Cheap Shot: The long-lens itch is scratched for a few dollars
Regular Macfilos readers will know of my affection for the tiny Leica X1 and that I have been a Leica user for over 50 years. However, over the years my enthusiasm for Leica has not been to the exclusion of other brands. In recent times I had a short and very unsatisfactory flirtation with a Sony a7 and an equally brief foray back into film photography with a beautiful Hasselblad outfit. I disliked the Sony, but I loved the Blad. If it had been lighter, maybe I would still be using it from time to time.
Rewind the clock twenty years and, as well as being a committed Leica M user, I was a Canon fan — using a Canon EOS SLR outfit with a couple of bodies and a wide selection of lenses, including a superb constant-aperture f/2.8 70-200mm zoom and a 2X converter. That lens was reputedly the sharpest in the EOS stable at the time, but it was cumbersome and expensive — it cost me over A$3000 — serious money back in 1998. The current model, now with integrated IS, costs less than that but it is still big and heavy.
I bought the Canons primarily to do motorsport and wildlife photography. I acquired them in 1998, and they were pensioned off and dispersed in 2005. I carried the outfit in a big Lowepro backpack. It was my hand luggage on flights, and I travelled all over the world with it. The cameras were so heavy that I was restricted in what else I could pack in it. Not an ideal situation if you were stuck in a plane for over 24 hours back when in-flight entertainment systems were rather basic, and you needed as a minimum a good book and a few magazines as reading material.
The reason I went for the big and heavy f/2.8 lens was that I was using mainly colour slide film for shooting action, so I needed the wide aperture. Readers brought up on digital cameras may not appreciate how slow most colour film was — particularly slide film. We have it very easy nowadays.
To show how my Canons performed, here is a small a selection of “big cat” shots taken in Botswana in 2004. I used the 70-200mm zoom lens on Fuji Provia slide film which had an ISO rating of 100. Some were taken with the 2X converter, which gave me an F5.6 140-400mm lens.
The photo of the young leopard on the ground was taken as we were enjoying a refreshment stop on a track in the late afternoon. I was around the side of the Land Rover when I saw the leopard approaching. Very luckily, my camera was within easy reach on my seat, so I grabbed it and lay prone on the ground. Our guide was very agitated and concerned for our safety and was urging the others to climb back into the vehicle as quickly and as quietly as possible. He whispered to me to stay perfectly still, which suited me as I was intent on getting a photo anyway.
That trip to the Okavango Delta in 2004 was the last post for the Canon outfit — after that, I decided I had had enough of the weight and bulk and scaled back to my Leica M outfit plus a Leica Digilux 1. My long-lens days were behind me — or so I thought.
Then, 13 years later, last year, in fact, I had a yearning to try a long lens again for motor racing and local surf action photos. I did not want to go to the expense of buying a serious outfit as I knew that it would have little use.
Macfilos contributor Wayne Gerlach and I meet regularly for coffee at the local surf club cafe on Tuesdays. And, over a few coffees over a couple of weeks, we mulled it over, and Wayne suggested to me that what I needed was a Panasonic FZ1000 with its 24-400mm lens. The FZ is also the basis for the re-badged Leica V-Lux.
Wayne is a much more committed gear-enthusiast than me, and he managed to convince me that, with strong personal endorsements from none other than Mike Evans and Ivor of Red Dot Cameras, how could I argue? So I acquired a low-mileage FZ1000 from a local seller on eBay for A$600 (£345).
To cut a long story short, the FZ1000 and I did not get along. I did not like it. I did take some satisfactory motor racing photos at the Mount Panorama circuit, Bathurst, back in February. But we never really gelled. I sold it — to Wayne — for A$500 some months ago, and he has since taken some good photos with it. C’est la vie.
However, the disappointing FZ1000 experience had not cured the long-lens itch. I have a friend in the UK who takes superb motorsport photos with Canon gear and, in particular, using a couple of long lenses which each cost the equivalent of a new small car.
Prompted by viewing his work, I had a momentary lapse of sanity and thought about getting serious again and buying a second-hand full frame Canon DSLR and a 70-200mm lens. That really would have been a case of déjà vu. This whimsy was fortunately very quickly dismissed as being unrealistic on cost grounds and also because I could not see myself walking around all day in the scorching summer heat at Mount Panorama carrying that gear.
I was not up for it in 2004, and I am certainly not up for it today. So I raised the long lens hypothetically with Wayne over coffee again.
Get thee behind me, Satan
The next Tuesday he turned up at coffee with a Fuji X-E2 from his personal cache fitted with the el cheapo Fuji 70-230mm zoom lens. I took the camera and lens ‘on approval’ and, after a satisfactory quick road test, I was convinced, A deal was done, and money changed hands again — this time A$550 (£317).
While I have no intention of turning into a Fuji fanboy this late in life, the X-E2 and the 70-230mm lens are gelling with me — unlike in the case of the Panasonic FZ1000.
Last week — just a few days after I acquired the Fuji — we had a massive storm and the following day the surf was really big. A good time to put the Fuji combination to the test. Below is one of the shots I took in a quick outing to the headland at local Avoca Beach — an ideal location for taking action surf shots without getting into the water.
I am pleasantly surprised by the performance of the Fuji 70-230mm lens. It is very “plasticky”, and it is very cheap — currently retailing for the equivalent of £120 here in Australia — so my expectations were low. It is not remotely in the same class as that fantastic Canon lens, but it is so much cheaper and so much lighter. And, of course, nowadays I am not stuck with shooting at ISO100, so the aperture is less critical. It is indeed surprisingly sharp. It looks as if I have acquired a very cost-effective lightweight outfit which hopefully fixes the long lens itch. Now all I need is some more big surf.
You can find more from John Shingleton at The Rolling Road and on Instagram at therollingroad.