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Long shots with the Fujinon XF55-200mm F3.5-4.8 R LM IOS

· 20.November.2020

It’s not the fastest long lens out there but the original Fujinion 55-200mm is still a class act.

Late summer 2013 and I was heading off on a long overland bike trip through Yunnan in Southwest China. This was when and why I purchased the 55-200mm Fujinon zoom. It was the second of what would become my personal holy trinity of the original X series zoom lenses; the first being the 18-55mm, and the third the 10-24mm.

These are the self same lenses that are still the cornerstones of my X series glass, and I still use them for most of my non-critical professional action shooting situations, and particularly always my travel work (or I did, in those distant BC – Before Corona – days when we could travel).

Since it was first released I’d been using an X-E1 body, which was a temperamental box of surprises, and one that I was still nervous about from reliability point when I set off on the trip, (having had it lock up a few times). My plan was to take an ultra light camera kit, with the X-E1 and just the 18-55mm, plus a compact as backup. For me the setup was more than adequate enough to shoot the bike travel features I had lined up for various magazines. However, I was getting a little earache from one editor who was concerned at my lack of focal length options (unwarranted earache). Somewhat under duress I went out and purchased the long lens for the trip, along with a Sony RX100 mark 2 as the backup camera (which was hardly used on that trip).

Size wise the 55-200mm was a beast of a lens in comparison to the tiny 18-55mm that I’d been using, and yet it still weighed in at a faction of the heft of the Canon 70-200mm f2.8 that I’d normally travel with. Every extra piece of gear is crippling extra bulk that really mounts up when travelling by bike at high altitude.

From the get go it was clear that the lens was solid and well made, although it was rather sluggish when it came to autofocus ability. I tried all sorts of configuration to speed it up, but all without any joy. On that trip I was “lucky” not to be shooting critical and fast moving action, which was just as well as the 55-200 was seriously hunting to grab focus much of the time, including when trying to track a distant subject at a moderate pace.

Even with some of the distant images that I though I’d nailed at the time the focus was still out, and so I shot most of the journey on the 18-55mm and only pulled out the longer option for non-critical and stationary shots.

Following on from this trip I headed on to Taiwan, and left the 55-200mm at home as I had a bike race to shoot during the trip. I decided to lug around a Canon 5D3 and the 70-200mm lens to be safe and sure, and am glad I did.

That was pretty well how it played out for a long while, working with 2 systems. Every now and then I found myself using the lens, but when it came to vaguely fast moving action I was just missing too many shots because of the slow autofocus to make it worth carrying around.

Enter the X-T1, and yes things did speed up some, but it was still not a partnership made for fast moving situations. Thus it was still mostly relegated to the bench whilst the super sub Canon took over, which was kind of defeating the object of miniaturising my kit.

When I did carry the Fuji long lens around and used it for slower paced shots the images were often great, and the extra 100mm or so (35mm equivalent) of focal length reach slowly lured me into carrying it along for that reason alone.

It wasn’t until I first got an X-T2 that I could feel a decent level of improvement in autofocus speed, which made it more viable for all but critical action work. I’ve tried a copy of the same lens on an X-T30, and it was markedly faster in the autofocus department, which does make it far more rounded and useful as a lens.

Sure enough there are faster and bigger Fujinon lenses out there, lenses that will leave it smoked when it comes to autofocus and low light performance, and I expect that the new X-T3 firmware update and the X-T4 will speed it up to a level of acceptability for many users.

With the speeding up of performance on the newer X series bodies it’s a lens that has now well and truly earned its place in my travel line up, and it is a lens that I would rely on for many other situations, excluding crucial fast moving subjects (head on especially).

It’s a quality piece of glass that produces great results, and is a great lightweight alternative to the bigger 50-140mm. It also gives you that extra reach too, making it well worth investing in for anyone, possibly even for those who already own the bigger 50-140mm.

I often find myself using the lens on a lightweight travel tripod, and it is a little front heavy, and could really use a lens collar (which I have been unable find), and when hand held you do need to be very stable in holding the lens at the longer focal length end.

For sure, I won’t be selling this lens any time soon. Would I rush out and buy the same lens again if I didn’t have a long option? Probably yes. Although, if finances were no object. I would most likely opt for the 50-140mm first – It would be more applicable for my own fast moving work. If there was enough cash left over in the piggy bank I would also consider adding this lens purely for travel use, which is where it does come into its own, especially when paired with a recent X series body. If you don’t need that extra speed and low light performance then this lens is a no brainer for a long lens purchase.

Steve Thomas

Steve Thomas

From a very young age I've been racing and riding bicycles, all kinds of bikes, as long as they have two wheels and a saddle it works for me.
My wheels and lust for the extreme have taken me all around the world, well almost. For around 35 years I've been nomadically pedalling, paddling, scrambling and trekking my way around the globe, taking on and making my living from adventure, or rather from capturing images and trapping words from my travels. During the past 20 years, ever since I first put pen to paper and picked up a camera with publishable intent, I've earned my crust this way. With an ever growing bank of images and dusty memoirs from the trail - covering more than 50 countries and taking in countless adventures my works have, and do, find their way between and onto the covers of leading magazines, newspapers, websites, books, brochures, the odd pencil case and even TV screens. I have a huge and ever-growing back catalogue or material from around the world, and am usually available for commission - be it words, pictures or media.

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