In this post, I test the XF23mmF2-lens. It is not a technical test. I’m considering “the shooting experience” and the usability of the lens. If you are just interested in the comparison between the two lenses, click here to jump to conclusions.
XF35mmF2 is a good companion
The XF35mmF2 is one of my workhorses when it comes to portraits. Yes, the XF56mm1.2 is a faster lens and it gives a more shallow depth-of-field, if you can control it. But as an amateur photographer without a proper (read: BIG) studio, I find the XF35mmF2 very versatile. The XF35mmF2 has a usable working distance down to less than 1 meter (3 feet), so I often use it in natural lighting setups in houses or apartments. Even at these distances the lens does not create a disturbing distortion of my subjects faces – no greek noses around…
Some reviews have indicated, that the raw-files coming out of the XF35mmF2 is somewhat crappy without lens corrections. In my case, using Lightroom, the lens corrections are built in to the RAW-files, so I have never found problems. On the contrary, this little lens delivers pixel sharp portraits.
The size of the lens also makes it ideal for travel. It doesn’t take up much more space than three batteries. So it follows me along in every camera bag, I use. The weather resistance and small dimensions makes it an ideal companion outside as well. And mounted on my X-T2, it all fits nicely into a (well sized) pocket in my winter jacket.
I have used the XF35mmF2 occasionally as a lens for street photography. For that purpose, I have found the lens a bit in the long end – subjects too close get their legs or -even worse- head chopped off. So the idea of a wider lens has been in my mind for some time. That is, since the XF23mmF2 was announced…
I’ve tried the XF23mmF1.4 on my X-T1 once. It was a disaster, we could not get along at all! To this day, I still don’t know how I and this lens managed to ruin several ‘easy’ still shots of relatives at a family event. I was embarrassed; my X-T1 normally nailed every shot, but this lens was different, and I was too confident to check my photos on location. So back then, I decided not to go for the 23mm option.
Time passes, and a colleague and friend of mine was suddenly the lucky owner of a XF23mmF2. And he was anxious to tell me about it and its performance. So I decided to give this lens a try. Before buying one, I was able to convince my friend, that he could live a weekend without it. Result; I had a copy of the XF23mmF2 to my disposition for a weekend! The only thing, I didn’t count for was the weather… After a week with bright sun and sub-zero temperature (in Celsius), the weekend ended ud being foggy, misty, dull.
Testshooting the XF23mmF2
My first shot was my usual no-brainer: A fence. The subject is plain stupid. But I often take such a picture, to figure out how much of my viewing field is covered by this particular focal length. Comparing the photo to my normal eyesight, gives me a visual clue of coverage compared to my normal sight.
Whenever I want to test a lens, I go out in the nature. Here different opportunities comes quite easy. But with a prime, my skills are put to test. I found a nearby creek with a nice path along. In a tunnel I was able to test the dynamic range shooting out in the light from the dark. The poorly lit tunnel also gave me the chance to practice my panning capabilities on ducks. I don’t think a wide lens and ducks will bring me any prizes in the near future…
Along the path, I passed a wet meadow with a modern church in the distance. A test shot of the scenario shows, that this lens produces crisp sharp images. The foilage is pixel sharp – even with sharpness disabled in Lightroom. A bit further down the path, a solitaire tree (bush?) dominated the river side. The branches are nicely separated from the sky, looking at a 100% crop. Of course, the lens was not challenged by harsh light this day, but my zoom lenses do not have such a good image detail. The focal length was quite comfortable; there was a good match between the point where I decided to take a picture, and how the subject fitted into the frame. Compared to the 35mmF2, it felt much more natural to me, and I did not have to walk backwards to get the picture right.
To test the DOF, I took a few shots of a fence wire approximately 3/4 meters (=two feet) away . Both with the lens wide open at F2 and narrowed down to F8. The two backgrounds are very different in the two settings. Very different indeed; this should be an important thing to consider when shooting objects at a close distance.
To test its (semi)macro features, I found an old tree that couldn’t stand up against one of the hurricanes last year. The near focus distance is 22cm (compared to 35cm for the XF35mmF2), and with the 24Mp-sensor on the X-T2, you can get quite a ‘nice’ enlarged picture of exposed wood. The lens hunted a bit in order to focus. Not a big surprise, since the camera had to realise it is in macro-modus. But to my surprise, I found the pictures very soft when I looked at them in Lightroom. Of course, the DOF is very narrow, so I did not expect corner-to-corner sharpness on a bumpy surface. But at areas in focus, you can see the veins in the tree in a 100% crop, but they have an odd softness to them. (also when Lightrooms sharpening worm-feature is disabled)
As an amateur, everyday user my comparison is not a technical walkthrough. I compare usage, ergonomics and convenience. This is, of course, very subjective by nature.
