Fujifilm 23mmF2 Review

Introduction

The Fujifilm 23mmF2 has already built a reputation in the short time it’s been on the market. Some love it, some hate it, but the majority of the reports I have seen hold it in high regard. When I bought the Fuji 23, I did it on reputation without knowing whether it would suit my requirements. I’ve never shot 23mm (or at 35mm on my full frame) other than when I was shooting my 24-70 which would have covered this focal length in the range. The demand was high so I thought it wouldn’t be hard to swap out if it didn’t meet my requirements. Sometimes you just have to take a risk.

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I expected the 23mm to be a fill in for my 35mm. The reality was somewhat different to what I expected. I found the 23 is now my preferred lens over the 35mm and a better carry around lens, because the 35 simply isn’t wide enough for most indoors situations. It now makes sense why Fuji put a 23 on their x100. If you are headed out for an evening with the family with a small prime, the 23 is almost always my lens of choice because it’s wide enough to get a great perspective indoors where you don’t have the space to move backwards.

You’ll often hear some of the lenses in Fuji’s lineup called the Fujicron and this is one of them. If you are wondering where this comes from, Leica have a range of lenses called the Summicron which have a maximum aperture of f/2. I have no doubt that Fuji pays tribute to Leica in this way, the saying “Imitation is the greatest form of flattery” comes to mind. I also suspect the design elements pay homage to the old Leica 50 Summicron and the similarity in design isn’t accidental.

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Fuji X-T2 & 23mm f/2 – 1/60 @ f/16 ISO200

Packaging and construction

The 23mm FR packaging is in line with rest of Fuji’s packaging. It’s clean, classy, and as I mentioned in my X-T2 review, it has a stylish Apple like touch to it. To put it into perspective, If Samsung still made camera lenses, they’d be trying to copy Fuji’s packaging.

The lens comes with the usual black pouch that Fuji provides with all of the premium lenses. It’s useful but offers no protection other than from scratches in the bag. I’d really like to see manufacturers offer something with a little more padding but it’s not a problem unique to Fuji.

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The construction on the 23 f/2 hits the mark for premium quality construction. It’s an all metal construction that is very difficult to fault. The shape might not be to everyone’s liking but it’s an effective configuration. The aperture ring is a good combination of stiffness but has a nice soft feel when rotating.

On top of that, the Fuji gains the benefit of weather sealing, a valuable asset for those doing street photography where you may find yourself in the elements. For those who think they can plan on the weather, try spending some time in Melbourne. There is a reason Crowded House wrote the song “Four seasons in one day” about Melbourne.

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Fuji X-T2 & 23mm f/2 – 1/60 @ f/2 ISO2000

I’m not a fan of some of the Fuji hoods and this is one of them although I suspect some people may be split. I think the plastic hood just feels cheap and spoils an otherwise polished experience. Granted it does the job but for a company that prides themselves on good looking gear, it just doesn’t match the grade. I’d prefer to see something metal, maybe in line with a square hood offered on some of the lenses. Fuji offers a vented metal hood but the pricing isn’t what I consider reasonable, and I think it would have been better to charge a little more and include a metal hood. Realistically, I think the manufacturing cost on the square hood would probably have been about $10 which would not have been a big impact on the pricing.

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Performance

I’ve avoided saying sharpness because whilst I like sharp lenses, I don’t have the means or technical knowledge to scientifically test this lens so any mention more than “I like it, it’s very sharp” is probably going to go into a territory where I’m going to come off pretending that I know more than I do. Maybe I’m not new age enough, but when someone says “Look at the micro-contrast on this”, I see contrast, much the same as when my wife shows me 4 different variations of white napkins, I just see them all as white.

The second challenge is whilst I have had some good lenses, I’m not going to pretend I’ve owned $2500 Nikon primes or $4000 Leica’s. For starters, if you are buying those, this lens probably isn’t targeted at you anyway.

It’s difficult to compare the 23 f/2 to many lenses on the market because there aren’t many lenses in this category and price range. I’ve only had the fullframe 20 f/1.8G and 50 f/1.4. The Nikon 20mm f/1.8 has stunning image quality but it comes in at nearly double the price, the 50 f/1.4 only really yields good quality when you stop it down to f/2.8. Neither have Fuji’s build quality, and I don’t have the 23 f/1.4 so I can’t compare to that.

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Fuji X-T2 & 23mm f/2 – 1/250 @ f/2 ISO6400

On paper, with the current price tag and only f/2 as the widest aperture, the 23 seems to lag, but sometimes looks can be deceiving and I think we’ve become tied to the idea that f/1.4 is where all the good lenses are at.

The other challenge with producing a f/1.4 lens is the cost associated with trying to produce a sharp lens wide open. If you do manage to get something sharp like the Sigma ART, it comes at the expense of size and weight, and even if you’re lucky enough to keep those down to a minimum, the AF speed tends to be horrible on f/1.4’s and only barely acceptable on the f/1.8’s.

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By staying with f2, Fuji has been able to produce a great all rounder…a lens which is very sharp, has great AF speed and is still small enough to carry around. This is one of the exact reasons the X100 has found so much success because having a small camera is better than no camera at all, and a small lens that gives great quality is more like to be carried than a large lens that is too heavy to carry. Obviously this comes at the expense of aperture and while I am someone that likes to shoot wide open, 23mm isn’t one of the areas I feel the need to do it often. The best way I can describe it is that it’s sharp enough to keep most buyers happy for what they want. It’s not a Sigma ART, but it also weighs less than a third of a Sigma so you need to put things into perspective.

The lens isn’t perfect, it’s marginally soft wide open, mainly when you shoot something close to the camera at minimum focus distance but I don’t think this is a problem because I don’t believe this type of lens is designed to shoot at the minimum focal distance and expect its best results. It’s a street lens, hence the weather resistance.

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Fuji X-T2 & 23mm f/2 – 1/125 @ f/2 ISO6400

Autofocus

I came from a Nikon world where good primes focussed slower than a child with attention deficit disorder. If you had a f/1.4, it was sharp and focussed slowly, if you had a f/1.8, it was soft and focussed quicker, but nothing came close to the sports lenses like the 70-200 f/2.8.

The AF on the 23 f/2 is a revelation. It’s very quiet, well beyond what I have become accustomed to, and the AF speed of the lens is phenomenal. Obviously 23mm is not your first choice in sports lens, but this lens is fairly capable of keeping up with most action and that makes it amazing for any movement in street photography that requires it to focus quickly and accurately.

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Conclusion

I’ve seen some bad reviews of this lens and I’m a little surprised. Maybe Fuji has produced some bad batch of lenses, or maybe the expectations for those coming from the 23 f/1.4 were unrealistic. Having never had the 23 f/1.4 I can’t vouch for it’s sharpness over the 23 f/2. What I can say is that this is an amazing piece of glass and it is normally the first piece of glass to find itself into my camera bag if I am travelling light.

With two bodies, it’s likely to be attached to one permanently and if I go out anywhere with a single prime, there is a 90% chance it will be this one unless I know I’m only going to be doing portraits.

If you don’t have one of these, I’d highly recommend it as an addition.

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Fuji X-T2 & 23mm f/2 – 1/250 @ f/2 ISO200

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