Fuji 16-80 Real Life Lens Review
Just how good is the new Fuji 16-80 lens? If you’re looking to buy one of these lenses, then you’ve probably read some of the great reviews published almost when it launched. If you have, I can confirm that it is a great lens but it’s not as perfect as the reviews would have you believe. In this review of the Fuji 16-80 lens I explain what I think having used the lens for landscape photography over the past 4 months.
As soon as Fuji announced their new 16-80 lens, I placed an order with Wex. Whenever I’ve owned a 24-120mm lens (that’s roughly the full frame equivalent of the Fuji 16-80 lens), I’ve found it a joy to use and the perfect focal range for my photography. Despite already owning three lenses that might compete with this one, I reasoned that I could sell at least one to help cover the cost. These lenses are:
- Fuji 18-135mm. This is my go-to, all in one lens for travel and walking. I’ve owned this lens for a couple of years and recently did a real-life review of it.
- Fuji 18-55mm is the kit lens that came with my Fuji X-T2. It’s light, compact and very sharp. I haven’t used it much in the past because of the lure of better performance from the next lens in the line-up.
- Fuji 16-55mm. This is a killer lens if you want optical performance, but it has a couple of downsides for me. One is the weight as it’s a bit of a lump and the other is the lack of stabilisation. It’s not a problem if you’re happy to always use a tripod, but there are times when I want to hand hold a shot and can’t.
In truth, it was my intention to sell the Fuji 16-55 lens if the Fuji 16-80 performed well. Fuji promoted 16-80 as having excellent edge to edge sharpness and 6 stops of image stabilisation.
In terms of features, the Fuji 16-80 lens has surprisingly few, although I’m ignoring the technical construction here. Manufacturers always talk about the number of elements and the coatings on their lenses, but I’m not interested in that. I buy a lens because I want to shoot sharp images across the focal length range of the lens. What I’m interested in (as are most other photographers) is how does the lens perform in the real world and do the images look good.
Is the Fuji 16-80 Lens sharp?
To answer the burning question, yes, the images look good and they are sharp across the entire focal range. They aren’t as good as the Fuji 16-55 but then the 16-80 is more of a compromise. Comparing the results against the Fuji 18-135 lens, the wide-angle results are better, and I find the standard and telephoto results on a par. As I said in a review of my Fuji 18-135 that lens performs remarkably well at those focal lengths.
One of the problems I’ve seen a lot with the Fuji 18-135 lens however is the worm effect when processing the RAW files in Lightroom. Bracken particularly is a problem for that combination of lens and RAW converter. It produces a cartoonish effect that lacks fine detail and doesn’t look natural. Testing the Fuji 16-80 lens with the same subject and RAW converter gives a better, more natural result. When I switch to using my preferred RAW converter (Capture One) the results are very good and the images require very little processing.
Optical Performance of the Fuji 16-80
I won’t be publishing lots of test charts for the Fuji 16-80 lens. You can find test charts and performance data on lots of other websites like LensTips. Instead I’ll give you my thoughts having now looked at several thousand images shot with this lens. This comes down to a few characteristics of the lens:
- The contrast and colours produced by this lens are good and in line with what you would expect of a Fuji premium lens. This makes the lens well suited for landscape photography.
- I’ve seen very little chromatic aberration or colour fringing in the images. If you do spot anything it’s easily corrected in RAW conversion.
- There doesn’t appear to be a lot of diffraction, even if I stop the lens down to around f/18.0 (something I rarely need to do).
- The Fuji 16-80 lens will produce an excellent starburst effect if you include a partially covered sun in the frame. I’ve always found the starburst effect much easier to produce with better quality lenses.
- The lens has noticeable distortion, particularly in the corners at the wide end of the focal range. I’ll say more about this later, but the following image will give you an idea of what I mean.
Fortunately, the distortion isn’t a problem for a lot of landscape photos which still look good. You do though lose quite an area around the edges and into the corners of the frame when correction’s applied.
Other Features of the Fuji 16-80 Lens
Another feature worth noting are that this is a weather resistant lens. Being out in the usual shooting conditions for landscapes (mist, fog, sun and light rain) doesn’t appear to have caused any problems. Having said that, be sure to read the faults section below.
Probably one of the most important features for a lot of photographers considering the Fuji 16-80 is the image stabilisation. Fuji claims that stabilisation gives 6 stops of additional speed. I have no way of accurately testing this but can say that I’ve been surprised at how slow a shutter speed I can hand hold. I can easily shoot with confidence at 1/6”, even at the long end of the focal range. Whatever the numbers, t’s very impressive.
