A multi-part ramble about Fujifilm’s newest prime lens:
the Fujinon XF23mm F1.4 R
In the beginning
Since the X-Pro 1 was first announced, I have waited for a 35mm equivalent XF lens. To cover that focal length, I have owned and used an X100 and X100s. Very happily. However, there has been that desire for that same focal length for the XP1. Of course, having a faster lens than the f/2.0 on the X100(s) also seemed like a great idea.
During the past few weeks, fellow X-photogs Kale, Riley, Patrick and I have been passing the X-E2 from west to east and the XF23mm f/1.4 lens from east to west. Therefore, I was the last of the four to receive the new 35mm equivalent XF lens. All three of the other X’ers have posted reviews (links below) for the lens. And, no surprise, they all really, really like it. Some grumbles about the lens hood (it is big), but, overall, they like it and sound like they would like to purchase a copy for themselves.
Great lens, but why bother reviewing it?
That was my feeling, even before receiving it. There are plenty of glowing reviews of the lens and I doubted that I could add anything useful to the chorus. For me, it was more of a question of would I find it useful enough to consider adding it to my collection, when I already use the X100s a lot on the street and for work.
In the lead up to receiving the XF23mm, I had been testing the XF14mm as well as shooting lots with various focal lengths. As a consequence, I felt a bit unfocused (sorry about that!) and didn’t seem to be seeing the world from any particular focal length. You know what I mean. If I spend a lot of time shooting with one focal length, I also start to see the world that way and when I switch lenses, the world appears a very strange place indeed.
Upon attaching the XF23mm to my XP1, I just wasn’t feeling it. The flat (crap) light wasn’t helping, but anyway, I wasn’t feeling it. I took the lens on the XP1 to the same cemetery that I visited two weeks ago with the X-E2 and 135mm Zeiss. That day, there was great light with lots of contrast. I shot from the dark side as much as possible, which always seems to make me (and Ted Grant) happy. This time, I concentrated on the remaining great Fall colour and tried to avoid the flat grey sky. Of course, at 35mm that is much more difficult than with 200mm. I also wanted to shoot wide open or close to it. The low light did help there!
The subsequent shots were colourful, if a little flat (crap light). The lens proved to be pretty sharp at f/1.4 and sharp at f/2.0. So, that extra stop, over the X100(s), is noticeable and if I was shooting lots of indoor events, in low light, I would be inclined to pick it up. Oh, I do shoot lots of events in low light…
As it turned out, upon arriving at work on Friday, I found out there was media advisory for that morning which meant I would be shooting in the press theatre. I shoot lots of events there and a 35mm POV would be good for wider shots and the fast lens a benefit indoors. Well, I screwed up my metering and didn’t end up with results with which I was completely happy. (Note to self, spotlights play havoc with metering on wide lenses! Switch to spot metering.) However, I did get some OK black-and-white shots of the event.
Early results show good colour, sharpness and focus. In fact, I liked the manual focusing a lot as it is achieved via a push/pull ring that let’s you switch between AF and MF quickly. As usual, MF with focus peaking proved to be the best option for me. So, why my ambivalence? Why wasn’t I madly in love with this lens? I think I needed to take it on the street and see what it could do…
On the street
Normally, I don’t even try to focus on the street. I usually rely upon the “f/8 and be there” principle. However, today I took the XF23mm lens out for a round of observational documentation, and I started by using AF. The XP1 snapped quickly into focus every time in both Single and Continuous AF. Wow, that was impressive. As it is pretty difficult to shoot from the hip and use AF at the same time, I abandoned that strategy as soon as I felt that I had a good number of test images. Ah, that’s better! Back at f/8 and set to focus by the distance scale on the lens (nice touch Fujifilm!), I strolled around looking for subjects, near and far. Yeah. I really like that scale on the barrel of the lens. Once I had calibrated it with a little focus peaking, I confidently set my distance by rotating the focus ring based upon the distance markings.
The really strange thing about shooting with the XP1 and the XF23mm on the streets is that it the camera/lens combo felt BIG. I know. They really aren’t large, but with the lens hood on the XF23, there is a fair bit of gear in your hand. I have grown accustomed to the size and feel of the X100(s) on the street and that certainly is colouring my impression of the XF23mm on the XP1. I twisted the lens hood off for a bit, but replaced it when I was shooting into the sun. Speaking of which, there is very little flare when shooting into the sun. Good lens and/or lens hood design; it clearly works.
After an hour of strolling and shooting, I felt better about the XF23mm and life in general. Perhaps the fact that the sun emerged for the first time in days and there were shadows might have helped elevate my mood. Of course, working with a great lens and focal length in that light does make life worth living!
Conclusion? What Conclusion?
This is one sweet lens. I can see how useful it would be for work and would love to have it on one body, while I have a longer lens on a second body. Fast, accurate and sharp, the XF23mm f/1.4 lens is a desirable piece of glass. However, I can’t imagine that I will purchase one too soon as I have the focal length covered and no second X-body upon which to put it. Bottom line, I really liked working with the lens and would like to hang on to it for, oh, about, forever. Hmmm, I don’t think that will fly with Fujifilm…
That might be them calling now.
Canadian X-Photographers write about the XF23mm lens:
FUJINON LENS XF23mmF1.4 R specs.Notes: all photos created with the Fujifilm X-Pro 1 and the XF23mm f/1.4 lens. I have captioned the photos with exposure info, where I thought that it might be useful. Postscript: Apparently, the Fujinon XF23mm is a great lens for capturing charming young babies, indoors, at night. Reason enough to love it.