I just got back from an amazing week in Tokyo. It was an incredible honor to be invited by Fujifilm Japan together with some people that I greatly admire: David Hobby aka Strobist, Zack Arias and Kevin Mullins. My brain is still processing all the meetings and discussions we had with the smartest and kindest people at Fuji HQ. I’ll report on that later. Next to the official part, we got to test the new Fujinon XF 23mm f/1.4 R.
The lens does look and feel the part. It’s a bit chunky but in a good way, this is after all the kind of fast prime lens you expect to last for many years. I’m sure the petal-shaped lens hood does a great job in keeping stray light out of the lens but it’s a huge ugly plastic thing. I’ve never bought a 3rd party lens hood in my life, but if someone makes a more compact one in the same style as the ones on the 35 and 18mm, I’d probably get one.
What’s one of the first things every photographer does when he gets a new lens in his hands? Test if it’s sharp wide open. And yep, that looks pretty sharp to me.
This lens has been highly anticipated by many Fuji shooters but I must admit that I wasn’t that excited. Not that I thought it would be a bad lens (on the contrary) but I’ve never been the biggest 35mm equivalent lens fan. When I was still shooting mainly DSLRs, I just didn’t like the focal length. The X100s (with the fixed 23mm lens) has changed my view on this and I’m really starting to enjoy the focal length, especially for reportage work. But why would I need another 23mm lens if I have the exact same focal length already in my X100s? So I wasn’t jumping up and down with excitement to test out this lens but I was very excited about the opportunity to shoot all over Tokyo for a whole day. I’d be excited to do that with any lens.
On the morning of our shooting day, I felt pretty sick but decided to join Kevin anyway for an early start at the fish market. An upset stomach and the smells of a fish market don’t mix very well but luckily I started feeling a lot better after an hour or so.
Even on the camera’s LCD it was soon pretty clear that this lens does justice to the X-trans sensor: Vivid colors, sharp edges and smooth transitions between the sharp and unsharp parts of the image. The lens also lends itself to make natural looking black & white pictures too. Technical quality is important but I personally believe it’s equally important that a lens has character. When I talk to other photographers about the “character” of a lens, I often get blank stares, giggles or rolled eyes in return. Character is after all something that is hard to define and describe when it comes to lenses. The day before our shoot we’ve learned that the lens designers at Fujifilm take lens character very seriously. We met some people that talked passionately about bokeh, sharpness transition and pretty lens flare. I’ll write about all that in a later blog post but I can tell you that the lens designers did a great job on the 23mm when it comes to matching character with optical performance.
The autofocus behaved fast and confident, even in dull low light. Out of the hundreds of pictures I shot with the lens only a few came out out-of-focus (and then it probably was user error). Shooting through the pretty reflective glass from the Sky Tree tower, went without a hitch. Just like the 14mm, the 23mm has the push/pull focus ring which allows you to quickly change from autofocus to manual focus without having to search for a button or get into the menu system. Zone focussing by using manual focus in combination with the focus peaking function on the camera works really well, even on the streets at f/1.4
The big question then: Will I buy one?
I’m not sure yet. Like I said at the beginning of this review, I’m still getting used to this focal length and it will probably never be my favorite one although so many other see it as THE focal length. And then there’s the fact that with my X100s I already have this focal length covered (twice if you count the 18-55 in my bag). So I definitely don’t NEED another lens in this focal length. But then again it’s faster and technically even better than the 23mm in the X100s or the 18-55 at 23mm. And even more importantly, there’s that character and soul. I haven’t decided yet but that doesn’t stop me from highly recommending this lens if you are looking for a slightly wide fast prime lens for your X-Pro1, X-E1 or X-M1.
We managed to cover a lot of ground, take tons of pictures and learn a great deal about Tokyo. All that while having great fun. A big thank you to Yuto and Yuta (I’m not making this up) for being our guides, bodyguards and friends.
I have also a review of the X-M1 coming up and a general post about the main purpose of this trip, so stay tuned. In the mean time you can read Kevin’s first experience with the 23mm, his blog post about the trip and David’s first impressions.