Fuji 18-55 XF Recommendations Etc.

NSFW Obviously

A quick follow-up from my old gear is still fine post a week or so ago. Specifically to summarize a few thoughts about the 18-55mm XF zoom that came to mind while exchanging emails with a reader of the referenced post that's wasn't/isn't enamored with the Fuji 18-55mm he got with his camera.

I thought it might be useful to go through a few things in terms of real-world "what to expect" in some sort of remotely useful way to level set some of the 18-55mm zoom "normal" behavior. It's easy to get some degree of gear anxiety with all the camera forums and discussion and the extremely loosely used "bad copy" talk thrown about. I'm sure if you search hard enough you'll find talk of "de-centering" and testing for that etc…

I'm not of the crowd that believes in the infamous bad copy. Well, not at the rate that's chucked around. That bad copy stuff is the last thing on my list of things that actually happen. There's a really great chance that you don't have a bad copy if you are pixel peeping and trying to figure it out. If you had a bad copy it's usually obvious. I'm not saying there's zero variation lens to lens but there's FAR FAR FAR FAR FAR more variation picture to picture in the real world than there is lens to lens.


What's Normal

Way back when I got my 18-55mm for free (kinda), I was so excited because of all the hoopla and praise being slathered on the little kit zoom. First thing I did was started taking a couple pictures of stupid crap. I loaded up the pictures in LR and pixel peeped immediately expecting optical bliss and wonder. Guess what happened. Hmmmm, junk, these people are idiots that say it's so so great. I chucked it on the shelf and didn't even bother to use it again for months and months. Until one day I just happened to be shooting some stuff I didn't care about with Mary and was too lazy to bother with switching primes. It goes without saying that that my real world use on that particular occasion changed my mind.

So what happened? Well, turns out the half dozen pictures I made the day the XT-1 and 18-55mm arrived were quite literally using the absolute worst case conditions for the 18-55mm. I'll all of the considerations but the first one is what I happened to see in my first couple shots.

  • The weak point of the 18-55mm is at 55mm and wide open at f/4. Honestly it's pretty bad if what you are looking for is acutance and fine detail resolution. It also has a funky low contrast thing going on and any remotely semi OOF highlights look all smeary/glow-y. In a way it's sort of like the 23mm f/2 on the X100 cameras just not as pretty but still if you look at it as glass half full then you can use it to make glow-y highlights soft-ish portraits on purpose. Here's the thing, that completely changes at f/5.6 to pretty damn good. That's why when I'm shooting with strobes (usually at f/8-ish) I use the little zoom a lot.
  • It has CRAZY distortion at 18mm which looks okay when in-camera corrected or L/R corrected but once corrected it's not really 18mm any more. Still wide but not as wide as the 18mm prime for sure, actually noticeably so when compared side by side. It gets better as you get to 23mm but not as good as the primes obviously.
  • I'm pretty happy with the acutance and contrast from 18mm thru a little over 35mm after that you can start seeing the fall-off when wide open. Defintely past the 40mm-ish mark. It's fantastic one-stop down throughout.
  • The OIS. This is something that's odd but I cannot quite prove it or give you the parameters where what I am about to describe happens. Like all image stabilization you're not going to get exactly consistent degrees of sharp hand-held shot to shot. I'll rate the OIS on the 18-55mm as pretty darned good but in consistent overall. Here's the odd part, it will definitely make shots blurrier if you have it on when you don't need to. Not all the time and not every shot. It's hard to pin down but it happens when you are using high shutter speeds. I would say absolutely turn if off at 1/250th or higher. Maybe 1/125 too but I cannot pin it down due to how inconsistent the behavior is. In fact I cannot even pin it down when on a tripod. Strange as lenses like the Nikon 80-200 VR will make every shot blurry on a tripod if you have it on. Just beware.

My Initial Testing

You might have guessed my "testing" of the first few shots were at 55mm wide-open at f/4. I also had the OIS on while shooting at 1/500s and over. What's more is that the MTF curve published by fuji shows good at the center then a significant drop off not too far out then it gets better again. So even the pattern of where the lens is sharp/not sharp when wide-open happened to be where I was looking for that detail, as in the worst possible place at 55mm wide open at the only place this lens performs very poorly.

All that being said I have to say that all things considered the Fuji 18-55mm is better by a fair margin than the 24-105L Canon I had for about a year in every way but the OIS which isn't that far off. Obviously the Canon is wider and longer but it trades off a lot to get that. If you are coming from Canon I would say your expectations should be that the 18-55mm is better/sharper than the 24-105L in just about all apples to apples comparisions with maybe at 55mm f/4 which the Canon has it's own wide-open set of issues at longer focal lengths just different than the soft spot of the Fuji.