Fstoppers Compares the Fujifilm XF 18-55mm f/2.8-4 and XF 16-55mm f/2.8

Fstoppers Compares the Fujifilm XF 18-55mm f/2.8-4 and XF 16-55mm f/2.8

Fujifilm has become quite well known for it’s excellent APS-C lens lineup and now has enough lenses that several of them overlap significantly. One pair of lenses that bare consideration for many getting into the Fujifilm X system are the “kit” XF 18-55mm f/2.8-4 R LM OIS and the “professional” XF 16-55mm f/2.8 R LM WR. Let’s take a look at the differences between them.

The XF 18-55mm is a renowned lens among the kit lenses of the world. It is known for being fast, silent, and having excellent image quality. But, just how good is it? How does it compare to the “professional” XF 16-55mm f/2.8? Could you potentially save yourself a lot of size, money, and weight if you don’t need f/2.8 at the long end of the zoom? Let’s find out.

Build

Both lenses feature Fujifilm’s XF designation. This means that they are both designed to be high-quality lenses. The 16-55mm lens features Fujifilm’s red badge which places it among their “professional zoom” range. While the build of these two lenses is surprisingly similar, there are a few things in the construction to differentiate them. 

The 16-55mm features weather sealing all over the lens barrel for those who are working in adverse conditions. It also has a rubberized zoom ring which feels slightly easier to turn than its little brother, making it easier to smoothly, quickly, and accurately change the focal length. However, neither of the lenses feels poorly built and I would trust both of them to survive daily abuse. 

The 18-55mm lens has two switches on the side that give us the next two differences to look at. The first switch is for OIS, which can be switched on and off quickly on the lens. The system is good, but doesn’t seem to do quite as good a job as a lens like the 50-140mm f/2.8 or the IBIS in the X-H1. I have been able to handhold down to 1/8 s at the wide end and 1/20 s at the long end. 

The next difference is in the aperture ring. Many of Fujifilm’s XF lenses come with a marked aperture ring that has hard stops at each end. Although this is not a physical control for your aperture setting, it does give a similar feeling to the traditional control. The 18-55mm, however, uses a free spinning aperture ring, like the one on the XF 10-24mm f/4, that can be switched between automatic and manual control with the second switch on the lens. This means you cannot glance at your lens to know what the current aperture setting is or change your aperture while the camera is off. The aperture ring is quite loose as well, which makes it easy to knock and change the value without noticing.

The XF 18-55mm, I find, is actually a better fit in terms of size and weight for most of the X series cameras. The XF 16-55mm tends to feel front heavy on most of the bodies. When it comes to the larger lens, the X-H1 is the body on which it feels much comfortable. You’ll also get the IBIS of the X-H1, which makes the lens much more effective when working handheld. 

However, overall, the construction is similar and both feel like solid lenses. These small differences alone can in no way justify the additional size, weight, and cost of the 16-55mm f/2.8. We’ll have to look a little deeper into image quality to see if there really is a large difference between the two. 

Image Quality

This is where I thought we would see a marked difference between the two lenses. However, if I’m completely honest, there is not a night and day distinction that would make one a significantly better choice than the other. Let’s take a closer look. 

At the wide end, 16mm or 18mm, we see a slight difference in sharpness and contrast (in the center of the frame) between the two with the 16-55mm coming out ahead. It is not until f/8 that we see the two even out and by f/11, diffraction starts to kick in for both lenses. The 16-55mm f/2.8 does produce sharper corners at all apertures, however. That is not to say that the 18-55mm is a poor performer in any way.

XF 16-55mm f/2.8 @ 20mm, f/16

On the long end, we see a much more level playing field. The 18-55mm is almost indistinguishable from the 16-55mm in terms of contrast and sharpness (in the center, the corners are still a little softer). From f/5.6 to f/8, there seems to be a slight advantage in the 16-55mm lens, but it’s not going to be noticeable until you start pixel peeping. 

The bokeh produced by both of these lenses is nothing to write home about, but the 16-55mm does seem to produce smoother looking out of focus areas. Of course, with the f/2.8 aperture being available at the long end of the lens, you can get a little more blur at the same focus distance than you would with the kit lens. The other noticeable difference is in the quality of the “bokeh balls.” The 18-55mm exhibits a lot more patterning in the center of those. You can see an example of each below.

