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Feb 17

Fuji 16-55mm f/2.8 vs 18-55mm f/2.8-4

Fuji’s brand new pro-grade standard zoom, the XF 16-55mm f/2.8 WR, has just been released.  It’s a fast weathersealed lens that promises excellent optical quality at a premium price.  Fuji has two other standard zoom lenses, and for those considering the 16-55mm, there has been much thought about how much of an improvement can be expected when upgrading to the newer zoom lens from the venerable Fuji XF 18-55mm f/2.8-4 OIS.  The latter lens has been around for a while, and is very highly regarded.  It’s the ‘kit zoom’ that doesn’t perform like a kit zoom.  It’s also fairly close in absolute aperture capabilities as well, with the same f/2.8 aperture at the wide end of the zoom, and slowing to f/4 at the long end of the zoom.  However, the 18-55 carries a few trump cards: it’s significantly smaller and has an optical stabilizer.

The Fuji 18-55mm (left) vs. the Fuji 16-55mm (right)

The Fuji 18-55mm (left) vs. the Fuji 16-55mm (right)

The Contenders

Fujinon XF 18-55mm f/2.8-4 R LM OIS

The Fuji 18-55mm is a small standard zoom lens with a fairly fast f/2.8-4 variable aperture. The 18-55mm was introduced alongside the X-E1 and has served as the ‘kit lens’ in camera body packages since then. The lens features a solid metal build while remaining quite small and compact.  The lens has an optical image stabilizer that can help with handholding around 2-3 stops slower than you would be able to without the OIS.  The 18-55mm weighs in at 330g, while measuring 65x70mm in diameter and length.

Fujinon XF 16-55mm f/2.8 R LM WR

The new Fuji 16-55mm f/2.8 has almost the same focal range as the 18-55, but has an extra 2mm on the wide end, allowing for a more expansive field of view, if only just.  It also is a constant f/2.8 lens, so adds an additional stop of light at 55mm vs. the 18-55mm.  The 16-55mm f/2.8 is a solidly built professional-grade lens with weathersealing, but controversially lacks optical image stabilization.  The 16-55mm is a large lens, weighing in at nearly double the weight of the 18-55mm, at 655g.  It also is significantly longer and wider, measuring 83.3mm x 106mm in diameter and length.

The Test

This test looks at performance closer up.  If I have a chance later in the week, I will try to do a test for more distant subjects outdoors.  I put two books at approximately 1m from the camera position, and ensured they were square to the camera.  I placed a crystal decanter in the background to evaluate bokeh.  The camera was mounted on a tripod and photos were taken with the 2 second timer.  Camera position was not changed between exposures.

Below are 100% crops from three focal lengths, 18mm, 35mm and 55mm.  To view the images at full size, click on the image, then click on the green arrow at the bottom of the screen to view at 100%.

18mm Test: 100% Crops.  Click to enlarge, then click the green arrow to view at 100%.

18mm Test: 100% Crops. Click to enlarge, then click the green arrow to view at 100%.

At 18mm, the new 16-55mm f/2.8 shows a marked advantage in central sharpness at f/2.8, while holding a very slim edge in the image corners.  At smaller apertures, the 16-55mm maintains a lead both in the center and in the corner, though by f/8 the lenses are extremely close to each other.  Interestingly enough, the 18-55mm is a bit sharper in the corner at f/4.  I even retook the 16-55mm images to ensure there wasn’t an error with the f/4 shot, but got the same result.

35mm Test: 100% Crops.  Click to enlarge, then click the green arrow to view at 100%.

35mm Test: 100% Crops. Click to enlarge, then click the green arrow to view at 100%.

At 35mm, the two lenses perform extremely similarly.  The 16-55mm holds a very slight edge in central sharpness at f/3.6 (the 18-55mm’s wide open aperture at this focal length), but otherwise the two lenses are essentially a wash here.

55mm Test: 100% Crops.  Click to enlarge, then click the green arrow to view at 100%.

55mm Test: 100% Crops. Click to enlarge, then click the green arrow to view at 100%.

