Thanks to the friendly team at FujiFilm New Zealand I was lucky to spend the weekend with the new Fujinon 23mm F1.4 lens, which will hit shelves Monday morning, the same day my grace period expires and my copy gets recalled.
The 35mm equivalent focal length of the new 23mm lens has been a favourite in the street photography realm for many years and is a must have prime for many, evident by the versatile and incredibly popular X100 and X100s cameras with the same fixed focal length.
Up until now my favorite focal length from the Fuji camp has been the 35mm (52.5mm equivalent), it has been solely responsible for 90% of the street portraiture I have been pursuing. But it does have one downside: I feel the standard field of view (50mm) is not very good at sucking in and including the entire scene. Longer focal lengths compress and minimise the background reducing spacial awareness, which often add to the overall story. Ideal for creating clean and isolated portraits but lacking scale and placement can reduce the overall visual impact. This is where the new lens comes into play, filling the gap perfectly and becoming a formidable artistic weapon in the ever growing FujiFilm line up.
Stubborn and stuck in my photographic ways it took me a few attempts before realising wider angled lenses cannot be used in the same fashion as my comfortable nifty fifty. To produce a similar field of view commonly associated with my style you really need to get comfortable sharing personal space. But where there is a downside (if getting closer can even be considered one) there are always advantages, like the already mentioned addition of environmental awareness. The 35mm focal length for street and portrait work is definitely not for the shy, so it is up to you if you are willing to step up and take charge, like Robert Capa said, "If your photographs aren't good enough, you're not close enough".
The lens is much like all its predecessors, a sexy combination of glass, metal and electronics molded to produce a beautifully capable piece of optical equipment. Its design is probably most similar to the 14mm F2.8 with the push/pull mechanism to activate/deactivate the manual/auto focus modes, a very handy feature for those who (like me) enjoy the look of large aperture imagery and use a combination of auto/manual focus to get the shot quickly without changing focus points every few minutes.
There are not many negative things to say on the overall lens performance: it operates quietly, focuses quickly, corner to corner sharpness is awesome (even wide open) and it swallows flare whole while maintaining good contrast. During the three days I had to play with this lens I found no performance gaps and it is definitely the best 35mm (equivalent) I have had the pleasure of using to date.
The only gripe I have is with the manual focus, when activated by pulling the focus ring towards you the focus throw is well defined but still electronic! There is a lock in place at the minimum and infinity focus distances functioning much like a traditional manual focus lens, but despite its appearances there is no mechanical gearing (you can hear the focus motor working when in a quiet room and manually focusing the lens). Not a deal breaker since the optical performance comes first, but for such a well-endowed lens it would have been a nice addition.
Do I recommend this lens? Hands down without an inkling of hesitation. Optically it performs beautifully and produces soft cream cheese bokeh, even when pointed at the harshest of light sources it delicately manages flare.
Final verdict, I fear by the end of the week I will make room for another FujiFilm addition in my gear case.