Should I buy the XF16-55mm lens?

X-Photographer strip BLACKBy Chris Upton
chrisupton-168pxThere has been no bigger advocate of the Fujifilm XF18-55mm f2.8/4 zoom lens than me. With it’s diminutive size, robust build, superb image stabilisation and excellent image quality it seems disparaging to refer to it as a “kit lens”.

As a travel photographer, where weight is an important factor, and one of the key reasons for me moving to Fuji in the first place, it has been my mainstay lens. Covering key focal lengths from wide angle to modest telephoto it is a perfect “walk around” lens.


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Taken on the XF16-55mm lens

So when Fujifilm launched the XF16-55mm f/2.8 R LM WR I dismissed buying one pretty quickly, mainly because of the increased size and weight and lack of Optical Image Stabilisation. Fujifilm apparently decided not to incorporate OIS as it would compromise image quality and add to the size, weight and cost. It should be noted that the major DSLR competitors equivalents do not include this feature either.

However, when Fujifilm offered me the opportunity to try out the 16-55 I jumped at it, intrigued to see for myself how it performed and if it could justify its premium price point versus its smaller sibling.

XF16-55mm_FrontWhen it arrived I was immediately struck by the obvious! It was much bigger and heavier than the 18-55 weighing in at 657g versus 310g, up to 130mm long v 98mm and featuring a 77mm filter thread v 58mm. All in all a beast of a lens and one that seemed to fly in the face of the compact system concept.

There was no image stabilisation but the lens did feel reassuringly solid. The weight is a result of the sheer amount of glass Fujifilm have used to construct this lens. With 17 elements in 7 groups and a metal body it has a real “pro / workhorse” feel. I should declare at this stage that I also own a Canon DSLR and some L lenses including the 24-70  f2.8 mkII – the full frame equivalent of the Fuji lens. Though consigned to the cupboard and waiting for the inevitable eBay listing, it was interesting to compare the two lenses. Suddenly my “new” Fuji lens felt like a nimble lightweight and I was eager to test it out.

Mounting the lens onto my X-T1 meant that I had a weather resistant pairing, really useful for any photographer shooting outdoors. The aperture ring has definite clicks in 1/3 stop increments, there is a red marking on the lens to denote its position as a premium lens and I noted that the filter thread was metal, important with frequent use of filter systems like Lee and Hitech.

Although this lens is wider by only 2mm versus the 18-55 for me this is important as I quite often find that 28mm equivalent is not quite wide enough and I have to swap to my 10-24mm. Not a big issue but having a 24mm – 85mm equivalent is much more useful.

I had the perfect opportunity to test it out on a trip to Cinque Terre where I wanted to not only check out the image quality but also how it felt to manage the increased size and weight.

I was determined to use the lens as much as possible and to do a direct comparison with the 18-55. So what were my findings?

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Using the lens was a dream, uncomplicated, reassuringly solid and a quality feel.  If I’m honest I think that the lens looks just about OK when mounted on the X-T1, it certainly looks better and feels more balanced when using the VG X-T1 battery grip – a pity I sold mine as I didn’t want the extra bulk! The petal shaped lens hood worked well too.

A slight downside for me was using filters. As a Lee Seven5 filter system user on the smaller lenses I had to use my 100mm filters on this lens which duplicated the filters and added slightly to the weight and bulk of my kit.

Of course an f2.8 lens throughout its zoom range means that you can achieve some pleasing bokeh particularly at the longer end of the zoom range when close to your subject. Though on a crop sensor you get the equivalent of roughly f4 on a full frame. The autofocus was fast, quiet and accurate and internal so that the front element doesn’t rotate, again important for filter users.

However, ultimately what’s most important is image quality and here the 16-55 didn’t disappoint.  It is an extremely sharp lens throughout the focal lengths with very little fall off or distortion and the contrast and colour rendition, in common with all Fujifilm lenses, was stunning. Several images were shot into the sun and I was impressed that the ghosting and flare was minimal due to the nano GI coating on the front element.

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As for testing there are various websites that show detailed performance MTF charts but for my field test I shot comparison images of Vernazza, Cinque Terre on an X-T1 body, tripod mounted at 23mm. I shot the same view at f2.8 – f11 on both the 16-55 f 2.8 and 18-55 f2.8/4.

