Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Fuji XF 16-55mm f/2.8 zoom -- a hands-on review

As one of the most popular focal length zoom ranges of many pro photographers, the Fuji 16-55mm has been eagerly awaited as a complement to the already released Fuji XF 50-140mm f/2.8 zoom providing an f/2.8 focal length range from an equivalent 24mm to 210mm. Throw in the Fuji 10-24mm f/4 lens and you have a all you need optically to cover almost anything there is.  And "why not a 10-24mm f/2.8" you may ask. Because it would be huge and fly in the face of what an APS mirrorless system is all about, namely light weight, compact size. 

Compactness and size is one of the reasons the 16-55mm does not have image stabilization. It would have added much to the bulk and weight, not to mention the price. There has been a lot of vocal criticism of this missing feature, but both Nikon and Canon have gotten away with a lack of IS in their equivalent zooms for years. Image stabilization, while a welcome asset, is not as necessary on shorter lenses as it is on longer lenses where the longer focal lengths magnify the motion in proportion to their length.  As I mentioned in my announcement of this lens, an old photographers rule of thumb is that it takes a shutter speed approximately equal to the focal length to be able to hand-hold a lens. With that dictum in mind, it would only take 1/25 second to safely hand hold a 24mm lens, but about 1/250 second to have the same hand-held control over a 200mm lens. Enough said on that point. This lens doesn't have OIS. If you require it, this lens is not for you.

A perfect, pro-level lens kit for almost anything: The Fuji XF 50-140mm f/2.8, XF 16-55mm f/2.8 on the camera, and the XF 10-24mm f/4 super wide zoom. You could lighten the load a bit by substituting either the Fuji XF 14mm f/2.8 or Zeiss Touit 12mm f/2.8 for the larger Fuji 10-24mm zoom. I personally find that I don't really need a zoom in the ultra short zoom range because it means I am working in close and moving back or forward a little bit almost accomplishes the same thing. Plus I'd rather be using a prime in this focal length range. Toss in the 1.4x teleconverter due out towards the end of the year, and you're covered to almost 300mm. 

What this lens does have is quality, both build quality and optical quality. Take a look at the lens kit I put together in the above photo. A truly excellent and still relatively compact outfit doesn't get much better than this and still deliver a fairly fast aperture of f/2.8 -- the 10-24mm excepted. I have been photographing with a similar triumvirate of zooms for decades, but never,  until now, has the entire system been so good and so compact. OK, I realize these f/2.8 lenses are bulkier than the variable aperture Fuji zooms we've been using so far. But that is the trade off for a fixed, fast aperture lens. And still, it is still not as big and bulky a system as carting around an equivalent full frame DSLR.

As a pro-lens the XF 16-55mm has an aperture ring with marked diaphragm stops. This is unlike Fuji's other lenses where the aperture ring is free tuning and selection is made on the viewfinder. 


As a member of Fuji's pro-level cameras, the 16-55mm has a weather  resistant design with 14 sealing points. It also has nine rounded aperture blades as opposed to the seven blades on the other two similar zooms, the 18-55mm and 18-135mm lenses. The extra blades mean a rounder shape to the diaphragm as it closes, which in turn results in more pleasing bokeh effects.

The 16-55mm has an introductory price tag of $1199.95, which about double the other two Fuji zooms in this focal range, but still quite reasonable for a pro quality lens in this category.

The larger X-Pro1 body is a more comfortable balance with a larger lens like the Fuji 16-55mm f/2.8. Looks really nice, too. 

Autofocus is a quick, .06 seconds and nearly silent making it easier to track fast moving subjects like this air-borne skate-boarder. 

Test shots such as this jpg taken at f/2.8 and 16mm show the lens to be very sharp extending even into the corners. It exhibits minimal distortion and vignetting at this aperture, and, of course, improves as it stops down towards the sweet spot of f/5.6 and f/8. Performance like this makes the lens a perfect choice for architectural and landscape photography. It is rare to find lenses of this consistent image quality, but Fuji seems to have mastered the knack of creating them.  Download a high res sample of  this image by clicking here.
As for optical quality and resolution, Fuji does it again, this time producing a zoom lens that is as good as a prime. The 16-55mm has 17 elements in 12 groups that include 3 aspherical elements to control spherical aberration and distortion. There are 3 ED lens element that keep lateral and chromatic aberration to a minimum.

Nano-GI coating lens elements keeps ghosting and flare to a minimum and maintains good subject detail even when pushing the limits by shooting directly into the sun in a clear, cloudless sky.

By extending to 55mm the lens gets us closer to a true portrait length and the constant f/2.8 aperture delivers a pleasing enough out-of-focus area behind the subject. 

Having 16mm (24mm equivalent) focal length at the short side of the zoom range makes this lens truly practical for landscapes and interiours in particular. Just add the 14mm Fuji or 12mm Zeiss Touit to your kit will pretty much cover most wide angle situations.  It is in the upper corners of images like this where the leaves open up to reveal the bright sky that chromatic aberration will usually occur. Here there is nothing to show because there isn't any.

The 16-55mm can focus as close as 30cm at its widest setting of 16mm, and 40cm at 55mm -- not a record breaker, but respectable. 