Flare for both lenses well controlled in most situations, but with the sun coming directly into the lens, we start to see some differences in the shape of the flare and ghosts produced. The 16-55mm tends to produce fewer ghosts across the entire image but does produce long lines the emanate from the light source and end at the edges of the frame (even wide open, these are visible at times). The 18-55mm produces ghosts all over the frame but does not produce the lines seen in images from the 16-55mm. Check that in the images below. 

Both lenses will produce large stars from point sources like street lights at night. The 16-55mm produces much more defined stars but each ray can often split into a comb-like pattern. The 18-55mm also displays this behavior. However, it is not as pronounced because the stars aren’t as well defined. 

Autofocus

Both of these lenses use Fujifilm’s Linear Motors for fast, silent autofocus. The autofocus system in the 16-55mm lens is excellent, and although the 18-55mm is not in any way a poor system, there are a few small differences that may make the decision of which lens to get easier for you. First, the 18-55mm hunts a little more and focuses slightly slower than the larger lens. Also, the 16-55mm tracks more effectively in AF-C mode. Overall, the lens just feels more responsive with fast-moving subjects and more in-focus images result. In dim light, you will also find that the 16-55mm focuses more effectively at the long end due to its brighter aperture (you’ll also gather one stop less light with the 18-55mm in dim situations as well, which could be a deal-breaker for you). Again, these differences are much less prominent than I would have expected, though. 

XF 18-55mm f/2.8-4 @ 18mm, f/11

Which Lens Should You Get?

As you can see, this is a tougher question than it might initially seem. With any of the other major brands, the difference between the kit lens and the pro-level mid-range zoom is much more pronounced, but Fujifilm have made two excellent lenses. The main reasons to purchase the 16-55mm lens, in my opinion, are the slightly wider field of view, additional sharpness at the wide end, the additional light gathering capabilities at the long end, the weather sealing, and the slightly increased auto-focus speed. If you need those things in your work, the 16-55mm is the lens to go for. However, if you’re planning to stop down often, don’t need quicker autofocus in low-contrast conditions, and would prefer to have OIS built into the lens, the 18-55mm is a fantastic lens that will save you weight and leave some extra money in your wallet for some additional glass. Just watch out for the slightly softer wide end. 

Have you tried both of these lenses? Did you end up buying one? Which one and why? For you, do the additional sharpness, weather sealing, and autofocus speed outweigh the OIS, small size, and lightness of the kit lens?

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20 Comments

David Anderson's picture

Both amazing lenses.
The 'kit' lens is very good for stills and a great run and gun video lens and the 2.8 is actually fairly cheap compared to the Canon/Nikon equivalents while still delivering excellent sharpness and a flat field.
That said, I did find the 2.8 a bit unbalanced on the XT bodies and ended up getting the lighter lens for the few times I use a zoom.

It's definitely unbalanced. I really only use it when I know I'll need the flexibility and f/2.8 at the long end.

The biggest consideration for me is the size. I want a walk around, smaller camera, but still capable. The xt3 with the 18-55 fits that bill.

The 16-55 is certainly big and heavy. It's not for all uses, to be sure.

stevepellegrino's picture

The 18-55 was my go-to lens when I was shooting with Fujifilm. I used it on my XE-1, XE-2, X Pro 1 & XT-1. I shot everything from the protests in Ferguson to the 2016 presidential elections with that lens. I have seen comparisons between these two lenses and could see the minor differences between the two, but I was always satisfied with the kit lens.

The kit lens is certainly a viable option. It's probably the only kit lens I've ever used that I would say that about. There's not a huge difference between the two as I wrote about above. I'm happy to use either most of the time.

I bought my first Fuji with the kit 18-55, and found it small, light and good quality. When I started getting more critical of my image quality, especially wide open, I tried the 16-55 and noticed a significant improvement in image quality when looking closely. Images were sharper, had more contrast. Of course, the tradeoff is bigger, heavier lens. I kept the 18-55 for hiking and travel where size and weight matter. Both are nice lenses.

