Adobe Lightroom v5.7, click here. Many thanks to a friendly and easygoing customer of Beau Photo for posing for this test shot and allowing me to share it here!

So... I don't know about you, but I'd say that lens is pretty darn sharp! In fact, I actually ended up reducing the default level of sharpening in my PhotoNinja workflow from what I normally have it set to, since this shot was simply rendered far too sharp then.

Focusing was silent and very snappy and the image-stabilizer seemed extremely effective as well. The bokeh was nice as long as the background was substantially blurred as in the above shot. With only a slight blur, there is some nervousness (outlining) to high-contrast details, as can be seen in the slightly out-of-focus beard hairs in the above photo and so for portraits, there is a good chance that the 56mm f/1.2 would be preferable to the zoom, or perhaps the upcoming 90mm f/2. However the versatility of a zoom, especially one as sharp as this, can't be argued with either. Of course, it is also possible that the 50-140mm will be more suitable for portraits at a focal length different than what I tested here, perhaps then having slightly smoother bokeh characteristics, but I have too little experience with it at this point to make that determination.

Here is another photo, this time at 140mm and wide open at f/2.8 again, focused at the dead centre of the frame on the near edge of the grey roll-up garage door. You can see the the slight outlining of the bokeh in the out-of-focus background elements to the right, the trees, the chain-link fence, the grass etc., but at the point of focus, man is it ever sharp! Again, click on the image to open a full-resolution copy in a new window...

One other possibility is that since I had the OIS switched on for these tests, the background blur might be slightly affected by the movement of the OIS stabilizing group during the exposure. I am not 100% sure, but I have seen instances in other lenses where I felt the quality of the out-of-focus regions was perhaps negatively affected by having lens stabilization turned on...

Unfortunately, as you can see, it was overcast so I did not have a chance to see how flare-resistant the lens was. I really don't have any other shots of interest to share at this point but I am looking forward to having another chance to test the lens between Christmas and New Years, and at that point I will try to publish a more comprehensive gallery of images and also try to determine if there is truly any impact to image quality from the OIS. In the meantime, I hope you enjoyed this little preview!

Finally, what about the XF 56mm f/1.2R APD I mentioned? Well I am not permitted to share any photos, since it was a preproduction model, but what I will say is that at f/1.2 the bokeh is very noticeably different than the regular 56mm f/1.2 and is, to my eye at least, overall far smoother and more pleasing. What surprised me immensely though is how rapidly this difference falls off. In fact, even at f/2.0 the difference is already very minimal and is very nearly imperceptible at f/2.8 when compared to the regular 56mm. I suspect that the 56mm APD will truly only be of interest to those planning on shooting it wide open most of the time. Of course, there is a slight chance that things could change in the final production version, so stay tuned for a future review once I get my hands on one of those for testing as well...

[Note: this preview will be cross-posted to the Beau Photo Supplies blog as well.]


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