Thursday, June 26, 2014

Review: Fujifilm TCL-X100 Converter Lens

Fujifilm X-100S with TCL-X100. 1/400th sec f/5.6 @ ISO 1250. Chinatown, Vancouver


When Fujifilm announced the WCL-X100 wide angle converter for the X-100 series cameras, I was a bit confused. The difference between the standard 35mm equiv (23mm) angle of view and the 28mm equiv you got with the converter was negligible. If it went to 21mm or even 24mm equiv, I would have been more interested. But I understand why they didn't go wider, since the optical viewfinder on the X-100(s) couldn't accommodate such a wide lens (although they could have been creative and added some sort of OVF adaptor as well...) When Fujifilm recently announced the TCL-X100 this spring, my ears perked up. A 50mm equiv focal length with a rangefinder-style camera... now that's more like it! When Fujifilm Canada asked if I wanted to test it out for a few weeks, I immediately said yes! Let's check out this monster converter and see how it performs on the X-100S...

Fujifilm X-100S with TCL-X100. 1/1700 sec f/4.0 @ ISO 1600. The Standard Bike Repair, Chinatown.

When I did my full review of the X-100S last year, I was really impressed with it. So impressed that I was considering buying it for myself. The 23mm lens (35mm equiv) is great for street photography, and since the X-100S is compact and has a built-in optical viewfinder, walking around and shooting with it really gave me a Leica-like shooting experience. I was thinking that it would be great if Fuji came out with a dedicated 50mm equiv (33mm) version of the X-100S, similar to how Sigma has multiple versions of their DP Merrill compact cameras (28, 45, 75mm equiv). An X-100S with a dedicated 50mm equiv lens would be great, but a telephoto conversion lens for existing X-100(s) shooters is a perfect solution!


Look at the framing between the tree to the left and red pole to the right. Very accurate.

One of the biggest concerns about this conversion lens is the visual intrusion within the frame lines while shooting in OVF mode (optical viewfinder). Yes, the adapter does find its way into the actual frame of the image, but I didn't find it too obtrusive. If you shoot Leica, and shoot either with a super wide lens, or a big aperture lens, then this is considered normal. I've attached a sample image showing how it looks like through the OVF (above). I tried my best to shoot the camera and my iPhone at the exact same time, but it was difficult. However, I didn't move the camera while shooting so you can see how accurate the frame lines are via the OVF. Another thing to notice is that shooting from right to left, it is easy to miss what's coming into your viewfinder from the right, but coming in from the left is wide open. 

While shooting with the adapter on the camera, I rarely used EVF or LCD view mode, focusing on shooting OVF only. Why would I do this? Because I think the most attractive feature of the X-100 series cameras is the hybrid EVF-OVF. I bet Leica shooters would love to have this feature on their M series cameras, being able to view both in true rangefinder and digital EVF mode with the flick of a switch. The OVF helps you become a better photographer, helping you to be aware of how the camera interprets light and shadow differently from the human eye, and then adjust the behaviour of the camera to your liking. 

One thing to remember about this conversion lens is that it is not electronically coupled with the camera. Once you attach the threaded lens onto your X-100(s) by first removing the lens ring on the camera, you have to go into the main menu and switch conversion lens option to teleconverter option. If you don't do this, the proper frame lines within the OVF will not show up and you're going to get way more in the image than anticipated. Even when shooting in EVF and LCD mode, you're going to see exactly what you're going to get, but the image will be incorrectly tagged as being shot at 23mm (35mm equiv) instead of 33mm (50mm equiv). If you're going to shoot back and forth between the conversion lens and the standard lens, please remember to always switch the menu option. Yes it's a bit of a hassle, I know.


Fujifilm X-100S with TCL-X100. 1/850th f/4.0 @ ISO 400. Chinatown, Vancouver.


There is one cool feature that the X-100S has implemented to help you focus while in OVF mode. Since the OVF is not a true rangefinder, there is no way to manually focus visually. Instead, in manual focus mode with the OVF turned on, as soon as you turn the focus ring the camera switches to the EVF, zooms in, and with focus peaking on, you can quickly focus. Tap the shutter button and it quickly switches back to OVF mode. Some may not like this, but I don't see a better way to incorporate manual focus into the X-100S in OVF mode. There is a way to customize how to manually focus in EVF mode (zoom, no zoom, focus peak on or off), but unless you switch to EVF, there's no way to focus in OVF mode. I think this is the best compromise, and I found it very effective while shooting on the run.

