When Fujifilm first created the X-System, they came out of the gate with three outstanding prime lenses…a unique decision in today’s world where zooms are considered the bread and butter of a system, especially in the consumer market. It set a note for what the X-System would become.
As Fuji fleshed out the system, shooters increasingly became anxious for a fast prime that would give them a 35mm full frame equivalent field of view. At last, this past fall, Fuji came through with the Fujinon XF 23mm f/1.4 R. Let’s see if it was worth the wait.
If you’re not familiar with my reviews, I review from a real world shooting perspective. You won’t find lens charts or resolution numbers here. There are plenty of other sites that cover those. I review products on how they act for me as a photographic tool in real-world shooting.
Around the Lens: Build Quality and Handling
The XF 23mm f/1.4 is a solidly built lens constructed of metal and high quality plastics. The lens body is entirely constructed of lightweight metal, most likely aluminum. The lens feels reassuringly solid without being too heavy. It’s a relatively large lens for a mirrorless camera, but it doesn’t overwhelm the camera body. Due to its light weight, the lens handles well on any of the Fuji X cameras and there’s something about the looks of the lens that tells you it means business.
The aperture ring is easily moved and features click stops every 1/3 stop. The ring moves smoothly and without any slop, but I wish the detents were a bit firmer, as it is rather easy to bump the ring and change the aperture accidentally.
The focus ring is wide ribbed metal. The XF 23mm f/1.4 features the same focus clutch mechanism that first debuted on the XF 14mm f/2.8. This allows you to quickly switch to manual focus simply by pulling back on the focus ring. The focus ring moves smoothly and quietly and feels excellent in the hand. While there are hard stops at either end, the lens still focuses by wire, and you can hear the focus motor stepping through the range while manually focusing, which is slightly annoying.
The lens comes with a very large petal shaped hood. I know Fuji designed the hood to be the most effective it could be, but the extremely modern and ungainly hood design meshed with the wonderfully classic design of both the lens and the Fuji X camera bodies creates a disjointed effect. The hood feels out of place and unusually large. I honestly would have preferred a slightly less ‘effective’ hood that was smaller and more in-line with the rest of the lens and camera design. I’m not usually a form over function kind of guy, but as you’ll see in the image quality section, the 23mm is very resistant to flare, so I’m not sure the excessive hood is needed.
I tested the XF 23mm f/1.4 using the brand new Fujifilm X-E2, which features phase detection autofocus (PDAF) for the first time on a Fuji X-System interchangeable lens camera. The 23mm f/1.4 had average autofocus speed when the camera utilized only contrast-detection AF (CDAF), about on par with the XF 35mm f/1.4, or perhaps a hair faster. This is what you can expect in low to medium contrast areas and when using the lens on an older X-Series body.
When the phase-detection system kicks in, the lens focuses nearly instantly. This is something I will discuss further in my upcoming X-E2 review, but the XF lenses focus extremely quickly when phase detection is used, and the 23mm is no different. While there is a slight chirp when the lens focuses with phase detection, in CDAF, you can tell the micro-motor in the lens is a little louder than I’d like. I’m not quite sure why Fuji can’t put their silent linear motors that are present in the Fuji zoom lenses into their prime lenses.
One thing I did notice is that the 23mm tended to miss focus occasionally, throwing up the red AF box in situations where most any other XF lens is fine. I’m not sure what’s going on there exactly, but it happened enough with the 23mm mounted for me to notice it. The vast majority of the time, the autofocus locked quickly and accurately, but there were more AF failures than I’ve experienced with other lenses since the X-E1’s big firmware update earlier this year.