Brilliant Performer | The Fujinon XF 18-55mm Zoom.

PERFORMER.jpg

I’ll put my cards on the table right away: I’ve developed a slightly tumultuous relationship with zooms. They’re very useful tools but I’ve come to realize they also tend to drive me into what I’d call visual laziness.

When I decided to jump to the X system as my one and only kit, I also embraced the fact that I’d be shooting with nothing but primes. In fact much of that decision was coloured by my experience with the X100’s fixed focal length and the way it affected my shooting reflexes. Not that this was anything new: I used Nikon primes as well. But committing to a single focal length for extended periods of time wasn’t something I’d really done before.

When I shoot a prime I need to move — Obviously; I need to walk in order to alter my distance to the subject; and while I walk my brain works, and when my brain works it notices its surroundings and finds details or angles I often would’ve overlooked otherwise. But with a zoom… No matter how much I try, it’s always much too easy to fall back to those old reflexes. Twist in, twist out.

Maybe if we stopped calling them zooms in the first place. That word doesn’t do justice to what’s going on optically. Maybe instead we could describe them as multi-focal lenses. There’s definitely something pretty fantastic about having the equivalent of 8 primes on a single lens… IF you use it as such. IF you understand how to use each individual focal length in the right context, and how each one changes the entire aspect of an image way beyond making things look nearer or closer. Compression, distortion, spatial perception. Of course you can also use it to get a closer shot of that mountain way out there; but perhaps if you actually GO to the mountain, something amazing will happen along the way.

Right, so where was I? Ah yes: no zooms for me.
Huh…

1/60 sec at f/4, ISO 800 | 44mm.

1/60 sec at f/4, ISO 800 | 44mm.

1/600 sec at f/3.2, ISO 1000 | 28.9mm.

1/600 sec at f/3.2, ISO 1000 | 28.9mm.

ENTER THE “KIT”

I had seen several images taken with the Fujinon XF 18–55mm lens already and had come away rather impressed. London fashion photographer Michelle George for one; Damien Lovegrove ’s work as well. And I also knew this would be a very useful lens to have in my kit. What I didn’t expect was to fall in love with it. It’s just outstanding.

First off: the build is fantastic. Everything about it is smooth, sturdy and slick. I adore my XF 35mm lens, it’s one of the best lenses I’ve ever used; but compared to this one and to the 14mm, I have to admit it feels very 1.0. Optically it performs beautifully, but Fuji seem to have refined the builds significantly with their second crop of lenses: they have more heft, they feel less plasticky and the entire mechanism is much more polished. Even their auto-focus sound is less jarring. Speaking of which…

GET YOUR MOTOR RUNNING…

I thought the zoom Fuji had sent me was broken. I honestly did. I was in the studio when I mounted the lens to the camera for the first time; I tried the AF at 18mm, about three feet away: no sound. None of the usual in/out focussing motion I’d become accustomed to with the 35mm. No bzzz…grrr as it searched. So I took it off, mounted it again. But this time I zoomed to 55mm and focused further away… It did work; but it was dead silent. This lens uses a new linear motor which completely transforms the AF experience. Much faster and much, much smoother.

All Fuji lenses so far have offered outstanding optical quality and this one is no exception: as most reviewers have stated, this is not your standard kit lens. At all. Yes, it has a variable aperture, something I never thought I’d ever purchase again. But in all other aspects this is a pro level lens as far as I’m concerned. Do I wish it was f/2.8 all the way though? Yes, I most definitely do. But I’ve psyched myself into thinking of it as f/4 with a 2.8 bonus at 18mm, which is pretty much where that aperture is confined to. For strobe lighting it isn’t at all a problem as I’ll rarely go below f/4 anyway. If I do I’m going for something else entirely and probably hovering more around f/1.4 on the 35mm.

Now, in natural light this will obviously become more important. But thankfully the OIS system (image stabilization) works extremely well. When you couple this with the X-Pro1 or X-E1’s high ISO performance you end up with a very capable solution. I’ll still reach for faster glass if I can but it’s not a deal breaker. My only gripe is not being able to set the aperture by looking down at the lens, something I’ve become accustomed to with the X cameras; but then adaptation is always the name of the game.

1/220 sec at f/3.2, ISO 2500 | 30mm.

1/220 sec at f/3.2, ISO 2500 | 30mm.

1/40 sec at f/4, ISO 1600 | 55mm.

1/40 sec at f/4, ISO 1600 | 55mm.

1/60 sec at f/4, ISO 1250 | 55mm.

1/60 sec at f/4, ISO 1250 | 55mm.

OVF TRICKS

Fuji could’ve said: it’s a zoom lens, use the EVF; and it would’ve been perfectly acceptable. But although you’ll definitely want to use that EVF for any mission critical framing, they’ve actually implemented a surprising OVF solution. When you hold the viewfinder selector for a few seconds, it magnifies the view around the frame lines instead of switching you to the EVF. You’re still in the optical viewfinder but no longer framing with what can be a ridiculously small rectangle in the middle of the window. An icon appears in the display in case you should forget you’re using the magnified view. Hold the switch again to return to normal. Great idea. What’s more: this view won’t reset on its own and will remain until you manually switch it off; so you can go to the EVF and back or turn off the camera without having to wait those sometimes precious few seconds again.

SOLD?

Absolutely. As surprised as I am to say this, it’s a no brainer. Until we get the extremely anticipated 56mm f/1.2 — yes, it’s now 1.2!!!!! — This will be my 85ish equivalent. It’s a great lens to have in my arsenal, especially for studio work.

If you’re looking for an all around travel zoom lens, this will certainly do the job and then some. Personally, I still prefer something smaller and less visible and the X100S remains the ultimate travel solution for me. As I said earlier, I like committing to a single focal length and forcing my brain to make the most out of it.

But I love what Fuji has done with this lens. And it certainly bodes well for the upcoming XF 55–200mm. More random images below. For all posts and essays featuring this lens click here.

Later…

P.S You know what I’d like? A zoom lens on which I could lock the focal lengths. Lock that barrel down. I know, it's weird… Not going to happen but I’d love that.

Patrick La Roque

311 Lorncliff, Otterburn Park, Canada