Fujinon XF 23mm f/1.4: Great ‘Xpectations

 

 

The Fujinon 23mm f/1.4 lens gives a field of view similar to a 35mm lens.

The Fujinon 23mm f/1.4 lens gives a field of view similar to a 35mm lens.

Raj Lalwani tests the Fujinon XF 23mm f/1.4 R to see if the lens recreates the X100 experience on the company’s interchangeable-lens cameras.  

The Fujinon XF 23mm f/1.4 is a lens that built up a lot of chatter around its release, especially amongst those who had used the X100 in the past and enjoyed the focal length that it offers. Personally too, I have always enjoyed the 35mm way of seeing too (the 23mm on the Fuji APS-C sensor gives a field of view similar to a 35mm lens).

Features
In fact, there are plenty of photographers through the ages who have shot almost all their work with a 35mm lens. For someone who is so single-minded and clear in his choice of vision, it is an interesting choice to make. Does he simply buy a fixed-lens camera like the X100S or does he invest in a separate body and lens combination? Is this 23mm f/1.4 R lens superior enough to justify its extra cost?

The distortion control and sharpness towards the corners is excellent, despite shooting this at the widest aperture. There is some chromatic aberration, but it is relatively well controlled. Photograph/Raj Lalwani

The distortion control and sharpness towards the corners is excellent, despite shooting this at the widest aperture. There is some chromatic aberration, but it is relatively well controlled. Photograph/Raj Lalwani

The f/1.4 aperture makes this the fastest lens of its type in the mirrorless world, giving both, a low light advantage as well as superior bokeh. There is only one aspherical element in a rather conservative optical construction, and I was interested to see what effect this would have on the image quality.

Handling
While the build quality seems very solid, the lens is not weather sealed. Fujifilm really missed a trick here… the X-T1 is weather sealed, and word is that all future high-end lenses from the company will have a similar degree of weather resistance. There is no harm in using the 23mm in a light rainshower, but anything beyond that and I wouldn’t want to take a risk. With the lens hood on, the lens just becomes unnaturally bulky, almost negating the X-system advantage of being inconspicuous.

Almost every manufacturer has a 35mm equivalent fixed lens, and this one almost beats all of them… only the full frame Sigma Art series lens is optically better.

The solid, one-third stop marked aperture ring of the lens is similar to the 50mm f/1.4 and 18mm f/2 lenses. It is actually more rewarding to use manual focus with this lens—shoot at f/8 and the focal length ensures that you get a large depth-of-field for zone-focus street shooting, and if you are shooting at f/1.4, you will appreciate the various focusing aids that are in the X-T1 and the extreme precision that the large, well dampened focusing ring gives.

Performance
The 35mm field of view is where we’ve seen some fantastic optics by a variety of manufacturers. Fujifilm is up there with the best of them. The Fujinon 23mm is incredibly sharp through the aperture range. Even at f/1.4, the lens is tack sharp and the bokeh, superbly smooth and creamy.

Though this is not the ideal lens for a close-up head-and-shoulders portrait, the results are surprisingly good. This is how blurred the background can get, when shooting up close at f/1.4. Photograph/Raj Lalwani

Though this is not the ideal lens for a close-up head-and-shoulders portrait, the results are surprisingly good. This is how blurred the background can get, when shooting up close at f/1.4. Photograph/Raj Lalwani

I was largely shooting without the hood and the control over flare is fantastic. Longitudinal chromatic aberration is present at f/1.4, a problem we often see with fast wide lenses. There is some vignetting. If your subject is close to the corners, you may want to stop down the lens to around f/2. Distortion is virtually absent, even if there are faces towards the extreme corners.

This is the 100% view of the picture above. The centre sharpness at f/1.4 is excellent.

This is the 100% view of the picture above. The centre sharpness at f/1.4 is excellent.

The on-field shooting experience is excellent with the X-T1. Autofocus is appreciably quick and the only time it falters is when shooting into the light. That is a camera quirk though, not the lens’. With older bodies like the X-E1, AF is not as quick, but it’s usable if you can understand the Contrast Detect AF system and gauge when to override the focus on your own.

Conclusion
There is absolutely no doubt that the Fujinon 23mm f/1.4 is a stunning piece of optics. It does sound a little repetitive to say this—almost every Fuji XF lens we’ve tested has had us searching for new adjectives. But in a growing lineup of excellent lenses, the 23mm seems to be one of the very best.

At a price of nearly Rs. 70,000, one may say that the lens is expensive. After all, that’s the cost of an X100S camera. If you haven’t bought into the system yet and 35mm is the only field of view you see, it may be a tough choice. You can either get the X100S or pay double the amount of money to get this lens along with an X-E2/X-T1. But the extra investment is well worth it, considering the faster aperture, greater depth control, better low light capability and far better sharpness. Apart from the rather inexplicable move to leave out weather sealing, this lens is a winner.

Final Ratings
Features
Fast f/1.4 aperture, marked aperture ring
18/20

Performance
Some chromatic aberration, very sharp
33/35

Build Quality
Solid, metal barrel, not weather sealed
23/25

Ergonomics
Balances well on the X-T1, awkward hood
13/15

Warranty & Support
Two-year warranty, limited service centres
3/5

OVERALL: 90%
Value For Money: 3.5/5

Who should buy it?
Street and documentary photographers who have an X system camera.

Why?
The focal length and aperture make this a perfect match for the rangefinderesque Fujifilm bodies. Its quality is better than most other 35mm equivalent lenses too!

Tags: 35mm, Fuji, Fujifilm, Fujinon XF 23mm f/1.4, Raj Lalwani, Review, Test, X-T1, x100, X100S