On Safari with Fujinon XF200 F2
One Camera One Lens
When one of the world's best photographers emails, and asks if you would co-host exclusive photographic safari with three of the world's top wildlife photographers. I didn't have to think about it too long; I waited for the obligatorily 5 seconds before accepting, after all, I didn't want to seem to keen.
On arrival, at the safari lodge, I have to admit I was somewhat overawed, it's not every day you get to meet your photography heroes. I did my best to remain calm. Then my fellow co-hosts unloaded their camera gear. I lost count of the long lenses, 800mm, 600mm, 500mm, 80-400mms, various pro DSLR bodies plus smaller focal length lenses...
I was the only FujiFilm and mirrorless wildlife photographer.
I couldn't help but enquire from my fellow wildlife photographers about their gear. They told me that they were sponsored by Nikon, Canon, Leica respectively As brand ambassadors, they didn't purchase their camera gear. I have to admit I was somewhat envious of them.
FujiFilm South Africa had received the new Fujinon XF 200 F2 lens. I rang and asked if I could borrow the new Fujinon XF 200. A few days later they agreed. They sent a FujiFilm XT-3 , That was music to my ears. I was excited to test the new flagship camera. I left behind my Fujifilm XT-2 as I deemed it surplus to my requirements. A costly mistake or serendipitous?
The photography workshop clients would arrive in two days. We photographers used that time to familiarise ourselves with the game reserve, our rangers and of course each other. A more friendly an inspiring group of wildlife photographers I could not have asked for, there was the usual banter about camera gear, and my FujiFilm XH-1 was given the nickname “the sewing machine” due to its quiet shutter.
To be honest I think my photography peers might have been slightly envious, as time and time again when out on safari, the DSLR cameras sounded like "machine gun fire " in burst mode, it was so loud that on more than one occasion it caused our wildlife subjects to scamper away, resulting in what I call " Butt Pics".
With the quiet shutter speed of my Fujifilm XH-1, I had the opposite results and was able to photograph the natural behaviour of my subjects.
There is nothing more rewarding to a wildlife photographer than to be accepted by your subject, allowing you to concentrate on capturing beautiful behaviour photographs.
I was excited to test out the Fujifilm XT-3. On my first day of photography, I realised that I had given me a beta test prototype camera. The camera behaved erratically with the screen greying out or freezing. I tried removing batteries, but, eventually, I had to admit to defeat and retire the XT-3.
I was disappointed, as I wanted to test the new autofocus system. Instead of being upset I looked at the camera failure as a challenge, with the right mindset you can turn a negative situation into a positive one.
Now I had the dilemma of having only one camera body. I wanted to save face with my fellow photographers and clients. I told them that I was challenging myself on this safari. Keeping my photography simple by using "One Camera One Lens" This decision of using one camera and one lens turned out to be fortuitous.
The Fujinon XF 200 is a beast but in the best possible way. Yes, it is big and heavy in comparison to Fujifilm's other lenses. Compared to equivalent DSLR lenses it is lighter and shorter. Once I attached my FujiFilm XH-1 to this lens, it all made sense... this was why Fujifilm had made the XH-1, it was a perfect fit, the balance in hand was terrific. It was love at first sight, and I hadn't even taken a photograph.
I marvelled at the design, the build quality, the placement of buttons, aperture dial and the manual focus ring. I loved the off-white colour of the lens. Take a bow, engineers and designers at Fujifilm.
This lens will become the go-to lens for wildlife and action photographers. It will become a classic. It will send a message to all camera companies, Fujifilm is here to stay and are setting the standard bar high, very high.
Our photography clients arrived, and after introductions and briefing, we were assigned clients for the day. My role was to explain not just the technical side of photography, but my style of photography, how and why I would choose a particular subject to photograph.
Our first encounter was a herd of elephants. Typically I would be reaching for my XF 50-140mm as the Elephants were close. Photographing with the XF 200, I challenged myself to find interesting compositions with this focal length. At first, I found it daunting and began to doubt myself.
After a while, my mind's eye began to find interesting elements and compositions. I have a "Celtic Zen" way of photographing, within, my brain and heart are battling to balance creativity with the technical side, on the outside I am calm and relax, I enter almost a meditative state, and when I awake from my reverie I realise that I have witnessed and photographed something beautiful.
When I photograph with any long lens be it my 100-400mm zoom or this XF200, I will never handhold unless I have no choice. I always use some form of stabilisation. In my case a big bean bag.
No matter how good you may believe you are hand holding a big lens, why take a chance and miss the opportunity of having a sharp image. It is always better to use a stable platform, tripod or bean bag.
The only issue I had with bean bag was from time to time I would accidentally move my aperture F Stop.
I was surprised by my results of using just one camera and one lens. I believe I have captured some of my best wildlife photographs.
"Sometimes adversity is what you need to face in order to become successful"
When I photograph with a telephoto lens, I will never handhold the lens unless I have no choice. Having in body stabilisation and OIS on this lens does give me confidence if these situations arise, however, I always use a tripod mounted to a car bracket or a bean bag. Why risk getting a soft image by handholding when using a stable platform almost guarantees you a sharp image. Instead, give your self the best opportunity of getting the picture. The only issue I had with using the bean bag was from time to time I would accidentally move my aperture F-Stop.
The sharpness and contrast of the XF 200 have to be seen to be believed, Every night while downloading the day's images I would stop and marvel at the crisp sharpness and the excellent contrast of my photographs... the bokeh, oh the bokeh, creaminess and the wonderful out of focus background. Once viewed, I was so smitten, that nearly all my photographs were shot wide open. This allowed me to create beautiful out of focus images which in the past I was unable to do with my XF 100-400mm lens.
I am not a teleconverter fan, and in my DSLR days, I rarely used them. Results were decidedly mixed, often more soft focus images than sharp. I was pleasantly surprised to find that FujiFilm had included a 1.4 teleconverter with the XF 200, in 35mm terms a focal increase from 305mm to 428mm. I loved the combination of the XF 200 with the 1.4 Tele Converter, which only meant losing a stop in light from F2 to F2,8.
The extra reach proved invaluable, and the results were astounding. I have no qualms about photographing with this teleconverter. Once again Fujifilm has shown that they have the technological expertise that their equipment works seamlessly.
The Fujifilm XF 200mm image quality is simply stunning from F2-F11, edge to edge sharpness, achieving some of the best bokeh I have ever witnessed. Vignetting and chromatic aberrations are non-existent from f2-F11. This lens is for professional action and wildlife photographers, it is pricey, but you get what you pay for, a premium lens that will become the daily workhorse of any professional.
What are the benefits of photographing with one lens and one camera?
I believe the more constraints we put on ourselves, the more artistic and creative we will become. Your mind's eye adapts to the constraints actually I should say freedom as it was liberating not having to worry about lens choice. I truly believe as photographers sometimes we have too much gear, too much choice.
Less gear equals less stress which in returns equals better creativity.
I was overjoyed by my results and truly believe by photographing with just "One camera and One lens" It help me improve my photography and my creativity.
I urge you, no I challenge you, whatever genre you photograph, to try using "One camera and One lens" it is liberating and you too will be equally surprised as I was by the results. I truly believe, having this photographic constraint trust upon me allowed me to create some of my best fine art prints.
The six-day photography safari workshop was an overwhelming success, clients and photographers shared their passion and love of wildlife and photography. New friendships formed, and some fantastic photographs were created. Much to the surprise, of my fellow wildlife photographers quite a few photography clients, expressed an interest in moving from DSLR to Fujifilm. I call it the "sewing machine effect"!
Author Peter Delaney