XF 16-55 versus XF 18-135

Started 7 months ago | Questions thread
Sutto Contributing Member • Posts: 504
Great Question

This is a very pertinent question and one I am often mulling over. I have both and I am constantly evaluating them and asking myself which lens to take and when. I'll put my observations in point form.

# In spite of what others say, I found the 18-135 much sharper (wide open and at both extremes of the focal length), than the 18-55. I recently sold off my 18-55 and was glad to at least put that equation to rest. I did a lot of evaluation of those two lenses and had no doubts as to my final appraisal.

# As you would expect, the 16-55 is much sharper and has better definition than the 18-135. This is obvious up close - but less obvious if I am shooting a person or portrait where the subject is more than say 15-20 metres away. Then it seems to be a bit less obvious to which photo was taken on which lens. However, with the up close photos of models their eye brows and hair are definitely sharper on the 16-55. In all instances here I am talking shot wide open. I mostly always shoot my lenses wide open as I don't shoot landscapes or nature.

# Having said all of that, the convenience of the 18-135 is much more obvious than that of the 16-55. The latter is very heavy and does make it sometimes uncomfortable to carry it around all day. The 18-135 is just that bit lighter and nicer to carry. If I want to travel light, I can just take the 18-135 on my X-T2. If I take the 16-55 - then I don't have the longer reach, so I have to take my other X-T2 with the 55-200 - then things get heavier, less convenient and more complicated.

# The 18-135 is very useable and sharp enough (but of course not in the same league as the 16-55), up to about 90-100mm. After this it gets quit soft at the longer end and I tend not to use it there. The 55-200 is much much sharper than the 18-135 (speaking wide open again of course).

# It is very true what they say that no lens is perfect. I have all of these lenses and more but it is still a headache sometimes as to which lens to take or which is best. To confuse the mix, the 18-135 is disappointing when it comes to isolating the image from background.  If you are shooting over about 60 mm then it is near or on 5.6 - very hard to isolate the subject on 5.6.  That is why I like the 16-55 because it is much easier at 2.8.

# In summary - After all my experimentation and straining of brain cells - I think my final conclusion is something like this. When around home and short trips with my wife I tend to take the 16-55, the extra weight is not so obvious because we use the car etc and I tend not to need the longer reach. However, with my next trip coming up soon to Vietnam and Taiwan etc, I have been ruminating a lot as to which and what to take. I only ever take two cameras and two lenses when I travel. It would be great to take the 55-200 and the 16-55, I would get the sharpest and best combination. However, the 55-200 is not dust proof (I go to very terrible dirty places to shoot in Asia), and the weight of both lenses would weigh me down on motorbikes etc. So even though it is a bit of a compromise and not ideal, I will likely take the 18-135 (longer reach and very reasonable quality up to 100mm), and my gorgeous, unbelievable 35mm f2 on my other X-T2. The 35mm is sooo good that I use it whenever possible and just using the 18-135 for longer or shorter.

# People talk a lot about the 16-55 having no IOS - I worried a lot about that before I bought it as the IOS on the 18-135 is unbelievably useful.  However, after a while it does not become an issue.  You get used to it and adapt your style a bit to accomodate for that fact.  Don't let the no OIS put you off this lens - it really is not an issue.

# I hope this is not too long winded and has been helpful. PM me if you have more questions. It really is not an exact science and you have to experiment a bit and make up your mind what suits you. It is fun and I love doing this stuff all the time. I will provide the link to my blog and website. On my blog, read the travel posts to Bali and this year to Myanmar - I discuss there a lot the 18-135 and 35 f2, it will give you more to think about.



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