Review XF23 1.4

The Fujinon XF23mm F1.4 R LM WR | The Photojournalistic

Note: This review is one of a total of four reviews on the second generation Fujifilm X lenses, namely the XF18 1.4, the XF23 1.4, the XF33 1.4 and the XF56 1.2. Some statements are therefore shortened in some of the articles, as they are dealt with in great detail elsewhere.

Prologue

Actually, this review shouldn’t even exist. In my WordPress folder there is still a draft for a post with the title: “The Fujinon XF23mm F1.4 R | When very good is already good enough”. Have you got it? Right, I didn’t want to buy the new XF23mm F1.4 either.

Two hearts beat in my chest (in reality there are probably many more): On the one hand, I wear simplistic analogue watches and have a weakness for the old and the imperfect. On the other hand, I am also fascinated by the (technologically) new and a certain tendency towards perfectionism seems to be part of my genes.

And so it happened that the other day the new XF23 1.4 WR fell into my hands by chance, and I couldn’t resist…

The old XF23mm F1.4 R

In contrast to my very reserved relationship with the old XF56 F1.2, I never had anything even close to a problem with the first version of the XF23mm F1.4. On the contrary, this lens, which I bought quite late (end of 2018), became one of my favourite lenses. Especially on the X-Pro3, it was almost glued on for a few months since I bought it.

To cut a long story short: It is still an incredibly versatile lens that is predestined to tell stories. Not without reason has the 35mm lens (in full frame) always been regarded as the reportage lens par excellence…

Actually, for me there is nothing you can’t do with this focal length – similar to 18mm (28mm equiv).

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The new XF23mm F1.4 R LM WR

Nevertheless, I obviously did it, otherwise this text would not exist. So, what is so much better about the new XF23 1.4 WR compared to the old version? So much… actually nothing. But practically everything is a bit better, and that’s just the trap with the better. The Better is the Enemy of the Good… 😉

Fujifilm Fujinon XF23mm F1.4 R LM WR

Optical performance

Sharpness

There are some voices that say the old XF23 1.4 doesn’t have very good optical qualities in terms of resolution, especially wide open and at the edges. I do not sing along with this chorus. The old version was already a very sharp lens. But its real strengths lay in the big picture, in the mix on a more than adequate sharpness and a wonderful rendering from the plane of focus to the out-of-focus area of the image. In this sense, by the way, it is very similar to the XF35 1.4. That’s probably why I like it…

Rendering XF23mm F1.4
The old XF23mm F1.4 @f/1.4

And how is the new XF23 1.4 WR? Indeed, we have to admit here that physics cannot be “corrupted”. Like the incredible XF18mm F1.4, its construction with 15(!) elements, two of them aspherical and three made of ED glass, simply shows its full potential. It is sharper at maximum aperture, it is sharper in the centre of the frame and it is sharper at the edges. That’s a simple fact – even if it’s not as incredibly sharp in the centre of the image as the aforementioned XF18mm.

Do you need it? Well, that’s for you to decide. True landscape photographers might judge it a little differently than someone like me, who is more at home in the documentary genre. I didn’t really need the extra sharpness, but hey, I’m not complaining about it either. 😉

Did I already mention that it’s really sharp?

Optical aberrations

Actually, with all the second-generation lenses, I should save these chapters. There is really nothing to report, except for the fact that there is nothing to report. Chromatic aberrations are very well corrected with the new XF23 1.4 WR, spheric aberrations anyway.

So, I’ll be brief: the correction for aberrations of the new XF23 1.4 is so good that even pixel peeping doesn’t really show a problem. Done.

Purple fringing

I have not noticed any problems here. If you want, you will always be able to produce something – see my example in the review of the new XF56.

Bokeh

This may have been the point where I was a little worried that perhaps the beautiful bokeh and rendering of the old XF23 1.4 would be lost with the new version. What can I say? No, it’s not – neither the bokeh itself nor the transition from sharpness to blur.

I strongly assume that the Fujifilm engineers always have this issue in mind with the fixed focal lengths. In addition, the aperture has also been revised and now has 9 aperture blades, two more, which helps to achieve a softer bokeh even when stopped down.

Minimum focusing distance

As with all new lenses, I can announce some good news. The minimum focusing distance has almost halved from 0.28m to 0.16m. Well done!

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Autofocus performance

Let’s move on to probably the most talked-about category, autofocus. Here, too, a whole series of changes have been made. These concern both the mechanics and the electronics. I’ll tell you more about the mechanical changes in the next section.

The letter combination “LM” in the insanely long complete name of the new “Fujinon Super EBC XF23mm F1.4 R LM WR” has actually revealed it. The new lens has a linear motor that is supposed to make the autofocus quieter, faster and more precise. So, has it? Of course!