At 55mm, which is the 18-55mm’s weak spot, the 16-55mm shows a clear advantage throughout the aperture range.  The 16-55mm is extremely sharp across the frame right from f/2.8, while the 18-55mm shows a bit of softness at its wide open aperture of f/4.  Stopping down improves the 18-55mm considerably, especially in the corners, but the 16-55mm keeps a lead throughout the image frame.  The 16-55mm performs so well here that its image at f/2.8 is essentially as sharp as the 18-55mm is at f/8.  An impressive performance here.

Bokeh

Below are 100% crops from the out of focus areas around the crystal decanter in the background of the test setup.  Crops are included for f/2.8, f/3.6 (at 35mm) f/4 (at 55mm) and f/5.6, for both lenses at the 35mm and 55mm focal lengths.

Bokeh Test: 100% Crops.  Click to enlarge, then click the green arrow to view at 100%.

Bokeh Test: 100% Crops. Click to enlarge, then click the green arrow to view at 100%.

Neither lens shows ultra-creamy bokeh, though they aren’t terrible either.  Both lenses show some bright outlining on specular highlights, as well as some onion-ring like texture due to the aspherical elements.  However, the 16-55mm is clearly smoother at both focal lengths and at all tested apertures.  The 18-55mm has a funky double donut look to the specular highlights that doesn’t appear on the 16-55m.  One nice thing is to see that aside from the highlights, the blur does fade gently away for both lenses, which should provide pleasing background blur in most situations.

Conclusion

From this test, it’s clear that the 16-55mm f/2.8 WR is the superior optic when it comes to resolution and bokeh, at least at this closer focusing distance.  The 16-55mm holds a small edge at wide apertures at the wide end of the zoom range and a pronounced advantage in resolution at the long end of the zoom range, while also producing more pleasing bokeh.  Image contrast is also a bit higher on the 16-55mm.  However, it’s worth noting that the 18-55mm does a very nice job stopped down, and at wide apertures from 18-35mm, while producing acceptable images at 55mm and f/4.  The 18-55mm’s significantly smaller size and the fact that it’s optically stabilized and significantly cheaper make it a lens still worth considering for many shooters.  In pure optical quality, however, the new 16-55mm appears to be well worth its pricetag and weight penalty.  I’ll be shooting with the 16-55mm over the next week or so and will have my full in-depth review of this new lens coming sometime next week, so make sure to stop by the site again to check that out.

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About the author

Jordan Steele

Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Admiring Light; Photographer; Electrical Engineer and Dad

13 comments

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  1. Sebastian

    Nice test, Jordan, I was looking for this comparison test. It’s all about the price, for those with tight budget, like me, so it seems the XF 18-55mm (my choice) is still a good performer, better than the “normal” kit lens as we knew it. Better price, smaller, lighter, OIS, shooting RAW and PP of the images will give you plenty of advantages and lead to almost the same IQ, when using this cheaper XF 18-55mm, isn’t it? Thanks.

  2. herp photos

    Very nice test and very helpful as I debate upgrading from my 18-55.
    It would be very helpful if you could do a similar comparison between the 10-24 and the 16-55 in the F4-F8 range from 16-24mm.

  3. Winston

    Am I not mistaken? at 16mm f/4, the corner is actually more blurry than f/2.8 and somehow gets sharper again at f/5.6?

  4. Bill Palmer

    Interesting test, Jordan, but I fear you are comparing apples and oranges. I would have thought that the natural comparison would be between the 16-55 and the 18-135. Both are bulky WR lenses and, focal lengths aside, have more in common than the 18-55 and 16-55. Certainly if you look at it from the point of view of the type of photography you might want to do, it makes more sense. For bad weather for example I would bolt the 18-135 to the X-T1 and shoot away, but for travel use and general walking around I would reach for my 18-55. I have both, but would be more likely to replace the 18-135 than the 18-55 with the 16-55 than vice-versa.

    1. Jordan Steele

      I’ll have to disagree with you there. The 18-55 and 16-55 differ only by 2mm total in range, and only by one stop at the long end of the zoom range (and zero at the wide end). They cover a very similar range and a very similar speed. The 18-135, while weathersealed and similar in size to the 16-55, fills a very different niche: it’s a super zoom with the same difference as the 18-55 on the wide end, plus a big difference on the long end, it’s also nearly a stop slower at the wide end and two stops slower at its extreme end. It’s a very different lens, while the 16-55 and 18-55 are both fast standard zooms.

