FUJIFILM XF16-80mm f4 REVIEW - Comparison with XF18-135

Fujifilm has been publishing "Lens road maps" for its X and GFX series for a while now. Basically it gives the user a general idea on what lenses are in the pipe-line or in other words, in development. The latest lens roadmap can be found here

The XF16-80mm f4 lens, first appeared more than a year ago and finally was formally announced in July 2019. Unfortunately, I didn't receive a test sample in time for the release date, so wasn't able to produce my usual "First Look review" at the moment of release. 

I was however given one for testing mid August and below are my findings form having shot the lens over a two week period.  

It comes with the usual disclaimers:

1/I'm an official Fujifilm X-photographer, which doesn't mean I work for the company. I'm not paid for this review nor have I been requested to say or hide anything specific. All of it is my own honest opinion. 

2/The lens is a sample unit. To me it looks like a production copy, but there could always be minor differences, especially in firmware once it becomes available end of September 2019. The lens firmware installed was 1.0.

3/I call myself a photographer and not a pixel peeper, so the images shared (except for the sharpness comparisons) are edited where needed.

Before going into the review itself, let's have a look at the zoom versus prime lens discussion, as I often get this question... For my own photography there is a place for both. 

I personally only shoot primes when doing Street Photography and when I'm after the ultimate image quality (IQ). It used to be the case that prime lenses were way ahead of zooms when it comes to image quality. Although there is undeniable still a difference in IQ, the gap is closing. Generally the smaller the focal range of a zoom lens, the less compromises need to be made from a lens manufacture standpoint; e.g. a 16-55 is going to be better than a 18-135. It is all about optimizing a lens for a specific focal length. 

Sometimes a zoom is however the best and possibly the only viable option; e.g. when doing Aerial photography from an open door aircraft or helicopter, I'm always avoiding to change lenses as it can be dangerous (objects falling out) and since doing so will guarantee for your sensor to be covered in dust.

My XF18-135 has been my favourite go to Travel and aerial photography lens for for more than 4 years now. Obviously when a new lens comes out with a similar although not identical focal range and aperture, it got my attention...

First lets have a look at the XF16-80 disadvantages versus the XF 18-135;

1/Less telephoto focal range; the most obvious difference; 80mm versus 135mm. If you already have the XF18-135, I suggest to look into your image catalog (Lightroom or other) and see what percentage of images are shot above 80mm when using the 18-135. Personally for me is less than 20%. Most of these could have been made with a shorter focal length by coming a bit closer; "Zoom with your feet".

2/The XF18-135 starts at f3.5 aperture, but given it already becomes minimum f4 from about 21mm onwards, the difference with the fixed f4 of the XF16-80 is negligible. Unlike popular believe, both lenses are able to throw the background out of focus at a wide open aperture. The difference with a f2.8 or even a faster lens, is that the distance between subject and background needs to be larger. As an illustration the image below is shot at f4 on the XF16-80. 

3/Sharpness at 80mm (max focal length for the XF16-80). Lets divide this one in two categories;

3.1/At a close focus distance, the XF18-135 is clearly sharper which is not completely unexpected since the XF18-135 lens is not yet at its max focal length of 135mm; this is where close up sharpness often tends to fall off a bit. The image below shows the sharper XF18-135 image at maximum focal length on the left.

3.2/Normal and far away focus: one can hardly see any noticeable difference between the two. Below is a screenshot where I compare both lenses at 80mm, zoomed in 1:1 in Lightroom. Shot on tripod, in camera jpeg with the same camera settings (f8). 

4/Magnification at maximum focal range: while the minimum focus distance of the XF16-80 is 35cm compared to 45cm for the XF-135, but the longer XF18-135mm focal length compensates with a slightly higher magnification factor 0.27x compared to 0.25x for the XF16-80. Again, difference is marginal as can be seen in the image below. 

So lets now see what the advantages are of the XF16-80 versus the older XF18-135. Notice that there are quite a few more!

1/Wider focal length; the extra 2mm on the wider end is definitively noticeable. 16mm on an X-series becomes a 24mm full frame field of view; a focal length which is often referred to as being perfect for landscape photography, although I personally enjoy shooting telephoto landscapes... 

2/Build quality; the lens feels more "Pro" than the older XF18-135. Although it is not a "red label" lens, which Fujifilm uses for its top of the line lenses, it definitively feels like it. The zoom and aperture ring have the perfect resistance. 

3/Aperture ring; being fixed focal length, the aperture ring has markings, unlike  the XF18-135. 

4/Size and weight; the XF16-80 weighs 440g compared to 490g. Fully zoomed out the XF16-80 is about 27mm (just over 1 inch) smaller. 

5/Filter size; it uses the 72mm filter size, which is a bit more common amongst XF lenses compared to the 67mm of the XF18-135. Good if you have invested money in filter sets.

