Sunday, January 4, 2015

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Gallery: Testing the Fujifilm 50-140mm f/2.8 Zoom

I finally had a chance to really put the new Fujifilm XF 50-140mm f/2.8R LM OIS WR zoom lens through its paces on this past Christmas day. For some weird reason, I had thought the gallery was already posted to my blog, since I had uploaded it shortly after Christmas, but obviously I hadn't - oops! In any case, you've probably already seen my preview blog posting of this lens at this link here, but for that one, I only had the lens briefly and took maybe a dozen shots with it. On the 25th, I took nearly 300 shots and you can see some of the selected images in the gallery you can get to by clicking on the above image. The high-res images are nice and big, 3000 pixels in the long dimension, so you can get a better idea of how good the image quality is on a wider range of shots.

My conclusions hold by and large: the new professional zoom from Fujifilm is spectacularly sharp, focuses very quickly and has effective image stabilization. On my X-E2, with the added Fujifilm handgrip, I actually didn't find it to be unpleasantly heavy, although it is certainly a large lens. Following are some additional comments about this lens, now that I have tested it more thoroughly. 

On the first part of my shoot that day, when I was in Vanier Park, I shot everything handheld and had the image stabilizer switched on. I would have to say that if being ultra critical, I did notice a hint of asymmetrical edge softness on a few shots. In other words, a slightly soft left edge or right edge, not both edges. This could easily be due to shooting "at the wrong time" when the stabilized lens group was at its maximum point of deflection. Usually on telephoto lenses this issue is exceedingly rare but I have often seen it on stabilized wider zooms. In fact, I cannot think of a single wide or ultra-wide zoom with image stabilization that I've tested, from any manufacturer, that doesn't show this at times. What I would suggest is that if you are trying to capture an entire scene sharply with this 50-140mm, as with a distant landscape or cityscape for example, that you keep the stabilizer off... presuming that you either have enough light to do so, or have a tripod of course. Alternatively, if you must use stabilization then take a handful of shots (3-4) of the same scene and you are very likely to have one that is perfect as well. This edge softness was rare, so don't think this is going to happen to you all the time wit the 50-140mm. In addition, for portrait type work or with shots where you only have a centralized subject, the lens has been flawlessly sharp. In fact, I think that because this lens is generally so incredibly sharp, it is obvious when there is even a tiny drop in quality near the edges. Keep in mind, I am definitely being very picky here with my comments!

By the way, as a side note, many people posting to online forums seem to be very disappointed that Fujifilm has decided to drop the OIS (image stabilization) from the upcoming XF 16-55mm f/2.8 professional zoom. While I can appreciate their dismay to some extent, considering my comments above I personally think this is actually a very good thing! As mentioned, every single stabilized wide-angle zoom I've ever shot with can suffer from corner or edge softness due to the effects of the stabilizer, and this sometimes even when switched off if the stabilized group happens to not be perfectly centred. I would rather have a pro series wide-angle or wide-to-normal zoom locked down solid with perfectly aligned optics that can give the absolute best possible image quality, rather than one that has a stabilizer. Fujifilm already has the very good kit zoom, the XF 18-55mm f/2.8-4R OIS, if you really feel the need for a mid-range stabilized zoom lens. Secondly, I have seen prototypes of the new 16-55mm, and even without the added bulk of OIS, the lens is going to be pretty hefty. Nope, all in all I am not disappointed in the slightest that Fujifilm has decided to pull OIS from the upcoming 16-55mm zoom.

As one last comment on this, is that I really should try out another copy of the 50-140mm to see if it too suffers from this occasional "stabilization softness" since testing only a single copy of this lens is hardly conclusive. While Fujifilm has proven to be far more consistent, in my experience, with their precision of lens assembly and alignment than most other manufacturers, they can't be expected to be perfect either. If I do test another one out and it proves to be better, I will update this posting.

Back on topic, or rather, off my stabilization rant... I did manage to test the 50-140mm out on a few photos to see how it performed for flare and unfortunately, flare might be one of its minor weaknesses. Generally speaking, with a deep hood and narrow angle of view, I personally feel that flare resistance in a telephoto zoom is nowhere near as important as it would be on a wider angle lens. Here is one shot, with the sun in the top right corner, and you can see some loss of contrast and a few internal reflection blobs. Note that I was not using a filter of any sort here....

In conclusion, I feel that despite a few minor issues, the new 50-140mm is indeed a truly superb lens. While perhaps not quite in the same league of image quality perfection as Fujifilm's very best primes, those primes do raise the bar very high indeed. When compared to Fujifilm's existing zoom lenses, as good as they already are, this new 50-140mm is certainly a significant step up in build-quality, focus speed and sharpness. I do feel it is worth the price of admission if this focal length range is something you need frequently and you want to squeeze every last bit of image quality from your kit...

[edit: I am, perhaps, being a little unfair with the above statement. While the 50-140mm might not have quite the same degree of corner to corner consistency as Fujifilm's best primes, considering it is a zoom and considering it has OIS, it is quite remarkable. Certainly when you look at the vast majority of the image (and images), excluding the extreme corners or edges on a handful of shots, it really is stunningly, amazingly sharp and definitely as good as any prime you might care to compare it to. I was just going through my shots again in Lightroom, and I kept marvelling at how good many of them look at 100%, so I really felt I should add this clarification...]

Lastly, the water of False Creek was incredibly calm on Christmas Day, the stillest I have ever seen it. So in closing, here is a wider shot of the the stadium taken with my Zeiss Touit 32mm f/1.8 where you can appreciate the peaceful calmness of the water a little more...


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