Fujinon XF 23mm F2, another lens with gorgeous flare

Charlene fujifilm gear, general 20 Comments

It’s been 4 years.

I’ve wanted a compact 23mm lens since I first held the X-Pro1, back in mid 2012. I’ve been around the world for the last 4 years with the XF 35mm F1.4 (53mm full frame field of view on Fujifilm X series cameras), and have been hankering after something wider – that classic 35mm f.o.v.

Botanic Gardens, Singapore. 1/200, f2, ISO 200. X-Pro2, XF 23mm F2.

At the end of September last year, I bounced into the Fujifilm Nordic room at Photokina, where our long suffering Product Manager Karl was doing three million things around the new medium format beast they’d just announced at the fair, that every man and his dog wanted a piece of.

“Do you have a lens for me?”

It was the same question I may or may not have been asking him daily for the past fortnight (ok, month). He fished around in his big bag of secret goodies and handed over a little lens bag. “Enjoy.” There might have been a smile, but I don’t remember. There’s not honestly a lot I remember about the fair after I got the 23 in hand.

Santa Fe Plaza, New Mexico. 1/200 sec, f/11, ISO 400. X-Pro2, XF 23mm F2.

The wait’s been long, but utterly worth it. I love this lens.

It’s barely left my camera since I got it, and it is everything I would want from a 23mm. So having used this thing continuously for 3 months, I figured it was about time I said something about it.

Image quality

1/400 sec, f/13, ISO 5000. X-Pro2, XF 23mm F2

This is all I’m going to say about the image quality of the new 23mm F2: it’s no different from all the other Fujinon lenses in that it renders beautiful image files. Contrast, color, tones, clarity, definition, bokeh are superb. There is nothing I can complain about, from F2 to F16.

I won’t comment on the sharpness of this lens compared to its F1.4 counterpart across the range of apertures – I’ll leave that to the engineers out there. Neither will I compare pixel clusters across the frame. I don’t care about that level of minutiae because I don’t have to. Like a fellow photographer said of this new 23 when we brought it over to his (camera) shop “It’s Fuji right? Of course it’s good.” When I say I have nothing to complain about with this lens, I mean it literally. I love using this thing, both for how exceptionally it handles, the quality of the images that it gives me out of the X-Pro2, and in general, how I never have to think about it. I just slap it on, flick the camera switch, and start shooting. What more could one want of a lens?

Size, Weight, Shape, Rings

Pretty much everything I said about the XF 35mm F2 back in 2015 applies to this lens, particularly in the dimensions department.

Rødby to Puttgarden ferry. 1/170 sec, f/4.0, ISO 200. X-Pro2, XF 23mm F2

It’s small, almost identical in size to the XF 35mm F2, with the only difference being its height: a smidge taller than the XF 35mm F2. I read somewhere that it’s a 6mm difference, but don’t quote me on this one. Ultimately, it’s a negligible difference in size, and thus, weight.

Focusing and aperture rings are again, silkily torquey, which makes handling this thing a tactile pleasure. I set the focus, and it stays there. Ditto the aperture ring. It’s a complete departure from my old XF 35mm F1.4, which is worn enough now that the rings are very rotationally happy.

Weather sealing

Storm over northern Jutland, Denmark. 1/4000 sec, f/5.6, ISO 320. X-Pro2, XF 23mm F2

Weather sealing is nice, if you, like me, refuse to carry an umbrella. The XF 23mm F2 paired with the X-Pro2 (or X-T2) is a complete weather-sealed kit. I’ll admit weather sealing is wasted on me. My old X-Pro1 withstood plenty of rain, snow and coffee without it, so I clearly don’t have needs in that department. If you want to read someone who’s really put the weather sealing on the X-Pro and X-T bodies and associated lenses to the test, Tommy Simonsen’s extreme Arctic field test should rock your boat.

Autofocus

The Pacific Shore from the San Diego Coaster train. 1/640 sec, f/8, ISO 500.

This thing autofocuses fast on the X-Pro2. Faster than my pre-production 35 F2, which at the time, was the fastest focusing lens I owned. I’ve used it for a bunch of street / travel shooting in the past 3 months. Given my penchance for shooting from vehicles in motion, preferably through window glass (the grottier the better), missing focus is pretty common if I rely on AF. This one’s fast enough to keep up with the scenes that rush by moving trains / cars on single servo AF – it snaps to subject speedily and accurately, without hunting.

