Sibling Rivalry: The Underestimated XC 50-230mm
There are many reviews on the internet about Fuji's well known XF zooms: the 55-200mm f/3.5-4.8 and the 50-140mm f/2.8. I've even posted a recent review of the red-badged professional grade XF 50-140mm myself and noted its amazing quality, but you'd be hard pressed to find as much information about a third sibling in Fuji's lineup: the XC 50-230mm f/4.5-6.7. Labeled as a cheaper consumer product, this lens is often overlooked in favor of its two older brothers. Like most younger brothers who strive to compete with their older brothers, the XC 50-230mm packs a surprising combination of size, weight and immense reach that not even the 50-140mm can match.
NOT REALLY A COMPETITION
It's important to note that this is a comparison piece, as opposed to a serious competition. It'd be easy to pit a lens against another in a classic versus battle, but I'll leave that for the detailed analysis of the fantastic Fuji vs. Fuji site. In the case of the current telephoto Fuji zooms, in particular the XF 50-140mm and the XC 50-230mm, the build quality and exact specs of each lens would make a direct versus battle laughable. The build quality and the design that went into the XF 50-140mm is unsurpassed, but that doesn't necessarily mean Fuji was asleep at the wheel when designing the XC 50-230mm. In actual use, what comes from the XC 50-230mm might surprise you.
SMALL LENS, BIG HEART
It's tough to live in the shadow of your older siblings. Look at the XF 50-140mm: immensely popular, amazing build quality, 23 elements in 16 groups, weather resistance, dedicated OIS switch, aperture ring, a triple linear motor for fast autofocus and all of that along with the capability to maintain a constant f/2.8 aperture. It's an amazing piece of engineering.
The XC 50-230mm is built a bit differently: high quality plastic frame, 13 elements in 10 groups, optical image stabilization and...not much more. There is no aperture ring and no OIS switch; instead you'll need to use the command dial to change the aperture and the camera menu controls to turn OIS on or off. It's also inherently a bit slower with a range of f/4.5 to f/6.7. That range is definitely not helpful in low light, but the real power of the XC 50-230mm lies on the inside. Within the "cheaper" exterior lies the same engineering prowess and care that Fuji puts into all of their lenses. The plastic shell of the lens is said to be manufactured in China to keep costs down, but the optics (the heart) of the XC 50-230mm is still Fuji work. Given the right conditions, this little brother starts to give its two older siblings a run for their money.
MAKING THE CASE FOR THE XC 50-230mm
Let's do a quick lightning round to see where the XC 50-230mm is actually giving the XF 50-140mm a run for its money:
- Reach: For the time being, the XC 50-230mm is the farthest reaching native Fuji X-mount lens.
- Weight: Plastic materials may feel cheap, but the XC 50-230mm is light as a feather.
- Size: It fits easily into my daily carry, the Think Tank Retrospective 5, making it easily available in the event that I need the extra reach.
- Price: At $400 USD, it's $1200 USD less than the XF 50-140mm and $300 USD less than the XF 55-200mm. Those of you who purchase used gear will find even better pricing for the XC 50-230mm, and it's even given away as a kit zoom in some Fuji camera packages.
- Quality: Someone forgot to tell the Fuji engineers that this was supposed to be an XC kit zoom, because it somehow matches XF series optics and exudes image quality far beyond its perceived performance level.
There are, of course, concessions to be made. The XF 50-140mm is intentionally built the way it is to provide the professional market what it needs in terms of aperture range and autofocus performance. There is no dedicated linear motor technology in the XC 50-230mm to match the AF performance on the XF 50-140mm, but if you're aware of it's focus and speed limitations and adapt your shooting methods to compensate for them, the XC 50-230mm, in my opinion, will actually give you similar results when compared to the XF 50-140mm. Pixel peepers around the world just gasped at that last sentence, but let's take a look at some XC 50-230mm sample images below (all images can be clicked to open a Lightbox):
50-230MM SAMPLES (INFO BURNT IN ON BOTTOM LEFT OF IMAGE):
50-140MM SAMPLES (INFO BURNT IN ON BOTTOM LEFT OF IMAGE):
Note: Although the 50-140mm can be shot wide open at f/2.8, I chose to stop down for the series of images above to more accurately match the 50-230mm.
DECIDING ON AN X-SERIES ZOOM LENS
When I look at the quality in the images above and other XC 50-230mm samples like them on the web, the lines between these zoom lenses start to get blurred. Ultimately I think choosing a Fuji X-Series telephoto zoom between the three current contenders comes down to an exercise in understanding your shooting needs and seriously considering the options, like so:
Looking for an X-Series telephoto zoom? Start here (the links below are not affiliate links):
Consider the XC 50-230mm f/4.5-6.7 if:
- You need a telephoto zoom lens for your X-series system.
- You want fantastic image quality.
- You want a light-weight lens at a manageable size.
...but consider these limitations:
- Can you accept the slow speed (f/4.5-6.7) of the XC 50-230mm and only use it in lighting situations that make sense?
- Can you accept only using the XC 50-230mm for situations that don't require instant AF lock or tracking?
- Can you manage to use the command dial to change the aperture and switch OIS on and off via the camera menu?
Consider the XF 55-200mm f/3.5-4.8 if:
- You want all of the features above, plus:
- A faster aperture range of f/3.5-4.8.
- Linear motor technology for faster autofocus.
- A dedicated aperture ring and OIS switch on the body of the lens.
...but consider these limitations:
- Can you spare the additional $300 USD for the added features?
- Can you sacrifice 5mm at the short end and 30mm at the long end?
Consider the XF 50-140mm f/2.8 if:
- You need a weather resistant zoom.
- You want a constant f/2.8 aperture.
- You want the fastest AF performance possible.
- You demand the highest build quality possible.
...but consider these limitations:
- Can you spare the additional $900 to $1200 USD?
- Can you live with the fact that, at only 140mm, the XF 50-140mm has less reach than the two smaller zoom lenses mentioned?
- Can you work with the size and weight of this lens, which are both considerably more than the two smaller zooms mentioned?
It's not important which lens you ultimately select if you're in the market for an X-series zoom, but what I do think is very important is that you actually consider the XC 50-230mm as the start of your decision making process. To forego considering it simply because it doesn't have the XF designation would be a mistake, in my opinion.
THE SLEEPER LENS
In the end, I'm not trying to tell anyone how to spend their hard earned money. At least one of the three Fuji X-Series telephoto zooms currently offered is going to work for you and, of course, only you know what you need and if you can work around a lenses limitations. Each of these three lenses have their strengths and weaknesses, but I'd suggest you carefully give the XC 50-230mm another look if you're in the market for a native X-mount telephoto zoom.
The XC 50-230mm is the Rudy of the family. It's small, yet powerful. Unsuspecting but also surprising. It doesn't ask for attention but its performance commands it. And when the game is over and the XC 50-230mm's work is done, you'll come away with some stunning keepers.