Real-World Review: A Month with the Fuji 23mm F1.4

Discussion in 'Native Lenses' started by napilopez, Mar 4, 2014.

  1. napilopez

    napilopez Contributing Editor

    27
    Dec 14, 2013
    NYC
    Napier Lopez
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    I expected to write a longer review of the Fuji 23mm F1.4, (at the time of writing available for wonderful price of $749) but that can be a bit hard when there isn't really too much to say. It gives you the field of view of a 35mm lens on full frame (with the DoF characteristics of an F2 lens), is built well, has a cool snapping MF ring feature, and takes great pictures. I wrote some earlier impressions in this post here (Reviews - Fuji X-E2 + 23mm f/1.4 First Impressions from a New Fuji User) with more detailed notes on things such as build, and this will be supplementary to that as more of a real-world report. Here, I'll mostly let the images do the talking.

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    The 23mm is a very solidly constructed lens without being too heavy. Mounted on the X-E2, the kit is marginally lighter than an Olympus E-M5 + 25mm F1.4, on a smaller sensor. It's a bit large, but never felt unwieldy, although I never bothered to use the included hood which essentially doubles the size of the lens. That's fine though; I never noticed significantly reduced contrast or abnormal flaring from not using the hood.

    The manual focusing ring's snap-back feature is really cool and quite useful. As noted in my first impressions, I do wish the distance scale were written a bit higher up on the lens so it could be more easily seen when shooting from the waist, as that's when I'm most likely to use the distance scale in the first place (see what I mean here: https://farm6.staticflickr.com/5500/12166583813_16500fd704_z.jpg). Nevertheless, a nice feature to have.

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    One of the weaker notes of the lens is its autofocus performance. It's not bad, but a bit slower than what I've come to expect from modern lenses. The excellent 18-55mm F2.8-4 focuses much faster, and from my recollection, so the 35mm F1.4 might be a little faster too (debatable, as I'm just going from memory). For instance, while with the 18-55mm the X-E2's phase-detect continuous AF seems to work quite well, the 23mm feels like it can't quite keep pace with the system. Granted, the 23mm has to deal with a much narrower DoF, but I didn't notice a difference stopped down. Curious to see how it performs on the faster AF system of the X-T1.

    The 23mm also makes more noise than I'm used to nowadays, though nowhere near some of the noisier SLR lenses. Not enough to be irksome or distracting, but you can definitely hear it going, and potentially annoying for video recording.

    In my first impressions, I wrote that I thought the fly-by wire mechanism was slower than ideal. I stand by that statement, particularly considering that the mechanism feels much better on the 18-55mm, but at the same time recognize that this will matter little in many real-world shooting situations. I spent most of my time with the 23mm in manual focusing mode, and there were only a few specific instances where I felt hampered by the fly-by-wire mechanism. Mainly, I tend to shoot environmental portraits on the move (both my subject and me), and the digital system just can't compare to a real, mechanically coupled focus ring. But in most other situations, it's totally serviceable, particularly when coupled with the X-E2's excellent focus peaking.

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    As always, I wish the lens were weather-sealed, as it would have provided an extra degree of security when out shooting in the snow with a weather sealed body (February was a very snowy month in New York). That said, construction feels tight enough I wouldn't be too worried given a light drizzle or some snow.

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    To be honest, I'd never used the 35mm equivalent focal length very much until now--I've found myself loving it. While I'm not sure whether I prefer it to the 50mm equivalent, it renders an appealing photojournalistic look to images that finds a good compromise between showing ample environment without being unnaturally wide.

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    Certainly wide enough to frame subjects decently in many tight spaces where a 50mm would be too narrow.

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    I've also found myself surprised at how much I liked the focal length for portraiture. While it's up to you to decide whether a focal length works with your particular subject and environment, I found it to be more serviceable than I originally assumed. You'll probably want to stand a little further from your subject than you might normally, but this lens has shallow enough DoF that isolating your subject still isn't very difficult. Besides, with the amount of subject isolation this lens can provide, you can get away with standing further from your subject and cropping to minimize perspective distortion while still getting some background blur.

    On one hand, the angle of view lets you capture a sort of intimacy that would be difficult with a narrower lens:
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    On the other hand, this lens lets you stand quite far from your subject and still get some noticeable isolation.