Rushing by Germany. 1/6 sec, f/16, ISO 200. X-Pro2, XF 23mm F2

Back in October, Flemming and I spent an evening shooting a Red Bull Sound Select event in Copenhagen. On this particular occasion, I decided to bring the new 23 F2 instead of its older F1.4 counterpart (my customary wide angle for jobs), to see how it handled in less-than-ideal nightclub lighting.

It was challenging: 2 hours in a dark, gritty venue, lit by nothing but epileptic strobes the entire time.  I could barely tell what I was looking at, so photographing it was more fun than the other music jobs I’ve done. In my usual position strafing around the front of the stage, I was swapping between a 35 (the 35mm F1.4), an 18 (the 18mm F2) and the 23 F2 on my X-Pro2.

I rued the slower aperture in the beginning, but having such greater low light handling on the X-Pro2 body than all the ones before it, F2 proved plenty workable, and the lens was great performance-wise. If there is a sliver of light somewhere, it grabs it and locks focus on. The X-Pro2 improves AF speeds of all Fujinon lenses considerably, but to my shock, this new 23mm was responsive enough to use the back AF button in that crazy illumination. It found my subjects through the dizzying frequency of strobe lighting where my eyes barely could. That’s a helluva boon.

Flare

I got the JJ Abrams edition. Again.

“That is a lot of flare for a Fujinon lens,” was our abovementioned Product Manager’s stoic response to a JPEG I sent him from the camera (if a groan and thud permeates your consciousness out of nowhere, that will be Karl, reading this segment).

Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado. 1/80 sec, f16, ISO 200. X-Pro2, XF 23mm F2.

For one reason or another, the two new primes I’ve gotten my hands on in the last year have spoiled me with exceptionally beautiful flaring. My pre-production copy of the XF 35mm F2 was delightfully flare-prone. This XF 23mm F2 unit I have is just as, if not even more flare-ridden. Point it directly at any light source – sun, street light, the moon – and goes nuts in ridiculously cinematic fashion.

Fun fact: This copy of the XF 23mm F2 is the same one that fellow X-Photographer Jonas Rask tested and reviewed, with nary a starburst in sight. I’m starting to think it might not be the lens…

Conclusion

Would I recommend it? If you’re looking for a small, light, quality lens, yes. Hell yes.

In addition to everything else, it’s a robust piece of glass, as demonstrated by the dings and nicks it’s acquired in the short time I’ve had it. And as a bonus, on the X-Pro / X-E bodies, it’s all class in its pared down, range-finding beauty.

Am I giving it back? Not a chance. Sorry (and thank you!) Karl and Ib!

Kastrup airport, Copenhagen. 1/2000 sec. f/2.8, ISO 500. X-Pro2, XF 23mm F2

Balancing rock, Arches National Park. 1/75 sec, f/11, ISO 400. X-Pro2, XF 23mm F2.

When I first got this lens, all I could do with it was shoot in black and white. Cologne Central Station, Germany. 1/400 sec, f/8, ISO 200. X-Pro2 XF 23mm F2

Hannover, Germany. 1/90 sec, f/2, ISO 1000. X-Pro2, XF 23mm F2.

Botanic Gardens, Singapore. 1/400 sec, f2, ISO 400. X-Pro2, XF 23mm F2.

Botanic Gardens, Singapore. 1/950 sec, f2, ISO 400. X-Pro2, XF 23mm F2.

The eyes have it. 1/340 sec, f/5.6, ISO 640. X-Pro2, XF 23mm F2

Ærø, Denmark. 1/1000 sec, f/2, ISO 200. X-Pro2, XF 23mm F2.

A floundering end. 1/2500 sec, f/2, ISO 640. X-Pro2, XF 23mm F2

Comments 20

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  1. Loved this! – and what the hell Are you doing with those lenses to get that flaring. Hahaha.

    Great photography. No matter what lens you use!

