Sports Photographer's Dream: Fujifilm XF200mm F2 at Wembley
In the last year and a half of shooting soccer, I have gotten used to the stares, the whispers, the snickering. It seems that every time I pull my Fujifilm gear out my bag, at least one photographer seems surprised.
When I was given the opportunity to shoot the U.S. Men’s National Team match against England at Wembley Stadium in London, I couldn’t say no. I usually shoot matches with some combination of an X-T3, an X-T2, the XF50-140mm, and the XF18-55mm. This combination has always given me great results, but I have definitely been missing something with a little more reach; something that would get me great results up to half-field and usable shots from the other end. The Fujifilm XF200mm f2 was finally released two weeks before the match and it felt like the perfect opportunity to put the lens through its paces. Luckily, I was able to secure a rental from the one company that had it available.
Due to a shipping snafu, at the last minute the lens was diverted to a FedEx pickup location and I had to stop on my way to the airport for my international flight - yeah, fun stuff. Out in the parking lot, I threw the lens on a body to make sure everything was working properly and set off to London.
Because I knew I couldn’t miss this match, I made sure I scheduled my flight to arrive the day before the match - I’ve had enough delayed/cancelled flights to know better than to try to make that kind of flight day of! Luckily, I didn’t have any further issues and got into London relatively on-time (as an added bonus, the weather in London was approximately 1,000x nicer than the weather had been in DC for several weeks). Even more luckily, I had a bunch of friends who were also travelling for the match, so I was able to hit up some of my favorite spots in London with some friends.
I also got to do something I’ve been wanting to for a while - there is a specific shot of the London skyline that I have been trying to get. The problem is, I usually try to travel light when I travel internationally and don’t carry my XF50-140 with me. This time was different though, and I had all of my big gear. So I jumped on the tube to Canary Wharf and found my spot. Which happens to be a bar. With great cocktails. At happy hour. I love it when a plan comes together.
My lucky streak continued and I was treated to the most incredible sunset that I have ever seen in London and I was able to capture one of my favorite ever photos.
The next day, I arrived at Wembley, found the photographer’s workroom, and pulled all of my gear out of my bag. Almost immediately, the photographer sitting next to me said, “Are you shooting with Fujifilm?” I thought to myself, “and so it begins...” But, the next words out of his mouth surprised me: “How is the 200?”
Throughout all of warmups, other photographers kept coming up to me to ask me about the lens and X-T3. How was the autofocus? What is the IQ like? Do you mind if I try it out for a second? (Yes, multiple photographers asked if they could try out my gear during prematch warmups).
This is a lens that has people taking notice of Fujifilm in a concentration where so few photographers were using the system in a professional manner. The only question remaining was whether the system could back it up.
Before the match, I only shot two test frames with the lens. When I took the first shots of warmups, I knew this lens was something special.
Let’s get one thing out of the way - the lens is big, it’s heavy, and it’s exactly the opposite of why so many people switch to Fuji. So what? This isn’t a lens that’s made for the landscape photographer or the cityscape photographer. This is a lens that is geared at very specific types of photographer - sports and wildlife photographers (although I could certainly see portrait photographers getting great images out of this lens as well). All of that being said, it’s still much smaller and lighter than the comparable 400mm f2.8 from Canon,Nikon, and Sony, not to mention less expensive. And considering the 1.4x TC that is included, it had more flexibility as well.
I was curious about how the lens would balance with the X-T3’s lightweight body. Honestly, the balance wasn’t much different than any Canikon with their 400 attached, maybe a bit better. I shot the entirety of the match with the X-T3’s battery grip (I would highly suggest only shooting this lens with the battery grip). The balance was fine - even hand-held. I don’t think I could shoot an entire match with this set-up and not use a monopod, but I did shoot 20 or so minutes of warmups hand-held without issue. Wildlife photographers and others who want to use this set-up unaided for limited periods of time shouldn’t have a problem.
The autofocus was amazing - the snappiest of any lens I have ever used. I have played with the custom AF-C settings of both the X-T2 and the X-T3 and have found the following combination works best for my purposes: Zone AF mode with a 3x3 tracking area; Tracking Sensitivity: 4; Speed Tracking Sensitivity: 2; Zone Area Switching: Auto. This lens combined with the X-T3 and those settings, gave me a hit rate that was off the charts. It kept perfect focus when players ran behind obstacles or cut and went in a different direction. Even with players running at full speed right at the camera - a situation where the XF50-140 occasionally struggles - the 200 never faltered.
The gif below that shows how the XF200 performs in this situation. For this series of images, I was focusing on the USA's Sebastian Lletget (number 14 in the blue). When focusing on a player in a dark uniform, against a dark background, there is always the risk that focus jumps to a player in a lighter uniform when they enter the frame. In this case, the camera and lens kept perfect focus on Lleget without switching to England's player.
I used the lens mostly with the 1.4x teleconverter. I tried it without the teleconverter for a bit, and for the way that I shoot, I prefer using the teleconverter and the 50-140 for any of my shorter needs. Surprisingly, I didn’t notice any difference in autofocus performance or image quality when using the updated 1.4x Teleconverter.
The images themselves are gorgeous. The Bokeh is creamy and buttery without the weird barrel distortion-like effect that I sometimes see with the 50-140 (most noticeable when the background is mostly of a crowd). The images are sharp, the color tone was phenomenal, and the contrast was out-of-this-world. I honestly cannot find a bad thing to say about the images that I came away with.
The match didn’t end the way I had hoped (England won 3-0 and it wasn’t as close as that scoreline suggested), but I had a blast. This is a lens that will absolutely find a place in my bag in the future.
Check out a few more photos below. All images were edited in Lightroom using the Classic Chrome film simulation.