So here is probably the shortest review on a lens in the history of photography. Ready? Do you own a Fuji interchangeable X series camera? Yes? Go buy this lens. That's it. Not sure what else you need from me. The new XF 23mm F1.4 from Fuji is a BEAST. This thing renders stunning images and just gets out of the way. If you grab one lens before you go out to shoot all day, this is the one you’ll want. If you really want more detail, read on, otherwise, just go buy this thing and have fun.
Can a lens make you a better photographer? Of course not. But - a lens that is built beautifully, performs near flawlessly and produces great image quality can certainly grease the cogs.
I took the lens out on the cold streets of New York and threw what I could at it - this thing chewed it all up and asked for more. All images here just captured on the fly, no sharpening in post. I know it's hard to see close up detail on these shots, so I've cropped a couple at 100% .
There are two simple reasons to love this lens:
First, the focal length is ideal to cover a huge range of subjects and situations. Whatever you happen to be shooting, this has pretty much got you covered. Landscapes, street scapes, even some close up work and portraits. This thing covers the lot with it’s 35mm full frame equivalency. It’s no wonder the X100 and X100s come with the fixed 23mm (35 equivalent). It's faster than the lenses on those bodies though - wide open, this lens yodels from the mountain tops.
Secondly, and more importantly, this lens is beautifully crafted, operates brilliantly and delivers outstanding image quality. It’s like the holy trinity. Yes it’s $899 plus tax but in terms of value – it scores big. When I look at the price of a new Canon 35L – which is a great lens for sure – it doesn't give the same warm glow of value that this XF 23mm does.
So is this the perfect all day, every day prime? Consider this. Last month I had a couple of weeks with this lens, as well as the XF35mm and XF18mm while I tested them for the new XE-2 review I posted last month. At full frame equivalent, the XF 35mm is equivalent to about a 50, the XF 18mm is like a 28 and this XF 23mm is like a 35 or thereabouts.
When I looked back over the EXIF data for the shots I’d taken, I’d taken three times as many with the 23mm than the next closest lens. For me, that was pretty crazy. When I go out on the street and shoot, I’ll usually shoot 50mm full frame equivalent (which should have meant I was reaching for the XF 35mm). I was consistently shooting a totally different focal length to my normal comfortable happy place. Something weird was going on.
When I sat down and thought about what it was, I realized it was basically three things about the lens gave me a warm stirring in the loins and had me coming back for more, over the other primes I had access to.
1). Fast AF; zone focus-able
First, the lens is a superb match for the XE2 body – I wanted fast AF speed and it delivered. If you want to zone focus, you can use the depth of field and distance markers on the barrel. Pop the focus ring back and you automatically switch in and out of manual focus. I shot entirely with AF to test the speed on the XE-2, and it still was snappy enough to keep me out of trouble.
2). That Sweet 35
Second, I started to really love the focal length and the superb image quality I was getting. It was opening up the world and giving me a wider range than what I could normally cover with a 50mm equivalent, for a mix of street scenes and buildings, as well as people and portraits. For portraits, even when I pushed in, it still have me some of the environment which my 50 just couldn't get. To get more of the scene, I didn’t have to pull so far back either. It’s just like a sweet spot that it just hits that’s hard to describe. Coupled with the great IQ, I was like a kid in a candy store for the first time in my life, I couldn't stop using this thing.
This is more of a facet of the focal length than the lens per se – but, think about this. With a small mirrorless camera, the point is you want to go lean and light. Even with these small primes barely taking up any weight or size in a bag, I still preferred a one camera, one lens approach. You also might not be able to afford every prime in the range, so you might be thinking about which one lens to pick. After spending some time with the 23mm, I’m taking that over the 35mm I thought I was going to buy when I put in an order for my XE-2.
The 23mm was my one lens I kept gravitating to.
3). Image Quality To Blow Your Socks Off
Third – and really critical to the mix - the image quality coming out of the lens was so impressive that I didn’t want to take it off the camera. That’s not to say the performance of the other Fujinon lenses aren’t good – but this thing was just rendering things beautifully, it’s a beast.
What can I say about this lens that other more technical reviews haven’t already said? Not a lot but there are a few key features that are worth summarizing:
- Distance and DoF indicator on barrel - allows you to manually pre-focus
- Sharp – even wide open, generally sharp center to edge, no real vignetting, and chromatic aberration generally minimal
- Bokeh is smooth and sublime
- Snappy focus – when paired with the XE-2, this thing zips
- Build quality – all metal mount and quality barrel.
- Minimal lens distortion thanks to optical instead of digital correction
- Focus ring is buttery smooth but not loose
- Aperture ring on barrel connects you to the lens – nice clicks, smooth rotation. Feels intuitive.
- Size and weight – way heavier than the other lenses I've been used to on the XE-2. Still nothing compared to those DSLR primes you've got currently though.
- Lens hood is huge (a problem only for OVF users on the XPro1, as it will end up blocking part of the frame). The XE2 only has an EVF – but I still ditched the hood – just too big , protruded way too much and too conspicuous.
So there you have it. If you’re wondering about this lens – don’t; just work out how you can afford it then go and buy it.
As for me, it hasn’t made me a better photographer, but it has opened my eyes to how I see the world around me. If a lens can do that and still help me get the shot I want – I’m sold.
The new XF 23mm F1.4 R is available now priced at $899