Equipment

Fuji 18-135 Lens Review


Duomo, Pisa, Italy.
Duomo, Pisa, Italy. Fuji X-T2, 18-135mm lens at 35mm. ISO200, 1/420″ at f/8.0.

It’s been exactly 1 year today since I purchased and received this lens; I remember it well because of the terrible events of the Manchester Arena bomb.

I’ve been promising to do a real-world review of the lens for some time, so I thought what better time than after a year’s use. I should also explain what I mean by real world review. I’m not going to base my comments on charts and reading other lab reports from the internet. If that floats your boat, just google Fuji 18-135 Lens Review and I’m sure you will get your fill. This review is based on my use of the lens, the images I have captured with it and what I think are the strong and weak points.

By way of background, this is the second Fuji 18-135 lens I have owned. The first I purchased second hand and after a lot of frustration, it was eventually traded for other equipment. The problem with the first lens was that it was soft and didn’t focus correctly across the frame. The performance was hit and miss, which also seemed to be exaggerated by Adobe Lightroom “smoothing” the finer details in the Fuji RAW files.

It was then only after another 6 months of experience with the Fuji X-T2 that I decided to try a new example of the lens. This was quite a decision for me given my previous experience, but the idea of the 18-135 focal range was so compelling I thought it was worth the risk. A single lens that covers this focal range and will produce a good image is very attractive. It makes the lens ideal for travelling as well as trekking, when you don’t want or don’t have time to mess about changing lenses.

Since buying this lens, my Sony RX10, which was my previous trekking camera, has only been out a handful of times. The focal range of the Sony RX10 is 24mm – 200mm in full frame terms. This compares with 27mm – 202mm for the Fuji 18-135. In terms of coverage, the Fuji lens is similar although I do sometimes miss that first 3mm of the RX10 at the wide end. Where the Fuji 18-135 makes up for this is in being weather resistant and the Fuji X-T2 producing wonderfully clean images.

In terms of weight and size, the Fuji 18-135 lens is what I would term a medium-sized lens but quite light for the size.

Here’s a quick comparison of the Fuji X-T2 against the weight and size of my Micro 43 outfit. This was the kit that I tended to use for travel photography because of its size and weight.

Olympus 12-40 lens 382g – This is my main lens and although doesn’t have the reach of the 18-135, tended to stay on the camera 80% of the time. If I want the additional reach on the Micro 43 kit I would need to use my Panasonic 45-150mm (a great little lens by the way).

Fuji 18-135 490g – About 100g heavier than the Olympus but with the benefit of additional reach.

Olympus EM5 425g – As well as being lighter, this is also smaller than the X-T2 by a couple of cm. The only downside is that I need to use the body with the additional Olympus grip as the body alone gives me cramp in my right hand after around an hour’s use. This takes the combined weight over that of the X-T2.

Fuji X-T2 507g – Slightly larger and heavier than the Micro 43 body but still sufficiently compact.

Both kits will fit into a single small shoulder bag.

Fuji X-T2 with 18-135 Lens and Olympus EM5 with 12-40 lens

The Fuji 18-135mm lens has a 67mm front elements which allows me to use the Lee Seven 5 filter system when I want to be compact, although there is a small amount of vignetting when the lens is wider than around 23mm. The lens works fine with the Kase K8 filter holder and system, although this is bulkier and heavier than the Lee Seven 5.

The bugbear in my mind with the Fuji 18-135 lens is image quality, but I believe this is largely psychological and based on my earlier problems. I think when you constantly look for problems with the images from a specific camera or lens you will find always find something. It also makes you much fussier about image quality. If I compare the quality of the Micro 43 kit (probably unfair as it’s a few years older than the Fuji X-T2) those images aren’t as sharp or detailed and they carry more noise. The images are also smaller at 16Mpixels compared to the Fuji’s 24.3Mpixels, which does come in handy for commercial work.

