I have been using the Fujifilm “X” system for just over two years. My foray into it was with the X100 in May of 2011, then I had the opportunity to test drive a pre-production X-Pro1 a few months later. Overall, I have enjoyed using this camera system – especially when traveling as it is lightweight and relatively compact. Knowing I can get “DSLR like” image quality in a small package has been great, to say the least.
One thing I have really missed when using this system is the longer prime lens focal lengths – or more accurately, the lack of them. With Fujifilm’s native prime lenses, the longest length is 60mm (90mm equivalent) and since I love using compression, I am eager to use longer glass. I know I could purchase an adapter to use with my long Nikon lenses, however, I am not into manual focus and prefer to use the native auto focus (AF) optics. That, plus my DSLR lenses are quite large.
In early June 2013, Fujifilm released their second XF zoom lens for the “X” system, namely the XF 55-200mm f/3.5~4.8 R LM OIS (Amazon – Adorama – B&H Photo). I was able to secure an early copy of this lens but hesitated publishing a review when I first purchased it. Why? Many of Fujifilm’s “X” photographers had posted sample images from pre-production copies on their blogs so there was no additional information that I could add at the time. My preference was to see how this lens performed over time and then try and form an opinion after extended use.
So, this article will outline my impressions of the lens after using it for client work over the past eight weeks.
A few things to keep in mind as you read this:
I must admit that when this lens was first announced (formally), I was a tad disappointed by its specifications as it is a relatively slow, variable aperture (f/3.5~4.8) zoom. When Fujifilm let me use their pre-production X-Pro1 in February 2012, they had planned to make this a constant f/4 zoom, but ultimately decided against it as it would have made the lens too large.
Many of us who bought into the “X” system did so because of the size/weight savings (over a DSLR), so I understand Fujifilm’s final design decision. To their credit, the XF 55-200mm (82-300mm equivalent) is about a half stop faster than other consumer zoom lenses which does help a bit when shooting in low light.
Upon opening the box, I was surprised by how big and heavy this lens is (580 grams or 20.46 oz – 75 x 118 mm or 2.95″ x 4.65″), especially when compared with other variable aperture zoom lenses in this focal length range. So much for the size/weight savings.
The build quality is excellent and better than other lenses in its class. It is similar to the first XF zoom lens, the 18-55mm f/2.8~4 R LM OIS, as it also uses a metal and high impact polycarbonate construction. When you hold it, it feels really good in your hand. So, no complaints about the build quality or materials used.
The zoom ring on my sample was initially quite stiff, but it seemed to have smoothed itself out over time and now it feels good to use.
I used this lens on my X-Pro1 (with the optional grip) and it balanced quite nicely – it was very comfortable and natural to hold. I was surprised by this given how big I initially thought the lens was, but in the end, it worked out quite well. When using it with an X-E1, it did feel a little front heavy, which does not surprise me given that the X-E1 is a smaller camera body.
I do have a couple gripes with the lens hood supplied by Fujifilm.
First of all, it is HUGE. My other (non-Fujifilm) telephoto zoom lenses have petal hoods (thus are small relative to the lens), but this Fujifilm hood is a larger version of the one used on their 60mm f/2.4 macro lens (plus, it is made from plastic). I can understand wanting to keep flare to a minimum, but does the hood really need to be this big?
Also, I had issues attaching/detaching the hood to the lens – it was difficult to do and I had to enlist help from Fujifilm’s support centre. They did supply me with a new hood which works much better, but there are times where I still have to wrestle with it. The reason I bring this up is that all of the other Fujifilm’s XF lens hoods are really easy to attach/remove so I thought my current difficulties were an anomaly. Fujifilm told me that they have not had many issues with the lens hood so I have to assume that I just got unlucky.
The major strength of this lens is that it is sharp – even wide open. I had read a review where the author complained that it was a little soft at 200mm, but my copy of this lens did not exhibit this behaviour. Fujifilm’s XF lenses perform well optically and the 55-200mm does not disappoint. As long as I could get my X-Pro1 to lock focus, I usually had a sharp image. Nicely done!
The biggest surprise using this lens was how it renders the out of focus areas, also known as “bokeh”. Most variable aperture consumer zoom lens perform poorly in this regard, however, the XF 55-200mm’s bokeh is quite pleasant. Again, it shows that Fujifilm knows how to create lenses that perform well optically. Also, the closest focus distance is 1.1 metre (3.6 feet) which meant I could get up close, shoot wide open and throw the background out of focus.
