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One Lens Challenge in Mexico City – XF50mm f/2 R WR

· 9.September.2017

When I travel with the FIA World Endurance Championship I always pack my four Fujinon zooms for their flexibility allowing me the best opportunity to get the shot quickly and easily at the race track. Sometimes I like to challenge myself by using just one prime lens and seeing what shots I can get with the limitation of one focal length.  I did this with the XF50mm f2 on a recent trip to Mexico City where I was working on the latest round of the FIA WEC.

XF50mm f/2 R WR (Image courtesy: Fujifilm)

The XF50mm f2R WR is the latest in the recent line of f2 Fujinon primes and it certainly is small, lightweight and ideal for traveling with.  I quickly found out that this diminutive lens is certainly not a compromise on build or optical quality, this is an XF Fujinon lens after all.

Downtown in Mexico City

The historic part of Mexico City, in and around the Zocolo, is a wonderful place to visit with churches, historic and modern buildings and the ‘buzz’ you will find in any major city around the world.  I was joined by my friend, and fellow Fujifilm user, Eduardo Mendoza, whose local knowledge proved to be invaluable.

The weather in Mexico during my time there wasn’t the best as the country was feeling the aftereffects of Hurricane Harvey that had devastated parts of Texas across the border in the USA. But, as always, you have to make the best of what you are presented with and, as I said earlier, I love a challenge.

The first stop was one of the many churches dotted around the historic quarter. Outside the Metropolitan Cathedral of the Assumption of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, which dominates one side of the Zocolo, there was an installation of three metre high iron statues sitting in a line. This was a striking art installation with the rusty metal immediately drawing my, and many others, attention.

Stained glass windows are one of my favourite subjects to shoot and the dome of the church we visited was ringed by a set of beautiful windows complimented by the painted ceiling that was under going restoration. The fast f2 aperture really helped in the low light conditions inside the church.

Back outside and we headed to one of the many parks around the city where an art installation made for an interesting subject to photograph.  It had also started to rain but the weather proofing on the 50mm lens and the X-T2 meant I could keep shooting without any worries.

As we moved out of the historic quarter the buildings started to get taller and more modern, but they were some older, decaying buildings scattered amongst the skyscrapers.

I also stood at the side of the road using my motorsport technique of panning to get some shots of the local taxis.  Taxis are a vital part of any city and each city has it’s own style of taxi.  I love capturing yellow cabs in Austin, black cabs in London and multicoloured cabs in Tokyo.  In Mexico City the local cabs are pink and white – very striking on the streets of the capital.

Just as things started to get interesting the rain got heavier as a storm moved in.  I had to stop shooting as the deluge flooded the roads and the international airport was closed, with flights diverted to Cancun and Acapulco.  The X-T2 and 50mm f2 might be weather resistant but I wasn’t going to test them in such bad conditions, not because I didn’t believe they would stand up to the test, it was I didn’t want to get soaked in the process.  So I headed back to my hotel.

At the track

The XF50mm f2 is not a lens you would immediately think of for sports photography, but I find the short telephoto focal length ideal for the grid and driver portraits.  I usually use the 50-140mm f2.8 or the 90mm f2 prime on the grid ahead of the race but the 50mm f2 is ideally suited to shooting in this environment.

Getting in close to the subject and using the f2 maximum aperture to isolate the subject from the background.  The AF is quick and accurate making the 50mm an ideal lens in this environment.

Moving down the grid I grabbed some shots of the drivers as they prepared for the race.  Each driver is different and they either react to you or remain deep in thought as they prepare themselves mentally for the challenge ahead during the six hour race.

At each of the nine races that make up the FIA World Endurance Championship we have pre race entertainment that is significant to the country the championship is visiting.  In Mexico there was a dance and music group demonstrating the colourful traditions of the ancient Aztec people that inhabited Mexico before the Spanish conquest.

I also decided to try the 50mm f2 trackside in the stadium area at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez and while the short prime is not the ideal lens for shooting frame filling action shots, the  fast AF and the tack sharp optics allowed me to get nice shots in the gloomy, cloud covered weather conditions.

Free Practice 1 – 6 Hours of Mexico

Conclusion

A prime lens can be limiting in a fast moving environment like a race track, but for me the advantages of a lightweight lens coupled with a fast aperture bring advantages that far outweigh the disadvantages of losing the flexibility offered by the Fujinon zoom lenses.

Downtown the fixed focal length of a prime means you have to be more considered in what you are shooting and be more creative.  My first X Series camera was the original X100, which I bought in 2012 when I went to Shanghai for the first time.

The fixed 23mm lens is what made it the ideal camera for traveling with and I came back from China with a set of images I was extremely happy with because I had to think more about my photography.  The 50mm f2 prime is an extension of this philosophy.

Yes, a zoom allows you to take different images quickly and easily, but that, for me, is just ‘snapping’.  I would rather take a more considered approach and be more creative within the limitations set by the fixed focal length of a fast prime.  It is all about quality over quantity.

The XF50mm f2R WR proved to be an ideal travel companion and, coupled with the 23mm f2 and 35mm f2 lenses, forms part of an ideal lightweight camera set up for the travel photographer.

My next one lens challenge will be with the XF16mm f1.4 in Japan in October.

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