London: A "Field Test" of the Fujifilm XF 18-135mm f3.5-5.6 Lens
Using the 18-135mm recently for the Leamington Summer Carnival reminded me that back in March this year, I reached the point where I felt I probably had enough lenses for my X-T10. Six seemed like quite a lot, for somebody who doesn't work as a full-time photographer. More to the point, I still had my eye on one or other of the 35mm lenses in the range (I've since bought the 'old' f1.4 version, taking my total to seven lenses), and I felt I ought to look critically at what I'd got, and see whether there was anything in my collection that wasn't pulling its weight.
The most likely contender seemed to be the 18-135mm zoom. I get the impression this is seen as a bit of an ugly stepchild by a lot of photographers. In fact, if you went only by the review sections on a lot of even the most enthusiastic Fuji-fans, you'd be forgiven for not being entirely sure whether or not this lens actually exists. I bought it because I'd found with my previous DSLR that about a quarter of the photos I was taking needed a bit more reach than the 18-55 lens I had, and it was a nuisance switching lenses for those. The 18-135 offered that reach, and the versatility that comes with it. But... I hadn't used it for a while, and its focal length is covered by the 18-55mm and 55-200mm, despite the occasional need to switch lenses.
So, I decided to put it to the test, and with a weekend trip to London on the cards, I did something I almost never do - I set off with just one lens.
This wasn't exactly a photographic trip - my wife and I were visiting friends, so I just had to grab whatever opportunities came along and try to give the 18-135mm lens as much of a work-out as I could without getting on everyone's nerves.
I think I'm right in saying that the 18-135mm was the first lens in the range to carry the WR (weather resistant) badge. This does add to the lens's rugged versatility, but for me it's a bit of a moot point as the X-T10 I'm attaching it to isn't actually weatherproof. Also, to be honest, with a maximum aperture of f3.5 - dipping to f5.6 at 135mm - it is something of a fair-weather lens. Fortunately, that's exactly what we had, a lovely clear spring day.
The photos might not be as jaw-droppingly sharp as the best that the 35mm or 56mm XF lenses can take, but if you're not a dedicated pixel-peeper you're not going to be too disappointed with the shots this lens can capture. Plus, however many times fixed-lens enthusiasts claim that all the zooming you need can be done with your legs, it's sometimes very useful to go from a wide shot like this...
... to a close shot like this...
...without trampling all over the flowerbeds.
So, what did I decide? To be honest, I'm not sure. The lens does seem like a pretty decent compromise between having a high-quality, one trick pony of a lens and a jack-of-all-trades that doesn't do anything particularly well. Were there any shots I took on this trip that one of my other lenses couldn't have done better? Probably not. Did I feel the benefit of only lugging one lens around with me? Yes, once I'd go used to it.
I think the 18-135 is probably the ideal lens for this kind of trip - one where it's not a case of achieving photographic perfection, but capturing as much as you can without undue faffing about. Not having to swap lenses to get that bit closer is a real benefit, although the 18-135 is a well put-together unit and the weight and bulk of it can't be entirely overlooked. Its weatherproofing does make it well suited to travel, particularly in dusty or humid environments where you really don't want to be exposing your camera's innards more often than absolutely necessary.
As far as I'm concerned, the lens earned its place in my camera bag - for the foreseeable future, at least. It's versatile and despite overlapping with the other lenses in my collection it does provide a flexibility the others don't. Longer-term, I can imagine it'll make way for something more specialised, but I'll wait to see what direction my photography takes me in before I rush to part with it.