Last week my girlfriend and I travelled to the city of Umeå in northern Sweden. Because she is going to live there for a while, most of our baggage space was used for her stuff, but I did manage to cram some of my equipment into the Loka used as cabin luggage. My small insert was filled with my XT-1, the 16-55 2.8, and the 12, 18 and 35 mm primes. A small table top tripod was hidden somewhere in the bag. As it happened, I could have left the primes at home, as I didn’t touch them during our stay.
Photographically speaking, my intentions were kind of vague. I wanted to enjoy the weekend together and not focus on my camera the whole time. I also wanted, if I got the chance, to test the 16-55 a bit in terms of quality, versatility and handling. And I wanted to come back with a few keepers. Turns out I did all that.
My original intention was to bring a full sized tripod in our main luggage, but since both our packs were already close to their maximum weight, we decided to leave it at home at the last minute. Imagine my feelings when on Sunday evening we found out (after consulting several apps and a local facebook group) that it was the perfect moment to try and see the northern lights. After waiting until it was completely dark we walked a short distance to the nearby lake (Nydalasjön), where we imaged the best view would be. And boy were we rewarded.
I had been in northern Sweden before, but cloud cover spoiled every chance of seeing the Aurora on that occasion. This time we hadn’t really prepared, but were just lucky. From the frozen lake we had a beautiful view of the northern sky and from the moment we were there to the moment we left (some 90 minutes later), we were mesmerized by the array of colours displayed. I thanked my impulse to bring the table top tripod with me and managed some decent shots. It was a beautiful night.
Apart from some nice ice sculptures caused by melting, I didn’t really use the camera much the next days, until during my flight home (sadly having to leave my girlfriend in Umeå) I had an eight hour stopover in Stockholm. Here I could focus on photography, but the keepers were elusive until I reached the royal palace in the Gamla Stan. Pools of water had formed in front of the palace’s façade and it was a nice photographic puzzle to combine the reflection of the palace with the guards in front of it. I ended up with a few keepers. This was also the first time I used the Fuji profile ‘classic chrome’ extensively, and I enjoyed the results.
So, how fared the 16-55? Well, the image quality was superb. There is not much to say about it, other than that, since I used it at smaller apertures most of the time, the 18-135 and 18-55 probably could have made similar images. I did enjoy the wider view of 16 mm though, and this was definitely a pro. One of the main reasons I chose the 16-55 instead of the 18-55 (which is, let’s be honest, a lot more portable) is the weather sealing. This could be a huge bonus in the cold and wet north of Sweden, but on this occasion I didn’t really need it.
I used the 16-55 with the large XT-1 grip, so the whole package was rather hefty. I didn’t feel much of a difference with the 18-135 though (although if you weigh the two options, you’ll probably find a few hundred grams difference), and it never became a problem or even a bother. If you really want to travel light, the 18-55 would be a better option, but the relatively slow aperture at tele and the maximum wide angle of 18 mm would be a drawback. If I can find a relatively cheap 18-55 I may decide to add it to my lens collection, since the light weight and compact form make it the ideal travel lens when little space is available (for instance my trip to Rome in june).
Did I miss the 18-135? (I had to sell that lens to finance the 16-55). There were a few times I missed a bit of reach (while photographing wild reindeer in the fields north of Umeå the 135 mm would have come in handy), but all in all: no. The image quality and the 16 mm wide angle (which I found I used more than extreme tele) were to me enough to warrant the switch.
So, a nice stay in northern Sweden, some nice keepers for the collection, mixed with the sad feeling of missing my girlfriend for some time. And the northern lights as a bonus!