The Fuji 16-80 Faults
Now let’s talk about the faults or problems I’ve found whilst using the Fuji 16-80 lens.
I’ve already mentioned the distortion and whilst this doesn’t cause a lot of problems, the corner sharpness does suffer when you apply distortion correction.
This image shows the corners of one frame captured at f/13.0 magnified to 200%. It gives some idea of the area lost if you look carefully, but also look at the softening effect on the bracken when the correction’s applied. Even stopping down the lens doesn’t correct this because it’s caused by the RAW converter stretching the image.
Having said all this, the distortion now doesn’t appear as bad as it did. It could be that I’ve become used to it or it could be something else. When I first used this lens, I was rather shocked by the softness of the images, particularly in the corners. I found that I needed to turn off the “Distortion” correction and use “Diffraction Correction” in my RAW Converter (Capture One) to achieve good sharpness.
Since then, I’ve upgraded to Capture One 20 and applied a new firmware update to the lens. Somewhere along the way the optical performance has improved. I have my suspicion that firmware update included a better lens profile.
No Aperture Switch
If you’re a Fuji user and have some of their other lenses, you may expect to see an aperture switch on the lens body. This enables you to use either the aperture ring on the lens or the dials on your camera to control the aperture. With the Fuji 16-80 lens you don’t have a switch but need to turn the aperture ring round to “A” rather than an f-stop. This then allows you to control the aperture from the camera body. There are other lenses in the Fuji line up that use this approach, but the switch is in my opinion a better option.
Like the aperture switch, I also expected to find a switch to disable the image stabilisation but there isn’t one. When I read the lens information, I was surprised to find the stabilisation is always on and Fuji recommends this even when using a tripod.
In all honesty I’m not happy about this and think the Fuji engineers need to spend some time in the field with a landscape photographer. This has caused me probably the most problems and I’ve now disabled the stabilisation in the camera menu.
When you shoot panoramic images using this lens on a tripod, you need to wait a couple of seconds for the lens to settle each time you pan. This is due to the stabilisation and if you don’t let it settle, it blurs the image. It’s very frustrating if you want to work quickly, for example if the light is changing or because you have movement in the frame like waves.
Possible Weather Problems
The next problems also link to stabilisation in my opinion. I’ve only noticed the first when the weather is below freezing; the coldest conditions I’ve used the lens in is -5 to -3 centigrade. In these conditions, at times I’ve noticed the image jumping every couple of seconds. It’s definitely the stabilisation because when I turn it off in the camera the problem goes away. It also only happens when the camera is on a tripod. I’ve no idea why this happens but it blurs the image.
The other problem I’ve had with the weather is in windy conditions. Again, when I mount the camera on a tripod the images come out blurred even with quite fast shutter speeds. My suspicion is that the stabilisation is kicking in when there is any vibration from the wind. Because the camera is on a tripod it’s causing the blurring. Again, I can fix the problem by disabling stabilisation in the camera menu.
The final problem I want to mention has only started after I upgraded the lens firmware. There are times when the lens now struggles to achieve a focus lock where previously it’s been fine in similar conditions (low light). Picking to focus on a high contrast edge in a brighter area of the frame sometimes allows it to focus but sometimes I’ve needed to switch to manual focus.
More worrying though is the performance when you switch the camera to continuous focus mode. It just doesn’t seem to find a focus lock at all, and images are almost always out of focus. This doesn’t happen with my other lenses and has only happened with this lens following the latest firmware update.
There are good and bad things about this lens. I love the focal range, size, weight and image stabilisation when hand holding. Optical performance is quite good, especially considering the focal range covered. You do though need to know how to get the most from it in your RAW converter. When used on a tripod the design flaw (no stabilisation switch on the lens) is a real pain and I don’t like the weather-related problems.
When I bought the Fuji 16-80 lens from Wex I had a 30-day money back guarantee. Had I noticed the problems mentioned in this review during that period, I would probably have sent it back. On balance, I’m pleased that I still have the lens and I do use it a lot.
Would I recommend the Fuji 16-80 lens? Yes, providing you can work around the problems I’ve mentioned. It could of course be that these problems are specific to my lens, but I think it’s more likely the firmware. If you do decide to buy one of these lenses, I would suggest using a retailer with a good returns policy like Amazon or Wex Photographic in the UK.
Will I be selling one or more of my other lenses? No, at least not immediately or until I resolve some of my issues.