Fujinon XF16-55mm F2.8 LM R WR- a working dog worth the money.
Keiran O’Neill and his dogs, Ranfurly, Central Otago
Fujifilm X-T1, 16-55 F2.8 LM R WR
ISO 200, 1/125s @ f11
I have been waiting for this lens for some time.
When Fujifilm entered the market with the X-Pro 1 and its 3 old-school prime lenses, a 28, 50 and 90mm full-frame equivalent, they were taking aim squarely at all of us who were Leicaphiles without the deep pockets to support that particular addiction. And while they were supremely capable, for this particular photographer, they weren’t quite there. 28mm has always seemed to me to be a focal length with an identity crisis, not sure whether it wanted to be a wide-angle or a standard lens, too long to really give the perspective expansion of a 24mm and too short for the subtle compression of a 50mm. 90mm makes for a moderate telephoto (very moderate) but lacks the pulling power needed when you want to haul in something far away or get obvious perspective compression. Or both.
Then the flood began. Since then, it has rained camera bodies and lenses, particularly the latter, as Fujifilm have developed a range which is beginning to compete with Canon and Nikon. A quick count of a popular online retailer reveals 6 camera bodies and 16 lenses available for sale (18 if you include the adaptors for the X100S/T). And there are more in the pipeline. Now you can select a prime lens for almost any purpose, and the range of zooms has continue to expand. Now there are entry level zooms (the XC range) and variable aperture zooms for the prosumer/enthusiast market. Fujifilm seem to have left the pro market until last (although many of us have been using the former for professional work). Now, with the X-T1, 10-24/f4 OIS and the glitteringly good 50-140 R LM OIS, our needs have been met.
With one exception; a mid-range larger-aperture zoom.
As a working pro, most of my needs can be met with 3 zoom lenses; an ultra-wide with a full frame-equivalent range in the vicinity of 15-35, a 70-200/2.8 and a 24-70 zoom. I don’t shoot sport or fungi or birds, and the fewer lenses I have to use on a job, the less time I will spend switching them out (and gathering sensor dust).Real estate, portraiture, wedding, stock, performance and event work can all be covered within this range. However the one lens I cannot do without is a mid-range 24-70/2.8 FF equivalent. This is my workhorse lens, perfect for getting in close and personal on an event, and with the focal ranges I use most for landscape photography, where moving forward or back may mean falling over a cliff. It is the lens by which I judge the quality of a manufacturer’s offerings, for the glass is the thing which determines the quality of the file for post-production.
And the experiences have been both good and terrible.
- The Sony Zeiss 24-70/2.8 I used on my A900 was stellar, but the build quality was never designed to take the brutal treatment my gear receives, and after a time it became sloppy and unreliable. Slow fail.
- The Canon 24-70/2.8 I used was superb on my 1DS Mk II (16Mp), but no match for the sensor on the 1Ds Mk III. Given that it was released in the days when film ruled, I suppose that is to be expected. It was soft in the corners. Hell, it was soft all over. Abject Fail.
- The Nikon AF-S 24-70/ 2.8G ED I used on my D800 for a year should have been a jewel, but it wasn’t. I could only use it at F9, and even then the corners were soft. Thinking it was the lens, I tried at least 4 others. They all had mushy corners. I took to using a Sigma 35/1.4 Art lens (which showed what the D800 sensor really was capable of) and leaving the Nikkor at home. Epic Fail. Return to Sender.
Then, just as I was about to leave for 10 days on the road, shooting for a corporate client, one of the new Fujifilm XF 16-55/ 2.8 lenses turned up for me to test drive. How fortuitous!
I have a simple but brutal test method. I take it out of the box, have a quick fiddle in case there is some button or switch I should know about, and then I stick it in my camera bag (a venerable faded and frayed Domke Little Bit Bigger I will never sell) and go to work. The lens can expect to be bolted on the camera and sit beside me on the passenger seat until I need it. It will never be mothered like Liberace’s pampered lapdog, fed titbits and put to bed on a silken pillow each night. It will receive all the kindness and sympathy of a musterer’s working dog, fed just enough to keep it mean and keen and expected to keep up at all times- or be shot.
However I was keen to try this one out. Fellow X Photographers in our closed FaceBook group were foaming at the mouth about how good it was. I wanted to see for myself, so I avoided reading their reviews.
The first Impression is how big it is- for an X lens that is. It has a 77mm front element, the biggest so far on any X lens. O S*#@!!! Another polariser to buy.
The movements are stiff, pleasing so, indicating that this one will keep up with the pack for quite some time. And it has an aperture ring, like its kennel mate, the 50-140. The movements have a nice satisfying um..clickiness. You can even feel the 1/3 stops. The focusing is internal, but the manual focussing isn’t nice. The fly-by wire takes an eternity to go from one end to the other. Perhaps it was because it was an editor’s sample. And it comes with the ubiquitous plastic petal hood. I much prefer the metal ones on the 18 and 35, -they scar honourably.
The lens mount is solid metal, and beautifully machined. It is a WR lens, meaning I will be able to use it in the rain and not panic. Good. It isn’t there to be pampered. And at $NZ 2200, it isn’t cheap. It had better perform.
Although it is large and heavy for an X lens, on the X-T1 with battery grip, it balances rather beautifully, with all the gravitas of a Big Boy combo, without the weight and bulk. Nice.
What did surprise me was that it wasn’t stabilised. Apparently putting in OIS would have made a large (for Fujifilm) lens even larger. Oh well. None of the others I used were either. Shrug and move on.
Enough of the inspection. I went to work.
Over the next week I was in and out of the truck, the camera and lens hauled out at short notice and put to work. I used it in all sorts of light and weathers, handheld and on a tripod. And it never once faltered. Focusing was fast and precise, in the same league as the 50-140. Apart from the manual focusing ring’s slowness, it performed solidly and well. The view was big, bright and beautiful, enabling me to engage easily with my subject.
I came home with cards full of images, ready to check out how it had performed. Import, catalogue, sort and select. Then off to Photo Ninja for conversion and post–production.
Given previous experience, I wouldn’t have been surprised if it had let me down a little.
I needn’t have worried. While there is a little field curvature at the wide end, this is easily corrected in post. The corners were as sharp as I hoped they would be. The edge acutance is bitingly sharp and microdetail acutely rendered.
And I am going to out on a limb here. This lens is so damn good that I can’t help wondering if it isn’t more than a match for the X-Trans II sensor, that there is something in the pipeline Fujifilm are not telling us about, that this lens is designed for a sensor-to-come. Most of the lenses I have tested from OB’s (Other Brands) struggle to keep up with the sensor. This one is the other way. Somehow the dog is a bit too clever for its master.
Who is it for?
At $NZ2200, this isn’t a cheap lens. It is in a similar bracket to its Nikon and Canon rivals. However Fujifilm are open about the fact that they are going for the high ground, and that they build to a standard, not a price. To my mind the 16-55 F2.8 LM R WR is in the Premier League with the 50-140 2.8and the 56 1.2 APD. Club shooters on limited budgets will probably lust but not go there. Medical and/or legal professionals or amateurs with deep pockets probably will because they can.
Professional photographers shooting X, who are only ever as good as their last job, and need to wring the last drop from their work, absolutely must consider this lens.
This is a premium-priced working dog worth every cent.