Bird Photography with the Fujifilm XF 100-400mm

Jan 15, 2018

When I switched from Nikon DSLR’s to my Fujifilm mirrorless cameras, I did it with gusto! I sold all my Nikon gear and never looked back! Well … sort of. To be honest, that statement isn’t entirely true and I feel the need to come clean now. As a new Fuji enthusiast, I am ashamed to say that I didn’t believe the Fujifilm XF 100-400mm would be good enough for bird photography. However, after some reflection, I now know that I was wrong!

First Love

A vacation to France in 2016 began my romance with Fuji. I picked up an X100T for the trip because I didn’t want to be weighed down with all my heavy DSLR gear. An X-T2 followed shortly after that, and then an upgrade to the X100F. With this new equipment, I felt inspired to shoot more, and I believe my skills as a photographer improved as a result.

The Affair

Although street photography is currently my genre of choice, nature photography is where I first got my feet wet. I am an avid birder and love the challenge of bird photography. For that reason, I secretly held onto two pieces of Nikon kit. I kept my D500. And to reach those birds, I held onto my 200-400 f/4 pro glass, all 7.4 pounds of it! I did not believe that this equipment could be replaced by any Fuji alternative. I kept my affair quiet, and the two cameras never knew about each other.

The Other Man

When the opportunity to test the Fujifilm XF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR lens came about through my work with Photography Life, I jumped at the chance to give it a try. I had my reservations though. As good as the Fuji kit was for all my other photographic needs, I was skeptical that the autofocus system on the X-T2 would be fast enough for bird photography.

My first few hours of shooting were a failure, and very frustrating! The AF-C default setting was not working for me. I had problems with the camera continuously focusing in front of my subject. This was particularly true when I was shooting low to the ground. I had the perfect opportunity to capture an image of a mother least tern feeding her chick. Instead, I ended up with sharp sand and blurry birds!

I did finally manage to get a decent shot off, but after mom flew off and lunch had been swallowed! Was it time to run back to Nikon?

The Relationship Grows

After experimenting with the continuous autofocus, I created a custom AF-C setting, and then things turned around. I was impressed with the camera’s ability to acquire focus and track moving targets. The X-T2 was even able to maintain focus when the birds momentarily disappeared behind foreground objects.

And picking up birds flying against a competing background was not an issue either.

Image quality was excellent with the X-T2 and Fujifilm XF 100-400mm combination. Now I’m not a pixel peeper. For me, the real test of image quality lies in the print. I am not concerned with how the image looks magnified to 100% on my screen, because that is not how I view the final product. I have had several of these photographs printed 8″x12″, and the quality is excellent. Unless you are making huge prints, heavily cropping your image, or zooming to crazing magnifications on a screen, you will be hard-pressed to tell the difference between a photo made from the Fuji gear and one taken with a DSLR.

The Divorce is Final

The size and weight of the Fujifilm X-T2 paired with the XF 100-400mm Lens make bird photography easier and far more enjoyable than it was using my heavy DSLR kit. Having fun with my craft is of utmost importance to me, along with image quality. I do not want photography to ever seem like a chore. So with that, Nikon and I have parted ways. But do not feel bad, the divorce was amicable, and we are still on speaking terms. I still see my D500 from time to time, as my husband now uses it as his primary camera. I will always cherish the times I had with my Nikon, but am relishing the times ahead with my Fuji! 

To see my complete article on whether the Fuji X-T2 and XF 100-400mm are Ready for Bird Photography, check out the link here. You will find many more details and images there, including the AF-C settings I found worked best.