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    The 35mm equivalent perspective also tends to lend a bit more of a dramatic and unusual perspective to portraiture that I've grown quite fond of:

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    Likewise, this lens features surprisingly pleasant bokeh, with clean, rounded highlight circles. Like I said in my first impressions, the bokeh on this lens is better than that on many lenses with more typically portrait-friendly focal length.

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    And overall bokeh character is smooth and rarely, if ever, distracting.That's good on its own, and even more remarkable at this focal length.

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    In terms of resolution, the lens is sharp at all aperture settings, but there is a definite improvement when stopped down. Wide open, the lens exhibits a slight amount of ghosting around high contrast detail. I never find it annoying, but it’s something to be aware of.

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    By about F5.6, the lens seems to reach maximal sharpness. It’s tack sharp throughout the frame, and very probably out-resolving the sensor.

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    There is nary a hint of CA, and as mentioned earlier, very little tendency to flare, if any.

    All that being said, many of my favorite shots with this lens were the ones that are unsharp and technically imperfect. The 35mm focal length has long been associated with telling stories, and I can't imagine a better tool to do so with on the X mount. Like so much of Fuji's X system, this feels like a lens that was really made for photographers, by photographers, and I'm impressed by how such a technically good lens can seem to display so much character too.

    Although everyone has their own preferences, if I had to suggest a singular prime on the X-system to get, it would be this one. It's not perfect, but its versatility allows it to handle most anything you can shoot at it with some tact. It's also not inexpensive, but it's certainly worth every dollar.

    Normally retailing for $899 (and worth it), at the time of writing the XF 23mm F1.4 is available for $749 at B&H and is an unhesitant recommendation.

    Please note that purchasing any product by going through the affiliate links in this article (and across the forum) helps FujiXSpot continue growing.

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    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 21, 2016
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  2. Ray Sachs

    Ray Sachs FujiXspot Veteran

    485
    Feb 1, 2013
    Near Philadephila
    Nali,

    Nice write up of a great lens. I just started shooting with one over the past week and I've really fallen hard for it. Helped me get over any regret I may have had over selling my RX1, with IT'S amazing 35mm lens...

    You may want to note though, that while the lens normally sells for $899, it's currently on sale at B&H (and elsewhere) for $749, through 3/22. While that's still not inexpensive, I think it's a screaming deal for a lens of this quality...

    -Ray
     
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  3. BBW

    BBW Super Moderator Subscribing Member

    Feb 8, 2013
    NW corner of CT
    BB
    Thanks for fanning the flames for my gear lust, as well as for a nice write up with good examples that back up your descriptions of this XF 23mm's view of life.
     
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  4. Luke

    Luke FujiXspot Top Veteran Subscribing Member

    855
    Jan 31, 2013
    Milwaukee, WI USA
    Luke
    I'm going to show this to my wife and explain to her why having my X100 (and having this focal length covered) just saved me from buying this amazing lens. In that respect, I just saved $749. So maybe I can justify buying another lens I need a little bit more. :laugh1:

    Great shots by the way.
     
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  5. Mikey

    Mikey FujiXspot Veteran

    277
    May 15, 2013
    Louisville, KY
    Nice article, very good images. Just a couple of things I've noted different compared to your review though. 1) My 23/1.4 focuses faster than the 35/1.4. I have to go back and directly compare them to be able to tell you how much faster but I'd say notably to be conservative for now. 2) Bokeh quality though mostly pleasing can be busy depending on the background. I don't know how much of this has to do with it being a narrower lens than the 35/1.4 but it is still worlds better than say Olympus' 17/1.8.
     
  6. napilopez

    napilopez Contributing Editor

    27
    Dec 14, 2013
    NYC
    Napier Lopez
    Totally forgot about that! Will add a line, and thanks!
     
  7. walker

    walker FujiXspot Regular

    67
    Jan 18, 2014
    Italy, Northeast
    the B&W are really gorgeous snaps and the last one is a masterpiece!
     
  8. romi.gilles

    romi.gilles FujiXspot Top Veteran

    654
    May 17, 2013
    back in Crooklyn
    i think you meant to say: the 23mm gives you a field of view equivalent to a focal length of 35mm on FF.

    (Sent from another Galaxy via Tapatalk.)
     
  9. the sardonic iconic

    the sardonic iconic FujiXspot Veteran

    218
    Feb 2, 2013
    NYC
    As a huge fan of the 35mm focal length (it's easily my "desert island" lens) and shallow DoF.... I've very torn about whether or not I should buy this lens, despite having the X100S as well as a 35mm for my Nikon bodies. This post isn't helping, haha! ;) Wonderful images.

