Fuji Xf 23mm F2 and Xf 18-55 – the Woeful and the Sublime!

December 07, 2018  •  8 Comments

'Madame' 2'Madame' 2Child having her face painted, pre Christmas celebrations, Goldfields, Kalgoorlie, Western Australia, 2018 The Fairy - street face painting, Goldfields, Western Australia, 2018 - Fuji X-T2, 16-55, 51mm @ 2.8

Perfecting the system

Those of you who have followed my previous blogs will realise my journey with Fuji has evolved over many years.  My recent blogs have reflected the fact that I have settled into a great system and have finally honed my choice of lenses and cameras.  I now have two Fuji X-T2’s with a 90mm F2 permanently ‘glued’ onto one and the ‘off the scale’ 16-55 ‘glued’ onto the other.  I am extremely happy with this choice and am getting fantastic images and sheer joy from using this combination.  It is great to feel so settled during this time of camera madness.

Every time I switch on my YouTube, there is another video of some new ‘floozey’ - supposedly better and more fantastic than its predecessor, and we are compelled to sell all our gear and ‘update’.  I will tell you now that I did look very closely at – and tried and tested the X-T3 and X-H1 – and resoundingly came to the conclusion that my X-T2’s are just as good (for the type of photography that I do).  Particularly that nearly every test tells me there is really no discernible difference in image quality between any of them!  Therefore, if I am so settled and everything is rosy in my little photographic world, why this latest blog?

Piano Boy - street celebrations, Goldfields, Western Australia, 2018 - Fuji X-T2, 23mm F2 @ F2

As an Australian teacher, I have six weeks break coming up over this Christmas/NY.  I have a couple of weeks in Bali together with my wife, then she has to return to Australia for work.  I go on alone for another month, to photograph unknown non-tourist places in Indonesia and Malaysia.  Here is where the perfecting of my system comes in.  I usually get up each day at 5am and hit the streets running with my two X-T2’s on board.  I will shoot until around 10-11am – then return to my hotel for refreshments and a rest.  Then around 3-4pm, I will go out into the warming light and get some wonderful images as people on the streets and workers finish off their day.  Then I go back to my hotel and shower and head back out for dinner and to wander the streets in the evening with my camera. 

Here is where I want to make a change.  Even though my setup is fantastic and much lighter than my Nikon ‘bricks’ that I struggled with over many years, I need a lighter kit for my evening wanders.  After carrying the two cameras with rather large lenses around all day, in the evening I just want to wander lightly and feel the joy of a small prime.  I would love the X100F, but it is totally useless to me, because Fuji killed that series off by not adding a flippy screen.  Once you get used to the stealth of shooting street from the hip (read my blog here -  https://www.philipsuttonphotography.com/blog/2018/4/street-and-travel-photography-a-new-method-to-consider) it’s like dating the Prom Queen – you can never go back.

Water Blaster girl - street celebrations, Goldfields, Western Australia - Fuji X-T2, 23mm F2 @ F2

Sir Winston Churchill

With Fuji’s current ongoing sales, I recently traded in my 35mm F2 for the 23mm F2 lens.  I have had the 35mm lens for over two years now and have used it only a handful of times.  It falls into a photographic ‘no-man’s-land’.  Better still – as Sir Winston Churchill was quoted to have said of Sir Alfred Bossom, “Bossom, Bossom, what an extraordinary name – neither one thing nor the other”!  The 35mm F2 fell into that category for me – it was neither one thing nor the other.  It was far too ‘tele’ to be of any use for street photography, but of course too ‘wide’ to be used for portraiture or close-up work.  I was very relieved to be able to trade it in on the smaller brother 23mm F2.  This was an impulse purchase, because I really knew nothing about this diminutive little lens.  I did purchase it though thinking it may fill the gap for the evening walk around lens I mentioned above.

The 'Martian' - mine rescue safety equipment, street celebrations, Goldfields, Western Australia, 2018 - Fuji X-T2, 23mm F2 @ F2

Let the testing begin!

In the weeks after my impulse purchase, I furiously devoured everything I could read about the 23mm F2.  I soon came to realise that this lens polarised people into two groups.  People like the Angry, profane guy on Youtube (who is a Fuji fan-boy), raved about how marvellous this lens was.  Others fell into the group of concluding that it was a mediocre lens at best, and others in that group said it was unusable.  I photographed the proverbial brick walls and trees, but as I have found, you can never tell the quality of a lens until you start photographing people.  The skin tones, the sharpness of eyebrows and eyelashes, hair, the subtle tones and falloff in background areas of the image - I was hanging out until I could fire off some shots in ‘anger’ and point it at some people.

