A prime shooter's musings on light zooms (XC 50-230,XC 15-45)

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A prime shooter's musings on light zooms (XC 50-230,XC 15-45)
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Hi all,

after a recent travel, I felt like sharing some thoughts about Fuji's lighter weight zooms and zooms in general. For a bit of context, I tend to overwhelmingly shoot prime lenses. So much so, in fact, that I've not owned a zoom lens in 15 years. Until recently that is.

The outset

My core gear normally consists of a number of primes ranging from 14mm to 50mm, and for the past few years, there have been few occasions where I felt I was lacking coverage. On such occasions where I found an arrow missing in my quiver, it tended to be on the long end. Had there been a small, light-weight prime option around 75mm to 150mm from/for Fuji, maybe that's what I would have picked up. Lacking that option, I thought about splurging on the XF 70-300. Considering I was going to (initially) experiment with the focal range, the price tag was a mild deterrent - and the limited availability did the rest.

The XF 55-200 seemed like the obvious alternative, which is when I had a closer look at the XC 50-230. The value for money seemed appealing, as did the very low weight. With my primary use being landscape, I didn't mind the slow max aperture. My shooting conditions (for now) tend to be rather harmless, so the lack of WR also wasn't an obstacle. So, the lack of aperture ring, then? Well, with the lens being a variable aperture zoom, I was willing to give it a shot. To cut the story short, I pulled the trigger.

In the course of my investigation/GAS attack, I also ended up picking the miniscule XC 15-45. It seemed like a nice lens to put on a secondary body, when I don't care to bring a bag of lenses, e.g. social photography or casual travel snapshots.

The challenge

After a long time without travelling, I had the opportunity to travel to Finland and spend some time in Germany. Both regions I had been to and am likely to return, so the thought grew to put myself outside my comfort zone. Rather than carrying my usual kit (XF 14/2.8, XF 23/2.0, XF 50/2.0), I considered only bringing the XC 15-45 for the wide-to-normal range. Bringing the XC 50-230 was a given. I also vowed to leave a second body, my carbon tripod and square filters at home, committing to travelling light as much as I felt comfortable.

I'd say I moderately failed at minimizing my gear, ultimately travelling with:

  • X-E3 with a grip
  • XF 14/2.8: I really struggled trying to not bring this lens and didn't succeed
  • XC 15-45
  • XF 23/2.0: For low light scenarios, and maybe shallow DOF, I figured
  • XC 50-230

The outcome

My two week travel was divided into one week in Finland (Kainuu region) and one week in Germany (black forest area). After on-the-go culling, here's the shot distribution (incl. shots for the bin) returning home:

  • XC 50-230: 176 shots, 81%
  • XC 15-45: 39 shots, 18%
  • XF 23/2.0: 1 shot, <1%
  • XF 14/2.8: Unused

Certainly, there will have been a strong honeymoon effect with the new focal range of the XC 50-230, and certainly subject matter comes into play. With an emphasis on static subjects and shooting primarily during daytime, the slower apertures in combination with OIS eliminated many scenarios in which I would have used a faster lens. Knowing the areas I travelled to, and knowing I am likely to return, I may have also been a bit more reluctant (read: lazy) to change lenses.

That being said, I still was pleasantly surprised with my relative success in shooting with just two lenses. In the future, for trips with moderate-to-high repeatability, I might attempt again to travel with the two XC lenses and just one add'l prime - which doesn't look rosy for the XF 14/2.8.

For any once-in-a-lifetime travel, I expect to return to bringing my bag of primes, though.

The images

Now, I don't want to bore you with just waffle - and I appreciate anyone taking the time to read this! So here are some shot from the trip, with some massaging in C1 12 (exposure tab, cropping in some images, resized).

Note that the XC 15-45 might be slightly underrepresented in this selection, but I did find it very useful for wider views and capturing social moments.

I'm sure I still have some ways to go to get the most out of these new-to-me lenses. I also wouldn't be too surprised for an ISO value to be suboptimal here or there. But here goes anyway.

Finland, Kainuu

The fall colours were pretty spectacular, this trip. The above shot is basically untouched. While I didn't miss my square filters often, I would bring a circular polariser and step down rings, next time.

Local swamp site

Parrot crossbill (Loxia pytyopsittacus)

If it isn't already evident from the shot, I am not a bird photographer. Still, I was reasonably satisfied with this shot of a parrot crossbill (Loxia pytyopsittacus). When looking at the full resolution, the details in the feathers are weak. It's satisfactory for my casual and occasional use, but if I was more interested in photographing birds, the 70-300 or 100-400 would be on my shopping list.

Paljakka National Reserve, swampland

While Finland has many local elevation changes, there are few places with significant topographic prominence. Often, the vast tree coverage can also get in the way of what would be an interesting shot from altitude. Moreover, depending on the region, there are many lakes and swamps. A longer tele conveniently enables shots across bodies of water or on such occasions where there are higher vantage points.

Germany, Black Forest area

I was particularly impressed by the dynamic range captured in this image. The light was a bit harsh, and maybe my square filters could have helped somewhat. But for a handheld shot, without any filters, I am satisfied with how the shot came out.

There was little time to grab a shot of this red kite (Milvus milvus) before it disappeared from view. This shot is heavily cropped, so much so that there's hardly more resolution available than the output resolution here. The exposure isn't quite right, so the file needed some work. But under the circumstances, I didn't expect to recover as much as I did.

The verdict

We're all creatures of habbit and certainly I felt some discomfort slimming down my gear for this trip - although I didn't even manage to fully commit to the challenge. That said, I am glad I put myself into this situation.

To summarise in broad strokes what I learned:

  • Especially when carrying zooms, we tend to be able to capture quite a wide range of scenarios with a lot less gear than we are used to. While this certainly is somewhat common sense, it did make quite the difference to experience it, rather than know it to be so.
  • We tend to carry too much gear. An adjacent thought to the above, but it did genuinely surprise me to return home to realise there were two lenses in my bag that essentially saw no use whatsoever.
  • A particular kit of gear will not satisfy every photographer and won't be suitable for all scenarios. Certainly, on this trip, the opportunity to return and take some of these shots with different gear, instilled some comfort in me, where otherwise I might err on the side of caution while travelling to new places.
  • While the XC 15-45 will often play second fiddle to my primes, I certainly expect myself to use the XC 50-230 a lot for landscapes going forward.
  • Plastic mounts, lack of WR, slow apertures, missing aperture dials, occasionally powerzoom - you name it, there are reasons to overlook Fuji's XC lenses. But - outside of the XC 35/2.0 perhaps - I find that Fuji's line of XC lenses is criminally underrated. They are great and lightweight lenses from a manufacturer that isn't always known for the most affordable lens selection.

Whew. That ended up being a longer post than expected. I hope I didn't bore anyone to sleep. If you're still awake reading this line, thank you for taking the time to read about my experience.

Good light!

 FTOG's gear list:FTOG's gear list
Fujifilm X-E2 Fujifilm X-E3 Fujifilm XF 14mm F2.8 R Fujifilm 50-230mm II Fujifilm XF 23mm F2 R WR +3 more
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