I never found the autofocus of the previous version slow and fortunately also far less annoyingly pumping than, for example, with the old XF56. Nevertheless, I have to admit that, as with the other LM lenses, this version is simply the better one.

The AF is great, similar to the new XF18 1.4 and XF33 1.4, this lens hits the focus point always immediately. That’s already great in itself, but it becomes even more important especially with continuous autofocus and/or video.

I would not want to do without this improvement again…

All what has been said here already refers to the use in combination with the brand new Fujifilm X-T5.

Mechanical quality

The first noticeable change is the absence of the focus clutch mechanism, as known from some wide-angle lenses of the first generation of the X series (XF14, XF16, XF23). I suspect this will be particularly painful for some street photographers, if they like to use zone focusing for their work.

The old XF23 F1.4
The clutch mechanism on the old XF23 F1.4

Personally, I don’t mind it, to be honest. I found that mechanism quite sexy, but never actually used it.

For all other points of build quality, I’ll make it very short again: Excellent! This also includes the aperture ring, which is very good, as with all the newer lenses now, I think. Unfortunately, that was not always the case with the X lenses of the past…

Size and weight

When I first saw pictures of the lens on the net, I was really afraid that it was much bigger – also much bigger than the old XF23 1.4. This is partly because on the Fujifilm website, for example, the lenses are of course not shown to scale. Even if this is actually clear, they seem so very different in size right next to each other.

In reality, it’s nowhere near as dramatic. The new version is slightly thinner, but almost 1.5 cm longer. The weight difference of 300g (old) to 375g (new) has also remained within acceptable limits.

As always, I would have preferred it to be as small as possible, but the 15 lens elements have to be placed somewhere. All in all, it’s really OK, and that’s enough about it…

As with all Fujifilm X lenses, a lens hood is included. However, this is made of plastic and is petal-shaped too – neither of which I am very happy about. Fortunately, as with the old version, a much better square metal lens hood is available. And as always, you shouldn’t have to pay a lot of money for it, it should come as standard. Come on, Fujifilm!

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Usability

The text for this chapter on the XF23 1.4 is not particularly difficult. As I made clear in my little gallery of image examples above, this focal length is actually usable for pretty much everything for me. I would go so far as to say that even sporting events are no problem with it – OK, maybe a little differently than you know it from sports photography. But it works!

To be completely correct, the last pictures above were taken with the unique X100V, but hey, 23mm is 23mm. 😉

It’s not for nothing that this focal length, or its equivalent, has often been referred to as the reportage focal length in photojournalism for decades.

My little problem is rather to decide between 18mm and 23mm. Yes, because my statement about versatility also applies without restriction to the 18mm focal length. And if I were to take only two lenses with me, they would certainly not be 18mm and 23mm – but rather the combinations 16/23mm or 18/35mm. If I had to choose just one, it would be the 18mm. Not because it’s better, but because I’m simply the wide-angle type and remain so… and with 18mm I can realise 90% of my pictures, even on a month-long travel project.

By the way, Florian Renz comes to essentially the same conclusions in his review (in German).

And I’m not alone with the problem of 18mm vs. 23mm (28mm vs. 35mm). Well, if you have no other problems… 😉

Pros and cons

As usual, also graded from (++) to (- -)

What I like

  • Exceptional sharpness/resolution (++)
  • Excellent build quality (++)
  • Excellent (fast, silent and reliable) autofocus (++)
  • Very smooth bokeh (++)
  • Very nice transition between sharpness and blur (++)
  • Almost round aperture with 9 diaphragm blades (+)
  • Great aperture ring (+)
  • Decent size and weight (for its performance)

What I don’t like

  • Actually, nothing serious
  • Maybe a bit too big if you want to be very discreet
  • The included petal-shaped plastic lens hood

Verdict

The new XF23mm F1.4 R LM WR is a stunning performer!

Like its externally very similar “siblings”, the XF18 1.4 and the XF33 1.4, it simply does not allow itself any weaknesses worth mentioning. This applies to both the optics and the mechanics, including the very fast autofocus. If you want a smaller lens, you have to compromise and either go for the X100V or the XF23 F2.

The new XF23 1.4 on the X-T5

Is it worth the upgrade? Yes, definitely. Is it mandatory to upgrade? No, definitely not.

It just depends on what is important to you and what price (in money and size) you are willing to pay for these improvements. Those who are willing to do so will get an excellent, fast 23mm prime lens. In terms of quality it’s a no brainer. Period.

Exceptional!

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There is always light somewhere – go out and shoot!

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