When using long focal lengths, one has to typically use a fast shutter speed to help reduce camera shake – if you don’t (and you are not using a tripod), you will often end up with a blurry image.
Fujifilm’s zoom lenses use OIS to minimize your camera’s movement. This means that you can shoot at slower shutter speeds and still have a sharp image. OIS works on the XF 55-200mm – and it works extremely well. Fujifilm claims up to 4 stops (of effective shutter speed) is possible when using OIS on this lens and I believe this claim. It is one of the better implementations of OIS I have seen to date from any vendor.
Another pleasant surprise.
If there is a weak spot with this lens, it is the speed of the focus, which incidentally is not the fault of the lens. Fujifilm’s X-Pro1 and X-E1 both use contrast detect auto focus (CDAF) and when Fujifilm initially introduced these camera bodies, many people complained about the AF speed. Fujifilm, to their credit, released a series of firmware updates which greatly improves AF speed and accuracy. The most recent firmware update (July 2013) was to further improve AF speed which it did for certain lenses, however, I feel it did not help the XF 55-200mm in this regard.
Focus speed is mediocre – it is neither slow nor fast – just adequate for stationary subjects. As the lens is a 4x variable aperture zoom, I was not expecting blazingly fast AF speed.
I did find when focus locked on to your subject, it was very accurate. With subjects that were small in the view finder, I found that I had to reduce the size of the focus point, otherwise the AF would lock onto the background instead.
I tried to use this lens with moving wildlife and it frustrated me to no end. Again, this was not a fault of the lens, but with Fujifilm’s continuous AF (AF-C) implementation, In a word, it is “awful”. One reason I like using long lenses is for capturing wildlife, so unless my subject is fairly stationary, I’ll be using my other camera systems for this purpose.
My feeling about this lens is that it is let down by the current AF system in the X-Pro1 and X-E1. I know that the recent X100S uses phase detection auto focus (PDAF) in addition to CDAF, which has helped the AF system in general. I trust that over time, Fujifilm will improve the X100S hybrid AF system and then implement it in future X-mount camera bodies, which would be a welcome improvement. Fujifilm has come along way with AF since it first introduced the X-Pro1, but it still has a long way to go if they want to be on par with with the AF of a competent DSLR.
One of the things I appreciate about the Fujifilm “X” system was that they took a different “lens” approach than other mirrorless camera manufacturers. Instead of introducing the X-Pro1 with a slow “kit” zoom lens, they chose to create three fast primes (18mm f/2, 35mm f/1.4 and 60mm f/2.4 macro) as the initial lenses. I applaud Fujifilm for going against the norm in this regard.
Fast forward two years and by early 2014, there will be seven XF prime lenses, three XF zoom lenses and two cheap XC zoom lenses. Plus Zeiss will also have three X-mount prime lenses. Not bad for a new camera system.
It would be really great (OK, fantastic) if Fujifilm created a fast prime lens, longer than 60mm. My vote would be for a 90mm or 135mm – or both :) I know as you increase the focal length, the lens will inherently get larger (gotta hate physics sometimes), so even an f/2.8 lens would be great – but the faster, the better. I know I can purchase an adapter and use long glass from other vendors, but I would like a native XF lens (with AF) that I could use with my “X” cameras.
Even though the XF 55-200mm is a decent performer, there are people (like yours truly) who bought into this system because of the high quality Fujifilm prime lenses. Please keep thinking about us (and our money) when you plan to introduce new optics.
That, plus a nice tilt-shift lens, would make this camera system complete.
My 2 cents.
Here is a quick summary for this lens:
What I liked:
What I did not like:
The Fujifilm XF 55-200mm f/3.5~4.8 R LM OIS (Amazon – Adorama – B&H Photo) is a decent performer. It is sharp, the OIS is effective and it balances nicely on an X-Pro1 body (but not so much on the X-E1). For stationary subjects, AF is good (but not great), and given the current state of continuous AF on the X-Pro1 and X-E1, I won’t be using it for any of my action work (wildlife and sports).
I have been on the fence as to whether I would keep this lens – not because it is bad, in fact, it is quite good. I initially purchased my X-Pro1 system because of the small, high quality and large aperture prime lenses – I am not a fan of variable aperture zooms. But for now, I will keep this lens as it is the only way to go beyond 60mm with the “X” system and still have auto focus – plus optically, it delivers the goods.
So for now, I will be holding onto it. For me, it is a compromise but if you don’t mind variable aperture zooms, then you will probably like this lens a lot.
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