Fujifilm XF 55-200mm F3.5-4.8 R LM OIS
Category: Telephoto Lens
Conclusion - Pros
- Impressive image quality at all settings
- Exceptionally low chromatic aberration
- Minimal distortion or vignetting visible in normal use (via software correction)
- Essentially silent autofocus
- Very effective image stabilization
- Convenient on-lens aperture ring
- Solid construction
Conclusion - Cons
- Images can look a little soft on the pixel level (due to software correction of pincushion distortion)
- Autofocus not as fast as its peers
The XF 55-200mm F3.5-4.8 R LM OIS is the first telephoto zoom in Fujifilm's X system, and is clearly designed to be paired with the XF 18-55mm F2.8-4 R LM OIS by X-E1 and X-Pro1 owners. It shares the same basic design philosophy and high standard of construction, with an all-metal barrel and (unmarked) aperture control ring. It's clear from the moment you pick the lens up that it's a very different proposition to a typical 55-200mm F4-5.6 SLR kit zoom.
This impression continues while you shoot with the lens. Operationally it feels impressively refined, with essentially silent autofocus and image stabilization. It can take a little while to adapt to using a lens with control three rings, for zoom, aperture and focusing, but this is aided by their well-considered layout and feel. The zoom ring falls naturally to hand and is impressively smooth and well-damped; likewise the manual focus ring, which can be operated simply by reaching forward with your forefinger. The aperture ring has sufficiently positive click stops that you're unlikely to change it accidentally, but it can also be operated quickly by reaching back with your ring finger. Once you get used to it, this provides quick, fluid control.
Autofocus is on a par with what we've come to expect from Fujifilm - it's pretty quick, and unlikely to upset anyone who's already shooting with the X system. That said it's not as fast as its peers, either for SLRs or other mirrorless systems. This isn't a problem when shooting static subjects, but it does mean that the 55-200mm isn't the best choice for shooting moving subjects (we suspect existing X-Pro1 and X-E1 owners will understand this already). However autofocus is consistently very accurate - an inherent advantage of the contrast detection focusing used by mirrorless systems - and the ability to place the AF point almost anywhere in the frame, and use fine focus points for increased accuracy, can be very useful too.
Not surprisingly, the 55-200mm doesn't work terribly well with the X-Pro1's optical viewfinder, which stops displaying gridlines at focal lengths longer than 60mm. This means that it's more-or-less essential to use the electronic viewfinder all the time. It's possible to use the camera's rear screen for composition, of course, but with the fixed screens on the X-Pro1 and X-E1, this gives a noticeably less stable shooting stance. We suspect X-M1 and X-A1 owners are likely to be better served by the lighter (and cheaper) XC 50-230mm F4.5-6.7 OIS.
The XF 55-200mm is a thoroughly modern lens, making use of a highly-corrected optical design backed up by software aberration compensation, and as a result it consistently delivers excellent-looking images. Chromatic aberration is extraordinarily low, and both distortion and vignetting are corrected automatically in software, both by the camera's JPEG processing and RAW converters that can handle Fujifilm's X-Trans CMOS sensor.
There's a catch though; the lens's distortion is of the pincushion type, and one consequence of its correction is that images can end up looking a bit soft at the pixel level, as the process slightly 'stretches' the centre of the frame. However examination of uncorrected raw files reveals that the underlying image is impressively sharp. For most practical purposes this isn't terribly important, as the amount of detail rendered across the frame is still impressively high, even when shooting wide open. But photographers looking to eke out the highest pixel-level sharpness in their images may prefer to shoot RAW and use a converter that allows distortion correction to be disabled, such as Capture One.
The Final Word
The XF 55-200mm F3.5-4.8 R LM OIS extends the X system into true telephoto territory, and does so in a fashion that maintains the impressive image quality which has become Fujifilm's trademark. The lens's use of automated software corrections may not appeal to purists, or photographers who want every pixel to look as sharp as possible. But we think it's an eminently sensible approach, and its seamless integration into the system means most users will probably never notice it. The overall result is a lens that delivers consistently fine results in a reasonably compact package.
In fact, our main reservations lie more with the current state of the system than the lens itself. Telephoto zooms are often pointed at moving subjects, and right now the X system can't cope with this particularly well - meaning it's not the best choice for telephoto work. Likewise the 'rangefinder style' form factor is arguably not as ergonomic for use with long lenses compared to SLRs with deep handgrips. And we can't totally ignore the fact that at around $700 / £580, this is one of the most expensive 'small' telephoto zooms on the market. But Fujifilm shooters willing to live with, and work around these limitations will likely be delighted by the images the 55-200mm can deliver.
Ergonomics and Handling
The XF 55-200mm F3.5-4.8 R LM OIS is a relatively portable, well-made telephoto zoom that delivers consistently fine images. Focusing is essentially silent and reasonably fast, at least with static subjects, and the optical image stabilisation works very well. It's a natural complement to the XF 18-55mm F2.8-4 R LM OIS zoom.
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