When I was booking my trip to Australia, other than planning my Visual Poet Experience Workshop in Melbourne, I knew I would like to rent a car and drive along the Great Ocean Road. That is when I started to ponder my gear choices for this trip. After all, my swimming shorts were already in the bag and I had acquired my own Akubra.
First, I thought about the GF 110mm F2. There is no question that this fast lens has quickly became the favourite of many, including me, for good reason. It’s fast with beautiful rendering, the right dose of micro-contrast and magical bokeh (nice eyes – sorry, can’t see the eyebrows). Indeed, it’s one of the best lenses I have ever used.
Then I thought about the GF 120mm F4 OIS Macro lens. I really like this original offering from Fujifilm. I think this lens has been getting a bad rap and it deserves more love. It’s bitingly sharp, if not the sharpest of all GFX lenses, with some even arguing it could be too sharp (can you believe it!?). I found it great for landscape, travel and some portraiture, especially because it comes with an excellent OIS system. When I find an image stabilization, lens or in-camera important, such a mechanism takes on another meaning in medium format where the slightest movement affects the quality of the image in a big way.
So, as I was scrutinizing my choices, Fujifilm came out with the GF 100-200mm F5.6 OIS lens. Yes, I thought, that is exactly what I would like to take to Australia other than the GF 32-64mm F4 zoom. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect. Koalas and kangaroos watch out!
BUILD AND MECHANICS
The first thing that struck me when I opened the white box and held the lens in my hands was its size and weight. For the medium format telephoto zoom lens it appeared to be very light and quite small, especially after shooting with a brilliant but enormous GF 250mm F4 OIS a few weeks earlier. In fact, the lens weighs almost the same as the GF 110mm F2 (around 1 kilogram) – not bad for a medium format zoom. When inspecting the lens more closely, I found it feels as solid as other GF lenses with no apparent shortcuts in its build.
The lens has the WR label, which means weather-resistant – sealing that I tested quite extensively with other XF and GF lenses during my R-A-I-N project, never experiencing any problems other than uncontrolled sneezing and coughing. Of course, I wouldn’t submerge either the lens or a photographer, but even heavy rain should not cause problems. Given the main purpose of this lens, there is no need to panic if a sudden storm catches a lost soul by surprise.
For technical devotees, the lens consists of 20 elements in 13 groups including two super Extra-Low Dispersion Glass lenses and one aspherical lens to reduce chromatic and field curvature aberrations. The lens has been designed to use with the 1.4x teleconverter (GF1.4 TC WR) for those who want to extend the range to 140-280 (that makes it a 111-221mm range in 35mm terms).
There is no question that the F5.6 ruffled some feathers to say the least. When the lens was announced, the online forums went berserk crying “wolf.” How could Fujifilm produce such a slow lens? Was I taken by surprise? Certainly not.
First, the F5.6 on the medium format system is not the same as the F5.6 on full frame or APS-C. Second, many people who cannot live without a high-speed glass and spend hair-raising amounts of money acquiring one (F2 or faster, I guess), usually go out and then shoot at…F5.6 or F8, rarely if ever going wide-open. I have seen this over and over again. Keep in mind that at F2, there is already a challenge getting just the eyes in focus. There is certainly a trend in claiming to own the fastest lens ever. Third, we have to be realistic. A super-fast medium format telephoto zoom lens would be huge – I mean gigantic and super heavy. I won’t even mention the cost of such a beast. As much as we all like to be exhilarated, few of us could afford it or use it in real-life situations. It reminds me of a friend who owns a super car but almost never drives it because it is so unbearably uncomfortable.
So let’s get back to the GF 100-200mm lens. With the F5.6 aperture, Fujifilm managed to keep the lens very affordable and relativity light and small, which clearly suggests that Fujifilm has been aiming at landscape and travel photographers, leaving them the change for a plane ticket or two. How considerate!
Indeed, I became a travel photographer when I packed my gear for the 16-hour flight to Australia. No, I wasn’t flying 737 Max – I wouldn’t risk my lens!
