XF100-400mm explores Skye - Ben Cherry

The XF100-400mm is a lens I have been waiting for ever since it popped up on the lens road map years ago. The anxious wait to get more reach for the X-Series system has been worth it - sharp, fast AF, super OIS and in a surprisingly light, but well built finish. The briefest of summaries but if that is all you were looking for... well there you go! Below I'll talk more in-depth about my views and shooting experiences with the lens.

The XF100-400mm is surprisingly versatile

Black Cullins

Black Cullins

Clouds pass over the top of the Black Cullins on the Isle of Skye, Scotland.

X-Pro2 with Xf100-400mm at 138mm, F16, ISO100, 17 seconds

Before we go any further, to make it crystal clear - I was commissioned by Fujifilm UK to produce a video with my good friend and cinematographer Ismar Badzic on the lens. However, the views after the video are entirely my own.

Background

A super telephoto zoom was the one lens that, for me, was really missing from the X-Series set up. Having used this system exclusively for approaching two years now, a focal length longer than 300mm equiv. would have been very helpful on some occasions last year. So much so that midway through a six month placement in Costa Rica I had a friend bring out an ancient Nikon 300mm F2.8 and a 2x teleconverter with an adapter so my X-T1 would fit. Though this helped me with more reach and surprisingly crisp images, considering the age of the glass, it was certainly not going to be around when the XF100-400mm became available. 

Frankenstein X-T1

More reach when getting close wasn't an option

X-T1 with Nikon 300mm + 2x teleconverter F8, ISO1600, 1/180. The Nikon compromise worked to a point. 

Size and Build

This is the biggest lens in the range, with similar high quality build to both the XF50-140mm and XF16-55mm. With WR (weather resistance), this lens is designed to withstand the elements, which is a good thing as it experienced snow, hale, gales and of course plenty of rain on the Isle of Skye. 

The super telephoto zoom continues on the high (and increasing) standard of build that Fujifilm is incorporating into the X-Series. I would have no trouble using this day in, day out in rugged environments as that is exactly what I intend to do with it. This lens is built for the great outdoors, with weather resistant seals throughout, helping to protect against dirt and moisture, it will withstand even extreme weather and come out in one piece and most importantly with the shot. Though the biggest lens in the current line up, taking over from the XF50-140mm, this is lighter than I expected it to be. It has a strange balance in that it feels solid but also light, I’m certainly not complaining as weight and space were my primary reasons for switching to the X-Series in the first place. Because of its size and to a lesser extent, its weight, you’re going to want to use this on the flagship cameras only. The X-T1, particularly with the battery grip attached is clearly the best option, giving a much better overall balance. Even though the X-Pro2 does extract more of the potential from this lens, being a newer camera with a better sensor and AF capabilities. Despite this, it is much nicer to shoot with on the X-T1. The central viewfinder helps to stabilise the lens allowing you to create a firmer base to shoot from, this is something to bear in mind when trying to maximise the OIS, which we’ll come onto later. Throughout my time using the lens I always felt that it had more to give and that the cameras were the limiting factor, this is a good thing as it implies that the lens is only going to get better as the system continues to develop.

X-Pro2, XF100-400mm at 400mm F8, ISO800, 1/500

Image Quality

It is worth talking about but it was never a concern for me, this presumption was built on using nearly every lens in the Fujifilm line up and they are all exceptionally sharp, certainly for my uses. Sharp wide open and also stopped down, it is always nice to know that as long as you have enough light to work with then you should be able to come out with sharp images.

X-T1, XF100-400mm + 1.4x teleconverter at 560mm F9, ISO1600, 1/200

OIS

Most impressive feature, hands down. This is a relatively slow lens, the portability of the lens sacrifices the aperture size. Pretty standard and pretty tricky to work around when fundamental physics stand in your way. However, the OIS makes up for quite a lot of this ‘lost’ light. I was able to photograph waterfalls handheld, getting nice motion in the water at shutter speeds all the way down to 1/15!! And that is throughout the zoom range. Bonkers. For someone who will avoid carrying a tripod if at all possible, this is a huge deal. If subject movement is more of a problem then there is only so much OIS can help, but then you can just raise the ISO and keep on shooting. Particularly with the X-Pro2 the combo didn’t phase me at all when working in gloomy conditions.

X-T1, XF100-400mm at 400mm F5.6 ISO1600 1/2700

Auto Focus

If there is one part of the system which is constantly discussed (mostly by those that haven’t used it) more than any other, it is AF. Does it work - yes. Does it track - yes. Is it going to beat a £5000 SLR - no. Simple and to the point. As I eluded to before, the X-Pro2 got more out of the lens than the X-T1. I tested the lens mounted on both cameras photographing sea birds. The X-T1 was lucky enough to witness a white tailed sea eagle flyby, in hard backlit conditions and though it lost the bird when it fell below the bright, backlit skyline for a while, as contrast suddenly dropped, it did a very admirable job and produced results that I am pretty pleased with. Though I wasn’t able to directly replicate the test with the X-Pro2 I did see a definite improvement in responsiveness when it came to tracking. In fact, from my point of view, particularly when working with erratic subjects like birds, the one thing that Fujifilm need to develop further is viewfinder lag, once that evolves a bit more then I think tracking capabilities will dramatically improve without anything else being done to the autofocus system itself.

In single focus mode the lens is very snappy throughout the zoom range. I never missed a shot in this mode.

X-Pro2 with XF100-400mm at 400mm F5.6 ISO800 1/2900

Taken in very strong winds on a cliff edge handheld.

Versatility

Surprising is how I would summarise this - With an effective focal range of 150-600mm this isn’t exactly the first feature that springs to mind. And yet once we had finished making the video and my focus on the lens lessened, I still found myself pulling it out much more often than the XF50-140mm. A lens that had been my go-to for the past year and had helped to take some of the my best photos. The opportunity for zooming in further was such a pull factor on Skye where it was often difficult to get really close to wildlife and/or remote landscapes. Last year I spent 9 months of the year in tropical rainforests, amazing, dark and intimate - perfect for the XF50-140mm, but out on these cold, barren hillsides, the XF100-400mm rained supreme. I think my encounter with the highland cattle is the best way to summarise the versatility of the lens. Upon approaching it had a suitable enough focal range to set the animals in the environment and then to also zoom in on individuals to compress them against the background. Once closer, the lens allowed me to get some fantastic detail images and also some nice shots of multiple cows together. I wouldn’t have been able to do the same with the XF50-140mm as that would have meant getting too close and those sizeable horns warranted respect!

X-T1 with XF100-400mm at 400mm F5.6 ISO800 1/240

Highland Lick

Verdict

If you’ve just skimmed to the bottom of this article then I’ll put you out of your misery - it’s a great lens. Superb in fact. I highly recommend it. Yes it may be big and dwarf some of the X-Series cameras but this is a 600mm equiv. lens! A lens that I can carry all day alongside plenty of other kit in a standard, carry on backpack. I have to be able to carry all of my equipment for a day in a backpack and this lens fits that model very well. From landscapes to sport and wildlife, this lens is going to prove very handy for a surprisingly wide range of photographers.

Golden Sunrise with XF100-400mm

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