Smooth Operator – Fuji XF 23mm f/1.4 R Lens
Just in from Japan, and due for release in the US and UK from next week, Fuji have finally delivered on the much anticipated 35mm equivalent lens for the X Series cameras. The XF 23mm f/1.4 R.
The new Fuji 23mm lens is a beast – as fast as the excellent Fuji 35mm lens (at f/1.4), but with the latest AF drive and pull focus ring from the 14mm.
The build quality feels superb – this lens is a chunky guy, with some reasonable heft, and a rather impressive girth. It takes a 62mm filter – which is annoying, as non of the other Fuji lenses I have take 62mm!
It also has a HUGE petal shaped hood – which no doubt is technically wonderful – but looks out of place on the Fuji X series retro bodies.
Maybe I’ll swap it out in time, for a smaller 3rd party hood…
Mounted on the X-Pro1, the camera really has a very nice weight and balance – especially with the Fuji grip attached. I also have a thump grip, and would recommend this to potential 23mm lens purchases, as it really helps to brace the heavier lens and camera body.
AF is fast and smooth – manual focus feel is excellent, and the focus ring is very smooth to operate.
One downside of the large lens body (and hood), is that it protrudes into the OVF by a huge amount.
Even taking into account the smaller image area within the bright lines – you’re loosing the ability to see the bottom right quadrant of the frame.
This pretty much forces you to use EVF if you want to see what is in frame accurately. A vented hood would improve things somewhat, I might experiment at a later date.
The first day with the 23mm had me heading out in the morning, to find some street life in the Hillcrest area of San Diego.
The day was cloudy with some sun, and it was immediately apparent that (just like the 35mm Lens) you can’t shoot wide open in sunlight with this lens. The X-Series shutter speed will not go high enough when shooting at the base RAW speed of ISO200. (Maxes out at 1/4000).
You are left to shoot at f/2.8 or slower, or use a 3 stop ND filter, or shoot only indoors or in the shade at f/1.4. As my ND filter was still on it’s way, I made the best of things and looked for subjects out of full sun.
Straight away two things are clear.
- The area of focus is pin sharp, even wide open
- The bokeh is creamy and smooth – better than the 35mm I suspect, and definitely a winning feature.
Stop down a little to f/2.8, and the whole image is razor sharp
This is a key feature of fast glass – the ability to shoot fast, but sharp, when stopped down just a little from wide-open. The 23mm does not disappoint.
Even at f/1.6 things start to sharpen up and the contrast improves – then lens starts to take on a Zeiss look when used for B&W.
The creamy bokeh helps out of focus colors to smoothly saturate and grad, making for a very pleasing image.
Fuji’s engineers have spoken about the ‘look’ they try to build into lens designs – it’s more than resolution or distortion correction, it’s a feeling that an image taken with that lens imparts to the viewer.
Popping inside, using available light, the lens gives you the ability to shot with confidence without flash – here at f/2 to give enough DOF for the victim and barber to be sharply in focus.
Stopping down to the optimal f/8 – and the lens is super crisp, with excellent saturation and edge to edge consistency.
Color rendition looks to be on par with the Fuji 35mm lens, and better than the 27mm pancake (as you’d expect given the price differential).
Time to had back to catch the mail man, who has delivered my 3-stop ND filter from Hoya.
With the filter fitted, I head out again, this time to Oceanside CA – and I am now free to shoot wide-open in any lighting condition.
Now the lens is in it’s element – the ND filter frees the photographer to shoot at will, and should be considered an essential accessory for this lens.
Using a good quality coated ND filter means that IQ and color are not effected.
Even wide open, the lens delivers impressive detail, and of course great subject/background separation.
Again, the smoothness of the bokeh is really impressive, and will really sell this lens despite it’s not inconsiderable price tag ($899 List).
The 35mm equivalent lens is a real favorite for street shooting, and the AF speed allows you to shoot from the hip at f/2.8 and be confident that you can grab the shot, without ever breaking stride.
For more traditional landscape and architecture work, the lens does a super job – the light in the scene seems to glow in the final image.
In post processing the images, I did note some CA when wide open. This is easy enough to spot and fix in post (I use ACR for this), but it’s a little disappointing. I know as you go wider it’s inevitable, but I guess the 35mm lens spoiled us all with it’s incredible clarity.
Images process well, and the bokeh stays clean and smooth unless you overdo the structure adjustments.
I shoot 100% RAW – convert in ACR into CS6 – then use NIK filters for sharpening, color work, and black and white work.
So far it’s two thumbs up for this lens – the only real issue I faced was getting my brain around visualizing the 35mm field of view again. It takes a while to tune your eye back in, and see in 35mm.
I’ll keep adding my 23mm images to a Flickr set: