I think I've just put the finishing touches on my Fuji "tool kit" for my photography and video production company. I make a lot of buying decisions that might make no sense whatsoever for non-professional users and in this case I went over the top in terms of what I usually do when I adopt a system. Normally I concentrate on populating the lens inventory with lenses that range (and I'll use full frame (35mm) equivalent focal lengths for ease of discussion) from about 20mm or 24mm to about 200mm. Over the course of my career that is the focal length range that I use most often. But when I finally decided to dive deeply into the Fuji system my intent was less about streamlining and optimizing and more about opening up new ways of shooting more things than I had allowed myself before.
My trip to Iceland pushed me to think about shooting both wider and longer, when it comes to landscapes. I've always pooh-poohed landscape photography because it never seemed to fit into my narrow idea of my core business but after that trip and the time spent shooting on (sometimes) beautiful and remote locations around the U.S.A. I've softened a bit in my regards to photographs of places.
The Fuji 8-16mm f2.8 which I wrote about yesterday, and earlier this afternoon, is the widest zoom lens I've ever owned. While my first attempts to understand interesting ways to use the lens were a bit stilted the potential, in some tight situations, is obvious and the unusual perspectives might be just the right thing to trot out when a photograph needs more of an immersive feel. In my initial tests I found the lens to be very sharp and (with a little help from computational magic) it's also a very well behaved lens. Most amazing to me is, that for a wide angle lens with such a bulbous front element, the incredible resistance to flare I saw when including sun reflections on the sides of buildings, and even in frames with the sun squarely in the frame was stunning. That makes me happy because I know that when I final figure out the best use cases for the lens I can be confident that it will deliver the results I want.
With the middle ranges of the Fuji system nicely filled out with fast zooms and nice, small primes, it seemed like it was time to reach a little bit and get more reach. The web is full of lens reviews and you can make yourself crazy trying to weigh which ones are legit and which ones are hammered out by nut jobs with no real expertise. But, on the whole, most of the reviews for the 100-400mm said pretty much the same thing: It's a really nice and sharp lens but it's priced too high! This lens should be $500 cheaper.
But the bottom line rationale for getting one (if you need or want those focal lengths) is the fact that it's the only really long lens that Fuji offers in the system. If you need a good 300, 400, 500 or 600 mm equivalent in a zoom you pretty much have to buy this lens or switch systems (or worst case, use two systems = one for a long zoom and another for everything else). When the lens went on sale with a $500 instant rebate I decided to take a chance on one and add it in as the opposite side of the extreme bookend contingent with the 8-16mm.
Here I will interrupt with a sad tale explaining why I have no sample images today....
I got up late today and almost missed the start of swim practice. I got out of bed at 8:15, grabbed a big glass of water, drained it, and rushed out of the house. I hit the pool still groggy and stiff but after a few hundred yards I started feeling like a functional swimmer again. We all blasted through the next hour and a half and by the end of workout I was wide awake, ready for coffee and for something to eat.
Coach, Ian Crocker, reminded me that today was the last day of the Women's NCAA Swim Championship at the UT Swim Center. I made a mental note to put a Fuji XH-1 in the car, along with the new Fujifilm 100-400mm lens. I thought a national championship swim meet would be the most exciting thing one could ever, in a lifetime, photograph through a camera+lens. I knew my readers would be amazed at the resulting images and many might even quit their day jobs just to become full time swim photographers! I knew the images would add thousands and thousands of new readers to my blog (including some who comment!).
After coffee with select member of my masters team, and a nurturing and uplifting (but non-vegan) lunch with my family, I headed over to the swim center. I parked a few blocks away and by the time I got to the front doors the lens and camera already felt heavier than anything (photographic) that I've grappled with since the days of owning full frame DSLR camera...
I presumed that, as an ex-Texas swimmer, an ex-UT faculty member, and a really nice guy that I'd be able to walk right in, find a seat and get to work making the kinds of images that people working with lesser subjects can only imagine. My first hurdle was having to buy a ticket. And you know how expensive world class sporting events can be... I could buy a ticket for the day for......$10.
I pulled out some cash and the kind person behind the counter started to burst my bubble. Before she sold me the ticket she thought it would be wise, on my part, to check with event security to see if I could bring "professional photographic equipment" into the venue. (See! all you naysayers! Officials at UT recognize Fuji cameras and lenses as = professional equipment). They were very polite and very firm. The lens was too long, the package too cool looking. Without approved press credentials they would not allow it in the door. A big thanks to the ticket lady for saving me a non-refundable $10.
I might have been able to make some phone calls and pulls some strings but then I decided that it wasn't that big a deal and that it was kinda selfish to use a connection just to get in and take some fun test photos. The men's nationals is next week (same venue) and that gives me a few days to line up a legitimate media client and eke out some real credentials.
I walked back to my car as it started to rain. I pulled a plastic trash bag out of my pocket and wrapped my camera. I don't care what the ads say about "weather resistant designs" I figured I've paid for this gear out of my own pocket and I'd rather not risk gear death unless I was doing it trying to get a killer shot for myself or if I was creating brilliant content for one of my clients.
So, no exciting race photographs from the UT Swim Center today. Although I did hear that Louise Hannson from USC set a new NCAA record by going 49.26 seconds in the 100 yard Butterfly. Just amazing!
So, back to the lens:
The 100-400mm is a heavy lens but a compact overall package. It features a million ED elements and has image stabilization that's billed at 5 stops of goodness. It has a nice tripod mount because it would be so wrong to put a lens this big and heavy on a camera and let the camera bear the weight on a tripod. The lens is one of their WR lenses which means that it's weather resistant, and it's also a "red badge" lens which seems to mean Fuji likes what they came up with and wanted to brag about how good they think it is.
So, what will I use this beast for? Well, as I mentioned just above, I think (within the Fuji system) it's the perfect lens for photographing swim competitions and probably also cross country races. Then, of course, there is the ability to get wonderful compression effects in landscapes. And I can't discount the ability to reach in and pull out an individual face in theater productions or corporate showcases. Come to think of it shots of corporate speakers on stage would be a great use!
As with the 8-16mm, I bought this lens to open up my brain to different ways of shooting in the hopes that it would extend my creative boundaries in photography. Hoping they will both push me a bit. So far though my only advantage in owning and carrying this lens with me is to have my gear designated as "too professional" for entry to a cool event. I'm okay with that, I can cool my heels here and write about it and that's almost as much fun.
side note: What do the rest of you do with the boxes that swaddle new equipment you buy? If I kept every box I think I'd have a box warehouse here and that would just flat out be a fire hazard. Do you recycle them? Flatten and store them? Toss them in the garbage? Cherish them hoping they will increase eventual resale value? Ignore them and hope they will go away? Sell them to collectors?
The folks at Precision Camera no longer want, keep or need the boxes for equipment that they accept as trades or take on consignment. What that means to me is that after I test something, and it turns out to work as it should, I flatten the boxes and put them into the recycling bin.
It's a way of embracing my ownership and moving into the future. You might have a different approach. If it's better than mine I'd live to hear it.
A note about the new lens. I bought it because the price dropped. For the moment it's $1399. Much better than $1900....