#758. The Standard British Handful; Fuji’s 16-55 zoom

#758. The Standard British Handful; Fuji’s 16-55 zoom

A full SBH - the very thought made my iPhone wobble

A full SBH – the very thought made my iPhone wobble

 

I thought I’d done with zoom lenses some years ago, when the Sony NEX showed me just how many quality images I could shoot with manual prime lenses and a little more personal application. I’m convinced that this simple symbiosis had a radical impact on my photography and so, was determined to stay on the prime path permanently.

 

The Kogelberg at dawn

The Kogelberg at dawn

 

Edinburgh

Edinburgh

 

Edinburgh

Edinburgh

 

Silhouettes, Amsterdam

Silhouettes, Amsterdam

 

The Kogelberg at dawn

The Kogelberg at dawn

 

Until a recent trip to Eastern Europe, with two cameras and a collection of primes bumping against my back. Despite their individual neoprene foam mittens, the lenses were (truth to tell) a bloody nuisance, rattling around in my surprisingly heavy backpack.

 

Don’t.

 

I just know you’re about to ask why I simply don’t use a real camera bag. If you’ve read any of the InSight guides, you’ll already know the answer. I won’t walk the streets carrying a massive, balky and bulky bag advertising its contents to every neer-do-well within mugging distance. I want to be discreet. It also helps in not scaring off my subjects.

 

Anyway, that’s a discussion for another time. On this occasion, with several European countries on my itinerary for 2018, I took the plunge and bought Fuji’s 16-55 f2.8 zoom, intending to leave the four prime focal lengths it covers for me (16, 23, 35, 56), at home.

 

When I bought the 56mm f1.2, I was surprised at how big it was in comparison to the other primes I already owned. The 16-55 dwarfs it. It’s a real Standard British Handful (SBH), an appellation usually applied to something softer and in many respects considerably more enjoyable.

 

Anyway, the SBH is also heavy and while I was planning on this being a one body, one lens journey, I did have some second thoughts, but by then I was financially committed.

 

Edinburgh reflection

Edinburgh reflection

 

Scottish hedgerow

Scottish hedgerow

 

Scotland in the summer

Scotland in the summer

 

Abandoned, Grantown-on-Spey

Abandoned, Grantown-on-Spey

 

Abandoned, Grantown-on-Spey

Abandoned, Grantown-on-Spey

 

Covering an equivalent range to Nikon’s wonderful 24-70, it’s definitely smaller and possibly lighter too. Performance-wise, it’s taken me a good couple of thousand frames to begin to feel at ease with it, especially becoming accustomed to it’s heft on the X-H1 body to which it’s generally mated.

 

The very tight zoom mechanism is easing and I’m finding the mental muscle memory to work with its focussing speed and slightly-more-than-prime depth of field. Actually, it’s quite demanding, which is good, because I really don’t want to backslide and lose the shot discipline I’ve built up in more recent times.

 

Issues? Very few. Like with their primes, Fuji’s petal lens hood for the 16-55 is ridiculously large and intrusive and if I were intent on using it more than occasionally, I’d definitely find something significantly less bonkers.

 

Initially, I shot in and around Amsterdam, London and Edinburgh and often found myself wanting to be wider than its widest at 16mm – curious, because I generally find the 16mm prime too wide for street shooting. At the other end, I occasionally hankered for the 90mm f2, but not enough to justify carrying another heavy prime.

 

After the rain

After the rain

 

St Vincent's Crescent, Glasgow

St Vincent’s Crescent, Glasgow

 

St Vincent's Crescent, Glasgow

St Vincent’s Crescent, Glasgow

 

After the rain

After the rain

 

St Vincent's Crescent, Glasgow

St Vincent’s Crescent, Glasgow

 

Once back in South Africa, I’ve been able to spend time with the SBH in the landscape, where it really does perform well, especially with the X-H1’s IBIS.

 

Rendering-wise, the SBH is excellent. The level of detail in these dawn/sunrise shots is well up to par, even at higher ISOs – typically Fuji colour which makes me very happy.

 

Yup. It’s definitely a keeper. Maybe, I’ll write and ask Santa for bigger hands…

 

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St Vincent's Crescent, Glasgow

St Vincent’s Crescent, Glasgow

 

Kogel Bay at sunrise

Kogel Bay at sunrise

 


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15 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Volker August 17, 2018

    Have you ever tried the humble 18-55 f 2.8-4.0? It’s quite small and light and the image quality is not that far away from the monster.
    Cheers, Volker

    • Avatar
      paulperton August 17, 2018

      No, I haven’t and given my preference for manual primes, I probably won’t, unless someone I know loans me one.

