Fuji 100-400mm lens review (long)

To: 'Birding Aus' <>
Subject: Fuji 100-400mm lens review (long)
From: Paul Dodd <>
Date: Mon, 14 Mar 2016 04:25:06 +0000
Hi Birders,

This is a post about bird photography and camera equipment, so if you're not
interested then please don't bother reading any further.

As you would most likely know from my previous posts, I generally shoot
Nikon when I'm out birding, so today I'd like to bring you something a
little different - Fujifilm.

I have had the wonderful Fuji X100S from the moment it was released in
Australia. A truly lovely camera - reminiscent of rangefinders from the
1950s and 1960s. This camera has a fixed 35mm equivalent lens, so not a lot
of use for birding. However, Fuji have an entire range of X cameras,
including the X-E2, X-T1, X-T10 and X-PRO2 - these are all exchangeable lens
cameras (like a DSLR) but these cameras are all mirrorless. Mirrorless
cameras have some distinct advantages over DSLRs, not the least of which is
that there is no mirror, so one less thing to go wrong and, more
importantly, no unwanted vibration when the mirror slaps up. Secondly, the
image that you see in the electronic viewfinder (EVF) is what will be
recorded when you depress the shutter for the simple reason that the main
sensor is also used to deliver the image to the viewfinder - this allows
accurate control of exposure and is almost (but not quite) "What You See Is
What You Get". Thirdly, for the most part, mirrorless cameras are
considerably smaller and lighter than DSLRs - a real boon when walking
around or travelling. Not all is wine and roses though, there are problems
with mirrorless cameras. The most notable problem is the electronic
viewfinder - this is NOT the same as looking through a direct optical path
to the subject, it is an electronic representation of that view and the EVFs
often suffer from a lag - the subject moves and the view moves just a tad
later (we're talking milliseconds here, but it is surprising how the brain
can detect even this amount of lag). Another issue with mirrorless cameras
has been that the range of lenses is not as great as for DSLRs, especially
towards the long end. There are ways around this through the use of
adapters, but they bring their own problems.

I spent Saturday with my Fuji X-T1 ($1,180) and one of Fuji's latest lens
additions, a 100-400mm zoom ($2,485). Many birders will know the 100-400mm
range because they have seen or used the famous Canon lens ($2,630) with the
same range (I'll write another post on the latest version of that lens
another time). The Fuji X-T1, like all of Fuji's X cameras is an APS-C sized
sensor. For those that don't know, camera sensors come in a variety of sizes
- so called, "Full Frame" because they are close to the old 35mm film frame
sized; "DX" or "APS-C" or various other manifestations of sensors that are
around 63-67% of the size of a 35mm frame; Micro 4/3s - smaller again and
used in Olympus mirrorless cameras, amongst others; 1" - a smaller Nikon
format; and so on. APS-C is a size that anyone that shoots the
non-full-frame Canon and Nikon DSLRs will be familiar with - to the point
that most manufacturers make specific lenses for this size sensor. Using a
smaller sensor offers users a "multiplying effect" or "crop factor" that
means that lenses appear to be longer by the size difference from full-frame
sensor. The Fuji X-T1's crop factor is 1.5 and this means that a 100-400mm
lens acts as though it were a 150-600mm lens. In addition, Fuji make a 1.4x
teleconverter specifically for this lens which means it behaves as though it
were a 210-840mm lens - this is truly in the realm of the supertelephoto
lenses. With long lens photography, the old rule of thumb was that your
shutter speed needed to be the reciprocal of the focal length in order to
hand hold it - so at 840mm, for instance, that would mean that you would
need to set the shutter speed to 1/840s, or more likely 1/1000s. At 1/1000s
you would either need a very wide open aperture or have to use a high ISO
(or "film speed") to allow enough light to strike the sensor and form a
properly exposed image. Wide open apertures are generally not possible with
long lenses so that leaves the less desirable high ISO and all of the image
noise (rather like the old film grain) that is associated with that setting.
Most long lenses these days incorporate some sort of in-lens image
stabilisation (IS) or vibration reduction (VR) for the simple reason that it
is impossible to hand-hold long lenses without some form of vibration
occurring. Fuji claim that the 100-400mm lens has "5 stops of image
stabilisation". Which means that instead of shooting at 1/1000s, you could
shoot at 1/30s without having problems with vibration. In practice, I think
that 5 stops is slightly optimistic, but I undoubtedly got 4 stops, which is
amazing. The Fuji 100-400 has maximum aperture of f/4.5 at 100mm to f/5.6 at
400mm. When you add the teleconverter, this costs one stop, taking the
maximum aperture to f/6.3 at 100mm and f/8 at 400mm.

