It’s the lens, stupid! – Fujinon XF 23mm F1.4 R review

In the days of film, serious photography was the territory of either professional photographers or dedicated amateurs. Nowadays, everyone is a photographer, often with themselves as the subject. In fact, the Oxford Dictionary’s most popular word of 2013 is “selfie.” But we don’t look to selfies for great quality. It’s not always about composition, light or subject – very often it is all about the camera.

We all fall into this trap sometimes. In the pre-digital era it was normal to use the same camera for years or even decades without needing to buy a new one. The digital revolution changed all that. Almost every year a hot new camera comes along that makes all the previous gear irrelevant. We get pumped up when we get the latest device, only to want one with new features a few months later. For example, have you got a panoramic ball camera yet? 

However, there is one thing that hasn’t changed since the days of film. Those who have been true practitioners of this craft know that it is not the camera. To paraphrase a famous election slogan, it’s the lens, stupid!

In the last few years the rise of mirrorless cameras has meant that several new camera systems have appeared on the market. The design of cameras differs but most photographic gear offers similar image quality. The main difference between the systems is the quality of lenses. Yes, you read it right. Those who sing the praises of their newest toys in online forums should first take a look at the quality of the lenses. The lens is as important (if not more so) than the camera or sensor. How often do you see an expensive camera bonded with a cheap, poor quality lens?

As you know, I have used Canon and Nikon for many years but about two years ago I switched to Fuji X-system cameras. There are many reasons for this change of heart but the main reason was that I wanted the superb calibre of Fujinon lenses.

It all started with the Fuji X100, a game-changing camera with a premier, built-in lens. Then we got the Fuji X-Pro1 with new line of lenses – all of them very bright and super sharp. Despite their relatively young X-camera system, Fuji has already introduced two standouts – XF 35 mm F1.4 and XF 14 mm F2.8. We own them both and consider them one of the best lenses on the market. It is not that the rest of the Fuji lenses are not good but these two are just extraordinary pieces of glass.

The latest addition to the X-series line-up is the XF 23 mm F1.4. The first thing that struck us about this lens was its size. It is even larger than a wide-angle XF 14 mm. When attached to the Fuji X-Pro1 it feels bulky but solid. Its build quality is superb with all-metal mounts and a high-grade barrel. The focus ring is nice and smooth. The only let down is a plastic hood, which feels cheap.

One of the most important features of this lens is the traditional aperture ring on the lens barrel. This attribute allows a photographer to have a special connection with the lens when shooting. It not only enriches the photographic experience but let’s you indulge in the process of image creation. Kudos to Fuji for going this route!

While physical attributes may or may not appeal, image quality is something everyone wants and this lens delivers! Attached to our Fuji X-Pro1, this lens produces razor sharp, three-dimensional imagery. We have been shooting with the best professional-grade glass from Canon (L) and Nikon (ED). We are familiar with Zeiss and Leica lenses. But this Fuji lens is among the best. If you own the Fuji XF 35 mm F1.4 you already know the potential of this lens in the right hands.

Like other Fuji X-series lenses, it is corrected for distortion. The resolution is great at 1.4, gets very strong at 2.0, and becomes heavenly between 5.6 and 11. For me personally, the 23 mm focal length is a sweet spot. If I were to choose one focal length to shoot with, that would be it. Not only does it allow you to capture beautiful landscapes and work on documentary photography and streetscapes but you can go ahead and take some creative portraits with it.

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We own the Fuji X100s, which sports a lens with the same focal length. The question arises – if you already own the Fuji X100/s should you get the XF 23mm lens?

If there were no financial constraints – our answer would be YES and YES again. The beautiful bokeh (blurring) produces gorgeous, creamy images; extra light allows you to shoot in a much darker environment. However, if you have already spent thousands on your gear and for the sake of a happy marriage you need to pause, the small portable Fuji X100/s with a capable F2.0 lens should do the job.

Finally, I hear some people complaining about the price. I found the camera to be quite a bargain for what you get. In the last few years, there has been a tsunami of new lenses, especially for mirrorless cameras. Unfortunately, most of the lenses are very poorly made, slow and poor quality (I guess the price is right). Therefore I am very glad that Fuji decided to put a lot of effort and dedication into equipping the Fuji X-series cameras with superb quality lenses. Those who really care about photography will cherish the lens for many years to come. Cameras will come and go but exceptional lenses will stay.

After all, it’s all about the lens, stupid!

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When I started writing this review, I wanted to deliver a technical Grand Tour with charts and technical data about this lens. I found there are already plenty of technical reviews, really well done, on the Internet (here, here, here and here). Therefore, I decided to spend my time shooting with the lens to show you what it does. All images in this review were taken with the Fuji X-Pro1 paired with the XF 23mm F.1.4 R lens. 

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and some from the Vancouver Christmas Market.

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© Olaf Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.

48 thoughts on “It’s the lens, stupid! – Fujinon XF 23mm F1.4 R review

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  4. Pingback: The Dream Team – Completed! Fujinon XF 56mm F1.2 R review |

  5. Hello, nice post and pictures. I’m planning to buy an X-Fuji camera and lens, I like to shoot portraits and I would like to start Street Photo so which one may you suggest to buy? X-E1 and 35mm, or X-E2 and 23mm. Thanks for your time.