    /Jonas

    1. No seriously: I think Charlene has a deal with the Gods of Flaring…!!!
      I want one with that too, please 🙂

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      Jonas, You should see what my old 35 F1.4 can do these days… the 23 though, I just point it at stuff. I use it without the hood these days because at certain angles, it makes the flaring worse 😀

  2. Fantastic! I used to have a preference for the 35/50 fov but my preferences have changed to 23/35. I’ve missed it since I sold my X100T and now this lens is more available I’m off out on Tuesday for my very own copy 😀 XP2 and this lens, yeah!!

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  3. Hello, Charlene! Those are lovely photos with this great lens. I’ve had mine for 4 months now and love the images it produces. The focus is instant and sure-footed on my X-T10, even in low light with fast-moving subjects. I still like the 18-55 for daytime street shooting, but the 35F2 goes on at night or if I want to travel light and never fails me. There’s a quality about the image rendering that I don’t quite get with the 18-55 and which I cannot explain. I hope the imminent 50F2 is from the same mould because those three lenses would cover all my street needs.

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      David, I’ve not used the 18-55 for much more than filming, although it is pretty damn sweet, if a little too big for me to lug around all over the place (being spoilt as I am with primes).

      I feel the same about the 50 F2… with little 23, 35 and 50 lenses in the bag, might never need anything more!

  4. Beautiful images, Charlene. I think my favorite was “The Pacific Shore from the San Diego Coaster train” and the one after that. I just love looking at your work.

    Curious as to where the 27mm now belongs for you? Is the size and weight of the 23mm f/2 enough to take the pancake’s place?

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      That’s one of my favourites too, Brandon, worthy of a print effort, I reckon.

      I simply haven’t used the 27 since I’ve gotten this 23. To be honest, in the last 3 months, I’ve barely used my 35 either. So it might be too early to say what the 27’s place is at this point. When I’m over the novelty of how sweet the 23 is, I might get back into using the 27 again. Only time will tell 😀

  5. Pixel cluster? WTF is that? Does it go away with medication or full body scrub? Sounds horrible. Regardless of this particular lens I think it’s time to step back and just give praise to what Fuji has done in general. They saw a need and did something about it. Small, mirrorless cams with great color at good prices. Oh, fixed lenses too, and real viewfinders and no shutter lag, weather seal, etc., etc. Okay, the lens hoods on the new 23 and 35 might be the Jar Jar Binx moment for Fuji, but that’s a small price to pay. The most important thing, at least in my mind, about this particular post is that it shows you are carrying and using your camera on a daily basis. So many photographers I know, very talented people, don’t carry cameras when not on assignment. This was one of the main reasons I always loved shooting Leica was it was small enough to always have with me. Then I went and got an old brass model which weighs a ton, but in THEORY they are small and light, as are the “little Fuji’s.” So keep shooting, and keep posting.

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  6. Thank you for this review Charlene!
    I bought this lens for Christmas and it’s a fantastic one, I get beautiful landscape photos and snow never looked so good in my shots.
    As you already said it’s also a superb lens for street and contextual portrait

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  7. Great shots, Charlene – but you’ve confused me even more! I shoot with an XE 2 and XPro 2, often with the same lens, 27 – which I really like because of its size and discreteness.
    I’ve been thinking of getting the new 23 f2 but I’m still hesitating, particularly in light of its focal length, i.e., 23=35 mm equivalent and 27=40 mm equivalent – not much difference. So, is the 23 THAT much better than the 27 in terms of IQ , etc., (recognizing that the 27 is a much older lens) than the 23 to make it worth my while to change? Your article tells me yes, although you state that you still prefer the 27!
    Help me here – I’m drowning in indecision!

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      Honestly, it depends on how much of a stickler you are Luis. I would say the 23 definitely has better IQ, but it is also a different focal length.

      I’d say for the 27, that if you:
      – Like using it for size
      – Prefer a 40mm focal length over 35mm

      then stick with it! If you want 5mm more and F2, than go the 23. That improvement in IQ is visible (and yes, this thing is way faster performance wise than the 27), but not THAT much more that it should make a difference to what you shoot, if you’re a street-like shooter. If you’ve got cash to burn, go get it, but if you’ll feel that burn, then wait a while and think it over.

      I’ve never had something that gave me 35mm f.o.v., so the novelty of this lens is lasting a very long time. Rent / borrow one to try it out. After the initial attack of G.A.S. is over you might find that your 27 is everything you need after all.

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