If anyone asks me what my favorite focal length is, without hesitation I would say the 35mm in full-frame terms, or in this case the Fujifilm XF 23mm f/1.4 R.
I have been using this lens both professionally and personally since 2015 and am convinced it is the most versatile focal length available to photographers today.
With its 63.4 deg angle of view, the Fujiflm 23mm f/1.4 is wide enough to shoot landscapes, is a beautiful portrait lens, and for all you street photographers who pound the footpath all day looking for opportunities, at 300g you won’t be weighed down by this compact and unobtrusive gem.
It’s from the portrait perspective though that makes the 23mm so appealing to me.
My favorite style of portraiture is the combination of two elements – the person before the lens and their environment beyond. It’s this combination that allows me as a photographer to more clearly reveal my subject’s story.
My aim is to reveal who the subjects are, where they come from, their current circumstances or simply where they live or work. This applies equally throughout my work whether it’s as a Unit Still Photographer where my subjects are actors playing a role to the more observational world of the Documentary where I work with everyday people, and through to my personal work.
Fujifilm gives us photographers two choices in this focal length: the Fujinon 23mm f/1.4 and the 23mm f/2 WR. For this review, I will be concentrating on the f/1.4 and will discuss the f/2 in a follow-up review in the coming months here on Shotkit.
This review of the Fujinon 23mm f/1.4 will be from a hands-on point of view, weighted towards the shooting experience and less about the technicalities.
Fujinon 23mm f/1.4 Review | Specifications
The Fujinon 23mm f/1.4 has a full metal construction and is comprised of eleven elements in eight groups with one aspherical element. An external aperture ring controls the seven-bladed iris in one-third click stops in a range from f/1.4 to f/16.
Weighing in at approx 300g the lens measures 60mm long (113mm with lens hood attached) and has a diameter of 63mm and accepts 62mm filters. It has a minimum focus of 28cms.
The generous 18mm wide focusing ring has a front and rear position. The forward position engages autofocus while sliding it back facilitates manual focus and reveals a focus scale in metres. This lens is not weather-sealed like the Fujifnon 23mm f/2 WR.
First up the Fujinon 23mm f/1.4 feels solid – I like that. I want my gear to feel like it can take a bump or two and hold its own on a busy film set. I’m respectful of my equipment but not over protective, after all it is a tool.
The size of the XF 23mm f/1.4 suits my way of working and it was this lens that drew me deeper into the Fuji world. It immediately reminded me of my lenses from my analog days – an external Iris ring coupled with a ‘feel’ to the manual focus ring that incorporates a hard stop at both minimum and infinity focus.
What also appeals is the ease with which you can quickly find both Iris and focus rings. If you are a manual shooter similar to me, this is essential.
The lens balances my Fujifilm X-H1, and looks good doing so.
As a professional I never underestimate the aesthetics of a piece of equipment, whether positive or negative, and the subtle effect that can have on a client or subject.
The selling point of this lens is its f/1.4 speed so it needed to be sharp at that aperture… and it is.
As with all ultra fast lenses though there is always a trade off between speed and resolving power at the lens edges and the Fuji 23mm f/1.4 is no exception. Having said that you need to go all the way to the frames extremities to see this.
In my tests I see a fall off of resolution in the areas approximately 0-10% in from the frames edges. Meaning a 20 cm wide print would see that fall off from the prints boundary to about 2 cm in from boundary.
It’s a gradual fall off and from that point in, it’s beautifully sharp.
So unless you photograph flat surfaces for a living or are obsessed with photographing brick walls you have nothing to worry about.
The aesthetics of the out of focus areas within the frame (Bokeh) are smooth and silky, especially when compared to the Fuji 23mm f/2. I confidently shoot at f/1.4 knowing I will get tack sharp images with minimal depth of field creating a lovely fall of in focus that draws the viewer’s eye to my subject. Isn’t that what it’s all about? Directing your viewer’s gaze to what you want them to look at.
I’m being picky here but there is the slightest amount of vignetting at the frames corners wide open, although you have to search for it, and again, in real world shooting you would rarely see it.
With a large 63mm diameter front element any flare is kept to a minimum by the 23mm’s petal shaped lens hood which extends 55mm from the front element top and bottom and 33mm at the sides.
Fujinon 23mm f/1.4 Sample Images
Check out these sample images taken with the Fujinon 23mm f/1.4.
As photographers we all have varying requirements of our gear which is why Fujifilm gives us two options for the 23mm. This f/1.4 version as well as the f/2.
The Fujinon 23mm f/1.4 is not for everybody as the price is almost double that of the Fujifnon 23mm f/2 WR, yet the additional stop in speed is a huge draw-card to anybody who shoots regularly in low light conditions and wants to keep their ISO to a minimum.
[Related: Recommended Fujinon lenses]
I also like its size, particularly the extra space on the lens barrel which when working in manual mode is a time-saver and essential if your subjects are on the move and you have to work quickly.
As I said in my introduction this focal length is my favorite having used it on Nikons, Canons and Leicas prior to coming to Fuji’s version,which I’m happy to say based on my tests and use of it over the last three years, is a cracker.
You won’t be disappointed in the results this lens delivers, particularly at the iris settings you’re paying the extra for.