A tribute to the wide angle – Fujinon XF16, XF18 and XF23

My actual plan…

…was just to translate my old article about my love for XF16 into English. But, hey, the world’s spinning and things are changing – and so am I. As much as I still love the XF16 – and definitely consider it as one of the best lenses in the entire Fujifilm X system – my preferences have at least expanded a bit. Therefore I have translated some thoughts from that old article and I have expanded it with some new ones at the same time. The result is not a review, but a tribute to three X lenses: the XF16F1.4, the XF18F2 and the XF23F1.4. Because the wide angle is really what I call my window to the world.

How I see the world… or a tribute to the wide angle

From the day that I somehow managed to afford reasonably good lenses, one thing was always in my photo bag: a 24mm or a 28mm wide-angle lens. Even after the switch to Fujifilm, this remained essentially the same. Some years later, when Nikon introduced the 1.4/24mm to the market at that time, I started to become almost addicted to very fast 24mm wide-angle lenses. As a consequence, my view on the world became remarkably often packed into the field of view of a 24mm (equivalent).

By the way, the fact that these lenses are not suitable for portraits is actually just a rumour… 😉

Even on my former Olympus m43 cameras, the Zuiko 2.0/12mm was almost always attached to my camera. To be honest, I hardly ever used another lens these days…

However – and this is really jamming at the highest level – sometimes I was missing the very last punch from that lens. Or, to put it more precisely and to be fair with it, I missed it from the combination of that lens and the corresponding sensor size. The possibilities of obtaining a shallow depth of field – especially with wide-angle lenses – are simply more limited by the small sensor format. That brings me to the first of the three lenses: the XF16F1.4.

The turning point

At one point, I wrote once that the Fujinon XF35F2 together with the X-Pro2 had been the decisive factor for finally switching to Fujifilm. That’s still true, but it’s only part of the whole story. To be more precise, it actually started with the introduction of the XF16. If there’s one thing I really missed after selling the Nikon, then it was exactly this: an extremely fast and at the same time very good wide-angle lens equivalent to the field of view of an 24mm FF. This became so important to me that from time to time I even looked at the Leica 24mm Summilux-M with a little envy. But I would have rather chopped off my hand than spend these sums on a Leica M plus a lens though. Fortunately, Fujifilm then came out with an alternative that I could afford and that was really good. So, I could finally break off my tents from the FF world.

A star was born

I only needed a very short time to realize that this lens rocked totally and that in many ways! Of course, this is also because it was the kind of lens I had been looking for. But that’s only a question of preference. If you have this special preference like I do, then you will find the XF16 a real winner. For me, the Nikkor 1,4/24 was always something like “the mother of all lenses”. This has finally been replaced by the Fujinon. That’s how good the lens is. Really!

Mechanically it is beyond any doubt! It is even protected against dust and splash water and it looks very robust and very valuable. I have no doubt that it will have a very long life. The aperture ring is tight enough that you don’t accidentally adjust the aperture all the time (but not as great as the one on the XF35F2). The autofocus is quite fast, though not comparable to the small m43 lenses, of course, but really OK. No, it’s even more than OK, it’s good. Finally, a few words about the size: Yes, it’s not really small. But somewhere the limits of physics and thus also the possibilities in construction are just reached. However, compared to an 1.4/24mm for 35mm sensors it is a bit smaller and also 30% lighter. Still, don’t be surprised… it’s quite a chunk and attached to an X-Pro2 it’s a bit too big for my taste. This is also the main reason why I would rather choose the XF18 when travelling.

Speaking of the X-Pro2… there’s one very nice thing to report. Even if there is no real illuminated frame with parallax compensation available in the OVF for the 16mm focal length, you still can see the corresponding image borders in the viewfinder (in the mode with the magnification of 0.36x) and you have four marked corners that should display these borders. This is nice to have, as I still like to use the optical viewfinder with this lens from time to time.

It’s all about the optics

The real sensation about this lens, however, is the optical quality. This lens is optically an absolute treat. Put the measurement charts or resolution tests aside! They mean almost nothing these days… there are hardly any really fuzzy lenses left. The results alone count. And this lens definitely takes more than sufficiently sharp pictures, if you want it. This is not our grandfathers fast wide angle à la Nikkor 1,4/35mm from the 70s! It’s a modern lens by any means. And it has so much more to offer. For example 15cm, just to name a number. This is the minimum distance up to which you can still focus. Measured away from the image sensor, of course. A feature that, together with the enormous aperture, tempts you to do it far too often… you have to be careful not to make the pictures too monotonous… 😉

Photographing against strong light sources? No problem. Distortion? None seen yet. Bokeh? I love it, but of course it’s a matter of taste and you can see that it’s not so totally “smooth”. In contrast to the XF35F2, for example, it is much more restless – or I would say: It has more character. So, I would tend to push it here a bit in the direction of some old lenses of a more classic optical design. Especially when the main object is very close and the background is way behind it, this will be noticeable. With wide-angle lenses I like this quite a lot though.

Variety is the trump card

Now I’ve been writing too long about the fantastic XF16. Actually, I wasn’t just interested in a review on one single lens, but in a tribute to the wide angle itself. This leads me to the two other lenses to which my love is no less directed.

The underrated

Actually, I don’t have to say any more words about the XF18. It was my most important lens of the last 1.5 years and I have already praised it here and here in detail. I would just like to stress once again that I consider it to be one of the most underrated lenses of the whole Fujifilm X system. Whenever I look for inspiration, I put exactly this lens on my X-Pro2 and go out into the world with it. For me, there’s no stronger combination for those special moments. Period.

The new love

My latest love, however, is for a lens that I did not expect to be. Until recently, I thought I didn’t need it at all. This lens is the XF23F1.4.

For one thing, the X100F has somehow already covered this focal length for me. On the other hand, I always thought that this lens was too big and too heavy for what it offers. But that was a misbelief. It’s size-wise somewhere between the XF16 and the XF18 and not too heavy which is still acceptable to me in most situations. But what’s much more important: Hey, what an incredible lens! The aperture 1.4 is of course an argument as always and the rendering is nothing short of spectacular. I actually fell in love with this lens immediately.

Probably in the next weeks I will dedicate an own contribution only to this lens. At the moment I can only say that it outstrips the other lenses a bit. I don’t know if it’s the narrower field of view (that I normally don’t prefer) or just the lens itself in general. I will continue to observe that. What remains with this lens, however, is the absolute preference for wide-angle lenses. This will certainly not change. But maybe the variety will be a bit stronger…

So, my conclusion and my advice is: go out and get to life. There is so much to see. And the wider the angle you use, the closer you have to get… it’s worth it!

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