The Fujinon XF18mm F1.4 | About a Perfect World
Actually, this is just another review on the new – watch out its full name – Fujinon XF18mm F1.4 R LM WR. However, the number 1.4 and especially the letters signal quite quickly, that a lot is offered with the new XF18mm F1.4 – high speed, weather resistance and a linear motor for autofocus, to be precise. Let alone the three aspherical and the one ED glass in a total of 15! elements in 9 groups.
Why do I actually start this review with the name and technical specifications? Furthermore, why do I emphasize this fact so much? Quite simply – because this is what makes this lens so special. We already have an 18mm lens in the Fujifilm X world, the XF18mm F2. Nevertheless, this new one is a very different story – in some ways for better or for worse. Although living in a perfect world may be wonderful at times, it also comes with a loss – a loss of joy and nonchalance toward the imperfect.
With the old XF18mm F2 I have a story. This story is about a bumpy start for both of us and ended in a declaration of love for this lens (among others). After all, this lens also accompanied me for several months of my biggest and most important photo project and was responsible for maybe 90 to 95% of my images there – even though it is perhaps one of the most imperfect and “worst” prime lenses of the whole X system. Nevertheless, I still love this lens – or perhaps because of it. The XF18mm F2 is such a super, super, super versatile lens! (All images below are made with the XF18mm F2)
Now I feel guilty for somehow being unfaithful to that love – because I have fallen for the temptation of the perfect world.
The XF18mm F1.4 R LM WR
No question, the XF18mm F1.4 is much better suited for a perfect world than the old F2 version. There’s no noisy and noticeably pumping autofocus, no loud chattering of the aperture blades and, in addition, an optical performance that is very much aiming in the direction of perfection. Nope, I’m not talking about the same optical perfection of a Leica APO Summicron-M 35mm/2 asph. Unlike the latter, however, I don’t have to donate a kidney to buy this lens. Rather, I’m talking about optical perfection for us ordinary mortals.
The XF18mm F1.4 is a very good lens – a damn good one, in fact. So how good is it really?
The mechanical quality is at least on par with the rest of the newer X-series lenses. The workmanship and value are on a very high level, it is weather resistant and built like a tank. All adjustment rings run smoothly and the aperture ring is neither too tight nor too loose. The apertures lock nicely in thirds steps – very comparable with the XF23mm F1.4 and way better than the somehow undefined stops with the aperture ring at the XF16mm F1.4.
The biggest difference to the other high performance wide-angle lenses of the X series (XF14mm F2.8, XF16mm F1.4 and XF23mm F1.4) is undoubtedly the missing clutch mechanism for manual focusing.
I could imagine that one or the other photographer would sorely miss this feature. I also have to admit that I find this mechanism per se very sexy and super well implemented – but I never use it. Neither do I normally focus manually, nor do I use zone focusing. The accompanying – and undoubtedly very useful – depth-of-field scale, however, I also have in the camera’s viewfinder. Nevertheless, this is a point worth mentioning.
By the way, the optional available metal lens hood LH-XF18 should be included – as it also should be included with the other high performance F1.4 wide angle X-lenses – come on Fujifilm!
As I indicated above, this is the stage where the music plays with the XF18mm F1.4.
28mm focal lengths with a maximum aperture of 1:2.8 were already the standard of wide-angle lenses in the 70s and 80s. They were not so complex to construct and comparatively inexpensive – even as a student I could afford such a lens. OK, at least for my Praktica MTL-5B at that time. From time to time, however, special specimens of this kind came along. Maybe some of you still know the legendary Nikkor AI-S 28mm F2.8 – this version with eight elements in eight groups and the closest focusing distance of 20cm. At the time, this was by far the best wide-angle lens I had owned.
We’re looking at something similar with the XF18mm F1.4. OK, of course it’s an 18mm and not a 28mm, it’s much faster and the construction is even far more complex. What I mean by that is: we are dealing with an optical treat here that is not necessarily like the others in this class of lenses. The XF18mm F1.4 simply stands out from the (admittedly small) crowd.
Not only the speed, but also the size and the much more complex optical design already indicate that the differences between the old F2 version and this lens must be significant. And they are, of course…
The XF18mm F1.4 doesn’t really allow itself any weaknesses optically. It is an incredibly sharp lens, shows almost no distorsion or chromatic aberrations and thus projects the real world in colour, (micro)contrast and texture sensationally well onto the sensor. The bokeh is excellent as well and less busy than with the XF18mm F2. It is also far less prone to flare (with all its advantages and disadvantages).
