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My Fujifilm Journey…

Just over a year ago, my mid-range Nikon zoom lens developed a significant fault. As always, the options were not only plentiful, but also bewildering.

As a wildlife photographer, a wide angle / mid-range zoom lens isn’t one of my most used lenses. But, I am using them more and more as I try to evolve my photography to be more contextual, like including a species’ habitat or elements of their landscape.

While weighing up the various replacement options against the unknown costs, the hassle and longevity of a repair, all while being increasingly conscious that every gram of weight and inch of space in my camera bag is becoming increasingly precious, something else caught my eye. Something smaller, lighter. Dare I say it? Something that looked like a proper camera! The Fujifilm X-T2 and 18-55mm f/2.8 – f/4 lens.

Straight away I couldn’t help but appreciate the fusion of retro-design and modern photographic technology. An aperture ring on the lens, engineered dials instead of buttons, a real throwback to a more vintage style of camera which offered a much more tactile and enjoyable user-experience.

Shortly after purchasing my X-T2 I began working on a new editorial commission for Digital Photographer magazine. I was keen to use the X-T2 and 18-55mm lens as part of this and upon publishing, delighted and encouraged to see one of the first shots I took as the main image of my latest feature.

Alan
'Pro Photo Secrets' feature in Digital Photographer Magazine, issue 196.

Despite this immediate love affair with the X-T2, I wasn’t quite ready to hand in my Nikon cameras and telephoto lenses. I was of course curious about pushing the capability of the X-T2 a lot more, especially with autofocus for photographing wildlife in action. This wasn’t something I could easily achieve with the (fantastic) 18-55mm kit lens, but a friend very kindly loaned me his Fujinon 100-400mm and 1.4x converter.

A trip to a local nature reserve provided me with some suitable subjects, a few Greylag Geese regularly flying across the pond. They aren’t the fastest or smallest subjects I photograph, but I was pleased and surprised with the focus tracking accuracy of the sequences of shots using zone focussing for the first time, especially considering the negativity I had heard and read about autofocus capability.

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Greylag Goose, Fujifilm X-T2, 100-400mm - 1/680, f/5.6, ISO400, 400mm.

I was also very pleased with the overall quality of the 100-400mm lens. It hit the spot with sharpness, the optical stability was very effective, and the build quality felt excellent. It also felt very liberating to be able to wander around with a much lighter camera and lens compared to whichever DSLR I was using with my 200-400mm Nikon lens.

As I mentioned above, I was also loaned the Fujinon 1.4x converter. At first, I ignorantly brushed this aside as my experiences with the Nikon 1.4x converter and 200-400mm had been terrible. While in a woodland bird hide photographing small birds, I found 400mm a little short so on went the converter. After all, it would have been silly not to give it a try!

Together, the combination offers a focal length of 560mm with an equivalent field of view of 840mm on the APS-C sensor. As I expected, autofocus took a bit of a hit but I was left amazed with the clarity and sharpness. Unlike my previous teleconverter experiences, it left me feeling that this really was a useable combination in the right circumstances.

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Nuthatch, Fujifilm X-T2, 100-400mm & 1.4x - 1/400, f/8, ISO800, 560mm.

At this point I admit to finding myself in quite a quandary. A quandary that lasted weeks, rather than days, and I am sure many other photographers have found themselves in the same situation. I really wanted to explore the Fujifilm system a lot more, I wanted more lenses, another camera body! I wanted to travel with it and use it a lot more in the field. As I researched my options, it was painfully obvious I could not afford to invest in a second system. Plus, it’s not practical to carry two camera systems when flying abroad, especially in Africa. Despite being incredibly impressed by the Fujifilm gear, my Nikon gear was my security, much like a comfort blanket.

I spent a few more days using the X-T2 and 100-400mm combination, with and without the teleconverter. I dabbled in the more detailed AF settings, experimented with the power boost mode and enjoyed looking at the film simulations.  The more I used it, the more I enjoyed it. I felt I was using a camera again, not just taking photographs. In comparison, my Nikon bodies just felt like tools. I know cameras are just tools but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t enjoy the user experience, does it? My reliance on my Nikon security blanket was slowly but surely sliding away.

After a lot of thought, hesitation and even more research, that was it, a moment of bold decision! I packed up all of my Nikon gear (apart from my broken mid-range zoom), headed to my local camera shop (thankfully they do still exist!) and traded it all in. My small collection of Fujifilm gear was boosted by a 50-140mm f/2.8, my own 100-400mm and 1.4x teleconverter, a power booster grip for the X-T2 and a deposit on the then upcoming X-H1 and grip.

Let’s wind the clock forward a few months. As I write this I have been using the X-T2 for little over a year and the X-H1 and various lenses for around 9 months. My schedule has taken me to the Isle of Skye, South Africa, Kenya, The Bavarian Forests, Northumberland’s Farne Islands and a lot more in between. I’m delighted to say that my love affair with the Fujifilm system has not only continued but has flourished. It has even re-kindled my passion for a spot of landscape photography. Shedding kilograms from my camera bag has allowed me to carry a more versatile range of gear and when I was on the Isle of Skye, I did enjoy having my wide angle lens and filters to tinker with the astonishingly beautiful landscapes before my eyes.

Interestingly, I was told over and over again that my photography was just not compatible with current mirrorless system technology. “Forget your Puffins in flight”, I was told. Never one to shy away from a wildlife photography challenge I not only accepted, but also disproved!

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Atlantic Puffin, Fujifilm X-H1, 100-400mm - 1/3000, f/6.4, ISO400, 373mm.

I also headed out to South Africa and Kenya to guide wildlife photography safaris. Travelling through the Kruger with my lightweight bag felt liberating and I continued to enjoy using the system and also the results. I lost my light bag advantage in Kenya when Fujifilm UK very kindly offered me a loan of their medium format GFX50s and GF250mm f/4. How could I refuse? It was great to use medium format with some of the larger slow moving mega-fauna.

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Lions post mating 'spat', Fujifilm X-H1, 100-400mm - 1/750, f/5.6, ISO800, 280mm.

 

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Giraffe, Fujifilm X-H1, 100-400mm - 1/500, f/5.6, ISO400, 243mm.

So, I think we can safely say that I am absolutely happy with my transition to the Fujifilm system. I have no regrets whatsoever and I am looking forward to acquiring another couple of lenses. Sadly ‘Black Friday’ passed without a £5k cashback offer on the 200mm f/2! But I did get to use a pre-production model for a brief period and…. ‘wow’, I was absolutely blown away. It is probably one of the best lenses I have ever had the privilege to use. That in itself is quite a statement to make. The superfast f/2 autofocus, sharpness and beautifully smooth bokeh of the out of focus elements were astonishing. I’d love to get my hands on one again for future use, especially for somewhere like Africa.

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Great Grey Owl (captive species), Fujifilm X-H1, 200mm f/2 (pre-production model) - 1/1600, f/2, ISO2500, 200mm.

Before I end my Fujiholics blogging debut ("Phew", I hear you say!), I’d like to add my appreciation of Fujifilm’s ‘Kaizen’ philosophy. Throughout my ownership of the X-T2 and X-H1, Fujifilm have pushed out several firmware updates. Not just bug fixes, but real functional and measurable improvements. It’s great to know that there is a real commitment from Fujifilm to continuously improve the capabilities of their cameras and lenses where it is possible to do so.

I’m looking forward to writing a few more wildlife photography related articles centred around the Fujifilm system for Fujiholics. Please do feel free to add your thoughts via comments, social media or get in touch with me.

Alan Hewitt - Wildlife photographer, writer, photography tour guide. www.alanhewittphotography.co.uk