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Hands-On Lens Review: The Fuji XF 18-135mm

A good, solid zoom lens is always nice to have in the bag. I’m fairly new to Fuji, but I’m pretty much in the mind-set of switching over to Fuji as soon as possible. The thing is, there are a few lenses I’m still waiting on to be released before I can fully commit to the new system. So while I am waiting, I decided I would give the Fuji 18-135mm a try to see how it works as an in-between lens while waiting on the two other lenses that will complete my setup. Here are my thoughts.

Lens Specifications

Here are the basic specifications for the Fuji XF 18-135mm lens (more can be seen on Fuji’s website here):

  • Focal length: 18-135mm (Full-frame equivalent = 27-206mm)
  • Aperture: f/3.5 to f/5.6
  • Weather-sealed
  • Optical Image Stability

Aperture and Bokeh

This lens is considered a fairly “slow” lens. That means that it does not have a very wide aperture, even at its widest setting. It’s also a “variable aperture”, meaning that its widest aperture will change (get smaller) as you zoom the lens out. For that reason, this is probably not the best lens for hand-held photography in low-light. In terms of bokeh, however, it seems to have surprisingly good background bokeh, even at a smaller aperture. I wouldn’t expect to get a completely blurred-out background with it in most cases, but if you are zoomed way in then you should be able to blur your surroundings quite well.

The downside to this lens is that it does seem to have some difficulty in darker environments. This is not a surprise, considering the apertures that it can go to coupled with the max ISO of the Fuji X-T1. I wouldn’t expect this to be a good lens for event photography in darkened rooms, or concert photography. Basically, since you can’t go very wide on the aperture, then you are likely to only get good hand-held images when shooting in environments with sufficient light.

Optical Stability

As I just mentioned, the lens is slow. But, it has Optical Stability (OS) which can help stabilize the shot if you are shooting hand-held and need just a little more help. That’s definitely a nice bonus and a big incentive for using this lens.

Auto-Focus

One thing that impressed me with this lens is its auto-focusing speed. It’s fast. Now, keep in mind that I don’t photograph sports, or anything that is typically a “fast-moving” subject. But when I use it to photograph my dog, it has no problem locking on and firing the shutter at the same time. Sure, it doesn’t catch focus every single time, but it’s pretty close. (Note: I haven’t had the chance to really test this lens in a sports-type environment, so I can’t really speak to how fast the focusing is for that genre of photography.) For what I do, I’m not particularly concerned with auto-focus speed with my lenses, but having a lens that is snappy is always a nice thing.

Zoom

This is my first zoom with my Fuji X-T1, an I think the one thing that threw me off was the zoom direction. With the Canon, the zoom goes in the opposite direction, so it is taking a little bit of adjustment for me to remember to turn the lens the other way if I want to zoom in or out. It’s also not an “internal” zoom, meaning that the lens will extend in length when you zoom out. Also, the zoom range on this lens is huge! I’m used to having two different lenses do the same job as this particular lens, so it’s nice to be able to have them combined into one.

Focusing Distance

Focusing distance to me is a big deal. I like to get close to my subjects, especially when its food, and sometimes I even like to photograph food at the same table I am sitting at. The specs on the lens say that it can focus up to 0.6 meters (23.6 inches) from the end of the lens. But, what does that mean in real life? If you are zoomed way out at the widest setting and want to get close, you might be out of luck. But, if you back yourself up and zoom in, you’ll find that you can get a lot closer to your subject than you would expect. I was able to photograph the cherry tomatoes in the image above while zoomed in at a focal length of 116mm. (Aside from the in-camera 1:1 aspect ratio applied to the image, no other cropping was applied.)

General Thoughts

Overall, I really love this lens and I think it was a great purchase. I am typically not a fan of variable-aperture lenses, but with much of the photography that I do, this lens is perfect. Also, Fuji has not yet released some of their X-series lenses, and so it’s a good lens to use to tide me over for a few that I am anticipating (specifically the Fuji XF 50-140mm f/2.8, and the Fuji XF 16-55mm f/2.8; you can see them both on the Fuji X-Mount Roadmap). To get a little more specific with this lens and how I expect to use it, here are the three main types of photography that I do and how it will work its way into my Fuji photography life:

Food Photography

I have not yet used this in a “real” food shoot (meaning, a typical setup I cook and style for the camera). I have, however, used it to photograph food at restaurants and at the farmer’s market, and I can definitely tell you that I expect this lens to be a good addition to my food-photography gear. It has a decent focusing range (not macro, but close enough to work for what I do), and it has a good zoom range on it to allow me to change up my framing on the fly. Also, since most of my food is photographed at f/5.6 and above, then this lens will still work well for my purposes.

Landscape Photography

This lens is actually quite excellent for landscape photography. I don’t necessarily need a fast aperture, since most of what I shoot is at around f/11. Plus, the extent of the range on this lens is great! There is no need to switch lenses to go from wide-angle to telephoto. I could probably take this lens out into the field with no other lens and have almost everything I need.

Travel Photography

I have a lot of overseas travel planned next year, and I am still undecided on whether or not I will take this lens along. For a trip where I expect to be photographing a lot of landscapes, then it would be a great fit. However, for markets, portraits, and anything that might need fast-action in lower light, it’s not going to be the best fit. However, I still expect to toss it in my camera bag, since the lenses for my Fuji X-T1 are considerably lighter than the ones for my Canon and it won’t be a burden to bring it along.

Sample Images

Here is a gallery of some of the images I have photographed so far with this lens. All images are photographed with the Fuji X-T1 and the Fuji 18-135mm lens.

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