Fujifilm 18-135mm zoom lens - Is the X-Trans sensor a help or hindrance for professional photographers?

AMAZON UK

Above is a gallery of images shot yesterday with a Fuji X-E2 and Fujifilm Fujinon XF 18-135mm F3.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR Zoom Lens. Click on image to proceed through gallery.

THE 18-135mm ZOOM

For links to my posts about the 18-135mm CLICK HERE

Using the Fujifilm Fujinon XF 18-135mm F3.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR Zoom Lens again yesterday, I am happy to report once more that this is indeed a very fine lens. Beautifully put together with a superb feel to it and great built in stabilisation it really is an all-in-one solution for those of us who aren't looking to stop the action. It works very well with the X-E2 and while it's not the lightest outfit I've used, it's far from back breaking. It is another addition to what is becoming a really superb range of lenses. But I still can't help thinking that Fuji aren't making the best of it.

THE X-TRANS SENSOR

The X-Trans sensor was announced nearly 3 years ago and let's be honest, it hasn't really changed much since then. At the time it was a step on for APS-C sensors and showed that APS-C could challenge 35mm film size / 'full-frame' for low light / high ISO performance. But things don't stand still in the digital camera world and 3 years is a long time. Since it's introduction conventional 16MP Bayer sensors made by Sony have moved on to a stage where they produce results very similar to the X-Trans without any of the problems of processing raw files that the Fuji sensor still suffers from when processed through Adobe's Lightroom and Photoshop software. I've also been using the 16MP Nikon sensor in my Df and my general view that there is not that much significant difference between sensor performance has been shaken up somewhat by the Df's astounding high ISO and dynamic range rendering.

Fuji have always been keen to stress the 'pro.' nature of their X-system and it's in the name of one of their cameras and always crops up in their advertising. So is that sensor a help or a hindrance to what we as professionals require?

Well to a large extent it depends what you shoot. For example wedding photography, fashion, portraits and anything requiring a flattering look would benefit from the slightly soft rendition of the Fuji files. However, it's been written about often by myself and others that there are issues with using the sensor for landscape / location photography. The 'watercolour effect' / smearing / green foliage problem is certainly better than was with Adobe raw processing but it hasn't gone away completely. And the lack of detail in distant subject matter is still something that, to my mind, prevents Fuji from being a serious alternative for pro's who need sharp crisp detail.

Because these days 16MP is not that big in terms of file size. And when I can get comparable sharpness to my Fuji X files from downsizing my low ISO Nokia 1020 phone images to that size, there has to be some question as to whether it's a good idea for Fuji to keep persisting with the X-Trans. I've written many times that I would love to see my Fuji lenses in front of one of the Sony 24MP APS-C sensors. A range of great lenses is certainly what my Sony cameras lack, but there is no denying that the sensors in those cameras are remarkably good. It has become the case that I now use my Fuji X gear in spite of the X-Trans sensor, not because of it.

DON'T GET ME WRONG

It is unfortunately the case that some of the more militant Fuji fanboys take every opportunity to have a pop at me whenever I make any criticism whatsoever of their brand. Considering how much Fuji gear I own and use, that might be surprising. But then it's only to be expected I guess and other brands fanboys are just as bad.

And of course the reason I'm suggesting that better results for stills and especially video might be possible with a 'conventional' bayer sensor is that the Fuji cameras and lenses are really very good indeed. Operationally and design wise they are now amongst the best you can buy. And as far as the lens range goes I believe that no other company has such a consistently good set of lenses at prices that make them very good value as well.

BACK TO THE 18-135mm

And that brings me full circle back to the 18-135mm zoom. I certainly don't get tired of writing about how good this is. I've called it the best superzoom I've used and I stand by that. There is absolutely no doubt that optically, mechanically and in terms of build quality you'd be hard pressed to find anything better.

And of course when processed in 'alternative' software, the images can be quite spectacular. Below is one I shot yesterday and which I processed in Photo Ninja and then Photoshop. There's nothing to complain about here. Even considering it was shot at ISO 800 and I significantly lightened the shadows.