6/No OIS switch (Optical Image Stabilization) and better OIS. When there is no switch one can not forget to switch if ON/OFF. The XF16-80 OIS is clever enough to only work when needed; e.g. is doesn't when mounted on a tripod. Once can switch off the OIS in the camera menu if there would be a need for it. I've taken shots on a tripod with and without IOS and could not see any difference. 

When the XF18-135 came out, the 5 stop OIS was really impressive. Today it has become the norm; Fujifilm states having 6 stops OIS on the new piece of glass. The number of real life stops are never easy to test... I've shot a number of slow shutter speed shots with both lenses and can say that the XF16-80 is indeed slightly better. At 80mm (120mm full frame equivalent), a 6 stop slower shutter speed, brings it down to 1/2s; I shot a series of images on both lenses with these settings and on average had about two in three sharp images; and none on the XF18-135. So 6 real life stops? 5.5 for sure. Obviously good hand holding technique is critical here. 

7/Sharper at wide angle; the XF16-80 is noticeable sharper from 16mm to about mid range (40-50mm) both when focussing close by and further away. Especially corner sharpness is much better than the XF18-135 at 18mm. Below images are shot at f8, zoomed in at 100% on the top left. Shot on tripod, in camera jpeg; one at relative close focus distance and the second further down. XF16-80 once again on the right. Click on the images for a larger view.

8/Although the XF18-135 is not one of the slower Autofocus lenses, the XF16-80 takes it to next level and is really fast; especially on the newer cameras like the X-T3. No hunting even in lower light and as quiet as the XF18-135.

Let's have a look at some real life images I shot over the last few weeks. All of them are shot on a Fujifilm X-T3 using one of the Film Simulation modes. Images are slightly edited as per my normal workflow where needed.

1/700s, f8, ISO 160, 59mm 
1/500s, f11, ISO 160, 27mm 
1/120s, f10, ISO 160, 50mm 
1/320s, f11, ISO 640, 16mm 
1/45s, f11, ISO 160, 18mm 
1/170s, f10, ISO 160, 16mm 
30s (tripod), f8, ISO 160, 31mm 
20s (tripod), f22, ISO 160, 16mm 
1/80s, f13, ISO 320, 36mm 

1/170s, f4, ISO 160, 80mm 

1/100s, f11, ISO 200, 18mm 
1/200s, f11, ISO 500, 16mm 
2s, f11, ISO 160, 17mm 
My usual question at the end of a review..."Who is this lens for?For me the largest market is clearly the "travel photographer" who doesn't want (or can't) change lenses all the time. Don't forget that this lens is weather sealed; shooting in dust, sand, and rain is a non-issue. 

If he or she also takes a wider aperture lens like a XF 23 or XF35 f1.4 (or even the f2 versions) and/or plans to take a tripod for low light photography, the XF16-80 f4 is near perfect. 

It might also be a replacement lens for those that presently own the XF18-55 and/or XF18-135 lens(es). Personally I'm looking at replacing my XF18-135 with the XF16-80. A great test will be an upcoming travel photography adventure to Peru in October, where I need to travel as low-weight as possible. A second main purpose for my own photography is using the XF16-80 for my aerial photography. Yes, not all my aerial work is done with a drone...

The lens should be available somewhere end of September 2019 and retails for 799,-USD in the US and an equivalent in the UAE.

The above review can be shared on Social media and personal Blogs without prior approval, as long as credit to Bjorn Moerman PHOTOGRAPHY (www.bjornmoerman.com) is given.  



exposedpaths said…
Thanks for the review. It was exactly what I was looking for, because my travel/hiking lens is 18-135. It has good qualities, but I am looking for better image quality, mainly because of the shortcomings that you list above. I take a lot of landscape stuff at 18mm end, so the edge softness is sometimes quite visible.

I'm not sure how much I would really miss the telephoto end of 18-135. Sure it is handy sometimes, but f5.6 in anything than bright daylight needs setting up a tripod, which is not always feasible when hiking.
FoToEdge said…
I have been waiting for this lens since my first Fujifilm X-E1 with it's 18-55mm Kit Lens. I finally can stop using my low cost 15-45mm and 16-50mm lenses. Why did this take so long?!!!!! P.S. I miss my broken and discontinued Fujifilm X30 Camera
msz380 said…
Oh man, seriuos good photos.
Unknown said…
Hi Bjorn,

Thanks for your reivew. I'm deciding between getting a 18-135 or 16-80. I think I'll go with 16-80.
DAVE said…
Will the 16-80 work as well on the X-Pro2 vs the XT3?
Bjorn Moerman said…

Of course the XF16-80 WORKS PERFECT on the X-PRO 2. Some of the older lenses (e.g. XF35mm F1.4, XF56...) might be a little slower on the X-Pro2/X-T1/2.... New gear like the XF16-80 is plenty fast when it comes to Autofocus.