I purchased a used Fujifilm X-A3 camera for $400 a few months ago with the intentions of using vintage lenses on it. The camera, which, by the way, is a great bargain, producing image quality that fits somewhere in-between X-Trans II and X-Trans III, came with the cheap kit 16-50mm lens attached. I was planning to sell this lens to bring the cost of the camera to somewhere near $275-$250 (figuring that I could get around $125-$150 for the lens). I had no intentions of keeping the kit zoom, but after capturing a few images with it, I decided not to sell it after all.
The lens, official called Fujinon Super EBC XC 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 OIS II, is Fujifilm’s bottom end zoom lens that usually comes paired with their cheaper cameras. In fact, starting with the X-A5, it’s actually been replaced by a new kit zoom. By all means this lens should be garbage. It’s meant for beginners. It’s meant for amateurs. It’s meant for cheapskates. It’s not meant for serious photography. Or is it?
There are some reasons why the lens is cheap. It’s mostly made of plastic and feels like it wouldn’t take a whole lot to break it. On the flip side of that coin, it’s very lightweight, which is a significant plus. The lens lacks an aperture ring like most other Fujinon lenses. The largest aperture, available only at the widest focal length, is f/3.5, which isn’t particularly fast. At the telephoto end the largest aperture is f/5.6, and there’s nothing impressive about that.
To make matters worse, there’s some significant corner softness at f/3.5, and it doesn’t completely go away until f/8. Diffraction begins at f/11, although it’s not really a problem until f/16, so the range where this lens is at peak sharpness is quite narrow. Thankfully, vignetting and chromatic aberrations are very minimal and there’s only a tiny amount of distortion, even at 16mm.
So what is there about this lens that convinced me to keep it? Three things: focal length, close focusing and sharpness.
The focal length of 16-50mm, which, because this is an APS-C lens, is equivalent to 24-75mm in full-frame terms, is just about perfect for an everyday walk-around lens. Almost-but-not-quite ultra-wide angle at one end, and portrait-length short-telephoto at the other end. It’s a very versatile range of focal lengths. Even though it seems like there’s no real difference between 18mm (the typical kit zoom wide-angle focal length) and 16mm (the wide-angle focal length of this lens), it’s actually quite significant, and 16mm is noticeably more dramatic.
I was surprised at the close focus distance of the 16-50mm lens. At the wide-angle end, the closest focus distance is a little less than 6″. At the telephoto end, the closest focus distance is a little less than 14″. What this means is that it’s not quite a macro lens, but it is not far from it, and it is possible, with a little cropping, to do some borderline macro photography. It also means that if you place the subject as close as possible to the end of the lens (but where you can still focus on it), it’s possible to achieve a narrow depth-of-field and separation from a blurry background. And the bokeh on this lens is actually pleasant.
The biggest surprise for me with this lens is the sharpness. I was shocked, really. When in the sweet spot, which is roughly f/6.4 to f/10, the lens is crisp edge-to-edge, with sharpness that’s on par with a lesser prime or higher-end zoom. It’s definitely sharper than one would expect for an inexpensive zoom! At f/5.6 center sharpness is still very good, but the corners are just a tad soft; however, it’s still an excellent aperture. As you open up the aperture from there (which become increasingly available as you zoom out) the corners become softer, as does the center, and by f/3.5 you get mediocre (but still usable) results. Diffraction begins at f/11 but it isn’t really noticeable until f/16, and even then it’s not a huge deal.
The Fujinon XC 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 OIS II lens has an MSRP of $400 brand new, and I would never pay that amount for it. You can find the lens used pretty easily for under $200, and I’ve seen them as cheap as $100. I was planning to sell mine for somewhere around $150-$125, and for that price it’s well worth having, even if you only use it occasionally. It’s inexpensive, lightweight, has a great focal length range, can focus close and is quite sharp when in a narrow range of apertures. It has some flaws, but they can be worked around. It’s certainly possible to capture great photographs using this cheap zoom. While Fujifilm made this lens cheap, they didn’t sacrifice on the optics, and it becomes obvious in use that this is indeed a Fujinon lens.