The Fujifilm XF 18-135 -The Swiss Army knife of lenses?
Window, George Street, Dunedin
Fujifilm X-E2, XF 18-135 LM OIS WR
ISo 1600. 1/100s @ f11
Just to make things really clear at the beginning, I have never had much time for one-size fits-all Swiss Army lenses.
My prejudice came from seeing the results from an early Nikon 18-200 VR whatever. It was a superb lens for portraiture, which gave no risk of ever being sharp or accentuating skin blemishes. It had an (unintentional) soft-focus built in, Any aperture, any focal length. It barked.
As did the Tamron I also tried.
AND the Canon EOS equivalent, which had more bark than a gang member’s pit-bull.
I have stayed away ever since.
And there is a reason.
I prefer primes and short distance focal length zooms (16-35, 24-70, etc.). My rationale has to do with the number of elements in the lens. Every time light transitions from air to glass or vice-versa, refraction occurs, and a small amount of clarity is lost, due to scattering, Those of you who slept through the optics section of school science and want to catch up can read more here. Every piece of glass is 2 opportunities for loss of quality. A lens with 6 elements has only six transitions; a 21-element lens has 42.
The other thing my ( unscientific) testing has told me is that it is difficult to maintain image quality from one end of a focal range to the other, and the greater the distance between the two, the more likelihood of a fail at some point. My Canon 100-400 IS was beautiful at 100mm, very good at 200 and dogfood at 400mm. As were the other 3 samples of this model which I tested. The last of them was fabulous at 400mm and a Pekinese at 100mm. I gave up and sold it.
So, when Fujifilm New Zealand asked me to test their offering in the Swiss Army category, I was underwhelmed.
If I must. Meh.
However of late I have got a lot of phone calls asking me what I think of it, when I am going to review it, and is it the perfect lens to take on a world trip. And, given that not one of the XF lenses I have used and tested is bad, would this be the one to let the side down?
Peruse further, Dear Reader.
The XF18-135mmF3.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR is, as I understand it, the first of the Fujifilm lenses to be given WR (weather-resistant) status. That means you can happily stand out in that Indian monsoon with the lens bolted to your X-T1 and channel Brian Brake.
It is stabilised and supposedly offers 4-5 stops of stabilisation. Perfect for that smoky bar in Bogota, when you want to photograph Colombian drug dealers.
It has 16 elements in 12 groups, including 4 aspherical elements and 2 anomalous dispersion lenses (whatever that means).
Its effective full-frame focal length is 27-206mm. perfect for almost everything you are likely to meet while travelling.
It has a 67mm filter thread and focuses 0.6mm to infinity (0.45m using the macro setting).
Max aperture is f3.5 at the short end, f5.6 at the long end.
It weighs 490gm, and is about the same size as an XF 55-200, give or take. And it comes with a petal lens hood. So it isn’t light and it certainly won’t fit in your pocket.
I asked myself who might want this lens.
Answer: a tourist who REALLY wants to lighten up and take a minimalist kit. Pair this lens/camera combo with a bag like the Thinktank Turnstyle 5, chuck in a card wallet or two, and couple of extra batteries, and you have a kit for travel, weighing around 1Kg. You will never be questioned by airport check-in, when you check in your checked-in baggage (sorry), and you can leave home knowing your camera will be with you at all times.
But is it any good?
I was dubious. Very dubious.
So, given that this is a lens aimed at the traveller, I decided to make like a tourist and attempt to shoot the sort of things tourists might shoot. Landscapes from bus windows, buildings, monuments, that sort of thing.
I opted NOT to pull out an optical test chart and bore myself stupid photographing lines and frequency patterns.
Would this be the perfect lens to take on an overseas trip?
I went for a walk around Newmarket in Auckland, with the lens attached to my X-T1.
Then, with time to spare in the bustling metropolis of Dunedin, I went for a walk. This time I decided to use my X-E2.
The lens feels substantial when mounted on this camera. You know it is there and correct handholding is necessary to support a sense of a stable unit. It is important to rest it on the palm of your left hand, rather like using a rifle, and operate the zoom ring with the left thumb and middle finger. Then it feels balanced and quite natural.
The zoom range is quite Goldilocks. Not too wide and not too long. You can happily reach across a four-lane street with it.
So my (user) impressions.
At the short end on both cameras, it achieves precise focus quickly and easily. At the long end less so. On both cameras I found it had a tendency to hunt, especially in low light, when it sometimes struggled to lock on, requiring me to have a couple of attempts. When I updated the body firmware to Ver. 2.10 on the X-E2, things improved markedly. However this is not a lens for shooting birds or motor racing unless you prefocus. It is perfect for shooting the Matterhorn or the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, neither of which move much.
The OIS is very good. I got sharp, motion-free images handheld at 1/15s. The OIS really delivers.
So far, so impressed
The Proof is in the editing
When I downloaded the images and looked at them in Lightroom, I found that at the short end, it is prone to barrel distortion. This is not a biggie, since you can correct this in post-production, provided you remember to slightly over-frame. I might add that the venerable 18-55 kit lens does this as well.
Then I peered into the corners of the files.
And I was pleasantly surprised.
At f11, there is little or no distortion. Not at all what I expected from a Compromise Lens.
There is a slight amount of barrel distortion, probably more a result of field curvature than optical defects, and it is easily corrected.
I should have known.
Fujifilm simply do not make bad lenses. They build to a standard, not a price.
I wanted to find fault with this lens. I really did.
A friend rather gloomily said to me: I suppose this is going to be another Fujifilm fanboi post, Tony. I assured him I would be as nit-picky as possible. Sorry, Sean.
But I have struggled.
Apart from the slight focus sluggishness I am unable to give this lens the thumbs-down.
It is certified fit-for-purpose. Very Fit for Purpose!
At a recent workshop, one of the participants asked me a question:
Tony. You are going overseas. Which 3 l3nses would you take?
Easy. The XF 10-24, the XF 18-55, and the XF 55-200.
Ok. Now if you could take only 2, what would they be?
Hmmm. The XF18-55 and the XF 55-200.
And if you could take only one lens, what would it be?
Hmmmmmmmm. The XF 18-55.
That was then and this now.
I have new answer to the last question.
Only one lens?
Why, I would take the XF 18-135 of course.
O, and my X100S…