Putting the Fujifilm XF 50–140mm F2.8 R LM OIS WR to the test

Rebecca Frogley puts the Fujifilm XF 50–140mm F2.8 R LM OIS WR lens to the test on some quirky, edible subjects

Fujifilm’s XF 50–140mm F2.8 R LM OIS WR — a zoom designed for Fujifilm’s X-series lenses — offers the most frequently used telephoto focal lengths, with some serious optics to boot. Providing a 35mm-equivalent focal-length range of 76–213mm (when used in conjunction with the X series’ 1.52x crop factor), and with a minimum one-metre focusing distance across the entire zoom range, it’s ideal for not only capturing fast-moving and distant subjects in the great outdoors, but also for shooting portraits. So, with that in mind, I put the XF50–140mm to the test in the studio with some rather unconventional subjects.

Rebecca Frogley

When I first handled the lens, we were made aware of its solidity — weighty and reassuring — which is something that I’ve come to expect from the majority of the higher-end Fujifilm lenses. While it’s certainly not lightweight, sitting at just under a kilo, it balances quite comfortably on the X-T1 with a battery grip attached — and personally, I’ve never had a problem with carrying a little more glass. Give it a go on the X-T10, however, and it dwarfs the body in a combination that’s particularly front-heavy, requiring being mounted to a tripod for any comfortable use. While it’s not the lightest telephoto that we’ve come across, if you compare the Fujifilm camera and lens combination to its Canon or Nikon equivalent, the Fujifilm stands approximately 40-per-cent lighter and smaller overall. So, depending on your viewpoint, the Fujifilm XF 50–140mm marks a definitive departure from the more compact lenses in the XF line-up, or, it's a lighter alternative to the Canon and Nikon’s heavyweight offerings.

Rebecca Frogley

Weight aside, the XF 50–140mm offers a tripod mount for ease of handling. Attached to the lens, via a circular ring that can be rotated from landscape to portrait orientation, is the all-brass collar, which allows for well-balanced shooting when working from a tripod or monopod — plus, it doubles as a comfortable rig for carrying about. It doesn’t end there with Fujifilm’s well-considered ergonomics; both the focus and aperture rings on the lens are metal, as is the exterior of the lens body, lending to a high-quality finish and resulting in that oh-so-expensive coolness to the touch. The lens barrel is plastic, a little disappointing, but probably essential in keeping the weight down. The XF 50–140mm’s lens ring is generously wide with a ridged and rubberized ring band — to the delight of the chubby-fingered, no doubt. Smooth in action and without any focus creep, they offer the potential for absolute precision.

Rebecca Frogley

In the studio with controlled light, the XF50–140mm worked to it’s finest. It’s got the image quality of a prime, paired with the flexibility of a zoom — a killer combination. Standing out not only for its extreme sharpness, the lens also boasts a near-complete lack of visible distortion, lateral colour fringes, or light fall-off. A camera system is only as good as its glass, and in this case, it’s very good. The lens uses an optical construction comprising 23 glass elements in 16 groups, with five ED lens elements and one Super ED lens element. This greatly reduces the risk of chromatic aberrations — so much so, that I couldn’t find any examples within my test shots. The application of Fujifilm's unique HT-EBC (High Transmittance Electron Beam Coating) to the entirety of the lens surface, ensures ghosting and flare are controlled for sharp, clear images. Also, using the newly developed Nano-GI (Gradient Index) coating technology, which alters the refractive index between glass and air, ghosting and flare are effectively controlled against diagonal light. My edible subjects are captured in immaculate detail, and with striking clarity.

Still, not everyone has access to a full studio set-up, and telephoto lenses have always been the great love of outdoorsmen. So, here’s how the XF 50–140mm fares against the elements: it offers low temperature resistance down to -14 degrees, and boasts a weather-sealed barrel, which keeps out dust and water. The rugged, weather-tight Fujifilm XT-1 is only ever going to be so good without equally resilient lenses to match, which makes me think that perhaps Fujifilm had this perfect pair planned all along.

App Report: we delve into the world of Printicular

 
From the country that brought us the Big Mac comes another convenience — not quite as tasty, but definitely a product that the team at D-Photo agree you should sink your teeth into

Printicular is a photo-printing app, created by Hamilton-based app developer MEA, that allows users to select and print photos straight from their mobile device, and have them delivered directly to their door. It’s currently available on iOS and Android, and is free to download.

Printicular calls itself the “world’s fastest-growing photo-printing app”, and for good reason. They’ve grasped hold of the US market with a collaborative deal with Walgreens, and have received an encouraging nod from the Harvard Business Review. Printicular’s initial hype escalated in a frenzy of Instagram addicts, who have, for the first time, been able to print their square, digitally filtered snaps on the go. However, the app actually offers a whole lot more — you can login and upload images from wherever they are stored; with available sources such as Flickr, Facebook, Dropbox, and Picasa, to name a few.

There’s no syncing, cables, or account registration involved — simply open the app and connect to your platform of choice. From here you can select photos to upload and create a print order, with sizes from 4x4 inches to 8x12 inches, in both matte and gloss stock. Worldwide shipping is offered free with purchases over the value of US$25, which actually equates to a decent stack of prints with prices starting at only 32 cents each.

