A Practical Review – the Fujifilm XF16-80mm f4

in PhotoFeed10 months ago

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Intro

Back in September of 2019, Fujifilm released an exciting new lens for us Fuji users; the Fujifilm XF 16-80mm F4 R OIS WR. As a landscape photographer, I was quite excited about this lens. It had the focal lengths I was interested in and was still compact. It would complement my XF10-24mm and the soon-to-be-released XF70-300mm. Hopefully, this lens would become my daily landscape lens.

I purchased my copy in early 2020 and now, after 2 years of using this lens, I’ve decided it was time for a look back at the images and experience I’ve had using this lens.

Being a practical review, I won’t go deep into the specs of this lens as you’ve likely already looked them up or watched and read any number of technical reviews of this lens already. But the experience of using this lens daily is something those early reviews can’t provide feedback on.

*All of the images in this blog were taken with the Fujifilm XF16-80mm in 2021.

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Look & Feel

The most immediate thing you notice when picking up this lens is its weight and size. Initially, I was a bit worried about this as my only reference was the XF18-55mm, which is significantly smaller and lighter. The lens is nearly as big as the faster 16-55 f2.8, which can become tiresome when shooting for hours due to its weight. However, I’ve found this lens to be fantastically balanced when used with the X-Tx series. I use this lens on an X-T3 and find that even holding the camera one-handed for an extended shoot is comfortable. There is a slight imbalance at the front end of the lens, but it is thankfully not exacerbated when the barrel is extended to 80mm, and I’ve noticed no issues with composition drift while using a tripod due to its weight. If you’ve used the XF10-24mm, the experience is nearly identical. Fujifilm’s smaller bodies are less comfortable though, and I would recommend a grip attachment to give yourself a better handle. All said I’m very pleased with the size and weight.

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Like most Fujifilm lenses, the body is well made and machined. Weather sealed and nicely detailed, I love the silver accent ring, the smoothness of both the focus and zoom rings, and overall, the feel of the lens. The only issue I’ve had design-wise is that my aperture ring is quite stiff. The ring is so stiff that I’ve unintentionally shifted my compositions multiple times while trying to adjust the aperture ring. I’d hoped that this would loosen a bit over time with use, but it hasn’t and still proves to be an annoyance to this day. I’m convinced this is an issue with my copy of the lens though, as no other Fujifilm lens I’ve tried or owned has been this tight.

Another similarity to the XF10-24mm other than size is the 72mm filter thread. This means less hassle when switching polarizers or ND filters between my gear. A step that becomes annoying when using filter rings and trying to keep a lens hood usable.

Barrel creep is an issue I was initially concerned with as well. As a landscape photographer, I often use a Peak Design clip to mount my camera to a backpack as I hike so that it is readily accessible. When a lens is new this is rarely an issue, but with more use parts become looser and soon your zoom starts to creep as you bounce along the trail. This was a major issue I had with the XF50-200 and XF18-55. It got so bad that I stopped actively carrying my camera while using these lenses. Once extended, they would get caught on other gear and increase the risk of hitting something while climbing or hiking. The good news is that I have yet to experience this with my XF16-80mm, and I am extremely pleased about that! I’m not sure what Fujifilm has done to address this issue, but I hope going forward this trend continues. This means I can now comfortably hike with my gear at the ready and without worrying about it. If I could make a wish list, I’d ask that Fuji add the new zoom toggle switch found on the XF70-300mm standard to all future zoom lenses though. It’s a small mechanical reassurance that I won’t have barrel creep ever.

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Optical Performance

This is, of course, one of the biggest concerns with any lens. Because no matter how good the lens looks on paper or how good it feels, optical performance is what matters. Anyone familiar with Fuji knows that their glass is generally well made. However, the common issues with Fujifilm glass remain here: barrel distortion and vignette. However, what surprised me with this lens was its lack of sharpness. When Fuji released this lens, it seemed it was being promoted as the new and improved kit lens. The new X-T4 was being bundled with the XF16-80, and it seemed the classic XF18-55mm was being replaced across the board. So how could they get the optical formula wrong and create a soft lens?

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Let’s address the barrel distortion and vignette first, as they’re common in most Fuji lenses and can be easily corrected in post. If you’re shooting jpeg, you also don’t need to worry about these as the in-camera corrections generally take care of the issue. The vignette is only an issue at f4, and as soon as you stop down to f5.6 it’s not noticeable. It’s a small issue that will bug some, but I find I often don’t mind. In some cases, it can even add to the image – for instance, taking a portrait at 80mm and f4. Barrel distortion is found at both focal extremities, but I’ve only ever wanted to correct it at the widest focal length, where stretched corners are much more apparent. Keep in mind that this is a common issue with all wide-angle lenses. The barrel distortion isn't terrible, but especially at 16mm, I wish it was better.