    PS - I was just at that Zara yesterday... looks like you're on Houston and Broadway, shooting towards Prince?
     
  10. romi.gilles

    romi.gilles FujiXspot Top Veteran

    654
    May 17, 2013
    back in Crooklyn
    yeah, his pics pushed me to get the xf23 even sooner than later. and i thought it was weird seeing an rei right in soho.

    (Sent from another Galaxy via Tapatalk.)
     
  11. napilopez

    napilopez Contributing Editor

    27
    Dec 14, 2013
    NYC
    Napier Lopez
    Much better phrasing, edited my OP.
     
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  12. entropic remnants

    entropic remnants Solving for X

    718
    Jul 28, 2013
    Nicely done. I'm glad to have this lens in my "arsenal" also.
     
  13. flysurfer

    flysurfer X-Pert

    Feb 1, 2013
    Nuremberg
    Rico Pfirstinger
    Great examples! It's nice to see some 23mm love in the midst of the current 56mm frenzy.
     
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  14. Amin Sabet

    Amin Sabet Administrator

    795
    Jan 31, 2013
    Boston, MA (USA)
    Great review, Napier! Wonderful photos to show what this lens can do in the right hands. If there's one lens that attracts me most to the Fuji system, this is the one.

    Ray, you sold your RX1? Can't believe it!
     
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  15. Ray Sachs

    Ray Sachs FujiXspot Veteran

    485
    Feb 1, 2013
    Near Philadephila
    Sold it to buy the Df. Then I didn't buy the Df and jumped back into Fuji with both feet. I figure that just comparing the XT1 and 23 to the RX1 (or to the Df and the 35 f2.0), the extra stop in the 23mm at f1.4 pretty much creates DOF and low light neutrality with the RX1's f2.0 and roughly one stop better sensor. At which point its down to the intangibles and the XT1 / 23mm has it's own really impressive set of intangibles, plus I have a few other focal lengths. I was initially kicking myself about the RX1 after I changed my mind on the Df, but I'm really enjoying the XT1 so much, with the 14, 18, and 23 with the 56 hopefully to come that I can't say I have any regrets at this point. Had my full frame experiment, determined I wasn't willing to buy or carry the full frame lenses that would really give full frame an advantage over APS or m43, so I backtracked, or came full circle, or something. And now I'm back to Fuji and m43, same as I was two years ago except that both systems have improved since then...

    -Ray
     
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  16. napilopez

    napilopez Contributing Editor

    27
    Dec 14, 2013
    NYC
    Napier Lopez
    If I were an everyday Fuji shooter, I think this lens plus the 56mm f1.4 would make for the ultimate 2 lens kit. To date, my favorite lens set up has been the 20mm f1.7 and 45m f1.8 on Micro four thirds; this would be a version of that on steroids, with both lenses being slightly wider and much more bokehliscious. Albeit certainly much larger too, but not much of a difference when I always have my camera bag.
     
  17. romi.gilles

    romi.gilles FujiXspot Top Veteran

    654
    May 17, 2013
    back in Crooklyn
    you meant 56mm f1.2, right?

    (Sent from another Galaxy via Tapatalk.)
     
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  18. pniev

    pniev FujiXspot Veteran

    489
    May 13, 2013
    Wonderful review and photos! I am glad I am not the only one who wasn't used to the 35mm FFeq. focal lenghth Used 28 or 50 FFeq. mostly before getting the 23mm. This lens quickly grew on me for the reasons you describe. If I take just one lens, it's this lens. I must say, though, that the 27mm lens also is an excellent one-lens-only option.
    Thanks for sharing your opinion and photos1
    Peter
     
  19. mguffin

    mguffin FujiXspot Regular

    92
    Apr 10, 2013
    New Jersey
    Mike
    Great post... great shots...
     
  20. Ray Sachs

    Ray Sachs FujiXspot Veteran

    485
    Feb 1, 2013
    Near Philadephila
    Here's one for you Napier, taken with the 23mm. It's a wooden boardwalk type of lane partway up the Filbert Street Stairs leading up to the Coit Tower in San Francisco - quite a place to get to!

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    San Francisco Day 6-392-Edit by ramboorider1, on Flickr

    -Ray
     
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