With the (mostly) positive reception to the Fujifilm 35mm F2 WR lens, following its launch earlier this year, the announcement a sibling 23mm F2 WR lens was in development caused quite a stir amongst Fuji X-Mount shooters. So much so, that when the lens finally started shipping, supply quickly became an issue, with many struggling to get hold of this prized new lens. But now the lens is finally hitting mainstream retailers in decent numbers, I thought it would be a good time to take a proper look at Fujifilm's latest lens. Last week, the perfect opportunity arose, when assignments took me to London, Paris, Athens, and Dubai, all in the space of a single week, allowing me to really test the lens and see how it stacked up, especially compared to other lenses in the X-Mount range.
The most obvious immediate difference between the new 23mm F2 WR lens, and the older Fujifilm 23mm F1.4, is the size. The new lens is noticeably smaller and more compact than the original, especially with the lens hood attached. Although both lenses offer the same 35mm equivalent field-of-view, a firm favourite of many photographers, the F2 version has a more sleek, almost pocketable, profile compared to the heft and more traditional looks of the original. That said, I did find the the look of the new lens a little odd. Of course, this is purely subjective, and others may prefer the new “rocket" shape design, but personally I prefer the more traditional barrel style lens design. On camera though, the compact nature of this lens definitely helps create a more stealthy setup, which will be of particular appeal to street photographers, looking to blend in with the crowds.
As we have come to expect from Fujifilm, build quality is excellent. Made up of 10 elements in six groups, with an all metal construction, this thing is built like a tank. I certainly didn’t have any concerns about its ability to survive the rigours of the open road. As WR suffix suggests, the lens is both weather and dust resistant, and Fuji claim it will function in temperatures as low as -10°C / 14°F, features which will be welcomed by many outdoor photographers. I was able to test this for myself when I found myself shooting in the middle of a sand storm, close to the Oman border. The lens held up admirably, even when faced with the finest grains of sand from the desert dunes. The aperture ring of the 23mm F2 WR allows has just the right amount of resistance to it, requiring a define action to change aperture, in clicks of one third stops. Some of the other Fuji lenses (the 56mm F1.2 especially) have felt a little too smooth which, for me at least, has resulted in a few instances of accidental changes in aperture. The ever-so-slightly wider manual focus ring also represents a slight improvement over the 35mm F2 WR which, whilst definitely usable, still felt a little too narrow.
Autofocus is one area where the 23mm F2 WR lens really stands out. The autofocus on this thing is fast. I mean REALLY fast. In their press release, Fuji claim, "the lens can focus in an astonishing 0.05 seconds.” In my real world testing I had no way of verifying this claim and besides, most photographers take these kinds of blanket statements with a huge pinch of salt, but certainly I found the autofocusing of this lens to be noticeably faster when compared to other lenses in the Fuji line up. How much faster I will leave to others to decide, but faster none-the-less.
Of course, the only thing which really matters, when it comes to a camera lens, is image quality. If the images suck, the lens sucks, full stop. Happily I found this lens produced beautiful images, which remained incredibly sharp with wonderful bokeh, throughout the aperture range. I did experience some slight corner softness when shooting wide open at F2. Honestly though, I had to really search for this softness, and I suspect most won’t find this to be an issue in every day usage. For me, the bokeh produced by the 23mm F1.4 is slightly more pleasing than the F2 version, but the difference isn’t by much. This is partly due to the nine aperture blades of the F2, compared to the seven blades of the original F1.4. Those extra blades go some way towards making up for that wider aperture of the F1.4 version. Where you may miss that wider aperture, though, is in low light situations. Even at F2, on a couple of occasions I found myself wishing I had the extra stop of light offered by the F1.4. Those occasions weren’t often, but they did occur.
Using the 23mm F2 WR along side the 35mm F2 WR felt very natural. The lenses work very well together and, with both using the same 43mm filter size, I definitely appreciated the ease of switching filters between the two, without having to mess around with step-down rings. The bayonet style fitting of the 23mm F2 WR lens hood feels a little more substantive than the screw-in hood of the 35mm F2 WR, but both are a little plasticy and it would have been nice to see a little more effort when compared to the quality build of the lenses themselves.
One last consideration worth nothing, is price. At around $450, from most retailers, the 23mm F2 WR is a substantially cheaper (often as much as 45% cheaper) than the F1.4 version. And yet, in my real world testing I found the new lens to be almost as good, and in some cases actually better, than the older lens. Someone looking for an X-Mount 23mm lens right now should really think whether the large difference in price with worth the very minor difference in performance of these two lenses.
Over the course of the last week, I have really put this little lens through it’s paces. I have taken it from the cold and wet winter streets of London, all the way across Europe, right to the dusty heat of the Dubai desert. Throughout that time I found myself really impressed with the it’s performance and versatility. Small enough to be used discreetly for street photography, but rugged enough to cope with whatever the weather could throw at it. Certainly I can see it pretty much permanently attached to my X-T2 for some time to come.
In recent years, Fujifilm has been proving themselves to be very active in their lens development, with the company now boasting a fairly comprehensive range of lenses. Which of those lenses an individual photographer might go for very much depends on their personal style, but at this price point, and with the amount of versatility it offers, the 23mm F2 WR is probably one of those must-have lenses for the camera bag of anyone shooting a Fujifilm X series camera.
What I Liked:
Compact and Lightweight.
Lightning fast autofocus.
Affordable pricing, compared to other similar lenses.
What I Thought Could Be Improved:
Some corner softness at wide open apertures.
Cheap lens hood.
Slightly odd looks (although some may love it).