      While I don’t own the 18-135 (and therefore couldn’t compare directly), having shot with it during my review period with the lens, I can tell you that optically they are further apart too, as the 16-55 is notably better in the overlapping range (I find the 18-55 better than the 18-135 as well in the overlapping range, though this is to be expected when one is a 3x zoom and the other is a 7.5x zoom.

  5. Finn M Grande

    I’m sorry, but this test does’t give me much, because I very seldom take pictures at 1meter distance.
    Optics behave different at different distances, especially if you make the test at very close distances, you can stay nothing really about hos these lenses behave at infinity.

    About the lenses: I use Canon at work but bought the Fuji XT-1 for family pictures and holidays: I wanted a compact camera. For me the 16-55/2,8 would have distroyed this advantage: it is too large and heavy. And it lacks stabilizer. In my view the 18-55mm have a clear advantage, except it don’t have 16mm which is important to me. As you understand I don’t have either of these lenses. I stick to the 23/1,4 and 35/1,4 and waits eagerly for the new 16/1,4. I just love Fujis bright f1,4 fixed lenses with clutch focus mechanism…..

  6. David A

    Thanks for the comparison. Exactly what I’m comparing, my kit 18-55, which I love, vs the 16-55 f/2.8. I’m wondering whether it’s worth the extra money and the heft? Having made the switch eons ago from the Canon 24-70L to the 24-105L for weight savings, and later from the Nikon D800E to the X-E2 for the same reason (now the X-Pro2), I’m leaning toward the kit 18-55 but shooting stopped down unless I really need the shallower DOF.

    Also, disagree w/ Bill Palmer: 16-55 and 18-135 are the apple and orange comparison. Sure, both attempt to be walk around zooms, but the 16-55 focuses on IQ, the megazoom focuses on reach at the expense of IQ.

    Thanks, Jordan!

  7. Marcus M

    A very useful test.

    I have to admit I am agonising over which way to go on this. I just don’t understand why the 16-55 f2.8 had to be quite so heavy and with no OIS. But I want the best possible quality for a trip to Myanmar later this year. As it stands I am erring towards just sticking with my 10-24, my 35 f1.4 and my 55-200. But I know for environmental portraits, mixed landscapes and catching the moment, the 16-55 zoom would probably be best as a one lens solution for most things, what do you think?

    Any more views now you’ve had a while to get used to the lens? Also have you any experience / views on chromatic aberration with this lens?

    Thanks in advance

    Marcus

  8. Sandor Richard

    Jordan: if you were to suggest a third party alternative to the Fuji 16-55 that would be smaller and lighter yet comparable in performance to the 16-55, what would it be and what adapter would be needed? Thanks, Richard

  9. Bill Pope

    The test results were very helpful. Any chance you could run the same tests with the 18-135 as well?

  10. Hannah

    Hi,

    I am planing to switch from Canon to Fuji system. I do travel and street photography using Cannon 6D + 24-70mm/f2.8 most of time. The image quality and weight are my main focus.
    My question is should I get fuji xt2 & 18-55mm (combo price $2300 and weight 817g) or xt20 &16-55mm (combo price $2000 and weight 1038g). the 2nd option is cheaper and enough for a pancake lens. My main concern is xt20 is very light, is that easy to hold almost double weight lens like 16-55mm? which combo do you think suit the best?

    Looking forward your comment.
    Hannah

  11. Bill Piekney

    Thanks, Jordan. This is a very useful and practical comparison. I have the 18-55. I left my Nikon D750 and its heavy lenses behind for the XT-2 system, and the the size and weight were the reasons behind the decision. At 77 and tired of the haul for the DLS systems, I will stay with the 18-55 lens. I’m a bit of a pixel peeper I admit, but the distinctions you point our in terms of IQ with the 16-55 are not compelling enough to justify a change(not to mention the cost).

    Thanks again.
    Bill

  12. Stuart Goodnan

    Surely the biggest factoris the lack of an image stabiliser on the new lens. Renders it a non starter for me. Who cares about bokeh whatever that is. Get camera shake and the image is ruined.

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