I then ran a further test photographing Southwell Minster on an X-Pro2 using both lenses at a range of popular focal lengths 16 / 18mm, 23mm, 35mm and 55mm and at apertures of f2.8/4, 5.6, 8, 11 & 16.

In summary both lenses produced excellent results though, no surprise, the 16-55mm delivered stunning image quality at virtually every aperture.

The 18-55 performed best, looking at centre and edge sharpness, at f8 at 18mm and 23mm and f11 at 35mm and 55mm. When shooting landscapes I use a tripod, selecting f11 or f8 for many of my shots, so it is not a surprise therefore to see why I have been so pleased with its performance. As you might expect that performance falls away a little at f4 particularly in the corners. That is where the 16-55 comes in. The 17 elements and lens coatings combine to deliver a performance that is superb with amazing sharpness in the centre and edges especially at apertures of f5.6 and f8. The lens is not quite as sharp in the corners at f2.8 and diffraction starts to set in at f16, in common with most lenses, though still acceptable.

Directly comparing the two lenses I would say that at their optimum apertures they perform similarly but the extra quality in the 16-55 delivers better results at the wider apertures and extremes of focal length in both the centre and at the edges.

Here are some results showing 100% crops of the RAF file with no processing, though it should be noted that Lightroom automatically applies lens correction for chromatic aberration and distortion.

So which one should you choose? That’s perhaps a tricky one as it really depends on what’s important to you and what you shoot.

If weight, bulk, image stabilisation, smaller filter sizes and very good image quality (excellent at certain apertures) and not forgetting of course the price is important to you, then the 18-55mm will serve you very well.

However, if it’s ultimately all about image quality and you would benefit from weather sealing and don’t mind the extra weight and lack of OIS then the 16-55mm is a stunning lens. A zoom that performs like a prime, it is well worth the extra money.


To see more of Chris’ work, visit www.chrisuptonphotography.com

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My perfect travel kit

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CP+, an international comprehensive camera and photo imaging show presents the latest products and technologies, all in order to help further the development of the photo industry and photographic culture from Japan — the heartland of the photo imaging industry — to the world

CP+ Camera and Photo Imaging Show 2015 will be taking place in Yokohama, Japan next week and I’ve been lucky enough to be invited to go along to help out.

I’ll be there for a week and I’ll be shooting for work pretty much constantly, but will hopefully also get the opportunity to shoot for myself, something that will be made especially amazing since I’ll be in great company with an amazing bunch of professional photographers:

Damien Lovegrove – portrait photographer and lighting guru from the UK
Chris Weston – wildlife photographer from Switzerland / UK
Knut Koivisto – portrait photographer from Sweden
Tomasz Lazar – reportage photographer from Poland and winner of a World Press Photo award 2012.

So now I’m left to decide what gear to take…

 

Documenting the show

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The “show bag”. Everything I’ll need to shoot and share at the show.

I want to travel light during the day, and at the show I will be looking to capture images that will reflect what is going on. I’ll be writing some blog posts and I’ll want some images that will help convey the general atmosphere and feeling of the show. For this I can’t think of a better option than my trusty X100S. (Actually an X100T is a better option for the wireless transfer but my Eye-Fi card lets me work around this). If I can get hold of one before next week, I’ll also be packing the WCL-X100 as it’s tiny yet that slightly wider angle of view can make a big difference when I don’t have any more space behind me to step into. Finally, I’ll also be using my trusty Gordy’s camera strap to hold my camera secure and close to my hand at all times.

Shooting for me

My wife has challenged me to help her decorate the living room. This basically means she wants some nice landscape shots (that I took so there’s a personal attachment) to print and frame. I’m not entirely convinced how plausible this might be looking at my schedule, but assuming I’ll get at least some free time in either Tokyo or Yokohama, I’ll need to make sure I’m prepared.