I took my X-T1 and 100-400 and teleconverter to my usual patch, Serendip
Sanctuary near Geelong in Victoria to put it through its paces. I took some
shots without the teleconverter, but ultimately I ended up leaving it on for
most of the day. This lens is SHARP without the converter and, whilst I can
tell a difference, it is still excellent with the teleconverter attached.
Serendip is a great place to try out cameras and lenses and combinations -
it has the advantage that you can get relatively close to the captive
animals, but you still have the challenges of regular birding and bird
photography outside of the enclosures. All-in-all I found that the
combination was good for bird photography - provided that the subject is
relatively static. Certainly it is lightweight compared to a comparable DSLR
kit, although the Fuji lens is of similar size to the Canon. The camera and
lens are weatherproofed so you don't need to worry about a spot of rain, but
I don't think I'd take it into a full-on downpour! The lens itself has
easily accessible controls, including a nifty "lock" function that prevents
the lens extending to 400mm when walking with it hanging by the camera strap
from your shoulder. The lens hood is plastic, but locks on securely - it is
not possible to put it on askew - and has a little window that you can open
to adjust a polarising filter, if you had one attached. My major complaint
about the build of the lens is the silly, tiny tripod foot. I didn't try
this on a tripod, but it has one of those feet that is going to simply twist
when attached to the tripod because it is too small. Fortunately Kirk
Enterprises in the US are about to release an Arca-Swiss compatible
replacement foot
R_XF.html - or, if that gets truncated, try With the
teleconverter attached there is a small amount of rotational "play" between
the lens and the camera body - but certainly no more than I have experienced
with Nikon or Canon lenses with teleconverters fixed.

Using the camera and lens combination opened up a number of issues and
potential issues. The most noticeable problem is that, when the
teleconverter is attached, and the lens is at full extent, the widest
aperture is f/8. It is only recently that "Prosumer" DSLRs could autofocus
at f/8 - normally f/5.6 was the maximum (which is why Canon don't recommend
a teleconverter with their 100-400mm lens). At f/8, the Fuji X-T1 *can*
autofocus, but it is not quick - the focus "hunts" and I missed many photo
opportunities because of that. A second issue is the electronic viewfinder
on the camera. Whilst the Fuji viewfinders are some of the best in the
world, and certainly some of the fastest, I absolutely did notice the lag -
when waiting for "action" from the subject I felt that more often than not I
was that fraction of a second late in pressing the shutter. This also meant
that using this combination on birds in flight (BIF) was not easy - in
actual fact, I got no good BIF shots during my day, when normally, with the
Nikon combination, I would get quite a few, most of which would be
"keepers". This does call into question the ability of this combination on
pelagics where most shots are flight shots. I will give it a go on my next
boat trip. That being said, I have seen samples from other photographers
using this kit featuring birds in flight, so it could simply be a matter of
more practice with this particular rig.

The last negative I would like to mention is actually not a problem with the
camera or the lens, or even with the combination - it is squarely to do with
the person behind the equipment, but in saying that the problem is not
obvious until photos are reviewed (I tend not to "chimp" my photos in the
field very much - simply because I can't see the screen without glasses!) I
mentioned before that the lens offered 4-5 stops of image stabilisation. I
also tend to shoot aperture priority with my Fuji for the most part (that is
where I set the aperture, but the camera controls shutter speed). So, I
happily set my aperture at f/5.6 without teleconverter attached, f/8 with it
attached. The camera decided that because I have so much image stabilisation
the shutter speed could be reduced as low as 1/60s - and sure enough, when I
look at my images the background or branch and other elements of the
photographs are perfectly sharp. HOWEVER, and this is the problem, birds
move, don't they! Even when sitting still, they move slightly. At 1/60s the
slightest movement of the subject will cause motion blur, and I found a lot
of that. The solution would be to switch to shutter priority, letting the
camera decide the aperture once I had set my shutter speed, or to switch to
manual mode. This is a bit of a beginner error, but I am so used to my Nikon
rig which is permanently in manual mode that it didn't even occur to me to
change anything.

In the balance, this is definitely a great lens. It is sharp - much sharper
than I was expecting, and certainly sharper than the original Canon
100-400mm at all extensions. Even at 400mm I could extract the fine feather
detail around a bird's eye, which I always use as a benchmark. With the
teleconverter on the range of the lens is incredible. 840mm at f/8 is not
too shabby, and the cost in terms of image degradation because of the
converter is negligible. The lens is not too heavy, it is well made and does
not feel "plasticky" in any way. In the end, the worst I can say is that
shooting birds in flight or anticipating the action will take lots of
practice, but other than that I would definitely recommend this combination.
Note, I do have a Fuji X-E2 as well, but have not tried the lens on that
camera body.

My photos can be found on my website at:

Because that will most likely be truncated, here is a shortened version:

The day was overcast and grey so shooting at f/8 was always going to be a
struggle. The earlier photos were mostly "snapshots" as I was getting used
to the equipment, but hopefully they get better as the day progressed!

Paul Dodd
Docklands, Victoria

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