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Papa's Got a Brand New (used) Lens

Jul 18, 2019

OK, I expect this twist on an old song title to be lost on a lot of people – James Brown's Papa's Got a Brand New Bag, 1965. That sort of dates me – oh well. Anyway, I generally don't like to spend a lot of money on equipment, especially lenses. This is why I try to buy used. But some lenses are so costly that even used they can cause trauma to the old budget. In this case, it's more like a case of sell a number of lenses, etc. in order to buy one.

Case in point – the Fuji 50-140 mm f/2.8 R LM OIS WR lens, wow. I've been contemplating this lens for over a year now – debating whether I would get enough use out of it to warrant the expense. The focal length, 50-140 is the equivalent of 76-213 and the f/2.8 is steady across all focal lengths. That's a huge advantage when shooting in low light. The lens I'm using now, the 55-200 (84-305 equivalent) is a great lens, with some extra focal lenght, but can be compromised by low light – f/stop ranges from 3.5 to 4.8 requiring one to tolerate some extreme ISOs in low light.

And, of course, I've been doing a lot of low-light work for my Havre de Grace Street project. First Fridays can go into dark. And the stage work I've been doing with Rogue Swan forces me, using the 55-200, to push my f/stop, shutter speed and IOS settings right to the edge of the cliff.

Well I found a good used one that saved me about $500 if you include sales tax, shipping, protective filter, etc. BUT that still left me holding the bag for a fistful of dollars. I went ahead and got the lens – which turned out to be indistinguishable from new – and ran some tests to make sure I'm happy with the change. Now to the chore of unloading some lenses and other stuff I don't really use any more. I like to sell what's not used while it's of some use to someone, and still worth something, long before it becomes useless junk. I'm not greedy so I post a buy-now price on eBay that tends to make for an immediate sale. A couple of times someone has rushed to place a bid, eliminating the buy-now, and the item wound up selling for more than I thought it to be worth – both times that happened, I threw a couple of small extras (batteries, flash cards, etc.) in with the shipment to make me feel like it was worth the price. I know, I know, I wouldn't make a very good businessman.

 The only time I've spent this much on a lens before was the Canon 100-400 zoom (more actually, around two grand) that I would take to Easter Island with me every visit, sell there just before leaving, and repurchase before returning, all at the same price. Never used it for anything else – so I'm not even sure that one even counts.

I will admit that this lens is a brute – the wider aperture, internal zoom to hold the aperture steady, phenomenal image stabilizer and tripod mount make it large and hefty. In order for it to replace the 55-200 (84-305 eq.) completely, I would have to eventually get the little 1.4X extender for it.

On mounting the lens on the camera, I stepped outside – into the soup that is our weather right now – and took a couple of zoomed close-ups of one of Nan's flowers on the patio, ABOVE. I wanted to check out handling and sharpness at the close focusing distance of three feet, zoomed all the way in and at 2.8 aperture. The color exposure looked good, and the bokeh that everyone talks about these days was impressive, but I'm more interested in how it holds up to B&W. This is just a low resolution JPG, and note the tiny hairs on the wilted flower, the full resolution image is awesome – looking more like something I would get with my macro lens than this behemoth.


     Close focusing – I really like the ability of this lens to focus to 3 feet, all the way through the zoom. This is only six inches gain over the 55-200, but it helps.

     Sharpness – the gain here, at equivalent settings, is more apparent than I expected. That would be because five of the lens elements are ED (extra-low dispersion glass), along with one "Super ED". 

     Quickness – auto focus is noticeably faster, and face recognition is recognizably quicker in low light. Of course, when dealing with crowds or stage performances, face recognition can be a bad idea – the camera can easily grab onto the wrong face and not let go. This is why I have the front camera body  button set to quickly disable/enable face detection. On the rare occasion I want eye detection, I'm willing to go into the menu.

     F/stop – the 2.8 minimum aperture, extending throughout the zoom, is a Godsend. More light, therefore faster shutter speeds and/or lower ISO. The ability to work further into the dark. Then there's the shallower depth of field when wanted.

     Zoom – I like the fact that it begins with the equivalent of 74mm rather than 84. That's going to make it much handier for street and stage work – and a little less switching to the 18-55 lens.

     Lens settings – the aperture ring on my old 55-200 lacks click stops. I actually like this when shooting First Fridays, etc. BUT, when shooting in situations where I need to just leave the lens wide open, I find that I have a habit of accidentally nudging the aperture ring while zooming and not noticing right away. Pretty soon I notice the wrong aperture in the viewer and correct for it, but it can be a frustration. The 50-140 aperture ring has click stops, even 1/3 stops – not as easily nudged. At the same time, the size of the lens makes for zooming without one's palm going anywhere near the aperture ring. Me likes.

     Stability – I didn't expect any gain here, the stabilizer on the 55-200 is also amazing. I ran some tests and had mixed results. Because the lens is heavier, it can be harder to hold it steady at times. It's still great, hand helt shots fully zoomed at 1/15 of a second were all sharp. Supposedly I can go further down than that.

     Weather sealing – is claimed. Not that I will willingly take this thing out in the rain, but supposedly it’s safe.

     Tripod Mount – handy to have but gets in the way if zooming hand held, so I'm likely to take it off until needed.

     Lens Hood – this one might be unique to me, I'm not sure. Lens hoods are a pain in the backside. When not using the lens, it can be reversed and on the lens. On the odd occasion when needed, it can be on the lens. But most of the time I'm carrying the lens around mounted on the camera – NOT wanting the sometimes gargantuan lens hood sticking out. The lens hood for this lens does the same thing the hood for the Canon 100-400 lens did – it fits over my left hand and I can wear it like a bracelet on my left arm, totally out of the way yet right there if I need it. Just try and find a pocket for these things. I did this a lot on Easter Island. It lets me work light – one camera body, my vest with a smaller lens in the pocket, maybe a compressed monopod hanging from my belt and the lens hood on my arm. NO camera bag – that's freedom.


     Weight – darn this thing is heavy, making two of the 55-200. Not as noticeable if the Vertical Grip is on the camera (almost always with me).

     Size – it's big. Always the same length due to internal zooming, it is as long as the 55-200 fully extended, and a little larger around. Only a frustration when working at the short end of the zoom – that's a lot of lens for working portrait length.

     Zoom – On the long end, it only goes to 140 (213 equivalent) rather than the 200mm (305 equivalent) of the 55-200. This can easily be overcome (later) with the addition of the nifty little 1.4X extender Fuji makes for it.

I'm actually quite surprised – I didn't expect to be so happy with this lens switch. I expected to feel the loss of the 140 to 200 zoom range more than I do (which is why I'm postponing the 1.4X extender) and expected that the size and weight would bother me. But the sheer joy of using a lens this good, and the upcoming ability to work more effectively when I need, are more than enough to make up for a couple of minor frustrations. I can't wait for a chance to run it through its paces, especially in low light. See a full review of this lens at: https://kenrockwell.com/fuji/x-mount-lenses/50-140mm.htm

my B&W Photography Notes I left step 2 off of this posting because the posting was already more than long enough. I’ll post those as I work them up – and later join them tighter.