I think of it as my panda lens. Out of the 136 images I’ve shot with this lens while living in Washington DC no fewer than 72 of them are of pandas, specifically Tian Tian, Mei Xiang and Bao Bao at the National Zoo in Washington DC.
136 images many not sound like a lot and since I’ve had the lens for ten months that’s a reasonable conclusion, but I’m not really a telephoto user. That said, it’s nice to have a little bit of extra reach from time to time when the occasion calls for it, an occasion, for example, like a visit to Washington DC to see the pandas.
So I’m never going to be in the market for one of those fast 70–200 drainpipes, but I’ve always ended up, whatever the system, with one of the cheap(ish) 55–200 type lenses. I had the Sony A and E mount versions when I was a Sony user and now I have the Fuji version.
Like most Fuji lenses this one is a cut above what’s on offer from most of the other camera and lens manufacturers. The quality of construction is much better (something confirmed by the people at Lens Rentals recently when they took one apart). It feels much more solid and substantial than the lightweight and somewhat creaky competitors. It’s also a little bit faster than the opposition — f3.5–4.8 compared to the usual f4–5.6. It’s not a lot but at this aperture range every little helps. It also helps that this lens comes with Fuji’s OIS system.
Image quality is excellent, vastly better than either of the Sony’s I’ve owned, and on the basis of what I’ve read and heard better than anything else out there in this sector. Previous lenses I’ve used were generally fine until around 160–170mm when the image quality took a real hit. They were also noticeably weaker wide open. By contrast the Fuji is good all the way to 200mm and at all apertures. The only weakness I’ve found is at 200mm wide open in the corners where it’s not great, but it’s the corners so it’s usually no big deal.
Also gratifying is the degree of resistance while zooming. Sometimes it almost seems like it’s a little too much, but this, for me, is preferable to too little resistance. The one dislike I have with this lens is that, unlike the zoom ring, the aperture ring is far too easily rotated and I do find myself shooting at entirely unexpected apertures because the lens gently brushed my shirt and shifted from f4 to f16. Perhaps it’s just my copy, but it is noticeably looser than the aperture rings on my other Fuji lenses.
All of this goodness does come at a price. The Fuji lens is more expensive that the typical 55–200 which tend to come in at around $350 at most and are often much less. The Fuji’s recommended retail price is $700 — not exactly a bargain — but it usually goes for $500 during Fuji’s regular sales. For an occasional user like me $500 is an acceptable price given that this is in every respect a better lens than anything from the competition. If you are a regular telephoto shooter, or need the extra speed, you will undoubtedly prefer the XF50–140 f2.8, but for the occasional user this lens is definitely worth getting hold of, particularly if you wait for the price drop.
A lens review without pictures is a bit pointless so here are a few images from my very small collection taken with this lens, including, of course, some pandas. These first two shots were taken at Manila American Cemetery, the first at 110mm and f8, the second at 55mm and also f8.
Since the flight path for NAIA takes aircraft over the Cemetery I also tried a shot of a passing plane. This was shot at 200mm wide open and heavily cropped. It’s not perfect but it’s not bad either.
This first of these next two was shot from my balcony, looking over Makati towards Laguna. Again this is at 200mm and wide open. The second is a shot across the Pasig River from the Makati side looking towards the Pasig side at 200mm and f5.6.
One of the first shots I took with this lens is of the Marine Corps Memorial in Arlington, VA. 95mm at f8 this time.
Now for the zoo. First is Mei Xiang relaxing in her yard. Considering that this was shot at 200mm wide open I was impressed by the detail and sharpness in her fur and whiskers.
Next, it’s Tian Tian relaxing in his yard — pandas do a lot of relaxing. I thought this was a great pose, propped up on one elbow, leaning on a tree trunk. Again this is at 200mm and wide open and again there is decent sharpness and detail throughout, even down to the fly that has landed on his back.
Finally just to prove that pandas aren’t the only inhabitants of the zoo here is one of the male lions relaxing while keeping an eye out, and one of the tigers having fun in the pool. Both shot at 200mm and wide open, both also cropped a little because you can’t get that close.
I eventually sold this lens because, despite its excellence, I wasn’t using it enough to justify keeping it. But if you are a Fuji user and this is your type of lens then you can be confident that it is well worth the higher cost for the superior mechanical and optical quality and the extra half stop.