 

Camera + lenses

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Fujinon XF35mmF1.4 and the X-T1 with XF14mmF2.8

 

For this I’m going to pack an X-T1 and XF14mmF2.8. I know the XF10-24mmF4 is also a great choice, firstly for the flexible focal lengths, and secondly for the pretty amazing OIS for handheld shooting in low light, however the smaller size and the focus scales on the outside of the lens, as well as the ability to shoot wider than f/4 if I really need it, mean the XF14mm is going to be my wide lens of choice.

I think I’ll also take an XF35mmF1.4, mostly as a backup. If I find in the evenings that I could really use the wider apertures, you can’t go far wrong with any of the “trio” (soon to be “quadro”) of fast primes. As much as I love the XF56mmF1.2 for portraits, I find it fairly inflexible for general use, and since I’ve already got the equivalent focal length to the XF23mmF1.4 in the X100S, process of elimination leads me to the super all-round XF35mm.

 

Remote Shutter

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The Fujifilm RR-90 will come along for the trip to avoid any camera shake for any long exposures. Which brings me onto…

 

ND Filters

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LEE Filter Seven5 Deluxe kit plus rings to attach to X100S and also the XF14mm lens

 

I will certainly afford a bit of space in my luggage to hold my LEE Filter Seven5 deluxe kit. It’s small and gives everything I need for my level of photography. It comes with the holder, a polarising filter, a 0.6 ND Soft Grad, 0.6 ND Hard Grad and a 0.9 ND Hard Grad, and finally the 10-stop Big Stopper. Whether I’m fighting off the glaring sun to balance the exposure across my images better, or just trying to slow everything down to capture a more peaceful scene, I should hopefully have whatever I need.

 

Tripod

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My 3LeggedThing “Brian” will be coming along. He’s small and light and still stable enough for what I’ll be shooting. I’ve also got the smaller AirHed 0 ballhead that not only compliments the size of the X100S and X-T1, but also carries our own “X” branding! (almost)

 

Bag

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The “show bag”. You can also see the little felt camera bag that keeps the X100S extra safe inside the soft bag

 

I’ll actually take two bags. I have a lovely little bag called “Daniel” made is a collaboration between my faithful emploters and Millican that will serve as my “show bag” for when I know I’m only working. It’ll hold my X100S, WCL, wallet, iPad and other sundries like spare memory cards, spare batteries and charger very comfortably. It doesn’t add much in the way of protection – I learnt this the hard way when I discovered a broken filter that had been in the bag for one afternoon – but for what I’m carrying perfectly suitable, not to mention very light and (if I may say so myself) rather stylish.

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The “full kit bag”. This’ll basically be what I’m carrying when I’m out specifically shooting.

I’ll also be taking a ThinkTank Retrospective® 7. Although it’s a lot bigger than the Millican bag, this is a seriously good bag that pretty much lives on my hip if I go anywhere I know I might want to shoot. It’ll more than comfortably hold everything I’m taking, including the contents of the Millican bag, so if I do get the change to go out specifically to shoot, I’ll have everything with me at all times.

 

Other bits

I’ll take the EF-X8 (the one that comes with the X-T1) and EF-X20 flashes “just in case”, although I tend to just try to shoot with natural light. Also 2x spare batteries for each camera, chargers and pin adaptors.

Full list:

Fujifilm X100S camera
WCL-X100 Wide Conversion Lens for X100 series
Fujifilm X-T1 camera body
XF14mmF2.8 R wide-angle prime lens
XF35mmF1.4 R standard fast prime lens
Fujifilm RR-90 Remote Release cable
LEE Filter Seven5 Deluxe kit
3LeggedThing “Brian” tripod
Fujifilm X Millican “Daniel” camera bag
ThinkTank Retrospective® 7 camera bag
Fujifilm EF-X20 TTL flash (plus spare AAAs)
Apple iPad for uploading images in real time to Instagram
2x spare NP-95s for the X100S, 2x spare NP-W126s for the X-T1

So what about you?

I’d love to hear your feedback in the comments below. In fact, if you post it soon enough I might even have a chance to change my mind if anything is recommended that I hadn’t thought about. What would you take if you were planning a similar trip?

Notes

The use of third party products here is as result of my own choice, not that of Fujifilm’s. This blog post is not an official endorsement of any of these products from Fujifilm. It is simply my own opinions on which camera gear I will take on a trip, and why.

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