At first this app can appear as a bit of a novelty, however its success relies in its very simple solution to a common problem we face in dealing with images. Due to the increasingly ephemeral nature of digital photography, we often find that physical prints are only reserved for the winning image, that single moment of brilliance or masterpiece. A lot can be said for the tactile photographic print, in consideration of variable screen resolutions and colour calibrations. With the cost and time involved in ordering test prints, Printicular offers a nifty alternative with very little effort involved.

The single setback to this app is that it isn’t overly user-customizable, though an update to fix this probably isn’t far away. We found that you can only select images in a single size and paper type per order, meaning that you can’t order a single image in a variety of sizes in one purchase. We also found that once images were uploaded, there was no function to edit these selections, instead having to recreate an order from scratch. Still, if you had a series of shots on Flickr to compare in print, or perhaps some visuals sent to you via Dropbox for an upcoming meeting — this app would provide an easy printing solution.

Like anything, this app will be what you make of it. However, there’s no doubt that it could add real value to the photographer on the go.

Check out Printicular via the App Store and Google Play.

The Salt of the Earth; a documentary on Sebastião Salgado

 
Adrian Hatwell reviews one of the photographic documentaries previously on offer at the New Zealand International Film Festival

There are few photographers more worthy of feature-length documentary treatment than Brazilian social photographer Sebastião Salgado, just as there are few filmmakers quite so gifted in the documentary craft as German director Wim Wenders. Add to this exceptional pairing the personal documentary work of the photographer's son, Juliano Salgado, and you've got more than enough ingredients to make TheSalt of the Earth an incomparable cinema experience.

The film opens on one of Salgado's most well known series of images, a nightmarish overview of the Serra Pelada gold mine in Brazil, the surroundings almost completely blocked out by scores of dishevelled workers packed shoulder to shoulder. These images, part of the photographer's wider Workers series, were well publicised and likely familiar to the viewer – but to hear Salgado recall his personal experiences and feelings on location, his eyes scanning the images and teasing out personal narratives, puts the photos on an entirely more personal level.

Sebastião Salgado, Serra Pelada, State of Para, Brazil, 1986

Captured in the documentarian's hallmark gritty monochrome, scale and detail observed with exacting technical eloquence, the workers of the mine look like broken-down slaves; the artist likens them to the dehumanised masses used to build the pyramids and other grand tributes to human achievement. But, as Salgado notes, the only thing these people were slaves to was the idea of getting rich. Whenever a vein of gold was struck the workers in that area of the mine could take one excavated sack with them – it might contain enough gold that they never had to work again, or it could be nothing but rock.

Insights of this kind are brought to every chapter of the man's storied career – from unlikely beginnings as an economist to his visual explorations of South America, bearing witness to the devastating damage of famine in Africa to documenting the plight of workers the world over, and following the mass migration of displaced people around the globe. Being privy to the great photographer's emotional workings on these journeys enriches the visuals greatly, almost intolerably in some of the most grim cases. Where there was never any doubt of  Salgado's visual mastery, it is his deep empathy and compassionate spirit that truly make the film soar.

Sebastião Salgado, Yamal Peninsula, Siberia, Russia, 2011

For his part, Wenders has come up with an ingenious visual device to help the photographer narrate his images without resorting to the momentum-killing talking head format. The photos are projected onto some sort of semi-transparent mirror surface, allowing the director to film both the photos and his subject peering at the images –  Salgado will occasionally lean forward, head intruding through the image on screen, eyes scanning the picture, before he leans back to share another recollection, the image once again unobstructed to the viewer. It invests the footage with an immediacy and interactive energy that you seldom get with this type of documentary.

We go with Salgado pictorially as he journeys through the world and witnesses some of the most devastating and soul-destroying events of the late 20th and early 21st century – war, poverty, deprivation, disease, violence, massacres, hate. The images themselves are incredibly hard going, and the stories that accompanying them are simply heartbreaking. It's impossible not to empathise with the photographer as he walks away from the fallout of the Rawandan genocide proclaiming he no longer believes in humankind's capacity to be redeemed.

Sebastião Salgado, Greater Burhan Oil Field, Kuwait, 1991

But the tale is not without an uplifting final flourish – not that anything can really be considered a happy ending after all that explicit misery – as an ageing Salgado finds something of a spiritual revitalisation in a huge project to reforest the devastated Mata Atlântica, which runs through his childhood home. Not only does the large-scale project succeed in replenishing the area and inspiring similar such ecological endeavours the world over, but it motivates Salgado to pick up the camera again, and begin his latest great project, Genesis, in which his masterful lens is now trained on the splendour and diversity of the natural world.

The documentary is by no measure a probing expose; it is an enamoured love-letter crafted by the photographer's two biggest fans. But this in no way diminishes the film's beauty and impact, in fact it is easily one of the best-made documentaries ever committed to a photographic artist. Not to be missed by fans of the photographer, of good filmmaking in general, or anyone with an interest in the rousing highs and crushing lows of the human condition.

Sebastião Salgado, Zo'é Indian hunter, Brazil, 2009