Soul Mate | The Fujinon XF 23mm F1.4 R

I’d like to apologize in advance: if you were hoping not to feel the urge to part with some of your money, I don’t think this review will be much help. As I told my buddy Morten Byskov in an email when I first got my hands on this lens: damn.

When I originally reviewed the X-Pro1 I defined it as something that was clearly “part of a system”, as a camera that by its very nature felt much less intimate than the X100 (the only other X camera at the time). Much has changed since I wrote that review: more X bodies have appeared, the entire ecosystem has exploded with stellar Fuji offerings as well as Zeiss and other third-party lenses added to the mix for good measure; it’s rather phenomenal when you think about it — it hasn’t been that long. But while I came to love the X-Pro1 just as much as the X100 — albeit for different reasons — it still always felt like an extremely refined cog in an ever evolving system.

Until now.

With the introduction of the XF 23mm f1.4 R lens (B&H), Fuji finally brings the long-awaited 35mm field of view to the X-series, something that was previously only available with an X100/S or via an adapted lens. We could certainly argue about the why’s of such a long delay for an indisputably classic focal length — marketing conspiracies et all — but I doubt anyone will be faulting the execution: saying this was worth the wait is a serious understatement.

There are many intangibles about using a camera, the way it sits in our hands, how different pieces come together and fall into place. At the risk of sounding way too hyperbolic, here’s the short version of this review: I feel as though the X-Pro1 has just found its long lost sibling – The balance, the size, the weight, the focusing, the build… Everything about this lens feels exactly right to me. Soul mates, baby.

That build is from the same block that gave us the XF 14mm f/2.8 R (B&H), also sporting the same push/pull focussing mechanism and distance scale. With each new lens release Fuji seem to be refining the manual focussing experience and this 23mm is no exception: the focus ring is so smooth and responsive that the entire fly by wire concept disappears; its a joy to use in manual focus mode, especially combined with the focus peaking feature added in the last camera firmware update.

Optics? Well, the glass in the XF class of Fuji lenses is simply exceptional but the venerable XF 35mm f/1.4 R has always been something special. In my opinion, this lens is in the same league — which is fitting given how important it is. It has a certain something that I can’t really define but feels fantastic. Plus: it has faster, much quieter AF, manual focussing that can’t compare, better construction and… That distance scale ;)

For the first time since I switched to Fuji, I could see myself using a second X-Pro1 body mounted with this lens instead of the X100 (or X100s) I usually carry when I’m working on location. Don’t get me wrong, the X100 series have great advantages of their own — silence, sync speed, size — which will always warrant a spot in my bag. But this combination could be tempting, if only to alleviate the mental switch needed when you go from one body to another in rapid succession.

That said, how does this 35mm compare to the X100s 35mm? Is this worth purchasing if you already own that camera? Is this worth switching to? Truth is there are and always will be compromises to be made. On the one hand you gain on speed (f1.4 vs f2) and you also gain on sharpness: the 23mm is seriously sharp wide open while the X100s is always a tad softer at f2 (although like everything else, this can be used as an advantage) BUT… You lose what the X100s is all about: size, stealth, total silence, sync speed. You become much more visible and less innocuous in a crowd, especially if you use the included tulip lens hood, something I’d personally ditch entirely (I’d use a filter or a vented hood instead).

So… Apples and oranges really. I know I couldn’t be without an X100(S) camera. But I do already miss this lens.

I wish I’d had more time with it… It came in while I was juggling several projects that needed my immediate attention. So I can’t really say I’ve done it justice, which is a shame. I urge you to take a look at what Kevin Mullins shot in Tokyo if you haven’t already (spectacular stuff). Also, fellow Canadian X Photographer Riley Joseph should have a post about it as well in the near future.

I can’t say how the lens feels on an X-E1 body; it’s not as light as the 35mm and I don’t know how well it’ll balance on that camera (or the X-M1/X-A1). I’m sure it’s fine. But if you get a chance to try it out on an X-Pro1, do it. Unless I'm crazy, I think you'll immediately understand what I mean. There’s something about this combo that quite simply gels.

As I said in the first paragraph: damn.
Another winner.