13
Sep
2013

First Look: Fujinon XF23mmF1.4 R

by Rico Pfirstinger

Talk to Rico (open forum for questions & feedback)Rico’s Flickr sets – XF23mmF1.4 samples set – Mastering the Fujifilm X-Pro1 reading samples (65 free pages) – Pre-order the new book: Mastering the Fujifilm X-E1 and X-Pro1

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Flickr bravely chose Friday the 13th for a major maintenance downtime, but they were back online with a delay of just one hour. Hoping for the best, I got things  started with this column, but then Flickr  was forced shut down again (well, what did they expect?), causing more delays. And yet, here we finally are, discussing Fuji’s latest XF prime, the fast and quite substantial XF23mmF1.4 R, a much sought-after “35mm equivalent” lens.

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If you are interested in this lens, you might also want to have a look at my previous article about using the XF14mmF2.8 R wide-angle lens. Conceptually, both lenses are quite similar:

  • they offer premium optics and build quality at a premium price
  • they feature a dedicated manual focus mode with analog (engraved) scales indicating distance and depth-of-field
  • distortion is fully optically corrected (no additional digital distortion correction necessary)

DSCF2256 – f/1.4

Size and Specifications

Given these similarities, it’s no surprise  that the new 23mm and the older 14mm lens now share a common owner’s manual. The following rendering displays the 23mm lens in its full manual focus mode glory:

While Fuji’s recently released XF27mmF2.8 Pancake prime is optimized for minimum size and weight, the new 23mm is a much bulkier affair, especially if you choose to attach the included butterfly-style lens hood. Here’s my pre-production lens on an X-M1 next to an X100S with similar configuration (the X100S features the same 23mm focal length, but one stop slower):

As you can see, I attached the optional handgrip to my X-M1. To me, the grip is a major improvement.

In case you haven’t read the specs of the new lens, please click here to look at them on Fujifilm’s official global site.

At 300 grams, this prime is a bit on the heavy side compared to its XF prime siblings, but it is still lightweight and compact when compared to many of its “full-frame” counterparts. Here’s the new lens next to Fuji’s 35mm and 14mm XF primes as well as last year’s 18-55mm XF “kit” zoom lens:

As it appears, the size difference isn’t that big if you omit the lens hoods. That shouldn’t be a problem in most situations, since the new XF23mmF1.4 R features the same flare-resistant HT Super EBC coating as the hoodless 27mm pancake lens.

Sticking with the specs for a moment, here’s what else may be important:

  • rounded seven-blade diaphragm
  • fast internal focussing using a high-torque DC coreless motor (similar to the XF14mmF2.8 R)
  • the focusing lens group consists of three cemented lens elements and one aspheric lens element
  • 62mm filter thread (same as in the 55-200mm tele zoom)
  • 28cm minimum focussing distance
  • dedicated manual focus mode with engraved distance and DOF scales (operation is still focus-by-wire, though)
  • distortion is fully optically corrected, vignetting is addressed digitally trough RAW file metadata

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Build Quality

As you would expect from a lens in this (price) category, the XF23mm is solidly built and features a dedicated aperture ring. The stops “click” smoothly in place in 1/3 EV intervals. Compared to the XF14mm lens, the aperture ring’s torque (especially at its wide open setting) has been increased, making it harder to accidentally change the aperture setting.

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In order to enter manual focus mode, the focus ring can be shifted back, revealing analog distance and depth-of-field scales. As is the case with the 14mm lens, the engraved DOF readings are less conservative (and hence more suitable to most practical minded shooters) than the digital readings in the camera. To avoid conflicts and user confusion, all digital distance and DOF measurement readings are disabled once manual focus has been activated.

The substantial build of the lens barrel is counteracted by a butterfly-shaped plastic lens hood. As effective as the hood may be, it doesn’t really match the classic design of the lens (or of the cameras it is supposed to be attached on).

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Using the Lens

The XF23mm lens is compatible with all current (and future) APS-C sensor X-Mount camera models. There’s no requirement to update the firmware of your camera (as long as it’s the current version), just mount the lens and start shooting.

