Thursday, October 31, 2013

Fuji 23mm f/1.4 lens - Hands-on review

My "Hands-on" reviews are just that. As a working professional, these are my impressions of  equipment as I subject it to the typical situations I face in regular use.  I slant my report to how well the equipment fits in with work style and requirements of the user. I don't spend a lot of time enumerating each and every specification. That is easily obtained in profusion elsewhere on the internet. Instead I concentrate on the information I, myself, would want to know about the behavior and performance of camera equipment. I hope you find these impressions useful. 

Fuji's latest X-series 23mm (35mm equivalent) has been a greatly anticipated lens -- a favorite of street shooters, low-light shooters, photojournalists, videographers desiring shallow depth of field with a wide angle, candid shooters, shooters only wanting to carry one fast aperture lens with them, and me. It is the focal length that Fuji put on its first X-camera, the X100, the one that started it all, and the same focal length Sony chose for its full-frame RX1.

The moderate wide angle Fuji 23mm f/1.4 lens shown on an X-Pro1. 
When I received my photo call from Jeff over at Fotocare that the first Fuji 23mm had arrived and was waiting for me, I ran over the shop where I also met up with Brandon, the Fuji rep, who had the same lens mounted on a pre-production X-E2. So we also got to talking a lot about the camera, too.

Brandon, the Fuji rep, with his X-E2 and 23mm f/1.4 swapping portraits with me. 
The first thing that impressed me about the 23mm was its size. It is rather large for an APC lens, even considering the fast f/1.4 aperture. In fact, it is almost the same size as the Fuji 18-55mm zoom, and adding the scalloped lens shade makes it appear even larger. It weighs in at 10.6oz (300g), which is not very heavy for a fast aperture, auto-focus lens of this type. Size wise it comes in at 2.83"D x 2.48"L (72 x 63 mm) and takes a 62mm filter, same as the 55-200 zoom. It has a maximum aperture of f/1.4, closing down to f/16. Minimum focus is 11.02" (28 cm) for a .1x magnification -- not super close, but about standard for the lens type.

A Fuji 23mm f/1.4 lens on the new Fuji X-E2 body.
I ran the lens through its paces and included a download link for many of the shots below that illustrate significant points. Take a look at them. They say more than I can and should help you inform your own opinion of the Fuji 23mm lens.

Showing a size comparison of Fuji lenses: 18-55m zoom on the left, 35mm f/1.4 in the middle, and 23mm f/1.4 on the right.
A feature of the lens similar to that of the 14mm is its push-pull focusing ring that allows switching immediately from auto to manual focus. On the left the lens is set for auto-focus with the ring pushed forward hiding the distance scale. On the right the ring is pulled back ready for manual focus and revealing the distance scale underneath.
I ran the lens through several situations to test its sharpness, both wide open at f/1.4 and ideal aperture at f/5.6. The image below is one of the better practical tests I did to show the difference in sharpness, both in the middle and on the edges, between apertures.

Some obvious allowances should be made for the fact that this rock is not perfectly flat so depth of field can make some areas appear deceptively soft. Over all, however, I think you will find that this is an extremely sharp lens wide open both in the center and in the corners, and at f/5.6 it is nothing short of sensational.  There are two links below where you can download a high res version of both f/1.4 and f/5.6 images.

The lens feels good. It focuses fast, is comfortable to hold, and due to its large size fits nicely on my X-Pro1. If anything, I am not a fan of scalloped lens shades. They seem unnecessarily large on short focal length lenses. I already found myself leaving it off when there was no absolute need for it.  That is the only negative thing I have to say about my experience using this lens, which says something in and of itself.

A real attraction for a 23mm (35mm equivalent) lens with a very fast aperture is its ability to deliver wide angle bokeh at f/1.4, as this shot and the one below demonstrate. 

Click here to download a high res version of this file.
With their lens hoods on, the 23mm Fuji lens (on the right) is even larger in size than the 18-55mm Fuji zoom (on the left).
This f/1.4 image deliver both appealing background bokeh and sharp detail in the foreground tree where it is focused. Click here to download a high res copy of this image. 
The larger size of the 23mm lens is a perfect fit for the X-Pro1. 
A sharpness test.  Click here to download a high res version of this image shot handheld at f/5.6

The Pond in New York's Central Park. 

