Fuji XT-1 Odyssey Update

You can probably see a pattern here. Wintertime crap-tons of blog posts. Spring and summer, not many. I thought it was about time that I posted something about my six month commitment to use an EVF camera. I’ve what one might regard as considerable milage on my Fuji XT-1. I used the hell out of it, shot everything that crossed my path. I definitely have a lot to say about the camera body itself including the EVF. I’ll save those thoughts on the viewfinder and why I think it’s so different than my previous attempts at using an EVF for another day.

Today I want to clarify a couple of things I mentioned regarding the Fujinon 18-55 XR way back when I said I could probably live with an XE-1 and an 18-55 and be done with it all. I’ve also mentioned more than once since then I wasn’t as happy as I thought I would be with the 18-55 now that I’ve got one of my own.

My particular 18-55 came with the camera. That was a no-brainer when looking at the best prices I could get for an XT-1 with or without the kit lens. The kit in most cases is a steal. It’s not my first experience with the lens. I’ve used them before on other people’s cameras. My disappointment is specifically related to how the usual suspects out on the interwebs pour copious amounts of gushing praise on it. Usually the same kind of words used on Fuji lenses I have owned and became intimately familiar with. All of the gushing and bowing down seems about right for a lot of the Fuji primes based on my first experience as well as my experience with my newer primes this time around. They are fabulous. I don’t even have to qualify that with how great a value they are in terms of reasonable price point.

The problem comes in where my expectation was based on everything I’ve read. That has nothing to do with the 18-55 being a bad lens. It’s just not the same thing I experience when I look at images I’ve shot with any of my Fujinon prime lenses.

So, what does that mean to you if you’re looking at the Fuji system and trying to decide on lenses etc… We’ll I’m glad you asked. Over an extended weekend of making pictures and visiting friends, and all that I decided to use the 18-55 instead of the primes that I own overlapping that range. I also used my Fujinon 14mm about the same amount from an image count perspective. I made the decision for a few reasons. I was shooting some fluid situations, I haven’t yet acquired the 35/1.4 which I needed for a few things, and I was in a situation where I needed to tweak the focal length in very minor ways only for framing purposes. For all those reasons I also said to myself; ”WTF, let’s see if I really could live with it”.

The bottom line is that I could but the 18-55 does have it’s ups and downs. The shot at the top is pristine and looks great no matter how far you pixel peep. The techno-stuff happens to be ISO 1600 f/5.6 @ 1/320s. Oh, the focal length was 25.4mm. Here’s one at 31.5mm.

Truth be told under the same exact circumstances and the same picture I would be challenged to tell the difference between any of the primes and the 18-55. Even if I were using a lower ISO I might have a hard time with this particular scene.

Let’s take a look at another scene with slightly different characteristics. Something I did on a lark that’s actually going to turn into a series, I think. Specnoificaitons are ISO 800 f/4.0 @ 1/180s 35.8mm.

Oh come now, white halter top dress, what the heck did you think I was going to do? In any case that $9 crappy dress looks really crappy just sitting there. Doesn’t look so bad when it’s moving. In this case I still would have a hard time really telling the difference. Subject movement, shallower depth of field, and a bunch of other stuff may overwhelm lens quality differences in %99.9 of cases.

I got really enamored with doing this series so I was actually pulling people off the street to do it… no kidding. Let’s take a closer look for pixel peeping fun of the same kind of thing. Here’s a Lightroom screen shot you can open in a new window to see all the pixels if you want.

This time the specs are 1/125 and f/5.0 22.3mm. All of the motion and lack of depth of field and other crap certainly trump ultimate lens resolution and stuff like that. Truth is I really like a little bit-o-sharp with a little bit-o-motion-blur in many cases. Heck, motion blurry hair looks frigging great at just the right shutter speed. Forgive the fake grain, I used VSCO 400H on import. It’s fine for illustration purposes, the files are pristine at these ISO’s.

So why all the hub-bub bub? Well let’s look a little closer at different stuff shall we?

Woah, what is that crap around the black edge of the table?? Well, a bunch of it is the purple/green stuff you get from being in front or in back of the focus plane on hard black/white edges. I can get rid of that with LR if I want to but guess what, underneath that theres like real CA to and it does it in the corners more than it does in the central part of the frame for whatever strange opto-reason. Also note that as we travel closer to the edge the performance definitely goes down in terms of real sharpness even where I think this lens is best (short to mid focal lengths).

None of that stuff down there is moving. Even at f/4 which is almost a whole stop down from wide open some of the performance is not so, so wondrous as I would have expected with all the gushing fan-boy praise. I mean even the $99 Nikon APS-C lens has VR and is meh, about this good I think. I had one for a bit and it was fine. I also am not enamored with the performance at 55mm. It’s okay for sure but not anything worthy of gushing praise where there really are not a whole lot of horrible performing lenses out there.

Where does that leave you as someone that wants a lens? Here’s a couple of real world things to consider.

  • In any kind of dynamic situation at middle of the road apertures like 5, 5.6 or whatever you will be hard pressed to see differences with the primes due to other overwhelming factors. If you do see them it’s because you have stuff that’s actually in the focus plane on the outer portions of the frame. I do all the time but usually not critical stuff.
  • Handheld dynamic situations where you and your subject are moving the 18-55 may actually show better performance due to OIS. Like above, even at 1/125 and at 35mm equivalent (23-ish mm) there’s a good chance you’ll get a bit of sharpness and resolution loss due to your own motion and vibration on more than the occasional shot. Nothing earth shattering but trust me at crazy magnification there’s a huge difference between shooting at 1/125 and 1/250 hand held on more than a few shots.
  • I personally think the 18-55 seems better at wide to normal ranges and not so great at 55. It also seems not so great in terms of close-up at 55. In fact I think that’s where it really rubs me the wrong way. Without any science I can say I am most disappointed at 55mm and under four or five feet. Longer distances it seems to be better.
  • Working fast and in dynamic situations where you’re not exhaling and concentrating on no motion between every single shot the OIS may trump optical performance at similar apertures. If you want/need a bit of DOF vs just using one of the fast primes larger apertures.

What about build quality and all that stuff? Well… the 18-55 certainly feels much nicer than all the shitty feeling APS-C lenses out there. It’s also a hair faster at wide to normal focal lengths. That’s good but it’s really not a whole stop faster in a lot of the range but certainly not a bad thing. It’s performance is at least as good as other kit zooms possibly better in some ways, also not a bad thing. It’s small but they all are tiny, definitely a good thing.

The problem is this is a $700-ish lens as Fuji lists it and it’s really not a super great deal bought on it’s own. As part of a kit it seems to be a steal. In fact unless you have no use at all for a fast, small zoom I would say absolutely grab this as part of a kit and use it for when you don’t really feel like having a camera bag. For the couple hundred bucks extra it’s a great value. At $700-ish on it’s own I really would have a hard time getting one vs the 35/1.4 for less or just about any Fuji prime you want for around the same cost.

Let’s put it this way when I and others gush about how great Fuji glass is this is not the lens that proves that beyond a doubt. All of the primes are all that with the exception of maybe the 18mm which I don’t mind either for different reasons. The 14, 23. 35, 56, and 60 I can say from personal experience are truly a cut above and on par or better than what can be had for any reasonable price. I used my 14mm heavily for the first time this past weekend and shot 1,000 pictures with it. I love love love love this lens. One of the best wides I’ve ever had and that includes my Leica 21. Absolutely fantastic and worth every penny. More on that another day.

RB

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