Lens Sharpness, Contrast and Color Rendition
As I have already pointed out, the XF 16-55mm f/2.8 has one of the most complex optical designs Fuji has developed to date for the Fuji X system. With a whopping 17 elements in 12 groups, this lens is full of glass elements for not only yielding maximum sharpness, but also for correcting various aberrations. Specifically, the three aspherical lens elements in the lens help in controlling spherical aberration and distortion, while the three extra-low dispersion (ED) lens elements are present for reducing both lateral and axial chromatic aberration. Take a look at the below illustration of the lens construction, which shows the above-mentioned special elements:
As you will see further down below, the Fuji XF 16-55mm f/2.8 lens is a very sharp lens, particularly when compared to other Fuji X zoom lenses. In fact, the lens is sharper than many of the Fuji prime lenses! Its corner performance might appear weaker in our MTF charts, but when combined with Adobe’s built-in lens profiles, optical corrections certainly help in yielding very good corner to corner sharpness in images. And since the Fuji X-T1 utilizes the X-Trans sensor that has no anti-aliasing filter, you get the maximum performance out of this lens when it is attached to it. Contrast is excellent and color rendition is superb, as expected from Fujinon lenses.
Due to the fact that Adobe software automatically applies optical corrections to Fuji’s RAW files, it is impossible to properly evaluate lens performance. Since I measure MTF using Imatest and DCRaw (which does not apply such corrections), the below numbers reflect the raw, uncorrected performance of the XF 16-55mm f/2.8. Results are very comparable to what one would get with Photo Ninja and other third party software that utilize DCRaw and similar RAW processing engines.
Let’s take a look at the Imatest numbers:
At 16mm, the XF 16-55mm f/2.8 is extremely sharp in center of the frame at the widest aperture of f/2.8. Very few Fuji lenses can reach this level of sharpness, so it is certainly impressive. There is a drop in sharpness away from the center towards the mid-frame and there is a further drop in sharpness towards the corners, but that’s expected from most zoom lenses.
As we zoom towards 23mm, sharpness starts to drop a little. Peak performance is still at the largest apertures, slowly getting worse at f/4 and smaller. Mid-frame and the corners look very similar to those at 16mm.
At 35mm, we now have reduced sharpness at f/2.8 and the sharpness now peaks at the f/4 mark. The lens performs worse overall at this focal length, with mid-frames and the corners still staying pretty strong overall.
The lens gets worse towards the longest range and that’s where we see a sharpness drop throughout the image. Mid-frame and corner performance are definitely impacted and the lens cannot quite resolve as much detail anymore, even when stopped down to f/4.
So keep the above in mind when you are out shooting – the lens is the sharpest at its widest focal length and its sharpness slightly deteriorates towards the longer end at 55mm. Most likely you will not see much sharpness difference in the field, since the above numbers are still pretty high even for the longest range, but if you are after maximum detail, the shorter focal lengths are going to give you a tad more detail.
Overall, there is not much to complain about this lens in terms of sharpness. And if you shoot JPEG, or you take RAW files into Lightroom for processing, you will find that the automatic lens corrections will make the images look even better. Unfortunately, Lightroom still tends to show strange-looking artifacts when images are sharpened, so based on my tests, I would say that Photo Ninja is probably the next best thing to SOOC JPEG images.
Lenses such as the XF 16-55mm f/2.8 are not designed to yield the best looking bokeh, because they are not optimized like portrait lenses are and the f/2.8 aperture limits how much you can put out of focus at close range. At the long end of 55mm @ f/2.8, you can get some nice subject separation with somewhat smooth backgrounds, but the aspherical elements in the lens are going to make those bokeh highlights appear a bit edgy, with onion rings inside. So while you can use this lens to get some good portrait shots, if your goal is to capture more pleasant-looking portraits, take a good look at something like the XF 56mm f/1.2 or its APD version instead – those are going to be much more practical for portraiture.
Fuji did a great job in making sure that the XF 16-55mm f/2.8 does not suffer from heavy vignetting like some other zoom lenses in the similar focal length range do. And indeed, the vignetting performance of the lens is excellent. As you can see below, the most amount of vignetting you will get at maximum aperture @ 16mm and even that does not look bad at all, at only 1.30 stops of light loss in the extreme corners:
And here is the worst case scenario at 16mm, infinity focus:
If vignetting bothers you in images, it is really easy to fix in post-processing software like Lightroom and Photoshop, so it is certainly not a concern.
Ghosting and Flare
The Fuji XF 16-55mm f/2.8 comes with a couple of advanced coating technologies that significantly reduce the occurrence of both ghosting and flare when a bright source of light reaches the front element of the lens. Fuji applied HT-EBC (High Transmittance Electron Beam Coating) to the entire area of the lens surface, in addition to utilizing the newly developed Nano-GI (Gradient Index) coating technology which also helps reduce diagonal incident light. I have used the lens in pretty high contrast scenes with both the sun in the frame and outside the frame and I did not see any problems in my images. Take a look at the below photo, captured with the sun in the frame:
However, when including bright sources of light in the frame at smaller apertures past f/8, you might witness something called a “red dot flare“, which can be very distracting to look at:
This happens as a result of internal reflections and short flange distance, and it is something that can be commonly seen on pretty much every mirrorless camera. So if you see that in your images, keep this in mind and try to use larger apertures to avoid the problem.
The amount and the type of distortion depends on what focal length you are shooting. The lens starts out with barrel distortion at 16mm and as you zoom in towards 23mm and longer, it switches to pincushion distortion. The highest amount of barrel distortion is registered at 16mm, with around 4.93% change, while the highest amount of pincushion distortion is at 55mm, as shown in the below Imatest results based on RAW images:
Chromatic aberration levels are reasonably low, as illustrated below:
Let’s move on to lens comparisons and see how the lens stacks up against other Fuji X lenses.
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