I pride myself on being a careful, strategic consumer. When buying an automobile for instance, I research the market for weeks if not months, comparing features, and prices, narrowing down my choices to fewer and fewer models, before finally setting on a model to purchase.
I try to be just as thoughtful when buying photographic gear. I try to select my cameras and lenses meticulously; choosing equipment that I earnestly believe will allow me to make tangible improvements in my photographic output.
So, when Fujifilm released the new 23 mm f 1.4 lens; I was faced with a dilemma. I currently have a Fujifilm camera (the X100s) with exactly the same imager and focal length lens combination that would be possible were I to purchase the new $900 lens and mount it on on of my intechangeable lens Fuji’s. I’m certainly not a professional reviewer, and quite honestly, cannot justify the purchase of this lens merely for the purpose of its evaluation.
But I admit I was really curious. Justifying the purchase on the strength of the 1-stop advantage in light-gathering capability over the lens in my current camera, and definitely mindful that B and H Photo has a generous return policy, I figured I’d order the lens and give it a try to see whether it added anything to my photography.
Now, I am fully capable of sending back equipment that is superfluous. But I’m hanging onto this purchase, for it is a significantly different lens than the one on the X100s. And it definitely improves my imaging capabilities.
The XF 23 mm f 1.4, like all of the XF lenses is beautifully constructed, similar in design and build to the 14 mm lens that has garnered such rave reviews. I’ve read that these 2 lenses, along with the upcoming 57mm lens, are designed to represent a higher range of optics in the Fujifilm lens universe, with common characteristics of a focus distance indicator, a sliding focus ring that allows the quick selection of auto versus manual focus. Distortion in these lenses is also optically, rather than digitally corrected like the rest of the series. It’s unclear to me whether Fujifilm is just evolving their XF lens line, or deliberately creating a whole new line of professional-quality glass. The lenses are decidedly more expensive for instance, than the very high quality zoom lenses in the XF collection, lenses which one would imagine could be expensive to produce. I think they’re telling us something here.
Despite this, they are boxed and accessorized like they’re more plebian XF counterparts. The usual lens pouch and a familiar-looking scalloped petal lens hood are included in the usual black box.
The lens is considerably larger than the one permanently attached to the X100s, probably due to the larger aperture. It is dense and solid and matches nicely with the X Pro 1 (it’s a bit outsized for the XE-1).
In an attempt to try to justify the purchase of this expensive optic, it occurred to me that the extra light gathering ability will be very useful for event shooting, particularly event such as a wedding, where the presence of a photographer is at least welcome, and/or reimbursed. The smaller size, reduced intimidation factor, and quiet shutter of the X 100s may make it preferable for freelancing in a less structured environment. I set out to prove that this was the case.
A local pub, called the Ice House, was one of my first test sites. It has a low overall light level, but down lights at the bar, which do illuminate subjects in an interesting way. It has a mélange of color temperatures, which often make an advantageous to process images taken there in black and white. It is however, quite dark.
I quickly lined up some “models”, and obtained a number of images. This one is representative. Shot at f1.4, when printed, it reveals wonderful central sharpness, even wide open. This, and nice handling of the out of focus elements, gives images shot with the lens a uniquely 3-dimensional look, that I don’t remember observing in the X100/ X100s output (which is still very, very nice). The faster aperture, will allow me issue at lower ISO numbers, than would otherwise be possible at a given light level.
It seems bitingly sharp by f4, a fact, observed by multiple reviewers. I noted very little distortion, but I should very few brick walls or picket fences.
It focuses roughly as quickly, as the 14 mm lens, which is acceptable to me.
The 35 mm equivalent field of view produced by this lens with the APS is a lovely focal length, to my eye, much more “normal” than the alleged normal field of view at 50 mm. It is very natural whether being used for street photography where it is a classic focal length), shooting landscape, or shooting events. I find it a little wide for portraiture (the XF60 mm f2.4, is far preferable to me). With these 2 lenses I could probably ”get by” for 90 to 95% for the photography I do.
I shot an assortment images with the new lens attached to my X Pro 1 and then shot comparison images at the same apertures/settings with my X100s all were developed from RAW files using capture one and identical sharpening/noise reduction settings.
Here’s the shot:
Here’s the crops
Viewing the full files, I think it can be argued that the 23mm at f1.4 is a tad sharper than the lens on the X100s is at f2.0, but also the 100s looks slightly sharper at f5.6. Both are excellent performers.
So, I, guess I’m keeping this lens. I think a significantly increases the ”X” systems capabilities, and reinforces the reputation for optical excellence, that Fuji has garnered for its new lens line. When it’s easy to be seduced by the versatility and convenience of zoom lenses, this optic reminds me, just, how wonderful. It is to shoot with a very high quality prime lens.
At $900, with an X100s in the same camera bag, this lens is an extravagance. But I am convinced it’s a thoughtful, strategic extravagance.