The Fujifilm 50-140 LM OIS WR- a first look
Tiwai Smelter at dawn, Bluff, New Zealand
Fujifilm X-T1, 50-140/2.8 LM OIS WR
ISO200, 1/35s @ f8
Completing the Total Trifecta
I am sorry, but gear does matter. Especially if you are a Pro.
Nikon owners talk about the Holy Trinity. In my brief experience with a D800, I used all 3 lenses. They are, after all, the basis of the standard kit for a working photographer. Most of what we are asked to shoot will involve using one or more of them. The 14-24/2.8 was stellar, a genuine match for the camera’s humongous sensor. The 70-200/2.8 VRII was very good, apart from the fact that it vignetted badly at f10 at 200mm, and the 24-70/ 2.8 is best not discussed. The 5 different versions I tried were all mushy in the corners at any focal length and any aperture.
Until now Fujifilm really haven’t had a Holy Trinity of their own. When they first introduced the X-Pro 1 it came with the classic 3 prime lenses; a 28, 50 and 90mm equivalent. It was a brave move and one which had a lot of people scratching their heads. WTF? However for a camera which was, in effect, going up against the Leica rangefinder gestalt, it was in my opinion, a logical move.
Fujifilm have continued to round out the lens range with primes, and zooms have come later.
The game changer for them seems to have been the introduction of the X-T1, their first mirrorless DSLR, which has really lit a brushfire for them and become an instant hit. Many of my friends (almost all in fact) have dumped their Canikon kits in toto, and downsized to the Fuji, without any loss of quality, but a real saving in weight and chiropractor’s bills. As any wedding photographer will tell you, after a 12-hour day, holding a 5D MK III with battery grip and 70-200/2.8L, your arms are dragging on the ground. It is hard physical work. Your arms ache and your tendons are on fire.
I had only had the new 50-140 LM OIS WR (76-213mm FF equivalent) in my hands for 12 hours when I decided to post a pic on FaceBook. Within seconds, it seemed, F. leapt onto the post. Is it any good, he asked? I was in the middle of a shoot for a client so my reply was brief.
Do I want one?
I went back to work. I know F has been holding out for this lens for quite some time. When I rang him a couple of days later, I told him to order one.
Already done, mate. Now I just have to wait.
Fujifilm New Zealand had just the one sample in the country, which they were taking around the dealers, but they gave it a break and freighted it down to me, to use for a couple of days. It isn’t a production sample, they hastily added, so don’t expect too much.
Not that I would have known.
When I unwrapped it, the first thing that struck me was the size. It is big for a Fujifilm lens. And heavy. The obvious comparison is with the very good 55-200 LM OIS. The former weighs in at 995gm vs. the latter’s 580gm. The 55-200 varies in length between 118mm and 177mm, depending on your choice of focal length, while the 50-140 is a constant 175.9mm, a result of its constant internal focusing design. The image at right, snapped on my smartphone on the bonnet of my 4×4 truck will give an idea of the relative size difference.
It uses a 72mm filter, and comes with a tripod collar, which it definitely needs. The front element uses Fujifilm’s HT-EBC (High Transmittance Electron Beam Coating) to reduce ghosting and flare. Read more here. With only two days and on a schedule, I really didn’t have time to test this out. Later perhaps.
Of greater interest was the fact that it is the second lens in the Fujifilm range to get the WR (Water Resistant) designation. Paired with the X-T1 this means that you don’t have to Nana it on a job by using an umbrella, or a shower cap pinched from the last motel you stayed in. Further confirmation that its designers had pros in mind.
It is built like the proverbial masonry outhouse. The mounts are all machined brass, and the barrel and rings metal as well. Contrary to popular (enthusiast) belief, pros don’t change their gear every 10 minutes. These are working tools and their value is measured in terms of their income-generating ability. A pro will usually keep kit for years, until it is falling to bits and only then replace it. Any change decision must make economic sense. Otherwise it simply doesn’t happen. My impression of the 50-140 is that it is built to take years of hard work. The finish will wear off and the brass will show through honourably, but the lens will keep on delivering.
The second thing which struck me was the stabilisation. Fujifilm claim it is their best yet, capable of 5 stops of stabilisation. I really didn’t have time to test this out, and anyway I was working, so the job came first. I had a shot to make, and a strong Southland wind was blowing, so I opted to handhold. I framed and took up the first pressure. And the image simply stopped moving. I shook my head and tried again. The same eerie stillness. I made and exposure and pressed the review button. Then I pushed the focus assist button to check how good my shot was.
When had glued my eyeballs back in I had another look. I made another exposure. The focus assist is a demanding taskmaster. The slightest amount of camera shake will show in slightly-mushed detail. I zoomed in and scrolled around the image. Every trace of microdetail was there, rendered in exquisite sharpness, even in the corners. Without a tripod. Wow!
I fully expected it to feel unbalanced with all that weight hanging out the front of the diminutive X-T1. However it doesn’t. It sits nicely in the hand, and all the controls fall where they should.
Focus is superfast, on par with any of the Big Boys’ 70-200/2.8 RPGs. I borrowed a friend’s 70-200/2.8L Red Ring to compare. Yep. Just as fast. Sports togs can now compete.
The last feature worth mentioning, and by no means the least, is that Fujifilm have put back the aperture ring on the lens barrel. This is a biggie for me, because I tend to work mostly in aperture-priority. I choose and select an aperture, and then use the exposure compensation dial to adjust the histogram. Having to fiddle-guess the aperture by watching the LCD or EVF is a pain, one more thing I have to think about when I am concentrating on the image. Well done, Mr. Fuji. This working pro thanks you.
So there we have it. Two legs of the Total Trifecta; the stellar 10-24 LM OIs , which leaves the 16-35/2.8L (Mk I or II) dead in the water in terms of edge-to-edge sharpness; and the 50-140 LM OIS WR.
Next year we get the 16-55/2.8 R WR, the third leg of the TT, and a rash of pro flashes instead of the Matchbox Toys on offer at the moment. Now all we need is a shift lens of some sort (40mm FF equiv. would be perfect).
Then I might go back to shooting weddings.
No. Not really.
A friend asked me what kit I would take if I was doing a job either in-country or offshore.
A brace of X-T1’s, one of which would be the Graphite model, so I could instantly tell them apart, both equipped with battery grips and about 6 extra batteries (and chargers, along with a power board); a pro flash or two; the Total Trifecta; an X100T with both conversion lenses; the 23/1.4, 35/1.4 and 56/1.2 primes; and a carbon tripod of some sort.
All of which would be just as good and a whole lot cheaper and lighter than the same thing in Canikony.