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As I mentioned above, sharpness has been the only sore spot optically that I’ve had with this lens. It seems that regardless of the focal length or aperture, this lens is slightly soft. The lens is acceptably sharp in the center throughout but loses sharpness quickly as you move to the edge of the frame. This can be corrected with a tighter aperture, but once you pass f8 I find the center sharpness starts to lose quality to diffraction. This puts you as the photographer, in a bit of an annoying spot. You can either keep the lens set near its sweet spot of f5.6 but miss out on the depth of field, or you can shoot around f8-f11 and hope that software can correct the diffraction enough.

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Unfortunately, software can only do so much. While writing this, I decided to do some pixel peeping and started noticing that even at f11 with diffraction correction applied, my corners weren’t as sharp as the center of the image and looked sloppy. So if you truly want a sharp image throughout, you’d need to focus stack with multiple images at f5.6. A task no one wants to do. It’s also important to note that some of this lack of sharpness is due to the barrel distortion in the corners.

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You may be wondering why this lens is my most used then. especially when the optical performance of the lens is weak. Well, because for my applications, this lens has the best balance between weight, focal length, and optical performance. Even with sharpness being a disappointment for me, I find that where I share my work and how most viewers get to see my images, the lack of perfect sharpness isn’t noticeable. I’m not printing larger than 16x20, and online my images are usually viewed on a standard HD screen. It's only during editing, when I'm scouring the details of the file, that I notice the imperfections. I don’t think Fujifilm did their best work on this lens, but, if they can revisit their optical formula while keeping a similar body, this lens could easily become their best lens for everyday photography and a staple for landscape photographers.

Who is this lens for then?

I struggle to recommend this lens to everyone. Fujifilm already has other great mid-range zooms that are much better at being everyday lenses. The XF18-55mm, for example, is lighter for the urban photographer, while the XF18-135mm covers a larger range for a better single-lens travel lens. But where the XF16-80mm wins the prize is for landscape photographers. I've already hinted at it in this article, so it should come as no surprise that I think this lens has the potential to be a landscape photographer's staple lens – and the first they should get. The lens sits perfectly between the XF10-24mm and XF70-300mm with the right amount of overlap. And being in the middle range of these three, it should be obvious that this lens offers the most utility of the trio as well. The sharpness needs to be improved and the barrel distortion could be reduced, but otherwise, this lens is built and designed thoughtfully. Hopefully, as newer Fujifilm bodies are released, the lens will be updated and the sharpness improved.

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Manually curated by ackhoo from the @qurator Team. Keep up the good work!

Thank you @ackhoo appreciate the curation :)

You're very welcome! :)

Interesting - I use the 16-80mm as my 'walking around' catch all lens. Looking at the photos I've taken with it. I don't love this lens the way I do my 10-24mm or really any of the primes but I do like the security it gives me that I can take a single lens and capture maybe 90% of the shots I want with it (and my legs can do the rest of the zooming in a lot of others). I used to have the 18-135mm which I thought was too 'big' but now I'm starting to re-think that. So many lens so little time.

Excellent review by the way - and amazing shots

So many lenses and so little money! Haha I'd love to try them all eventually, and I've been lucky enough to try a good portion already too. The 18-135 is one I haven't had a chance to use myself yet, but I've heard as a 1 lens setup it's a real winner if you can settle for the optics and slower aperture.
As for the 10-24 I absolutely agree in that I love it more than the 16-80. The FOV of that 10-16mm range creates some incredible perspectives that just draw me in. But as you said, 90% of the shots I take could be taken with the XF16-80mm, it's the better all around lens.
When writing this article I did the math and approximately 80% of all my "keeper" images are in that 16mm to 80mm range. And more than 60% of my images were taken with the XF16-80 specifically.

Anyways, appreciate the comment! I'll have to give your work a look as well :) always fun to see how another Fujifilm fan uses their gear

16-80mm is a very useful range! I can see why it's your go to for landscape work. You've put together a beautiful selection of images for this post Geoff. :)

Thank you so much Cath :)
Yes! It's not my favorite lens, but it's absolutely my most used. The flexibility of it can't be beat. When I can only take one lens, this is the default I have to go for.

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