Fujifilm XF 23mm f2 Review

 

DSC_3901-1024x683 Fujifilm XF 23mm f2 Review

My love affair with Fuji started with the original X100 and I used that beautiful machine for years until I dropped it on the floor one evening, after shooting in the snow and my fingers were frozen. The camera survived the fall but the LCD was damaged and the viewfinder had a crack in it, so I decided to update to a new camera. I ordered the Fuji XT1 but my biggest disappointment was that I could not get a 35mm equivalent lens at that time. The camera came with a 50mm equivalent lens. I lusted after the Fujifilm XF23mm 1.4f but it was out of my price range for a lens that I would never use at work. Skip ahead a few years later, and I have upgraded my Fuji XT1 to the Fuji XE3 and this time the kit lens that came with the camera is the Fujifilm XF 23mm 2f lens and I can finally get back to the focal length that I used to love so much.

 

DSC_3901-1024x683 Fujifilm XF 23mm f2 Review

To be perfectly honest, I still think the Fuji X100 is a sexier camera than the Fuji XE3 and it is just a tiny bit smaller as well.

 

Opening up the Fuji XE3 box, with the new camera and lens was great but I was disappointed that the lens did not have its own box. Just a white cardboard box, so nothing exciting to unbox. My first impressions when I held the lens in my hand was “Its kind light”. But I have been shooting a lot of film lately and using the old Nikkor manual focus primes so it is an unfair comparison.

 

DSC_3901-1024x683 Fujifilm XF 23mm f2 Review

The lens has an unusual design but it is still a good looking lens in my opinion.

 

For the next few months, the FujiFilm XF 23mm F2 lens became my walk around lens and it traveled with me to 5 countries, I put the lens through its paces.  First up is the technical specifications of the lens.

Technical Specifications

Focal length 35mm
Maximum aperture f/2
Minimum aperture f/16
Field of view 63.4°
Weight 180g
Dimensions 52mm x 60mm
Optical construction 10 elements in 6 groups
Aperture blades 9
Filter diameter 43mm
Minimum focus distance 22cm
Hood Supplied with the lens
Mount XF mount

DSC_3901-1024x683 Fujifilm XF 23mm f2 Review

The all metal body gives the feeling of sturdiness that you want from a lens. It feels well made and I think it could take some abuse in the field.

 

The lens has a slightly less traditional design compared to most lens. The lens tends to taper from the mount towards the front element, but I kind of like it. It is constructed out of metal and feels tough for a new modern lens but it cannot compare it to the older Nikkor lens that I used with my Nikon’s. I would say that the lens feels about the same as all my other Fujifilm lens. So it is pretty good for a modern-day lens. The lens comes with a very small lens hood that looks good but I miss the square metal hoods that Fuji started off within the begin with their X series cameras. The last awesome thing is that this lens is weather resistant. Not much use to me as my only Fuji body at the moment is not weather resistant, but I do shoot a lot in the rain with my Nikons so, in the future, the lens might get some exercise in the rain when I update to a newer camera body.

 

DSC_3901-1024x683 Fujifilm XF 23mm f2 Review

Everything in this lens is metal, giving you some confidence when handling it. I tend to be rough with my gear but I think this lens can take it. I have had the lens for just over one year now and it still looks fairly new.

 

On a small camera like the Fuji XE3, the lens is small and the camera feels well balanced. The aperture ring on the lens is about the best I have felt on a Fuji lens. I wish they all had aperture rings like this.

 

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I really love the aperture ring on this lens.

 

Towards the front of the lens, there is the focus ring. The focus ring is the same old focus by wire system that Fuji has had in their system since day one. Personally, I hate this kind of manual focusing so I never use it. I regard all modern Fuji lens as autofocus lens. If I want to use manual focus, then I will pick one of my older Nikkor lenses and use it with an adaptor.

 

DSC_3901-1024x683 Fujifilm XF 23mm f2 Review

Some Fujifilm Xf lens I will be comparing this lens too.

 

Now on to the big question. How does this lens render and more importantly, how does it compare to some other lens that is similar to it? This is a tough question to answer. But I will try my best to answer it by comparing it to three other lenses in the Fuji lineup, which will be the Fujifilm 10-24mm F4, the Fujifilm 18-55mm 2.8-4 and the Fujifilm 27mm f2.8 pancake lens.

 

DSC_3901-1024x683 Fujifilm XF 23mm f2 Review

One of the first photos that I took with this lens. I got the camera late in the afternoon and went to the pub to have a quick pint that evening and take some quick snapshots. It is hard to find a free model in China but finding a pint of beer to shoot is much easier.

