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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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).
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…
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!