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.
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.
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.