Fujifilm Fujinon XF 14mm f/2.8 R
Beauty and the beast. The Fujinon 14mm f/2.8 encapsulates everything that is good and bad about the Fuji X-Pro1 system. The lens is a solidly constructed, masterful piece of optics, so well corrected that it doesn’t rely on computing power to eliminate distortion. It maxes at f/4 to f/5.6, the range where most rangefinder (and most SLR prime) lenses are wide open and challenged. The mechanical design is mostly elegant. Unlike with a Leica, where you bolt on a distorted accessory finder that may have a level in one orientation only – leaving you to DxO Optics Viewpoint for verticals – the Fuji lets you watch the action and align it on a gridded electronic viewfinder (EVF) (you can, of course, see a gridded distorted wide-angle optical viewfinder (OVF), too…).
But then on the minus side you’re using an X-Pro1, which although fast on its feet occasionally puts some of its buttons too close to your fingers (ahem, Q button, I’m talking to you), very occasionally stutters with AF, and might take a second to start up with OVF on. The optical resolution of the lens and the microscopic details it can resolve mercilessly expose the sorry state of Adobe Camera Raw conversion of X-Trans RAF files. The red smearing is gone, but when you shoot white against a blue sky, inducing any amount of overexposure, or cranking up the exposure in post, or dropping a color channel too much can give you bleed in a b/w conversion. Be careful with bright sunlit scenes. Careful work will be rewarded.
The nice thing, though, is that when/if a new X-Pro comes out with a higher-res sensor, X-Trans or not, this lens will hold its own.
The wide view. Wide-angle lenses are strange creatures. The first thing to remember is that truly wide lenses didn’t come into their own until after World War II. Until then, most cameras used focal lengths that at the widest were the equivalent of a 35mm lens on a 24x36mm camera. The postwar period and lens coating enabled a number of complicated new designs such as the Zeiss Biogon and the Schneider Super-Angulon, each of which used a staggering number of glass elements in a symmetrical pattern. The result was an undistorted picture, though the lenses required very small clearances between the rearmost glass element and the film (making them unsuitable for most SLRs).
And even though these existed, they were niche products – most people took Robert Capa’s advice that if one did not get the picture he wanted, he was not close enough – and superwides exacerbated the problem. So until about the 1990s, a 28mm to 35mm lens was the “wide” limit for most people. It is not unwarranted; 35mm in particular represents the central field of human vision with both eyes, does not mangle human faces, even at the edges of the rame, and does not create dramatic converging parallels when the camera is tilted. Many still consider it the ideal “only lens.”
By the mid 1990s, manufacturers had figured out how to make good wide-angle lenses that were usable on SLRs. Although they were retrofocus in design, modern glass, coatings, and (most importantly) computers made it possible to make highly corrected designs. Zoom lenses, which long had been maligned, became some of the best performers. For example, the 17-35mm f/2.8D AF-s Nikkor produced sharper and less distorted wide-angle images than almost any prime Nikkor lens that preceded it in its focal-length range.
When rangefinder cameras came back into fashion, lens manufacturers found that it was relatively easy to use modern technology to design great superwide lenses. Cosina and Kobalux fielded relatively economical and high-performing 21mm lenses. These were followed by Ricoh, which remounted its GR21 lens for rangefinder, and the coup came with Konica’s 21-35mm Dual Hexanon. Not to be outdone in capabilities (or price), Leica launched its 16-18-21mm Wide-Angle Tri-Elmar. Unfortunately evident through all of this, however, is that people do not fully understand that the point of a wide-angle lens is dynamic composition, not simply making the field of view wider and everything in it tinier.
Optical performance. There is plenty of test data out there that substantiates this author’s observation: this beats the stuffing out of even most modern 21mm FOV lenses. Peak performance is at f/4 or f/5.6 – depending on whether you value better corner sharpness at the expense of a little center sharpness. A lens like this might cause you to revise your religious beliefs. Needless to say, it outperforms all of the economical adapted Leica-mount lenses and most Leica M 21mm lenses, too. It’s fairly easy to substantiate that there is no in-camera correction of pincushion distortion. Because this lens doesn’t need it. It is one of the least distorted 21mm-equivalent lenses ever made. That won’t stop you from tilting the camera, though… Vingetting is not as apparent as reviewers would lead you to believe, and it is certainly less than symmetrical wide-angle lenses.
Size/weight. This is not a small lens; it is barely smaller than the 18-55mm zoom. It is still a little bit smaller than an aspherical 21mm Elmarit for a Leica. The weight is very light; these lenses are aluminum and magnesium, not brass. The lens does not unbalance the camera, and an X-Pro1 with this lens still feels unnaturally light. The lens takes 58mm filters, a size last seen on Canon SLRs. This would not be notable except that Fuji has been all over the place on filter sizes.