Recently we had our annual street parade in my small gold-mining town here in Western Australia.  This event is an annual big deal.  The huge gold mining trucks and equipment parade down the main street with lots of colour, people in weird costumes, and everybody in a jolly mood not caring who points a camera at them.   Being one of the local teachers here I know half the people in town.  I was able to photograph with ease and get shots that perhaps strangers could not.  I rushed off home with my images in tow to see for myself why all the divisive opinions on this little lens.  I have included a few images here for you to see for yourself and make up your own conclusions.  Non of these images are going to win any awards – and not up to my usual standard – but as this is the only time I have used this lens so far, they should serve the purpose seeing what kind of images one can expect.

Aboriginal Street Dancers - street celebrations, Goldfields, Western Australia, 2018 - Fuji X-T2, 23mm F2 @ F2

Test for yourself!

Just before I give my thoughts on the 23mm, I want to say a little about lenses in general.  You can read all the stuff you want – until your eyes go blurry (like mine did), but you really have to test these things for yourself because our opinions and expectations all vary as much as there is equipment out there.  Take the Fuji kit lens for example  - the XF18-55.  So many people rave about this lens and say it is the best thing since sliced bread.  To me this is more mysterious than the Egyptian Pyramids – how could this be so??  It was these reviews that kept me hanging in there over the years as I bought and sold off three copies of this miserable lens – each time trying to get a ‘good one’.  It cost me a lot of money, hours and hours of anguish and disappointment, and many crappy images – until I reached my own conclusion that this lens is a total dud.  Probably one of Fuji’s worst lenses (half a step behind the 18mm)!  In Australia we don’t have a return policy like you guys do in the States, so each time I bought my ‘dud’, I would have to sell if off and buy another one – in my search for a ‘good’ copy.  If I hadn’t taken so much notice of everything that had been written on this lens – and believed what my eyes were telling me – I would have saved myself a load of money, hours of grief and crumby images, and would have realised that this thing was a pile of mediocrity.  Sorry folks for those who have this lens and like it – but for me I really hate this lens.  I’ll say it again – test these things for yourself!!

Bubble Girl - street celebrations, Goldfields, Western Australia, 2018 - Fuji X-T2, 90mm F2 @ F2

All is revealed!

When I shot the street parade I would normally have had my 16-55 and the 90mm.  I replaced the 16-55 with the 23mm and took that and the 90mm lens.  I did that on purpose to see if I took a lighter kit in my evening wanderings in my upcoming holiday in Asia, could the 23mm fill some of the big shoes of the 16-55?  I will save you the anticipation.  To say I am happy is the understatement of the year – I was totally blown away by the performance of the 23mm F2.  Nearly all of the reviews I watched or read said that at wide open and close up it was so soft that it was unusable.  I shot people and kids at what I would think was close – a person and their face filling the frame – and oh my goodness, this thing was tack sharp wide open.  I did not want to believe this and I was expecting rather mediocre results – but I am extremely happy.  I need a lens to be sharp wide open.  As a street photographer/travel photographer, I only ever shoot wide open.  I’m always looking to isolate my subject from the background.  If a lens is not sharp wide open, or I have to stop it down to get useable results – then it’s useless to me.  Not only is it sharp, but the images have a beautiful, almost 3d look to them.  They are very punchy and I find I am getting that very contrasty look that I love in ‘Classic Chrome’.

Girls up to no good - street celebrations, goldfields, Western Australia, 2018 - Fuji X-T2, 23mm F2 @ F2

I am very happy to say that I have plugged the last remaining gap in my kit line-up.  This little lens is now permanently married to my old X-T1.  To me changing lenses is a no no.  I have one lens attached to one camera and it is never changed.  That is why I have never had to clean a sensor (particularly now that all of my lenses are WR), or have gotten any crud in my camera.  I shoot in too many filthy places in Asia, where changing a lens outside may well be the end of your sensor, and the total demise of your camera!  I will now have my day kit (the 16-55 and 90mm) each attached to an X-T2, and my lovely little 23mm attached to an X-T1, as my evening walk-around kit.

Don’t get too perplexed if you haven’t ironed all of the wrinkles out of your photographic kit.  I have been shooting now for over 35 years and it has taken me a very long time to get to where I am.  I may seem very dogmatic in my opinions, (and yes, I do offend some folk), but after shooting for so many years and wasting so much money on needless crap, I am very intolerant of gear that does not do its job, or does not perform when we are told that it will.  I know exactly what I want and need from my kit, and the Fuji components that I have chosen fill this niche for me in a wonderful fashion.  Not only can I look at my beautiful images for hours on end, I get such joy out of using quality equipment.  Like the story I told in one of my other blogs about Mark Knopfler (of Dire Straits fame), kissing his guitar out of sheer love for his art.  I am still known to give my X-T2 a quick kiss now and then - when my wife is not looking!!  Enjoy your gear, enjoy your art and most of all enjoy your images.  Life is too short to stress over pixel peeping or this lens or that.  Get something that works well for you and spend your money on travel, and seeing the most of this wonderful planet.

