Fuji XF 16-55mm F2.8 R LM WR Fujinon zoom lens Review - Pro or just pro spec?

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The 24-70mm, f/2.8 throughout, pro-spec standard zoom lens has been with us for a while. Often the staple lens of professional wedding, event, fashion and studio photographers. This Fuji X APS-C sensor alternative, with a slightly longer short telephoto end, the 'Full-Frame' / 35mm 'equivalent' of 24-85mm f/2.8, is Fuji's version of that. It's a also the companion to the 50-140mm f/2.8 telephoto lens already available. 

I have had discussions with other pro. photographers about these lenses, which usually goes along the lines of 'It's not wide enough, it's not long enough, it's not fast enough, but it's very useful nonetheless.' Plus these type of lenses are usually at the high end of a company's lens range and are known for their optical quality, as well as their weight. size and price, none of which are particularly diminutive!! There are well-known examples from Nikon and Canon for 'FF' sensors and there are also APS-C versions for many systems and in recent times Panasonic and Olympus have come up with their m4/3 versions. The 12-35mm f/2.8 Lumix lens and 12-40mm f/2.8 m.Zuiko. 

For the most part, these lenses are usually designed to fulfil a specific purpose for professional photographers in circumstances where changing lenses is either difficult or unwanted, in situations where the light is mixed and where a high shutter speed and /or low ISO setting is required. They have acquired a reputation of being professional 'work horses' and the 'go to' lens for many photographers. As mentioned above, these are very popular with wedding photographers (many of whom use nothing else), social photographers who shoot indoor events or portraits, fashion photographers who shoot models indoors and outside and any other commercial application where the combination of high quality, speed and flexibility is required. So after spending the day with Fuji's version of this for the X system, what are my first impressions?

Well, the overriding impression on taking this lens out of the box and fitting it to a camera is 'This is a serious piece of kit!.' It's not small, and it's not light. In fact it's only 200g lighter than the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 and only just over 100g lighter than the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8, both of which are slightly shorter at the telephoto end but are designed to cover 'full-frame / 35mm sensors.' When I fitted it to my X-T1, added my PhotoMadd L-Plate grip or Fuji Battery grip, the whole outfit was around the 1.3kg mark, lighter certainly than a Nikon or Canon DSLR alternative, but still a pretty chunky outfit. Anyone thinking this might be closer to the m4/3 versions mentioned above, than to DSLR's, will have to think again. I carried this outfit around for an afternoon, walking a fair distance and for the first time in a long time, I had a few back twinges at the end of the day. So it's not that small or that light. 

I would mention here that I tried the lens on my X-Pro 1 and X-T1 with no grips attached and found the combination(s) somewhat unbalanced. The lack of a pronounced grip on Fuji cameras does make the heavier, larger lenses somewhat difficult to control. With the battery grip attached on my X-T1 I found it better, but for the best handling I have no hesitation in recommending the PhotoMadd shop grips again.*  For me, this ability to get my right hand into a comfortable stable position is essential for lenses like this. With small cameras too much effort is put into actually keeping a grip on the camera and I find the contours on the hand grip really do help the handling. Though it has to be said the the extra power from the X-T1 battery grip comes in very handy with the batteries Fuji use in these cameras.

The lens does however have some serious gravitas! You will most definitely not suffer from 'DSLR envy' with this. It has a 'big lens feel' and gives the X-T1 a 'big camera feel' when it's attached to it. And this is I think part of the 'problem' Fuji have in attempting to compete with other systems. What might be considered virtues, i.e. the build quality, design and optical quality of Fuji lenses means that when they bring out a lens like this, there really isn't that much difference between an outfit like the one I was using yesterday and an APS-C DSLR. In fact the newly announced 24MP Canon 750D with a 17-55mm f/2.8 lens (which includes built-in IS that the Fuji doesn't have) is almost exactly the same weight as the X-T1 / 16-55mm combination. Plus it's cheaper. I've often described the Fuji X system as a 'hard sell' when I'm imaging a sales person in a camera shop trying to persuade a potential customer to buy Fuji rather than other brands, particularly cheaper, higher MP count, Nikon and Canon APS-C DSLR's. And this is why I think that is. It's true Fuji do attract a lot of hobbyist / enthusiast photographers, but they are still very small players in the camera marketplace overall and it has to be remembered that not everyone is an old-school / retro fan. (Incredible as that might seem!)

So this lens is serious looking and serious handling. And it does look and feel somewhat different to other Fuji zooms. The weather resistance (Not weather sealing I hasten to add, so you probably shouldn't plan on throwing a bucket of water over one of these to impress your friends!) means it feels very robust. I should just mention here that the 1/3 stop clicked aperture ring, is a thing of beauty. It may be a 'faux' aperture ring but it's really nice to use and looks and feels great. There is generally an overall impression of solidity here, something I also noticed with the 50-140mm f/2.8 I tried out a few weeks ago. So, as I've indicated, the lens most definitely has a 'pro' feel. But lets get to the really good stuff.

