New Lens: Fuji X-mount 18-135

Fuji 18-135

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When I recently updated my Fuji Camera Kit article I mentioned that I was thinking that sometime down the road I would probably upgrade to the Fuji 18-135 lens to replace my 18-55 and 55-200 pair of lenses. When I bought them the 18-135 wasn’t available, and while they’re perfectly good lenses, when I’m shooting events I want to travel light and not be swapping lenses back and forth, and the 18-55 just didn’t have enough reach for me to be able to shoot from the back of rooms and not be intrusive into the event.

As it turned out, last week I was asked to come shoot an event for my team that was for Cisco people because we wanted some event photos to use for the web site later. It seemed a perfect excuse, um, time to make the switch, so I bought myself the lens to use for this shoot. The old lenses got listed with KEH, where I normally sell my old stuff, and will net me about half the cost of the new lens, which makes the upgrade a nice and inexpensive one.

I literally took the lens out of the shipping box, cleaned it, put it on the camera and left for the event, so I was shooting the lens untested. Not something I recommend in case the lens has a manufacturing problem, but in my case it worked out well.

I found the autofocus fast and accurate. I like the color and sharpness of the lens, and for the work I was doing, the extra reach made a huge difference since it let me stay in the back of the room to shoot instead of having to get close to the front where I might turn into an obstruction to the audience or distract the speakers. The location was far from ideal; I started shooting at ISO 1600 and was losing most of my shots to blur, so I finally had to push it beyond ISO 2500 to get reliably sharp shots, and the light was this wonderful mixture of fluorescent, halogen and (I think) mercury vapor that led to really weird white balance issues that took me 30 minutes to sort out in post.

Despite all of that, I think the shoot turned out pretty good:

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There’s still a bit of blur in the hands that I kind of like here, but gives you a sense of of the shutter speeds I was dealing with: at ISO 1600, I was shooting 135mm at 1/20th of a second at F5.6 — but the image stabilization of the lens was giving me incredibly sharp images as long as they weren’t waving their hands around.

Once I boosted the ISO past 3000 I started seeing serious noise in the images (but seriously, ISO 3200 before I need noise reduction? take that, Tri-X) but it was easily mitigated in Lightroom without much fuss.

When I shoot events like this I want to be a fairly literal fly on the wall, out of the way and not making noise. Adding flash to the equation is not acceptable, nor is getting in the real attendee’s way or obstructing the filming of the talks. It turns out the Fuji X-T1 and the 18-135 are a really nice combo for this kind of shooting, even in insanely evil lighting like this room had.

Of course, this lens has a different filter size than my previous lenses, so I’ve had to buy new ones. I chose the Hoya PRO1 Circular Polarizer (about $55 for the 67mm) and the Tiffen 67mm Digital Neutral Density Filter Kit, a three ND set for the ND filters. I did that instead of a Vari-ND because I’ve run into issues with artifacts when shooting skies with the Vari-ND, and in doing some research I’ve found I’m not alone.

I’ll talk more about these filters, and I’ll update my main Fuji page, once I’ve put the lens and filters through a few more trials, but in terms of my initial work with this new lens, I came away from it very happy with the results.