IRL: Fujifilm's XF55-200m zoom lens

Welcome to IRL, an ongoing feature where we talk about the gadgets, apps and toys we're using in real life and take a second look at products that already got the formal review treatment.

IRL: Fujifilm's XF55-200m zoom lens

It was nearly nine months ago that our copy editor Philip Palermo wrote about Fujifilm's X-E1 $799 interchangeable lens camera here in "IRL." Three seasons later, you can bet he's saved up money for at least one new lens. Here's how it's working out.

Fujifilm XF55-200mm lens

IRL Fujinon's XF55200m lens

My main goal when I picked upFuji's X-E1 was to find a nice middle ground: a relatively compact mirrorless body, but with the build quality and manual controls I love about my DSLRs. That best-of-both-worlds approach extends to the company's lenses, including its largest XF-series offering yet, the XF55-200mm zoom lens.

The XF55-200 is fairly compact, roughly comparable in size to consumer-grade DSLR kit lenses from Canon (EF-S 55-250mm) and Nikon (AF-S 55-200mm). The build quality, however, is substantially better. Whereas Canon's and Nikon's kit zooms are lightweight and plasticky, the XF55-200 is a solid, all-metal affair. The aperture, zoom and focus rings all boast unique textures, with the rubber-coated zoom ring taking up most of the barrel. All three rotate precisely, though some may find the zoom ring a tad stiff.

The lens also trumps those DSLR kit zooms with slightly wider max aperture ratings (3.5-4.8 on the Fuji vs. 4-5.6 for Canon and Nikon). The superior build quality and specs do come at a price – specifically $700, or more than twice the MSRP for the other two lenses. Still, the resulting image quality, optical stabilization and overall shooting experience make that price feel justified. I've used both Nikon's low-end kit zoom and its pro-level 70-200mm VR lenses, and Fuji's offering feels like it offers the portability of the former with image quality and a solid build that approach, though don't quite equal, the latter. See? Middle ground.

On the downside, though the XF55-200 may resemble those kit zooms when it comes to size, it easily outweighs them at 580g compared to less than 400g for the other two. And despite its relatively compact size, it still looks rather huge when mounted on my X-E1, especially since the detachable lens hood nearly doubles the overall length. Oh, and its 62mm filter size matches exactly none of my other Fuji lenses, which makes using things like neutral density filters overly complicated.

For those looking for both kit zoom size and kit zoom price, Fuji's XC50-230mm lens should be hitting stores in the coming weeks for around $400. It should be both lighter and slightly smaller than its XF counterpart, in part due to the omission of the aperture ring. Whichever one you choose, it seems like X-series users will soon have two solid telephoto zooms to choose from.

-- Philip Palermo