Friday, August 1, 2014

Fuji XF 18-135mm F3.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR lens -- a hands-on review

Typically, all-in-one zooms are full of compromises that cut to the core of their quality level. Convenient they are, but at what price?  There has been an enthusiastic anticipation of the Fujinon XF 18-135mm F3.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR zoom because most of us have a trust based on experience and know that if anyone could pull off a decent do-everything lens it would be Fuji. Not that we would expect such a lens design to come up to the optical quality level of the Fuji primes, but perhaps it could approach the level of the top notch Fuji standard zooms, such as the 18-55mm and 55-200mm. With this in mind, I conducted some of my tests by comparing the new lenses performance to that of the other two zooms. I wanted to know whether this lens could be a substitute for both of the others in a compact do-it-all walk-around kit.

The Fuji 18-135mm lens on an X-T1 with the 55-200mm and 18-55mm in the background.
This is Fuji's first weather resistant lens, probably aimed at complementing the weather resistant X-T1 camera.  It covers a shooting range of 27-206mm with a variable aperture. Its slow aperture range of f/3.5-5.6 is counter-balanced by its ground-breaking 5-stop vibration reduction range.

Things can get a bit amazing with a 5 stop vibration reduction. It means that a shutter speed of 1/4 second is equivalent to hand holding the camera at 1/125 second, which, depending upon the focal length and proximity of the subject, is generally good enough to avoid motion blur. This photo was taken hand-held at 1/4 second with focal length of 98mm (148mm equivalent) and very close to the subject -- everything that argues for a blurred image. I shot it several times just to be certain the results were not a fluke. A couple times it blurred a bit, but most of the images remained sharp. Nothing short of astounding given the criteria. 

I didn't look at this lens as a replacement for both the 18-55mm and 55-200mm lenses, but saw it as something else entirely different, namely as a single carry-around lens to fit the light-weight Fuji X-cameras for those times when you just want to have a good camera with you without the necessity of a camera bag. This weekend, for instance, I will be attending a family wedding and will have just the X-T1 and the 18-135mm with me -- a perfect combo for that type of event where I want to participate but also want to take some really good photos.

This is not to say that the lens cannot perform yeoman-like service when needed, but you will have to exercise good camera technique to bring out its best. I found, for instance, that at f/8 the lens hits its optical stride. That is a bit slow, but would be more than all right for landscape photography which requires good depth of field and sharp focus.

The lens has a linear inner auto-focus mechanism to speed up focus and keep it quiet. The was probably necessary with a zoom having such a closed down maximum aperture. I didn't find it up to the performance level of Fuji's best lenses, but it is pretty quick and accurate.

Specifications of the Fuji 18-135mm f/3/5-5.6 lens:

Size comparison of the three Fuji zooms from left to right: 18-135mm, 55-200mm, and 18-55mm. In terms of weight the 18-135mm is slightly lighter (490g vs 580g) than the 55-200mm, but considerably bigger, and bulkier than the small 18-55mm.
Below are some sample images for downloading to check the resolution qualities of this lens as various apertures. In the main, working wide open presents the typical problems of some softening in the corners of the image. As the lens is stopped down this improves and at f/8 it appears to be working at its optimum with good sharpness overall -- particularly good for this lens type.

The main reason I photograph old, detailed buildings in these tests is that they are a good subject to show off the sharpness of a lens.

This photo was taken at the 18mm focal length with focus placed along the lower protruding decoration of the building. It was taken wide open at f/3.5, f/5/6, and f/8 to illustrate the resolution qualities of the lens. You can download a high res version of each aperture setting below. Pay particular attention to the bottom of the photo where the focus was placed and to the bottom corners to see the lenses performance on its edges.

This image of the Flatiron Building was taken at 135mm extension and f/5.6. Click here to download a high res version of this file. 

One plus of this zoom is its ability to get in tight for macro shots. It is not going to deliver too much in the way of selective focus because of its closed down aperture.

A 20 second exposure stopped down to f/18 shows the aperture star effect on the bright lights.

Taken at a 122mm focal length and f/5.6 aperture. Click here to download a high res version of this file.


The 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 lens exhibits many of the typical limitations associated with a do-it-all zoom trying to serve too many masters. It is not in the same optical quality league of the other Fuji zooms, but when stopped down to a working range of f/8 its performance improves dramatically to a point where it is "best of breed" for its type.

The lens is a little heavier than I would have liked for an all around lens, and the camera is particularly front heavy when the lens is extended.

If it's bokeh you're after in selective focus, this lens is not going to have it. The slow maximum apertures work against it. Once again, however, Fuji has surprised us with a few tricks up their sleeve to deliver the best performance from a lens type that is typically only suited for amateur or very casual shooting. The weather-resistance, new auto-focus, incredible vibration reduction range, and fine optical performance helps make this a lens hold its own in the Fuji optical line up.

I picked up one of these lenses to have for those situations where I only want to carry one camera and no other equipment with me.I didn't trade in any of my other lenses for it because I see it as filling its own particular slot in the lens lineup. Judging from the performance I've seen so far in my tests, I expect I will put it to a lot of use.

If you are planning on buying this lens, you can help support this site at no extra cost to you by purchasing from one of our affiliate sellers listed below -- and thanks for your support.

The Fujifilm XF 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 lens can be ordered from:  BH-Photo  Amazon   

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