The focusing ring. This is a big attractor for a lot of people. So let’s start with the bad news: it’s still focus by wire, and it actually stops past the indicated infinity mark. This is not a big deal. But what is a big deal is that Fuji had to elect a focusing direction. Here, Fuji went with the Nikon direction and abandoned both the Leica and former Fuji MF rotation directions to get to infinity. So although you might set your X-Pro1 or XE-1 to focus like a Leica or your old Fujica, this lens will always be an outlier. But you might not care. This is a “set it and forget it” lens.
The selector. The focusing ring is the main auto/manual focus switch. Here are the modes, and they may not be what you expect:
- Lens in “manual.” Regardless of camera mode, the lens focuses via the ring (and by wire). There is no distance indicator in the viewfinder.
- Lens in “auto.” The focusing ring does not turn at all. With the camera in AF mode (AF-S or AF-C), the lens autofocuses like any other Fujinon XF lens. With the camera in manual, you can use the AE/AF button to focus. Both ways, you get a distance scale in the viewfinder.
Now here’s the catch – if you thought that you were going to set the lens scale for your favorite zone-focus distance and switch AF on and off via the ring, you may lose your distance setting on switching modes. The focusing ring only pushes forward into discrete positions, which put the infinity mark (a) between f/22 and f/16, (b) at f/8, and (c) at f/2.8. If you are not in one of these positions when you push the ring, it will cam into one of these as it goes forward. There are a number of other positions in the sub-one-meter area, but they are not really relevant.
Some people have complained that the selector is easy to knock out of position. It is actually quite stiff – and the bigger danger is forgetting that the lens is in manual mode (although during testing, I repeatedly and accidentally set the aperture at f/5.6, failed to change the hyperfocal setting from f/8, and everything came out fine).
Distance scale. The distance scale shown by the lens in manual-focus mode is fairly compressed and reflects the very short throw of manual focusing. According to the scale, at f/8, the lens can keep cover 1m to ∞ in focus. According to the viewfinder scale, though, it is 3m to infinity. Actual use suggests that the lens barrel DOF indications are very close to reality. The great depth of field of a 14mm lens puts tremendous pressure on composition – depth of focus will not be a factor in most pictures.
Viewfinder picture. Where the camera is set to the OVF, the low magnification setting will just cover the lens field of view (you will see “corners” rather than framelines). The EVF shows 100% of the field (marginally more than the OVF). Either way, you will want to turn on the gridlines and to activate the digital horizon indicator. There is not much point in using an external viewfinder unless you need a 2-direction level (c.f. Leica Universal Wideangle Finder M) – but even then, these only really work in “landscape” orientation.
AF speed. There are varying accounts of AF speed out there. This lens has the same type of AF motor as the 35/1.4, and it is very fast in most light. If you get into low light and it slows down too much, try switching to EVF and change the size of the focusing zone. The reality is that with this lens, you only really need AF from f/2.8-5.6.
Should I buy it? This is Fuji’s second solid hit after the 18-55mm zoom. The best (if not only) arguments against this lens are (1) that it is an XF-mount lens and (2) it’s expensive. If Fuji never went beyond the X-Pro in terms of sensor technology, it’s not much of a stretch to say that the combination outperforms any 35mm film camera with a 21mm lens (and most digital cameras); moreover, with its easy manual focus, any real or perceived shortcomings of the X-Pro or XE-1 in focus are pretty insignificant. As for the price, it is not very high in comparison to 21mm lenses: in the same range as the ZM primes, a couple hundred higher than the Cosina-Voigtlander 21mm M lens, and at least a thousand less than any modern Leica 21mm.
Should I wait for the 10-20mm f/4 OIS (Optical Image Stabilization) lens? Fuji does have a zoom lens on the roadmap that covers this focal length. It will have a lot of appeal to a lot of people – but not necessarily for the same people who would be looking at a super-performing 14mm. From all available prototype pictures, it will be like the 18-55mm, with a flared front end (it takes 72mm filters). The plusses are that it will likely have a stepper motor focusing mechanism (=fast), has a constant aperture (albeit f/4) and will cover the 15-30mm range. On the other hand, it is huge, has no focusing scale like the 14mm, will require software distortion correction, and if the 18-55mm is a guide, manual aperture control will be easy to knock out of the desired setting. OIS is a plus – but the Fuji system draws a good amount of power, it takes a second or so to spin up in the mode where it is only activated for the shot, and can be squeaky in the wintertime.
How about the Zeiss 12mm? This is a tougher question that might be determined more by economics (it’s pricey) and aesthetics (it’s flared in a not-so-attractive way). I will be the one to speculate on this: these lenses are being made with the cooperation of Fuji, possibly in the same plant that makes Fuji lenses. That’s why they keep getting mentioned in Fuji videos and are now shown as an ancillary part of the Fuji lens road map.
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