  6. Thank you for your review. I am a fan of the Fuji 35 mm f/1.4 as it the lens I find to come closest to the quality of a Leica Image at a fraction of the cost. I recently purchased a Sony A7 with a 35mm f/2.8 but found that it does not come close to the magic of the 35mm f/1.4 of the Fuji XE-1. I am planning to return Sony gear for the Fuji XE-2 with the 35mm f/1.4 again.

    My question is: does the image made with the 23 mm f/1.4 come close to that of the 35mm f/1.4 ( Magical Lens)?

  7. Pingback: Fujinon XF 23mm 1.4R :: premières impressions | K-pture. blog.

  8. Pingback: НОВИНИ – БЕЗОГЛЕДАЛНИ КАМЕРИ | ФАР КАМЕРА ТЕСТ

  9. I love your blog. Thank you for taking the time to document all of this for us. I enjoy reading it and seeing the wonderful captures you take with the X-series cameras.

  10. As usual, amazing and beautiful photos, and I don’t throw that around usually.
    Could you write a blog post on your B&W conversion process? They really have an amazing look to them.
    Thanks

  11. Thank you for sharing great review and great photos. I really like a photo of a cabin.
    Can I ask you if the photos are SOOC jpeg or RAW? I would like to the settings of the camera if they’re SOOC. Thanks,

  12. I changed my Contax G2 for the Fuji X Pro 1, because the camera is the real heir to the Contax from form and function, and the lenses have the same outstanding quality ! I always hate when it is called “nostalgic” it is just no nonsense and focused on Quality. Thanks for your very good review an pictures.

    • Satake-San,

      Thank you for your kind words and for sharing my blog entry on your Facebook page. We have been enjoying your cameras and lenses a lot and we are looking forward to your future products (especially Fuji X-Pro2 & 56mm F1.2 lens).

      Respectfully,

      Olaf

  13. Darn! Why did I read your excellent review?

    I own the X100S and X-E2 with the 18-55, 55-200 Fuji zooms and the 12 and 32 Zeiss Touit primes. I carry both cameras on vacations because they weight nothing compared to my Canon 5D Mark III Kit.

    After reading your review, I feel compelled to buy the 23 for my X-E2.

    Cheers.
    Bud

  14. A great review and marvelous photos. 23mm is really tempting me, but for now I will go for the 18/35mm tandem, with the x-e2. I lost my X-E1 in a London’s cab a month ago and I’m anxious about new gear… as much as my pocket with the future bills of them.

    By the way, great gallery at 500px, I enjoyed a lot.

  15. Dear Olaf, really beautiful pictures, and a good review! I´ve been shooting with a Fuji X-E1 pus 18-55 for a year now, really like it a lot but still cling to my Canon. Now I´m thinking about diving deeper into the Fuji-System. Could you please tell me which settings (pre&post) you used for your black & white photos? Best regards from Germany, Fabian

    • Fabian,

      We also like the 18-55 lens – it has a great zoom. Kasia did a lot of photography in Africa with this lens. You can take a look at our older posts.

      Re settings: We processed our images in Iridient Developer (highly recommended) and then used Silver Efex Pro for B&W images.

      All the images from the Vancouver Christmas Market are JPEGs straight from the camera.

      Thanks for visiting.

      Olaf

  16. The more I work with the X-Pro1 and what I call the ‘dream team’, the XF14mm and this one, the XF23mm, the more I fall in love with them. The best shots I made in more than 35 years of photography. Next step forwards, the XF56mm F1.2. Make it the best portrait lens even, Fujifilm.

      • Olaf (and everyone) -

        Iridient is brilliant but Mac only (no problem fro me); PhotoNinja is even better and works on Mac and PC. The RAW handling is superb and the color is amazing.

  17. Dear Olaf, again words of wisdom, it’s the lens, stupid! I’m myopic so have to wear spectacles, and use that as an example of the importance of optics. If people would take a little bit more time before taking a picture, and afterwards looking at them, they would realize what lenses do. Great photos and review.
    Best,
    Guillaume

    • Guillaume,

      You are right – in this instant world, pausing before pressing the shutter button is too much for many people. However, good photography requires just that.

      Thanks for your comments.

      Olaf

      • You have to pause because the focus is soooo sloooow it will be OOF. I am disappointed with it on my XP1. All of your samples are of things that do not move. Try street shooting with people.

      • Larry,

        You are right, the focus is slower than most of SLRs but it has never been an issue for me. I have been doing some street documentary projects and shooting kids. Will present some photos in our upcoming blog entries.

        I truly enjoyed some of your photographs. Great work.

        Olaf

  18. I am really conflicted about this lens–35 has been my go-to focal length for a long time with my Canon gear, but now I have switched to a Fuji X-E2 and X-E1, and love the 18mm and 35mm, and the spacing is just right. In a way, they function for me as my 35/85 combo used to, just a little wider. Thanks for the review and the images–I really enjoy the way you compose things!

  19. Pingback: It’s the lens, stupid! – Fujinon XF 23mm F1.4 R review | Olaf Sztaba › THOMAS MENK || PHOTOGRAPHY › Fuji X-Pro1

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