Photographically speaking, I’m not generally a “telephoto” sort of guy. I own several long lenses, but as I don’t do a lot of wildlife or sports photography, they tend to sit in my in my cabinet unused.
This is because, that for the most part, good telephoto lenses tend to be large and somewhat unwieldy to use. I think of my Nikkor 70 200mm f2.8 VR as the prototype for this, an absolutely lovely lens, with which I have obtained very pleasing images, but one that is so large and intimidating, that it tends to inhibit the kind of surreptitious street shooting that I have come to enjoy. It is also a pain to haul it into the wilderness. So, it tends to sit on a shelf, zipped into its case. I pull it out occasionally, mainly if I wish to cover a sporting event, or will be shooting landscape from my car where it will be sitting on the front seat, as one of the collection of lenses mounted to a camera bodies that I wish to have on hand.
There is no disputing the joy of longer focal lengths, particularly for landscape shooting, for they can create novel, fascinating images. Their ability to compress space, and bring distant objects, closer to the foreground can be extremely valuable.
The classic teaching example for this, is a mountain range that looks to be far in the distance through a shorter focal length, but appears much closer to the foreground object in when a telephoto lens is utilized (this works only if the photographer moves further away with the tele, to keep the foreground image roughly the same size in both images). Thus, a long focal length lens when used correctly, can often frame a scene in a much more dramatic way than one shot with a shorter focal length (though “wide” lenses certainly have their uses).
Most smaller, and as more manageable telephoto zooms tend to be of “kit lens” level of quality, and thus uninteresting to more demanding photographers. Higher quality, faster telephoto lenses, by the nature are larger, heavier, “glassier” and thus, considerably more expensive, than kit lenses. The closest I have come to an acceptable small telephoto lens has been the Panasonic Lumix 45-200 f3.5-5 lens that originally came with the Lumix G1. I shoot it on my GH1 occasionally, but the quality of the GH1 sensor does not match the current state-of-the-art, and I use that system less and less. Someday, I may pick up a cheap G5 but for now those lenses are packed away.
Nikon does make some high-quality mid-level telephoto zooms, which are slightly lighter than their more expensive brethren are still bulky. When mounted on a digital SLR, they are hardly discrete. I have not invested in them.
So for the most part, I keep plugging along between 35 and 85 mm (equivalent) focal lengths and have been reasonably happy.
However, I did want to have a longer lens for street shooting, and wildlife “plinking”. About a month ago, I took advantage of the discounts available and purchased the Fuji XF 55-200 mm f3.5-4.8 lens. It has spent the intervening time mounted to my X Pro 1.
This is a typical Fuji XF lens, made in the style of the previous 18-55 mm lens released earlier.
It is made of metal, and perhaps very high quality plastic. He has 3 control rings for focus, zoom, and aperture selection. There is an on-off switch for the image stabilizer function. There is also a switch to allow manual vs.. automatic aperture control.
Unfortunately, the lenses extends rather far while zooming, which to me seems inelegant, if not obscene.
There is also a rather large plastic lens shade, which is undoubtedly effective, but adds significant length. It can be a struggle to get it off and on. Even so, the lens with shade mounted still fits vertically in my Think Tank bag (Retrospective 7), even with the cover closed and velcro’d. Sweet.
In use, the lens is smooth, and refined, and fits well with the “X.” camera gestalt. Its long focal length though, is poorly served by the optical view finder, and use of EVF is essentially mandatory. To me this is not a hardship, as I use the EVF 70-80% of the time anyway.
I began to use the lens in late winter at home, then on a trip to the Adirondacks, and then on my return, to shoot one of my favorite events, our local St. Patrick’s Day parade. In the little town of Wilkes Barre, St. Patrick’s Day has become an event of great enthusiasm and offers wonderful photographic opportunities. This lens allowed me to take great advantage of the circumstances.
I carried my gear in the aforementioned Think Tank Bag. For that trip, I brought the X Pro one with the long zoom along with my X100s for wide-angle and indoor shooting. Just in case, I had a 23 mm, and 35 mm f1.4 lenses available for the X Pro 1. Unlike the past, I brought no flash equipment, and did not miss it, even when shooting in dark pubs, so good are the Fuji’s at high iso shooting. This turns out to be a great combination of gear for such an event and I had a great deal of fun.
The XF55-200mm is clearly another high quality Fuji lens. It is easily as crisp (but not as fast) as my big Nikkor 70-200mm. The image stabilization allows me to easily shoot freehand, without a monopod, and still obtain critical sharpness.
It focuses quickly with the X Pro 1, again, probably not as quickly as the Nikons. Still it is more than adequate for landscape and “street” use (sports might be another matter). Manual focusing is also reasonably easy, especially given the new focus aids added to the X Pro 1 with the more recent firmware upgrades.
For a “slow” telephoto, I found the bokeh to be fairly smooth and pleasing. Given the apertures involved, it is always helpful to keep the “in focus” elements a distance from the out of focus portion of the image to enhance the effect.
I really enjoyed the ability to be very discrete, attracting little attention as I shot among the crowds even if fairly long focal lengths with the lens extended. I’m sure I looked like another hobbyist (perhaps I am).
If I have a complaint with this lens, other than the extending lens barrel, and big-ass shade, it would be the lack of availability of the lens collar with a tripod mount, which would help to better balance the lens/camera body combination on a monopod or tripod. I suspect however that in settings that I will tend to use this lens, a monopod or tripod would be an encumbrance. I’ll shoot the Nikkors when a monopod is required.
At $499 US, this lenses a steal. Its build quality, handling, and sharpness, allowing it to stand proudly among lenses that cost 2-3 times as much (the equivalent Nikkor f4 zoom costs $1399 US.)
So at least for the time being, I’m going to leave this lens mounted to the X Pro 1.
It’s time to start seeing life in a telephoto way.