About a month ago, Fujifilm Canada asked me if I might like to try out their new Super Telephoto XF100-400mm F4.5-5.6R LM OIS WR Lens on some wildlife up here in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories for a book project they are working on. There isn't too much wildlife in Toronto they said. Always up for a challenge, I eagerly agreed however I've never really considered myself a wildlife photographer. Don't get me wrong I will most definitely attempt to photograph a wild animal if it crosses my path but I was never one to go and sit in the bush and wait for them. A friend of mine visited in January and I took him out for a drive along the Ingraham Trail looking for Bison. We drove about three hours before we spotted a fox crossing the road and on the hunt. We both managed to get some great shots and after 2.5 hours of driving we were elated that we had seen something! Shortly afterwards we were fortunate to encounter Bison herd which we also photographed. Beginners luck I think.
I received the lens along with Fuji's new 1.4X Teleconverter and my first impression was that this was a big and heavy lens. At 1375 grams without the hood it was significantly heavier than my XF50-140 which weighs 995 grams however it is still lighter than the Nikon 70-200 F2.8 that I used to carry around all the time. The reach in 35 mm format is 152-609mm without the teleconverter which is some serious reach. The lens certainly is bigger than I had intended to carry when downsizing my gear from Nikon, however I do believe that one should have all the tools for the kind of photography you like to do. A fixed lens often won't cut it when out doing landscape, sports or wildlife photography. A zoom lens just might save you from getting to close to a wild animal or falling off a cliff. Fortunately I still had my Black Rapid strap from my Nikon days and I used it when I took that lens out for a full day photoshoot covering the Long John Jamboree festival. And at the end of the day I didn't find it really that heavy.
Having just lost a lens hood on both my xf10-24 and XF16mm lenses I quite liked the locking feature on the XF100-400. Below is size comparison photograph between the XF50-140 and the XF100-400.
So the first thing I do with it is take it along where I walk my dog. Dogs aren't wildlife but large friendly dogs make good target practice.
While at the park I couldn't help but photograph the trees as they were covered in hoar frost and I wanted to see what kind of bokeh I would get. The following images were shot between 150-400mm wide open, aperture priority and handheld.
Actually I was quite pleased with it's ability to compress the scene with its tight composition. And I thought the bokeh was quite beautiful.
I did manage to capture a lonely bird sitting on top of a faraway tree with something in his beak. (I was quite impressed with the reach of this lens.)
But I remembered my assignment was to photograph wildlife so Eddie and drove to the city dump... There we would find plenty of Ravens and hopefully a fox or two.
My thoughts were gosh this was more tricky than I thought. First of all Ravens are not all that attractive and at the city dump with no sunshine they are even less so. Ravens being jet black require some sunlight to bring out the details, nevertheless one could at least make a good silhouette shot with a diving bird. I did find tracking the birds quite challenging as well. I didn't know whether that was due to my inexperience in shooting with such a narrow angle of view or due to the limitations of my XT1 camera such as the momentary blackout that occurs when shooting in High speed Continuous mode. The camera would also remind me that Focus is Fixed in each Burst when the Electronic Shutter or combination of Electronic Shutter and Manual Shutter was used.
So we drove to Old Town and found a chatty Raven perched in a sunny spot on a roof where I was able to make a nice portrait.
So we decided to head out along Highway three in search of Bison who move much more slowly.
It turns out after four hours we got skunked again, no bison and no wildlife. Street photography is much easier than this. However the Boreal Forest was strikingly beautiful with a fresh layer of hoar frost.
At this point I was beginning to lose hope that I would actually get some good wildlife photos... The National Dog Derby 2016 would be hosted in Yellowknife the following weekend during the Long John Jamboree and since this lens is geared towards the sports and wildlife photographer I thought it might be a good idea to see what I can do there. I reasoned that a Dog Derby is kind of both wildlife and sports. So Eddie and I were off to the races. And wouldn't you know it, since we weren't looking for wildlife, three coyotes decided to show up on Great Slave Lake where the dog races were being held. They were so far away we could hardly tell what they were. I was glad to have the reach of the XF100-400 with the 1.4x Teleconverter. That was the only way we could tell what was happening. I kind of wanted to get closer to them but not being wildlife photographer but didn't want to put myself in a risky situation.
I quite enjoyed shooting the National Dog Derby.
I still however wasn't ready to admit defeat and wanted to capture some of the wildlife of the north. I've been wanting to capture the Ptarmigan since we got here in October but was always unable due to not being close or fast enough. Truth is my dog Saydee would see them before I did and chase them away. The Ptarmigan is sometimes referred to as a northern chicken. It isn't too bright and would rather run away from a threat than fly. They are however brilliantly camouflaged being full white in winter time and in the summer they take on a earthy spotted colour. One unusually mild Sunday, Eddie and I drove up to Cameron Falls about an hour drive north of Yellowknife to see what we would find.
What I found was animal tracks and a waterfall where I attempted to see how slow a shutter speed I could use so as to blur the water without a tripod.
On the way home, I spotted a Ptarmigan nestled in a Willow tree. We stopped the car and I was delighted to find a whole group of them. I got one shot with the 100-400 lens but then decided to put on the 1.4X Teleconverter so I could get closer to them without scaring them away. I think by this time my skill with this lens had improved. I had used High Speed continuous focus and many of the shots were crisp and clear. Again all of these images were shot hand-held.
Encouraged by this success we went out again looking for a Fox. With the XF1.4X Teleconverter on, F8 is the fastest aperture therefore one requires plenty of light and fast shutter speed. The days are getting longer here so 7:30pm in the evening was the perfect time. I do realize that the following pictures may have been sharper if I had set the ISO to 800 rather than AutoISO which was 400 for this set.
Other uses for this lens... one can capture the most spectacular sunsets with this lens.
On the whole I think its a great lens. The build is solid; it is quick and silent to focus and has an amazing reach and the 5 stop OIS (Image stabilization) is nothing short of incredible. Imagine handheld shooting at 400 mm at 1/40th of second is totally doable with this lens! If I were a wildlife photographer or a sports photographer I would definitely want this lens in my kit.
I'd like to thank Fujifilm Canada for allowing me to play with it.
For a more detailed lens review I invite you to have a look at X-Photographer Scott Grant Lens Review.