The world's biggest mountain bike festival Crankworx came to Rotorua, New Zealand this year, for the first time in the southern hemisphere and one of only two locations outside of its home in Whistler Colorado. My shooting buddy Sven is a big MTB fan and was keen to get along and take some photos, so we made a two-day trip down to Rotorua on the Thursday and Friday event days, time to run back to Auckland to photograph a wedding on Saturday! I don't know much out MTB so it was interesting figuring out all the lingo and different events etc. The main parts we caught were the 'Speed & Style' and Downhill competitions, and practice sessions for the Slopestyle, Pump Track and Downhill events. As well as enjoying figuring out all the events, I also had an opportunity to try out some new gear from Fuji, being the new 50-140mm f/2.8 telephoto zoom lens, on the X-T1 body. The tele shots in this post are all with this combination, but anything normal-wide is on my Nikon D600 (18-35/50mm lenses). Not knowing much about the events, or looking for any particular riders meant that I concentrated just on finding interesting angles and graphic shapes in my shots - maybe not as useful for say advertising or MTB magazine use, but it kept me interested!
Fuji 50-140mm f/2.8 Lens Discussion and Review
The rest of the post is a basic 'review' of my experiences with this lens for shooting sports, which you will probably want to skip if you're not a camera person :) There are plenty of photos to come too, so don't miss that part!
I was very keen to try this camera/lens with the hope it might be a nice lightweight option for the equestrian sports I had been photographing, as the Nikon gear gets really heavy and painful over an 8hr day! Unfortunately I found the autofocus speed quite lacking, and in particular the focus tracking wasn't up to scratch, meaning that most shots really needed to be pre-focussed (i.e. choose a fixed point to focus on and wait for the target to come through the frame). The key metric here is probably my 'hit rate' afterwards - shooting sports with my D700 I get probably a 90% hit rate of properly focussed shots, but on this combo it might have been like 20% or worse. Taking a series of say 5-8 photos of each rider coming past might result in 1-2 sharp shots, even after 2 days of practice.
Reduced focus speed and responsiveness is still to-be-expected on a mirrorless body compared to an SLR, but an issue which I hadn't seen mentioned much before, but actually turned out be the deal-breaker, was the long viewfinder black-out time - if you're trying to track a moving object, shooting at up to 8 frames per second, the viewfinder stays black just about the whole time, and with significant lag, so you actually can't follow your subject! Even after you've pre-focussed and composed, you're still shooting blind once the rider enters the frame and you hold down the button. I did also try this lens out on slower-moving horses the next weekend, and it was still equally difficult then. BUT the news is not all bad, which I'll cover in the next paragraph :)
For moving subjects and sports, I absolutely would not recommend this combination as I tested it - BUT of course the new v4.0 firmware just came out last week, which promises significant upgrades in focus speed and tracking. No idea if it improved the blackout time, but I can only recommend trying it out with new firmware before making any decisions on this combination. The other good point is that image quality is great, nothing to complain about at any focal length or focus distance that I tried, and was sharp all over the frame. The weight is also much less and much more pleasant to use for an extended period than the old school 1kg+ full frame f/2.8 zooms, as well as physically taking less space in my bag and having decent IS for handholding at lower shutter speeds - but do remember that IS isn't useful for sports where you need high shutter speed to stop subject motion anyway. So, overall a mixed bag for this combination. The lens was all good, but the system itself couldn't keep up with fast-paced subjects in more ways than one - not sure how much comes down to the body vs. the lens, but I expect this will be greatly improved in the next generation of Fuji bodies. For my money, it's just not quite ready for prime time, so I'm stuck using the heavy lens for sport for a while longer yet - but I suspect a mirrorless future for me is not too far off!