 

Before I bought this lens, I had read about how good this lens was. Everyone seemed to love it. No one had anything bad to say about it, so I was expecting a gem of a lens. But expectations can be so cruel, especially when you are excited about a piece of new gear. The same day that my new Fuji XE3 arrived, I put the lens onto the body and started snapping away indoors, but I paid very little attention to the lens, to be honest. I was more excited to test out the new camera body and playing around with the high iso and marveling at how clean the files of the camera were at iso 6400. That new camera lust had taken over all my reasoning and I was just a happy snapper, shooting anything that moved for the next few days, but as I looked at the pictures on my PC, something just did not felt right about the pictures. I wasn’t enjoying the photos that I was capturing and I figured that it must be the new camera that was giving me the problems because everyone loved the lens online, so I kept on shooting with it, figuring that it would just take me some time to adjust to the new system.

 

DSC_3901-1024x683 Fujifilm XF 23mm f2 Review

It is hard for me to pinpoint what I don’t like about this lens, but most images that I shoot with it, leave me feeling like something is not quite right. Something is missing.

 

I used the lens for about 3 weeks in China, but winter was coming to China, which means lots of haze in the air and it is difficult to shoot outdoors with the pollution. I left soon afterward and went to South Africa for a little holiday, and then went to Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and back to China for work. During those three months, I found that I hardly used the Fujifilm XF 23mm F2 lens and I just did not like the images I was capturing with the lens. So let us take a quick look at how this lens renders, the sharpness and the autofocus of the lens.

 

DSC_3901-1024x683 Fujifilm XF 23mm f2 Review

I guess this is a great lens for street photography, but I am not a street shooter, so I have not enjoyed this lens too much.

 

DSC_3901-1024x683 Fujifilm XF 23mm f2 Review

I am a stubborn guy and kept using this lens for a while, even though I did not like the images I was getting. I kept blaming the Fuji XE3 camera and Lightroom, thinking it was not rendering the files correctly.

 

At first glance, the lens seems good. It renders images nicely, they are mostly sharp(More on this later) and the colors are good. So far so good, so why did I not enjoy using the lens? Was it the autofocus?

 

DSC_3901-1024x683 Fujifilm XF 23mm f2 Review

It is hard to find flaws with the lens, there is almost no Chromatic aberrations, almost no vignetting, and it focuses well in good light. Even shooting directly into the sun, and there is no flaring as well.

 

Well, to be honest, this is probably one of Fuji’s best auto-focusing lens in good light. It is fast, accurate, and  I had almost no misses with it. As far as autofocus in good light goes, it is great. In low light, shooting at concerts and music festivals, it hunts back and forth, as all Fuji lens do. This is most likely the camera though and not the lenses. Most mirrorless cameras struggle with the low lighting conditions that I work in, so I am not surprised by this. So if the rendering is good and the autofocus is good, then is there something else wrong with the lens? Well if I shoot into some bright light, are there any chromatic aberrations like the Fujifilm 18mm F2 lens?

 

DSC_3901-1024x683 Fujifilm XF 23mm f2 Review

I shoot this when I was doing a test of the metakon lens turbo and I wanted to compare it to the Nikkor 50mm 1.2. If the lens was going to have any chromatic aberrations, it should be easy to find when shooting into the sun, but I could not find any. So it is all good so far.

 

I enjoy shooting into the sun, I have been doing it for years and I went through all my photos with this lens, and I could not find any chromatic aberrations with this lens. Even hunting for some shots with vignetting, I found none. So technically it is a good lens. What about sharpness?

 

DSC_3901-1024x683 Fujifilm XF 23mm f2 Review

I shoot a lot of sunsets when I am traveling, and usually, you can find some vignetting on most lens when shooting into the sun, but this lens is surprisingly good. It has some vignetting but it is very slight and very hard to see. If you are not shooting wide open then there is almost none.

 

When shooting objects about 1 meter away from the lens, the lens is sharp in the center but it is a little soft in the corners. But I have no real problem with that. Stop it down a little and it is sharp from corner to corner, but this lens is not sharp when shooting something up close.  This is similar to the FujiFilm X100 but there is a difference. While the X100 was a little soft wide open when shooting nearby objects, the photos were still usable. They had their own unique quality about them, but with this lens, it is a different story. If the image is soft, then it looks ugly. There is no real unique quality or feel to the way it renders the image. You can still get some good photos with this lens, but you would have to chimp a lot and keep confirming that you are getting the image that you want. This is really not an ideal situation. As a photographer, you want to have confidence that when you shot, your gear will support you. You don’t want to keep second guessing the gear all the time.

