Sometime in the early 20th century either Napoleon Bonaparte or Frederick The Great said "An army marches on it's stomach". I used to hear that a lot from my father growing up as he woke me up out of bed to have breakfast so I could start mowing the lawn (s) or shovelling the driveway. The reference I gather was meant to point out that a well provisioned army fought better in war.
I kind of thought it could also apply to camera manufacturers as well.
My personal view is that sensor technology sas come a far enough way that fantastic image quality can be had from everything starting with an iPhone right up to medium format cameras. The body of the camera now only provides options for customization. That said, even the best sensors mean nothing if the lens catalog to match it doesn't exist (Sony). I've always known that a lens makes the camera. Probably why I stuck with Canon for as long as I did. When I switched to Olympus and Fujifilm the biggest selling feature were the available lenses and the planned roadmaps. Nearly 4 years later both platforms have the best lenses I've ever used....if only my wallet was fat enough to buy them all.
For this review I have the Fujinon XF100-400mm F4.5-5.6 R LM WR (super) telephoto lens.
I've owned the Canon equivalent at various times during my DSLR days. I usually bought it for some trips abroad and sold it right away upon returning home. I thought it was an excellent lens and if memory serves I've owned it no less than 5 times since 2008. I'm aware that there is a version II out now but since I haven't used it, the comparison will be done with the version I in mind for the purposes of this review. None of my photo friends own a lens in this focal range. In fact I've only come across a few who own the 300 and 600mm equivalent primes and they are all "Sports" or "Wildlife" photographers. Subject matters which make the most of this lens.
First, the Canon (based on my positive experience)...
Image Quality: More than Good Enough but not quite great. A fair bit of processing is required to bring it into compliance. There is significant vignetting on the long end where I tended to use it most in the order of about 1.5 stops. Chromatic Aberration wasn't too bad but it's there. Color and Contrast were good but definitely needed a bit of punch in port processing. I didn't have any complaints about auto-focusing but all of the samples I used required stopping down of at least 1 stop to get super sharp images. The built-in image stabilization was amazing for that time period. It was an auto-sensing system that deactivated when the camera was mounted on a tripod. I always noticed a small amount of distortion in the mid-range of the lens, especially when I started using Adobe Lightroom exclusively and added the lens profile feature in post production. As a result I tended to frame a little wider to allow for distortion correction. Here is the interesting feature...the zooming was done by way of a push-pull mechanism. It was unique..though I'm sure I sucked in dust over time. Overall a great lens that offers plenty of versatility at a decent price. A 400mm of this lens (prime) tends to cost much, much more and your stuck zooming with your feet. Build Quality is typical Canon L series lens. Which is to say, excellent and the size and weight commenserates with that.
So how does the Fujifilm equivalent stack up?
Cross off image quality issues such as Vignetting, Chromatic Aberration, Color & Contrast and very little to "NO" distortion through the focal range. Fujifilm does a lot of corrections which get baked into the RAW and JPEG files so we never really see any bad behaviour as a result. I couldn't be happier. I have better things to do with my time in post processing. In fact if you shoot JPEG exclusively there will be very little to be worried about in your final images.
And the pictures...
This is a fantastic lens and the price isn't bad at all considering that your getting a 600mm lens on the long end. Add to that the Optical Stabilization, Fast AF and weather sealing you can't go wrong if you are in the sport/wildlife/portrait business. The 100-400mm (150-600mm 35mm equivalent) is incredibly versatile as opposed to a dedicated prime lens in these focal lengths.
ISO 200, 400mm, F5.6, 1/180 seconds
This handsome dragon is Hopping Bob. He and his lady friend reside under the sun deck of the villa and occasionally they come up to ask for leftover fruits and veggies. He's the top dog on this stretch of the beach as evidenced by the war wounds. The prior inhabitants of the property must have looked after him over the years because he appears reasonably well fed. I gotta tell ya, Bob freaks me out but his rugged good looks makes it hard to look away when he's around. I was happy for his company though. His skin is a perfect test for this lens and he is more than willing to pose for minutes at a time while I worked the compositions. By the way, most of these shots are done wide open at F5.6 and the color, contrast and micro contrast are simply amazing for a lens in this class. In fact I can name a few top shelf prime lenses that this one smokes.
ISO 200, 400mm, F5.6, 1/640 seconds
Even when he was in motion the X-Pro2 and lens combo were more than fast enough to keep up. Fujifilm has come a far way with auto-focus performance. I nailed most shots without too much trouble and it really comes down to technique and practice.
ISO200, 400mm, F5.6, 1/400 seconds
Crabs are all over the sundeck and rocks on the shoreline but they are incredibly shy and run away at your slightest movements. They are also speedy little buggers and here again I had no trouble snapping off lot's of keeper shots with the lens wide open.
ISO200, 400mm, F5.6, 1/180 seconds
I am blown away at the level of detail this lens renders wide open. This shot of another crab is absolutely sharp and full of great texture when viewed at 100%. Don't take my word for it, send me an email and I'll forward you a high resolution image that you can evaluate yourself.
ISO640, 400mm, F5.6, 1/30 seconds
This Heron was another regular visitor but she preferred the pool to the sundeck. Crabs are pretty skittish but I had to shoot this one from inside the villa and hiding behind a door. These days I just let the camera do it's thing with respect to ISO selection and it was 640 for this image. Even so the shutter speed was 1/30th of a second! ....and it was handheld. Remember this is a 600mm effective lens on the long end, and I'm handholding it for a keeper rate well over 75%. The discarded shots were mostly due to subject movement causing motion blur but when she stayed put, it was no trouble getting off some decent shots. I also love the way the X-Pro2 sensor handles the subtle color gradiation. You can see here that her underside is reflecting the blue tones from the pool.
ISO200, 280mm, F8, 1/55 seconds
Ditto for this shot of another pool guest. It's shot at an unbelievably slow shutter speed that was unheard of 5 years ago from a lens like this (handheld). The Optical Image Stabilization engine combined with fast auto-focus almost makes it easy.
ISO200, 400mm, F5.6, 1/50 seconds
This family of Ground Doves (I think) are nesting in the garden and they really wanted me to keep my distance. I actually shot this from inside the shallow end of the pool and cropping in about 75% for the final composition. They sensed my presence even from that distance and kept shifting around. I made a short video (X-Pro2) to give you an idea of just how much patience I had to employ given the low shutter speed.
ISO200, 400mm, F5.6, 1/105 seconds
Check out the fine details in the feathers of this Thrasher...she was nestled in a bun of branches which would occasionally obscure her when the wind kicked up. This was the best of five attempts but well worth it when I got a chance to check it out on a big screen. This by the way is with Adobe Lightroom's default sharpening followed up with some selective sharpening on various spots.
ISO200, 400mm, F5.6, 1/280 seconds
This is a Bananaquit...I really had to look that one up despite the fact that they are common on the island. She is also very small so an aggressive cropping job was needed here. Remarkably the new X-Pro2 files hold up really well. This final image is a little more than 1/4 of it's original size. I've said it before...and repeating it. Wildlife photographers almost always need to crop images of birds this size. This is where a high megapixel camera comes in handy but I'm finding very little to complain about with the X-Pro2. I can still make a very decent print of this if I wanted to.
ISO200, 400mm, F5.6, 1/600 seonds
No idea what this bird was but she let me get close enough so that I only required some modest cropping of the final image. It also moved around a lot from branch to branch. I kind of sprayed and prayed when she landed right in front of the palm tree leaves which makes a nice background.
ISO200, 400mm, F7.1, 1/100 seconds
I shot this image stopped down to F7.1 for a couple of reasons. F8 is a more mainstream aperture for this kind of shot to ensure a good sharp image with appropriate depth of field. I wanted to see what the lens would perform like and also to lower the shutter speed (handheld) for a challenge. Again...fast auto-focus, sharp lens and Optical Image Stabilization to the rescue. See the accompanying video below.
