Fujifilm 50-140mm f/2.8 Lens Review

bythom 50-140mm fujifilm.jpg

What is It?
Here we have a lens that a lot of people were waiting for. Coupled with the 16-55mm f/2.8, the notion was that you’d have a DSLR type of fast zoom lens set now in the Fujifilm X lineup. Be careful what you wish for. 

The problem with 140mm and f/2.8 for an APS sensor is that you’re going to get a lot of glass. The front element on this lens is 58mm (filter size is 72mm by the time you add lens barrel and threads). Moreover, there are 23 elements in 16 groups inside, so the glass weight starts adding up. All the way to just over two pounds (995g). Lengthwise, we have about 7” sticking out from the camera, though this doesn’t change as you zoom. Yes, you save about 33% of the weight from a Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8, but only about an inch and a half of length. The Nikon 70-200mm f/4 is the same length as this Fujinon, and slightly lighter, to give you a full comparison. 

50-140mm on the Fujifilm X bodies, by the way, is the equivalent of 76-213mm. This lens is just a wee bit longer than you might be used to given Fujifilm’s 1.57x crop.

There’s a tripod collar who’s foot can be removed by two thumb screws and that rotates on the camera. This is one of the better and more solid implementations of that design I’ve seen, but there’s still a teeny bit of flex with the thumb screws locked down, and I wonder how well they’ll lock down after they’ve been on and off the lens a few times. At least Fujifilm used a heavy gauge on the foot. Also note that the alignment marks for the tripod collar and lens are not click-stopped as they are on many high-end lenses: you have to align those marks visually.

Fujifilm pretty much threw all their lens technologies at this lens. Beyond the ED and Super ED elements, we’ve got Nano and MT-EBC coatings, a triple linear motor for the focus system, and 20 distinct seal points for water resistance. We’ve got a real aperture ring, though further forward than you usually expect it, and one of the smoothest zoom actions I’ve seen in a lens. Unfortunately, the lens goes from 50 to 140mm in significantly less than a quarter turn. Let’s hope you’re not searching for 78.5mm. 

As usual with Fujifilm, you also get a “bag” for the lens and a bayonet lens hood. The lens hood has a “knock out” area that you can remove for access to a polarizing filter’s ring, a nice touch, though the small black plastic knock-out is easy to lose once you remove it.

Fujifilm claims the OIS in the lens can correct up to five stops, which is about state-of-the-art for stabilization systems. 

The lens body is mostly metal, the lens hood plastic. The lens is made in Japan.

How’s it Handle?
Exactly what you’d expect for a US$1500 lens: smooth ring operation, solid click stops on the aperture ring, no movement of the front lens element during zooming or focusing, an easily adjusted tripod collar, and a solid build. Other than the short throw of the zoom ring, I have no real complaints about the handling of this lens. Well, okay, one: the OIS switch is a bit too stiff and indented for anyone who might be trying to find and use it by touch. 

Still, overall, a very nice lens with nothing to really complain about in terms of handling.

How’s it Perform?
Focus is the big issue with this lens. No, not autofocus. While not quite as snappy on autofocus as my telephoto Nikkors, the Fujifilm 50-140mm f/2.8 also isn’t languid like the Fujifilm 55-200mm. For the most part, single autofocus is made very quickly, and quite snappily. Tracking focus is good if the subject was properly acquired first, less so if the lens has to catch up. I did notice that the lens was slower to autofocus in low light and low contrast, which is counter intuitive for a fast aperture lens. There’s a bit of “good light lens” to the 50-140mm, meaning that it autofocuses as you’d expect in good light, but a bit less so as light and contrast go down. This clearly is mostly due to the camera body’s focus system, though, not that the lens suddenly gets poor in low light. 

No, it’s manual focusing that’s the real focus issue. I find the fly-by-wire aspect of the focus ring to be a little disconnected from what my hand is trying to do. It’s just too easy to under or overshoot focus, and to get there a bit too slowly when you use manual focus. What I miss from the Canon/Nikon implementations of the 70-200mm is the ability to quickly and precisely override the autofocus when I need to. I found that I was missing focus any time I tried that in fast action.

On the other hand, the OIS is quite good on this lens, but note that it is not tripod aware. Turn it off when on a support system. Fujifilm claims a five-stop reduction due to an improved gyro system, and I can’t find anything to disclaim that contention.

Center sharpness seems excellent throughout, with only a small bit of contrast loss wide open. Edges and corners get weaker wide open as you zoom in. The edges take until f/5.6 to get perfectly crisp at virtually all focal lengths. Note that the lens shows a bit of field curvature at the wide end, though not enough to get worried about.

As with all lenses Fujifilm, you have to pay a little attention to what the in-camera corrections are doing versus what the lens is actually doing for vignetting, chromatic aberration, and linear distortion. Vignetting is significant at f/2.8 and 140mm even with the corrections, and very high without those corrections. As you zoom out this problem mostly goes away. If you’re deeply concerned about vignetting, you’ll want to get to f/5.6 if you can. 

Flare tendency isn’t bad generally, but when the lens flares, it flares across a large portion of the frame, and these flares tend to be magenta/green colorations, and not just aperture opening echoes. That said, you can generally shoot into the sun and not get flare. But catch just the right angle and you’ll get very bad flare.   

Bokeh is pretty good, though I wouldn’t lavish the kinds of words on it that I’ve seen in other reviews. I see slightly oblong out of focus highlights at other than wide open, and very minimal onion ring issues except in OOF highlights at the extreme edges, where it appears that the lens barrel adds some shading that’s not so great. Otherwise, generally pleasing.

Final Words
I guess the disappointing thing about this lens has nothing to do with the lens. I noticed this first with the 16-55mm f/2.8 I briefly used: you’re buying these f/2.8 zooms for flexible use in low light, but the X camera’s focus systems aren’t fully up to the job in low light. Autofocus performance in low contrast, low light situations just isn’t as snappy with these two f/2.8 zooms as it is in brighter light. Which makes for a bit of irony. Okay, a lot of irony. 

Were it not for that, I’d just say buy the lens and be happy. The 50-140mm really is impressively sharp and mostly flaw free from the optical side. It’s not perfect, but boy at f/5.6 and any focal length it has real snap from edge to edge and no other optical flaw I can find. Even at f/2.8 and any focal length, the central area will be very good to excellent, and the edges good to very good. Coupled with Fujifilm’s in-camera corrections for some optical attributes (which don’t need a lot of correcting to start with), and this is a really well behaved lens. The OIS works really well, too, so you’re not going to lose that optical goodness if you have to handhold at a slightly less than optimal shutter speed. 

You can’t complain about the build quality or handling of the lens, either. My biggest complaint is a switch that’s a bit stiff and hard to find. Would that be the case for every lens, and I could stop writing reviews (or at least the handling section). Some will find the short throw of the zoom ring a bit too short (I do), others will love it for being able to move from one focal length to a distant one quickly. 

Fujifilm has certainly made a fine lens that’s going to appeal to a lot of photographers. It’s certainly their best telephoto zoom, and by a very long margin. But I was hoping for a bit faster focus in low light use. 

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