There are though a few weak spots in the Fuji 18-135mm lens:

  • In very bright conditions and with the lens at the wide-angle end of the focal range, I do notice some Chromatic Aberration or colour fringing in images. This though is easily removed during RAW conversion.
  • When processed using Adobe Lightroom, the RAW files captured with this lens seem to be more prone to their fine details being “smoothed out” by the conversion. I don’t know what causes this, but I notice it when I compare the images with other RAW converters.
  • When used at 18mm, the extreme edges of the lens sometimes go off a little in terms of sharpness. To illustrate this, I have included an example below with sections of an image magnified to 200% and only limited/default capture sharpening applied. You do seem to be able to improve this to some degree by stopping the lens down further. And if you can use a slightly longer focal length the lens starts to perform very well indeed.
Extreme top edge of the image showing some softness in the top edge of the tower. Image magnified to 200%. Click image to view at full resolution.
Extreme bottom edge of the image showing less softness. Image magnified to 200%. Click image to view at full resolution.
Middle part of the frame with only default sharpening applied. Image magnified to 200%.Click image to view at full resolution.
Leaning Tower, Pisa, Italy.
Here is the full image.

Perhaps the biggest practical test of the Fuji 18-135 lens was my recent trip to Italy. After agonizing for some time over which lenses to take, I decided to travel lights and use only the 18-135. Reviewing the images now, I’m very happy with the quality and I was completely happy to work within the restrictions of the focal range. This is a very versatile lens and I’m happy to rely on it for future travel trips, especially when I want to travel with limited equipment.

7 comments

  1. Good concise review but was wondering if you could elaborate on the quality at the long end. I am considering this lens for a field trip to Greenland in July, its not a photo trip but i want to have a good enough camera with me if/when the opportunities arise. i am taking my rokinon 12mm for wide angle but am tossing up between the 18-135 and the fixed 90mm for longer reach. the 18-135 would be a no brainer if there werent so many scare stories in the review press (including your own first version). (Also considering trading my x-t1 for an x-h1, have you looked at it yet?)

    1. I have found my 18-135 to be better at the longer end. Once in the standard and short telephoto range, it’s a really great lens. I don’t think its quite as sharp as the 55-200 but that may be because the latter doesn’t seem to be affected by the Adobe Lightroom problem I mentioned. If you’re just looking for a versatile but good lens, I would certainly suggest trying one. I would though buy new from someone who accepts returns. I still find it hard to get over my experience, which I think may have also been exaggerated by an X-T1 which was very prone to the “wiggly worm” sensor pattern.

      As for the X-H1, no I haven’t tried one of these other than to hold. It was very nice to handle and I like the idea of the stabilisation being in the body. Unfortunately, I can’t justify the cost when I already have the X-T2.

  2. A good review. I also have a love/hate relationship with this lens although it is probably my most used lens as it covers a great range and is light to carry around. I think it is better on the XT-2 (than on my XT-1) but I still see a fair bit of CA and fringing towards the edges where it can be a bit soft. But unless you pixel peep then I guess it really isn’t a problem as most images end up cropped anyway. I’ve seen comments elsewhere saying that this is Fuji’s worse performing lens in their range most of which set a very high bar! But it still delivers very good images and I’m not sure I could part with it really. Worth taking a chance on I think. Perhaps Fuji might produce a mark 2 version and give it their red badge treatment. Now that would be good!

  3. Thanks Robin for this great post. It’s not helped me one bit lol! I’m joking, of course, but I guess I knew there can be no definitive answer to my own dilemma of 55-200 or 18-135. Having just received the 55-200 today that will be my number 3 lens now collectively covering 10-200.
    But as I head for a short break in Spain with no luggage and travelling with just my XT2 + 18-55 your article makes me think “now, if I had the 18-135…… “ but then I’d also need more money!

    1. Just came back from Spain and Portugal with my X T-2 and the 18-55. It served me well and the only thing I wished for was a bit more width at the wide angle end of the spectrum. I am sure you will capture some great shots!

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