Photo credit: Lou Toni for the feature image above
I’ve been using Fujifilm for just over a year now. About three months ago, after gathering dust, I finally sold my beloved Canon 6D an lenses. (I did keep my nifty fifty and Canon Elan 7NE. I couldn’t entirely give up Canon, and that is my last revenant of film at this point.) I loved my Canon gear for 22 years, and parting with my most recent camera and the first full format digital camera I owned, was not easy. And, in fact, I held onto my Canon film roots.
But, this article is not about my transition, it’s about the Fuji Lenses I love most. To-date, I have 8 Fuji XF lenses (9 if you include the 1.4 teleconverter, which I do not). To ask me to choose between them is very hard. I have uses for each of them depending on my situation. And there is, at this point, only one other lens that I really want: the 90mm f/2 (though I’ve also considered seriously the 80mm f/2.8 true macro lens instead).In my article describing my switch to Fujifilm, I described my current setup (with the exception that I have since upgraded my X-T1 to an X-T2 and given the former to my wife, Amy. As a result of her switch to Fujifilm, she tends to monopolize the 18-55 and 55-200 lenses, though I do sometimes take back the 55-200 and at times miss the 18-55.
So, to get at this question of my favorite lenses, let’s look at scenarios. There are primarily 3 scenarios in which I am taking pictures: in the wilderness, in the city, and hanging out with family and friends.
In the Wilderness
When I’m in the wilderness, there are two main goals for photography: landscapes and wildlife. And within landscapes is also astrophotography. Unfortunately, these goals are at opposite ends of the focal length spectrum. In the wilderness, there is also the most shifting based on needs, since I am balancing weight with what I want to capture on any given trip. So, when I’m backpacking, there are basically three areas I want to capture: wide, normal, and telephoto.
On the wide end, I have my 14mm. At a 21mm full-frame equivalent focal length, this lens is one of my favorite backcountry lenses. It can bring together breathtaking vistas and can provide some fun getting up close on smaller scenes. I love how light this lens is, so it’s rare not to see it in my pack.
But a lens that wide can get you stuck in a rut if it’s all you have. That’s why I also like taking out my super light and compact 35mm f/2. This lens is the classic “normal” focal length (50mm full-frame equivalent). I love this lens for capturing people on a scene, or when a sweeping landscape is too busy (often happening early in hikes when we are still in the trees). The 35mm allows me to focus in a little more, but still has a wide aperture for playing with depth of field. Additionally, this lens is weather sealed, so if the weather turns, it’s a great one to throw on and now worry as much about getting it wet or dirty.
The last focal length is telephoto. And for wildlife, this is where a zoom lens rules. Able to adjust the focal length quickly, before an animal moves, is extremely helpful, and serious telephoto primes tend to be heavy. The 55-200 is my go-to for this category. At an 82–300mm full-frame equivalent, this lens is a bit short for really good wildlife, but it hits the right weight to still be considered light.
But for truly spectacular wildlife, you need more reach. On occasion, when I know I’m going to be seeing lots of wildlife (Glacier National Park, Yosemite, Yellowstone, and certain spots in Alpine Lakes Wilderness), I’ll bring the beast, my 100-400mm lens. At 3.5 pounds, however, I do not pack this lens lightly. I love it, but it certainly goes against the lightweight mirrorless trend of my other lenses.
When I know the weather is going to suck, or I really need to lighten my load, the 18-135mm is my go-to all-purpose lens. I can replace all the lenses above with just this lens. This works great in the winter in the Pacific Northwest, when the weather tends to be wet. Or during mountaineering trips where I’m pushing my physical limits, and changing lenses or carrying extra weight is just not realistic. Weather sealed, with image stabilization, this lens can capture a wide variety of scenes without having to change lenses, a task made nearly impossible in gross conditions with limited shelter. Additionally, it can capture decent wildlife photography, especially for those creatures that tend to be more comfortable getting close (we have some very social mountain goats in Washington, but be careful, especially when your attention is behind the lens, be sure to keep another eye around you).
In the City
Cities are busy, complex places. Photos in the city can often be overwhelmed by too much going on. So this is where lenses good at foreground isolation are key. In the city, I am a prime shooter. Here my most used lenses are the 14mm, 23mm, and 35mm. Sometimes I will also carry the 18-135 for the ability to isolate subjects via zoom. However, I generally feel more creative in the city when I’m shooting a prime. These days my two most common lenses for the city are my 14mm (for cityscapes and architecture) and my 35mm (for more focused street photography), but if I had to choose just one, it would be the 23mm, straddling the line between normal and ultrawide.
When my main subjects are people and activities, primes are my go to. 23mm is great for small children and some pets, as they tend to get close to the camera. 35mm is perfect for adults and small group shots. And my 56mm is great for portraits and a smooth background bokeh.
If There Can Be Only One
So, one of the most common questions I hear is: if you can only choose one lens for the rest of your life, which would you choose? This is a very difficult decision for me, and part of the reason I went to mirrorless was so that I could have a few lenses for the same weight as my 6D with one. That said, it probably wouldn’t be an article on my favorite lenses if I didn’t at least try to answer this question. Of course, you may have noticed that the moral of this article is: it depends. So just as before, let’s look at three different scenarios.
If it comes down to just one lens, I have a tough fight between an all-purpose zoom and an all-purpose prime. You notice I said all purpose for both. Because when it comes to purpose in lenses, I’m usually thinking about two things: focal length and aperture. A prime has more flexibility with background blur and can create phenomenally focused and sharp images. That said, if my subject is small or far away (and hard to get closer to), focal length becomes important for subject isolation.
So, my one zoom? The 18-135. That lens allows me to get usable shots of some wildlife, can do pseudo-macro, is weather sealed, and has image stabilization for video. (It’s important to note I struggle on this decision between this lens and the 18-55. The 18-55 is lighter, making the camera easier to carry, is so sharp from end to end, and with an aperture of 2.8 on the wide side, is enough to create some decent background blur.)
My one prime: the 23mm. I tend to think and like wide shots, so the 23 affords me a balance that leans towards the wide angle.
When you allow someone to choose 2 lenses for the rest of their life, the decision becomes a little easier. For me, it’s the 14mm and the 18-135mm. I really do love my wide angles.
This is the sweet spot. It allows me the flexibility I need to have a “happy forever” kit. This kit includes the 14mm, 35mm, and 55-200mm. Perfect coverage, and affords me most of the focal lengths I love.