AF with this lens is seriously quick. Not like Fuji at all!! And just like my Nikon Df it 'glides' rather than jumps into focus. I was seriously impressed by this. There were a lot of people wandering around Bourton-on-the-water yesterday, which is where I was and I needed to work quickly and inconspicuously. The combination of the AF and the X-T1's electronic shutter let me do just that. Now Fuji certainly doesn't have a reputation for producing speed machines, but this was an unexpectedly slick combination and one that I found very useful. In some of the situations that such a combination like this may be used, a wedding for example, it could now be argued that because of the lack of noise this is actually a more useful combination than a DSLR, which while they are undeniably speedy, they do make a hell of a noise. And as someone who once had an entire church full of wedding guests turn round to look at me when I accidentally triggered a motordrive burst during a particularly quiet and solemn moment in a wedding ceremony, I can testify to the usefulness (and discretion!) of the Fuji combination.

Before getting onto the REALLY really good stuff, I should address the IS issue here. Or more accurately, the lack of it. Fuji have said that they haven't put IS in the lens because of size and weight issues. And from my description so far, you may well understand that. It's also worth pointing out that neither the Nikon or Canon 'FF' versions I linked to before have it either. And that has a lot to do with how these lenses are used. By their very nature, these fast zooms are often going to be used when there is something going on and there are people around. Since these are regarded as professional lenses, the assumption is that if a professional is going to shoot a static, non moving subject, where IS would help, they will use a tripod anyway, so that's not what one of this type of lens is for. These wide > short tele f/2.8 zooms are for situations where low shutter speeds are out of the question. (Try shooting a wedding hand held using shutter speeds of around 1/15th. sec. and I wouldn't be optimistic of you ever being asked to shoot another!!) Plus of course, professionals often bring their own lighting with them, either static lights or flash. These lenses really aren't designed for general enthusiast snap shooting and so the lack of IS (either lens or body) isn't really that unusual. It does however occur much more often with fast telephoto zooms, because action stopping shutter speeds can still benefit from IS at these focal lengths. And certainly the smaller form form factor of m4/3 means it can be incorporated without making the lenses (or bodies) too big and heavy. 

Now it would have been nice to have IS I guess, since a lot of people seem to want it. I should point out though that I actually don't have much gear with IS, either cameras or lenses. The bulk of my gear is, has been and probably always will be IS free. Though I have to say that Olympus's radical use of sensor stabilisation technology in the OM-D E-M5 II is VERY intriguing. But returning to the Fuji, there is the very real question of what would you use a lens like this for? This type of lens ideally meant to handle fast moving, difficult light, high pressure photographic jobs. That's what they were originally designed for and that's what they are best at and I would suggest most used for. They are the 'get the shot before it disappears' and 'no second chance' lenses and not intended to be some general walk around, shoot a bit of this, a bit of that hobbyist playthings and as such the lack of IS is not such a big deal to those professionals who might buy them. It's also the case that without running an IS motor, battery life is extended, which is important considering this is an issue with Fuji X cameras. 

I would also point out that some of us, including both Leica and Zeiss (who have both said this on the record), are of the opinion that IS, no matter how good it is, does in some way shape or form, compromise image quality. Though the two lens makers I've mentioned 'condone' IS in their partnerships with Panasonic and Sony (They probably have no choice), they don't feel inclined to add it to their own marque products. Certainly as a professional photographer, I'll always choose the appropriate shutter speed without relying on IS. Plus, finally on this issue, I will concede that IS is incredibly useful for video, but then Fuji's video offer being as poor as it is, I can't see that many people complaining about the lack thereof.

OK. So lets (finally!) get to that really REALLY good news. In terms of image quality this lens is nothing short of sensational. After only one afternoon with it I have no hesitation in saying that this is the best Fuji X lens I've ever used. It's almost as sharp as the 23mm f/1.4, for me Fuji's crispest lens and that sharpness is right across the frame from corner to corner. When you factor in the focal lengths involved here, that's what makes me give this lens such an enthusiastic endorsement. It's sharp, it has minimal (almost non-existent) distortion, no vignetting and very low levels of CA and fringing. It even makes the OOC jpgs. look sharp!!! It is in fact quite stunning optically and looking at the images I shot with it on my screen, the reason for that size and weight starts to make sense. There is very little compromise here and Fuji have to be congratulated on further enhancing their already well-deserved reputation for quality lens making with what I'm sure will become a classic zoom.

So there we are, my first impressions of the Fuji XF 16-55mm F2.8 R LM WR Fujinon zoom lens. I have to say, despite the weight issue, I really enjoyed using the lens 'in the field' and in particular looking at the images it created, much more than I thought I would. Those social / wedding / fashion / studio photographers who have converted to Fuji X from Canon or Nikon DSLR's (or are contemplating doing so) are going to absolutely love this lens and see it as confirming their choice to switch. If you are, or want to be a 'Fuji Pro' then I can see no reason on earth why you wouldn't buy this. It's a real 'no-brainer' But then you probably have it on order or have one of the first ones already. 

For everybody else, the Fuji enthusiasts, you will have to make a choice. It isn't a light small lens, it doesn't have IS and it is expensive (Though give it a few months and Fuji will probably have some deal in place) But it is a stellar performer and if you want to get the very best images you can over a range of the most popular focal lengths, then this is a lens you will relish.

So is it a 'Pro' lens rather than a 'pro-spec' lens, you bet it is. I still have my doubts over whether the X-T1 is a 'pro' camera in terms of what we understand by that (battery life), but I have no such reservations about this lens. It's going to be a pleasure to use it. 

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* And yes I know I run ads for them and get a commission on sales from links on this site, but I was recommending them before that happened and I'd do it if I wasn't an affiliate anyway.