August 2015

General Purpose Lens? Or Specify?

A friend recently asked me which lenses they should consider for their Fuji X-Mount system. I gave this a good deal of thought, and decided it would be an idea to share my conclusions here as it may help someone faced by a similar dilemma. The photographer currently has the excellent Fujinon 18-135 F3.5-5.6.Fujinon XF 18-135

Here’s my response:

The 18-135 f3.5-5.6 focal range is fine if you want a general photography tool. It can manage most situations adequately but doesn’t excel in any. Let me give you some examples.

  • Portraiture

    The 18-135 has a fine focal range for portraiture, but is not fast enough to really make the images pop. Generally, you’d be better served putting on a fast tele prime or zoom lens here.

  • Wildlife & Sports

    Of course this is subject dependent, but generally 135mm is nowhere near long enough to get close to wildlife, especially combined with a relatively modest 16mp sensor.

  • Street

    No problem, however size-wise it is not really discreet. And once again, the 18-135 is too slow to de-clutter backgrounds and make the subjects stand out. A fast wide prime lens is normally the weapon of choice for street.

  • Astro and low light photography

    Not great again here – too slow. Furthermore, for night sky panorama’s, 18mm is not wide enough.

  • Landscapes

    The 18-135 is a good lens for landscapes, enabling you to capture a wide variety of perspectives without changing lens. But, in my opinion, an Ultra Wide Lens is an essential tool for the keen landscape photographer. 18mm (which equates to 27mm in 35mm terms) is often not wide enough.

Can you capture truly awesome images of the above genres with an 18-135 lens? Of course you can! It’s just that, like in the kitchen or workshop, using the precise tool for the job can often get you better results. Which is why pro photographers have many lenses and often an enormous backpack of equipment.Fujinon 18-135 lens

In which way is your lens holding you back? Forget about sharpness, the 18-135 lens is  fine, being one of the best mid-range zoom lenses Fuji currently makes. It’s just that it’s a jack of most trades, and master of none. Apart from possibly convenience. And convenience is an enormous plus.

Photography is a game of compromises. I’d love lighter gear, but I’m unwilling to give up some capabilities to get it. There’s no one perfect system.

For what it’s worth, in my situation (if I jumped into the Fuji system) I’d get the following:

  • X-T1 (or X-T2 if/when it arrives)
  • X-T10
  • Samyang 12mm F2
  • 18-55 F2.8-4
  • 55-200
  • A fast prime for portraiture

So, 4 lenses minimum starting out, and then I’d aim for the 100-400 in 2016/17.  But that’s just me.

It’s possible that a carefully chosen workshop with a helpful  and knowledgeable photographer with provide you with much better tools than a new lens. It’s all about figuring out your photographic goals, and ensuring your equipment doesn’t hold you back from that.

Categories: Photostory

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