By Antonio Malara
Those who follow me know that I currently use two different camera systems; Nikon full frame DSLR and mirrorless Fujifilm APS-C. In a previous review I explained why I prefer the latter as travel cameras. In summary, the limited weight and sizes together with the ability to see the exposure in real time plus the practical and modern automated functions, make mirrorless the perfect travel tool. Precisely for this reason I wanted to buy a super versatile lens for my Fujifilms rather than Nikons. As described in the title, the lens in question is the Fujinon XF 18-135mm F3.5-5.6 LM OIS WR (I’ll call it just 18-135 from now on), which in the 35 mm focal length is equivalent to a 27-202 mm, a lens for which I have felt the need on many occasions in the past and which will allow me greater versatility in my future trips. Some practical examples where I would have loved to have this lens were places like golf courses (where I followed professional tournaments) and all those panoramic points, such as roofs of famous buildings or towers. In both cases, having only a telephoto lens is not enough as I can focus only on distant subjects-objects while I also like to document the contest of some events such as sports or architecture where I also need the wide angle. In choosing this lens, I considered weight and bulk together with image quality, but I would like to point out that I also considered lenses from another brand to be combined with the purchase of a new camera.
The Fujinon 18-135 is a well-built lens, it is Weather Resistant, stabilized and has the Linear Motor that allows a more accurate and faster focusing. It measures about 10 cm at the focal length of 18 mm, 16 cm at the maximum zoom extension and has a diameter of about 7 cm, all for a weight of 490 grams. Compared to my 10-24 F4, it seems a bit more stocky but with a more linear and compact design. The 18-135 has the aperture ring positioned closer to the lens mount but it is much better in terms of its operation. It is well known that the 10-24 ring is too smooth so it is easy to change the aperture by mistake, many times even when holding the camera while shooting. On the other hand, the 18-135 ring has the right shot between one aperture value and the other. The bad thing about it was that initially I had some difficulty in reaching it with my fingers, in the sense that I took them a little further. The zoom ring has the usual well-made rubber that has the right depth for a lens of this focal range. The ring is fluid throughout the zoom range, the only anomaly I found was between focal lengths 18 and 23, here there is a small snap but nothing annoying. Initially when I did the first tests at maximum extension, I found the lens slightly front heavy but after several photographic tests I must say that actually I didn’t notice at all that the zoom was fully extended. In other words, I have always felt the same balance in weight at both 18mm and 135mm.
But let's move on to the field test and here I want to clarify something about this “review” that I wanted to call “impression-sample”. While I admire people who do accurate and detailed reviews, in my case I prefer to act raw and wild, which is to go around and take as many photos as possible. I don't think that analyzing the sharpness at the edges and in the center, for every single aperture, always shooting the same subject, is really that useful. My experience of tens of thousands of photos taken led me to the conclusion that the situations that arise outside throughout the day are endless and when you think you know a lens or a camera, there is always a new surprise, negative or positive. Many times the lens does not perform well, also due to our mistake, such as an ISO that is too high or an aperture that is too closed, something I have noticed many times in spite of myself. It is not the fault of the lens or the camera but of the photographer, personally I have done many from this point of view. So my considerations about this lens are the result of many shots and a lot of editing, unfortunately they are still only partial because only after a couple of trips and thousands of photos will I know for sure if 18-135 is what I expected. However, I still want to give my impressions of this lens with which I have taken more than a thousand photos so far.
First of all, the fact that the aperture is not constant at the same focal length did not create any kind of problem for me. Actually, I never noticed it, once the exposure was set I shot by changing focal length continuously but I never noticed differences in brightness, they are probably so minimal as not to compromise the exposure. On all the classic aspects, the lens fully satisfied me, the auto focus is fast and precise, the quality of the optics is constant at all focal lengths, I have not seen a loss of quality on the telephoto lengths and this was one of the doubts I had. Regarding auto focus, of all the photos taken, I only had a problem once photographing a leaf of wheat in the wind. Probably in that case, given the presence of very large branches in the background, the lens could not see the main subject which was still very clear in color and very thin, almost transparent and it was also moving. In this case, therefore, I don’t feel like reproaching the capabilities of the lens because the situation was a bit prohibitive for the reasons I have explained.
Another pleasant discovery was that of the performance regarding the bokeh, it must be said that I hadn't thought about testing the optics in this respect but it just happened to me by chance. Also while I was in the middle of nature I discovered a beautiful bokeh effect while photographing a fig tree. The photo of the fruit produced a nice detachment from the background despite the opening being at F8. I’m not a fan of this practice but I appreciated the result which happened by pure chance. The image quality was up to expectations, in all respects almost identical to that produced by the first Fujinon lens I tried, that is the 18-55 F2.8-4. This 18-135 has a quality of excellent image and respects it for all focal lengths, even telephoto ones. The sharpness is the part that I like the most of the whole Fujifilm system. This lens produces images that are much sharper than my Nikon F Mount lenses despite being much cheaper. During my tests I noticed that the only situation in which sharpness is lost is at the maximum telephoto focal length when we try to focus on a subject that still remains small in the image. For example at 135 mm I photographed a panorama of the Strait of Messina and there was a large container ship in the center of the frame. Obviously the ship was not clear plus the crop factor of the camera didn’t help so the detail of a subject that still remains small is not great. Unlike always shooting at the focal length of 135 but a subject that takes the whole frame like a statue, the results are excellent. I shot subjects with details that came out sharp and contrasted, all of which are impossible to see with the naked eye. Regarding the contrast, this is an aspect that I don’t care much because it is my habit to correct it and adapt it to the single photo when I do the editing. In general I can say that the contrast is normal, but this is a subjective thing.
Paid 650€ including shipping, I can consider the 18-135 an excellent investment, perhaps only the Canon equivalent for APS-C costs less but that is a system that I have never come close to and don’t know. All the certainties I had on Fujinon optics have been confirmed and the only few doubts have gone away. For the tests I have done and for the use I am going to do, I consider the Fujinon 18-135 a perfect optic, from the construction to the feeling that delivers excellent results in terms of color rendering and sharpness. This is my first sort of review on a lens, while writing it I noticed that it doesn't excite me like a camera review. Probably from my point of view, regarding the optics, there are not as many things to say as in the case of a camera. In my wishlist there is another Fujinon lens, if I am good I will try to write something in the same style as what I wrote here but I’m not sure in the future I will continue to review lenses. Anyway I do here what is best and that is to publish as many photos as possible where you can see the performance of the lens, including its limitations.
Pictures: Antonio Malara
Camera: Fujifilm XT-3