File this one under don't believe everything you read on the inter-webs. Let's just pretend that even if everything you read is exactly accurate. The problem is context, point of view, and interpretation of what any of it might actually mean to you and your pictures. Let's take the lowly Fuji 18mm prime lens. You would probably agree that this lens is the whipping-bitch of the entire Fuji X-Series lens line-up. It goes like this; Oh, yea, Fuji's X glass line-up is pretty much universally fantastic, except for that one dog of a lens the 18mm. Everything is better than that.
Well maybe there are a few fans out there of the little 18mm. Even the things I've read that were in the positive category sort of kind of plays up points of this little guy that are in spite of it's optical characteristics. Hell, even people that have never used one or owned one tend to parrot the general feeling of "meh" about the 18mm f/2.
I remember way way back when I bought my XPRO-1 to see if I could make the X-system work for me at the very beginning I skipped this lens but my general thought was along the lines of "It's probably a lot like the 23 on the X100 — not so great wide open and close but I like the way it looks. I'll probably grab it sooner or later."
You have to realize I love the 28mm FOV. Love it, love it, love it. I can live quite comfortable with a 28mm and a 50mm or a 28mm and an 85mm equivalent. The little 18mm has been on my list of stuff to grab for a very long time. So has one of the 35mm primes. The delay is entirely due to my general satisfaction and favorable experience with the 18-55mm XF. Well, I ran across a like new 18mm for the very reasonable price of $250. I've always been curious as to why the 18mm has stayed at around $599 forever. Not quite as expensive as some of the universally lauded Fuji primes but kinda high especially compared to the much praised 35mm f/2 WR.
Let me bottom line this for all of you that only know the 18mm f/2 via internet. I love it. I love it more than I thought I would. In fact my general feelings are that I am impressed vs. my expectations based on pure interpretation of other people's comments about the IQ.
Performance Or Impression
Do you care about optical performance? Sure, all of us photographers care about it but probably not from an academic point of view. We probably care more on how it looks right? We would all love to reconcile the academic notions into how something looks but that's a bit more difficult that it seems.
I was completely underwhelmed with the 18-55mm kit zoom when I first tested it. A lot of that disappointment came from my academic understanding of it's optical characteristics and the universal praise I read all over the place. It's great, it has a lot to offer. I have no issues with it that would stop me from using it. Hell, I use it a lot on this project. I wouldn't if it was crap or I didn't like it for lots of reasons. Hell, I wouldn't use it if I thought it was compromising how pictures looked. My initial disappointment was for a lot of reasons. What I was seeing when I shot a few test shots fall into two broad categories. The first one was looking at things I made of StupidCrap very closely where the 18-55mm was at it's worst — in hindsight I can go to the MTF charts on that lens and sorta see what's going on with test crap. The second category was that it lacked the same exact look, some sort of bite that every other Fuji prime I used had. Sure the focus transitions and out of focus areas are consistently pleasant like all of the Fuji lenses but it lacked a certain ooommff.
Moving on to the 18mm f/2. It has that Fuji prime oooommmf a lot like the rest of the primes have. Is the 18mm end of the 18-55mm "better"? Who the hell knows. Guess it depends on what you're measuring. I can say for real world pictures made in the same conditions back to back most peoples impression without inspecting the corners of some flat thing nonsense would be that the 18mm f/2 is better.
I spent a large portion of the day Saturday playing around with Melanie's hair. I made pictures with both the 18mm f/2 and 18-55mm at 18mm with apertures ranging from wide open to medium-ish. Some in bright light at lower ISO's some in near darkness at high ISO's. With incredible consistency in a giant mixed bag of 18mm shots using both lenses I can say the impression one gets is that the 18mm f/2 is "better". It has that Fuji prime look and bite. Does that matter a lot? Probably not that much but that's my impression just looking at the pictures. I can pick one lens out from the other with very good hit rate having no idea which I used based on time or setup. I purposefully switch between them at random.
Am I going to keep it? Absolutely. I love the way it looks, I love the size of it. I don't think the 18-55mm is large or cumbersome at all but the 18mm transforms the XT-1 and I'm sure the other Fuji cameras into something truly tiny which can make a difference. I honestly don't know what's going to happen in my usage pattern or choices once I flip a coin and decide on what 35mm prime I am going to buy. When will I chose the 18mm and 35mm pair vs the 18-55mm? Have no clue but I'll find out.
All pictures made with the Fuji XT-1 and 18mm f/2. Processing via Lightroom CC with VSCO FILM06 TRI-X+2 applied on import.