Note. This review is based on a pre-production media sample lens.
Sadly, this review starts on a slightly negative note....
The first weather resistant lens released from FUJIFILM is a canon, when zoomed all the way to 135mm the lens becomes surprisingly front heavy and is sadly a little ugly, no matter which X series camera body it was slapped on (XPRO1, XM1 and XT1). Also, the lens feels and looks very plastic. Unlike the prime lens lineup with all metal exterior shells, this one is made from a smooth engineered plastic, which does come across a little cheap.
The weather sealing suggests this lens is intended for the adventure enthusiast, however in our opinion, a plastic exterior does not portray rugged durability.
On paper the focal length 18mm (wide) to 135mm (telephoto) looks like great value, and it is probably fair to say this lens is going to be popular for travel photographers. Although a little vulgar, it is more affordable than stocking a range of primes to get the equivalent coverage.
Because the lens is intended to trump a variety of situations, we threw a few curve balls its way throughout testing. The way we see it, because this is a general purposes lens it will perform adequately in most situations, but excel at nothing in particular, especially not low light photography or bokeh. For high optical performance, and durability, a zoom lens will never be able to compare against the no compromise motto of a fixed focal prime lens.
So we start by packing a bag for the street, we will leave the pixel peeping, test charts and DxO scores to the scientists. We just care how well it performs and feels in the real world. On the street its all about discretion. Sadly this lens is not very subtle (especially when extended / zoomed in). If there was ever a lens suited to the stereotypical tourist, camera and lens dangling around their neck, the 18-135mm definitely fits the bill.
Coming off as a silly tourist is not necessarily a bad disguise, it makes grabbing the odd candid shot far easier, especially when followed by an apologetic smile. In the end it is all about the picture though. Usually in busy street scenes you have two options, either blur the background to remove distractions or find a composition where all the in focus elements compliment each other.
Not unexpectedly this zoom lens has rather small apertures, one of the trade offs due to the inherent optical design. As you can see, in all our images despite our best efforts, there is very little subject / background isolation. Despite the lenses largest aperture settings throughout the variable zoom range, it just did not deliver enough punch to be permanently included in our kit.
Adaptability is definitely this lenses greatest strength; having the option to go wide and seconds later be right up close and personal was ideal while documenting the second local Israel / Palestine protest this week. Zooming in and out is far easier than committing to lens changes while dodging a marching mob, TV crew and other reporters on the front line.
In situations like these focus needs to be snappy, and the smaller apertures help keep the scene in check (it is easy to get lost in shallow depths of field, the larger depth of field worked in our favour this time). Despite initially considering this as a short coming (based on our portrait requirements), when working on the fly and a little gung-ho, it helps to have the margin of error incase it is needed. It just might be the difference between keeping the story in focus or missing it completely.
Two days into the review and it was time for a change of scene. The bitter cold bite of the morning breeze on a crisp winters morning is usually a good sign of a clear sky and a beautiful sunrise. Sunday morning was particularly brisk, and wrapped in multiple layers, this time I alone waited for the sun to come up.
Catching the sail boat on the remarkably calm morning was good use of the telephoto end of the lens. Shot purposely wide open at F5.6 the image is a little soft (especially in the corners). An unfortunate property which has plagued the lens throughout all the test images so far.
The soft rendering does have a dreamy quality, the colours come out subtle with a slightly lower than average contrast. The image below is probably a perfect example, although the effect was slightly emphasised with the help of a little post production.
The natural colour reproduction of the lens elements has strangely won me over on all of the images from Sunday morning. An honest and true to life quality. Although they are not the best examples of landscape photography, the subtle simplicity of the images are perfect for illustrating some of the lenses finer qualities.
There are very few zoom lenses which can hack the dark, and now is the new FUJIFNON's last chance to impress us before wrapping up, and a last minute invite to Backbeat was the perfect opportunity. We got asked to make a couple of shots throughout the making of a music video.
The perfect situation for a review, song after song was repeated and that gave the lens every chance to make a name for itself. It has to be said, throughout the evening the lens was pretty quick and ripped every shot into focus. In some cases it was even quicker than the prime lenses, which we are married to.
But the low light situation did not help the shutter speeds, even though the optical stabilisation was working hard to balance out hand shake, it cannot compensate or correct for subject movement (in this case the musicians). There were a significant portion of images from the night which were made with this lens for the sake of the review which are simply not usable. A sad and rather unfortunate outcome for a set of images which cannot be easily reproduced...
You know if this lens is the right one for you when you have a choice, at Backbeat our bag contained a full set of primes and the one zoom. If all you can think about is how much better the shot would look if you used the other lenses in the bag, then you are bobbing around the pond in the same boat as us.
Once you sum up all the points from the widely varying situations we tossed its way, it has to be said, although it performed admirably, it is terribly boring and with little character. It does what it does with no surprises. It is very suited to small aperture photographers (situations which benefit large depths of field, for example landscape work) and covers a general purpose focal range which will get you by for most situations. You could definitely do worse for a travel lens. And as long as action stopping low light photography with razor thin bokeh are not part of your repertoire, then the new FUJINON 18-135 mm might just be the one you have been waiting for.