ISO400, 400mm, F5.6, 1/120 seconds
I love small critters...they seem less afraid than their larger counterparts. This guy gave me about 20 shots before he took off for the bushes. As I mentioned, he is small...with a capital S. I cropped in very heavily but the detail holds up very well for the final image. 400mm with an 1.75m focusing distance almost makes this lens "macro-like" with the right sized subjects.
ISO200, 400mm, F5.6, 1/1600 seconds
This guy was hunting about 30ft off-shore at Lac Bay and as long as you don't get too close you will come away with solid shots. They tend to stay perfectly still for long periods of time waiting for small fish and crabs to venture by. This shot sort of displays the out of focus highlights (bokeh) of the lens. I would say it's neither better or worse than the Canon equivalent if such a feature is important to you.
ISO200, 400mm, F5.6, 1/1900 seconds
The lens is tailor made for sports/action subjects and I spent most of an afternoon reeling in shots of the windsurfers from the comfort/shade of my lounge chair. It was an amazing day with abundant light and lot's of fast moving action.
When i messed up a shot it was purely my technique or lack thereof. It's been a long time since I've shot anything outside of cycling and volleyball and these surfers were moving deceptively fast. I finally remembered that the camera was just a tool and I had to anticipate each shot by pre-focusing and waiting for the subject to arrive.
Bonaire is truly a magical place. I've been to many islands and while they all have some special quality to them this island just has a quality I can't quite put my finger on. Perfect weather most of the time, warm waters and a mix of so much wildlife. The best part of each day were the sunsets. I used the long end of the lens to get these compressed sunset shots focusing on just the clouds. You can bet I'm going to be making some large prints of these for my walls.
Someone asked what the subject isolation ability of the lens was so I put together this sample. The lens setting is at 400mm and shot wide open at F5.6 with the focus obviously being on the shell. The side image is what is behind the shell at a distance I estimate at 40 to 50ft. however I should point out that this is a factor of several things...Aperture, Focal Length, Distance to Subject and Distance of Subject from the Background. At an effective 600mm focal length you can blur the background until your blue in the face.
If you are a Fujifilm user and you shoot wildlife, sports or anything that needs this kind of focal range don't think about it. Get this lens. It's big, it's heavy and it extends when you zoom out to 400mm but it's impossible given current technology to make this smaller. The build quality is to an extremely high tolerance. I had it in the spray at the beach, got caught in a tiny bit of rain and splashed it in the pool. All without issue.
That said it's still less hefty than the Canon and Nikon equivalents. It's been awhile since I've messed with any of the latter but from memory Nikon has a 200-500mm F5.6 and a 200-400 F4 variants. Price-wise the Fujifilm is in the middle of those two. The latter sells for somewhere north of $8000 for the F4 version. The Canon version is about $1300 (version I) and Version II is about $2000.
I have zero complaints about the image quality performance and the auto-focus speed exceeded my expectations. When you nail focus the image will be sharp at F4.5 right to F5.6 without needing to stop down. In fact I found very little reason to go beyond the default sharpening settings in Adobe Lightroom CC. My post processing was limited to cropping and selective sharpening and I used the brush adjustment tool to paint in selective Clarity, Shadow and Highlights.
There are few prime lenses in the 300-600mm range that can match this sharpness and to find the few that can you have to spend a lot more cash. The Canon 600mm F4 L lens will set you back $12,000. You read that right...$12,000 and I have friends who can pay an entire year's rent and still have some change left over with that money. The image quality of that lens is second to none and for that money it better be.
The single best feature that makes the Fujinon imminently versatile is that OIS (Optical Image Stabilizer). It's so good that I was able to hand hold 95% of my shots with an excellent keeper rate. A tripod/Monopod is one less piece of gear to carry if you expect to be shooting in good light and are strong enough to hold the lens for extended periods.