(or how I stopped being a pompus ‘prime’ addicted ass and decided to pack light)
There is no shame in admitting you were wrong. There is, equally, nothing wrong in changing ones mind. I’m about to do both.
Having said that, I still believe X-Pro bodies are best suited for prime lenses between 18 and 60mm. They are rangefinder style cameras, and like the classic Leica M’s and Contax G’s this combination offers the user a classic style, tactile operation and a compactness that lends itself well to the kind of photography rangefinders are best suited to – street, reportage, travel and journalism, to name a few.
The original trilogy of XF lenses that came out with the X-Pro 1 are quite brilliant, by the way. The 18 (compact, snappy, sharp), the 35 (cool bokeh, optical excellence) and the 60 (sharpest lens I own, and good AF with the new bodies) should easily satisfy any photographer who uses either X-Pro. Of course, G.A.S soon takes over and I find myself the owner of the 27, 23 (my favourite), 56 APD (wish I hadn’t spent the extra), a couple of Samyangs (brilliant value) and – here we go – the 18-55 and 55-200 zooms.
I never use zooms. I can count on one hand the amount of times I’ve taken either out on a shoot. I used the 55-200 at the Zoo once, and it was great (see below). Maybe the odd other time. Its actually a terrific lens – optically superb at either end, really quick and smooth AF, a great performer. It just never felt right on the the X-Pro. It made the whole experience front heavy, a bit of a burden. I sensed a certain ‘cack-handiness’ looking through a viewfinder on the left. I imagine this lens works way better on the XT’s… I believe its what it was originally designed for.
The 18-55, on the other hand, was proving to be a bit of an enigma to me. I bought it cheap off Ebay, as I figured it might come in handy one day. ALL the reviews were good, and they were right – this lens is WAY too good to be called a ‘kit lens’ – but again, it felt a bit wrong on a rangefinder style body. The difference this time was it was mainly psychological rather than physical discomfort in any way. The lens isn’t that big, no bigger than any kit lens. I shoot street mainly, and it just felt like I wasn’t a valid street shooter using a zoom lens. It made me lazy, I wasn’t getting physically close enough anymore, I was just ‘zooming’ instead….nah, this wasn’t right. Not right at all. I also like shooting wide open – I like subject separation, especially on London’s textured streets – and I wasn’t always getting that. I put the zoom lens away – I’m a prime shooter.
My girlfriend, a busy portrait and wedding photographer, uses zooms almost exclusively for her work. Her images are consistently superb – I know Im biased, but they really are – and we always discuss the merits of each piece of glass we own. She’s a full frame Canon shooter for her business, and a Fuji X shooter for everything else. Her Fuji lens of choice is the XC 16-50. The cheapest lens Fuji does. Go figure. Admittedly, she gets some lovely images from it….
Like she always says, zooms serve a purpose (and I should probably stop being a closed minded ass)…
With this ringing in my ears, I got to packing for our summer vacation – to Skiathos, one of the Greek islands. Normally, I would pack a body and at least four primes. Normally. I also wouldn’t normally have a beach holiday – I like cities and the history that goes with them – but the thought of going with a bunch of glass, changing lenses in hot sandy/salty conditions made me rather concerned. The X-Pro 2 is weather sealed, of course, but not when removing glass – leaving an exposed sensor. And none of my glass is weather sealed either. In addition, I wanted to pack light – discount airlines dictate this after all – and just try to relax and enjoy my vacation. So I bit the bullet. XF18-55 and the Samyang 12. Sod It. It’ll be fine…first time ever with no Fuji primes. One body with the zoom attached, the 12mm and a bunch of batteries and filters. Certainly felt lighter…
It sure was a revelation. THIS is what a zoom is for, to me (and maybe to you as well). Convenience and quality. Was it as good as a prime? Nope, not always – but it was WAY closer than I thought it would be. I came away both surprised and really happy – this was the perfect piece of glass for a vacation like this.
First, sharpness. I believe this lens to be sharper at its widest setting than the prime equivalent. There is not a lot in it, but its sharper than the XF18. There is a smidge more barrel distortion, which one barely notices (and correctable anyway), and of course half a stop of light (2.8) but this zoom cries out to be shot at 18mm. Suits me fine, I love to shoot on the streets nice and wide. And in aeroplanes too…
(check out the corner to corner sharpness too. For a zoom, its excellent)
AF Speed – REALLY fast on the X-Pro 2. It isn’t a slouch on older bodies either – the linear motor is very good on standard single point-to-point focus – and continuous focus is OK in good light, but thats mainly down to which body you use rather than a fault with the lens. Continuous AF on X-Pro 2 is actually pretty good, and is getting an upgrade in October 2016. Looking forward to that, but the X-Pro is not a sports camera and I hardly ever use C-AF.
Currently, the 18-55 is the only lens I have with OIS. Never been much bothered with it as the primes I have are pretty fast and ANY X-Pro body is great at high ISO’s. But I did enjoy using it on this trip, as I didn’t have a tripod and you know, four stops worth of IS is pretty neat to play around with at times –
(that bottom mono image was shot hand held at 1/6th of a second. Pretty good I would say)
The tele end (55mm) is pretty good. The downside to this is not optical performance – the sharpness is still pretty sweet, edge to edge – its the losing of two stops of light, and virtually no subject separation. This isn’t always a disaster, but F4? I cant remember the last time I deliberately shot at F4 🙂 ….
Here’s a few more random images…
To summarise, would I recommend getting one of these lenses for travel? Oh hell yeah. I’ll still use my primes for doing what I normally do on the streets of London – but even now, I still have not taken the 18-55 off yet. I’m still enjoying it that much and took some pics of a rainy London when I got back from Skiathos:
I do miss my 23 F1.4 though. Maybe normal service will resume this weekend. 🙂
I paid about £285 for my lens a couple of years ago. Not bad – it was mint, and from a really good seller. I see them for less than that, and a bit more, but if you’re looking for something really high quality that you can take on holiday – I don’t think you’ll need more than this.
As always, thanks for reading – please feel free to stopover to my instagram and say Hi –
https://www.instagram.com/capitalfaces/ – ill be back to taking pics of Londoners again soon!
And there is always my Flickr page – which features more Skiathos pics as well as a bunch we shot on 35mm film. They came out lovely – if I was loaded I would shoot analog more often:
Be back soon!