'Stella' - candid street portrait, Western Australia, 2018. Fuji X-T2, XF 16-55, 16mm @F2.8
I have written a lot about my different lenses over the years, and I even mentioned the 16-55 lens on my last blog relating to my seven year journey with Fujifilm. I am currently halfway through writing my most recent blog regarding the new style of street photography that I have implemented using the flip out screens on my X-T2’s. However, I have been so excited recently about my 16-55 lens that I have momentarily dropped all other projects, so I can write a long-term review on this wonderful lens.
'Mason' - candid street portrait, Western Australia, 2017. Fuji X-T2, XF 16-55, 16mm @F2.8
This will not be very technical – there are lots of other tech-heads out there doing a much better job of that than me. This will just be my observations and photos from using this lens for over a year now. I am not paid by Fuji nor do I have any affiliate links – methinks that I am not even a ‘fanboy’ – just practical observations from a contented user. Also – unlike any of my other blogs I will not use any of my travel pictures as illustrations for this blog. I have been working on a long-term project for over a year now - documenting the unenviable lives of the beautiful Aboriginal or Indigenous people who were the original land owners of this desert gold-mining wilderness that I call home. It is in these last weeks especially – and in my own back-yard - that I have seen the true worth of my 16-55 really come to the fore. It is my hope that perhaps some of these images will portray what I am actually trying to illustrate or where my bumbling words fail – the images will speak for themselves!
Request for Advice
I often get emails from people asking advice on Fuji’s lenses – based on my comments and observations from my blogs. I have had two such enquiries just today. I mentioned to the gentleman in my reply that what I have gone through is akin to the guy who is dating the girl next door. She is a lovely girl, nice looking - faithful and sweet, they get on fine and he believes that he is perfectly happy. Then through a set of circumstances he ends up going on a one-off date to accompany the local Prom Queen – then things will never the same for him again!
The Point of No Return
Darcy and Wife - candid portrait - streets of my town, Western Australia, 2017. Fuji X-T2, XF 16-55, 34mm @ F4
I came back this time last year with an awesome set of images from my 5 weeks in Myanmar – all shot predominantly on my Fuji 18-135mm lens. Those images still grace my website and I get many positive comments and enquiries for the use of those images – all great stuff. That lens was wonderful to use and to the most part, fulfilled all of my expectations on what a good travel lens should be. However – since that time I have embraced the 16-55 and 90mm F2 Fuji lenses – I have dated the Prom Queen and things will never be the same for me again!!
Even though most of the images from the 18-135mm were fine - at the 18mm length it was sometimes not quite wide enough. I came from a background of cutting my teeth on a Nikon 24mm wide angle (shooting ‘Stock’ for years) - of course I longed for that slightly wider look. Also, at the longer end – say over about 100mm – the 135 was quite soft. Remember, when I talk about my lenses and how I shoot – I always shoot wide open. I have zero interest in scenery or landscapes, so of course shooting people I want to isolate them from the background so I predominantly shoot all my lenses wide open. If you shoot landscapes and always use an aperture of f8 or f11 – then these comments may not be applicable to you.
Taking the Plunge
'Prudence' - candid street portrait, Western Australia, 2017. Fuji X-T2, XF 16-55, 22mm @F4
Having discussed fully in my last blog the shortcomings of my other lenses - and after much enquiry and reading - around a year ago I purchased the Fuji 16-55 and 90mm f2 lenses. My Fuji 18-135 was put into semi-retirement and I have almost solely used those two lenses for the last year or more. The subject of my last blog (5 week trip to Cambodia), and the subsequent images – were all taken on the Fuji 16-55 and 90mm f2 lenses. Even since I returned back home in January to a very busy teaching schedule at school, and other family stuff, I have still been able to get out each weekend and continue my quest of photographing the Indigenous Community.