After shooting for a while with the GF 110mm F2, it was such a relief to put the image-stabilized lens on my GFX 50S, especially because I am not the most stable person out there in terms of posture or visual interests! When shooting I get easily excited when I find the first piece of a visual puzzle that fits the narrative I am trying to convey. As you can imagine in situations like this, my shooting discipline goes out of the window. Fortunately, the OIS on the GF 100-200mm came to the rescue again and again, providing at least 4-5 of stops of correction.
It works really well. I haven’t experienced any problems with the lens not being able to lock focus. Having said that, I am a very slow photographer, so most lenses are much faster than I am.
After shooting hundreds of images and reviewing them carefully, I concluded that the GF 100-200 F5.6 is not as razor sharp as the GF 120mm F4 or GF 250mm F4 and it doesn’t render as gently as the GF 110mm F2 (for obvious reasons). Wait a minute! No need for an internet meltdown! The GF 100-200mm has its own unique look, which is a good thing. It is even-tempered and calmer than the GF 120mm F4 and it works really beautifully with landscape vistas. This is quite apparent in images shot along the Great Ocean Road. The Twelve Apostles (I know it is now seven for those who insist on accuracy) show this lens’s gentle temperament quite well. As such, it works marvellously for what was intended – landscape and travel.
When I was photographing people, I clearly missed the magic of the 110mm F2. Having said that, it doesn’t take away from the GF 100-200mm but rather reconfirms the brilliance of the GF 110mm F2 for portraiture work. Yes, even portraiture can be done using this lens during your travels. Don’t believe me? Check out these images taken by Damien Lovegrove.
In recent years, gear review sites went crazy over A to B and C to D comparisons regardless of the price of the product or the intended audience. So medium format is being compared to APS-C and Porsche to Toyota. Remarkably, some people find no difference whatsoever. Well, if I was looking for a car with four wheels as my only criteria, such comparisons would work for sure. After all, those comparisons, regardless of how insane they can be, are a magnet for internet eyes – many of them, and this brings in advertising revenue. What’s wrong with me then? With the US$1,995 price tag for the telephoto medium format zoom, this lens becomes a no-brainer and I am certain it will find its way into the bag of many travel and landscape photographers. It’s a medium format lens at the price of a full frame zoom.
Those who are waiting for the elusive $10,000 F2 zoom lens in medium format will never be satisfied with this offering, regardless of its intended use. For those who want to have in focus a little more than the top of the nose of their beloved pet, this lens is a true workhorse. Next time when I head out to photograph Australia’s outback, the hills of Palouse or details of Paris architecture, it’s exactly what I would like to pack with me, other than sunscreen.
For those who want to travel light (in MF terms) the GF 100-20mm F5.6 lens completes the package. Now as the GF 100-200mm F5.6 lens joined the GF 32-64 F4 zoom, there are no more excuses for travel and landscape photographers but to go out and capture the vistas and cities of the world without any limitations.
HOW I SHOT WITH THIS LENS
Winter in Vancouver
Before I left for Australia, I had the chance to photograph a very unusual snowstorm here in Vancouver. I drove to the top of Burnaby Mountain and took the following imagery.
Here is an example of the urban exploration I did with the GF 100-200mm. I could reduce my minimum shutter speed to 1/125 sec (I could easily go even further) and hand-hold my camera, allowing OIS to police my shortcomings.
12 Apostles (7 to be exact)
The 12 Apostles is clearly the number one attraction on the Great Ocean Road in Victoria, Australia. While I usually try to avoid this sort of tourist spot, I found the view simply spectacular. We only had one chance to photograph the site and we were incredibly lucky. When we drove from Melbourne to the coast the sky was cloudy and dull. The moment we arrived at the viewing platform, the clouds opened and the sun hit the rocks. The stormy blue skies completed the show for us. The viewing platform was quite limited in terms of position so the 100-200 zoom turned out to be very handy. We were standing there for about an hour admiring the ever-changing light and experimenting with different focal lengths. Magic! I shot from F5.6 all the way to F16 without any problems. Here are some images from the Twelve Apostles.
AROUND THE HOUSE
One afternoon when vising a friend in Adelaide, I decided to shoot some imagery around the house. It was a great visual exercise walking around his backyard and finding these pieces of seeing. All images were handheld and due to excellent image stabilization, they all turned out to be sharp.
Finally, here is the promised photo of a kangaroo 🙂
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