Another bokeh example shot at f/1.4.  Click here to download a high res version of this file. 

Want to see what this lens can do?  Check out the high res version of this photo shot hand held at f/5.6. 

Taking the same scene as the one above you can capture it in a complete different way by changing the angle, and opening the lens to f/1.4 for a shallow depth of field.  Click here to download a high res version of this file. 

F/2.8 allows me to keep most of the foreground sharp yet still render the background quite soft.

This is a good shot to show off the sharpness of this lens.  It was taken at f.2,8, closed down enough to improve sharpness but not so much not to keep the background soft. Download the high res version here to see just how sharp The Bard can be at f/2.8.

For me, the series of images below were the most revealing. I took the lens mounted on an X-Pro1 with me to the studio. We had a shoot featuring a character model where we were going to reel through many blue-collar scenes. Normally I shoot this on a Nikon D4 with an 85mm f/1.4 lens or 70-200mm zoom. As I began shooting, I realized it might add more realism to the situations if they were done with a moderately wide angle lens instead. I didn't have one handy for the Nikon, but I did have the X-Pro1 and 23mm lens with me. This allowed me to get in much closer and the f/1.4 aperture still allowed me to keep the background soft while the model was in focus, all of which resulted in a more casual look to the situation.

I was very happy with the results. The Fuji not only delivered an exceptional image with very accurate color, but the lens was always sharply focused at f/1.4.

Whenever I photograph people I put the focus point on their eyes. The focus point of the Fuji was a little to big for that, but locating it over the models face mostly did the trick. The 23mm (35mm equivalent) focal length is what gives this image its casual, candid, in-your-face look.  The f/1.4 aperture is what provides the shallow depth of field. 

This is a scene set up in one of our studios. It is lit only by the one window you can see in the back meaning that the front of the scene is very backlit, even though boosted by the large reflectors you see on either side. Take if from me, it is very difficult for any camera to focus on a model's face in this situation. Reason being there is low contrast and low light. I am always over-shooting in this situation just to be sure I have an in focus shot. And the Fuji?  Surprise. It was dead on focused every time. 

I place the focus point on the models face. The camera was set for an ISO of 800 with an aperture of f/1.4, meaning no room for error. I had more successful in focus images from the Fuji than I normally would get from the Nikon, and that is saying something. The thing about a lifestyle shoot like this is to keep it looking believable, and not look like it was done in a controlled studio with professional models.  Both the Fuji camera and the lens helped my do just that. 

Focus point here was on the face and eyes. Everything else is in a varying degree of softness.  Once again, it was shot at f/1.4 so I was able to achieve a wide angle effect and get in tight while still keeping everything else soft. 

Photographers who have been using the X-cameras from the onset have begun to expect big things from Fuji, relying on them to deliver a product that is excellent and coupled with a follow-up support that corrects mistakes immediately and makes improvements as technology advances. It is little wonder the X-cameras have attracted a cult following, me included. The latest addition to the optical X arsenal, the 23mm f/1.4 is yet another excellent addition to a growing complement of support optics. Making a great camera is one thing, supporting it with well thought out, high quality accessories is another matter. Fuji seems to be working to such a plan, one that has been working well and keeps gaining followers. The 23mm lens is yet another step in the right direction -- high quality optics, speedy and accurate functionality, comfortable ergonomics.

This lens mounted on a Fuji X camera is as good as it gets.

If you are planning on purchasing this camera or lens, you can help support this site at no extra cost to you by purchasing from one of our affiliate sellers listed below -- and thanks for your support.

Fujifilm XF 23mm f/1.4 R Lens can be ordered from:  BH-Photo    Amazon


  1. Can't wait for mine to arrive for work on my XPro1. Glad to hear it is another FUji gem. :)

  2. mine comes on the 11th! can't wait!

  3. Where did you guys order from? I can't find this lens in stock anywhere in the US.

  4. With time passing now, do you prefer the 23mm 1.4 or the 35mm 1.4 as a general use ?
    Difficult question I think as it is easier to get bokeh with the 35mm but it also lack of the context you can have with the 23mm bringing the scene into your picture in a way it can add some depth.