Users of the X-Pro1 will be pleased to hear that the lens is fully supported by the camera’s dual-view OVF. With any focal length below 35mm, the X-Pro1 will automatically set the OVF to its wider magnification view. In this setting, the lens barrel obscures only a small part of the superimposed bright frame, even when the lens hood is attached.

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Autofocus feels quite snappy, and while its operation isn’t completely silent, I didn’t find the sounds to be distracting. If you have experience with the XF14mm sibling of this lens, you pretty much already know what to expect.

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To me, the pseudo-analog manual focus operation of the lens is a mixed bag. I certainly appreciate analog scales and a focus ring with hard stops at each end, even though the actual operation is still focus-by-wire. However, I am not convinced by Fuji’s choice to disable all digital distance and DOF indicactors once manual focus has been activated either on the camera or on the lens.

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For starters, it’s hard to read the engraved DOF and distance markings in the dark, which contradicts using a fast lens that (according to Fuji’s own press release) is meant to be suitable for night time shooting. Even worse, you have to choose between One-Touch-AF (= focussing by pressing the AF-L button) and using the manual focus ring. You can’t have both at the same time, so it’s not possible to use One-Touch-AF to quickly acquire focus and then fine-tune your result with the focus ring.

Granted, the XF14mm lens suffers from the same handicap, but that doesn’t make things any better, does it? Besides: Since One-Touch-AF is only available with the camera in MF and the lens in AF mode, this configuration takes away all analog and digital distance/DOF readings. With One-Touch-AF, you are literally shooting in the dark, with no indication of distance and depth-of-field, neither analog nor digital.

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On a brighter note, focus peaking works quite well thanks to the XF23mm’s large maximum aperture opening. As you probably know, manual focus always operates at maximum aperture, and the shallow depth-of-field of a wide open lens is of great help during manual focus acquisition.

In autofocus mode, the lens works and behaves like all the other Fuji XF/XC lenses, so no worries here.

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Image Quality

Shooting a pre-production lens with beta firmware means using an unfinished product. Up to 25 percent of the used parts can differ between Fuji’s pre-production and production products. Right after I had finished shooting my set of 50 samples, I received a firmware update for the lens, reminding me of the work-in-progress nature of it all. So please refrain from pixel peeping and reaching final verdicts based on what’s available at this time. In any case, it’s safe to assume that production lenses will either on par or even better than my current pre-production sample.

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Personally, I was quite pleased with the results, but that’s irrelevant. Have a look at the samples and make op your own mind! I shot in all kinds of light with a broad variety of apertures and object distances, utilizing the full 200-6400 ISO range of my (still pre-production) X-M1. Some of the samples are SOOC JPEGs, some are JPEGs with just minor corrections, and there also JPEGs with some color work performed in Apple Aperture. In addition to that, I have included several samples that were processed as RAWs in Lightroom and Silkypix 5, and some samples are in black and white. In any case, each image contains a brief description telling you about what, if any, processing was used. Again, click here to see the complete sample images gallery.

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Thank you, everybody, for an interesting week. Next Tuesday (17SEP), I will bring you an X-Pert corner special edition covering a new X-Mount camera I have personally grown quite fond of in the past weeks testing it. See you then, and have a nice weekend!

Pre-orders

USA: AmazonUS / BHphoto / Adorama / Pictureline EUROPE: PCHstore / wexcamerasDE / wexphotographicUK

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For your convenience, here’s a TOC with links to my previous X-PERT CORNER articles:

Rico Pfirstinger studied communications and has been working as journalist, publicist, and photographer since the mid-80s. He has written a number of books on topics as diverse as Adobe PageMaker and sled dogs, and produced a beautiful book of photographs titled Huskies in Action (German version). He has spent time working as the head of a department with the German Burda-Publishing Company and served as chief editor for a winter sports website. After eight years as a freelance film critic and entertainment writer in Los Angeles, Rico now lives in Germany and devotes his time to digital photography and compact camera systems. His book “Mastering the FUJIFILM X-Pro1” (Kindle Edition) (Apple iBook Store) (German version) is available on Amazon and offers a plethora of tips, secrets and background information on successfully using Fuji’s X-Pro1 and X-E1 system cameras, lenses and key accessories.