As you can see lot's of crisp detail here and using Photo Ninja no problems with the green foliage behind. But the problem is this took me a lot longer than processing just in Photoshop. About three times as long in fact. So what about the jpgs. I hear you say.

Well for me the jpg. is simply soft and dull. I could tweak it in Photoshop, but the demosiacing algorithm that Fuji use and Adobe copy just doesn't do the file and of course the lens justice.

Here's another example. This time shot at ISO 1600 and processed from raw with Iridient Developer.

Now it's not as clean as a Nikon Df shot, but it's pretty good from raw nonetheless, with lots of fine detail in the shot, even at the high ISO setting. But yet again having to use additional software just took too long.

And as a professional who shoots a LOT of pictures, I just don't have the time to process all my files via these other software packages, even though the results are better. And while I've said under many circumstances the jpg. and raw quality is satisfactory from the X-Trans sensor. I can get as good from my Bayer sensor 16MP cameras in a much shorter space of time. Not everything I upload to stock libraries is filtered smartphone stuff, far from it. There is still a huge market for high quality, high resolution imagery and that isn't going to go away.

THE FUJI DILEMMA

So for me this is my constant Fuji dilemma. Great cameras and great lenses but slow processing to get the results I want. It does of course say a lot about about the appeal of those cameras and lenses that I have persevered for so long. And the likelihood is that I may persist for a while longer. But there are alternatives emerging all the time. Today sees the announcement of this.

Yes folks, Samsung finally got it together and produced a camera with amazing specs. that is, dare I say it, exciting. And make no mistake about it, Samsung can make superb lenses as well. 4K video as well as all kinds of fancy stuff is kind of making Fuji look a bit 'old-hat'. And by that I don't mean cool and retro, I mean starting to look like they are in a rut. I hope they don't end up as the Canon of the mirrorless world, who have just announced the 7D Mk II and an RX100 copy to a complete lack of enthusiasm. (At least from this end of the Photographic universe.) And now Panasonic are attempting to muscle in on Fuji's X100T territory with this.

4/3 sensor, though multi-format so around 12MP and it's got a fast Leica branded zoom lens and of course 4K video.

And that's exactly where the 18-135mm zoom should be a killer. But since Fuji have decided video isn't a priority, or in fact that the X-Trans sensor is actually a barrier to high bit rate video, we won't be able to find out if it's a good as it looks any time soon.

Now you may be thinking that I'm slowly talking myself out of being a Fuji owner and you may be right. Because I'm now using alternatives that are better at what I want them to do than the Fuji cameras I've been using extensively up to now. The Nikon Df is an absolutely brilliant low light / high ISO camera. The Leica T gives me similar quality to the Fuji X range with easy and quick .dng file processing via Photoshop and actually quite decent video. Certainly better than what Fuji are offering me at the moment.

The chances are however that I will continue to be a Fuji owner and the above items have some drawbacks for me. The Samsung looks a heavy bulky monster and the Panasonic looks too small for me. And to finally end on a positive note, this is what Fuji get so gloriously right. Despite their pre-Photokina announcements looking a bit 'low-budget' in the light of what's followed, the one thing they do know how to is make a camera and a lens feel just great. And that makes one hell of a difference to me. It is still a pleasure to go out shooting with an X camera and some X lenses and no matter what goes on inside, that isn't going to change.

And Fuji is still my core interchangeable lens outfit. And the X100s is one of my favourite cameras ever. So there is still a lot that I still find appealing. But if only they would consider a different sensor, I think they would make a lot of us very happy. And why on earth they can't give us a % read out battery meter, or even better a decent battery with some real power god only knows. Now that would have been far more useful than a graphite X-T1. But then this is the world of multi-national camera manufacture, a world in which the needs of the serious photographer come a poor second to gimmickry and features to make the review sites all hot and bothered. And people wondered why I bought a Nikon Df!!

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