 

DSC_3901-1024x683 Fujifilm XF 23mm f2 Review

If you like filling the frame and enjoy getting close to your subject, then this is not the ideal lens for you. You will have to chimp a lot to check if you get the focus that you wanted.

 

DSC_3901-1024x683 Fujifilm XF 23mm f2 Review

If you are shooting a subject more than 1 meter away, then this lens is much better and the images are sharper.

 

So what about the bokeh? Is it any good? Well, you can get close to your subject with this lens, so you can get a lot of stuff blurred out, but you have to remember that you will pay with your image sharpness with this lens if you get too close to the subject.

 

DSC_3901-1024x683 Fujifilm XF 23mm f2 Review

At the closest focus distance, with the lens wide open, you can get a very shallow depth of field, but the image will be soft.

 

DSC_3901-1024x683 Fujifilm XF 23mm f2 Review

Even stopping the lens down, and getting close to the subject can generate that shallow depth of field that you are chasing. I shot this at f2.8 because I got tired of the softness of the images when shot wide open.

 

 

Judging bokeh quality is not easy, and it is usually only something photographers care about. To me, the bokeh is ok, but not fantastic. It is a little noisy or busy for me and tends to swirl a little but it is not terrible. I have heard that the bokeh on the Fujifilm XF23 1.4f lens is excellent but I cannot compare it to this lens as I have never shot it before.

 

DSC_3901-1024x683 Fujifilm XF 23mm f2 Review

When looking at flaring, this lens just doesn’t flare with the lens hood on. I shot a ton of photos with the lens at shows, always into bright light and never got any flaring.

 

Using this lens at work has left me frustrated. It does not focus well at night, it hunts around and never seems to be sure of its focus lock. A lot of this is down to the camera but I have found that the Fujifilm kit lens, the 18-55mm 2.8-4F lens focuses much better in the dark.

 

DSC_3901-1024x683 Fujifilm XF 23mm f2 Review

My keep rate of shots that were in focus with this lens was unacceptably low. I would say that only 1 in 10 photos was sharp. Compared to my Nikon cameras and lens, where I would say 9.5 shots were in focus, this was completely unacceptable. My keeper rate with the Fujifilm 18-55 f2.8-4 lens was much better than the 23mm f2 lens. I would guess around 6 out of 10 shots were in focus with that lens. Still not as good as the Nikon’s but much better than the prime lens.

 

I feel like I am nitpicking at this lens, and I am making this lens sound terrible, and it is not terrible, but when I compare it to the other Fujifilm  XF lens that I own, then it starts to look a little bad. The Fujifilm XF10-24mm F4 lens is just as sharp wide open as the 23mm lens. The pancake 27mm lens focuses just as fast in good light and is smaller and more compact. But the real killer for me and this lens is that I almost never use it since I bought the kit lens, the Fujifilm 18-55mm 2.8-4F lens. That lens is sharper, in my opinion, focuses speed is about the same in the same in good light and it focuses much better in a bad light. The only thing that the 23mm F2 lens does better than the kit lens, is the amount of light it lets through to the sensor. It is a faster lens, and in some situations, that is useful. VR is not always a good option, especially when shooting moving objects in low light so that slightly bigger aperture does help.

 

DSC_3901-1024x683 Fujifilm XF 23mm f2 Review

I tried to use this lens many times in the pit, the idea of having a small camera with some small light prime lens is very appealing to me, but it simply does not work well in my field of photography.

 

DSC_3901-1024x683 Fujifilm XF 23mm f2 Review

The lens is ideal for taking snapshots.

 

So who is this lens for? I am not really sure. The weather sealing is great, as long as your camera is weather sealed. The focusing is great, as long as you are shooting in good light. The sharpness is fine, as long as the subject is not too close to the camera. This is probably a great lens for street photography, which is understandable, considering how many street photographers use the Fujifilm X cameras. Personally, I am let down by this lens. I was hoping for a lens similar to the Fujifilm X100 cameras. A lens with some real personality but what Fuji has delivered is a clinically good lens, lacking in any real character or personality. It is not a bad lens, but it is not one of their better lenses. The magic of the 35mm 1.4F lens is not here, the uniqueness of the Fujifilm X100 is nowhere to be seen. Personally, I would not recommend this lens to anyone who has the kit lens, and I would advise people to think very carefully about the types of photos they enjoy taking before buying this lens. This is not the lens to buy if you are looking for something versatile. I doubt I will be using this lens a lot in the future and it has to be ranked as the second worst Fujifilm lens that I have owned. The worst lens is still the Fujifilm 18mm F2 lens.

 

Rating

  • Image Quality: 3 out of 5
  • Focus speed: 4.5 out of 5 in good light and 2 out of 5 in low light.
  • Build quality: 4 out of 5
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