  • Adamant

    That lens hood is an utter travesty. Why has Fuji abandoned the unique and artful hoods that the original 18/35/60 trio shipped with? It’s especially galling given the price of this lens — like buying a Lexus only to find that the dealer has affixed a gold package.

    • Tom

      The hood is certainly huge and ugly. I’d probably purchase a 62mm vented lens hood for it instead.

    • http://www.fujixspot.com/f34/ Rico Pfirstinger

      I agree, Fuji should follow Leica. Oh wait, Leica charges extra for the lens hood of their X Vario, but at least it won’t cost you more than a Fujinon kit lens. ;)

      In any case, with sufficient demand, differently styled after market offerings should soon appear.

      • http://www.flickr.com/photos/dirk23/ dirk

        Is it certain, you had it with the final hood? I wouldn’t raise my hopes to much about this, but I stumbled upon a website, listing a “hoodcap” plus lenscap as part of the shipment: http://www.photoscala.de/Artikel/Fujinon-XF-1423-mm-R
        I guess this could only work with a flat, rectangular hood. But on the other hand, plenty of pages list it without the additional cap.

    • lettherebelight

      +1

  • Fujimoto

    “a new X-Mount camera I have personally grown quite fond of in the past weeks testing it.”

    What is this new camera you speak of, sir?

    • Tom

      I believe he’s referring to the X-M1

      • mbart

        Think about the X-A1…

        • MJr

          Indeed indeed, as has been hinted for weeks now. :P

  • Chris

    While the 35mm hood stays on all the time, I rarely use the one for the 14mm, and wouldn’t use this one either. Too conspicuous, like my DSLR days almost.

    For the lens itself, I’m sure it will be a great one. Looks like a very nice lens, and I know a lot of people will be quite happy with it. I might add it at some point, but given the overlap with my X100s, it’s not next on my list. Perhaps as a companion to my future 56mm f/1.2.

  • mbart

    Thanks for sharing your first insight, Rico. My hopes of getting the same ( image/ built -) quality as the XF14 were answered…

  • 078adam

    Amazing how easily it is to slip up, I left the article thinking about that horrible hood, I really like the look of square one on the 35 its elegant. Also not being able to one touch focus and fine tune in manual sounds like a omission as well, why do that. On the positive quality looks good, but that hood is going to keep me awake!

  • Lelle

    “One-Touch-AF and then fine-tune with the focus ring”
    That’s how I use the my camera, X-E1.
    And that’s why I will not buy the 23mm.

    • Christophe

      Exactly !!!!
      Agree with you and this is a great disappointment for me…

      Plus:
      I would like to see the DOF scale in the EVF

    • Frank

      agree! same here

  • lettherebelight

    Anybody know when the 23mm ships? B&H says Oct. 3rd in US and Amazon US says Oct 16th

  • Fujimoto

    Oct 3rd would be awesome. Hopefully, Patrick can find something out on the shipping date.

  • http://deleted David

    Thanks,

    How does it compare to the 35mm f1.4. ?

    • MJr

      Both equally impressive i guess ? The 23mm (35mm FoV) is just much more difficult, ergo the price and additional impressiveness, and it has the nice Manual Focus feature of course.

  • Catoir

    Love the photos Rico

  • http://deleted tim

    Thanks for the introduction to this lens. I have two small questions regarding the samples;

    2485 In the shot with the “Bokeh Circles” would you say the circles are a little distorted? But otherwise perfect (of-course)! I did notice that in a few shots that were taken wide open.

    2795 In the top right shows stars around the lights (f5.6). That’s part of the lights themselves and not from the aperture blades, right?

  • http://www.kuau.com Steven K

    How would the new 23/1.4 shot at F5.6 compare to the 18-55 zoom at 23mm at 5.6 edge to edge

  • marcoTS

    I would like to know your opninion about the X-M1 23mm prime combo.
    Do you like the size / weight, ergonmics etc ?

    As a beginner i would like to invest in good glass (the 23mm ) and the X-M1 as it suits the beginner and also the advanced amateur photographer.