Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Fuji 18-55mm Zoom Lens Test Run

I received my lens on Monday and did some preliminary shooting with it, but today was the first day I had a chance to hit the streets of New York with this lens. First some caveats: my testing is by no means scientific, I'm not a pixel peeper. I can only attest to how the lens performs given the kind of shooting at which I am adept and love to do - street. What's important to me is how the camera and lens feels in my hand in the field, and the extent to which the quality of the images they produce satisfies my expectations.

That said, after one afternoon on the street in Manhattan I can easily say I love this lens.  I haven't shot with a zoom lens since I put down my Nikon D700 (I mean put down as in laid it on the table, not as with a pet). Since I got my XP1 I've shot exclusively with the prime 18mm and 35mm lenses. It's a totally different mindset. I've got a lot of practicing to do to get up to snuff with a zoom lens again.

The minimum focusing distance with this lens is about a foot, give or take a few inches (Fuji says 11 inches). When I first unpacked the lens I noticed a little noise when shaken gently (not stirred). So I called the Fuji support line and the tech with whom I spoke confirmed he heard the same noise when he  gently shook his lens. Don't know what that is, but apparently it doesn't adversely affect the lens performance. I found the camera and lens feels very different in my hand. I'm used to the lightness and shortness of the two primes, this lens is heavier and extends further out so my right hand had to work harder over the hours of handling the camera. I'm a little disappointed with the lens hood. No matter that it's plastic (the prime lens hoods are metal), when it snaps into place on the front of the lens the connection doesn't feel very secure, and in fact it can easily be dislodged. But in the grand scheme of things it's a very small matter.

I looked for chromatic aberration at 18mm, and found it. It's about the same as the CA on the prime 18mm lens - so that's no big deal, easily corrected in Lightroom. I turned off the image stabilization on the zoom (more about the IS later) and took a few test shots at 18mm and 35mm so that I could compare the sharpness to the two prime lenses. At 18mm it's pretty much the same. At 35mm the prime has a thick hair's advantage.

I didn't have any complaints about the focus speed of the prime lenses right out of the box, clearly this wasn't a clunky DSLR with huge, heavy lenses so I had realistic expectations. After the firmware updates the speed of focus was a non-issue for me. At 18mm and 35mm the auto focus speed of the zoom lens is the same as the primes. The response is a little slower at 55mm, but I don't have the 60mm prime to compare.

I had only one lens for my Nikon D700 with image stabilization, a 70-300 f3.5-5.6 zoom. I rarely used the lens, so I have nothing to which I can compare the Fuji's IS. I am, however, totally impressed with the increase in flexibility that the IS allows. I have been able to hand hold the camera and shoot comfortably at shutter speeds down to 1/30th second. I pushed some shots one stop slower - to 1/15th sec. - and the results are quite satisfactory considering that the slower shutter speed buys some ISO speed and lower noise in the image.

The first of these shots was taken at 1/60th second, f4, ISO 5000, these are jpegs, generated from raw data by Lightroom, without any processing.



This second shot was taken at 1/15th second, f4, ISO 1250.



If you were to pixel peep, you could argue that there is some slight blurring in the second shot, but the difference in the pixel noise makes the first shot seem a little soft at the edges of lines. So I guess if you want to shoot in low light you have to pick your poison.

One of the pleasing surprises for me in using this lens was that there is a 23mm focal length marking on the barrel. That puzzled me at first, but then I realized that it translates into about a 35mm equivalent. So I tried shooting at that focal length. If felt much more comfortable than the (approximate) 50mm equivalent of the Fuji 35mm lens. I've always been more comfortable shooting at wider focal lengths, so learning to shoot at the longer end that this lens provides is going to take some patient practice. I'll suffer through it.

The next time I post, I hope to have some real street shots from today's outing.