PETER DELANEY: On Safari with the Fujinon XF 200mm f/2

Award winning wildlife photographer and Fujifilm X-Photographer, Peter Delaney took the new Fujinon XF200mmF2 on safari. It proved to be an instant classic. 

When one of the world's best photographers emailed and asked if I would like to co-host an exclusive photographic safari with three of the world's top wildlife photographers, I didn't have to think about it too long. I waited for the obligatorily five seconds before accepting. After all, I didn't want to seem too keen.

Fujifilm South Africa had received the new Fujinon XF200mmF2 R LM OIS WR lens, so a few weeks before the safari I rang and asked if I could borrow it. They agreed and sent it with the new XT-3. That was music to my ears. I was excited to test the new flagship camera that I left behind my Fujifilm XT-2 as I deemed it surplus to my requirements. Would this be a costly mistake or serendipitous?

On arrival at the Marataba Safari Lodge, I have to admit I was somewhat overawed since it's not every day you get to meet your photography heroes. I did my best to remain calm. Then my fellow co-hosts unloaded their camera gear. I lost count of the long lenses, 800mm, 600mm, 500mm, 80-400mms, various pro DSLR bodies plus smaller focal length lenses. I was the only Fujifilm and mirrorless wildlife photographer.

I couldn't help but enquire from my fellow wildlife photographers about their gear. They told me that they were sponsored by other big brands. As brand ambassadors, they didn't purchase their camera gear. I have to admit I was somewhat envious of them.

The silent hunter

The photography workshop clients would arrive in two days. We photographers used that time to familiarise ourselves with the game reserve, our rangers and of course each other. A friendlier and more inspiring group of wildlife photographers I could not have asked for. There was the usual banter about camera gear, and my regular camera, the Fujifilm XH-1 was given the nickname “the sewing machine” due to its quiet shutter.

To be honest I think my photography peers might have been slightly envious, as time and time again when out on safari, the DSLR cameras sounded like machine gun fire in burst mode. It was so loud that on more than one occasion it caused our wildlife subjects to scamper away, resulting in what I like to call ‘Butt Pics’.

With the quiet shutter speed of my Fujifilm XH-1, I had the opposite results and was able to photograph the natural behaviour of my subjects. There is nothing more rewarding to a wildlife photographer than to be accepted by your subject, allowing you to concentrate on capturing beautiful behaviour photographs.

A lens that’s an instant classic

The sharpness and contrast of the XF 200 must be seen to be believed. Every night while downloading the day's images, I would stop and marvel at the crisp sharpness and the excellent contrast of my photographs. The bokeh – oh the bokeh – creaminess with the wonderful out of focus background. Once viewed, I was so smitten that nearly all my photographs were shot wide open. This allowed me to create beautiful pop-out images which in the past I was unable to do with my XF 100-400mm lens.

The Fujinon XF200mmF2 is a beast but in the best possible way. Yes, it is big and heavy in comparison to Fujifilm's other lenses but compared to equivalent DSLR lenses it is lighter and shorter. Once I attached my Fujifilm XH-1 to this lens, it all made sense. This was why Fujifilm had made the XH-1, it was a perfect fit, the balance in hand was terrific. It was love at first sight, and I hadn't even taken a photograph. 

I marvelled at the design, the build quality, the placement of buttons, aperture dial and the manual focus ring. I loved the off-white colour of the lens.  The XF200mmF2 will become the go-to lens for wildlife and action photographers. It feels like an instant classic and will send a message to all camera companies - Fujifilm is here to stay and are setting the bar high, very high. For this please take a bow, engineers and designers at Fujifilm.

And a proper teleconverter to boot

I am not a teleconverter fan, and in my DSLR days, I rarely used them. Results were decidedly mixed, often more soft-focus images than sharp. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Fujifilm had included the XF1.4X F2 TC WR teleconverter with the XF200mmF2, which provides in 35mm terms a focal increase from 305mm to 428mm. I loved the combination of the lens with the 1.4x teleconverter, which only meant losing a stop in light from F2 to F2.8. 

The extra reach proved invaluable and the results were astounding. I have no qualms about photographing with this teleconverter. Once again Fujifilm has shown that they have the technological expertise that their equipment works seamlessly.

The Fujifilm XF200mmF2’s image quality is simply stunning from F2-F11, with edge to edge sharpness, achieving some of the best bokeh I have ever witnessed. Vignetting and chromatic aberrations are non-existent. 

This lens is for professional action and wildlife photographers and it is pricey. But you get what you pay for - a premium lens that will become the daily workhorse of any professional.

One Camera, One Lens

I was also excited to test out the Fujifilm XT-3. On my first day of photography, however, I realised that I had given me a beta test prototype camera which unfortunately still had a few kinks to be taken care of. Eventually, I had to admit defeat and retire the XT-3 prototype. It was a big disappointment as I wanted to test the new autofocus system. Instead of being upset I looked at the camera failure as a challenge, since with the right mindset you can turn a negative situation into a positive one.

Now I had the dilemma of having only one camera body. As a way to save face with my fellow photographers and clients, I told them that I was challenging myself on this safari. Keeping my photography simple by using "One Camera, One Lens". This decision of using one camera and one lens turned out to be fortuitous.

When our photography clients arrived, my role was to explain not just the technical side of photography, but my style of photography, and how and why I would choose a particular subject to photograph.

Out in the bush, our first encounter was a herd of elephants. Typically, I would be reaching for my XF 50-140mm as the elephants were close. Photographing with the XF200mmF2, I challenged myself to find interesting compositions with this focal length. But at first, I found it daunting and began to doubt myself. 

After a while, my mind's eye began to find interesting elements and compositions. I have a "Celtic Zen" way of photographing. Within, my brain and heart are battling to balance creativity with the technical side, but on the outside I am calm and relax. I enter almost a meditative state, and when I awake from my reverie, I realise that I have witnessed and photographed something beautiful.

I was surprised by my results of using just one camera and one lens and I manged to capture some of my best wildlife photographs. As the saying goes, "Sometimes adversity is what you need to face in order to become successful."

What are the benefits of photographing with one lens and one camera?

I believe the more constraints we put on ourselves, the more artistic and creative we will become. Your mind's eye adapts to the constraints, but actually I should say freedom as it was liberating not having to worry about lens choice. I truly believe as photographers sometimes we have too much gear providing too much choice.

Less gear equals less stress which in returns equals better creativity. I was overjoyed by my results and truly believe by photographing with "One Camera, One Lens" helped me improve my photography and my creativity. 

I urge you, no I challenge you, whatever genre you photograph, to try using "One Camera, One Lens". It is liberating and you too will be equally surprised as I was by the results. 

The six-day photography safari workshop was an overwhelming success; clients and photographers shared their passion and love of wildlife and photography. New friendships formed and some fantastic photographs were created. Much to the surprise of my fellow wildlife photographers quite a few photography clients expressed an interest in moving from DSLR to Fujifilm. I call this the "sewing machine effect"!