Fujifilm has become quite well known for it’s excellent APS-C lens lineup and now has enough lenses that several of them overlap significantly. One pair of lenses that bare consideration for many getting into the Fujifilm X system are the “kit” XF 18-55mm f/2.8-4 R LM OIS and the “professional” XF 16-55mm f/2.8 R LM WR. Let’s take a look at the differences between them.
The XF 18-55mm is a renowned lens among the kit lenses of the world. It is known for being fast, silent, and having excellent image quality. But, just how good is it? How does it compare to the “professional” XF 16-55mm f/2.8? Could you potentially save yourself a lot of size, money, and weight if you don’t need f/2.8 at the long end of the zoom? Let’s find out.
Both lenses feature Fujifilm’s XF designation. This means that they are both designed to be high-quality lenses. The 16-55mm lens features Fujifilm’s red badge which places it among their “professional zoom” range. While the build of these two lenses is surprisingly similar, there are a few things in the construction to differentiate them.
The 16-55mm features weather sealing all over the lens barrel for those who are working in adverse conditions. It also has a rubberized zoom ring which feels slightly easier to turn than its little brother, making it easier to smoothly, quickly, and accurately change the focal length. However, neither of the lenses feels poorly built and I would trust both of them to survive daily abuse.
The 18-55mm lens has two switches on the side that give us the next two differences to look at. The first switch is for OIS, which can be switched on and off quickly on the lens. The system is good, but doesn’t seem to do quite as good a job as a lens like the 50-140mm f/2.8 or the IBIS in the X-H1. I have been able to handhold down to 1/8 s at the wide end and 1/20 s at the long end.
The next difference is in the aperture ring. Many of Fujifilm’s XF lenses come with a marked aperture ring that has hard stops at each end. Although this is not a physical control for your aperture setting, it does give a similar feeling to the traditional control. The 18-55mm, however, uses a free spinning aperture ring, like the one on the XF 10-24mm f/4, that can be switched between automatic and manual control with the second switch on the lens. This means you cannot glance at your lens to know what the current aperture setting is or change your aperture while the camera is off. The aperture ring is quite loose as well, which makes it easy to knock and change the value without noticing.
The XF 18-55mm, I find, is actually a better fit in terms of size and weight for most of the X series cameras. The XF 16-55mm tends to feel front heavy on most of the bodies. When it comes to the larger lens, the X-H1 is the body on which it feels much comfortable. You’ll also get the IBIS of the X-H1, which makes the lens much more effective when working handheld.
However, overall, the construction is similar and both feel like solid lenses. These small differences alone can in no way justify the additional size, weight, and cost of the 16-55mm f/2.8. We’ll have to look a little deeper into image quality to see if there really is a large difference between the two.
This is where I thought we would see a marked difference between the two lenses. However, if I’m completely honest, there is not a night and day distinction that would make one a significantly better choice than the other. Let’s take a closer look.
At the wide end, 16mm or 18mm, we see a slight difference in sharpness and contrast (in the center of the frame) between the two with the 16-55mm coming out ahead. It is not until f/8 that we see the two even out and by f/11, diffraction starts to kick in for both lenses. The 16-55mm f/2.8 does produce sharper corners at all apertures, however. That is not to say that the 18-55mm is a poor performer in any way.
On the long end, we see a much more level playing field. The 18-55mm is almost indistinguishable from the 16-55mm in terms of contrast and sharpness (in the center, the corners are still a little softer). From f/5.6 to f/8, there seems to be a slight advantage in the 16-55mm lens, but it’s not going to be noticeable until you start pixel peeping.
The bokeh produced by both of these lenses is nothing to write home about, but the 16-55mm does seem to produce smoother looking out of focus areas. Of course, with the f/2.8 aperture being available at the long end of the lens, you can get a little more blur at the same focus distance than you would with the kit lens. The other noticeable difference is in the quality of the “bokeh balls.” The 18-55mm exhibits a lot more patterning in the center of those. You can see an example of each below.
Flare for both lenses well controlled in most situations, but with the sun coming directly into the lens, we start to see some differences in the shape of the flare and ghosts produced. The 16-55mm tends to produce fewer ghosts across the entire image but does produce long lines the emanate from the light source and end at the edges of the frame (even wide open, these are visible at times). The 18-55mm produces ghosts all over the frame but does not produce the lines seen in images from the 16-55mm. Check that in the images below.
Both lenses will produce large stars from point sources like street lights at night. The 16-55mm produces much more defined stars but each ray can often split into a comb-like pattern. The 18-55mm also displays this behavior. However, it is not as pronounced because the stars aren’t as well defined.
Both of these lenses use Fujifilm’s Linear Motors for fast, silent autofocus. The autofocus system in the 16-55mm lens is excellent, and although the 18-55mm is not in any way a poor system, there are a few small differences that may make the decision of which lens to get easier for you. First, the 18-55mm hunts a little more and focuses slightly slower than the larger lens. Also, the 16-55mm tracks more effectively in AF-C mode. Overall, the lens just feels more responsive with fast-moving subjects and more in-focus images result. In dim light, you will also find that the 16-55mm focuses more effectively at the long end due to its brighter aperture (you’ll also gather one stop less light with the 18-55mm in dim situations as well, which could be a deal-breaker for you). Again, these differences are much less prominent than I would have expected, though.
Which Lens Should You Get?
As you can see, this is a tougher question than it might initially seem. With any of the other major brands, the difference between the kit lens and the pro-level mid-range zoom is much more pronounced, but Fujifilm have made two excellent lenses. The main reasons to purchase the 16-55mm lens, in my opinion, are the slightly wider field of view, additional sharpness at the wide end, the additional light gathering capabilities at the long end, the weather sealing, and the slightly increased auto-focus speed. If you need those things in your work, the 16-55mm is the lens to go for. However, if you’re planning to stop down often, don’t need quicker autofocus in low-contrast conditions, and would prefer to have OIS built into the lens, the 18-55mm is a fantastic lens that will save you weight and leave some extra money in your wallet for some additional glass. Just watch out for the slightly softer wide end.
Have you tried both of these lenses? Did you end up buying one? Which one and why? For you, do the additional sharpness, weather sealing, and autofocus speed outweigh the OIS, small size, and lightness of the kit lens?