Generally, I cover events with a couple of trusty F-mount Nikkor Ai/S lenses. But last week I had a wine event that needed a bit more class than a Speedbooster. And, let's be honest, the EVFs can get fiddly in the dark, especially when mated to fully manual lenses. OIS would come in handy.
Despite first mounting the 18-55 to the X-Pro 1, I ended up keeping it on the X-T1 because -- and please don't judge me here -- it looks like an SLR lens. The X-Pro 1 is orphaned by current XF designs. Yes, you read that correctly. AF performance wasn't a deciding factor. Neither was sharpness. Looks did it for me.
But back to the review.
To complement it, I brought the tiny Leica Tele-Elmarit 2,8/90 (thin), which could cram itself twice inside the 18-55 and have room left over. In other words, the 18-55 isn't a small lens. It's just not too big.
The event was an industry event. Hi-Resolution audio was the keynote, and bigwigs from a number of awesome companies were there. Portable awesomeness. Home awesomeness. Headphone awesomeness. It was all there. And I got to spend a bit of time at the booths listening to it all. My favourite? Hands down, the Chord Hugo.
But let's get back to the lens.
NOTE: I have not been yet been given permission to any of the images I took at the event. When that changes, I will update this short essay.
ohmage - focus speed and accuracy
My work doesn't call for blindingly fast AF, it calls for accurate AF, and a relatively bright EVF. I find the X-T1's EVF slows down too much when using non-native lenses. The 18-55 kept the view bright and the frame rate over 40fps.
Most of my shooting was done at ISO 1600-3200; a few shots were taken at 6400. I locked exposure to 1/180s. Why? Because prior to the speaking portion, I was allowed the use of flash, and since I use Nikon speed lights, everything is done manually. Most importantly, keeping the exact same lighting and white balance in every scene was of paramount importance.
The skinny is that 1/180s plus the occasional use of flash photography worked wonders. Images were crisp and the X-T1 never stuttered. That said, when I had to switch over to the X-Pro 1, things went pear shaped. Whether using the OVF or the EVF monitor, I hit the write speed wall. The X-Pro 1 is the slowest writing digital camera I've used since 2004. A blast of 4 images can take up to 10 seconds to write, which, when there is a necessity to chimp, isn't good enough.
Despite the X-pro 1 showing a shaky image in the EVF, the 18-55 gave stable images. At times I set the camera to auto exposure and shot down to 1/12s. Printable. Amazing.
Despite renting the lens for two days, I used it only at the event, and therefore can only speak of its performance in dark, indoor events. I expect it to perform equally well outside. At the rental shop, I tested it on static objects while walking toward them and away from them, in CLS and CLH modes. Focus didn't lock on at the same speed as my 28-70/2,8 AFS Nikkor, but it nailed focus in most instances. Unlike the 35/1,4, focus jump is less of a problem, which is great for someone afflicted with vertigo. Manufacturers stuck to EVFs should do everything possible to speed up the refresh rate of their EVFs and reduce focus jump. (Several times I have nearly heaved whilst using the 35/1,4 and X-T1.)
Irrespective of the camera used, the 18-55 did its job with speed and efficiency.
ohmage - materials
While not praiseworthy through and through, this performance kit lens more than looks the part. Metal runs up and down its length and girth. It feels good, is solid, and its zoom motion is smooth and fast. Compared to other 18-55 APS-C kit lenses, it feels great.
porridge - ergonomics
What I didn't like is what bothers me about Fujifilm's entire XF line: haptic disconnect. Because the lenses lack focus helicoids, it lacks tactile indication of the lens groups have reached one infinity or close focus. Inexplicably, the lens also lacks a distance scale. You cannot set lens distance without checking the EVF.
Which brings me back to every single Nikkor since the beginning. Even the cheapest of AFS kit lenses boast hard focus stops that can be used and set by feel. While this omission didn't ruin any opportunities, it did slow my work down. It removed a layer of confidence from me, the photographer
The aperture ring lacks both labels and hard stops. It is far inferior to the XF 35/1,4, which at least is labelled, and sports stops for both thirds and full-stops. This disconnect is the most unfortunate part of the XF series. The glass is great, and the latest lenses focus fast. But too many corners were cut to keep costs, and weight down.
Barring the use of mechanical interfaces, the lens must rely on gimmicky clutches and switches. While stepping back to the post-MF wasteland of the 1980s may match the XF aesthetic, it adds layers of complexity to designs that need none.
The final bugger in all this is the lack of standard XF filter sizes. Despite boasting halfway decent brand-cohesion, Fujifilm's lenses lack brand cohesion. Some lenses have 52mm filters, others 67mm, still others 58mm. It goes on and on. Some lenses have aperture rings, some are marked. Some have focus clutches, some do not. As good as its optics are, the line looks and feels like a rabble rather than a team.
While not a particularly bright lens, the 18-55/2,8 works fast. It is somewhat compact, and produces sharp, contrasty images. The venue in which it went to work was lit only by stage lights. When subjects remained still, I was able to get printable photos at down to 1/12s; and I am confident I could go down even further.
But, I will not purchase this lens. A metal barrel does not an awesome lens make. Like most XF lenses, it comes cram-packed with disconnect and compromise.
Because I dig the images this lens produces, I have high hopes for the 2,8 version. But, when that lens hits shelves, I hope that it will be made to more than look the part.