Red Badge Diaries- First impressions of XF 16-55mm f/2.8

These are my first impressions of the newly acquired Fujinon XF 16-55mm f/2.8, my first Red Badge lens from Fujifilm.

Introduction

I consider myself to be a prime lens guy, but with every system I’ve had, I’ve always owned a general zoom lens as well. I had the 18-105mm with my Nikon D90 and the 12-35mm when I used Panasonic GH5, and most of my photos are taken using those lenses, so why the hang-up on primes? Optical quality and bokeh are the most obvious reasons, but I also think it’s because general use lenses get a bad rap among established photographers as being crap; “Real photographers use primes”. Legend has it that Fujifilm didn’t want any compromises when it came to the optical quality of the 16-55mm and that’s the major reason they ditched IBIS as well. So far I’ve nothing but great results with this lens, but I’m not sure I’m selling off my Fujicrons and the XF56mm f/1.2 any time soon. The main reason being …

The size and weight

Let’s get this out of the way; The lens is really big, heavy, and on any smaller body than the X-T3 or similar, it would be too big for my liking. Adding a battery grip to the X-T3 as well and you can say goodbye to inconspicuous photography. It weighs 655 grams and carrying it around all day will leave a mark on your neck and/or back. I knew this when I bought the lens, but using it extensively is another thing and the weight and size of the lens are the most negative thing about it. Perhaps, that’s the only negative thing I can say about this lens because so far, I’ve loved using it!

Lately, I’ve been into moody shots, like this one, shot at 55mm , f/2.8, 1/800s & 400 ISO.

Build quality

Everything on this lens screams of quality, from the clicky aperture ring to the smooth zooming action. Since I rarely use manual focus I haven’t any comment on the focus ring yet though.

For wide shots, I find that 16mm (24mm in full-frame terms) is suitable for most scenarios. This charming house in the Norwegian countryside just need a little grooming and was shot at 16mm, f/5.6, 1/800s & 400 ISO.

In use

I really like the range this lens provides and the autofocus is snappy and silent. The only thing missing is IBIS, but using it on an X-T4 or future models will solve that. For normal photography, I haven’t missed IBIS that much.

Another wide shot; Me going for a swim in the lake by our cabin in the mountains. It was a quick swim due to the 12C/53F temperature of the water.
Photo taken at 16mm, f/5, 1/1000s & 160 ISO.

The focal range is also nice, and most of my photos are shot in the 35mm – 75mm in full-frame range. I seldom go wide, but it’s nice to have the 24mm option if needed.

The only thing I’ve noticed is that when using AF-C looking through the EVF the image is a bit blurry. This is not the case in AF-S.

I’ve even used this lens in low light scenarios with great results. The autofocus was way better than the XF 56mm f/1.2 and on par with the XF 50mm f/2.

X-T3 @ 55mm, f/4, 1/125s, 3200 ISO
Low light – 34mm, f/2.8, 1/100s & 1600 ISO.

The bokeh is also quite nice, especially at the long end, and you can get nice subject separation, although not as good as on the Fujicrons or other lenses.

Food photograhy is also another subject I’m intrested in and this lens delivers – 55mm, f/2.8, 1/125s & 3200 ISO.

Conclusion – so far

In short; I love the images I get, the focal range, the build quality, etc. etc., but the weight and size are a negative, not a deal-breaker, but close. And perhaps the price is high as well, but considering what it gives you in focal range and relative wide aperture, I think it’s ok. I bought my second hand at a reasonable price, but this is one of the pricier offerings from Fuji.

Its closest competitor is probably the XF 18-55mm f/2.8-4, which is much smaller, cheaper and has IBIS, and is, by many, hailed as a better alternative than this heavy, bulky thing. But the 16-55mm feels better optically as soon as I put my eye to the EVF and has more of that magical Fujijuice than the 18-55mm ever had, at least for me. The 18-55mm never amazed me, but this one does.

It’s probably not a fair comparison, but could this lens replace all my primes? Almost. Not the 56mm f/1.2 due to the insane bokeh, but that’s also a big lens, with very hit-and-miss autofocus performance. But the Fujicrons? I got an X-E3 I’m planning on using with either the 23mm f/2 or the 35mm f/2, so no. The XF 16mm f/1.4 is another overlapping lens, but the bokeh close-up on that lens is amazing. What about the 50mm f/2? I’ve gotten some of my favorite photos with that lens and I’m still debating what lens I like best; the 56mm f/1.2 or the 50mm f/2 (bokeh vs autofocus), so at least not in the near future. So no, I’ll still keep all my primes, but I’ll probably use the XF 16-55mm more for my day-to-day shooting.

What it boils down to for me is the versatility of a general zoom lens like the XF 16-55mm f/2.8 vs primes for a specific subject or topic, like portrait or landscape. Like the Fujinon XF 18-135mm, you sacrifice something when you opt for versatility, but I feel the XF 16-55mm f/2.8 delivers much closer to the optical quality of primes than most other general use lenses I’ve tried previously and the bokeh and subject separation is good enough for most cases.

Further reading

More sample photos