Fujinon XF 23mm f/2 R WR: ’Xtra on the Speed Charts

 Fujinon XF 23mm f/2 R WR

Fujinon XF 23mm f/2 R WR

The new Fujinon 23mm f/2 R WR lens may be one stop slower than its more expensive sibling, but a revamped AF experience makes this a redefining moment for the X system. Raj Lalwani reports.

Fujifilm has always served the photographer who enjoys the 35mm focal length. Whether it was the X100 kind of fixed lens cameras, or the excellent 23mm f/1.4 lens for the interchangeable-lens X-system cameras, Fuji has served the right accompaniments to their rangefinderesque camera bodies.

This is why the new 23mm f/2 R WR becomes interesting. Is it a budget version of the f/1.4 lens? Does it compromise on quality while being far more economical? Does the relatively simple optical construction of ten elements in six groups improve focusing? I was keen to find out.

The design philosophy of the new f/2 lenses by Fuji is interesting because it mirrors a classic design, the Leica Summicron series. Both the 35mm f/2 R WR and this 23mm f/2 R WR are similarly compact in size, with the barrel of the lens tapering towards the front. This has been done keeping the X-Pro2 in mind, as one realises that even while using the Optical Viewfinder, the front end of the lens does not obstruct the view in any way. At 180g, this is a featherweight lens, though being someone who has large hands, I personally prefer the feel of the beefier 23mm f/1.4 lens, which weighs 300g.

Another ergonomic aspect where the elder sibling of the 23mm lens wins is the focusing experience. The manual focus ring is well designed… it takes up a majority of the small form factor of the lens, but one misses the push-pull activation from AF to MF that the f/1.4 lens has. I also believe that Fujifilm missed a trick by not including distance markings or a depth of field scale (both of which are there in the f/1.4 lens) This is a huge oversight because one does see street photographers gravitating towards this lens because of its focal length, the discreet form factor and the ability to use quick and silent AF, when one is not using zone focusing. Though the lens is extremely tiny, its build quality is excellent, with an all metal construction. The lens is also weather and dust resistant, unlike the more expensive f/1.4 lens.

Despite the light levels being abysmally low, the 23mm with the X-Pro2 focused quickly, something that wouldn’t have been possible with the older lens. Exposure: 1/125sec at f/2 (ISO 12,800). Photograph/Raj Lalwani

Despite the light levels being abysmally low, the 23mm with the X-Pro2 focused quickly, something that wouldn’t have been possible with the older lens. Exposure: 1/125sec at f/2 (ISO 12,800). Photograph/Raj Lalwani

Sharpness is very good wide open in the centre. While the f/1.4 lens is sharper (when both lenses are used at f/2), the difference isn’t as much as one would expect. Stop down to f/5.6, and the 23mm f/2 is as good as its more expensive counterpart, even marginally better. This is a very sharp lens, with f/5.6 and f/8 giving peak sharpness from centre to edge, ideal for the street photographer who would want to use complex layering within the frame and use the large depth of field on offer.

Control over flare is excellent, and in extreme light situations, the flare that appears has a cinematic ghost pattern kind of look. Admirably, there is no loss of contrast or colour fidelity. There is some fringing visible, but it is something that is correctible in post. The control over vignetting is excellent, and much better than the f/1.4 version. Bokeh is circular, courtesy a nine-bladed diaphragm, but it tends to be a little busy, especially if the blurred elements are in the foreground.

The autofocus is where the 23mm f/2 truly shines. The 23mm f/1.4 was faster than other Fuji primes that were released prior to it, but it still wasn’t as snappy as the competition. On the other hand, the 23mm f/2 is significantly faster than any other Fujinon lens. A part of the credit goes to the much improved focusing system in the X-Pro2, but even while using slower X cameras like the X-Pro1, the 23mm f/2 locks focus way faster than other lenses, on the same body. Focusing while using the smallest focusing point is quite quick, and if you increase the AF point size, the AF gets more rapid. In low light, focusing isn’t as quick as a DSLR of a similar price point would be, but it’s quite impressive, by mirrorless standards.

The 23mm f/2 is an excellent lens. At a price of approx. Rs. 41,000, it is a lot cheaper than the 23mm f/1.4, with way faster focusing and added weathersealing. There are some optical and ergonomic compromises, but the far superior AF will appeal to street photographers, who wouldn’t mind sacrificing one stop of depth control. That said, there is no doubt that both lenses have their spot under the sun, and considering the new lens’ AF in low light setting a new milestone for the Fuji X system, under the stars, as well.

This article originally appeared in the March 2017 issue of Better Photography.

Dedicated aperture ring, silent AF
Good sharpness, very quick AF, slight fringing
Build Quality
Metal construction, weathersealed, sturdy
No distance markings, no DOF scale, lack of push-pull AF/MF mechanism
Warranty & Support
Two year warranty, wide service network
MRP Rs. 41,095
Who should buy it? Street photographers and those shooting in extreme, action-packed conditions.
Why? This is the fastest focusing lens in the X system, though photographers of certain genres may miss f/1.4.
Tags: Raj Lalwani, Review, Lens, Fujinon, March 2017, Fujinon XF 23mm f/2 R WR