Overall, the images just seem clearer somehow, which is certainly due to the sensational resolving power of this lens. The optical superiority of the new lens is already apparent in the center of the image and becomes even more visible towards the edges and corners.
I did something for once that I never do…. and I’m almost a little ashamed of that. I took boring pictures of the same subject with these different lenses at the same apertures. To make the difference visible here on the blog as well, I show you below two screenshots of the respective cropped views:
I think you can see the difference very clearly. Almost needless to say, the new version is also much sharper at f/1.4 than the old version at f/2.
OK, enough of the horrible pixel peeping. You must not forget that you can only see the real difference on large screens or prints when you have the zoomed picture in front of your eyes. Maybe this optical weakness of the F2 is a showstopper for super critical landscape photographers – for me it’ s rather not.
Anyway, if you judge the technical image quality alone (especially resolution), the F1.4 simply blows the old F2 out of the water – no question at all.
This is a somewhat more complicated point, because here the question of comparison arises very quickly.
So is the AF faster than, for example, with the XF16mm F1.4 or the XF18mm F2? Yes, of course… but not in a way that it would be crucial in real life. Is the AF more precise or less pumping? Yes, in certain respects it is. Especially the AF of the XF18mm F2 is also fast, but it is pumping back and forth. The linear motor on the F1.4 version is super fast and hits focus instantly without any pumping.
Finally, the AF is quieter. Slightly quieter than the XF16mm F1.4 and much quieter than the horrible screeching of the XF18mm F2. That’s essentially what the linear motor does here. Again, we see a feature from a more perfect world.
I would not call it a game changer – but as with the optical quality, AF is pretty much perfect with this lens. For video use, the fast and quiet AF is definitely more than welcome as well.
The most difficult point of all for me – and I probably won’t be able to answer it definitively for another year or two. There was a good reason why I bought the XF18mm F2 in the middle of my trip for the Europeans project in Poland – even though the XF16mm F1.4 was with me. It was certainly not because of the poor image quality of the 16mm, which is known to be outstanding. It was simply due to its size.
The XF18mm F1.4 is not a very big or heavy lens. It is somehow comparable with the XF18-55mm in both size and form factor. That‘s not bad, but if I am honest, I hoped it to be smaller. The fast 18mm is a bit on the long side – especially compared to the admittedly very small F2 version.
My style of photography, especially in the streets, becomes so much easier when my equipment is small, light and unobtrusive. Please don‘t get me wrong, I do not photograph secretly, but ask or at least usually search for eye contact. In this very decisive moment, when people’s eyes fall for a second on the camera in your hand for the first time, this often decides a yes or a no to the photo.
And so, in the end, I can’t say anything definitive about the usability of this lens for me. At least for these cases… in other shooting situations or in moments without (initially strange) people as a subject, the XF18mm F1.4 is of course a real stunner. Be sure to check out Stefan Finger’s great documentary work in the promotional video for this lens! It’s very inspirational…
The XF18mm F1.4 is an extremely good lens – optically perhaps one of the very best X lenses. It is also a very welcome addition to the fantastic F1.4 (F1.2) family of Fujifilm X lenses. A fast, weatherproof, optically brilliant and as quiet as fast focusing wide-angle lens with an equivalent of 28mm (OK, it’s actually 27mm) is, in my view, one of the most versatile and useful lenses you can put on your camera.
This stunning lens simply does not allow itself any slip-ups – neither optically nor mechanically. It‘s created for a very perfect world. If you need or like this, you have to decide yourself – as I will have to as well.
From a purely emotional and irrational point of view, I am still somewhat ambivalent. In this context, I don’t even want to compare it to the XF18mm F2, but rather to the XF23mm F1.4. The fast 23mm is quite soberly similar to the 35mm F1.4 – both are not perfect in the true sense. But they render the world so dreamlike that I find them both almost more adorable. And sometimes – in „nostalgic“ moments – I miss this little imperfection on the new 18mm…
I know, critics especially of the XF23mm F1.4 will now interject: This lens is sharp at best in the centre at open aperture. Yes, there is some truth to this, but it doesn’t matter that much for my photography. The overall image, the rendering… are the more important aspects for me.
Towards the end, I realize how longish this review has become – and how I struggle to just do neutral justice to this lens. That’s a bit funny when I consider the two words that could also be used to describe the XF18mm F1.4: simply perfect! And I have to admit to myself that I am far more impressed by its perfection than I initially thought….
In keeping with the theme and title of the post: Just a few shots of a perfect day…. 🙂
There is always light somewhere – go out and shoot!