The Fuji lens lineup has matured substantially by adding a professional 16-55mm f/2.8 mid-range zoom to its lineup. This substantially extends the choices available to photographers. There are now three zooms that cover a similar range, the 18-55mm f/2.8-f/4, and the do-everything lens, the 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 with 5-stop image stabilization. These are all good lenses with the 16-55mm being the best of breed in terms of optical quality, as is fitting a lens aimed at professional use.

The current crop of available lenses plus the new equipment due out over the course of the coming year make the Fuji mirrorless X-system truly an alternative to a pro-level DSLR system. I have already begun incorporating the X-T1 into shooting situations like lifestyle and travel. In fact I now often travel with only the X-T1. 

This lens is not for everyone. Each of us will have to decide how it fits into our workflow. I will probably not acquire the 16-55mm f/2.8 for my own kit, but that is because I already have the 18-135mm for travel work, and because I still prefer to use a very high resolution full frame DSLR for landscape work. If I were a wedding photographer depending only upon a Fuji equipment kit, I would add this lens to the mix for its high resolution and fast aperture. Same would be true if I only used a Fuji X camera for lifestyle or landscape photography. 

Most importantly, the 16-55mm lens and its longer brother, the 50-140mm f/2.8 extend the Fuji accessory range to cover a broader range of uses and choices. This is the mark of a truly professional system, one that Fuji appears intent on pursuing. Extensive lens support is a pre-requisite of any pro camera system intending to cover the myriad subjects and needs of individual photographers. Hats off to Fuji for realizing that and doing something about it.

This is not a straight shot taken with the lens. I cheated a bit by applying some softening technique to the scene. But then again, that's what "Hands on" testing is all about -- using equipment to see if it can fit in with the way you shoot.  To create this image, I first over-exposed the scene by one stop. Then, working with the RAW image, I brought it into ACR (Adobe Camera RAW) where I output one image with a bit of added contrast, and a second version with the Clarity slider moved all the way to the left to soften it. Finally, I opened the first, sharp image in Photoshop, and then put the second, softer image on top of it as a layer with its mode changed to Soft Light. A little bit of further tweaking and I arrive at this version with a soft effect laid over a sharper image for a moody look to the sunrise. 
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The Fujifilm XF 16-55mm f/2.8 lens be ordered from:  BH-Photo   Adorama   Amazon


  1. You are wrong, Canon 17-55 2.8 is 645gram and have optical stabilization builtin.
    If you want to compare to full frame equivalent 24-70 2.8 for size and weight, then you also compare to Panasonic 12-35 2.8 which is smaller, lighter and again have optical stabilization.

    With FF, you can go for Tamron which also have optical stabilization, but Fuji? You just don't have a choice.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Dave. Not sure why that makes me "wrong", but, yes, the lenses you mentioned are smaller and lighter with stabilization. However, those lenses are not really the pro models of this type focal length zoom. Consequently, there is a lot of plastic in their construction. Fuji is attempting to raise the bar with this series of zooms. They feel and handle more like the rugged, weather-resistant lenses I have used on pro-level Nikon and Canon cameras. The Panasonic lens is for micro 4/3 and will naturally be smaller. If by the Tamron you are referring to the SP 15-30mm f/2.8 Di USD lens, it wasn't out when I wrote this article, and isn't available yet. So we'd have to see how it stacks up later.

    The equivalent FF lens is a 24-70mm f/2.8. This is a mainstay of pro-level camera systems. and what Fuji seems to have targeted when it produced this lens and the 55-140mm f/2.8. From what I've seen -- and I've used most of them -- Fuji lenses are as good or better than any of them.

    1. You should have a read about this blog post regarding so called all this 'professional lens'.

      By Tamron I mean the 24-70 2.8 Di VC USD lens. Which give you option for image stabilization for full frame 2.8 zoom.

      The reason why I am comparing this to micro43 is because you are comparing an apsc camera to FF. For the same 2.8 zoom, you simply cannot achieve the same shallow depth of view as FF. Same go for Micro 43, if you don't love bokeh, you have an option of olympus 12-40 with Olympus IBIS body or Panasonic 12-35, which are lighter, cheaper and have some sort of image stabilization.

  3. Tom throughout this article, and even in the above comment you are constantly referring to a "55-140mm f/2.8 - can i gently remind you that it's actually a "50-140mm". I thoroughly enjoy your blog, just that detail needs amending.

  4. Thank you, Matthew. I think I have too many cameras, too many lenses, and am getting too confused. - t

  5. Thanks for the review Tom - I mainly shoot landscape and have a D610 with 18-35mm and 70-200mm lenses. I was thinking about adding the 24-70mm but last year I bought a Fuji XE2 and having been using it more and more to point where I'm now doubting whether I spend any more money on the Nikon. I already have the 10-24mm for the Fuji and I'm now thinking that I could get the Fuji 16-55 and swap my Nikon 70-200 for the smaller and lighter Fuji 50-140mm. I realise that these would be on the large side for the XE2 but with the X-Pro hopefully on the horizon I'm thinking Fuji may be the future for me. Does that make sense or sound a bit mad :-)