When Fujifilm released the WCL-X100, a wide angle lens converter allowing the X100 series to go from a 35 to a 28mm equivalent FOV, many immediately began lusting after its logical follow-up at the other end: a 50mm converter; it only seemed obvious. But as straightforward as this may sound, the challenge in producing something worthwhile is to maintain a certain level of quality. Unlike a standalone lens, a converter is simply a glass assembly whose sole purpose is to piggyback on top of another lens and essentially distort its image. You screw it on like any other filter and optics go about bending and twisting light to achieve the desired results . The problem is that this process can easily introduce all kinds of problems: vignetting, distortion, CA, softness... In fact there's no way around it: it WILL degrade the image to some extent. The more complex the distortion needed, the more layers you add, the more intense the aberrations can be. It then becomes a question of compromise and what you're willing to live with to get that FOV.
Initially I'd been told the 50mm problem was a much tougher nut to crack than anticipated, which probably accounts for the time it took for this converter to be released. But from what I've seen, I think we can consider this nut cracked.
Let's get this out of the way: the TCL-X100 is extremely well built. It feels like a solid block of metal and blends in perfectly with the X100(s), although somewhat altering it's personality and footprint:
Less pocketable? Hmm yeah. Definitely. But it does balance really well and gives the camera a whole other appeal. The fact is I'm always switching between metal hood and bare lens with my X100... Can't really make up my mind up about it — so this makes the decision for me. The only thing to be aware of is how close the converter's glass element is to the edge: it's not flush but there's not a whole lot of depth to work with. The fact that the glass's curvature is particularly strong also plays into this. Adding a protective filter is always an option but it means more glass on top of more glass... Not ideal. This obviously won't be a deal breaker but it's something to keep in mind when out and about.
Both Fuji models are at a clear advantage compared to general purpose converters whose only target is thread size: they've been custom built for ONE very specific lens. This means their entire design can take into account the characteristics of the X100(s) and extract as much quality as possible, minimizing the less desirable side-effects. It also means firmware can be written to further compensate those side-effects using the camera's built-in processor and JPEG engine — case in point: new updates for both the X100 and X100S which add a new TELE function under the newly named Lens Converter menu item. When selected, it modifies the frame lines in the OVF and processes the images to alleviate distortion and vignetting.
I was busy editing when I received the package from Fujifilm Canada and had to wait before opening it (Oh! The horror...). I had finally just mounted the converter when the kids came home from school, so I enrolled my son for a quick portrait by the window... Colour me impressed (or is that monochrome me impressed?)
Seeing my good old X100 suddenly transformed into a fast 50mm equivalent? Pretty exciting stuff. Btw, don't forget to click those images for a larger version...
WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM MY FRIENDS
As I said earlier, conversion lenses by their very nature always introduce less desirable elements. Even with a converter exclusively designed for these specific cameras, you need processing to help in eliminating those unwanted side-effect. The new firmware introduces a function that compensates extremely well for the distortion and slight vignetting that occurs when shooting with the TCL-X100 but it's important to note that these corrections only apply to internally processed JPEG files — Raw images will need to be corrected in your image-editing software of choice.
Here are three (albeit very crappy) images that show what happens with various scenarios:
In the uncorrected version you can clearly see the distortion and vignetting compared with the other two files. But I'm not criticizing here: this is par for the course and it's all easily corrected if need be.
One thing to note: on the X100, I did notice slightly slower focussing times in certain conditions but this isn't something I've heard of from other photographers using the teleconverter on the X100S. Obviously, the X100 has come far in terms of speed thanks to firmware updates, but there's still a huge gap when compared to the X100S performance. I imagine there's just so much optimizing that can be done. But it's not too severe and as I said, this seems limited to the older X100.
So, will I be purchasing the TCL-X100? Well, I can be pragmatic at times believe it or not (I know... It doesn't happen very often). Considering a) the gear I'm currently working with (X-Pro1, X-T1 and the older X100) and b) the quality of the Fujinon 35mm f/1.4 (same 50mm equivalent), this teleconverter would be redundant. At least for the time being.
That being said: with both converters now available, it's hard not to make the case for an exclusively X100S-based kit: 28, 35 and 50mm are all classic reportage focal lengths. Combined with the appeal of the X100S as a street/documentary shooter and its crazy flash sync capabilities it's certainly something to consider if you haven't yet invested in the interchangeable lens lineup of the X-Series or don't need anything wider or longer. If I was headed for a trip around the globe I could pack this insanely compact kit and roam my brains out without the slightest concern. Of course I'd feel the same way about carrying nothing but the X100S ;)
For additional images taken with the TCL-X100 check out the posts below. UK photographer Kevin Mullins also has a great review featuring his usual stunning work.
The teleconverter is set to retail at $349.95 US. More info here.