That's pretty much the crux. If you really want to squeeze a little more image quality out, this 16-55 is the way to go.

Joe Black's picture

Then only reason to upgrade is the weather sealing. Otherwise it’s double the weight so not worth it.

Appreciate for doing a Fujifilm lens article, this brand need more love and attention.
I owned the 18-55, although it is quiet nice but I prefer to use Fuji's fast prime for majority of works.
To me neither the 18-55 or 16-55 can reach the level of the primes, so I rather keep the smaller/lighter 18-55 as hiking or travel lens.

The primes are special, to be sure. But the zooms have a place in many people's bags as well. Horses for courses. :)

Studio 403's picture

New owner of the Fuji XH1 and the 18-55 I am notably satisfied. Just bought the Fuji 100-400 lens yesterday. Hope to test it out this weekend. The Fuji body is giving me fits, to learn the custom features. Not a gear head, but I am getting there

It won't take you long to wrap your head around the Fujifilm way of doing things. Once you've got it down, you'll love it.

Kevin Liu's picture

I have and use both the 18-55 and the 16-55 on a regular basis on my XH1 and love both. As of late, I've found myself reaching for the 18-55 more frequently due to the size and weight difference. The 16-55 is defintely a no compromise lens, but recently i've developed some inflammation with my left carpal tunnel and the increased diameter of the 16-55 and the hand position required to grip and focus/zoom such a wide lens has on occasion caused so much pain i've had to cut shoots short. As such, i've swapped out to the 18-55 and I haven't run into that issue in weeks. Photographer's wrist is a real thing and repetitive motion injuries are no joke.

Too much photography, eh? Haha.

It is a shame you did not give more detail on the apertures used at the longer focal length (did you compare them wide open)? You just talk about a level playing field at that focal length. I unfortunately bought 3 copies of the kit lens over as many years (in Australia we have no return policy). Each time I thought I had a dud so had to sell it off and buy another one. I found at the 55mm length and aperture wide open, the kit lens was soft at best and mostly unusable (all 3 copies). I really don't know why testers give this wretched kit lens such a high rating.

I ended up gladly selling my last copy and buying the marvellous 16-55. In every way the pro lens is from a different planet compared to the kit lens. My kit lenses were loose and wobbly on the mount, soft in all the corners (as you said), and unusable wide open. As I only ever shoot people (never landscape or scenery), I always shoot wide open (to separate my subject). I can shoot my 16-55 wide open at any focal length and it is razor sharp across the image - every time. This was never the case with the very ordinary, mediocre kit lens. Philip

Interesting to hear that, Philip. I actually bought my copy of the kit lens from CameraPro in Brisbane as well. I've had no issues whatsoever with it. For me, it's been a replacement for the 16-55mm for everything except the most demanding jobs. It makes a great backup for when I need a bit more flexibility than the primes offer. You might want to check out DPReview for more detailed samples. They test everything on charts to see how they perform. In the real world, there wasn't a huge difference for me.

I had most of the Fuji lenses. Also the 16-55. I finally I ended up buying the 18-55mm again and sold the 16-55. Reasons:
1. Too heavy and big - defies the idea of a compact APSc system.
2. In low light situations (indoor without flash, stage/ theatre) f2,8 is still slow. f1,4 ist 2 ISO stops lower.
3. Lack of OIS will cause higher ISOs on any camera except X-H1.
4. I didn't like the x-trans sensor rendered the sharp- unsharp transitions of the 16-55.
5. My current copy of the 18-55 is the best I owned. Good for everything except thin DOF for which I use the excellent primes (35/1,4, 56mm, 90mm). Very slightly sharper edges with 16-55? Who cares. Edge sharpness at larger apertures is mostly an amateur's obsession. Noone looks except them.

I am tired of reading different words which are not really clear to describe sharpness differences between two different lenses. And. I would like to be able to, at least, get the price difference between two lenses being tested.

There are sites, like DPReview that do rigorous side-by-side testing if exact comparisons like this are important to you. Here at Fstoppers, we make real world usage tests and offer our thoughts as working photographers. Thanks for reading!