Fujifilm's lineup of fast primes is what sets it apart in the world of mirrorless cameras. Starting with the amazing XF 35mm f/1.4, and following up with the XF 23mm f/1.4 and XF 56mm f/1.2, Fuji have continued to impress with their small, lightweight, fast, sharp primes. The XF 16mm f/1.4 (24mm equivalent field of view on full frame), long talked about, was released in May this year to the excitement of many Fuji shooters. But does it hold up to the other primes in Fuji's lineup?
Build Quality & Handling
As with the 23mm and 56mm offerings, the 16mm has a solid metal construction with a lot of glass packed into it's small frame. It feels good in the hand, unlike the increasing number of plasticky lenses we have been seeing from other manufacturers. The "WR" in the lens name denotes Weather Resistant, and so far it has been fine in dust and light rain. Overall, this lens feels like the almost $1000 you paid for it.
A solid click of the focus ring towards the camera, just like the 23mm f/1.4 and 14mm f/2.8, switches the lens to manual focus and reveals a depth of field scale, great for zone focusing. The ridged metal focus ring turns easily, and has a long throw of almost a half turn from it's minimum focus distance of 15cm (5.91") to infinity. To go with this, the aperture ring adjusts in 1/3 stop increments and has a light click between stops. It feels roughly the same as the aperture ring on the 23mm f/1.4, which is not a bad thing.
Autofocus is fast, and to me seems to be on par with the other primes in the lineup. It does have some hunting issues in low light, just like most of the Fuji lenses. However, in good light you'll find it snappy and accurate.
Size and Weight
The 16mm weighs in at 375g (13.23oz), just between the 23mm and 56mm lenses. It is also slightly larger than the 23mm and the 56mm. Still, like both of these lenses, it feels like a perfect balance on the X-T1. On my slightly lighter X-E1, which does not have the SLR-style finger-grip, it does feel a little front heavy. In terms of size, it lens is comparable to the 56mm f/1.2, being almost exactly the same length and just a hair wider at the front end.
As expected of a Fuji prime, the lens is fantastic. It's sharp and contrasty wide open, and just gets better as you stop down. Distortion and chromatic aberrations are well controlled, especially for a lens this wide and fast. Some purple and green fringing can be seen in extremely contrasty scenes, but is easily corrected for.
Quick and dirty sharpness test, left to right - f/1.4, f/2, f/2.8
Flare is extremely well controlled, and there is very little contrast lost, even when shooting into the sun. The one time I did see a lot of artifacts and contrast reduction was when shooting the palace gate scene below. When the camera was panned to include the oncoming traffic with headlights shining directly into the lens, some images became extremely flat and had scattered light all through them. This is an extreme case, and to be expected.
The large f/1.4 aperture makes shooting in dim light a breeze, but also gives the option of shallow depth of field on this wide lens. The bokeh is quite good for a wide angle lens, and in most situations is not distracting at all. With an image like the one below, you can see a slight amount of 'nervousness' to the out of focus areas, but this only creeps in at slightly longer focus distances.
In the Field
I have been using this lens for just over a month now, and have appreciated its versatility for the way I like to shoot. I have always found the "classic" 23mm (35mm field of view on full frame) to be neither here nor there, and have finally found the focal length that would be my walk-around. On my two week stint in Rakhine State, Myanmar, I used this lens extensively for capturing wider scenes with human elements, and in the tight winding tunnels under some of the temples and pagodas. The ability to have a human element tower over the landscape, and give a sense of inclusion was the greatest benefit of the wider focal length.
On a recent assignment to Penang, Malaysia, I found the same thing using it to photograph the durian farmers. Moreover, the narrow depth of field allow me to separate my subject from the background, even with the wide angle of view. It's also been great for street scenes in a documentary project I have been working on in Seoul. I've also taken a liking to portraits shot with the lens. Having to get close to your subjects gives a sense of intimacy and proximity that longer lenses simply do not give.
This lens performs excellently in all areas, feels good in the hand, and balances well on the X-T1. Fuji just keep hitting home runs with their series of primes. I have been trying to fault the 16mm, but I really can't come up with anything. Along with the 23mm, 35mm, and 56mm, I don't ever feel at a loss for a quality prime at any of my commonly used focal lengths. If you're on the fence about this lens, and are looking for a wide angle lens for the Fuji system, I can't recommend it highly enough.