When I first researched the 16-55, some people colloquially called it the ‘brick’. This kind of hinted that it was a heavy hunk of metal – almost defeating the purpose of getting a lighter mirrorless system. The other thing that was lamented often was the fact that it has no OIS. I mentioned in the last blog that we here in Australia are not favoured with the generous return policy that you folks in the States have – we walk out the door of the shop (online store), and you are stuck with it – whether you like it or not. So it was with great apprehension that I parted with my hard earned ‘shekels’ and bought these lenses online – without even having held or seen them in the ‘flesh’. They are wretchedly expensive here too (except for my hapless relatives in New Zealand – they pay even more), the 16-55 cost me over 1,600 AUD.
As I have slowly and carefully got to use this lens more and more – both home and abroad - these are my observations.
The Total Package
Dog and All - street portrait, my local beat, Western Australia, 2017. Fuji X-T2, XF 16-55, 22mm @ F2.8
What I really like about this lens as compared to any of the other Fuji lenses I have spoken about in the past is that for me it is the total package. Others would disagree because it has no OIS. This was my original concern and I almost did not purchase the lens because of that. However, after using it for over a year now, I can honestly say it is a non-issue and in fact I am very happy that it does not have OIS. It would have been heavier and more expensive, and in some cases not as sharp. I have taken thousands of images now over more than a year and I can say I have never wished that this lens had OIS. You just adapt your style slightly, be very aware when you are getting down into the lower shutter speeds, and of course you can move your ISO up to suit. My 90mm is a bit different. I live with the fact that it does not have OIS, but I have still missed a few photos because of image blur.
Also with a 135mm equivalent I really need to be using a shutter speed of at least 1/250 sec to secure sharp images – and this is not always possible. However, with the 16-55 only having an 80mm long end, I can still seem to shoot at around 1/60th sec or even less and get sharp images. However, most of the time I shoot that lens wide angle, so of course I can even go to 1/30th sec quite easily. This lens is beautifully made, is weather resistant and of course extremely sharp wide open. I also like it that once I choose an aperture it stays on that aperture, even when I zoom in and out. That is what annoyed me about the 18-135, I would pick one aperture at one focal length, but of course as soon as I zoomed – that would all change.
What I also really appreciate is the build quality of this lens. I am a bit accident prone and probably not the most forgiving photographer on my gear. I do respect my gear, treasure it and look after it, but it must be robust and be able to last my gruelling trips each year to Asia. The thing I detested about the 18-135 and 55-200 lenses when I carried them on my BlackRapid strap - by my side - after a while the lens would 'creep' down, and eventually the lens would always be hanging right out at the full length of its zoom. This was so annoying and looked very amateur and the lens was also a lot more prone to knocks and bangs in this state. I am very happy to report that I can walk all day with my 16-55 hanging down by my side - zoomed all the way in to 16mm - and it will stay like that all day. Man I love that part and this is a really big deal to me. For professional gear it must be good in every department - build, reliability, sharpness, weather sealed - the whole 'shebang'. Little niggling compromises like that can eat out the joy of using the thing, and in the end you want to wrap it around a tree (not that I have sunken to that level yet - he he). I can say wholeheartedly that this lens is a pro lens through and through and it will last a very long time.
Rendering - The Magic Sauce!
'Together'- friends offering support, streets of my town, Western Australia. Fuji X-T2, XF 16-55 30mm @F2.8
This is very hard to equate or even put into words – let alone prove. However, I think Fuji put some magic sauce in this lens that the others don’t have. Even compared to my very sharp 35mm f2 lens, the images from the 16-55 have a beautiful depth and rendering to them that I don’t even see in my lovely 90mm - I just find when I take a portrait with this lens, it is something very special. I have even been shooting some of my images with my Indigenous serious on my old X100s. Sometimes I just need a little fill-flash, and of course we all know that magic leafshutter/builtinflash/NDfilter combo on that camera is second to none. No matter what I do with fill-flash on my X-T2’s, I can never replicate that look. Therefore my images come out great with the lighting on the X100s, but they do not have that magic sauce look that I get on the 16-55. This is why I really believe it is the ideal portrait lens!