Old Timer - divining for water, street celebrations, Goldfields, Western Australia, 2018 - Fuji X-T2, 90mm F2 @ F2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Comments

Drabmol(non-registered)
I will like to see comparative pictures from 23mm and 18-55 at 23
petitout(non-registered)
Hi Philip,
just saw this post, thanks for sharing this.
In your case, for your usage, (close shot wide open) wouldn't it better to use the 23mm 1.4 ?

Let us know your point of view (especially if you tried it but preferred the 2.0 version)

Thanks !
Kapoor(non-registered)
The 23mmF2 was my 1st prime which i bought with the fuji xt2 when it came out on sale and soon after i bought the fuji 16-55mm lens which i absolutely love,i replaced the fuji 23f2 with my new 16-55 lens onto my xt2 and the images i had from the zoom lens were absolutely gorgeous and i didnt miss having image stabilisation on it and as long as my shutter speed was min of 1/60s my photos were tack sharp!! And looking at reviews after reviews over the fuji 23mmf2 that it is a very soft at close range at f2 i nearly sold the lens!! I bought another camera body fuji xt2 and i mounted the 23mm f2 on it as i wanted a small prime lens as a travel lens kit mounted on a second body,so during 2019 from jan to august i travelled with the 23mm fuji on my holidays taking photos of different aspects from landscape to portraits i had fallen in love again with my 23mm f2. After viewing my photos of my holidays i was so glad i didnt listen to all the negative reviews on youtube and other websites! It took me 6 months of testing and viewing the photos to actually see for myself that the fuji XF23mm f2 is actually a very sharp lens and yes it may be soft at a close distance of a few feet but other than that its tack sharp and its permanently mounted on my second xt2 body along with the fuji 16-55mm on the other xt2.
Thanks so much philip for your review totally agree with you here and i shall definitely look into the 90mm aswel.
Matt(non-registered)
I agree the 23mm f2 is great. All this talk about not being sharp is nonsense. It's tack sharp at f2!

My 18-55mm has good IQ but like every mid range zoom it's dull. I enjoy the 23mm more.

I disagree though with 35mm being middle of nowhere. It's a great lens when shooting one or two people up close. With a shorter lens you have to be too close to be confortable. With a longer lens you have to back up or focus on only one subject. 35mm is the perfect inbetween.
Hendrik Hazeu
Hi Philip!

Many thanks for visiting my blog & for your kind words! You said in your post that you'd tried the X-H1 and concluded it's comparable to your X-T2 for your kind of photography. Fully understand & agree to your reasoning, but I hope you'll allow me to try and challenge that a little bit once more. Maybe even opens up some additional new opportunities for your photography (albeit at the risk of "infecting" you with some GAS, sorry for that in advance ;-)

I had the same thinking (before selling my X-T2´s to fund buying my D850´s) as you might have had: Image stabilization only works on static images (landscape, architecture, ...) - no good for people & journalistic imaging. Right. Regardless how good the D850's images are, it's one helluva big & heavy camera (with huge & heavy lenses, if you fancy large aperture primes). So I got m'self an X-E3 with an XF 35 F/1.4 R to have a compact, hi-quality, take everywhere kit with the possibility to change lenses now and then. All good? Nah. Unfortunately. Coz I then discovered that Fuji seems to apply a more aggressive JPEG sharpening algorithm on their consumer grade cameras, creating nasty sharpening artifacts around high contrast edges. Even dialing the sharpening down to minimum didn't get rid of it ... Basically this rendered my beloved ACROS JPEG´s useless for large prints. As I'd meanwhile also acquired an XF 14mm F/2.8 R and didn't want to sell everything yet again, I reluctantly took a hard look at the X-H1 and its image stabilization (which up to then hadn't grabbed my attention as I thought it's more for video junkies) ...

Surprize, surprize - I discovered that that IBIS even helps for people photography, provided the subjects keep reasonably still. For eg. the XF 35mm F/1.4 R my slowest hand held shutter speed to get tack sharp images w/o IBIS is 1/60 sec (thanks to 24 MPix the old 1/focal length rule don't apply no more). With IBIS I can go down to at least 1/8 sec for static images and 1/15 sec for images with people in them who keep reasonably still (eg. sitting at a café or leaning against a wall). That means at least 2-3 stops more light, extending my "tripod-free" photography time by at least 2 hours into dawn & twilight. As a consequence I can also cap my auto ISO at 800 instead of 1600, resulting in cleaner images!

I hope my little story has piqued your curiosity, please let me know your thinking & experiences! Meanwhile please keep on taking those wonderful images you share with us here (so much thanks for that, I really enjoy reading your inspiring posts!)

Have a great weekend with lots of wonderful photographic opportunities and take care, with kindest regards,

Cheers, your Hendrik
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