      • Avatar
        Adrian August 17, 2018

        The 18-55mm is a very good lens for it’s price. Some tests I saw speed it very close to the 16-55mm. It’s bokeh is it’s major weakness, which displays nissen rings on points of contrast. Its much smaller and lighter than the 16-55mm, which seems to be an APSC lens of almost the same size and weight as full frame equivalents!

  2. Avatar
    pascaljappy August 17, 2018

    Well it sure looks like a hooter to shoot, that can. Big jugs can give us the shakes but you’ve held it together nicely. Prime twins can be a handful in the street, so this whopper seems like a great option. How does it feel to have a fun bag on your back, and such a nice set in your hands, now ? OK, I’ll stop 😉

    Lovely pics ! Inspired, as usual and yes, the rendering is gorgeous. Those shots with droplets on leaves show a lovely progression from sharp to unsharp and a nice realistic feel. Colours, as always, are great. Scottish Hedgerow is particularly nice in that respect. Can wait to see more pics of rolling hills now. Oh, bugger, amo, amas, amatit again 😉

  3. Avatar
    Erickson August 17, 2018

    I am heading to the Balkans myself in two weeks. For that trip I am leaving my 16-55 behind and taking the super zoom the 18-135 Fuji lens. I find I always miss the long end of the focal length with the 16-55. I always bring along the small and useful x100f camera for street shooting and walking in areas where I don’t want to bring a large camera and lens. Also it is easier with the European airlines bag limitations.

  4. Avatar
    jean pierre (pete) guaron August 17, 2018

    ?? – partly culture shock – you can both have Scotland all to yourselves – the only members of my family who were scottish fled generations action, never to return, because of its damnably cold weather! – and the occitan say, raca raceja – which means you can never escape from your ancestry – so one of my favourite aunts used to convulse with laughter if I ever mentioned the place, because I apparently cannot create the “t” sound in the middle of the word. And partly jealousy, because it’s highly unlikely that I’ll ever be able to build yet another camera system in what’s left of my lifetime, and I’ve been peering enviously at the sheer professionalism of Fuji’s range of products They show no sign of being lured onto the rocks by mere fashion – they just steadily improve their product range, seeking to make sure it reflects what real photographers really want and need. And I think Pascal & are agreed that this is uncommon in today’s photographic industry, where commercial suicide is apparently more attractive than common sense and [at least occasionally!] listening to what their customers want.

    Off the cuff – the range 16/23/35/56 seems too narrow, to me, to justify four lenses. Clearly you are more particular than I am, Paul, but then you are a better photographer so my view is irrelevant. Love the photos – even without magnifying each image, it’s easy to see what quality images you’ve produced (despite the chilblains on your fingers). I’ve been looking gloomily at a different zoom lens option lately, and I’ve been instantly rendered very nervous about them, for a number of reasons – like the 100-400 I was looking at (except it’s sweet spot is at 300 and don’t bother going any further!) – it’s very refreshing and encouraging to see the quality of the Fuji zoom. I don’t know how much better your results might have been with the primes, but I suspect it might have ended up as “a distinction without a difference” if you’d done all these shots both ways. As Pascal has been saying lately, once you achieve “a certain standard”, further improvements of a technical nature become quite meaningless. And a distraction from practising the gentle art of photography.

    [Thinks – I wonder what Pascal is going to say to that?] 🙂

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy August 17, 2018

      I hear my name a calling ? 😉

      A thought just came to my mind : a used OM-D E-M1 + 600mm Eq fl lens might not break the bank and could suit your project (you can just sell it off afterwards). Or is that silly ?

      As I was writing privately to a friend, earlier on today, I actually find some zooms far more interesting that many primes. That’s the case in the Sony range, where most primes leave me stone cold (the G90 Macro is very yummy, I’ll concede) whereas some of the zooms are so poetic in their rendering. It’s pretty obvious Fuji have got a winner with this one ! It looks quality and has really pleasant, natural rendering. The thing that let zooms down for me is the operator … Primes make me alert and diligent. Give me a zoom and I turn into a sloth. Might as well hand me a selfie stick as well 😉

      • Avatar
        jean pierre (pete) guaron August 18, 2018

        ROTFLMHAO – you mean you DON’T have a selfie stick, in your armory of cellphones? Are you trying to get listed on the “Shame File”? 🙂

        Zooms CAN make us slothful. But only if they’re misused. Their proper function is to provide us with a choice of focal lengths, so that we can choose the one that’s appropriate for the shot we want to take. Not an excuse for taking some other shot, and patching it through, by abusing the functionality of the zoom.