The shooting difference between a 35mm and 50mm equiv is quite pronounced when shooting on the street. At 50mm, your depth of field is more shallow, and your subjects will feel closer to you. I found that my usual 2-2.5 meter scale focus shooting distance had to be changed to about 3.5-4 meters, and my f/5.6 aperture had to be at least f/8. I did enjoy being able to shoot across the street without having to step into the middle of the road (or heavy cropping), and also being able to do decent hip-up portraits of people. You can get away with it with the 35mm equiv, but it's not great. For me, the adapter was made to do portraits of people, and that's what I spent much of my time doing. Here are some examples:






There were only two real issues I had with the conversion lens, one already mentioned about the intrusion into the OVF frame lines. This is no big deal for me. The second issue has to do with lens flare. This is a big piece of glass, and the front element is huge. It's beautiful to look at, but you can imagine what happens when light comes in at weird angles. Unlike usual starburst or sunray type flare, the TCL-X100 has big, blotchy flare. It's not pretty. I don't think its the quality of the glass, construction, or any design weakness of the converter, but just a consequence of having an adapter on top of an already existing lens. To maintain the same aperture of f/2.0, the front element has to be large, and because there's no lens hood (it would be impossible to shoot in OVF mode with a lens hood), shooting either directly into the sun, or at an angle to the sun creates unattractive reflections as you can see by these two examples:




Perhaps those who have large aperture lenses are use to having big, round, blotchy flare in their images, but this is something to watch out for if you like shooting towards your light source. You have to either block the flare with your hands, attach a screw-on lens hood (but not use OVF), or watch your angles (avoid back or side lighting). Perhaps if Fuji made this adapter smaller with a maximum aperture of only f/4.0 and attach a modest lens hood, then this problem could have be avoided. However, for those who insist on a fast, wide open lens, then this adapter is great. The X-100S was never that sharp at f/2.0, but at f/4.0, this lens with the adapter is super sharp and contrasty.

My final conclusion is that the TCL-X100 telephoto conversion lens is a great accessory for anyone who has the Fujifilm X-100(s) cameras. It's great having a compact non interchangeable lens point-and-shoot camera, but sometimes it's necessary to have different focal lengths. Instead of dragging around a second camera, all you need is to buy this high quality telephoto adapter lens for your X-100(s) and you're ready to go. Use it for medium telephoto images, great for waist-up portraits, decent isolation-bokeh shots, and across-the-street images. 


Fujifilm X-100S with TCL-X100. 1/850 sec f/5.6 @ ISO 1250. Chinatown, Vancouver. 


At the time of writing this article, the price for the TCL-X100 is $350 USD, which isn't cheap. However, this isn't a cheaply constructed, nor a cheap performing conversion lens. For those who already own the X-100(s) camera, it's a small price to pay to add an extra focal length to an already great camera. For those who enjoy shooting rangefinder-style with the OVF, having the 50mm frame lines and being able to see so much outside the frame is one of the joys of shooting with a Leica M series camera. Being able to see outside your image frame and watching your subject walk into your frame is an effective tool for street photographers. Just make sure you turn off image preview so that you can enjoy the exact moment of creating the image (or else the OVF will switch to EVF and display the image taken, wasting the whole reason for shooting in OVF mode!!).

Thanks to Fujifilm Canada for allowing me to test the TCL-X100 on the super cool X-100S camera. I actually featured it while being interviewed by Eric Kim, and I also did a quick YouTube video review recently. Check it out when you have time. If you have any questions, please comment below. Thanks for visiting and happy shooting!!

BHT

My Full Review of the Fujifilm X-100S

My Preview of the Fujifilm TCL-X100 Telephoto Conversion Lens

My Video Review of the TCL-X100 with the X-100S


1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this review, I've been waffling for a while on whether this converter could be the ticket to revitalize my love for this camera. Portraits have been lacking, hopefully this can get the image I want without excessive crop attempts

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