Fujifilm 18-55mm f/2.8-4 Lens Review

18-55-full.jpg

What is It?

Given the optical viewfinder of the X-Pro1, there were early guesses that we wouldn't see any zoom lenses for the X series mirrorless cameras from Fujifilm. Those guesses were wrong. Somehow Fujifilm has managed to get a reliable link between optical viewfinder and the focal length setting on the zoom, though X-Pro1 users will find that the size of the lens itself blocks a large part of the optical viewfinder and will probably prefer the EVF instead when using this lens.

This "kit zoom" (with the X-E1) is a bit unusual: it's very fast in aperture:

  • 18mm — f/2.8
  • 24mm — f/3.2
  • 35mm — f/3.6
  • 55mm — f/4

Generally kit zooms are about a stop slower than that. While the X-Pro1 and X-E1 are already good low-light cameras, the fast aperture on the zoom just helps them stay that way. This makes for a very nice match to the cameras' already good low light performance. Indeed, as far as I'm concerned, either X body with the 18-55mm is the best "kit" combo offered in mirrorless so far.

18-55-side.jpg

Unlike the other Fujinon lenses, the 18-55mm doesn't have an aperture ring. I guess Fujifilm thought people would get confused due to the variable aperture aspect of the lens (which would have required double markings on the aperture ring). Instead, we get a switch and an unmarked aperture ring. If you move the switch to the A position, the aperture ring does nothing. If you move the switch to the iris position, the aperture ring is live (and you have to watch the viewfinder/camera display to see what you're setting).

Another unusual aspect to this lens is that it has OIS, Fujifilm's optical stabilization system. This is controlled by an On/Off switch below the aperture selection switch.

A wide zoom ring is near the front of the lens, with a narrow fly-by-wire focus ring of the same texture just in front of it. The front of the lens extends as you zoom in, but does not rotate. 58mm filter threads are up front, and the lens takes the same petal lens hood as the 14mm; the hood reverses on the lens for storage.


How's it Handle?

How did you know that I was going to talk about the aperture ring? First, being unmarked means you won't be looking at it. But it's also fairly loose on my sample, so I've found I definitely tend to move it while handling the camera, which is a big nuisance if you're an aperture-priority shooter like me. Fujifilm needed one more switch position: lock. As in "lock the aperture to whatever the currently set one is." Or they could have just made a stiffer, marked aperture ring in the first place.

The zoom ring moves from 18 to 55mm in less than a quarter turn. I could have used a bit more finesse there, but I got used to the short throw very fast.

It's a big lens when zoomed in, especially with the lens hood on, so it's not exactly X-Pro1 optical viewfinder friendly. That doesn't bother me at all, but X-Pro1 owners should know that. Indeed, they might just be getting the signal that the OVF isn't exactly as useful as they thought: Fujifilm has really only made one lens that lets you see the world well through the OVF (the 18mm, and even that's cutting off some of the frame). Still, it's nice to not have the lag when you don't want it.


How's it Perform?

At 18mm, this lens is sharper wide open than the 18mm. Totally unexpected and very useful. I do note a small amount of miscentering on my sample, and the lens actually gets a bit worse as you stop down at 18mm, though not enough to complain about. Basically it's nearly edge to edge useful from f/2.8 to f/11 at 18mm.

Another surprise: at the 55mm end, it's mostly the same news, which I didn't expect. In between the two ends the lens is slightly less sharp, but still dramatically well corrected across the field. There's a bit of a wavy change to sharpness if you look really, really close, but I'd generally call all focal lengths at all non-diffraction impacted apertures very usable across the frame, and most are what I'd call excellent. For a zoom lens, the acuity is high, consistent, and there are no real weak spots. Usually when you see this kind of sharpness result, something else was sacrificed.

Chromatic aberration: And there it is. At 18mm you can get the lens to produce very visible chromatic aberration, though not as easily as you might guess. While the test numbers report a high maximum value, the average is usually reasonably well controlled, maybe getting to a pixel width. Still, high contrast edges, especially towards corners, can produce visible CA in raw files (see below).

Linear distortion: Visible barrel distortion at 18mm, visible pin cushion distortion at 35-55mm. The cross over point seems to be 28mm, where there's really no distortion to worry about.

Vignetting: About as negligible as you'll find in a zoom lens. A bit more at 18mm that you might want to correct, but generally nothing to worry about, especially with JPEGs.

Bokeh: Surprisingly decent for a zoom.

US PA LehighPkwy 5-2013 XE118-55 29744.jpg

If anything is going to produce visible chromatic aberration, it's an into-the-sun shot through treebranches shot like this one. First thing to note: I couldn't really make the lens produce any visible flare. But let's look at the corner for CA:

corner18-55.jpg

And there it is (note this image is probably scaled beyond 100% on your screen, especially Retina screens). Beyond the obvious purple fringing on the lower edges of branches, we also have the dreaded Fujifilm Cyan Sky, which just makes the whole thing look a little wrong even in the big picture (go back and look at the upper corners of the full image and see if you think the "colors" are right.


Final Words

Going in, I had no idea I'd be writing this, but I think most people need to think seriously about just getting the 18-55mm and skipping the 18mm and 35mm lenses (unless you absolutely need faster than f/2, in which case the Zeiss 32mm f/1.8 and the Fujinon 35mm f/1.4 are lenses you should consider.

Why? Because the zoom is darned sharp and optically quite a good performer across the board. It's just a heck of a lot more convenient, and being f/2.8-4, it's not all that slow a lens, either.

Despite having all the lenses for the X cameras, I find myself mostly just using the 14mm and 18-55mm. Every now and again I put the 60mm on for something. If I know I'm really shooting in the dark, I bring the 35mm. Note the lens that's missing in this discussion: the 18mm. Even its small size and f/2 aperture aren't enough to entice me. The 18-55mm is better in the corners, and the camera is already pretty decent in low light and high ISO values.

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