        And people can be lazy with primes too – failing to change them – relying on cropping – or just simply taking lousy photos.

        • Avatar
          Adrian August 18, 2018

          My most used lens for “general” photography, which includes travel, city scales, night scenes, architecture etc is a 24-70mm zoom. Primes don’t cut it as “zooming with your feet” doesn’t create the same result of a 24mm or a 70mm lens, and a bag or primes to cover that range adds nothing for stopped down daytime or tripod work. My second moat used lens is a 16-35mm zoom, and my third used is probably my 55mm f1.8 for available light work.

          Primes were the only option 50 years ago, but many amateurs cling to the conceit of their superiority for nostalgic and historic reasons. In my opinion, the one reason to use a prime is to benefit from it’s larger maximum aperture and shallower depth of field (and possible smaller size and lower weight, depending on your choices this may or may not be true). Stopped down on the optical bench primes will probably have better line pairs per millimetre, but in real world photos this probably won’t show. Alternatively, one can chase rainbows for ethereal perceived qualities such as drawing style if this makes you happy.

          Most modern zooms are excellent. The Sony GM 24-70mm is surprisingly subtle with very classy bokeh for a zoom, their humble 70-200mm f4 is a really nice example of Minoltas G lens style, and the 90mm OSS macro also has a very pleasant rendering style. They are not small or light, although the 70-200mm is quite modest and little bullied Han the truly excellent Minolta 200mm G.

          M43rds can make a sweet spot of smaller size and weight if you choose your camera and lens carefully, although so can some APSC systems – for example the lowly Sony A5100 is tiny, as were it’s NEX forebears.

          • Avatar
            PaulB August 19, 2018

            Adrian

            Not that long ago Kirk Tuck had a similar comment on hid blog. He mentioned that more of the images used by his clients were made using the 24-70 (equivalent) of whatever system he was using at the time;with the 70-200 zoom second. Even though there was a significant number of images made with other lenses to choose from.

            PaulB

          • Avatar
            jean pierre (pete) guaron August 20, 2018

            Adrian, this says it all –
            “Stopped down on the optical bench primes will probably have better line pairs per millimetre, but in real world photos this probably won’t show. Alternatively, one can chase rainbows for ethereal perceived qualities such as drawing style if this makes you happy.”

            I do find differences between the three main formats I shoot in (1″ on the “go everywhere, always have a cam on you, pocket job; and the HF and FF cams). But unless you print gigantic prints, the rest of it’s lost in the rainbows and the stardust.

            Paul’s photos in this article are a stunning example of the quality of modern zooms. (And his excellent photography, too, of course! 🙂 )

          • Avatar
            paulperton August 20, 2018

            Aaah, J-P. You might go to heaven after all.

  5. Avatar
    PaulB August 19, 2018

    Paul

    I understand the lure, or maybe it’s the seduction, of a good zoom.

    Last spring I was photographing the graduation events of my cousin’s daughter from college. There was the actual graduation ceremony and the following week the extended family celebration events. For the graduation ceremony I used my Leica M9 and for the family celebrations I used my Olympus Pen-F, both with prime lenses. In both cases I had exposure issues, and missed enough opportunities that I decided a change was necessary. And this change needed to include the versatility of a zoom lens.

    So I traded my Pen-F, Oly 12mm f2, and Panasonic 25mm f1.4, for a Panasonic G9 and a Panasonic 12-60 mm f4 lens. Though after a short time I returned this lens for the Olympus 12-40 f2.8 lens. This is proving to be an exceptional combination. So much so that I don’t miss the lenses I traded, and rarely think about using my Oly 45 f1.8 lens. I seem to be using the 45 as a body cap more the for making images.

    So I am not surprised that you are getting such lovely images with your Fuji zoom.

    PaulB

  6. Avatar
    Ron Teffs August 22, 2018

    Zooms can be just the ticket. I’m getting back in after a 30 year hiatus and the question of which lens or lenses would I build my new system around was top of the list. Turned out to be quite instructive. Looking back at stacks of “chromes” revived memories and I realized that except for the monster 600MM I used at airshows, 95% of my walking around pix were shot with my (favorite) Nikon 80-200 2.8 EDIF zoom. So that’s the range I’m using as a benmark for my research. I’ll let you know how this turns out…
    Cheers – Rom

    • Avatar
      paulperton August 23, 2018

      Please do – if there’s a story in it, we’d be quite happy to publish here.

      Best,

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