In the past two months, I had a privilege to visit Tanzania's finest National Parks for some wildlife photography. I learned a lot of wildlife photography, which was, honestly, not my priority, as I consider myself mostly as a landscape and lifestyle photographer, but I always loved animals and if there is a chance, I would always be ready to go for photo hunt.
The problem always appeared I didn't have the right gear to do it. My lenses go as far as 200mm and with 1.4x converter I could reach up to 300mm and that is way to short to do some serious shooting of animals. In my case, I used my privileges as Fujifilm Ambassador and borrowed the huge XF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 lens from Fujifilm Slovenia (Thanks Jure!) for my first African trip. And got addicted. So for the next two African trips, I already got mine.
Seriously, when you go wild, you go wildlife. And combining three trips to Tanzania in two months, I was able to capture some amazing images, for which I have to thank a bit of coincidences (if they exist), luck, weather, light and my friends at Shadows of Africa team, who were the best guides/drivers for the Safaris around. I managed to see the big five in one trip, also got an image of Cheetah and Rhino pretty close by, as well as Hippo was out of his pool.
In this blog post, my aim was to show you some images from the trip and commenting the pros and cons of the Fuji's XF 100-400mm lens.
We have to admit, we went mirrorless to reduce the weight. With XF 100-400mm, we are gaining it again. The thing is big and heavy. Not as heavy as some Nikon/Canon 400mm f/2.8, but those are not relevant to compare with zoom lens. It weights almost 1,4 kg, and is the size of a small machine gun. I normally use F-stop Tilopa backpack and it hardly fits in the medium CPU. I rather use Lowepro Sport 200AW, where somehow, it fits just right without lenshood. The filter size is huge and you need 77mm filters to cover it - more glass, more expensive. It is nice that lens is weather sealed because area around Ndutu felt like I will need Noah's Ark.
Every photographer is obsessed with sharpness of his lens. Some of them would never photograph without fix lenses, some of them say that kit lenses are rubbish, and zoom lenses aren't much better. I have to admit, I'm not one of those guy. Anymore. I did give a whole lot of sh*t about, when I started my career, but through the time I found the lack of sharpness in my images was more often result of my inexperience and too long handheld exposures than the lens sharpness itself. Today, I don't give a sh*t anymore. I find sharpness overrated. You can even add it in post. It is obvious, that photographers, who are mostly arguing about sharpness of some lenses are the one, who use different softing and glowing techniques in PS. What's the point then?
But... I find the XF 100-400mm extremely sharp for a zoom lens and especially in the open wide aperture. I would never change it for any fix lens with wider aperture. For me, it is sharp enough. End.
As mostly in wildlife photography, every object is too far away no matter what. In Tanzania, I stood corrected. Still most of the animals were too far away for some decent photograph, but some of them were actually too close. In this case, I was happy to have the range between 100-400mm and not the fix lens as you can't just walk from the bush taxi... Sometimes even with 100mm didn't go through.
Aperture and capability
Probably the main argument against this lens from Pros would be quite high minimum aperture at 100mm with f/4.5 and rising to f/5.6 at 400mm. Sure, it could be f/2.8 at whole range, but it would probably weight 10 tons (remember the sentence of CSC camera meanings?) and sure, you could take and image of zebra in the middle of the night - handheld. We live in 21st century and we all know ISO performance is getting better every year. So why to stick with ISO 100 in low light with f/2.8 on 400mm having only thing sharp the horn of Gazelle, while the rest of animal is not recognizable? Of course, If you want to make artistic approach, go for it, but don't make me do it. I found myself comfortable, taking shots with f/5.6 up to f/7.1 without problem. Most of the wildlife images were taken with ISO higher than 400.
Yet, the lens is huge for what I'm used to carry. I found myself often bumping it in different surroundings in the car, taking it out of backpack and changing it with the other lens. You can't do it with one hand, which I often did with some other lenses. What I also found disturbing is, that the main zoom ring is not turning so smoothly and easy, especially when you have to zoom fast and focus on moving objects. I particularly had problems shooting birds such as crane and others in flight. Almost impossible to track and zoom into it. But I like the OIS, it works fine and sometimes saves your ass, and I loved the weather sealing on the lens as it survived some tropical rain in Ndutu region.
To wrap things up, I can say I'm extremely happy to purchase the lens and I'm sure I will use it in many opportunities and challenges in the future. Because of this lens, I consider to photograph nature and it's wildlife more often. I'm happy with almost every aspect of the lens except the size, weight and zoom ring. I can use it with my Ray Masters filters, It can be used for various photography - sport, landscape, lifestyle, wildlife, bird spotting, spying on neighbours... On safaris I was often using it instead of binoculars. So shortly, Big, but useful and I would regret it, if I would not get one.
Conclusion nr. 2
Tanzania - the land of the animals. As I told you at the start, I had an opportunity to see the Big five of Africa - Elephant, Rhino, Buffalo, Leopard and Lion. I visited some of the best national parks in Tanzania, such as Lake Manyara, Tarangire, Ngorongoro and in the end of January I had a chance to witness the big migration heading north through the plains of Ndutu region. I have to thanks Charles, Edwin, Lomayani, Kareem and Ahadi for great company and knowledge they were sharing with me, and Jure for borrowing the first lens I could use on my Safaris as well as thanks to my mentor, now coworker at the workshops, Vasja, for company and idea to hit the road in the middle of the winter and drive to Germany. Below, you can find some images of Big five and some other images, taken on the trip with the lens.