A traveling zoom

When I got my X-Pro1 a few years ago, the first lens I had (and I had that before the X-Pro1 even) was a Fujifilm 18-55mm kit lens. It was (and still is) considered to be one of the best kit-lenses you get with any camera by any brand. I sold it not to long after and just maybe I’ll buy it back…

The main reason why I sold the lens was that I wanted to use the Fujifilm X-Pro1 camera as a primes-only camera. The 35mm f/1.4 was amazing and once I had the 14mm and 56mm, there really was no use to keep a zoomlens around. Also -but that is purely a personal taste- I really don’t like the external zooming of the Fujifilm lenses, it doesn’t do the beauty of the X-Pro design justice. But then I’ve never been a fan of ‘external zooms’.

External zooms are probably easier and cheaper to produce then internal zooms and therefore more popular. The downside is that -especially with the longer zooms- it’s more like you’re playing a trombone instead of handling a lens. Internal zooms handle the zooming without physically extending the barrel and therefore maintain a smaller overall size (but this comes at a financial cost).

(My Fujifilm set almost 3 years ago with the X-Pro1 and the 18-55).

Once I had my primes, I let go of the 18-55mm, but in time I found out that working with primes only has it’s disadvantages too. Currently I’m lugging 4 or even 5 lenses with me where ever I travel. And that’s not nearly as bad as it sounds (the Canon 5DmkII and two DLSR-lenses are worse then my complete Fujifilm set), but when traveling with Monica, walking through the streets of Barcelona or anywhere else, it’s a bit of a hassle changing lenses constantly. Photography becomes much less spontaneous and also you tend to miss some moments bag-diving for the correct lens.

So I came to think about getting a zoom again. Especially as Monica has already warned me about not bringing too much gear with me when we will travel to Guatemala later this year and I’d like to really enjoy that trip rather then making it a lens-rotation-exercise. A good zoom will prevent constant lens-changes making me (hopefully) a less obvious subject to be robbed :)

As Fujifilm has been working on a really good selection of lenses in the past 4 years, there are a few more options in zoom lenses too. I’ve been able to work down the selection to:

  • The original 18-55mm f/2.8-4.0 – with OIS
  • 16-55mm f/2.8 – no OIS
  • 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 – with OIS

(image from Fuji vs Fuji: the 16-55, the 18-55 and 18-135 fully extended)

The original 18-55mm is still considered to be the best-bang-four-your-bucks kit lens. Aperture is good and it covers most of the important areas. That is: between 18mm and 55mm. I’d only miss a little on the wide with my 14mm and the tele that the 90mm offers.

The 16-55mm f/2.8 gives a little bit more on the wide end and is f/2.8 all over, that’s not a bad addition. However it comes at at least twice the price and that’s a bit much for a travel lens (it offers little extra in other situations as all my primes can easily match it’s speed). Strangely this lens -out of the three- is the only one without image stabilization, considering this is the ‘pro’ lens and the overall price, I’d have expected it here.

The 18-135mm is a lens I’m reading about more and more and seems to be a really good traveling lens. It offers a lot more on the tele side then the 18-55mm (a whopping 80mm more) but on the downside the lens isn’t exactly a small traveling lens: it’s huge! Even at the ‘zoomed’ at the 18mm end it’s large and fully extended to 135mm it looks monstrously big and I feel that that is going beyond my initial ideas of a small, light traveling kit.

I am leaning towards the 18-55mm as that seems to be the best option for a small kit. Although that lens remains to be a quite expensive lens in the Netherlands, I can find good prices on new lenses on Ebay. While I still have some time before we will start our Guatemala trip, I’m getting ever more sure about the lens I’ll bring. Still… I’ll eagerly check out the 18-135mm lens reviews as it seems to bee a good choice too. It also offers image stabilizing and is WR (Weather Resistant).

I think my travel-kit will in the end also include my 35mm lens. It might be overlapped by whatever zoom I’ll decide to get, the f/1.4 aperture makes it a superb basic lens for evening/night photography.

For  the moment I’ll keep my eyes open for a good bargain and will bring the regular kit with me on my trip to the south of Spain not long from now :)