The 'Girls' - street candid, Western Australia, 2017. Fuji X-T2, XF 16-55, 22mm @F4
This is something that we do not talk about much but I really think this has to be addressed. I am as guilty as most with this gear acquisition syndrome that is spoken of – I just call it old fashioned hankering. I have bought and sold so much photographic gear over the last 35 odd years that I could probably have put a deposit on a second house. I have noticed that as gear comes and goes you usually just end up with the one or two cameras and lenses attached, that seem to do the bulk of the work. I am buying a lot less gear now that at any time of my life. I think it also helps with the new equipment of late that it is actually obsolescence proof. I mean the cameras and lenses in the initial decades of digital progress were all building upon the knowledge and steps of the prior model – all becoming better and better with each iteration, but still usually lacking in some areas. It has come to the point now that the latest digital gear is really so good you can hold onto it now and you are not missing out on a real lot if you don’t change models.
It makes me laugh of late – so many people only a few months ago were saying how wonderful the Fuji X-T2 was and the best camera ever made etc etc (particularly one fairly loud, aggressive character on his YouTube channel) - but now that the new X-H1 has been released, the X-T2 is sold off or forgotten and cast aside and now the best thing since sliced bread is this new Fuji. I think it is the same for lenses. As mentioned above I bought the 90mm f2 about a year ago. It is a lovely lens, but at the time it was the only offering from Fuji that was in that focal length and it has no OIS. Shortly after they introduced the new 80mm macro lens, which I think is a stop slower, much sharper apparently and does have OIS. So what does one do now? Do we rush out and sell the 90mm for a pittance and buy the much more expensive 80mm variant? Same thing with the X-H1 – it just never ends.
It's still Home - Aboriginal child at play, my local beat, Western Australia, 2018. Fuji X-T2, XF 16-55, 16mm @ F2.8
I can also see a lot of people falling into a big trap with this new X-H1. You really don't have to be Einstein to work out what is going to happen. We all know that Fuji is going to release their new X-T3 at the end of this year. For all intense and purposes it should be available for sale in less than a year. Folk don't realise they are being sucked into buying another interim camera (X-H1). We also all know that the new T3 will have a new sensor. Suddenly all those folk who at great expense shafted their perfectly good T2's to get the H1, will be thinking they are now stuck with a camera that has an 'old' sensor - and so the ridiculous cycle repeats itself again and again. Folk don't realise that this is exactly what electronic manufacturers want us to do. As far as sensors go too, I really think we are at a stage where we have enough. As mentioned, I had the X-T1, and was perfectly happy with it, but it was the camera that got 'drowned' at Inle Lake last year, in Myanmar. When I replaced it, insurance covered me for the equivalent latest model, so I was unable to get the T1, and had to replace it with the T2 - that is the only reason I now have two X-T2's.
If you put a gun to my head (in most instances), I cannot tell which photo has been taken with which sensor. Other than the 'magic sauce' thing I spoke about (which of course is the lens difference - not the sensor), the pictures from my X100s (same sensor as X-T1), are equally as beautiful and in some cases, even nicer than the ones from the latest sensor. The 16-55 also falls into that category of not only being good enough, not only ‘future proof’, but it can be a wonderful tool and companion in the field for years to come. I was never settled with the 18-55 or even the very sharp 55-200. I spoke in my last blog about their shortcomings and why I sold them off. These, I always felt were lenses that Fuji made to just fill in a gap until something much better came along. Well I feel that time has come. For those of us who needed a workhorse lens that was bullet-proof, had a constant aperture, was weather resistant and tack sharp edge to edge wide open - please enter the Fuji XF 16-55 2.8.
I will not be looking for any other lens (or camera for that matter), for the long foreseeable future. When I shot Stock for all of those years and used my trusty Nikons, I always had a 24 to 70 'something' zoom hanging off my camera. That was the one focal length that you could do all things with. The one lens if somebody said you can travel the world for a year but can only take one lens – it would be that focal length. Until 3 or so years ago we only had the choice of the measly 18-55 or a few primes (60mm F2.4) to fill that gap. Now after using this marvellous lens almost exclusively now for over a year, I can wholeheartedly say that Fuji has provided us with a worthy tool, to take amateurs and professionals alike boldly into whatever photographic genre we should choose. Kudos Fuji!
'Mason 2' - Street portrait, Western Australia, 2017. Fuji X-T2, XF 16-55, 45mm @ F2.8