The XF23mmF2-lens is a nice prime lens for street and nature photography. For both purposes, the lens is a bit in the long end (other may prefer 18mm or 16mm primes, or the 10-24mm zoom lens). Especially for street, the lens is a bit ‘slow’ only going down to F2, but I don’t think it is a major problem, since cranking up the ISO doesn’t matter that much in my street photography.
For portraits, I would only use the XF23mmF2-lens for full body and up to half-body shots. Anything closer generates distortion. In the weekend, I took a few head’n’shoulder-shots for a young man and friend of the house with my XF35mmF2. Just for fun I tried to compose the same frame with the XF23mmF2-lens and a telezoom at 65mm. I found you need to go intimidating close to your subject, if you want the same framing with the XF23mmF2-lens. It is pretty obvious, that the enlarged nose does nothing good for the person on the other side of your camera – unless you are the guy who likes grotesque and distorted faces… If you zoom out with your feet, you are able to get a more flattering shot, but then you should go for a body pose – or crop…
The XF23mmF2 can focus from 22cm (9 inches), and can be used for semi-macro photos. However I find the lens a bit soft at this distance.
All pictures in this posting is in black and white. Hence, it is hard to comment on color
Design and usage
The two lenses are very similar. They share the same form factor; the XF23mm being a few mm longer. They have the same marked aparture ring, same lense diameter, same lens cap and both are Weather Resistant (WR) and made out of metal. The weight of the two is ridiculous; 180g versus 170g. You hardly feel the weight of any of these two lenses on the camera!
The focus speed is pretty much the same; fast and silent! Only in ‘macro’-situations I found this lens hunting a bit, before the lens found the right focus distance.
The lens hood of the XF23mmF2 is way cooler than the cheap looking one on the XF35mmF2. When the improved lens hood is mounted on the XF23mm, the lens cap is mounted in the end of the hood. On the XF35mm, you are constantly fiddling to get the lens cap in place inside the lens hood. On the other side, mounting filters – and rotating them if needed – may be a bit more difficult on the XF23F2; you need to unmount the lens hood.
The manual focusing ring on the XF23mmF2 is a bit larger, and hence easier to operate. With zebras enabled in the viewfinder or LCD screen, the manual focusing feels great and smooth – even when you know the focus ring is wired.
The aperture control (ring) has same tactile feedback; a click for every 1/3 stop and a more stubborn click and more resistance on every full stop. Hence, it is easy to operate the aperture control when you look into the EVF.
My only complaint is the visual feedback on the aperture control. The aperture mark is slightly offset. So when you look at the XF23mm, you get in doubt, whether your aperture is on a full stop or a 1/3’rd stop below. Not a big deal, but a part of the ‘Fujifilm shooting experience’ is setting your dials before putting your camera to the eye, and this ‘sloppy’ indicator may cost you time.
The extra millimeters in lens length – and the longer lens hood, pushes the boundaries for pocket size. It doesn’t fit as easy into my (huge) pocket in my winter jacket as the XF35mm on my X-T2. Without the lens hood, there are not a big difference, but with the lens hood on, it was a great deal harder to take out my X-T2 from my pocket and put it back into the pocket.
I didn’t really push the lens to its limits; the weather condition was simply not for it. So I cannot say anything about how the results are for harsh light and backlit subjects. But can I recommend this lens? Yes! I found great pleasure taking these simple test shots. The focal distance is very pleasing, the build quality is superb, the tactile feedback in the dials are great, and the image quality of my pictures are great.
Will I buy one? Hmm, good question. I already have a XF35mmF2 – and a XF10-24mmF4. I don’t think the extra full stop compared to my XF10-24mmF4 is enough to justify the lens when it comes to landscape photography – made on tripods. Unless you go for border to border sharp images when you do pixel peeping.
The main reason for this lens is the form factor, so I can use it for street and architecture. The added length makes it hard to put into any of pockets. Maybe I should go for a X100 (X100S or 100T) instead, getting the full benefit of a smaller camera?
All in all, i find the XF23mmF2 lens very appealing; I wouldn’t be surprised if I accidentally pushed the ‘instant buy’-button on Amazon during one of the Fujifilm campaigns.